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arleek

arleek
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Member since: 02.05.2007

  • Really wish I had time for this site, but new baby doesn't sleep and feeds often!!!

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    • More +
      05.02.2014 11:34
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      Great game for kids and adults alike

      My daughter had a birthday just after Christmas and everyone with kids will know that it is quite hard to buy MORE presents for children when they have already received a sack load just a few weeks previously. She was going to be turning 7, and is not into Disney and girlie stuff, so once we had fulfilled her book requirements plus crafty things; it was quite hard to think of something else to buy. So I was browsing on the Amazon website for inspiration and came across this IQ Puzzler game, which is a brainteaser type game that you can play alone. This is perfect for my daughter because although she loves playing with her sister, she also enjoys her own time as well.

      ***IQ Puzzler***

      This is a logical single player game involving 2D and 3D brainteasers. Inside the box you will find a small black plastic case that opens out to reveal 12 different shapes (all made up of brightly coloured plastic balls with each shape being a different colour). These all fit snugly inside the box and rest in little circular delves in the bottom of the case - however putting them away can be a nightmare as they have to go in a particular way, and that in itself is a brainteaser!

      Also in the box you will find a little booklet which contains very basic instructions on how to play the game, with 72 x 2D challenges and 29 x 3D challenges. The challenges range from super easy through to extremely difficult! There are 5 different levels to achieve - Starter, Junior, Expert, Master and Wizard. Once you have completed them all, I guess you can go back to the beginning and start again if you are that way inclined - I'm sure my daughter will be doing the teasers more than a few times each.

      ***Playing the Game***

      Before I gave this to my daughter I had a quick go myself to make sure it was simple enough for her to understand, but tricky enough to hold her attention. I had a look at the Starter brainteasers first, which in all honesty are a doddle, but thinking about it I presume the makers have designed these Starter puzzles to get you in the mood and help you understand the concept of the game before moving onto the more complex teasers. Once I had looked through the book and completed a couple of the teasers myself, I felt confident that my daughter would enjoy this game.

      Each challenge in the booklet consists of a coloured drawing of the inside of the case that the pieces are housed in, and with the Starter challenges, 11 pieces are already positioned in the case, so you have to follow the pattern and put all the pieces in the correct place, and then you have one piece left over and have to figure out where that goes - pretty obvious, because the space that is left is the exact shape of the piece that you will have in your hand. But as I said earlier, this is just to help you get a feel of the game. Despite these Starter puzzles being very easy, my daughter still went through each one (all 16 of them) and completed them in sequence. The first 8 you only need to put the final piece in yourself, and the next 8 you have to fit 2 final pieces in.

      She is now half way through the Junior challenges and currently at the stage where you have to slot 4 pieces into the remaining space. She was having a go this morning before school, and must have been happily playing for half an hour at least before she shouted to me that it was getting hard, and I have to admit it is quite tricky trying to interlock 4 oddly shaped pieces into a certain shaped space. But with a little help from me, we completed two more teasers this morning before we had to go to leave the house.

      I think once she moves onto the Expert, Master and Wizard challenges, she will require more help from me. And even then I am not entirely sure I will be of much assistance!

      She has also had a quick go at the 3D challenges which are slightly more complex and require the pieces to be interlocked in a particular way so that they form a pyramid, and again there are different levels of difficulty for these. The instructions show you how to lay the pieces to create a pyramid, and the first are relatively straight forward, but it did take my daughter a few attempts before she managed to build her first pyramid. I do think these are more designed for an older child or even an adult because I can predict a few temper tantrums from my 7 year old with the 3D challenges - they definitely require more patience!

      ***My Thoughts On The Game***

      I am really pleased I bought this for my daughter, especially when I got it for under £5. She likes puzzles and this has really captivated her. I'll admit it's not something she plays with every day, but at times when she is at a loose end, she will pick this up and have a go at the challenges, and it really does keep her quiet and entertained. The fact that it comes in a small compact case means I don't even really have to put it away, because often once you put something away it tends to be forgotten about, so with this being small and discreet I just leave it out in the living room so she can grab it when the feeling takes her.

      It's a simple concept but something which will provide hours of entertainment, and it is not just limited to entertaining children; my 67 year old father will quite happily sit and play with this as well, so it has quite a broad age range!

      ***Conclusion and Other Information***

      This comes highly recommended from me and my daughter. It is great for children, who like a quiet challenge, and it also apparently 'trains your memory and improves your concentration' - my daughter already has amazing concentration so it's something I knew she would get along with. My youngest daughter (age 5) however has very little concentration so I'm not entirely sure this would do anything to improve her concentration because she wouldn't be able to concentrate on it in the first place! So I would recommend for children who like to sit and do things, and enjoy spending time on their own; perhaps not such a good idea for kids who like to be active and can't sit still for long periods of time.

      I bought this from Amazon for less than £5 but it is currently priced at £9.58
      Recommended for ages 6 to adult.

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      • More +
        30.01.2014 15:14
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        Nice unit for what I paid (£16.99)

        I have two girls; aged 5 & 7 and they have an enormous amount of toys and other stuff which has recently overflowed into the spare 3rd bedroom. However, with our impending new arrival we have had to vacate the 3rd bedroom and try and shoehorn all their belongings into their own room. So I had been browsing the Argos website for storage solutions - I wanted something white because they already had some of Argos' white cube range, and when I saw this for half price at £16.99 I reserved it immediately, (although having just looked on the Argos website to check product dimensions etc, I have noticed it is still 'half price' but now priced at £34.99 - the apparent original price being £87.48 - which is certainly not good value.)

        ***What Is It***

        The unit is very neat and compact at 70cm high, 70cm wide and 35cm deep, and contains 4 storage cubes, 2 of which have doors on in 2 nice shades of pink, and the other 2 are just left open. As you may have gathered from the dimensions, it is not a large unit, but it is very handy for storing small items and trinkets. It is made from manufactured wood, MDF I guess and is all self assembly.

        ***Assembling The Unit***

        My husband is never around so if I was to wait for him to put this together, I would be waiting forever, so I built it myself, and it was surprisingly easy even though it is recommended for 2 people to assemble it (especially when you consider I was surrounded by toys at the time, as well as 2 excited kids, and I also had my bloated pregnant stomach to contend with).

        In the box is everything you need - the parts, instructions and all the fixings (but you will actually need to provide a screwdriver) The instructions were fairly easy to follow, even if I did miss a major fixing very early on in the process, which thankfully was very easily rectified. I would say I managed to assemble the full unit within half an hour to an hour which is pretty good going for a girl! Once it was assembled I was really pleased with how sturdy it seemed and well fixed together. I was concerned at some point during the assembly process that there was going to be gaps and wobbly shelves, but once everything was knocked into position and the unit was upright, it was all okay. It's fairly lightweight too, so I was easily able to manoeuvre it around the room without too much strenuous exertion on my part.

        ***Using the Unit***

        Once we had found a suitable location - we actually positioned it on top of one of the girl's sets of drawers, and with it being quite shallow in depth it looked really rather nice - we began filling it with stuff. At first the girls struggled with the doors as they are on magnetic catches, and one of them was quite stiff, but once they got the hang of giving it a good hard yank they were sorted. In the open compartments we have the girl's jewellery boxes (of which they have 2 each), their hair bobbles, clips and brushes, and also a couple of trinket boxes stuffed full of novelty erasers and other junk that little girls seem to collect. In the closed compartments we have more junk, along the lines of small tins of cards, secret diaries, even more trinket boxes, and also a couple of small Lego sets.

        So as a storage solution it is not ideal for large items, but it is very handy for storing all those small items that are too fiddly or precious for a toy box.

        ***Conclusion***

        All in all I am pleased with the unit - it has housed many items that previously didn't have a home, and has tidied up a couple of surfaces. My only gripe is that it is smaller than I had anticipated (despite knowing the dimensions before purchase). If you are looking for a storage solution for large bulky toys or a vast amount of books, then this will be no good for you; but as a decorative piece of furniture for girl's bits and bobs then it works perfectly. However, it is not worth the current price, I wouldn't dream of paying more than £20 for it, never mind £87.48.

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        • Mothercare / Highstreet Shopping / 51 Readings / 51 Ratings
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          24.01.2014 12:03
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          Its a baby shop that will continue to attract new and expectant mothers despite poor reviews

          I wasn't sure where to start with a review on Mothercare (Hull) as it provides quite a wide range of services ranging from maternity to baby, and up to kids stuff for around age 7-8. Now thinking about the fact I have a 7 year old, a 5 year old and am currently expecting a newborn in the next 6 weeks, you would think it was the place I spend most of my time! And I'll admit I have been there rather a lot just recently, but I have been more than disappointed with the service and items available to me as an expectant mother. So I am going to base this review from the viewpoint of Mum-to-be.

          Considering I haven't had to buy any baby related items for over 7 years now, I feel like I am starting from scratch, and I have not been the most organised person this time round, choosing to leave everything until fairly late on in my pregnancy (apart from maternity clothes obviously). So here is where I'll start:

          ***Maternity Wear***

          I am a tall and slim size 10, and when I am pregnant I do not pile on the pounds, I just grow a ball in the stomach region, and oddly, maternity wear has always been a bit of an issue for me. I grow out of my normal clothes pretty quickly but the maternity clothes are usually too big in the early months (and it is rare to find maternity trousers with a long leg). However, I bought a couple of tops with the front pouch, and 2 pairs of maternity jeans from Mothercare with the 'over the bump' band attached (under the bump just do not stay up and every time I bend over I display my builder's bottom to the world). I think I spent about £60-£70 in total which I suppose is not too bad.

          I think I started wearing the jeans when I was around 4/5 months pregnant and they were very comfy and gave my ever growing bump the support I needed. The tops were also very comfy and covered my bump adequately, and it was so nice to wear something that wasn't stretched around my stretching body. However, when I reached about 7 months of pregnancy, my bump was becoming rather large (but so 'neat and tiny' according to all my family and peers) and the jeans became extremely uncomfortable and tight; so tight that the baby would kick me constantly around the top of the bump band - as if to say 'stop constricting me I'm squashed!' So I got 2 months of wear out of those jeans before I had to cast them aside, and I switched to leggings (non maternity I might add). Once I had started wearing my leggings, I soon realised that without the coverage of the bump band from the jeans, the tops I had bought from Mothercare were also lacking in size - they were not covering my bump at all and it was becoming very drafty around the bottom half of the bump - they just weren't long enough! So I had to switch to my floaty summer dresses teamed up with a cardigan for warmth - if only I had realised this in the beginning I could have saved myself a lot of money, because in fact, in these last largest stages of my pregnancy, the only maternity items of clothing I am wearing are my bras!

          Conclusion - Mothercare maternity wear is not designed for anyone over the height of 5ft 7 who has a bump larger than a basketball.

          ***Prams***

          Prams have changed an awful lot since I bought one 7 years ago, and I had researched a lot online looking for the perfect pram for my newborn, but was getting increasingly confused about, well everything really. Considering I do not use a car for travelling around, unless my husband is present, which is very rare, I wanted a good solid pram that would be comfy for baby, have a large shopping basket, and could withstand 2 school runs every day. I had an idea in my head of the pram I wanted, but I don't like to go by pictures and online reviews, I like to have a look at them in the flesh and get some advice. So off to Mothercare I went; and I was visually abused by the sheer volume of prams on display and how different they all are to each other, and some of them just completely baffled me.

          I was with my mother in law and we were taking the prams off their stands and pushing them around, having a really good look inside and out. And bearing in mind there were 2 members of staff stood within earshot of us, they never once glanced in our direction or offered any assistance. So I simply walked out (the staff are very lucky I didn't send a pram hurtling in their direction). That is all I can offer in the way of reviewing their pram service - the fact is there was no service, very disappointing indeed. Surely if they could visually see my bump and the fact that I was clearly looking at and assessing the prams, they would have done their job and come to talk to me. But gossiping was obviously more appealing to them that morning. I went next door to Mamas and Papas and got assistance straight away and ended up choosing and buying a pram from them within 30 minutes.

          Conclusion - Mothercare do not care about expectant mothers and the type of pram they might need.

          ***Carseats***

          I know I said above that I do not travel around in the car very often, but we do own a car and use it for visiting relatives and going out for the day etc, so we are in need of a carseat for the baby. When we bought one 7 years ago, it was simply a seat that attached into the car using the 3 point seat belt. And this is what we thought we would be buying again this time round, so off to Mothercare we went, hoping to pluck one off the shelf and buy it, without much fuss. However! Again, things have changed in the last few years; all the carseats we looked at appeared to need an Isofix base or something similar, and if they were actually compatible with a 3 point seat belt, the lap section of the belt had to be secured over the top of the baby's legs. Something which I really wasn't happy with at all. So my husband and I were examining all the carseats, lifting them on and off the shelves, turning them upside down to have a look at fixings. And again nobody came to see us...that is until my husband glared in the general direction of two members of staff lingering around doing not a lot (I'll just point out here as a side note that upon entering the shop I was spoken to by a member of staff offering me entry into some competition or other - obviously competitions are more important than customer satisfaction).

          Anyway, we did manage to attract the attention of a male member of staff who seemed unable to talk to us with his eyes open which I found very unnerving, and he was very blasé about the baby carseats - when we showed our concern about the seat belt going over the top of the baby's legs, he merely pointed out that these are not carseats anymore, they are 'infant carriers' that are designed to be taken in and out of the car. This was really not helpful in the slightest as we were intending to buy a carseat that stayed fixed in the car - why on earth would I want my baby in the carseat when it wasn't travelling in the car? After much explaining and technical confusion, we managed to extract the information out of him about what we needed, based on our circumstances. And basically, we couldn't have one that went straight into the car using just the belt unless we went for a bigger one that can be used from birth up until around age 4. But he immediately cast this idea aside saying it wouldn't fit in our car (he didn't even know what car we had) and proceeded to demonstrate the most expensive combination of carseat base and carseat - the sum total of which would cost us close to £200. I really did not want to spend £200 on a carseat solution that would only be used for 9 months at the most.

          My husband persuaded him that we wanted to look at a cheaper option, and he did find another base that was cheaper, but again he said it was unlikely to fit in our car. But undeterred my husband told him to go and try it, and no it didn't fit (according to the salesman). I was fed up and this point and we left the shop and went over to Toys R Us where they sell the same carseats and bases, and we found a very helpful lady who listened to our tale of woe and immediately tried to fit the base in our car and fitted it perfectly. We bought it there and then as it was also cheaper - I think we paid £70 for it, and then bought the corresponding carseat from Gumtree for £40 - so still quite expensive but a lot cheaper than Mothercare.

          Conclusion - Mothercare want to sell you the most expensive baby carseat they possibly can.

          ***Baby Equipment***

          We do not know what sex our baby is going to be (I like the surprise), so we have been trying to kit ourselves out in neutral colours, which to be honest is really quite difficult - most baby stores sell pink or blue, then have a budget white/cream range for people like us. I was in Mothercare (why do I torture myself by going back to this shop!?) looking for bedding for a cotbed. It was the January sales so a lot of stuff was on offer, and I really liked their Happy Safari range, which was yellow and green and I noticed their bedding was in the sale. I looked at the bedding sets which were extortionately priced - something close to £100 for a quilt, bumper, sheet and blanket. Way over my budget, so I began looking at the separate packs of sheets and blankets - the safari flat sheets were in the sale half price - £6.99 for two gorgeous sheets. So I picked up the fitted sheets from the same range - oddly not in the sale, and £15.99 for two. They went back on the shelf because I decided it was a bit of a con to only have part of the range in the sale, so you would have to pay full price for the rest of it. I only bought the sale items, just to annoy them.

          Then we decided to look at baths, top and tail bowls and baby boxes. Again, most things were pink and blue, but they did do a nice white and yellow range of items which I was quite keen on. But strangely they had none of these out on the shelves, apart from a multipack of a bath, top and tail bowl and a sponge and towel - and I think they were charging about £25 for the set. Which I found odd because on the website, the bath was £7.99, the top and tail bowl was less than that, a sponge is about 50p and the towel if I'm honest looked rubbish - so surely this wasn't all worth £25, especially when buying them separately would have worked out much cheaper. Gender neutral baby boxes were also unavailable on the shelves. So again I did not buy from them - I went home, ordered a bath from Argos for around £6.99, and a top and tail bowl and baby box for £2.39 and £7.99 from Kiddicare.

          Whilst in Mothercare I was also looking at mattresses, for the cot bed. The pricing was very unclear and they only had cot sized mattresses out on display, no cot bed ones, so I gave up in that area too. Popped across to Toys R Us, who had samples out on display, were clearly priced and the differences explained - I bought an £80 mattress from them with no fuss.

          Conclusion - don't bother going to Mothercare for baby equipment when you can get things cheaper elsewhere.

          ***Baby Clothes***

          I couldn't end this review without giving the baby clothes a quick mention, which I have to admit are rather nice (if not a little pricey). Thankfully I bought a few packs of babygros and clothing sets in the January sales, and managed to get most items half price, which were probably still more expensive than Primark or Asda, but the quality is lovely, and I do want my new baby to be comfy in his or her first little outfits.


          ***Final Thoughts***

          Considering Mothercare was my first port of call for most things I needed for my up and coming new arrival, I was very disappointed with almost all aspects of their service. Customer service was for the most part non-existent or utterly rubbish; items available in store were severely lacking, and most things seemed overpriced and a bit of a con. I suppose it was quite handy to use as a bench mark for what not to get and to understand that other shops provide a much better service, product availability and value. If I was to do it all again, I would more than likely still go to Mothercare for a look, but then end up buying elsewhere, unless they greatly improve their service and standards.

          Thanks for reading, I've been away for a while so be kind!

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          • More +
            01.07.2013 11:55
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            Great pair of goggles for kids

            My 6 year old daughter started swimming lessons about 6 months ago, having no swimming skills whatsoever she really was 'thrown in at the deep end', and during the first few lessons she didn't really progress at all, mainly due to the fact that she was required to put her face in the water, something which she has never wanted to do before, and even panics when I wash her hair.

            Anyway, I noticed that the other children were wearing goggles, so I thought it was a good idea to buy my daughter a pair. I chose these Zoggs Little Ripper ones basically because they stocked them at the swimming pool; I think I paid around £5 for them. And it was £5 well spent let me tell you!

            These are designed for children aged 6 - 14 (but they also fit my 4 year old daughter whose face was too big for the smaller Zoggs goggles, so bear that it mind when buying goggles for children under 6 years old!) The part that goes over the eyes is a nice oval shape and has soft rubbery bits that sit against the face, so they are comfy but also nice and snug. A point to note here is that the rubbery bits that go around the eyes are very firmly attached to the plastic parts, and there is no way they can come off (I'm pointing this out because the smaller Zoggs goggles (that were too small anyway) I bought for my younger daughter were not as well made, and the rubbery pads kept coming off - which was very annoying, but could also cause a painful injury).

            The band that goes around the head is made from a very stretchy soft rubbery type material, and it splits into two around the back of the head, which makes it very handy for accommodating a pony tail - this also helps to keep the goggles in position, because the pony tail sits in the middle of the two parts of the strap, and stops the goggles from slipping down. These straps are also very adjustable, so you can fit them to the exact size of your child's head, and they have quite a large adjustable range so I'm hoping they will last her a good few years as she grows. The straps have ridges along the adjustable part so this helps them stay at the size you require. The other nice thing about these goggles is that they are very easy for my daughter to get on and off herself while she's in the pool, the material that the strap is made of is stretchy enough for her to manage to pull it over her head without it snapping harshly into position and potentially hurting her!

            The plastic in the 'goggle' section is clear (not tinted like some are) so if my daughter has them on all the time during her swimming lesson she has a good clear view of the pool both on top of the water and underneath (yes she now goes under water!) And there are also no hard or sharp edges, so there is no potential for scrapes or scratches when a child is using the goggles unaided.

            I found that these goggles have been brilliant for my daughter. She can use them confidently herself and they are safe. They have also given her the extra boost of confidence that she needed to be able to swim comfortably in the water without any worries about water going in her eyes (however, she did say to me last night that sometimes she still closes her eyes even when she has the goggles on if she thinks she's going to get splashed "and she doesn't know why!"). But since she has been using the goggles, I haven't noticed any panic reactions in her movements, and her confidence in the water came on in leaps and bounds in just a few weeks. It actually left me flabbergasted how much she changed since she started wearing the goggles; she's like a completely different child.

            Highly recommended.

            Available in pink or blue and can be bought from Leisure Centres, but if you search for them on Google you will find them widely available on the internet priced between £4 and £9, depending on where you shop!

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            • Barbie Princess Styling Head / Doll / 61 Readings / 61 Ratings
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              27.06.2013 12:22
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              Don't Bother

              My youngest daughter has an obsession with hair; I think this could be due to the fact that hers is only just starting to grow long and look girly (she's 4), so she loves having it styled and brushed and putting little clips in it etc. When Christmas was looming last year she was desperate for a doll's head with hair that she could brush and play with. I left this task in her Nanna's capable hands, assuming that Nanna would indulge my daughter and buy her a really good one. What she ended up with was this Barbie Princess Styling Head, priced at £10.49 from Argos. 'BARGAIN' I hear you cry; not so, unfortunately. Priced at £10.49 you really get what you pay for.

              ***What's In The Box***

              The box is pretty big, but when you open it up you are greeted with a very small Barbie head and shoulders. The size of the head is actually about the same size as my other daughter's Baby Annabelle, but it is obviously covered with long shiny blonde hair.

              You also get lots of plastic accessories, which break and snap almost immediately - you basically get a few plastic hair clips, a completely plastic hair brush which has no chance of running through the hair, and some coil things which are impossible to put in the hair, and a tiara which is also impossible to use (well it is for me and my daughter anyway). All these accessories have now been misplaced because they were never any use in the first place.

              ***Time To Style***

              My daughter was really excited when she got this and she couldn't wait to start styling her very own Barbie head, unfortunately her enjoyment was very short lived. The head is so lightweight that once you attempt to brush her hair she falls over, so you have to hold it steady with one hand and brush with the other (and a word of advice, use a normal hair brush, not the one provided because this just snags on the hair). Also if you are attempting to put any sort of clips or bobbles in the hair, it is very difficult to keep it steady whilst doing this, so as you can imagine this is extremely frustrating for a 4 year old.

              So she tried to play with it for about 10 minutes, got fed up and left it alone for about 2 months. I then tried to rekindle her interest in it, by helping her do some plaits and using her own hair bobbles and accessories, but she still wasn't particularly interested because she couldn't do it herself. And by now the hair was getting matted and tangled, and let me tell you, once that has happened there is no going back.

              Because she was so disinterested in the toy, I allowed her to take it into the bath and wash her hair and play with it that way. She did get a lot more enjoyment from it in the sense that she was doing it all herself, but now the hair was completely matted, and it took half a bottle of conditioner and a lot of teasing and brushing to get the knots out. Once the hair was dry though the knots just seemed to come back, and the hair is completely unmanageable. What I have also noticed that in the 6 months that we have had the toy, she has started to go bald, all the tugging at her hair trying to get the knots out has pulled out huge clumps, and the top of her head is missing rather a large amount of hair.

              ***My Thoughts***

              As you may have guessed I have not been in the least bit pleased with this toy, and my daughter certainly hasn't either. It's tacky, small, unsteady, and the accessories are cheap and useless. The hair mats instantly making it impossible to play with and style, and it also falls out pretty quickly too. All in all I feel it was a complete waste of money (I'm just glad it wasn't me that spent it). I think if toys like this are going to be made, they need to have good quality accessories, and be a lot sturdier, and perhaps the price will be higher, but then at least it can actually be played with and enjoyed.

              ***Price and Availability***

              As I said earlier you can get this from Argos for £10.49, and I think it is still in the 2 for £15 offer.

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              • More +
                12.06.2013 12:34
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                Fun book

                I stumbled upon this book whilst shopping on Amazon; it popped up on the 'recommended for you' section, so after having a quick look and reading the reviews I decided to buy it for my 2 children, aiming it really at my 4 year old, although my 6 year has taken a great deal from it, and they both seem to love it in equal amounts.

                ***You Choose***

                The concept of the book is very simple and as the title says 'You Choose', the children get to choose something on each page. Written by Pippa Goodhart and illustrated by Nick Sharratt, it's not a typical children's story book, because the book is not providing set rules, it is up to the children to choose the outcome. Basically you have 12 double page spreads which are filled with lots and lots of pictures, and each has a different theme. First of all the child is asked 'If you could go anywhere, where would you go?' And the page is filled with a landscape scene that includes desert, forest, sea, land, cities, farms, mountains, planets...anywhere you can think of. And your child can choose anywhere they would like to go. My kids change this one each time, sometimes they want to go to the desert, or to see the volcano, and often they'll go in a rocket to the moon.

                Each subsequent double page spread is based on the same idea, but the questions (and pictures obviously) are different. You are asked who you would like for family and friends, what kind of home would you live in, what would you put in your home, how would you travel, what would you eat, what would you wear, what pet would you have, what job would you do, what would you do for fun, and finally where would you sleep.

                They are all questions based on real life scenarios and there are a huge variety of things for the children to choose from. It is perhaps interesting for the child to actually get a say in some of these things, when they maybe wouldn't get the choice in real life - what to wear for instance - judging by the choices my 4 year old makes in this book, she'd be wearing a polka dot dress, stripy tights, fluffy slippers, topped off with a frilly hat to school in the morning!

                ***What the Kids Thought***

                As I said earlier my children are aged 4 & 6, and they both really enjoy looking at this book. My 6 year old can read so she quite happily sits on her own and looks at this, and the nice thing is that once you have read it, you can go back to the beginning and read it again and have a completely different experience. I read this with my 6 year old daughter last night, and she is the sensible one in our family so her choices are very similar to what she would expect to happen in real life. She chooses to live in a normal house, travel in a normal car, wears trousers and a top, has a dog or a cat for a pet, and sleeps in a standard looking bed. When I read it with her, I try to make her choices a bit more extravagant, by suggesting that Santa could be her Daddy, or that she could travel in a space ship, and although she does change her mind sometimes, she does tend to stick with the same sort of theme.

                My 4 year old changes her mind as often as she changes her socks (which is more than once a day) so she has found an awful lot of enjoyment in this book. She's a child who bores very easily and can't sit still for long periods of time, but give her this book (and my knee) and she will read it over and over again. She loves to study all the pictures, and some of the pages are so detailed that she can spend ages just looking at all the different things, and I think we still haven't spotted everything, we keep finding new things, we only noticed the other day that on the clothes page there are even bracelets, earrings and necklaces to choose as well! There are so many things to look at, and I think this is what my 4 year old loves; each time she looks at the book she sees something new, and so for her the story changes each time. Although she always chooses the same bed and that is the pink four poster frilly princess bed (I think she's trying to tell me something).

                What is really interesting is the 'what would you do for a job' page because this is something we have never really discussed with our children before, so it's quite intriguing to see what they would choose. My eldest always says vet and my youngest changes her mind each time. But I found this quite educational for them, because they have no idea what going out to 'work' meant, they knew that their Daddy fixes cars, but that's as far as their knowledge stretched, so now they know about lots of other jobs that people do every day.

                ***Final Thoughts***

                We really love this book, the children love it because they get to choose things, and I suppose allows them to interact more with you as a parent and provides many talking points. The illustrations as always are very bright and eye catching and also sometimes humorous which is always a bonus in a kid's book. We've only had it a few weeks, but it's definitely my youngest daughter's favourite book so far, she would rather read this over any of her others.

                I would highly recommend this book for children of all ages; even if they don't understand the concept they will love the pictures.

                ISBN 9780552547086
                RRP £5.99

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                • More +
                  17.05.2013 12:41
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                  Lovely baking set for kids

                  My little girl has always loved to bake, so a couple of years ago when I saw this on offer in The Early Learning Centre, I just bought it without a second thought. I knew she would love to use it for role playing, and from what I could see it had all the essential items needed for a little pretend baker in the making.

                  ***What You Get***

                  * A working food mixer with 2 sets of interchangeable whisks
                  * Mixing bowl
                  * Measuring jug
                  * Clear jug
                  * Spatula
                  * Measuring spoons
                  * Weighing scales with removable bowl
                  * Bun tray with 4 buns
                  * Rolling pin

                  So as you can see, there is a good range of accessories to create the ideal role playing opportunities for your little bakers. All the items are made from good quality plastic and some of them actually resemble the real thing, although I wouldn't trust the plastic bun tray in the oven!

                  The 4 plastic measuring spoons are practically the same as the ones I use, and I do believe they hold the correct amount as labelled on each spoon. The little yellow measuring jug has markings on the side and it holds up to 200 ml, and these markings are also accurate. I think this adds a really nice touch to the set because it would actually allow the child to use these items in a real situation, if parents were that way inclined. My daughter helps me bake, but she is now old enough (4) to use my equipment successfully without breaking anything. However, a younger child may find it easier to use these smaller measuring items in a 'real life' baking situation.

                  The weighing scales are also labelled with weights, but I have not tested whether these are accurate because I think it's a bit unstable to be putting things in the bowl, but they do act like a real set of weighing scales, in terms of when you put pressure on the top, the arrow indicator moves around the dial.

                  The most impressive aspect of this set is the food mixer. It is built like a standard hand food mixer, but just a bit smaller (and a lot more lightweight). It comes on its own stand and you can also remove the actual mixer part from the stand, so it can either be hand held or free standing; the mixer part is hinged so you can move it up and down when you are swapping bowls and jugs about underneath the whisks. It requires 2 x AA batteries (which I don't think were supplied with the set), and these batteries power the whisks, and a little red light on the side (which in all honesty I think is pointless but a very young child may find this useful!). To turn the whisks on you have to first turn a dial on the side of the unit to either manual or auto. If you turn it to auto, the whisks will start turning and not stop until you turn the dial back to off or to manual. When the dial is pointing at manual, you have to press the button on the top to activate the whisks. My daughter uses this setting most often because when she is baking, she can just press the button on the top as she pleases whenever she needs the whisks to turn.

                  As I said above, the food mixer comes with 2 sets of whisks, and these are really easily removed and replaced. You just pull them out, there is a slight click but it is nothing major and my daughter removes and replaces these whisks with ease. I love this about the toy because sometimes items like this can be really hard for children to use without parental intervention, but this is just right.

                  I've found that everything in the set is an ideal size for little hands, and my daughter is really comfortable with using all the items because it is all so like the real thing, just a bit smaller.

                  ***Time To Play***

                  This set is not something that particularly gets played with every day, but it is definitely something that both my children really enjoy when they do play with it, and because there are so many items included they can play together quite happily without too many arguments. It goes nicely alongside their toy kitchen, because once they have done all their baking, the buns can be put into the pretend oven. And once they are baked, they usually have some teddies on hand and their other play food and go onto to have a birthday party or a picnic. So although this is a great set in its own right, it also adds an extra element to other areas of play. My children just love to role play, and they have a lot of 'real world' toys such as a kitchen, shop, food, tea sets, birthday cakes...and when they have all this sort of stuff, the possibilities are truly endless.

                  The thing about it is that all the equipment that they need is there (even the finished product), apart from the actual ingredients, but my kids just love to pretend, and they make up all sorts of concoctions in their little heads and it is interesting to hear what they think would be a nice cake (strawberry & broccoli cake anyone?) Sometimes they don't use the full set all at once, often they just grab the buns and use them for tea parties, or they'll get the jug and use it for pouring pretend drinks, or the rolling pin will come in handy when they have their play dough out. It really is a very versatile set.

                  ***Final Thoughts***

                  We love this baking set, we've had it since my youngest was 2 years old (although it is not recommended for children under 3 years of age), and my kids are now 4 & 6 and they still get a massive amount of enjoyment from it. It is definitely something that stays with them for a few years at least, and as they grow and learn, the more they will understand about baking and measurements, and so it's also quite educational in that sense.

                  I would highly recommend this set for boys and girls alike (there are no gender specific colours so it's safe for little boy bakers too!)

                  Available from ELC for £20.

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                  • Sunsense Sun Protection / Sun Care / 67 Readings / 67 Ratings
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                    10.05.2013 11:57
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                    The best suncreen money can buy.

                    Last weekend I made an earth-shattering error - I used standard sun cream on my 4 year old daughter. She has an allergic reaction to it, well the sun cream you buy in the shops anyway, and I only discovered this fact last year, why it hadn't happened in previous years I don't know. She would come up in a lumpy itchy rash every time I applied the sun cream, and the effects would last for days with her scratching and making herself bleed. Not a very nice experience for a little girl.

                    So off to the chemist I went and he recommended long sleeve tops, long trousers and a hat. Good advice, unless your daughter (like mine) sweats profusely at the mere sight of the sun, and strips off at the earliest convenience, so covering up like that is not really an option. He then started wafting a bottle of this SunSense in front of my face saying how good it was and would be the best thing for her. And I was stood there thinking, well are you going to give it to me or what?! Turns out its highly expensive (prices hover around the £14 mark for 125ml) and it's best to get it on prescription. Which I did, so it was free, and it was brilliant, we had a pleasant itch and rash free rest of summer last year.

                    This year, surprised by the sudden blue skies I was not prepared and had not renewed her prescription, and was secretly hoping my daughter may have outgrown the allergy so I chanced it with some standard cream. I shouldn't have, she's spent the last 3 days itching her arms, face & neck, which makes me feel like the worst mother in the world. I've since been back to the doctors and got some more SunSense on prescription.

                    ***SunSense***

                    SunSense is actually an Australian product, and it is the UK's number 1 prescribed sunscreen, but it is not just available on prescription, you can also purchase it from chemists and online. It seems that SunSense is not just a sunscreen, it is also a campaign for changing people's opinions on covering up and protecting themselves from potential cancer inducing rays from the sun, and they are currently working with schools to educate children and parents on the importance of staying safe in the sun.

                    The SunSense range includes a variety of different sunscreens such as Ultra, Toddler Milk, Face Cream, Supersensitive, Anti-ageing and Lip Balm. Each product is specific in its formulation but all help protect against both UVA and UVB radiation; they are all also free from PABA derivatives and lanolin. The product I am reviewing today is SunSense Ultra.

                    ***SunSense Ultra***

                    "A light, smooth, easy-to-apply lotion for the whole family providing SPF 50+ protection with 4 hours' water resistance."

                    SunSense Ultra does not resemble other sunscreens that you would find on your supermarket or chemist shelves. For starters it does not come in a bright orange bottle, so it is not something which would catch your eye, unless you were specifically looking for it. It comes in an unassuming white bottle, with a flip cap lid. The logo on the front is blue & yellow, with a red band containing the words SPF 50+ VERY HIGH PROTECTION. So you know, this is strong stuff.

                    When I got this home ready to use, I was concerned that the high factor would mean a really thick and chalky cream (as I had experienced in the past with toothpaste style factor 50 creams). However, I was extremely surprised and overjoyed to find it to be more like a milk than a cream, and very easy to apply. It almost feels like a watered down version of the UK sunscreens that I have been so used to using.

                    When I came to apply some to my daughter's body, I was really surprised (again) at how easy it was rub into her skin, it went on really smoothly and within a few minutes there was no visible trace of it; usually this would worry me because I am used to seeing white smears across my kids arms and legs and face when applying sunscreen; which leaves you in no doubt that you have covered them sufficiently. But because this is so lightweight and easy to apply, it is really simple to get an even coverage because it spreads so easily and then soaks straight into the skin. What is even more amazing is that it does not seem to leave the skin feeling sticky or clammy; I'll be honest and say you can feel a slight residue, but it doesn't have the same claggy feeling that your standard sunscreen would leave behind. And while this SunSense does have a slight scent to it, it isn't overpowering in the slightest.

                    ***Effectiveness***

                    My daughter has white hair and invisible skin; or this is how people like to describe her. She is one of the fairest children you could ever meet, so not only does she have very sensitive skin; she also has skin which is very susceptible to sun damage. This is not good for a child who likes to be naked most of the time. During her baby years I managed to keep her covered up most of the time and only once did she suffer sun damage on her face when we lost her hat. But now she is older it is difficult to shield her from the sun's harmful rays, so a good sunscreen is what we need, and thankfully we have found it.

                    When we know we are going to be outside for most (or even part) of the day I apply this cream to most of her body (the visible parts) and because it is so easy to apply it does not take up a lot of time and an even coverage is very easy to attain. Once she is smothered in it, she is free to go and play. During the day I will probably only reapply this once more, even though it recommends reapplying every 2 hours. The product is water resistant for up to 4 hours, so if she has been in the pool I usually reapply afterwards to ensure she hasn't rubbed any off, but I know she is protected during the time she is playing in the water.

                    Since we have been using this cream, she has not suffered with an itchy rash, and has no visible trace of sun damage, so I have been extremely pleased with it. I am also extremely pleased that we can get this free on prescription due to her skin, although you can't put a price on your child's health so I wouldn't particularly have any issues with paying £14 for a bottle if it meant my daughter was being thoroughly protected.

                    I have to admit, I don't exclusively use this on my 4 year old daughter, I also use it for my 6 year old too, because I wouldn't want one of them to have more protection than the other, and I myself (also being fair of face) use it on the odd occasion when I know I will be having maximum exposure. I find the cream to be the best sunscreen I have ever used, and the small bottle goes a long way. The 125ml we were prescribed last year lasted all summer (yes I know British summers don't last particularly long), and our new bottle will hopefully last all this summer when the sun finally comes back.

                    I would highly recommend SunSense Ultra for sensitive and non sensitive people alike for maximum protection from the sun.

                    ********

                    Ingredients:
                    Aqua (water), propylene glycol dicaprylate/dicaprate, glycerine, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, isostearic acid, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, titanium oxide, benzophenone-3, buty methoxydibenzolymethane, VP/eicosene copolymer, potassium cetyl phosphate, butylenes glycol, phenylbenzimidiazole sulfonic acid, triethanolamine, phenoxyethanol, aluminium stearate, dimethicone, cetyl alcohol, magnesium aluminium silicate, polyacrylic acid, methylparaben, disodium EDTA, propylparaben, xanthan gum, BHT, parfum.

                    For more information visit www.sunsense.co.uk

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                    • Ikea Kalas Mug / Crockery / 47 Readings / 46 Ratings
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                      08.05.2013 22:32
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                      Perfect.

                      We bought these a couple of years ago when the kids had grown out of that sippy cup (and every other annoying kids cup you can imagine that you tend to accumulate when you have little ones) stage, but they weren't quite ready for the world of big cups. I'd wanted something like this for ages; simple, easy to store and relatively unbreakable, so when I saw this pack of 6 in IKEA for less than a pound I snapped them up. I actually wish I'd bought a couple of packs, but to be honest the 6 we've got have been perfectly adequate for our needs.

                      The cups (which are different to the ones in the dooyoo picture, mine are perhaps an older version) are pretty basic and made from solid plastic and come in 6 bright colours, pink, orange, yellow, green, turquoise and blue. They hold approximately 1/4 of a pint which is a decent amount for a child.

                      The cups are dishwasher and microwave safe, something which I wasn't aware of until I inspected the underside of the cup just now! However, despite my ignorance I have used these in the microwave on several occasions before today's revelation, and they have also been through the dishwasher every day for the last 2 months (the length of time we have owned a dishwasher). The cups remain in the same condition, more or less, as the day we bought them, they are just starting to look 'used' which I would say is good after over 2 years of constant use.

                      I love these cups. They stack neatly inside each other so take up little space in the cupboard. The children use them for their drinks at snack time and at meal times. They also like to have hot chocolate in them on the odd occasion and this is when they are used in the microwave, and thankfully they have no visible microwave scars. They are lightweight enough for a child as young as 2 years old to handle them comfortably; and my kids aged 4 & 6 are confident enough to carry them around the house without any spillages.

                      These cups should be in every mother's cupboard; they are an ideal size for children, robust, easy to store, keep clean, and they even survive modern kitchen appliances.

                      I couldn't possibly tell you how much they cost now, but you will find them in IKEA, no doubt very reasonably priced.

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                      • Dyson DC07 / Vacuum Cleaner / 63 Readings / 61 Ratings
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                        05.05.2013 21:53
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                        Super

                        We bought this when we purchased our second house (back in 2006) and 7 years later it still performs to a very high standard. Perhaps I don't need to continue with this review because that in itself is enough to make certain people want to buy a Dyson. It is certainly a long lasting and highly efficient piece of equipment! However, I will continue...

                        Back in 2006 we paid just over £100; how we managed to get it that cheap I can't remember (it was during my pre-kids phase and I can barely remember anything that happened before 2007), but I'm guessing it was on some sort of special offer because refurbished ones currently cost £129 on Amazon.

                        ***THE DYSON***

                        The complete unit is pretty hefty to say the least; it was a big change from our 'ORB' which was some small cheap thing that you drag around the floor behind you and it had very poor suction. With the DC07 being an upright vacuum cleaner it stands quite tall and seems quite imposing when stood waiting to be used. Then when you turn it on, the noise is really quite loud, but it is something I seem to have become accustomed too, but the kids still jump in terror when I turn it on; much to my delight.

                        **Features**

                        I believe this model to be quite a basic Dyson, but I will still run through the main points of the appliance.

                        The wire is stored neatly round the back of the unit, and when you start to use it you will have to uncoil this and plug it in.

                        The on button is large and yellow and very hard to miss, it sits directly above the dust collection chamber, and this button is very easy to turn on and off.

                        When you begin vacuuming, the bottom part obviously needs to be tilted away from the upright section, and you very simply push your foot on the front and this clicks it out of the upright position, so the top half of the vacuum cleaner is tilted to allow easier manoeuvring around the room.

                        The handle at the top is very large and easy to grip and push the vacuum around the room, but I have noticed that this sits quite high and some shorter people may find this to be a problem.

                        When you want to get into some smaller areas you will need to use the pipe, and this is where it might get a bit complicated for some (my Mum). The pipe is located within the flexi-pipe and sits down the back of the Dyson. You have to unhook this from the rear, then pull out the entire solid pipe from within the flexible pipe, turn it around and click the other end back into the flexi-pipe. Ours is quite stiff, so this can sometimes be quite tricky, but once you have it all in position, you can then choose your attachment - you have a choice of a brush, small head, and a long thin pipe. These are located around the unit, and click easily in and out of position. The good thing about this pipe is that the solid part is very long, so you can almost do all of the vacuuming without having to bend over too much.

                        If you need to vacuum your stairs, then this is where the pipe comes in very handy, because you can do the entire staircase (provided it is your standard size) without having to lug the heavy vacuum cleaner up the steps; the flexible part of the pipe reaches all the way to the top!

                        The dust collection chamber (what else can I call it?) is made from clear plastic so you can literally see the dust being sucked out of your carpet, swishing round and round inside the cylinder and you witness the dust ball getting bigger and bigger the more vacuuming you do. I especially like vacuuming in front of a mirror to marvel at the amazing growing dust ball.

                        When the dust chamber is full, it simply unhooks from the Dyson by pushing a small button located at the top which you just push slightly, and the entire unit comes off. Then to empty it you pull a small hook located under the handle and the bottom just flaps open and the dust falls out. A point worth noting here, don't walk around with finger on the trigger as you may accidentally empty the contents onto floor before reaching the bin. The good thing is that the Dyson will have no problem sucking it all back up again.

                        There is a small removable section at the bottom of the unit, which is very handy for removing any blockages that might occur, but this also has the tendency to sometimes come loose, and this reduces suction.

                        ***USING THE DYSON***

                        When we first used this, we had brand new carpets, and it was practically full within about 3 seconds which proved how good the suction was because it was having no problems sucking up all the new carpet fluff. I was quite amazed at how powerful the suction was, especially when we were comparing it to our old pathetic thing that hardly sucked anything up at all. When I really noticed the sheer power was when I was using the pipe once and got distracted then left the pipe on the carpet for a second too long and it started sucking the pile out of it! I had half a carpet in my Dyson! Luckily it was a thick carpet and you couldn't tell.

                        What I did notice was the unit felt really quite heavy and bulky, and it is not particularly good at getting into small places, so the pipe has to make an appearance quite a lot, especially if your rooms are small and cluttered. And I do find getting the pipe out and in quite a chore, especially if you are doing the entire house, pulling out the pipe, turning it round, clicking it into place, vacuuming the small spaces, then shoving it all back into place again, well it just makes me sweat! But being able to do the stairs all in one go is quite a good feature.

                        We recently moved house again and the Dyson really proved its worth once again. The carpets were all cream throughout the house, and the man that lived here before us obviously never took his shoes of while he was in the house, so there were black tracks across the carpets where he clearly spent most of his time. My husband and I decided to borrow somebody's carpet cleaner to combat this problem. However, I thought I would get the Dyson out first and give the carpets a good old vacuum, and what was really surprising was that with a bit of perseverance it actually sucked up a lot of this black dirt. I'm not going to lie and say it completely got rid of it, but there was a marked difference, so much so that we decided against using the carpet cleaner.

                        ***CLEANING & MAINTENANCE***

                        Our Dyson has not really required much maintenance (probably because it's a job I've left in my husband's capable hands...) Every 6 months to a year he takes all the filters out and cleans them, I think he just uses soapy water; and he cleans inside any parts of the Dyson that he can reach to remove any dust or blockages. The filters take quite a while to dry out though, probably at least a day, and I remember when we bought the Dyson the lady told us to make sure the filters were completely dry before using it again because any wetness would cause blockages and the unit would stop working altogether! Luckily, this has not happened to us so far.

                        A couple of years ago we had to buy a replacement part for our Dyson, and this part was the flexible pipe (or hose as Dyson call it). We found that it was widely available on eBay for around £12-£13, but we decided to go through the Dyson website to ensure we were getting the correct part; these are currently £23.16, which is in the region of what we paid for it 2 years ago. The reason we had to replace this pipe was because it split, and it split right where it joins to the plastic cuff. We attempted a gaffer tape fix but it didn't really improve anything, so we ordered the replacement part. We thought it was brilliant that replacement parts were available so easily, and on closer inspection of the website you can get practically any part you might need for your Dyson. And this obviously works out a lot cheaper than replacing the entire vacuum cleaner!

                        ***OVERALL OPINION***

                        As you may have gathered, I have been really pleased with my Dyson, especially 7 years down the line and it still performs really well. It perhaps is not as powerful as it was back in the beginning but it still sucks one hell of a lot of dust out of my carpets. With us now having cream carpets throughout the house, and 2 kids, I found that I have to use my Dyson at least twice a week because fluff and crumbs show up too well, and every time I still get amazed at how much fluff collects in the dust chamber.

                        There are a number of things I don't particularly like about my Dyson, but the pros (it does such a good job and easily maintained) outweigh the cons. I just don't like that it is so bulky and heavy; when I was pregnant I really struggled to get it up and downstairs and had to wait for my husband to carry it about for me. I've also taken chunks out of the skirting boards and doorframes through trying to lug it about on my own and just general clumsiness on my part. I also find the pipe annoying and fiddly, but I love that I can do the stairs all in one go, so really it's all swings and roundabouts; I suppose to get what you want, you have to compromise on some things. One other thing that I find really irritating, (but the reason it is so irritating is because the suction is so good), is that if you are using the hose, the upright section is usually attached to your backside because as soon as the end of the hose makes contact with the carpet, the flexible part of the pipe contracts and the main unit shoots across the floor to greet you. So you can be trying to clean along the edges of the skirting board and the Dyson is jabbing you on the backside.

                        But these minor quibbles are not really an issue, I always find my carpets to look clean and fresh whenever I have used the Dyson and I'm hoping to continue using it for many years to come!

                        I would highly recommend the DYSON DC07; whether you can still buy a new one is another matter! I have seen reconditioned or used ones on Amazon and eBay for varying prices. However, if you were to buy a brand new Dyson you would probably have to go for the DC14 which looks the closest model to the DC07, and these are going for £219.99 on the Dyson website; which in my opinion would be well worth the spend!

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                        • Skechers Bobs / Shoes / 43 Readings / 41 Ratings
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                          03.05.2013 11:48
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                          Nice break from ballet pumps

                          I bought these last year when I was looking for some summer shoes that weren't ballet pumps and I didn't want sandals either (I don't like to have my toes on display), but I needed something lightweight and cool (in both senses of the word) for my 3 school runs every day.

                          Made from a soft canvas type material on top and a comfy sole which is about 1cm thick, it doesn't feel like you are walking directly on the concrete, there is some cushioning there. They are extremely comfy to wear, I LOVE wearing mine, in fact I wear them all the time. They actually stay on my feet and don't slop around like those god awful ballet pumps that everyone seems to be sporting these days. The canvas around the top completely covers the top of your feet, so you are not at risk of sunburn either.

                          One thing I will point out is that they are not water repellent in the slightest, if you even get a sniff of rain your feet will end up wet, and the soles are extremely slippery - when I first bought them I must have had a maybe 3 or 4 near misses where I have slipped because the soles were so slippery, especially in wet or icy conditions (yes I have worn them throughout Winter!) Also the soles have some sort of canvas covering which starts coming away as soon as you start wearing them, which leaves you with a messy bits hanging out from the sides, unless you trim them down.

                          I've had mine for about 8 months now, and I will admit they are beginning to look a bit worse for wear, but I have worn them almost every day, they are currently my main footwear. But the fact that they are made from flimsy material, and are non waterproof, I think they have done remarkably well. I'm hoping to get the rest of the summer out of them before my husband becomes too embarrassed to be seen with me.

                          One last thing, the sizing is big - I'm normally an 8, but I had to buy a 7 which still have plenty of room for my humongous feet.

                          Available on Amazon for between £20 and £35 (I got them a lot cheaper!)

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                        • ELC Skittles / Outdoor Toy / 47 Readings / 47 Ratings
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                          02.05.2013 11:51
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                          Great little set for kids

                          We've had these for about 2 years now and although they don't get played with on a regular basis, my kids do enjoy it when we get them out. Priced at £6 these are really great value for something that is long lasting and enjoyed by a good age range of children.

                          ***WHAT DO YOU GET?***

                          In the set you are provided with 2 plastic bowling bowls (they are like mini replicas of the real thing, they even have little finger holes - not that you can fully insert your finger into these ones, probably a health and safety issue in a child's toy!) And you get 6 brightly coloured plastic skittles, 2 red, 2 blue and 2 green which stand at about 24cm high, so they are a good size. I can't remember how these were packaged, but two years later we have nothing to store them in, apart from a carrier bag, so I'm guessing that they don't come with a storage bag.

                          ***HOW IS THE QUALITY?***

                          Despite these being made from plastic and very lightweight, they are remarkably robust. Obviously with them being very light, it is best to play with them on a concrete floor outside, or a wooden floor inside; anything else and they will fall over before you've even thrown the ball at them. So when the ball lands or the skittles are knocked over, they are landing on a harsh floor, and sometimes our balls get slammed into the ground, but they have yet to crack under the pressure! Which amazes me every time it happens.

                          The skittles are now beginning to get scratches on the sides from rolling around on the floor but apart from that there is no other damage on any of the items, and these toys are 2 years old. However, as I said in my opening paragraph - they do not get played with on a regular basis (we only tend to get them out when the sun is shining which is very rare these days, but back in March, and now this week they have made an appearance!)

                          ***TIME TO PLAY***

                          When we first bought these my kids were aged 2 & 4 and they required supervision when playing because the 2 year old would bowl herself into them before my 4 year old would get chance to throw the ball - and the inevitable tantrums ensued, so it was more like refereeing than supervision.

                          Also with the skittles being so lightweight, the children were quite heavy handed with them and would struggle to get them to stand up without knocking them over immediately afterwards. I know the idea is that skittles are supposed to be knocked over, but it is unbelievably easy to knock these ones down, you only have to breathe near them and they collapse. So playing with them on a windy day is completely out of the question!

                          When we got them out for an afternoon back in March, my kids now aged 4 & 6 spent about half an hour playing with these unsupervised and managed to have a good game without any arguments, and I love the fact that they can play with things like this now without me having to intervene.

                          This week we have had them out to play again, but it was just me and my 4 year old (the 6 year old was at school) and she got a good full hour of play out of it. What we decided to do was create a little bowling alley with our foam jigsaw square things (I can't remember what they are called and I really should write a review on them because they are awesome!) and stood the skittles at the end, so that my daughter had a line of fire, for want of a better phrase, and she still managed to miss the skittles most of the time, but she had a whale of a time throwing the ball and knocking down the skittles when it was my turn (cheeky moose).

                          The great thing about toys like this is that the actual game length is over in a matter of seconds, so kids with a tiny attention span (like my daughter) don't seem to get bored, despite the repetitiveness of having set the skittles up over and over again. The length of play seems to be extended because the child does not have to spend a lot of time concentrating on one thing; the play is broken up by the cycle of the skittles being knocked over and set up again. My daughter seems to enjoy this more than sitting down to play a game that would last perhaps 10 -15 minutes, and gets more enjoyment from it. I think it helps that she's active and running up and down the garden and she gets away with throwing things around!

                          Skittles are definitely an outdoor toy, and an amazing way to get kids active.

                          ***FINAL THOUGHTS***

                          These are a good value little set of skittles, they withstand a lot of battering, look nice with the bright colours, and they get your kids outside and active. I can't compare them to any other sets of skittles because these are the only ones we have ever owned or used, but they have been adequate for our needs and I think they were £6 well spent!

                          You can buy these from the Early Learning Centre for £6, and they are also available on their website. If you are lucky you might get them on offer, I'm sure we bought them at a discounted price.

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                          • More +
                            25.04.2013 12:27
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                            He's a Stick Man

                            My 4 year old daughter received this book for Christmas last year, and in the short space of time since then it has earned its place as favourite book to read at bedtime (for me and my daughters).

                            Written by the famous children's author Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, you just know it is bound to be a hit with children and adults alike. The version we have is a small hardback boardbook, which is just the perfect size really, and a lot easier to read and handle than the larger paperback version.

                            **Stick Man**

                            "Stick Man lives in the family tree
                            With his Stick Lady Love and their stick children three"

                            Unfortunately for Stick Man he ends up going on an unplanned magnificent adventure - he gets to play fetch with a dog, thrown in the river as a pooh stick, used as part of a nest for a swan, stuck in the top of a sandcastle, and numerous other things that a stick may be used for, until he finally ends up on a fireplace ready to be burnt! However, fortunately for Stick Man he is rescued by a jolly fellow dressed in red, and ultimately returned home to the family tree.

                            Whilst those adventures I mentioned above sound very exciting, Stick Man is less than pleased to be passed around and used as various implements, and he expresses his anger each time shouting:

                            "I'm Stick Man, I'm Stick Man, I'M STICK MAN, that's me, And I long to be back in the family tree"

                            But this seems to fall on deaf ears each time, and towards the end of the story he appears to give up on his quest to return home, but as I said earlier he does get rescued and it is a happy ending.

                            **What The Kids Thought**

                            My kids loved this straight away, they liked the rhyming text, and they liked the repetitiveness of Stick Man shouting "I'm Stick Man, I'M STICK MAN!" over and over again. They loved to see what scrapes he gets himself into as he is played with by various different children and animals. They especially like when he is used as a Pooh-stick - they laugh every single time, especially when he says "I'm not a Pooh-stick!"

                            Towards the end he is used as an arm for a snowman, and they also find this amusing when he protests that he most certainly is not an arm. I think the children can really relate to the story and this is one of the reasons they enjoy it so much - they love to play with sticks, every time we go to the park they always find a stick to play with, there's something about sticks that kids love, and to have a story based around one must seem such a novelty.

                            The story has a happy ending, and for children I think this is a must, especially since they have just witnessed Stick Man being put through his paces, then left in the snow to freeze, and finally in a fireplace. To be rescued by probably their favourite person in the whole world (Santa in case you hadn't already guessed) is a perfect ending to a very entertaining story.

                            **My Thoughts**

                            Like the children, I immediately fell in love with this book, the story is unique in that it is based around a twig, but it is also something the children and I can relate to. The way it is written really helps you to feel good as you are reading the story, the rhyming text allows you to accentuate some of the words and give meaning to the story, especially when Stick Man is fed up!

                            In the past I've found Julia Donaldson books to be a bit on the long side and have found that the children tend to get a bit restless before the end; but with Stick Man they are riveted every time, and at 30 pages long, this is quite a feat! They are captivated from the first line right to the very last. I think it helps that the book seems to be divided into three sections; the first being where Stick Man is being used over and over again for the various things, and it has very easy and repetitive text. But then the pace changes as he seems to give up on himself; we feel sad and sorry that he may not get back to the family tree and the text seems to slow down a lot; but finally the story picks up again as he is rescued and returned to his family, and it returns to the familiar bouncy text we had at the beginning. The ending is perfect with a real feel-good sense to it with Stick Man being returned home, and I mean, who doesn't like Father Christmas!?

                            **Recommendation**

                            I would highly recommend this book if you have children. Mine are aged 4 & 6 and they both love it equally. I'm not sure whether you would get away with reading it to a child younger than 3 because it is quite long, I suppose it just depends on their attention span!

                            The paperback version is currently available on Amazon for £4.00 (April 2013).

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                            • Canon Ixus 115 HS / Digital Camera / 66 Readings / 62 Ratings
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                              17.04.2013 21:42
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                              Brilliant

                              A few years ago I had a Fujifilm Finepix J30 which I absolutely loved, but it broke twice so it was replaced with a Fujifilm Finepix JV100 which I also liked, but didn't love it as much as the J30, but then that broke, (not a good advert for Fujifilm) so they replaced that with a Nikon Coolpix S2500 which I hated, couldn't get on with it at all, so I sold it on eBay (really didn't want to go back to the shop and complain again).

                              So we wanted to be sure that the next camera we bought was going to be completely amazing, and after much research and questioning people 'in the know', we chose the Canon Ixus 115 HS. And it really is amazing, I absolutely cannot stress enough how much I love this camera.

                              As I may have mentioned in my previous camera reviews, I'm not good with technical information, so I will try and keep this review basic but full of useful, relevant information.

                              **Camera Basics**

                              The CANON Ixus 115 HS has 12.1 megapixels, a 4.0 x optical zoom, and a 4.0 x digital zoom. It is small & compact, fitting nicely into my handbag, and even a jeans pocket. I find it really transportable, and really handy for those days out when you have enough stuff to carry without worrying about where to put the camera - it just fits in your pocket. It feels nice to hold, although sometimes it feels so smooth that I worry it might fall out of my hand, but this is where the handy carry strap comes in. The LCD screen on the back is 3.0 inch, so it's a good size and also really clear.

                              It comes with a rechargeable Li-ion battery (I've no idea if this is the same as a lithium battery) which you have to remove to charge, and the charger is supplied with the camera. Whilst writing that I really had to think about when I last charged it up, which is a good indication of how well the battery lasts, because I use my camera all the time! It requires an SD card, which is not supplied with the camera.

                              **Functions**

                              Where do I start with the functions of this camera, well I think I'll start with the basics, for example what I think the most common functions are. On the camera you will find a minimal amount of buttons, which is a good thing, nothing confusing for a novice or someone who just likes to point and click.

                              On the top is the On/Off switch, the shutter button (for taking the photos, is shutter the right word?), around this button is the zoom function, so it is easy to zoom in and out fractions of a second before you take a photo; and finally a slide switch which allows you to choose 'auto' - where the camera selects the correct mode for you after assessing the conditions, or you can choose 'camera' - which allows you to chose for yourself the mode with which you would like to take the photo (more on this later as there as several different modes, some of which are amazing!).

                              On the rear of the camera next to the LCD screen there are the usual buttons which allow you to alter the flash settings, macro (interesting enough there is an opposite to macro on this which allows you to focus in on a point in the distance rather than up close - so this is quite a handy feature!) There is also a menu button which is a window into altering various shoot modes and settings on the camera, something which I rarely delve into for fear of altering something and having no idea what I have done. Finally there is a record button which is for recording HD movies. This is a great idea because rather than having to hunt through a menu to find the video setting, you just press this button on the rear of the camera and it starts recording a video straight away.

                              The camera comes with all the usual stuff you would expect from a standard digital camera, and these are not things I am going to list in this review.

                              **Modes**

                              If you are like me and you like to faff a little bit when taking pictures, then you will love this camera, it comes with so many different modes that sometimes I annoy myself by taking the same picture several different times to see what mode looks best. More often than not, the image would probably not be worthy of a place on my wall, but I still enjoy using the effects, and sometimes the final photos really do look fantastic.

                              I'm not going to bore you by going through each and every mode, but I will let you know about a couple of my favourites. First of all I will list the different modes to give you an idea of what's available on the camera:

                              Programme - allows you to programme the camera (never used it)
                              Movie Digest - I have never used this either but apparently it takes a short movie when you take a photo.
                              Portrait - speaks for itself
                              Kids and Pets - good for catching moving subjects
                              Smart Shutter - I think this takes a picture when someone smiles or opens their eyes
                              High-speed Burst - never used it
                              Best Image Selection - couldn't figure out how this worked
                              Handheld Night Scene - takes clear pictures in the night
                              Low Light - takes clear pictures in low light
                              Fish-eye Effect - makes the subject look like it is inside a fish bowl (very unflattering!)
                              Miniature Effect - blurs the edges of the shot
                              Toy Camera Effect - kind of puts a dark blurry frame around the image
                              Monochrome - speaks for itself
                              Super Vivid - speaks for itself (its pretty god damn vivid)
                              Poster Effect - makes the image look like a poster (I'm not keen myself)
                              Colour Accent - my favourite mode, allows you select a particular colour for the image and turns everything else black and white.
                              Colour Swap - you can swap two colours in an image (not particularly good quality, but fun all the same)
                              There is also Beach, Underwater, Foliage, Snow, Fireworks, Long Shutter and Stitch Assist.

                              So as you can see, if you are interested in different photo techniques then this camera has a lot to offer, now I understand that using some of the novelty modes will probably ruin the quality of the final image. But I am not trying to win any prizes; I just like to be a bit creative when taking pictures and I am really enjoying using this camera.

                              I have found that when I am outdoors taking pictures of the kids, then using the Kids and Pets setting is perhaps beneficial, because kids don't keep still, and this mode is supposed to capture them when they are on the run. But to be honest I've not really noticed a difference between this setting, or when I've had it on Auto. So if I'm taking general pictures of the kids I do usually keep it on Auto. However, if we are in a lush garden, or on the beach, or even in the snow (I took some lovely photos of the kids and their snowmen back in February), then I will select the relevant setting because it really does accentuate the image and brings out the best in whatever climate you are in.

                              I also use the Low Light setting quite a lot, and this is so much better than the old 'Night Mode' that so many cameras seemed to have. We recently went to an Aquarium, and as you may know camera flashes are not allowed in such places, so I set mine to 'Low Light' and I managed to get some crystal clear shots of the fish (even through the glass), and I also got a very detailed shot of a starfish stuck to the glass in a darkened room, it even picked out the starfish's little tentacles. My previous photos in this place have always been terrible and blurred, not anymore!

                              I use the novelty settings when I am taking pictures of scenery, such as the toy camera effect, or the miniature effect, I'm usually just experimenting, but it's interesting to see how the photos look, and we were at the Humber Bridge recently and I used the Miniature Effect whilst taking a photo of the bridge, and everything was blurred apart from the bridge (you can adjust the frame size of the part that is in focus), and the effect was brilliant - it really made the bridge stand out, well I know it's not hard for the Humber Bridge to stand out in a photo, but this added effect made it look even better.

                              My favourite mode on this camera is the Colour Accent. It took me a while to figure out how to use it, I even had to consult the manual (something which I hate doing, I like to instantly know how to use everything without reading instructions) but once I had it figured out, I was using it all the time (much to the annoyance of my kids!). You have to select a colour from the scene where you are going to take a photo. For example, if I wanted to take a photograph of my daughter and I wanted to pick out the red on her dress, I would have to set the correct mode on the camera, set it up ready to select a colour, point the camera at the colour, press the button to select the colour, then move back and take the picture. Before you take the picture, the screen will flash between a full colour version and the enhanced version (showing you what your picture will look like once you have taken it).

                              When you take the picture most of the image will be black and white, apart from your chosen colour. I've found red, yellows and greens work really well, although red tends to get picked out on the face as well, so sometimes you end up with the red dress, and red lips too! I love using this mode when my kids are playing, I recently took some photos of my youngest playing outside with her skittles, and I was picking out the colours of the skittles, and because they were so brightly coloured, the final image was really striking - a black & white photo of my daughter throwing a ball at some bright red skittles. I also took a photo of her throwing a yellow ball into the air, with just the yellow picked out - it was really effective.

                              I have also used the Colour Swap mode, which works on a similar theme, but this time you can select two colours and choose to swap them. For example if I wanted to take a photo of an orange and an apple, I could select the two colours from the fruit, then take the photo, and the final result would be that the orange was green, and the apple was orange. I thought this would be a handy tool to have when messing around with photos, but I have found the colour swaps to be really grainy, and I think it only works really well on solid colours, such as large plastic toys. I attempted to swap my daughter's face for green, and well, the result was simply terrifying!

                              **Image Quality**

                              The images are absolutely fantastic, for the price we paid (£80 from eBay) I cannot actually believe the high quality images that I am getting. The colours are amazing, they are crystal clear, and this includes ones that are taken indoors as well as outdoors. I now have so many amazing photographs of my children that I will treasure forever.

                              **General Use**

                              As you can see I have extensively used this camera, trying many of the different settings. I found it really easy to use, and really easy to get the image I want. The camera is really responsive, and when you decide to take a picture, the picture is taken almost instantaneously (none of this taking the picture after the kids have run off malarkey), so you really can capture the images you are intent on capturing! I found the camera to be really user friendly in all aspects, and I think it is suitable for a novice because they can just keep it on Auto and still get brilliant images; but it is also great for someone like me, who likes to experiment and is perhaps just a little bit more than a novice!

                              **Overall Opinion**

                              Not sure I really need to write this section, because after re reading everything above, I think it is pretty clear what my overall opinion of this camera is - I love it, and whole heartedly recommend it to anyone looking for a new digital camera. It is far and away the best compact digital camera I have ever owned or used.

                              **Price and Availability**

                              After a quick online search I can see that this camera is available on Amazon for £134.99, but on eBay you can get it for around the £90 mark (April 2013)



                              If there's anything you think I may have missed out of this review, please let me know, because there are so many things to say about a camera that I'm not sure if I've included everything that's relevant. It takes good pictures, that's all you need to know really!

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                              • Uno / Card Games / 44 Readings / 43 Ratings
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                                17.04.2013 12:00
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                                Great game

                                UNO was always a favourite game to play with my brothers when we were kids, so much so that most of the cards are bent and torn, and we still play it now (with our children, not just us adults!) So when my Mum bought my 6 year old UNO for her birthday in January, I was really pleased, because it's a kids game that I don't mind playing.

                                ***UNO***

                                UNO is a card game designed for kids but adults can play too and get just as much enjoyment as the children. It is aimed at children aged 7 and upwards, but my 4 & 6 year old both play it and soon picked up the rules, although the 4 year old has to be reminded to concentrate!

                                **Pack Contents**

                                In the pack you will find 108 playing cards (the same size as standard cards) and the instructions.
                                The cards are very brightly coloured and you have:

                                19 Blue cards (0-9)
                                19 Green cards (0-9)
                                19 Red cards (0-9)
                                19 Yellow cards (0-9)

                                These are your standard cards, but you also have some very special cards (action cards), and if you get some of these in your hand you know you are going to have a good game. These are:

                                8 Draw Two cards (to make the next person pick up 2 cards)
                                8 Reverse cards (to change the direction of play)
                                8 Skip cards (next person misses a turn)
                                4 Wild cards (choose the colour of play)
                                4 Wild Draw Four Cards (choose the colour of play and next person picks up 4 cards)

                                So as you can see there is a massive variety of cards to play with, and you might think this is overwhelming for children, when they have to remember what everything means. But surprisingly, my kids have picked it up really well and as you play the game it's really easy to learn what everything means.

                                **Object of the Game**

                                The idea of the game is to be the first player to get rid of all your cards, and I have just noticed on the rules that you can score points as well (we have never played this way, even when we were kids - my parents obviously thought this was too complicated for children). Anyway, you accumulate points from the cards your opponents are left holding, and the first to 500 wins. So I suppose this extends the game play, and maybe this is why it's aimed at 7 and above, because younger children probably couldn't sustain their interest until someone reaches 500 points!

                                **The Game**

                                You can have between 2 and 10 people playing, and each player gets 7 cards, and the remainder of the deck is put in the middle (known as the DRAW pile). The top card of the DRAW pile is turned over and this is the start of the DISCARD pile.

                                The first person to take a turn must either match the colour of the top card on the discard pile, or match the number (or action such as a skip card or a pickup 2). For example, if the card on the discard pile is a green 2, then the player can either put any green card down, or any coloured number 2. If they can do either of these then they just place their card on top and play moves onto the next person. If they can't match the colour or the symbol, but they have a wild card in their hand, they can place this card down and change the colour of play (preferably to a colour that is in their hand); if they can't match the colour or the symbol, and don't have a wild card, then they must pick the top card up from the DRAW pile. If they can use this card, then they can play it immediately if they wish, if not then they must keep it in their hand and await their next turn.

                                And that is basically it, play moves on until someone runs out of cards; oh and one last thing, when a player is left with only one card they must shout 'UNO!' before the next player takes their turn. If they forget to do this and it is noticed by other players, they must take two cards from the DRAW pile.

                                **Playing**

                                At first I wasn't sure how the kids were going to get along with this game, but my 6 year old daughter loved it immediately, but boy does she hate to lose! Each game can vary greatly in length and excitement; it all depends on what cards you are holding in your hand and how you use them. It's always so much more fun if you have a lot of 'action' cards because you can cause havoc with your opponent's game, especially if Grandad is playing, who tends to get the brunt of it, much to my daughter's delight! And she loves to remind him that he forgot to say 'UNO!'

                                If you have a lot of number cards in the game, then the game can be over pretty quickly, but if you have a lot of action cards then the game play is extended and it is fun to watch other players squirm as you make them pick up 2 cards, or miss a turn. A player can be on their last card and expecting to win on their next turn, but you can change all that by changing the colour, making them miss a turn or pick some cards up...that player who thought they were about to win, could very easily end up with a handful of cards again. You can be devious if you have been paying attention, you can work out what colours particular players may or may not have in their hand, and then use your wild cards (if you have any) tactically to ensure they miss another turn because of the colour you have chosen (obviously this is way beyond the abilities of a 6 year old, but it's fun for any adults in the game).

                                My 6 year old loves to use her action cards and has a little glint in her eye when she puts one down and knows that I am going to miss my next go, or have to pick up 2 (or even 4) cards. It is a really entertaining game, and as adults you can handle the fact that you are going to end up with a big stack of cards in your hand when another player is about to shout UNO, and as an adult you can overplay your disappointment at losing and being dealt a rough hand, which makes the kids find it even more entertaining and funny. However, if a child (especially my daughter) is at the brunt of several action cards then the tone of the game changes and she is in tears and crying because she didn't get to say 'UNO' or get rid of all her cards. So sometimes I have to be tactical and make sure I use my cards wisely so that she wins at least one game, even though I tell her 'it's not the winning that counts, it's the taking part' because once she is crying and screaming about not winning, the whole mood is blown. But I still let her lose most of the time because how will she ever learn!?

                                **Final Thoughts**

                                If you have never played UNO before, and you like card games, I recommend you buy this (especially if you have kids). It is a fantastic way for families to get together and have fun; it really is an entertaining game, especially when your kids are just starting to grow out of playing the babyish monotonous games such as 'Shopping List' and 'Memory'. With UNO you can have a bit more fun, and you never quite know how the game is going to pan out. And the great thing is that it doesn't come in a massive box, so doesn't take up much storage space!

                                Even though the recommended age is 7+, younger children can still have fun with it, I suppose it depends on how they are with their concentration skills and whether they recognise colours and numbers, my 6 year has no problems whatsoever, and my 4 year old can play pretty well too, although she tends to lay all her cards out on the floor and forgets when it's her turn and places random cards on the pile...but she never forgets to shout 'UNO!'

                                **Price and Availability**

                                UNO is currently available on Amazon for £5.40 (April 2013) but I have seen it around the shops, even in Asda for around the £5 mark.

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