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I''ve been using Miracle Touch foundation by Max Factor for about six years now and have always been nothing but impressed with it, until recently. The foundation is in solid form in a small compact and you use the supplied make-up sponge (or your own if you prefer) to apply it. The Natural shade is a bog standard skin colour which suits me perfectly but there are a good selection of other shades to choose from to suit a fair few skin tones.
We've had this iPod dock from Panasonic for a couple of years and while it's not without problems (niggles really) I think it's a fantastic gadget to replace a bulkier stereo system.
You can play CD's through the dock and also stand your iPhone/iPod in the recess to play the music you have stored on those devices. Both ways work well and it's welcome news that we haven't had to get rid of our CD collection as when we were looking at docks a lot of the ones we saw didn't have the capacity to play a CD.
The sound quality is fantastic, sharp and clear with no wobbles at all. The dock can be operated using the buttons on the top or through the remote, personally I tend to use the buttons as the remote has an awful lot of options for such a small device and I get confused very easily with things like that!
The only issue I have with it really is that the dock claims to be able to charge an iPod or iPhone, and while it does charge it up this takes a heck of a long time even if the dock isn't being used to listen to music at the same time. Even an overnight charge isn't long enough to fully charge my partners iPhone 3GS all the way up, and that's pretty poor considering when it's plugged into the electric socket the phone is charged within a couple of hours.
You can listen to DAB radio through this dock and that's something my partner does more than me, we've programmed in our favourite radio stations (both FM and DAB) and it's really easy to find them now. The scan function is pretty slow on the dock so it can be a nuisance if we want a particular station in a hurry but the same is true of a lot of DAB radios so I can't fault this dock in that case really.
I'm more than happy with my Panasonic dock, it's used by everyone in the family as we all love our music and no one has ever complained about any aspect of it. For around 100 quid you can't go wrong if you decide to purchase - it's a respected brand which works brilliantly and is perfect for a busy family home such as ours.
I bought this booster seat for my son from Halfords, he's only three and a half but is very tall for his age and was really cramped in even the largest 'baby car seat' - he had been sitting on his sister's Disney Princess booster seat which is an identical design, but in a not very boyish pink so I decided to look out for one of his own. It is a moulded plastic booster seat with hooks for the seat belt to hook around, this is a good idea if you're putting a little one on the booster seat as it prevents the nuisance of the seat belt chaffing their neck and becoming irritating for them. There is no padding, the Disney Cars decoration is on a fabric sheet which attaches to the booster seat with a strong velcro - this means it can be uncomfortable on longish journeys but is absolutely fine for David's little bottom on short runs round to the shop or for the school/nursery run. It doesn't slide around on the car seat and when David is strapped in with the seat belt I'm confident he's going to stay in one spot, the seat belt fits him perfectly despite his young age and if we were ever unlucky enough to be in a car accident I trust this seat to keep him as safe as possible. David loves the colours and design of the booster seat and I've never had a problem getting him to sit still in the car - unlike when he used to sit in his proper car seat and would wriggle his way out of the straps as quickly as possible due to being so uncomfortable! I paid less than 10 GBP for this booster seat when Halfords had their sale on and have been nothing but pleased with it. Obviously this is a Cars design but there are several others to choose from for girls and boys, all of the booster seats in this range are the same size with the same attributes - just the colour and characters are different so there's something for just about everyone!
~x~x~x~ Not Just For Home Use! ~x~x~x~
A couple of years ago my partner converted an old van into a camper van as the kids had expressed an interest in going camping that summer - we planned to have it re-registered with DVLA as a motorhome to save on insurance and for that the van was required to fit a list of criteria, one of which was it must have adequate cooking facilities which needed to be arranged in a similar way to a home kitchen. The problem we had was the fact that when he had installed all the work surfaces he hadn't allowed room for the storage of a gas bottle, which we would obviously need if we were going down the route of traditional camping cookers - at the time our two youngest children were aged around eighteen months and four years so we knew we couldn't rely on a hob-top cooker as they needed to eat 'proper' meals as opposed to living off sausage sandwiches and fried food (which I'm not a fan of myself either). I saved the day personally when I saw this Dualit Mini Oven in John Lewis a couple of days before my partner was due to send in his re-registration application to DVLA - at (then) £150 the words on my mind were 'it had better be worth it', the oven has since reduced in price to £130 (or cheaper online) and I can confirm it certainly is worth the money.
It came in possibly the biggest box known to man and when packaged was bizarrely heavy, luckily I'd parked the car very close to the store where I purchased it but my poor son who had only just learned to walk had to get out of his pushchair so I could use that to transport the boxed oven while he toddled along next to me - not that this bothered him, but at just over a year old it was slow going getting back to the car! When I got it home and unpacked it I realised why it needed to be in such a large box, usually I'll complain about too many packaging materials being used but in this instance it was necessary as there are several parts which could be damaged with careless transportation so the wads of cardboard and plastic inside the box were more than needed - all the packaging was recyclable so everything was good in the end (other than me having a fuller than usual recycling box that week!).
~x~x~x~ For Once In My Life I'm Not Cooking On Gas! ~x~x~x~
I prefer a gas oven it has to be said and I wasn't really sure how well I'd get on with this small electric oven, for starters I work by 'Gas Mark' and have no idea how temperatures correspond to these numbers - I made sure I checked these details out online before we went camping the first time and wrote myself out a list of temperatures just in case the campsite we'd chosen (in the valleys of Wales) was out of signal range for my iPhone (it was). The temperature range of the oven is 100°C - 230°C with a couple of markings in between, you can set the oven to a temperature that isn't marked but the dial is relatively small so unless you're choosing to cook at one of the marked temperatures it can be a little hit and miss - this is fine for most cooking jobs, but personally I wouldn't fancy cooking anything in here which needed a precise heat for decent results. As we were only using ours for meals and dinners this wasn't an issue, baking I suspect could be a little tricky to begin with until you sussed out where on the dial your required temperature is located - but then again this would be easily worked out after a few uses so not necessarily something that should put you off.
It's very quick to heat up, not as fast as it says on the promotional blurb on the John Lewis website but fast enough. Most of our cooking in this oven has been done at around 180°C and to get to this temperature would take somewhere in the region of seven minutes, which really isn't that much slower than my main gas oven at home. There's a green light which comes on when the oven has reached the temperature you require so you don't have to sit and guess when is the best time to put the food in, it's a fairly bright light but not brilliantly effective in sunlight so using it in the camper van was a bit awkward sometimes as I found myself having to get up close to the oven and cupping my hand around the light to check whether it had come on or if the shine was just the sun reflecting off the green light cover!
Inside the oven there is just one shelf which can be moved through two positions, the shelf is very easy to move and you simply need to slide it in and out at a slight angle to ensure it goes in smoothly. You really can't go wrong with the positioning of the shelf as if you try to put it in at an incorrect angle the metal shelf will grind to a halt before it's even halfway in and just won't budge any further. The same isn't true of the grill pan (included with the oven) which slides in effortlessly and can be placed at a very slight angle which is useful when you're toasting bread you've cut yourself if (like me) you're rubbish at cutting it and always end up with one end much thicker than the other!
~x~x~x~ Familiarise Yourself With The Knobs ~x~x~x~
There are three knobs on the front of the oven - one is the temperature dial which I've already discussed, the other is to set the oven to whatever function you need and the third is a timer. All rotate freely and comfortably with no sticking whatsoever, the detail of each knob is printed in white against a black background so you can't really go wrong - after a lot of use I can report that none of these markings have faded or rubbed off so I'm pretty sure that however long we keep the oven for we'll never have any problems with distinguishing which setting we're choosing. My one minor gripe is the fact that the temperature knob has always seemed the 'wrong way round' to me with the higher temperature being located on the left whereas I'd expect this side to have the lower temperature so that setting it would be done in a clockwise motion rather than it being a cack-handed anticlockwise dial. Odd really.
The middle knob to set the function of the oven is self explanatory, I didn't need to check the (pretty useless) instruction manual to know that the settings were to activate the grill, whole oven function, fan oven setting or 'from frozen' option. I've used all of the settings and can honestly say I've never had a problem with any of them, the least used option was the fan oven but that was simply because I have no experience with cooking using this function so I've never been confident enough to try it out too many times - the only difference I've seen on the odd occasion that I have selected this is that it cooks the food ever so slightly quicker, not quickly enough that it's a great help to me as an occasional user of this oven but I suspect the function would be helpful to others.
The timer dial goes up in thirty minute increments up to 120 minutes and a dinging buzzer goes off when the timer has wound down, it's not the loudest or longest buzzer I've ever experienced so I'd suggest you stay near to the oven when you're using the timer function. The oven switches off when the timer has elapsed but it stays very hot inside for quite a while afterwards with the residual heat being enough to spoil a meal if you're cooking relatively delicate foods, as I found when I cooked a frozen pizza in there one evening and left it in the oven for a few minutes after the timer had gone off - to the untrained eye the pizza came out looking perfect but the extra few minutes of heat made the crust and base go rock hard and turned it completely inedible. Not good.
~x~x~x~ Caring For Your Dualit (And Also For Yourself) ~x~x~x~
This oven is surprisingly easy to keep clean, looking at mine now I can report that it still looks pretty damned good which is amazing considering when you're camping you're at the mercy of the hot water provided by the campside (not usually very hot) to get everything clean again after use. The glass door has a few stubborn grease splatters but those will be dealt with before we use it again and a quick scrub with a scouring pad on a small area has shown me this morning that the glass will definitely come up shiny clean again once we put the effort in. The inside is spotless with even the corners being free of food dirt and grease, all we did after cooking our meals was wipe it over with a specialised cloth designed for use while camping and that seems to be all it needs. It helps that the inside is nice and shiny rather than being that slightly textured metal usually found inside an oven as that made the job of wiping so much easier - I was in charge of the cleaning during our most recent camping holiday and can honestly say it was a dream to clean, why can't they make normal sized household ovens so simple?!
The exterior of this oven gets extremely hot while in use, and it takes a long time to cool down after you've cooked your meal too. A good example is the fact that I cooked a small chicken in there one day and after dishing up the meal, eating it and washing our plates I went back to the oven and it was still scalding hot on the side panels. This can't be helped as it gets so hot inside whilst cooking but is definitely something to bear in mind if you're using it while children (or dense people...) are about - you could easily burn yourself on the outside of this oven so do take care while using it, and also afterwards.
The door is a pull down type (even the handle gets surprisingly warm) but don't be tempted to use it as a shelf when it's open even though it looks ideal for that purpose. While the oven is extremely stable thanks to large non-slip feet, weight on the open door could be enough to topple it over which would be extremely dangerous not only in terms of possible burns but I also suspect you'd end up with two broken feet should this fall and land on them. Incidentally the door doesn't lock into a closed position while the oven is in use, I'm not sure why but I was surprised to find I could open the door unhindered while the food was cooking - I'd prefer some kind of locking mechanism even if it were a simple push button jobbie to ensure the door couldn't accidentally be pulled open while the inside was at cooking temperature.
~x~x~x~ Useful? ~x~x~x~
Hell, yes! When I first bought the oven my partner wasn't too impressed with it as he'd had his heart set on a swanky camping oven which needed to be built into the interior of the van but after using this for our first trip he stated we just didn't need anything else as this kept us all fed so well. It has an 18 litre capacity (according to the back of the oven) which in real terms meant we could cook a dinner for four easily and six with a little extra organisation. Obviously there's no hob on the oven but we have several camping stoves which we used to cook anything which needed to go in a pan, it was a learning curve getting everything ready at the same time for the first few uses but once we got into the routine of using the different appliances it was plain sailing and we've had very few disasters.
Off the top of my head the things I've cooked in it include a whole chicken using the excellent quality roasting tin which comes with the oven, a baked frittata style dish to use up some eggs and cooked meats that my partner was disinclined to transport home after our holiday and several ready meals or bits such as 'nibble' supermarket selections. The only problems I've had was when the pizza base went hard as I mentioned above, plus one time the oven didn't seem to heat up as hot as it should and a piece of braising steak cooked much slower than it should have done - there was no harm done there as the slower the better really with that cut of meat but it did concern me that the oven had malfunctioned like that. My partner suspects it was a combination of very cold nights and the oven sitting under an area of the van which decided to quietly leak one day - obviously with this being an electrical appliance that's not an ideal situation but it couldn't be helped as we were out camping at the time (the oven is stored in the house when not in use), but by the time we plugged it in next a few months later it had obviously dried out (it was hardly wet at all other than a tiny puddle on the top) because it worked fine then.
I'm not sure it would be much use in a home environment but my partner mentioned only the other day that he's considering getting one for his business premises, personally I think it's overkill for reheating pots of stew and cooking a ready meal occasionally but it's up to him - actually I don't know why he doesn't utilise this one instead of forking out for a second oven as he can always bring it home (in clean condition) when we need it for camping!
Overall this Dualit Mini Oven comes highly recommended by me, and I'm sure the kids bellies are happy for it even if they give no thought to how the food got onto their plates. For our needs it has proved absolutely perfect, right down to the lead being an ideal length for reaching down to the hook up point inside the van and the curved back ensuring we could pop it in the corner reserved for 'the oven' when we realised my partner had royally messed up with his kitchen plans for the DVLA application - the application which was approved finally thanks to my purchase of the Mini Oven... But more than physical properties I'm happy that even when we're camping I can provide the children with a nutritious meal sometimes; obviously when on holiday it's more than acceptable to have a chippy dinner or a toastie in the pub at lunchtime, but really when holidaying with kids I think it's important to get a bit of veg into them if you're away for more than a couple of days - sounds unhumanitarian I know, but a camping holiday is fairly strenuous so the need for a semi-healthy and regular diet is more important than you think!
My daughter has had a couple of Disney Princess booster seats - she regularly travels in my mums car, plus her uncle ferries her around sometimes so in her short life she's had an array of car seats. Her current booster seat is twelves months old and I bought it in Halfords, where a selection of these very basic car seats are stocked. She chose her own, it was a toss up between this one and a Hello Kitty seat but she stayed with tradition and chose to park her bum on the Princesses.
It's a moulded plastic seat, exactly as you can see in the photo above. There's no padding on the seat whatsoever so it wouldn't be very comfortable for a long journey, but the seat is shaped to provide a reasonably snug place for the bottom to rest if we're just driving to the supermarket or the park. The Princess design is printed on a sheet of fabric, this doesn't provide any padding as although it's quite thick the material has a tough feel - it's useful in that if the seat has been kept in a hot car during the summer your child won't find it too hot to sit on, but really that's the only use and if it was included in the design to make the booster seat more comfortable than it was a bit of a fail in all honesty.
The hooks at the back of the seat are for positioning the seat belt, and these actually work really well. Hollie is quite small for her age and ensuring the belt is underneath the hooks I can see she's well protected in case we were in an accident, but this also stops the belt rubbing under her chin and keeps it more comfortably across her chest. Her brother is three and we've recently bought him the same car seat with a more laddish design, he's almost as tall as Hollie so we hook his belt too which works equally well - they've traveled on each others boosters seats now they have the same ones and David fits just nicely in the Princess seat so it's definitely a seat you can use for a wide range of ages.
It sits nicely on the seat and doesn't slide around even when I'm in the car on my own with no kids and the booster seats just left on the back seat, there are no grips and the bottom of the seat is smooth plastic so I assume it's the width of the seat that keeps it so stable. I've asked Hollie and she tells me she can't feel the seat moving as we're driving, I've certainly never seen it slipping or anything and am completely confident it's keeping her safe in the car.
I'd recommend it, but only if your child does relatively short journeys in the car. Ours is a daily booster seat but when we're traveling any distance we swap it over for plainly designed but much better padded seat which we bought from Kiddicare - the main reason we don't use this more comfortable one on a daily basis is due to the larger size of it, but also due to the fact that I find the seat belt hooks on the Princess one to be so useful. Hollie has never complained of being uncomfortable for the short journeys we do, but as mum I wouldn't particularly want her to undertake the trip from Birmingham to Llandudno on such a hard lump of plastic!
We paid £10 for this booster seat, but the price fluctuates regularly (and quite wildly) so it's worth shopping around - I've seen it slightly cheaper and much more expensive, I think I paid about the right price considering how basic it is.
One of my favourite flavours is vanilla, give me anything vanilla flavoured and I'll probably like it - I love the smell too, it's safe to say I'm a big fan of vanilla. That's how Slim Fast pull me in sometimes with their French Vanilla flavoured meal replacement shake, they make it look and sound so delicious on the tin that a confirmed vanilla lover such as myself couldn't fail to like it. Ahem.
For those of you who don't know, a Slim Fast is a diet plan where you replace your breakfast and lunch with one of their calorie counted shakes and eat a proper home cooked meal for your tea - you're supposed to calorie count your main meal but I don't bother as I make sure I choose the healthy option and a lifetime of dieting has given me a rough idea of the calories and fat content of most foods I eat regularly anyway. To make your shake you mix two scoops of Slim Fast powder into 250ml cold skimmed milk, mix well with a fork or pop it into a blender with some crushed ice for a slightly more substantial feeling drink.
The French Vanilla flavour is extremely sweet so would probably be ideal for those of you who find dieting a struggle because of having to cut out the sugar - personally I think it's too sweet and while the shake does smell incredibly vanilla-like, for me the intense sweetness detracts from the flavour and stops it really being a true vanilla taste. I also hate that I can taste the milk through this vanilla powder, something that only happens with this specific flavour - and we all know how foul skimmed milk is, a shake flavour that doesn't cover that particular hellish taste is of no use to man nor beast. The taste just isn't robust enough, yes it's sweet but apart from that it doesn't really have any substance or depth of flavour - I'm talking in Slim Fast terms here obviously, none of them are a replacement for the taste of 'real' food but I find this Vanilla flavour particularly weak and uninspired.
It's as filling as any of the other Slim Fast flavours, so does keep my stomach feeling full until the time rolls around for my evening meal - you're allowed a few healthy snacks on the Slim Fast plan but personally I don't eat those when I'm following the plan as the fewer calories you eat the faster you'll lose weight in the short term, although if I was going to be using Slim Fast for longer then I'd have a snack during the day to prevent 'starvation mode' kicking in and my body holding onto its fat stores.
I personally don't buy the Vanilla flavour very often but occasionally if my partner is doing the shopping he'll pick one up for me as he knows I'm a fan of vanilla in general, I've told him plenty of times that I don't really like this but that just shows how much he listens when I'm talking to him! The cost is the same as any of the other Slim Fast powders, so between £6 and £8 depending on where you shop for it.
Two of my four children have ear problems, but the most severely affected is six year old Hollie who suffers recurring ear infections and has done since she was a baby - I hate to see her in pain and when an earache struck while we were out shopping one day I decided to pop into Holland & Barratt to see if there was anything other than the usual Calpol/Ibuprofen mix I usually dose her up with when she's suffering. They suggested trying Hyland's Earache Tablets, a 100% natural homeopathic remedy which can be used alongside the mainstream painkillers - after hearing this I decided I had nothing to lose and Hollie had everything to gain so I bought a box (this was after I picked myself up when I heard the price).
The Earache Tablets (loads of thought went into THAT product name!) contain six active ingredients which work together to create a natural medication that will work to soothe pain, calm an anxious child (and who isn't anxious with earache?!), ease the burning sensation of earache, stop the throbbing, ease congestion and lower a high temperature. Pretty impressive claims I thought for such very tiny tablets, reading through the information pamphlet I thought these sounded quite intelligent really as they're suitable for so many different types of earache - I know Hollie has throbbing pain which comes in waves, this is the reason the anxiety relief ingredient would also help as by now she knows when the pain is about to start and gets really upset at this point.
The dose for everyone is four tablets all taken together three times a day (a total of 12 tablets daily), they're very small so adults are to pop them under their tongue and they're also designed to be dissolved in a teaspoon of water for kids. They dissolve extremely quickly and although Hollie tells me the watery mixture has a nasty taste you use such a small amount of water that it's swigged back and swallowed almost before you can taste it - I licked a last drop off the spoon to see what the big deal was and to be honest I can only assume Hollie's ear infection made her dramatise a little as the worst I can describe the dissolved Earache Tablets as is chalky, which is exactly how the dry ones taste so I wasn't particularly surprised.
Did they help? Well, I don't think they helped Hollie much to be honest. I used them in conjunction with Calpol and Nurofen but there didn't seem to be any improvement in how she felt or the pain she was in until the antibiotics kicked in. The main reason I bought them in the first place was because I know from experience that her ears start to improve around 48 hours after starting an antibiotics course, and the Earache Tablets are supposedly proven to reduce the symptoms during these first hours - it made sense, but sadly didn't work as well as I'd hoped. Maybe they helped a little, maybe not - she was still in heaps of pain in between doses of paracetamol so unfortunately they weren't the miracle cure I'd wished they were going to be for her. In fact I didn't even bother with them when she had her next ear infection and didn't feel I was making things worse for not giving her these tablets on top of the medical painkillers.
As some of you know I've had a bad ear for a week or so now, I'm on my second cycle of antibiotics which are finally working - while looking for something (anything!) to help the nasty pain in my ear I came across the Earache Tablets in the medicine cabinet and in desperation took the last few sets of tablets. Each box contains forty tablets, but that's only a four day supply - Hollie had taken them for just over two days which left me with 16 tablets to play with (I know those figures don't add up, any mathematical pedants that are reading, but the lady in Holland & Barratt advised me not to give Hollie the full four tablets with each dose because of her small size). I decided to start off with four tablets and then take them in batches of three - I was actually overdosing on Nurofen (I can see why accidental deaths occur when people are treating themselves for earache) so thought dropping a single Earache Tablet per dose wouldn't really make a lot of difference.
For me they worked slightly but in a placebo capacity I think, my pain wasn't particularly constant but was a killer when it was there - I felt soothed rather than better after taking these, maybe that's the anti-anxiety ingredient working but even so they didn't make the slightest bit of difference to the pain when it came on. Brandy and Nurofen is a much more effective earache soother, and that combination also works well for anxiety...
If these had worked for Hollie I would have absolutely bought them again regardless of the cost - but £13 for a four day supply of tablets that don't really do anything is, frankly, a pointless expense. I don't feel I've wasted my initial £13 as it was worth a try, and if it had worked I would have found this a small price to pay - actually I wouldn't completely rule out buying them again if they were priced more cheaply as Hollie's symptoms do change from infection to infection so maybe they'd work better/differently at certain times, being homeopathic you're not going to harm yourself by trying them here and there just to see but I really do think the full RRP is verging on the ridiculous.
Just after Christmas Morrisons had a good offer on Slim Fast powders, where you bought one tub and received two for free. I wasn't planning on using Slim Fast but thought it wouldn't hurt to help me shift the few pounds I'd gained over the festive period and get me back on track with my actual healthy eating plan, I picked up two tins of banana powder and one strawberry and paid around £8.99 for all three which I think is an absolute bargain.
The Slim Fast idea is a very simple one - you replace your breakfast and lunch with a Slim Fast shake and eat a healthy dinner. You're allowed daily healthy snacks but for optimum quick weight loss it's obviously best to avoid snacking and stick to your shakes and main meal - this is very much a short term plan, to be used to kick start a more natural diet (I don't think replacing food with liquids is an effective longer term solution) or maybe to help you shift a few stubborn pounds if you've found yourself at a plateau. To make the shake you simply measure out 250ml of skimmed milk and add two scoops of Slim Fast powder, a scoop is included in each tin so there's no faffing around with measuring spoons or scales. You can buy shakers to mix the powder with the milk but having used those in the past I can say a fork is by far the most effective way to combine the powder, I sometimes use one of those little battery operated milk frothers which works really well but mine was AWOL at the time I was using Slim Fast this time around so it's been the old fashioned fork method for me. The powder mixes in quite quickly but you do have to be careful to go all around the edges of your glass as it can stick fairly stubbornly to the sides, which makes for a non too pleasant drink when you get to the last couple of mouthfuls.
I really like the flavour of the banana flavoured Slim Fast. OK, so it's synthetic tasting and just a little bit powdery but on the whole it's a decent take on banana milkshake - it's not supposed to be 100% enjoyable milkshake anyway, it's a banana flavoured meal replacement so is never going to be as yummy as a banana Yazoo! I've made it using both skimmed and semi-skimmed milk and there's not a lot of difference, the powder thickens the milk up slightly anyway so I tend to go for the skimmed option to make it as low calorie/fat as possible. Slim Fast describe their banana shake as 'creamy and sweet' - I agree with sweet, it's a nice satisfying banana flavour which isn't unlike a stronger version of those foam banana sweets you used to get in 10p mix ups. I have never, and still don't, think Slim Fast shakes are creamy - I've tried all the tricks (making in a blender with a bit of crushed ice, frothing the top with my milk frother etc...) but I can't get it to obtain the frothy creamy texture which I always see being enjoyed in the adverts. It's nice enough, but hardly a luxurious way to replace your meals.
The Slim Fast shakes do fill me up to a point, I feel a bit of a fraud really as I never have much of an appetite throughout the day anyway so it's not really a hardship for me to have a shake instead of a couple of crackers - I do sometimes look at the calories on the tin and think I might as well make myself a big bowl of homemade tomato soup instead, which would contain far fewer calories and a whole heap more nutrients (and that's exactly what I do sometimes as a cold milkshake isn't always at the top of my list of 'wants' first thing on a wintery morning). If I've spent a full week following the Slim Fast plan (which doesn't happen very often to be fair) sometimes I'll crave something chewable, a craving which borders on obsession sometimes and leads me to eat something I shouldn't - not ideal when you think how easily a fast weight-loss can be regained.
Throughout January I drank my two shakes a day and wasn't particularly good when it came to snacks and my main meal, I lost 6lbs which isn't a huge weight loss over a whole month but I was happy with it as I'd been prepared to write January off as lots of meals out and drinks with my partner had me thinking I'd be lucky to get away with a loss at all! I think Slim Fast works in the short term but only because you're probably going to consume less calories than you would if you were eating a breakfast and lunch, I doubt many could keep the diet up for long if you were following it to the letter as with the dinner you make yourself you're not having many calories at all (off the top of my head I think a Slim Fast day provides you with 1000 calories) so it's never going to be sustainable in the long term.
The banana flavour comes highly recommended for those of you who are following the plan, the best of the flavours in my opinion as it tastes so similar to 'normal' banana milkshake (even if it doesn't...).
I always have a bottle of Witch Hazel in my medicine cabinet, having four children I've known of it's amazing anti-bruise properties for years but have recently discovered a few more uses which makes it even more indispensable. It doesn't actually prevent a bruise from coming out if your child (or you!) fall over and hurt themselves, but regular application with a cotton wall ball can make a bruise faster to heal; obviously there's no way of knowing if this actually works as who knows how long the bruise would have taken on its own, but after giving my shin a hell of a bang last week I can say using Witch Hazel on it definitely soothed the ache of the bruise and studying the area today I'm pretty sure without the Witch Hazel it would still be black and blue - whereas now it's more an unattractive yellow-brown shade...
My seventeen year old has had her hours cut at work over the past few weeks and her addiction to skincare products has had to be curtailed slightly, she heard about Witch Hazel being a good alternative to spot cream and switched from her usual £14 spot cream to this much cheaper version with reasonably good results. Her typical teenage spots aren't as bad as she thinks they are and I've always thought it was overkill for her to be spending so much money on lotions and potions for them; while we've noticed Witch Hazel isn't particularly reducing the size of the spots any quicker, any redness is reduced (smited completely a lot of the time) and that's the main thing really as a spot is far less noticeable when it's normal skin coloured instead of being inflamed!
Witch Hazel is really cheap to buy, it's often found in Poundland but even in the chemist or supermarket you'll usually pay less than £2 for a 200ml bottle. The one I'm using at the moment is made by a company called 'Caring For You' and I bought it from a small discount store nearby, it's exactly the same as the previous Witch Hazel which I purchased from Sainsburys and in turn that was exactly the same as the previous bottle that came from Boots. They all smell the same (highly pungent but very soothing) and feel the same (like especially 'wet' water) so I tend to grab a bottle whenever I see it rather than look out for specific brands, as with anything health related you'll find specialised stores selling versions at a higher cost but personally I don't need to buy these as I'm happy enough with the standard cheap version.
For most things Witch Hazel is used neat and dabbed onto the area where needed using cotton wool, for certain ailments you should combine it with one ingredient or another to form a paste but I've never had to do this myself - when a friend of mine had a bad case of piles during a pregnancy she made a preparation using Witch Hazel which apparently really helped her, another friend uses it as a daily toner and swears this little £1 bottle does exactly the same job as her previous Lancôme toner.
I can't recommend Witch Hazel highly enough, it's one of those products which you really should keep in the bathroom but remember it's not only for emergencies as there are so many other uses for it.
A few months ago my daughter was sent a selection of Weleda samples after placing an online order, she's not really one for having lots of toiletries and gave me the few sachets of Wild Rose Body Wash after declaring she couldn't be bothered with opening the sachets while showering.
I used the body wash for a few days (until the sachets were finished) and although I enjoyed it I wouldn't say it's particularly luxurious considering the £9 price tag. For your money you get a nice pink tube of body wash, the sachets were designed to match the tube perfectly with golden writing and all the necessary information printed in very small writing on the back. It's not exactly a complicated product to dye and personally I didn't need to refer to the 'Directions for use', I've been showering for the best part of 37 years after all and even an esteemed company like Weleda can't really teach me much in terms of how to apply the body wash to my skin!
It smells gorgeous with a very natural rose fragrance, this isn't a sugary sweet rose smell as can occur with many products which have this fragrance but instead is more reminiscent of the scent you catch sometimes as you walk down the garden while your roses are in bloom. Beautiful. Sadly the fragrance doesn't last much longer than the time it takes to shower, you can prolong it by using the matching Weleda Wild Rose body lotion but as this has an equally short-lasting fragrance it doesn't make a huge amount of difference.
The body wash is a cream which doesn't lather well, in fact it barely lathers at all which is slightly disappointing as I like bubbles in the shower and find creamy shower gels are usually lacking in this respect - this one certainly is; the bubbles produced are uninspired, thin and pointless in all honesty as they slip off my body as soon as they're created so I just don't consider this to be a luxurious feeling body wash in the slightest. It cleans me up nicely and that's the main thing, I don't really get 'dirty' and shower daily (twice daily sometimes) so it doesn't have much in terms of visible dirt to wash off me - the main 'dirt' it has to tackle really is when I'm sweaty and icky after a session at the gym, and then the body wash really does cope admirably. I can feel the general ickiness being washed away as soon as I start rubbing my skin with my Wild Rose loaded shower puff, my skin felt immediately cleaner and refreshed while the body wash also had the effect of making my skin feel slightly smoother as I washed with it.
Each of my sachets held 5ml of body wash and that seemed to be to be the perfect amount to thoroughly cleanse my body, despite the fact that it's a pretty thick and rich cream it does spread surprisingly well so that I don't have to use all that much each time I shower. Doing a bit of maths, this 200ml tube should see you through around 40 showers providing you only use a small amount of body wash per shower, this would maybe be harder that it sounds however as the 5ml blob from the sachet didn't look like it was going to be enough to wash thoroughly with so you'd have to quite 'careful' about squeezing the cream out to ensure you got as many showers as possible from the tube!
I'd recommend this body wash as it's nice to use and smells beautiful; I would say £9 is a little expensive for a body wash which is 'nothing special really' other than having such a lovely creamy texture and smelling pretty, but I'd pay it here and there for the full size tube if for no other reason than to have a different shower gel to the ones I usually use.
~x~x~x~ Dyeing To Try It ~x~x~x~
As a Bzz Agent I quite regularly receive little freebies to trial and talk about, most recently I had a small selection of Dylon fabric dyes. I haven't dyed anything for years so was a little nervous, not least because I'd chosen possibly the most vivid colour imaginable (Tulip Red ) and I couldn't see how I was going to ever do a decent job of it. I actually expected not to use it and pass the dyes on as samples but then I looked at Hollie's tired white dress as it lay on the charity shop pile, at the same time as my oldest daughter walked past with a huge embedded lipstick stain on the back of her vest. I made my mind up, finished the load of washing that was in the machine and prepared to get dyeing.
~x~x~x~ Dyeing Made Easy Peasy ~x~x~x~
Dylon proclaim themselves as being easy to use and capable of leaving you with a superb finish even when used by a complete novice to home dyeing. I have to say I agree (being said novice) and after a quick read through of the instruction leaflet I was feeling confident that this was going to turn out well after all. All you have to do is tip the dye into the drum of your machine, cover it with 500g salt and throw your clothes on top. The instructions are to set your machine to a standard 40 degree cycle, which threw me a little as there are several 40 degree options on my machine and I really wasn't sure which one to use. In the end I settled for a cottons cycle, set at a 40 degree temperature and a standard 1 hour 45 minute length cycle. The dress and vest are both 100% cotton so it seemed the obvious choice, I'm not quite sure what net curtain is made of but know I've washed ours at all sorts of temperatures so thought it would be cool whatever cycle I decided to use.
The water immediately turned a vivid blood-like red (my partner joked I was washing the murder clothes when he saw the colour of the water, and then started fretting about possible staining of the rubber seal around the door - something I hadn't actually considered myself) - a few weak bubbles appear in the water but they soon disappear, the water stays red throughout the vast majority of the cycle and doesn't ever really return to its pure clean state until some point during the second 40 degree wash cycle you have to complete after dyeing. You add washing powder/liquid to this second phase which gives the clothing a good clean and also removes any residue of the dye, I ended up giving it an extra rinse at the end of all this too as I wasn't convinced all the red had dispersed from the water but after that final 20 minute cycle the rinsing water was clear enough for me to remove the freshly dyed clothes and dry them to see the end result. You're advised to dry everything away from direct heat and sunlight, luckily my dyeing experiment ended at 11pm - it was a clear dry night so I popped the three items out on the line to dry off overnight and bought them in the following morning for inspection.
~x~x~x~ Dramatic Dylon ~x~x~x~
I'm super impressed and a little bit gobsmacked at the depth of colour on the dress and vest, the net curtains hardly changed colour at all apart from a developing a vague pink hue and a slightly brighter pink outline to the more decorative part of the curtain. It was ruined really, but my mum told me after the event that net curtains aren't suitable for dying as a rule and can only be artificially whitened with products like this.
The dress for me is the most impressive, it being dyed a bright solid red with absolutely no patchiness or areas that have been missed. The dress features two layers of underskirt which have a different texture to the lacy outer portion of the bodice and skirt, for some reason I wasn't expecting the underskirts to dye as thoroughly as the dress itself so was surprised to find they've ended up exactly the same colour. The only thing that could have been an issue is the fact that the stitching of the hem and the stitches that help to form the ruffle on the bodice haven't been dyed at all and remain pure white, it actually looks good in this instance with the tiny lines of white stitching standing out beautifully against the deep Tulip Red (and it really is a stunning red ) - although remember Hollie is six and can get away with quirky touches like this, I'm sure if you're dyeing your work shirts you wouldn't fancy turning up with cowgirl style contrasting stitches though so keep this in mind when purchasing your dye. Funnily enough the vest wasn't affected in this way and the stitching turned as red as the fabric of the garment, which is actually very red indeed as the soft cotton has soaked up the colour like a sponge.
~x~ x~x~ Colourful Clothing ~x~x~x~
Hollie is absolutely in awe of her 'new' dress, she likes pretty clothes and loved it when it was white but recognised the fact that it was fast beginning to look tatty and knew it wasn't as beautiful as when she first chose it as her birthday outfit. White is rarely a good idea for such a youngster but she was poorly with chicken pox and we were all well aware that she was likely to be worse by the time her birthday came around a couple of days later, we indulged her and she ended up with a virginal dress which I just knew wasn't going to look clean for long. Little did I realise at the time that it would have a new lease of life some four months later and come back as a bright red outfit!
She's worn it almost every day since I dyed it and so the dress has been washed five times up to now, I know this as I've purposefully counted and also know it's having its sixth wash today at my mums house after Hollie visited her while wearing it and ended up staying overnight. The dye ran for the first couple of washes but I'd anticipated this and washed it on its own or with other deep red fabrics, it was easy to spot when the dress was no longer leaking red dye as the bubbles from the washing powder turned white again instead of being edged with pink as happened for the first two or three washes.
Despite the fact the colour runs so badly in subsequent washes I haven't noticed any fading of the fabric through these washes and the dress looks as vibrant as it did when it was first dyed - obviously time will tell how long the 'new' shine lasts for, although the dye seems to be well embedded into the fabric and I suspect Hollie will be wearing her red dress for some time to come.
~x~x~x~ Price And Availability ~x~x~x~
The Tulip Red variation comes in both a machine wash and hand wash version, you can't get them mixed up as the machine dye is boxed whereas the hand wash dye is in a simple sachet. I've had a look around and a full size box of machine dye costs around £5.99, from anywhere that stocks the full range of Dylon products including Robert Dyas and Tesco online.
~x~x~x~ Domino, In Schleich Form ~x~x~x~
Back in the summer we bought six year old Hollie a rabbit from the RSPCA, she'd been asking for a couple of years but suddenly developed an air of maturity that convinced us she was ready for her first pet. We had an initial disappointment when the first bunny she chose was sold to someone else in error, but eventually settled for another one - the cute black and white thing we have now, called Domino. The day we went to choose him I put an Amazon order in on the night for some bits and pieces for a birthday party, and while looking for party bag fillers came across this gorgeous 'Grooming Rabbit' which had the perfect markings to look like Domino - it seemed like fate so we made our 'final decision' visit to the rescue centre the following day (you have to have a 24 hour cooling off period after signing the adoption forms) and ordered the Schleich figure.
It's a small toy measuring just 5cm in height, somehow it looks bigger in the photos I've seen but it's in line with the rest of the Schleich figures Hollie has collected over the past couple of years. The rabbit is in grooming position (as you'd have probably guessed from the name) and when you look between his paws you can see his little nose and the cute detailing on the face. I'm saying 'his' simply because Domino is a boy rabbit and I can't look at this one without thinking of our pet! The proportions in terms of the shaping of the rabbit are spot on, also the way in which he's sitting looks extremely natural - you can tell whoever designed this figure spent time studying rabbits as the shape and curves of the bunny are pretty much identical to how Domino looks when he's giving himself a good clean.
The rabbit stands up beautifully on his hind legs and the figure is extremely stable; one of Hollie's games is to line all her figures up and move them around as if they're mingling at a party, some of the figures are better suited for this than others as not all Schleich animals stand still and solid when they're being handled and knocked by a six year olds hands. The Grooming Rabbit is perched back on his haunches and this provides a good wide base, and therefore good stability when being played with or displayed. Ours is very much played with, mainly by Hollie but also by her two year old brother who terrifies the real rabbit to the point where Domino won't come to him - I'm sure this Schleich replica is a kind of surrogate pet to him and takes the sting out of the bunny ignoring him!
~x~x~x~ Super Schleich ~x~x~x~
We have a fair few Schleich figures now, none of the kids have ever collected specific sets and I tend to add one to the Amazon trolley if I see one I like the look off - not so much recently as none of the more interesting ones ever seem to qualify for free delivery and the prices of this kind of thing can easily spiral out of control. The Grooming Rabbit certainly hasn't disappointed me in quality and the kids both love it - this figure has actually been rather badly treated at times and was left outside on top of the rabbit hutch in a storm (Hollie wanting Domino to have some company...), not to mention two year old David managing to take the top off his cup and plonking the rabbit figure inside before putting the top back on. A rubbery plastic figure submerged in sticky apple juice for hours... nice...
The rabbit is made of solid plastic but it has a soft feel which is rather rubbery, this is enhanced by the mussed up roughness of the fur which adds a wonderfully tactile texture to the figure and makes him ideal for younger children. It's funny as despite the fact the rabbit being so small it feels relatively hefty in the hand, it feels surprisingly unbreakable and I'm certain it would withstand the aggressive vileness that is a toddler tantrum. Hollie is incredibly careful with her toys, especially these small ones which are usually so easily damaged or lost - she learned a hard lesson when an entire Polly Pocket set was destroyed by an over-zealous younger cousin last year, and has been much more protective of her Schleich animals. Which is barmy really as these are so much more durable than the uber-plastic tiny dolls!
Each Schleich Grooming Rabbit is hand painted so no two figures will be the same, I obviously only have one so can't compare this but our rabbit is definitely a little different looking to the one in the Amazon photo with less solid ears and slightly altered markings on his hind legs. The paint is amazingly adhered to the plastic and there's been no fading or chipping, there is a tiny area on one of the ears which I'm sure used to be black but is now white - I think it has chipped but there are no rough edges to indicate a chip so it might be that the colouring has always been like this; I suspect not though, although it doesn't matter as even if it is a chip it still blends in nicely with the colouring of the rabbit.
Keeping the rabbit figure clean is easy, it pretty much keeps itself clean in all honesty and I don't have to do much in terms on maintenance. It's largely white in colour so you'd think it would get dirty quickly but this isn't the case, just twice I've noticed it looks grubby and then I'll give it a wipe over with a with a baby wipe - no big deal and even wiping over the whole Schleich collection like this takes just a few minutes as the grime seems to lift off so easily.
~x~x~x~ Playtime! ~x~x~x~
Hollie and David both adore this little rabbit, a lot of this is because he looks so much like our cute little pet but the attraction also comes from the fact that he's such an adorable little character. Our random animal figures don't create any kind of theme; we have rabbits and lions, bears and unicorns, mice and salamanders - if it was a zoo it would be decidedly chaotic...! This doesn't hinder their games however and this set of animals is one of a very few toys the two actually agree on and play with properly together.
It's mainly little role play games, nothing too heavy, and these games evolve naturally as they're playing - Hollie has a big Barbie Cruise Ship and often I'll be cleaning that and find the animals tucked into the sun loungers or sunning themselves under the parasols instead of the dolls! Less often (but still quite regularly) I'll discover David has popped a select few animals figures, including this Grooming Rabbit, into his Bob the Builder building site toy - this appears to be his stash place where only his very favourite small toys go so I think I can safely say he's a big fan of this bunny figure as this is the one that always ends up hidden where he thinks Hollie isn't going to find it!
Whenever David is playing on his own with the rabbit he mainly picks it up and kind of just walks around talking to it, occasionally holding it out so it can have a sniff of something that's caught his eye in their bedroom. Hollie is a little more artistic in her games and has developed a sleepy sounding voice for this particular rabbit which perfectly suits his positioning in my opinion, she also creates little scenes and adventures for her little animal toys and I'll often hear her (sleepily) saying 'but let me just wash my whiskers first' and then I know the Grooming Rabbit is being involved in the game.
It's all about letting them develop their imagination and in my opinion the Schleich range as a whole are just about perfect for this as they're the perfect size for handling and the majority of them stand up well enough to take part in these imaginative games. It's nice to have a nice rural bunny in amongst the more exciting or exotic figures and even better that the kids can associate it so closely with their own pet rabbit - the patterning and design of this Schleich figure really couldn't be better from a personal point of view but having a quick look at their rabbit selection I can see most variations are covered in differing poses so if you don't have your heart set on a Grooming Rabbit then you will likely find a bunny to replicate your pet in colour (if you have one).
~x~x~x~ Easier Than Buying From The RSPCA ~x~x~x~
Yep, no cooling off period or form filling required to bring home the Grooming Rabbit. A quick 'add to trolley' on Amazon and it was all done! It cost a little more than I'd usually pay for a Schleich figure (roughly £5 with postage) but the tiny independent toy shop I sometimes pick them up from cheaper from doesn't stock any rabbits at all so I had no option but to pay Amazon seller prices. He's well worth the fiver for the sheer level of enjoyment he's given both of my younger children, all the 'bells and whistles' toys are one thing but sometimes it's just lovely to see them playing with something that doesn't make a noise or require batteries - meaning they're forced to use their own imagination and knowledge of the world to play.
When my daughter was three her aunt bought her a cute starter wooden railway track and a selection of wooden Thomas & Friends trains. The Caboose came bundled with Thomas and Rosie engines and is a shaped red wooden carriage which looks to have a more americanised design than the rest of the small collection, Hollie was never interested in the track or Thomas but when her brother came along he's proved to be the epitome of 'boy' with an absolute obsession of all things choo-choo so it's all been passed on to him (and expanded on).
It's only recently that David has shown much interest in the Caboose, it's so rarely mentioned or featured on the Thomas shows that he didn't (and still doesn't) make the connection between this carriage and his favourite character. Just lately however he's started playing in a more involved way with his trains rather than just pushing them round the track, and the few carriages he has are being given much more play time as he creates little games and stories.
The Caboose looks fantastic and has proved to be of excellent quality, ours is a bit battered looking now as David isn't the most careful toddler but structurally it's still perfect and I personally think the small paint chips give the carriage character and show it's a loved and played with toy. It's striking in shape and colour, we have no other trains or carriages quite like it and that's one of the reasons why David likes it so much I'm sure. On the bottom of the chassis is printed the words 'Sodor Line Caboose' which turns a bog standard train based toy into something with a little more educational value; Hollie used to love practising her letters against those printed on these little toys even if she didn't really play with them as the wheeled wonders they were intended to be - I definitely credit this Caboose with helping as she tackled 'oo' in her phonics lessons and being a reasonably tricky word was one I was extremely impressed to see her write from memory one day.
The magnet aspect is also very good for small kids as it teaches them about how magnets and metals work without them even realising it. The Caboose connects nicely to the back of David's wooden engines and also connects to other non-Thomas trains, a magnet is a magnet at the end of the day so it can be used with any of the cute engines that feature the magnetic coupling system. The Caboose has nice strong magnets and can easily be lifted in the air by the train it's connected to, David sometimes likes to use the negative magnet to push his trains along nowadays and that's fun to watch too as he always looks so interested in what he's doing.
David has seen the Caboose in other forms including both other Thomas ranges and also non-Thomas sets but he's never shown an interest in them,; we're looking at unusual engines and carriages to add to his collection at the moment and his dad made a big deal of showing him a couple of caboose carriages in Toys R Us, there wasn't a flicker of enthusiasm despite the fact he loves this Sodor Line one so much.
I wouldn't say this is a toy that's played with every single time the train set comes out, David is bizarrely obsessed with Thomas so his trains are being played with to some degree pretty much all day long - I don't see the Caboose every day when I'm clearing up (or gingerly stepping over small trains) but when it's in favour it seems to play a reasonably large part in his games, even if it's just to sit there looking 'different' while the other carriages (he has ones that make noises) are wheeled around the track. Unlike his other carriages it doesn't seem to have a pre-determined role; obviously the egg transporter is full of eggs and the chicken car makes a clucking sound, but the Caboose is like an alien object to David and he doesn't understand what it is. I've shown him videos on You Tube but I don't really think he knows how to incorporate it into many of his games, there's a small magnet on the topside of the Caboose and we've used this to lift the carriage but without a magnetic crane it's kind of silly as you can only lift it up using the front magnet of one of the engines - I want to get David a crane (Cranky) but Mark has put his foot down and said I'm not to spend £40 on a gizmo to make a £10 toy happier!
As part of the set I think it's a nice addition, something a little different from the norm and not a carriage most people would think to pick up as a stand alone Thomas add-on. It's not something that would have caught my eye, I'm seasoned now David is almost three and look for the more unusual option sometimes to keep his Thomas & Friends collection fresh but I still don't think I would have even thought about buying a Caboose.
~x~x~x~ An Awkward Request ~x~x~x~
My two year old son is obsessed with Thomas & Friends, I've got loads of episodes and films saved to Sky+ for him to watch but sometimes he sits at You Tube with one of his bigger sisters and views videos of other children playing with a range of Thomas toys and tracks - I think it's weird, but it makes him happy, and also gives him (and me!) inspiration for toys to buy him for birthdays and occasional treats. It works well, the things he generally finds amusing on the screen I know he'll love 'in the flesh' and if he jumps up and down in excitement while pointing at the screen I'm pretty positive it's something he REALLY, REALLY wants.
We hit a problem earlier this year however, when David started asking for a Shake, Shake Bridge. He'd only recently gotten into the whole motorised TrackMaster thing and I wasn't quite sure which sets to buy him, after making quite an expensive mistake when I purchased him a large TrackMaster track which was (and still in really) beyond his capabilities to get the most from the toy. The Shake, Shake Bridge looked like a fantastic basic round track and the videos on You Tube made it look a lot of fun - it looked to be slightly interactive but not so much as to tax a small person too much, the 'mistake' TrackMaster I had previously bought him was far too many levers and switches for him to cope with and this set looked far better suited to his young age.
The problem was this particular set isn't available in the UK, you'll find sets on Ebay at vastly inflated prices (the catalogue price for the Shake, Shake Bridge was £30 but it's selling for upwards of £50 in used condition on Ebay) but I didn't really want to buy second hand as I wanted the option of putting it away for Christmas if it seemed too large a present to give him just for the sake of it. In the end I purchased it from amazon.com and had a friend of my mums bring it over in her suitcase when she came to visit over the summer, I didn't get the box after all as TrackMaster notoriously comes in absolutely massive boxes but when unboxed the components are actually quite compact so I gave permission for the friend to take it all out of the box and save herself some room to pack her clothes!
~x~x~x~ What's In The Box? ~x~x~x~
This set comprises seven pieces of curved track, the bridge itself, four supports and a motorised Thomas engine. The track is a deep brown as opposed to the grey of David's other sets, I suppose this would be effective if you have lots of TrackMaster sets and the space to connect them into one large track and in all honesty I find it a little bit more interesting to have a track that's a different colour to the rest of our collection.
The front piece of track has been decorated with splashes of green to make you think of a countryside setting; in the Thomas & Friends show the Shake, Shake Bridge is located on Misty Island, a place where the engines go to collect wood for the buildings on Sodor - Misty Island is uninhabited (apart from three, frankly mentalist, engines who look after the wood) and I think this is shown really nicely in a very basic way just from the colour scheme of the track.
This is a raised track so won't easily connect to other TrackMaster sets, we don't have the room to connect them all together anyway so this isn't an issue for us but I'd say this is one of the least versatile of all the sets I've seen. I think David actually likes the fact that it's raised off the floor, the first few times he played with it he kept leaning on it and breaking the track but he soon learned how to handle it and since then we've had no problems - I've noticed him peering at the space between the track and the floor so know he recognises the fact that it's 'different' from his other tracks.
~x~x~x~ Off To A Shaky Start ~x~x~x~
Assembling the track was extremely easy, it comes with a simple instruction sheet which is self explanatory just through looking at the illustrations without even reading the words. Each section of track is marked with a letter so you can work out which piece goes where, despite the fact they're all curved you do have to get them in the correct order otherwise the final piece just won't fit regardless of how easily the others went together! The track is embossed to look slightly distressed and there are obvious logs on the line as well as the edges of the track being thick and 'messy' looking to make the set look more unkempt and natural, I love how the front piece of track (the one with the green on) is thicker than the rest and the way it has been shaped to look like it's going to give Thomas a bumpier ride than usual - the space where the wheels go is as straight as ever and it's really surprising how a little clever moulding can give a completely different impression.
I found the supports to be a bit of a nightmare as it wasn't clear on the instructions where they were supposed to be placed, and if you try to assemble the track with all four supporting pieces as far back as on ANY generic photos (including Dooyoos) it just doesn't work as the front of the track sags down too much. Eventually we opted for an asymmetrical placement with the two taller supports at the very back near the bridge component and the two smaller ones placed further forward but not level with one another - this was the only way I could get the track to balance and stay in one piece while David was playing with it, although obviously if you decide to buy this set it's completely up to you how you set it up.
The problem occurred when we decided to test out the track while David was at nursery - the bridge wouldn't work properly at all and I thought I'd made another 'disaster buy' but Mark managed to fix it without too much messing around. The main appeal of the Shake, Shake Bridge is that you stand up the three pale sections of the bridge and they fall down when Thomas (or any other TrackMaster engine) goes past - the problem is these sections don't lock into place and are very loosely fitted in order that they will fall down each time, ours didn't stand up. And if they did they'd flop back down as soon as the vibration of the running train touched the track even if Thomas was on the other side of the track! Ultra annoying and something that needed to be fixed before David played with the set as it would have frustrated him too much - Mark simply stressed them into place by fixing an elastic band around the upright bridge sections and leaving it for an hour, it worked well but he does have to do this quite regularly so it's not an ideal long-term fix. I've noticed if David is particularly taken with this set one day the bridge will gradually get looser and looser, at his age he's not too fussed about this and will happily play with the track with the bridge in its 'down' position but I feel this is quite a big design flaw and something that TrackMaster should have done better.
~x~x~x~ Does It Live Up To David's Expectations? ~x~x~x~
Oh yes, it's safe to say he's obsessed with this toy. He plays with it every single day for at least a few minutes and I've noticed it's the set he'll go to when he's getting visibly bored of his wooden and other TrackMaster tracks. He laughs like crazy at the bumpy motion of Thomas as he makes his way around the track and makes 'wheeee' noises when the track itself wobbles on its supports, which it's supposed to do to give the impression of being a wild ride as shown in the Misty Island Rescue movie. It's good really, the track pieces fit together incredibly closely so they bond well but the fact that the track is raised up off the floor means it will obviously move slightly as the weight of the train goes along - you can see the track swaying slightly and this effect becomes more intense if you add one of the connecting trucks to the engine and thereby add more weight.
The track section that spans the bridge is made up of small 2" pieces which are loosely connected together (this comes as a complete unit so you don't have to connect them yourself), these wobble slightly as Thomas passes over them and again David finds this extremely exciting to watch - the beauty of the Shake, Shake Bridge set is that Thomas falls off sometimes when he's wobbled too much and loses his grip on the track, this is uproariously funny to a little boy who is approaching his third birthday and part of this is because we teach him to be careful with his toys so he's in awe of a playset that actually promotes accidents! I love listening to him giggle as he watches Thomas go round and round, as I've already mentioned he's equally happy when he's just using it as a track as when the bridge is being utilised as it should be - and that makes me happy as mum because it shows he's using his imagination as well as grasping the basic concept of the set.
David is a little bemused about having ANOTHER motorised Thomas as this (admittedly main) character is included in every TrackMaster set we own, he now has three Thomas engines and three different characters and I think it would be nice for them to ring the changes and offer more of a variety of engines in these sets. I do love the fact that Thomas has a different facial expression to the otherwise identical engines in David's collection and we can easily tell him apart from them as his eyebrows are raised, seemingly in anticipation of his upcoming trip across the scary Shake, Shake Bridge. David recognises this particular engine as belonging to this set because of the face and I think it's kind of cool that TrackMaster have shown attention to detail like this.
~x~x~x~ Worth A 3500 Mile Journey ~x~x~x~
Absolutely! I paid $49.95 plus shipping for this Shake, Shake Bridge set and waited patiently for mums friend to come over and deliver it to me, and I am thrilled with my decision to buy it. David loves it every bit as much as I thought he would and it's proved to be an excellent purchase, not least because the lack of availability here in the UK means it's almost one of a kind (it's not, but you get my meaning!) so David is likely to be the only child in his circle who has this specific TrackMaster set.
The recommended age for the set is 3 years and above, but I suspect this is more to do with ability than it being a safety issue. David has been playing with his since he was two and a half and I've never had any qualms about the safety of it - I suppose the wheels or wheel rods on the train could pose a choking hazard, but they're so well connected to the body of the train that I can't envisage any time these would break off and end up in David's mouth. I'm more than happy for him to play with the Shake, Shake Bridge despite him being younger than recommended, it's teaching him a little about patience and I've also noticed he's a little more careful than usual when playing with this TrackMaster set as he doesn't want the bridge to fall over until Thomas is ready to knock it down.
~x~x~x~ Meet Fergus ~x~x~x~
Fergus is a small traction engine who lives in the cement works on Sodor Island. He is painted a smart navy blue with gold detail and has silver wheels and a bold flywheel on his side. I think Fergus has quite a grumpy face but he's endearing in his own way, David loved this tiny toy from the moment he clapped eyes on him and would laugh at his face in a way he doesn't with any of his other engines - I don't really get what's so funny about it myself, although I suppose his grimace-smile expression is quite amusing!
This 'Wind Ups' toy is very small with a length of just under 6cm, for this reason the recommended age is given as three years and above although David played with his from a couple of months after his second birthday WITH SUPERVISION. I can't emphasise enough just how tiny these toys are and unless you can guarantee you can watch exactly what your toddler is doing with them then don't give them to a very little one as the dimensions are just about perfect for them to choke on in they're the type of kiddie who likes to put everything in their mouths.
~x~x~x~ Wind Him Up, And Off He Goes... Sort Of... ~x~x~x~
To work the toy it's a simple wind up mechanism, it's only possible to give him a short wind as after a few rotations it stops dead (presumably to avoid over-winding and damaging the mechanism). Once you've wound him you need to keep pressure on the wheels to stop them spinning before you've put him down, then place the train on the floor or table and watch him go. For a few inches. Slowly.
You see, this toy simply isn't very good at all. It was frustrating for David that the winder was too small for him to handle himself, and he'd get even more frustrated when Fergus only moved such a very short distance as he's had lots of wind up toys before that have whizzed away for several feet before they wound down. Looking at it through a child's eyes I can see why he's disappointed, and even more so considering the thing broke completely (into little pieces) after only a few weeks of very limited play.
The wheels didn't rotate very well from the first time David played with Fergus, this meant he didn't go in a brilliantly straight line and always looked like he was dragging himself from one point to another. When I first saw him I imagined the engine would zip across the room as these characters tend to be depicted as reasonably speedy on the Thomas & Friends episodes, but Fergus kind of limped along and always reminded me of those dogs who lose the use of their back legs and have to pull themselves along on little wheeled trolleys!
~x~x~x~ What A Wind Up! ~x~x~x~
So, he didn't move very well and the winding period was too short to be really useful. So what other problems did he have...? Oh yes, he fell apart. I mean literally fell to bits one day when David was pushing him along the floor - yep, my son is heavy handed but I was watching him this day and one minute Fergus was whole, the next there were little bits of engine all over the floor. Something pretty major must have failed inside the little toy as his back wheels fell off and so did the tiny metal winding post, the flywheel went incredibly loose (although stopped short of falling off) and basically Fergus then had to be scooped up and deposited in the bin.
It's a shame as even now David asks for this particular engine, presumably because he's so different to the Thomas, Percy and more popular trains in his collection. The other two wind up toys weren't as poor in quality as Fergus but they didn't seem to appeal to him as much and now I'm not even sure where they are, underneath an item of furniture probably as they're so tiny even in height that they can literally go anywhere!
I'm thinking back now to a day when Fergus was whole and David was poorly with a chest infection. All he wanted to do was play with his trains (and even then he had little energy to do anything other that wheel them around his immediate orbit) and he got it into his little head that Fergus was the one he wanted to play with. Being poorly anyway he didn't have the patience for such a badly designed toy and that day had the biggest tantrum I've seen him have to date, sparked by Fergus refusing to move so much as a millimetre despite being wound to his limit. This was actually the beginning of the end now I think about it and it was only a few days later that he had his meltdown.
~x~x~x~ Gram For Gram, More Expensive Than Gold! ~x~x~x~
Obviously I don't recommend Fergus as the quality is far too poor and the risk of him breaking down is too high, but I've just checked him out on Amazon and he's available for delivery to the UK now priced at a ridiculous £11.50 including postage. Honestly, that is absolutely ridiculous considering he's such a small little toy and weighs less than an average letter in an envelope - I can only assume my mums friend was right about them being hard to find in this country and that's why they're so expensive to buy. I usually love to buy my kids stuff that is different from what their friends are playing with as I think it allows them to retain some individuality, but in this case I'd have rather David be given a more standard Thomas & Friends toy that at least would work properly and stay in one piece for longer than three months.