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I'm lucky enough to receive lots of nice things for birthdays and Christmas and this Valentina perfume was a very well received gift from my daughter on one such occasion a while ago.
Valentino is an Italian designer and as such delivers a rather desirable yet understated fragrance. It comes packaged in a variety of formats including both body products (shower gels, scrubs, oils, lotions and creams etc) to the all important perfume products, Eau de Toilette, Eau de Parfum (that I own) and the EDP intense. Having a range of products such as this makes for a longer lasting perfume experience but I confess, I do not own anything else although I would dearly love to.
The EDP comes in a clear glass bottle through which you can see the delicate pastel pink perfume within. It is decorated with blossoms in graduating shades of colour. The silver hardware (containing the Valentino branding) gives the bottle a refined look, as I feel, like the designer I suppose, that gold would be too tacky. Prices vary immensely so please do shop around, although the EDP can generally be found at around the £40 mark for the 30 ml bottle. Yes it's expensive, but it's so worth it.
The fragrance can only be described citrusy, yet floral/oriental as it has distinctive florals with a touch of spice coming through. The top notes and what you would experience first off, is Calabrian bergamot and Alba Truffle. This might lead you to expecting an intensely citrussy scent but it's most definitely the floral aspect of the plant that I detect, the orange blossom coming to the fore. The heart notes consist of Amalfi orange blossom and wild strawberry so the citrusy theme carries through, with the strawberry providing a touch of sweetness that lingers longer. The base notes are cedar wood and amber and give the oriental undertones I am expecting upon wearing the fragrance for a while. Altogether, these notes give a delicious, sensual, warmth to the perfume and it develops into a beautiful romantic scent that delicately lingers, surrounding the area where you are and inviting questions about what perfume you are wearing.
I really like this Valentina EDP by Valentino. I think it's a really feminine perfume and would suit both the young, due to its uplifting floral fragrance, yet also the young at heart because it's not like a celebrity fragrance that hits you around the head, this is a romantic yet demure delight to the senses. Five out of five from me.
Thanks for reading my review. x
Monster High - Compact Fashion Sketch Portfolio
I love crafts, and could quite happily spend the rest of my days doing nothing else. I have two daughters, and whilst one has absolutely no interest in anything creative; my youngest daughter is following in my footsteps and loves anything to do with drawing and colouring, or making things.
I first purchased a set similar to this from Hobbycraft, which just featured hair and makeup. There were outlines supplied, in which to add your own designs of hair and makeup and embellish with jewellery etc. My daughter loved it as it encouraged her creativity and imagination, along with her sense of style, and this review focuses on this kit from the Monster High range aimed at those children who feel they are too old for traditional toys, but aren't yet a teenager; that awkward period now widely known as 'Tweenage'.
This portfolio is essentially a colouring book, with a more 'grown-up' theme than the usual colouring books on the market. The age recommendation for the Monster High version is 7+, whereas most Fashion Angel drawing sets are 6+. I feel this is a good representation as to the higher level of difficulty from the scenes. They are much more intricate and detailed, and therefore more suited to the slightly higher age range.
Behind The Scenes
Monster High is a range of toys that follow the series of books by author Lisi Harrison. The characters all go to the local 'Monster High' school and all are offspring of or related to, famous monsters such as the abominable snowman (Abbie Bominable). Their more grown up style have meant that they have made the leap to toys well. Their 'Freaky but Fabulous' style ethos is perfect for 'tweenagers'.
When I first purchased this last Christmas, it cost £5.99. Looking at Amazon today (August 2013), they have retained that price, so their appeal and monetary value have not waned in the slightest. However, it should be noted that postage and packaging fees apply when buying online, so please look on the high street first; I purchased this particular one from a Wilkinson's store. I feel that it's still worth the asking price, simply for the 'play' value and design opportunities that owning this book will open up to your budding artist.
As with the more basic set I reviewed two days ago (not Monster High themed), this book measures 26 x 15 cm and set on the vertical axis. I like the fact that its spiral bound from the top, and the cover's rather than being hard backed are constructed from a thick, yet pliable plastic. The benefit to this being on the vertical is that it enables you to colour right up to the edges of the design; sometimes with portrait style books, with a bound edge, you end up struggling on the left hand side, especially if your child is left handed. Being spiral bound, also means that it lies flat and doesn't keep trying to close on itself; that always used to drive me crazy as a child.
Inside, you will find 40 pages of scenes featuring the four main characters and their pets. There are four designs so they are repeated many times over. I do think they could have had ten designs and repeated them less often, or better yet, 40 different designs to prevent any boredom creeping in, but saying that, there is so many opportunies to create a totally different fashion statement on each page, that this doesn't worry my daughter in the slightest.
The light grey, almost pencil like outlines feature the four lead characters from Monster High. The characters are known as R.A.Ds or Regular Attribute Dodgers. In other words they are not people but monsters, such a Draculaura (based upon Dracula), Frankie Stein (obvious), Lagoona Blue (a sea monster) and Cleo De Nile (an Egyptian mummy). Even though the story books have complex teen issues that 7 year olds won't be able to comprehend well, Monster High appeals to girls with their attitude of being 'Freaky but Fabulous', and that it doesn't matter what you look like, it's what's within that counts.
Also included, is four sheets of stencils, which contains 110 different items to create unique, fashionable outfits on each of the characters. These include pieces of clothing, accessories and even each of the 'Monsters' pets to build upon the basic design already provided. These are constructed from some sort of thick acetate or thin plastic and are extremely flimsy and flexible. To further enhance your completed designs, a sheet containing 80 colourful stickers add a wonderful embellishment opportunity, and can personalise your creations even further.
To get your creative juices flowing further, inside the front of the book there is a selection of completed pictures, either to copy, or just to gather inspiration from. The instructions for use are really child friendly and done pictorially. There is help with colour theory - the science of complementary and harmonious colours, and colour blending and shading. There are even pattern swatches for clothing material inspiration. Whilst this goes over the heads of the younger designer who just want to get on with it, my daughter now aged 10, is beginning to take these considerations on board, and as a consequence, her designs have improved dramatically.
Elysia has on occasion removed her masterpiece to display upon the kitchen fridge. Although the pages are not perforated, due to the way it is presented, it is extremely easy to tear each page out, without ruining the remaining pages.
As I think my review reflects, I highly rate this Monster High Compact Sketch Portfolio. It's been a lovely addition to my daughter's craft collection, and is perfect size to keep kids occupied for an hour or so when travelling during the long summer holidays. Buy one to keep on hand for those 'I'm Bored!' moments; your 'tweenager' will thank you for it. It would also make a wonderful gift for any Monster High fan; just add crayons. :) In all honesty though, I think you get better value from the larger sized portfolio for sale on Amazon (currently £7.50 with free super saver delivery). If the compact size is not something you specifically needed, I'd recommend you buy that one. This doesn't reflect on this product though, it's still good, just not as good value if you see what I mean.
Five stars from me. *****
Freaky Fashion made Fun.
Having had a few health issues recently, namely reoccurring kidney infections, after the latest dose of antibiotics I decided it was time I actually helped myself and tried to up my fluid intake. I'm not a big drinker at all, alcoholic or otherwise, and while my other half has the kettle running constantly for cups of tea, if I kept up with his intake I'm sure I'd drown from the inside.
Brita Fill and Go Versus The bobble Bottle
It was while I was browsing through the latest Boots Advantage magazine that I saw there was a promotion on the latest Brita offering, the Brita Fill and Go, a large capacity beaker with water filter built in. I don't like drinking water of any sort really, but decided that if I was at least giving my poor old kidneys a fighting chance at recovery, drinking filtered water was the way to go. Aided by the fact that the Fill and Go was reduced by a third to just £10, I decided to buy one next time I was in Boots.
On visiting Tesco's to do my weekly shop a few days later, I noticed they were the same price there. One can only presume that they weren't selling particularly well at full price and a national promotion was deemed needed to get people to take notice. Well it worked for me, and I duly popped one in my trolley. My daughter was with me and also decided she needed one to take to work with her. The display stand was large and appealing, and although there at first appearance didn't seem to have any discernible differences, it became clear that there was the choice of either a (very slight) pink or blue band so two people owning the same beaker wouldn't get them mixed up. Also in the display there were the replacement disks to filter the water, at a cost of £13 for 8 cartridges, of which you use one a week. This seemed like a huge investment to make over the year, and I'd probably be better off buying a Brita filter jug and enabling the whole family to enjoy the whole filtered water experience. Decision made, they promptly were popped back on the shelf. Until we went around the corner and found a more affordable version that is.
The bobble Bottle Won
The 'bobble' bottle is a much more appealing affair looks wise. Its curvaceous shape reminiscent of an hourglass is much more appealing both to look at and to hold. The Brita one was a rather chunky straight up and down, and function over style proposal. Even the mouthpiece of the bobble bottle seemed more ladylike to drink from, the Brita was a large flip lid hiding the hole from which to drink the contents, and seemed that it would flap in front of your face when you would go to take a sip. Not so with the bobble bottle, it's just a simple sports style mouth piece, which you simply pull up to open and push back in place to close; Job done. The only real decision now was what colour (of the filter) and what capacity to go for. Rather reassuringly the bobble is also BPA free and recyclable once its life is over.
Initial Costs and Maintenance
There are a whole variety of colours to choose with the bobble bottle and if you get fed up of that you can choose a different colour when you replace the filter in order to ring the changes. I have even seen a Union Flag design once, around the time of the Jubilee and the Olympics, and it's probably fair to assume it was a limited edition and not now widely available, or if it is, at a premium. I decided to go for the large one litre bottle at the same cost as the Fill and Go (but with no promotion added), my reckoning being, that I'd only have to fill it twice to get my two litres daily allowance of liquid, and any cups of tea or coffee over that would be a bonus. The other reason against the smaller 550ml bottle (£8) was that after refilling once or twice during the day, knowing me, and how distracted I can get, I'd easily forget how many refills I've done. Also being smaller, once I've drunk its fill, being confined to the computer most of the day I'm too busy to replenish, at least if I had a larger bottle it would reduce that need somewhat. Capacity chosen so what colour did I chose? Well, there was only two large bottles on the stand and they both came in red, so the decision was taken out of our hands, any my daughter and I purchased one each.
What about the price of the refills I hear you cry? Ha-ha, this is the good bit and why we both chose this one over the Brita. The Brita one cost £13 for 8 cartridges making it £1.62 a week to maintain whereas the bobble bottle costs £5 for two months use (or 300 refills), making it around 55p a week, a huge difference!
According to the instructions on the back of the very minimal packaging you are to fill with water before first use, put the bobble filter in place and gently squeeze the water though. This flushes the filter of any carbon deposits. I must admit to not reading this at first and just filled and drank. I didn't notice any difference in the flavour of the water and I'm still here to tell the tale so it didn't do me any harm; it's just not very nice thinking about it after the event. The filter is said to reduce odour, chlorine and organic contaminants from regular tap water. DO NOT use where the water is microbiologically unsafe or of unknown quality, which is common sense really.
In use, drinking from the bottle is a little bit irritating and could well get on even the most patient persons nerves. To proceed with the first step of flushing the carbon deposits out of the filter, the bottle has to have some flexibility to it in order to squeeze; it does, but sometimes too much flexibility. When you go on to drink from the sports cap, the liquid doesn't dribble or flood into your mouth, you have to suck. This is ok if you're running or exercising as it means you won't get covered in fluids as you move etc., but sitting at a desk, it's quite often a little annoying. As you suck, you are extracting air from the bottle along with the fluid; this creates a vacuum and draws the flexible sides of the bottle inwards; do you get the picture? As you release your mouth, the seal is lost and air enters the very slowly. This takes a few seconds and makes a whistling noise whilst it's happening. Firstly the whistling is annoying to listen to, but also the few second wait between sips does aggravate me, especially as I don't really want to be drinking water in the first place.
The instructions for bobble care are as follows: hand wash both the bottle and filter in warm soapy water as neither of them are dishwasher safe, dry bobble well and also to avoid storing in direct sunlight. There is also a warning against squeezing too hard as this may cause the bobble's soft body to crease. I take it that this would also mean avoiding dropping, as it wouldn't be too difficult to dent either sadly.
So far, in a short period of time, using this bottle has made a vast difference to me. I feel so much better for drinking more water and being adequately hydrated. Ok, I'm making more visits to the ladies, but in time I'm sure that will lessen as my body gets used to it. I tend to drink one full bottle of water in the morning, and one full bottle with a splash of squash or cordial added in the afternoon when my resolve has weakened a little. The bottle and filter hasn't come to any ill effects as yet from doing this, but liquid is liquid and as long as it isn't water from the Thames (as seen on the Gadget Show), I'm sure that the bobble bottle will filter all the nasty's out adequately.
I do think that the smaller versions would make a great addition to a child's lunchbox for school lunches, or for drinks of water in the classroom that they are increasingly being allowed to do of late. I think that the larger capacity that you would need for exercising, the bottle on this would very too large and chunky for use while jogging/running/marathons etc. but for using it the gym would certainly be up to the job. If you wanted to up your water intake in an office situation I feel that the bobble bottle would, and is perfect, as the sports lid closure means that if it were accidentally knocked over, nothing would spill out; it also looks nice and that always helps.
The only real downfall for me is the annoying whistle once you've taken a sip which sounds like screaming rocket firework blasting off, for a good few seconds. You might be nicely hydrated but I bet those around you (and even your own self) will be a little bit peeved at hearing that damn noise throughout the day. If it wasn't for that, I would have no hesitation of giving the bobble bottle a five star rating, but due to the aforementioned noise, the delay between taking a further drink and the fact that it can't be put in the dishwasher, I feel a four star rating is more than adequate. I did toy with a three star one, but that's just being mean.
My ten year old daughter is a creative child and rather than being stuck in front of a computer or games console over these long summer holidays, she'd rather be doing something crafty. Looking down the aisles in Tesco's when doing my weekly shop, we were looking for something a little bit different to the ordinary paints, crayons or craft kits, when our eyes alighted upon this product. It's from a newish brand to the UK, WeVeel, and after getting good results from another product, namely the Scento's fragranced markers with designs that are absolutely fabulous for kids; we picked this up without any further thought.
WeVeel's mission is to create, A Whole New World of Creativity by introducing surprising new ways to create, share and experience colour and design. With the rather ridiculous name of 3-Donkulous (it could only be American), the 3D in the name gives a clue to its purpose; this is a stencil set containing 3D markers. There are three designs in the range, but my daughter chose the more girly butterfly one.
The kit comes in a stiff cardboard envelope with an aperture at the front displaying the three 3D markers. The design on the packaging is indicative of the design that you will be able to achieve with this, as rather disappointingly there is only one butterfly stencil included. Along with the stencil and the markers, you receive 8 double sided black paper sheets, and a pair of 3D glasses through which to view your end results.
There wasn't any delay in using this kit as the only setting up required was the removal of the little sections from within the stencil. It's a very simple designed butterfly but the antennae area was a little bit tricky, so I recommend you completing this beforehand, for little ones perhaps younger than aged 7. This kit is aimed at five years plus, but creativity is ageless, so neither Elysia nor I were worried that it might be too young for her; the singular butterfly might be, but you don't have to use that if you'd rather not, and make your own artworks.
There are no instructions with this kit, but to be honest you don't need them. Its paper, stencils and markers, so what you do is obvious at the end of the day. I was worried at first as the markers didn't seem to be as vibrant as shown on the box and I did initially think I'd picked up a dud set. The colours took a couple of minutes to develop, and then seem to 'pop' before your eyes. The 3D effect isn't evident at this point and it just looks like a bog standard felt tipped drawing but set off by the blackness of the background.
The stencil takes moments to use, and little ones might need a hand to hold the two layers steady. After colouring in the design, and adding some detail, it's time to put on the glasses. These are the old fashioned paper ones we used to get as kids, rather than the rather more up to date ones you get at the cinema and with home viewing 3D TV's for sale today. Oddly though they don't have the red and blue different colour lenses and are simply clear ones.
3 D Effect
I don't know how they work but they do, the effect is quite amazing. The designs do not seem to poke you in the eye, but they do seem to hover and float. The effect is reminiscent of looking at something through a heat haze, it sorts of shimmers and floats. Of all the three colours, the purple/lilac has the best effect, closely followed by the blue. The blue doesn't seem to shimmer as much as the effect is more brought out by its vibrancy of colour. The pink shade is rather a let down; it's an insipid blancmange like shade of pink and doesn't really pop out or draw you in either. The 3D effect with this shade is extremely minimal and in fact, I could only set the motion when used as a dot rather than a bold splash of colour.
For the price of £4.00, I think this kit will be enjoyable for a short amount of time and will be quickly forgotten, possibly to be picked up at a later date. There are 8 double sided sheets of card/paper in this kit, and Elysia completed the stencil and made a further two of her own designs before she was off to do something else. Once the effect is seen, the wonder of it quickly wears off and it loses its magic. I don't think this is due to my daughters age, I think even younger children will be the same.
This is a good kit for a short period of creative time. I do think that this is never going to have a long lasting appeal with kids of any age, simply because it's too basic. If this were a part of a larger craft kit, it would be great but on its own there is very little appeal. It's one of those products, 'Seen it, done it, don't want to do it again', any time soon at least. I've packaged the set away for further 'I'm Bored' moments later on in the holidays, but I don't think it will appeal to Elysia again, and I might have to pass it on to my seven year old niece instead.
It was good while it lasted, but £4 for twenty or so minutes play value was a bit of a disappointment. OK, my niece will have some fun with it, and being three years younger I'm sure it will appeal to her age and sense of creativity more. It's just too basic for 'older' kids, so I feel that I can award a three out of five star rating to be fair, and the five and over recommendation seems a little high too. I can't see why a three or four year old couldn't utilise this with good effect, they'd just need help holding the stencil in place.
It was good but just not good enough, and a big part of that was the lack of other stencils, why oh why was there only one? Surely they are only cardboard so it wouldn't bump up the price too much too have added some more; this really limits the sets play time appeal in my opinion.
Conscious Collection from H&M
When updating my daughter's wardrobe every season one of my first ports of call is H&M. This high street and online store offers a good range of fashionable clothes at affordable prices, but more recently I've become aware of their Conscious collection, and this review discusses the dress shown above from this range.
My ten year old daughter is slowly becoming more fashion aware, and wants to blend in with the crowd rather than stand out and be herself. We all go through it, I know I certainly did. Anything I can do to ease that transition from child to teenager I'll do, and if purchasing clothes that help her feel good about herself achieves that, I'll gladly do it.
My daughter loves this dress because although it's a dress, it's not the flouncy ruffles and ribbons style I used to make her wear as a baby, it's a more 'grown up' skater style. The cut of the dress is rather basic, and it's definitely a day dress, for playing outside in and rough and tumble; it's not the sort of dress you could wear for a wedding for instance. My daughter is tall for her age so I purchased the age 12-14 for her and it fits perfectly.
The body of the dress is a rather fitted vest top style, with one inch shoulder straps to cover any vest or cropped top/bra straps that may be worn underneath. The waist area is accentuated with a deep, black elasticated panel. This draws the eye to the area, and gives the illusion of a waist to girls who are at the age that they are straight up and down, and possibly have no feminine curves as yet. The skirt is gathered under the waistband, and provides a fuller gather, and a skirt that is perfect for swishing about in. My daughter prefers to wear this alone, but the addition of three quarter length white or black leggings would set this dress off beautifully in my opinion.
The design of the dress seems to be a pair of wild horses running through the hills, with trees in the distance. Due to the pale sugared almond pastel shades running throughout the dress giving it some colour (blue, yellow, green and pink) it gives it an ethereal feel, and I can imagine the horses running through the water's edge along a beach; or maybe it's just me being in a dream world again. Anyway, my daughter loves this dress because horses are her favourite animal in the whole wide world, and anything with a horse on instantly appeals.
She also owns this exact dress in another pattern design, this time striped. The white background is the perfect backdrop to rather more vibrant stripes of neon colour with the band of black. Due to the cut of the fabric though, the stripes do not sit in a straight line on the body, and fall away at the sides giving an unusual look.
I purchased both dresses online when I was doing the bulk of my daughters spring/summer wardrobe update. I didn't actually realise it was part of H&M's Conscious range until I received it and duly took all the labels off so Elysia could wear it. Looking at the label it tells me that it is manufactured from 100% organic cotton, oddly there is no mention of the elastane in the waistband. It also informs me that the Conscious Collection is part of H&M's conscious actions for a more sustainable future. It's good to see that a manufacturer is playing their part in a more eco-friendly society. It's just a shame that the ethos doesn't extend to the whole of the stores products and not just a small range. They must be trying hard to rectify this though, as looking online, I found that they are the number one user of organic cotton worldwide.
Looking at the label with the wash care instructions I see there's nothing out of the ordinary there - wash at 40 degrees (or less if you can), do not bleach, do not dry clean (that's fine with me), cool tumble (or better still line dry) and iron on hot. However I also see that this product is manufactured in Bangladesh and this did initially worry me. How can something that's sustainably and organically grown, be sewn together by people who are offered poor pay and even worse employment conditions, surely that's morally and ethically wrong? I had to check to see if this was indeed the case, and I'm pleased to see that well over half a million Bangladeshi garment workers have been educated on their employment rights by H&M. It's a small step, but hopefully it's one in the right direction.
I didn't intend this review to focus on the ethics of the garment but when you purchase something from such a range, you just can't help it. It's a lovely dress, and from a range of clothes of which I shall make a 'Conscious' effort to purchase from again. I recommend it. It washes and wears well, and for the low cost of just £5.99 I can't fault it. Five stars from me.
Fashion Angels -Tattoo Artist Sketch Portfolio
I love crafts, and could quite happily spend the rest of my days doing nothing else. Real life gets in the way from time to time, and I have to do boring things like wash and clean etc. I have two daughters, and whilst one has absolutely no interest in gluing, sticking and colouring, as she calls it; my youngest daughter is following in my footsteps and is a marvel at anything creative.
When I saw this set in the local Hobbycraft I thought it was just the thing to encourage her creativity and imagination, along with her sense of style. This kit is essentially a colouring book, with a more 'grown-up' theme, to the usual colouring books aimed at children on the market. The age recommendation is for 6+, although my niece used this adequately although not without a few minor hitches, from the age of four. When I first purchased this, it cost £6.99, but this was still a quite a reasonable price for the play value, and use it's had since then. Looking at Amazon today (Aug 2013) they are a similar price. OK, it's expensive for a colouring book, but this is so much more than that. It's also quite expensive when you come to learn that the books that are twice the size are in a similar price bracket, so if Tattoo's and Body Art aren't your thing, there are a wide range of other, larger books to choose from.
This book measures 25 x 14 cm and set on the vertical axis. It's quite substantial thickness, as there a lot of pages in there; you really feel like you are getting your monies worth. I like the fact that its spiral bound from the top, and the covers rather than being hard backed are constructed from a thick, yet pliable plastic. The benefit to this is, when you are colouring you can actually colour right up to the edges of the design; sometimes with this style of book, with a bound edge, you end up struggling on the side with the spine. Being spiral bound, also means that it lies flat and doesn't keep trying to close on itself; that always used to bother me as a child.
Inside, you will find in excess of 40 pages of outlines. I've just counted the pages and although there are now 41 pages in there, my daughter has on occasion removed her masterpiece to display upon the kitchen fridge or to present to her grandparents so there might have been up to 45 or 50. Although the pages are not perforated, due to the way it is presented, it is extremely easy to tear each page out, without ruining the remaining pages.
There are seven outline designs included - head and shoulders, hands, heads shoulders and hands/arms, just feet, just hands, and full body; all in various poses. They are repeated several times over, throughout the book, BUT although there are only seven designs to choose from, each one can be so varied, there will never be an opportunity to get fed up of each one, and the design potential is tremendous. That said, some of the other colouring books of this brand have a little as three designs, so this one is quite good. The outlines are on white paper, and are a pale purple/lilac colour.
Also included, is five sheets of stencils. These are construction from some sort of thick acetate, or thin plastic. These are extremely flimsy and flexible, and where my four year old niece (at the time) found she had trouble. Above the 6 year old age recommendation, they would have better hand eye coordination and better pencil control, in order to utilise the stencils adequately. Younger than this, you may find the stencils to be far too flexible and are more of a hindrance than a help. The stencils contain a vast array of tattoo shapes and in a wide range of sizes - there are stars, music themed designs, animal, flowers and leaves, right down to the classic flowing banner and winged heart designs. You really can go to town with this book and then some.
To get your creative juices flowing further, both at the front and back of the book there is a selection of inspirational completed pictures featuring finished designs, either to copy, or just get inspiration from. The instructions for use are really child friendly and done pictorially. There is also help with colour theory - the science of tints, shades, complementary and harmonious colours, and also colour blending and shading. Whilst this goes over the heads of the younger designer, my daughter now aged 10, is beginning to take these considerations on board, and as a consequence, her designs and colour choices have improved dramatically.
As I think my review reflects, I highly rate this Fashion Angels Tattoo Artist Sketch Portfolio. It's been a lovely addition to my daughter's craft collection, and is perfect for rainy day play in these long summer holidays, or just when the mood arises. With the price available today, it makes a wonderful little stocking filler or birthday party gift along with a packet of crayons.
Fashion Angels gets five stars from me, along with a glowing recommendation. :)
Monster High Character Headphones
Last Christmas my 'soon to be' ten year old daughter was lucky enough to receive an iPod for Christmas. It was a big hit over the holiday period, and between listening to her music, and her transferring the earphones to her computer so she could watch you tube clips without disturbing those around her, she got a fair bit of use from the earphones over a short period of time. We quickly came to realise that she was getting lots of ear infections and as soon as one we got one infection sorted, she'd quickly get another. Whether it was the wearing the earphones for long periods, causing a warm and moist environment for bacteria to breed, sharing the earphones with her friends (one each so they both can listen), or just the winter bugs and a sheer coincidence we just don't know. When her birthday came around (it was late January so not too long to wait), I had a thought that 'over the head' style earphones would suit her better. With this in mind, plus being that 'tween' stage, I purchased headphones from the Monster High range from the leading toy manufacturer Mattel Inc.
Monster High is a range of toys that follow the series of books by author Lisi Harrison. The books themselves are more teen orientated as they feature teen angst and drama. They follow students from the aforementioned Monster High School, and all the characters are offspring or related to, famous monsters such as Dracula (Draculaura), the abominable snowman (Abbie Bominable) and Frankenstein (Frankie Stein). Their more grown up style have meant that they have made the leap to toys well. Their 'Freaky but Fabulous' style is perfect for that 'tween age' where girls are too old for dollies, but still want to play with dolls per se. Therefore I thought that the headphones would be perfect for her as I'd already bought her several toys from the range before; they were sure to be a hit, and they were.
The headphones came mounted on a flat piece of cardboard backing featuring a rather fetching depiction of Frankie (daughter of Frankenstein and his bride), and the headphones are prominently displayed beneath an acetate bubble outer. The packaging is quite tough to open, so I recommend you use scissors to gain access, or your poor fingers will suffer. I liked that once the packaging was open though, there were not thousands of fastenings to undo before you could get them out; there were just one or two; and my daughter managed this herself; being eager to test them out.
With actual headphones being all the rage nowadays, in direct competition to 'in the ear' phones, my daughter doesn't feel too babyish to wear these out and about, although as time has gone on, I feel that she wishes that the Monster High theme wasn't quite so prominent. Kids! They grow so fast; she absolutely adored them just over six months ago.
The black and fuchsia pink colouring will appeal to all girls in my opinion. Yes OK, it's pink, but it's bright and modern, and not a sugary, candy coloured pink. I think that especially with the Monster theming, even tom boys would like them. The earphones are marked L and R, so there can be confusion to which ear goes where, but to be quite honest, I really don't think it matters; they are just as comfortable whatever way around you wear them. On the right hand one, you see the Monster High school badge logo. It's a white shield shape, with the MH and the skull with the pink bow detail. Underneath that is the Mattel copyright. On the left, it features white scribble with a picture of Frankie Stein overlaid, also in white. This white on black, is a really nice feature, and gives it a more grown up feel rather than being overly coloured and babyish. These are somehow printed within the plastic of the earphone outer shell, and are not simply a cheap transfer. This makes them great quality as the picture will stay true, and over the (almost) seven months my daughter has owned these, there have been no scratches to ruin the design. Although saying that, if they were a transfer/sticker, I could remove it as my daughter grew out of the Monster High theme, and the whole earphones would have a longer lasting 'shelf life' so to speak.
The headband section is made from a high quality black matt plastic, as opposed to the high gloss shine on the earphone shells. It's manufactured in one solid piece, but splits at the side to form two prongs, into which the parts that allow the headphones to alter to the correct size of head are situated. At the crown of the head, there is cushioning in the same fuchsia colour of the padding on the ear sections. It's manufactured from some kind of PVC but is made and secured, extremely well to the headphone. It not only provides comfort but also prevents gaping on little (and occasionally not so little heads (I can wear these comfortably).
The ear sections are on the smaller side, for obvious reasons, being aimed at children. However, I have, as mentioned previously, worn these on the odd occasion, usually when my own headphones go walkabout. As per the cushioning on the crown section, these are extremely well padded, and provided a really cushioned, and comfortable listening experience. The adjustability of them is great, Elysia has been wearing these since she was ten on the smallest setting, but I feel that my seven year old niece could wear them comfortably on the same setting. I myself (Five feet, two inches) only need to widen these around one centimetre at each side, to provide a more personal fit. The sound quality of these is great for kids and those non audiophiles among us. There is none of that awful crackling or breaking up. Let's be truthful, there are never going to be the best soundwise, but for the price, I think they are perfectly adequate and do the job well.
The whole look has been given a modern touch by the addition of chrome rims and matching chrome adjusters. The pink lead completes the look and is finished with a 3.5 mm gold plated headphone jack. The length of the lead does worry me a little, especially as it's a 'toy' but as long as younger kids are supervised, I foresee no problems. The main lead is about a metre long (I can't find my tape measure at this moment in time to give accurate dimensions), and then the lead splits to either earphone and provides around another forty centimetres or so of length. One feature that would have been handy on these would be some kind of volume limiter; but there is none. If you have an MP3 player (or whatever you are requiring these for) that is to be used by kids, and it has a limiter on there, I suggest you utilise it; I wouldn't want anyone to damage little ears when it could be prevented.
Overall, I think that these were well worth the £19.99 I paid for these when they first came out. They are £12.92 with £1 delivery at the moment on Amazon (cheapest price 04/08/13), and I feel that is a bargain, especially if you are buying these for a younger child than my daughter, as the Monster High theme would have a much longer lasting appeal. They were a great buy for me personally too; as a mum I want what's best for my kids and anything I can do to keep her safe and well, I'll happily do. It can't be coincidence that since she's been wearing these 'over the head' style headphones there hasn't been a reoccurrence of the dreaded ear infections. I feel that by letting more air circulate within the padded earpiece, it's keeping the sensitive ear canal as bacteria free as it can. Therefore, I recommend these over the head style headphones rather than in the ear style ones, and the Monster High theming of these are perfect for those girls in the 7 - 11 age range.
Five out of five from me and my Monster. ;)
Hotpoint Ultima Washing Machine
WMUD 962 with Anti Stain Technology
My own washing machine is a Hoover and over the years I've had so many problems with it, I vowed never again would I buy one of that brand. My predvious machine had been a Hotpoint, and I had worked it to death over the years I'd owned it. On the very rare occasion that it broke down, I was even able to repair it myself. At the time I was late twenties/early thirties, single parent family and a total technophobe, so if I could manage it, anyone could. When the family expanded with a new partner and a new baby and the extra washing that brings, the machine finally gave up the ghost; I'd had it ten years or more and it was second hand then, so a rest was long overdue. Due to budget constraints I went against everything that I'd learned about Hotpoint and purchased the aforementioned Hoover. Well that was to be one of my biggest regrets yet, regarding a purchase I'd made. Therefore, when I was given the chance to test and review the newest Hotpoint on the block, the Ultima WMUD 962, I literally jumped at the chance. May I just offer one word of advice though, 'always read the small print' - I was in such a hurry to sign up, I'd neglected to read that I was also to be filmed giving my points of view and experience. Never mind, it was worth it just to test the Hotpoint and see if it lived up to my past experiences, and this review discusses my thoughts.
Delivery and Installation
The first thing I knew that I'd made the final selection of being a Ciao/Hotpoint reviewer team and was indeed receiving a machine to test, was when I received a call off Hotpoint asking me when I'd like my machine delivered. I'd initially said Saturday. After giving details about where best to park (no off street parking here) and if there are any steps into my property, I changed my mind and decided the sooner the better. I was informed that delivery could be made between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m, but I would receive an email the day before confirming a two hour slot, so I could go out if I needed. Nothing was too much trouble for the Hotpoint advisor and I was extremely pleased I wouldn't have too long to wait.
The next day I duly received my email stating they were due between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.. I then received a text saying the driver was on his way, and he should be there within the next thirty minutes, however, just five minutes later the driver himself rang and said he'd be there in the next five; and he was.
The Ultima was brought into the kitchen, installed promptly and all the packaging was taken away. The driver also double checked that I didn't need my own machine disposed of. I needed it for after the test, so I kept it. I was pleased that he'd asked again though as if I'd have made this purchase myself, I might have had second thoughts and needed it removed.
What did annoy me a little, after giving it some afterthought, was that within the hour Hotpoint phoned up and asked if all had gone OK with the installation, which I did appreciate. The machine was still running its first wash programme (Auto Clean) and hadn't been running long enough to detect any problems, leakages etc. What bothered me though, as soon as they had gathered that I was happy enough, she immediately went on to try and sell me the extended guarantee. I always purchase a guarantee with expensive purchases such as these, but a phone call the following day would have been appreciated more and I recommend that Hotpoint consider this.
I'm not one to study instructions as a rule, but I do admit to making an exception due to the fact that this machine was not mine, and I was only testing it. Looking over the 16 page manual, you are immediately aware how clear and concise it is. It gives you all the information you need without overloading you with unnecessary detail. The first 5 pages will be of no consequence if you get Hotpoint to do the installation for you, which I presume is at a small charge, but I still recommend you keep the instructions and all the protective screws that hold the drum rigid, in case you move home and need to re-install it yourself.
The following pages are about care and maintenance and general safety tips - how to clean the washing machine (the aforementioned Auto Clean), cleaning the pumps and checking the hose. These are just general once a month things to keep the machine running at its optimum performance, and I recommend setting a date to do this, say the first of the month etc. Look after your Hotpoint and it will look after you.
The consequent pages are the ones that you will most probably feel the need to familiarise yourself with on more than one occasion. Although the machine is pretty much straight forward there are some nifty programmes on this machine that you aren't immediately aware of their function - the M button for example - this is where you choose your favourite program, with your chosen spin speed and temperature, and store it in the memory, for use by other members of the family; it's ingenious!
The wash cycle and function list has some rather scary times on it. For example, the Anti -Stain program has a maximum load of only 5 kg, but lasts a whopping three hours long (without the rinse, drain and spin, but that will be covered later in my review). Getting familiar with the instruction booklet and the machine display will enable you to customise the wash cycle to suit your needs better, and you will realise that the timesaver function to reduce this time by up to 50%, saving both time and energy consumption.
You are presented with a machine which looks more or less like any other. I do like that it's a bright polar white, rather than a creamy white, as I feel this won't date or discolour with the passing of time. The door is central to the appliance, and it has a 'proper' handle rather than just an extra piece of plastic projecting out, like on my own machine. The handle feels sturdy and solid, but it isn't cumbersome, and people with dexterity issues will easily be able to manipulate the opening and closing of the door.
Beneath the door, there is easy access to the pre-chamber, where small items that have gotten into the wash will fall, thereby protecting the main pump. You are able to get to this from behind the plain white cover. This adds to the machines sleek and modern lines and gives the machine a less cluttered appearance. I've not had cause to utilise as yet, but the instructions are clear and well set out as how to gain entry, so I have no concerns in that respect.
Above the door is the main control panel featuring the dispenser drawer, the wash cycle selector, the illuminated display unit which is surrounded by the extra function buttons and the all-important start button. Owning a Hotpoint Ultima tumble drier already (I wouldn't really want any other brand now, after learning from my mistakes), I'm pleased to see that the layout is exactly the same, so if I can operate my tumble drier, using this should be instinctive - It is, and I can flow between one machine and the other with no problems whatsoever.
* The Detergent Dispenser Drawer - Well this is a feature in itself, and one that I do and don't like. Let me explain further. Instead of being pulled out like a bog standard dispenser drawer, this one rotates as you pull it out; when fully opened it looks like a quadrant of a circle. Hotpoint say this is a space saving feature but I'm not very convinced. It is the same width as my old machine's drawer and certainly the same depth, so how is this space saving? Nevertheless, it really looks good, and is quite a quirky and modern feature. I did initially have a few teething problems with the interior. It's supposed to be easy fill, and I suppose it is to someone who's not as caggy handed as me. I'm right handed, but I pour the conditioner, after measuring the quantity in the lid, with my left hand. The conditioner recess (denoted by the blue/grey plastic section) is also on the left, right next to a larger plastic wall that becomes the face of the drawer when closed. I initially kept spilling the conditioner when pouring into this recess, but after a couple of attempts, I soon got to realise that taking a small step to the right gave me easier access. It's just a minor thing but was most irritating to me at first, and now I can happily say that it's become second nature just to take that little step to the side of the drawer, rather stand directly in front of it. Another feature on the drawer that I like, is the handy measuring lines. This is on a piece of plastic that slots into the detergent section. If you use powder this must be removed so the powder can be dispensed more easily, but if you use gel or liquid detergents you will find this a handy addition, especially for brands that need to be added via the drawer and not directly into washing load.
* Wash Cycle Selector - this features the on/off button at the centre and is surrounded by nine other buttons in a circular pattern. Each button has a small icon on it, to denote its function. These also correspond to the Icons listed on the dispenser drawer, and here it gives you more indication as to the function it performs without having to refer to the instruction manual at every wash. The cycles are Clean Plus, which features the aforementioned anti stain technology; Special washes, such as fast wash, my cycle and bed and bath; Extra's, for items such as wool/delicates and finally the rinse and spin controls.
* Illuminated Display and Wash Function Buttons - The large black LCD display, is illuminated orange when powered up. It has a bold appearance and is very clear and easy to read. The display lets me know what other functions are available for the wash program that I initially chose, and lets me see exactly what it's doing, how long I have left, and what stage I am at. The buttons surrounding the display correspond to these extra functions and enable me to tailor-make each and every cycle to my requirements. I'll explain this a little further on. The start/pause button illuminates with a lovely bright lime green, not that it matters what colour it is, but it's a nice touch.
Other indicators on the machine inform me of the brand (Hotpoint of course), the model number, and its capacity and economy/wash performance ratings (9 kg and A++). There is also the Woolmark Platinum three star rating and the Eco Tech label, so I'm expecting some pretty dazzling results from this machine, it has to be said.
The Washing Performance
As with my Ultima tumble drier, I have to switch this one on before I can operate any of the control features. At this point the display becomes illuminated, and I can make my selections. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't even attempt to review and appliance such as this until I'd used it for at least a month, yet just two weeks after delivery, I am asked to submit my thoughts. As a consequence, there are some programs that I've not have time or need to use yet, so this part of the review will focus on the ones that I have.
* Anti Stain Technology - There is no extra washing function with this one, as it's the best of the best. I can however instruct the machine to perform an anti-allergy function, which adds an extra rinse. Ideal for people with sensitive skins or allergies to detergents. That extra rinse can make all the difference. The Anti Stain works brilliantly. I've done a fair number of wash loads on this setting, and the results are astonishing. I've tested tea, blood, grease, paint and even spaghetti Bolognese, all notorious for their stain producing properties. I've even let a couple of stains sit for an hour or two, to further test the machines abilities. In the current heat wave (30 degrees most days - Mid July 2013) I had very little confidence that they would be removed at all. No matter what detergent I used, from the recommended Ariel Acti-lift to Tesco's own brand, the results were the same - brilliant!
* Cottons - With the cottons wash I am able to toggle between and normal wash, delicate or super wash. I've only had cause to use the normal at the present time. Again, I am able to select the rinse that I require. I am able to personalise the temperature settings that I need, from 90 degrees right down to a cold wash. I can also select the perfect spin setting - 1600 rpm gets my clothes almost touch dry, but I can lower the speed by 200 rpm by repeatedly pressing the button. I like the fact that I can choose one of the machines other special features, Timesaver mode too, if I need my clothes in a hurry, or they are just not that dirty and need freshening up.
* Synthetics - I did have one occasion to thoroughly test this setting. I was wearing a polyester/elastane dress (sounds delightful), which features some rather heavy beading around the neckline. I was hesitant regarding what program to choose. Do I select synthetics or delicates? I needn't have worried as I was able to press the synthetics program twice and it gives me a synthetics/delicate program. Perfect! I was then able to lower the temperature if needed, but most importantly I was able to lower the spin speed and protect the delicate beadwork.
* Fast Wash - This is my 'Go To' program. You might or might not have noticed that there isn't a half load option with this machine. That's because you simply don't need one. For just a few items, or ones that are just lightly soiled, you can put them in a fast wash. There are two choices of length - 60 or 30 minutes. Again you can customise your program with the spin speeds and temperature, and you can also add the special functions such as Reduced Creases, Eco Wash or set the Delay Timer. You are not able to add the Time Saver function on this setting, but as this is the fastest program on the machine, why would you need to?
* My Cycle - Now this is an ingenious little button. It enables my whole family to put a load of washing on now. There can be no excuses - even my 10 year has to pull her weight now. This is where you can set the machine with your own personalised program, the one that you use most often. If you like the Bed/Bath program, with an anti-allergy rinse, a 60 degree wash, and the full monty 1600 spin speed, oh and not forgetting the time saver function, you can select that, then hold down the 'M', My Cycle button, and that's it, Bob is most definitely your Uncle. No-one has no excuse not to put a wash load on ever again. Simply add detergent, switch on, press the my cycle button, start and away it goes. Perfect results every time.
* Bed & Bath - I've used this several times now, for a combined wash of bedding and towels. It's a longer length wash but it's said to make the most of the softener performance and helps save time and energy while also killing any mites that may be lurking (yuk).
* Wool - I've had no occasion to use this as yet, but I'm glad it's there for whenever I do.
* Delicates - Like I mentioned before, I was a bit unsure about whether to use this program or not, but like the wool one, it's there if I need it.
* Spin/Rinse/Pump out - Each program lets me know how long it is at the beginning, so a 30 minute wash will take 30 minutes. That doesn't take into account of the spin, rinse or draining water though. Each one of these actions has its own time allowance and that initially bothered me. I know what to expect now though, a 30 minute wash, might take 45 minutes from start to finish, so it's all well and good - now I know.
* Delay Timer - Again I've not used this but would be an absolute godsend if you were on a special energy tariff, such as Economy 7. It would also come into its own if you wanted to have the washing set to run through the night, so it would be ready to be hung out to dry as soon as you awoke.
* Time Saver I've mentioned that I have used this often. It's a brilliant feature to have. It reduces the program time by up to 50% depending on which one you have chosen.
* Reduced Creases This isn't one that I've tested as yet, but I can see it will be brilliant in the winter when I tend to tumble dry clothes more often than hang them on the line. Having washed the clothes with this feature, tumble drying tends to loosen creases anyway, so it might even make my iron redundant, well I can dream...
* Eco Wash I'll hold my hands up and admit that I've only used this once, and that was to test the effectiveness of it. It's probably not something I'd use day to day, but during this hot summer, and the inevitable hosepipe bans etc. I can foresee that I shall be using this more often. The only reason I've not really used it as much as I should, is that I tend to wash at the lower end of the temperature spectrum anyway. Detergents nowadays can cope with the lower/cold temperatures that will reduce our electricity bills and further harm to the environment. I did notice at lot more action in the machine and a higher volume of water, presumably to get the same great results but with only cold water.
* Child Lock This comes into operation automatically when the start button is depressed so I see no reason for this to have a dedicated button. I like that there is a key icon in the display, and this informs me that at this point the door is not able to be opened, and everything is secure. (Edited to add: so I've been reliably informed, this is to stop little people from pausing the cycle mid wash. So there is a reason after all.)
I'll admit now, that when I knew I was chosen to test the machine out, I immediately went to a washing machine stockist to check it out. I found it to be really competitively priced in the market place, considering that it's jam packed with features. I will be completely honest, and was expecting it to cost around the £500 mark, so when I learnt that it was generally less than £400, I was mightily impressed.
I knew that I was to receive the 9 kg drum size and as my own one was just that little bit smaller; I was impressed with how much difference just that 1 kg could make. With my own machine, I was able to wash a single duvet, but with the new Ultima, I managed to wash (and comfortably) a king sized one. My duvet was desperate to be cleaned, as after owning it for nearly a year, I hadn't been able to wash it myself before, and there are no dry cleaners locally. I used the bed and bath setting and knowing how dirty the quilt was, but I reduced the temperature down to 40 degrees, rather than the pre-set 60. Filling the machine with the duvet, I was amazed that there was space to spare. Obviously I didn't want to overload the machine, or cause an uneven load, so I left it at that. I was highly impressed that after the 1600 speed spin, it came out touch dry and only needed to be hung outside to dry and air for a couple of hours, before being able to add a duvet cover, to dress the bed ready for that night.
I'd always been warned by people 'in the know', never to have the highest spin speed as it wears the motor out and also because of the noise it would make.That's why my previous machine was a 1400 rpm even though there was a 1600 speed one for sale at the time. The Hotpoint Ultima has brushless technology so it's whisper quiet (51 decibels during the wash, and 83 dB on the super fast spin speed) , and I'd have no hesitation in buying the faster speed now. I also have complete confidence in the Hotpoint guarantee. Hotpoint offer you a five year parts guarantee as standard, and the additional one year labour protection. When the customer advisor rang me to see if I was happy with my 'supposed' purchase, she offered me the chance to upgrade the labour insurance to two years at only £3 per month for 20 months, and the final four months free. I know it's kind of false advertising as you are already getting the first year free, and only paying for the second, but I do appreciate that people would be able to spread the cost with such a small monthly payment that they wouldn't even notice it leaving their bank account.
I really like that you can tailor each individual wash load to its own requirements. The list of choices is almost endless in this respect. My other machine had ten programs and I only used one, two at most, but with the Ultima I can vary each load to my particular needs at that precise moment. It's extremely easy to do and probably sounds much scarier than it is. I like that if I'm in a hurry for a whole load of washing or just one individual item, I can alter the settings to get the whole dirty load more quickly (Time Saver), right down to just the one or two lightly soiled items (Fast Wash). It's like saying I need this, I need that, and writing my own prescription to get the best end results.
I love that I can choose the right temperature for my needs whether it's to save money, time or the environment, simply by pressing one little button. This machine is so simple to operate; OK there are buttons to press, and not just a dial to twist, but it's so simple - even a child can do it.
Save time, energy, the environment and get great washing results at the same time. Buy the Hotpoint Ultima - I can guarantee you won't regret it.
On the Hotpoint presentation that I was part of, I awarded the machine five stars, and just a few days later writing this review, it's still five stars. I can't fault it. I only wish that they'd sent me the Graphite version to try so it matched my tumble drier, but hey, I can't have everything, I got a brand spanking new washing machine to play with for a few weeks. :)
My previous steamer wasn't broken, but just damaged through general wear and tear, when we happened upon this one. We were browsing the hardware store Wilkinsons looking for something specific at the time, I forget what, but it wasn't a streamer I know that much. My partner 'thinks' he can spot a good deal at a thousand paces and when he offered to buy it to replace our other one, and without me having to twist his up his arm up his back too, I grabbed it and ran to the checkout. There was absolutely no research into our purchase, and as a new item to the store's range I didn't expect to find any reviews or the like either. This is why I write my review now, to explain the pro's and con's so other people can make an informed decision.
~~~ The Steamer ~~~
The Wilko's steamer is more or less as one would expect, it looks similar to my old one, and performs more or less the same. There are a few aspects to this 'own brand' appliance that really surprised me, and I hadn't seen on another streamer before. My old one was about five or six years old, so I'm not saying that other steamers don't have similar specs, just that as I hadn't done any research into my purchase, I hadn't seen any.
~~~ Storage ~~~
This streamer has three stackable tiers and holds and 8kg capacity, so it's ideal for a family of up to five depending on ages etc. Two adults and three kids would be perfect, but this is most definitely not suitable for five adults. When not in use, the baskets sit inside each other, and are able to be stacked upon the main base (called the hub in the instructions), so it takes up minimal cupboard space. I like this feature, and it's one I would have had on my list of 'must haves' if I had put proper care and attention into the purchase. The bases to each tier are universal and each one will clip into either basket, be it the smallest or largest. The baskets are numbered so you can see which goes where. I'm glad of this, as there is only a slight difference in size. One sits inside two, etc. and to stow away, you invert the baskets over the hub, and place the lid on the stack to complete the process. The power cord isn't able to be stored on the appliance, but at roughly 75cm long, it doesn't get in the way too much.
~~~ Water Capacity ~~~
In use, you plug in and add water to the reservoir. This water chamber holds a capacity of one litre, however there is no need to measure this out as the maximum level is clearly defined on the inside, and there is also a clear water indication window on the front of the appliance for easy checking while performing the cooking process. My bugbear though, is that the steam collection tray, which I collect the vegetable juices in for making gravy, holds a maximum of 400ml. When the maximum is reached, the cooking juices overflow into the water reservoir. The instructions inform me to empty this container every 35 minutes or so to prevent this happening, but I need to do it more often than that.
~~~ Instructions ~~~
The instructions are clear but extremely basic. There's some information that is needed to operate the functions but isn't included, and you are left to muddle through. This machine isn't the easiest or most intuitive to operate from the off, so I do recommend taking some time to familiarise yourself with both the instructions and the machine before use and hopefully you will understand them more than I did. There is a distinct lack of detail and it causes confusion and anger. I'm not an angry person, far from it, but this steamer really gets me cross.
~~~ Programs ~~~
There are three different cooking styles featured on this machine:
1. Automatic Programs - there are seven of these plus a manual setting. Rice, chicken, fish, eggs, fresh shellfish, fresh vegetables, and fruit. Upon switching on, you are asked to choose your selection, set the time and press start. The timer will count down a recommended amount of time (180g of rice = 33 mins, 6 eggs = 23 mins, 700g fresh veg = 35 mins etc) until the time is up and then cooking will finish.
In theory, it sounds simple enough but I beg to ask the question; why if it's an automatic program to I need to select the time I want it to cook for? Also in the instruction booklet there is no mention how to do this. Like a watch, you simply use the left and right buttons (+ and -) to move to the next digit, and the up and down (set and start/off). Easy when you know how.
2. Manual Programs - There are the same 8 cooking programs as before (7 plus a manual setting). Rather oddly the instructions for this are exactly the same as with the Automatic Programs. Which is again why I ask, what is the point?
3. Pre-set cooking. This is great if you need to go pick the kids up from school etc. at the same time as you should really be putting the steamer on. Simply plug in, the first Zero on the screen will flash, and set the time required (as mentioned before), press set, and then select your program. The green 'wait' light will illuminate, and as the clock counts down, when it reaches Zero, the steamer will come on at the correct setting.
I do recommend with all of these features, that the item of food that takes the longest to cook is placed in the bottom tier, probably potatoes, and carrots (we like them soft in our house), and in the next, chicken, salmon or other vegetables, and maybe green beans or broccoli that only need a matter of seconds/minutes at the top.
To tell the truth, this steamer is such a confusing little beast, I now pre-set the steamer to come on in one minute, if I need it straight away. There doesn't seem to be an option to just switch it on and go. I love technology, but it hates me. I tend to love anything quirky and the more features etc. the better, and that's why I was pleased when my partner pointed this out. I thought that having the extra features would enable me to get better results, not that the ones before were bad, but just better.
~~~ Advantages ~~~
I love the look of the steamer, the satin stainless steel and sleek black finish appeals to me, and fits well within my modern kitchen setting. I do think that this would look good anywhere though. I like that the baskets are dishwasher proof and even if you haven't got one, all they need is a quick dip in soapy water and the food simply washes away, no elbow grease required. The transparent baskets/tiers are great as they enable you to see the food within, and check on the cooking process without actually disturbing the food and letting the all-important steam out.
I love the way that you can see what the steamer is doing and when - when it's plugged in, the power light comes on; when it's waiting, has a program set or is warming up to produce steam I know that too, by little green illuminated lights along the top. I like the red illuminated buttons to press even though they aren't solid and feel like bubbles; along with the red illuminated water indicator window and that it lets me see at a glance if more water is needed. I quite enjoy the blue display screen, as it's big and bright and clear. It looks well matched with the other red and green lights, it brightens up the appearance and makes an otherwise boring item look fun.
~~~ Disadvantages ~~~
At £25 this is rather expensive for a non-branded steamer. I had hoped that if it performed well, I'd have got a bargain by paying that price compared to the high end brands. The little drawer where you add more water during the cooking action is so incredibly small. It's about the same length as a matchbox and half the width. It's of practically no use, as it holds so little water and it doesn't drain away quickly enough, that it's much easier to remove the baskets of food, and add the water to the main reservoir. The water/juice collection tray is a little on the small size, and needs to be emptied often. I would love to see a lip or spout on this too, to make pouring the fluids into a jug or saucepan much more easier. Saying that, I haven't scolded myself doing that with this steamer yet, and on my old one it was a weekly occurrence.
I dislike the lack of information on the instructions - the fact that there are no guidelines on how to set the clock, such a basic task, but an important one to all three functions, is a major flaw for me. The most disappointing feature for me though, is that there isn't a simply start and stop function. The pre-sets and automatic functions are all well and good, but for someone who is lacking on time or just wants something easy to use, will be seriously annoyed with this, as am I. I've owned this streamer for five or six weeks now, and it's used religiously at least twice a week and I'm still confused with how to use the settings; I have to refer to the manual every time I use it, and that's not much help either.
~~~ My thoughts ~~~
I like the compactness of this steamer, and its overall looks; I did so want to love the functions it performs, but they don't work too well. The auto and the manual functions are more or less the same thing and as such, one of them seems a little redundant. The fact that I have to empty the water collection tray after twenty minutes or so, means that I can't just set it to do its thing and come back to it when I hear the 'ping' that announces my food is prepared, is really annoying. Lately the whole thing has just got on my nerves and I'm considering taking it back for a refund. There are some branded steamers in the current Argos sale at the moment, so I'm tempted to buy one of those. I SHALL be doing my research before I rush into anything though, that's one lesson that I've learnt.
I can't in all honesty recommend this electric steamer, and I can only award it two stars. I do feel even that is being generous.
Yay, summer is finally here. I've suffered terribly from following the flip-flop fashions in recent years, fit flops, havaiana's, you name it, I've done it, and now I just want comfort. Therefore for this reason my footwear of choice for nine months of the year is Birkenstocks. Just this weekend I wore a fashion brand of flip flops/sandals as they were a gift; and my poor feet are covered in blisters and cuts. Wearing my Mayari's again today has been complete and utter bliss, so I thought I'd write a review to share why I love them so much and why I would recommend them to all.
Birkenstocks might be seen as a fashion brand in some circles, but I 'used' to think they were for grannies. Well I've not quite got to that stage yet, but I certainly appreciate the versatility of fit and comfort that they give. The brand has been producing quality orthopaedic footwear for getting on for two hundred and fifty years, so they must be doing something right. It wasn't until 1964 though, that the flexible arch support, that's synonymous with Birkenstock, was introduced; and just after this time they began to be shipped all over the world and were not just a secret the Germans were keeping to themselves. To be around for that period of time, the prerequisites of practicality, comfort, price and appearance are always met, in each and every range and style, be it for men, woman and children. They have also moved with the times and people's personal tastes and now produce a vegan friendly range, something I wish other brands would introduce; not that I'm Vegan or anything, but I do think consumers should have more choice.
Most of the shoe designs come in two width fittings - regular and narrow. As I lose/gain weight, I can be a narrow size 6, right up to a regular size 8, so I've tried both varieties, and I can contest that they are true to their fit. With most design of shoes though, if you are a half a size, I would definitely choose the full size down as they are quite generous and the size up would generally be too large.
The look of the Birkinstock shoe are classic, as generally the foot bed is the same on all designs; even with the EVA moulded ones the foot bed shape is identical but it's the design of the Mayari that stands out for me. They don't have the classic band across the foot like the seventies Scholl shoe, of which the Birkenstock version is called the Arizona; I have four pairs of those in different colours. Mayari are more refined and elegant than those. These are a thong style sandal and more 'grown up' than a flip flop. They are quite feminine looking with the narrow straps, and depending on whether you choose a plain colour or a print, they will take you from daytime wear to evening use, on holiday or at home, whatever the weather within reason; I don't recommend them during snow, it might be a little bit chilly and even I'm not 'that' dedicated to them.
Mayari comes in two varieties of upper; Birko-Flor and Leather, with the latter being the more expensive version, with prices ranging from anything between £40 and £70 depending on stockist. I am lucky enough (or not as some may see fit) to own the leather, and it is the most buttery soft leather available. A piece of this material crosses from the side of the ball of foot, over, and between your first two toes. This is the point where ordinary flip-flops cause trouble for most, and especially me. That area is really sensitive and is often the first area that I blister with cheaper sandals. At the point where it attaches to the foot bed though, the leather is cut so there's very little there to aggravate your foot. Due to the toe mouldings (explained further on in my review) your toes are held in place, and your foot can't slip forwards so this piece would be positioned halfway down the toe, not right at the base where your toes meet your foot. Another piece of leather criss-crosses this on the diagonal (as seen in the photo above); this balances the design out and gives the sandal some structure. The straps perform well at holding your shoe onto your foot, so you don't have to scrunch your toes to hold the shoe on by yourself as you generally do with a flip flop; it's a very cleaver design. This has a buckle fastening to enable you to get a good fit, and sometimes over the course of the day, especially in hot weather, I find myself altering them to get a better fit, loosening or widening them, as the need arises.
If you wanted this shoe (with just the front pieces like a flip-flop) it would be called Piazza, a further strap over the instep (across the foot, by the ankle) on mine, makes it into the Mayari design. This also has a buckle fastening with five holes, so if you have a high instep you can still acheive the best fit for you. Alternatively, I could go one step further and have a more modern, around the ankle strap design, and this would be called Yara. So you can see, Birkenstock designs are classic, but there's design, or a variation of one, to suit all tastes and age ranges.
The foot bed on most Birkenstocks are constructed from three layers; the first being the EVA sole, this cushions the foot and absorbs any impact, from pounding on concrete pavements etc. The mid-layer is a cork and natural latex construction and is contoured to the shape of a healthy foot. The raised arches and toe grips give proper foot alignment within the shoe, and give a more even weight distribution, thereby giving spinal alignment too. I think it's amazing that a shoe can ease/prevent backache but it's been proven; Birkenstocks shoes have done it for me. I've been a wearer of this brand of shoes of various descriptions for the past five or six years, and in all that time I've never suffered so much as a twinge where I used to suffer terribly. My weight has changed over the years but in this period of time I've been thin, large and thin again, so my weight has no bearing on the effectiveness of them in relation to my back pains.
Anyone who's worn Birkenstocks before will know that they take a little while to become comfortable. I recommend that you wear a new pair for no more than half an hour on first use, gradually increasing it by half an hour/hour over the next few times. Within a short period of time the cork will have moulded and shaped itself to the contours of your foot, and will become personal to you. At this point, you won't even know that you are wearing them, they will be so, so comfortable. I often wear mine around the house as slippers as I've come inside my home and forgot to take them off at the door. I'll even get up first thing in the morning and slip them on straight away instead of my slippers, as they are just so comfy.
There are a couple of care instructions for these shoes. I will confess that I've never done any of them, but perhaps I should. Some Birkenstocks are more expensive than others and should be treated as an investment. Proper care and attention would make them last even longer then. I've owned my eldest pair for five or six years now, so I have no complaints on longevity, but I obviously don't wear the same pair all the while and often change them to match what I'm wearing. Being a breathable fibre, you are warned not to leave the shoes in extreme heat as the cork will contract and cause shrinkage problems, neither should they get very wet, as they will expand. Unexpected rain showers are fine, but please be aware that sometimes the EVA sole makes the shoe slippery on wet floors with a shiny surface. I've almost slipped on more than one occasion. You can protect the exposed cork sides with cork sealant (they already have a light covering when you purchase them). You know it's time to do this when the cork is no longer shiny. You can purchase a dedicated product called Cork Life direct from the company. At £4.95 I thought it was a reasonable price to pay, but the extra £4.95 delivery put me off a little at the time. Knowing now that it would have stopped my Mayari's cork from cracking (I have had them four years and I only noticed the defect upon writing this review, so I'm not overly disappointed), but I think I will buy some Cork Life when I purchase a new pair. You can prolong the life of the EVA sole with toe and heal taps when they are worn down to ¼ inch. When worn down more than this, providing your shoe is in good condition they can be re-soled, but in all honesty, it's probably just as affordable to buy a new pair. You can choose a new design or colour then, to add to your collection. :)
Would I recommend Mayari Birkenstocks to anyone? Of course I would! I love the femininity of these compared to the chunky designs of some of the other sandals/shoes/clogs in the range. The adjustability and choice of width fittings to them mean that they are a superb fit for any shape of foot. I love that they are supportive to fallen arches (that'll be me then), but they are just as supremely comfortable for people who suffer from no foot issues, and just want a well-made shoe that looks good, doesn't leave you with sore aching feet and becomes more comfortable the more you wear it. I can only award the Mayari sandal from Birkenstock the full allowance of five stars.
~~~Tesco Fire Basket ~~~
This review features the Tesco's own brand fire basket that I purchased as a Father's day gift for my partner, off my youngest daughter this year. It's safe to say it's been a huge hit in our home and has enabled us to enjoy our outdoor space much more than we would have had, until the warm weather finally came this week. Now the warmer weather is here the fire basket is a little bit redundant and so the price has been reduced significantly. This review discusses why I think it was still worth its full retail price.
At £20 it's not a huge investment piece, it looks ok and does the job well, but at half price and just £10, it's a bargain so I recommend you buy one, and put it away for those cooler days ahead. It's superb value for money at that price and will extend the enjoyment you get from your outdoor spaces, be it gardens or balcony's, for so much longer.
~~~ Size ~~~
I chose the fire basket design over a more popular fire pit due to its smaller dimensions. Now this isn't exactly small, in my opinion anyway; In fact it was much larger than expected once we'd removed the packaging. Fire pits usually have a much larger circumference, and many are dual purpose by the fact that you can usually cook food on them too. We already own a barbeque so there was little need for this feature, and as we have a relatively small patio area which is absolutely stuffed with a green house, kids play house, gazebo with a bistro seating set, the size was really quite important that it wouldn't look out of proportion to its surroundings.
The dimensions are H 45 cm x D 45cm so it's as high as it is wide but doesn't take up too much space on the patio, and the weight is a rather hefty 4.9kg for its size. Its box is quite large and cumbersome and if you need to collect it from a Tesco store for free, please be aware that this is rather quite heavy. Standard delivery costs from £3 and express delivery for £5.95 if you should require that instead. There is a lot of packaging with this one, a large cardboard outer and polystyrene inner to protect it, but taking it out of the box I was quite expecting it to be smaller, quite like when you open a Russian doll and after each bit of packing is taken off you are rather disappointed with what's inside. This isn't the case with this though, and both I and my partner were quite impressed by its size and capacity.
~~~ Design ~~~
The design of this fire basket is said to echo the medieval warning beacons, but to my female eye, it reminds me of a contemporary tulip, with its bulbous bottom and fluted upper edge. It comes with four legs so it sits rather sturdily upon them and there's no hint of wobbliness. This is the only assembly needed for the whole thing and they are simply screwed on and take one person just a matter of moments to do. There are rubberised covers to add to the feet to prevent it slipping and sliding, and despite reviews on the Tesco website complaining about the poor quality of these, ours haven't suffered any cracking or perishing, and furthermore, it's been used quite extensively since it was given to my partner in early June. There is a handle on one side around the lip of the basket, but I don't see any purpose to it really, other than to move it when it's cold, whereby I would normally pick the whole thing up anyway. It also comes with two sort of poker/fork implements and can be handy to move logs into a better position to enable them to burn more readily.
There is a rather open nature to the basket design which means that rather like a campfire it gives off a lot of heat quickly, yet the burning medium is safely contained within the basket. There is an ashtray supplied with which to protect flooring from any remnants falling out, but we've only used this on concrete slabs so I'm unsure as to how the heat from this tray would affect wooden decking or grassed areas. The tray is marginally wider than the brazier so I feel safe and secure knowing that any fall-outs will be caught. However, the lip on this tray is only just over a centimetre deep so I would prefer it if it was a little deeper. That's neither here nor there and it might spoil the overall design, but safety should come before looks in my opinion.
~~~ Burning Mediums ~~~
Tesco recommend that this could be used to burn both charcoal and wood; and we've tried both charcoal and wood on their own, and a combination of both mediums. We started the fire off initially using some paper and kindling, and as the fire gets a hold add some larger twigs and then chunks of offcuts of wood from jobs around the house. The wood from the offcuts must have been pre-treated in some way though, and it got rather smoky, the neighbours weren't too impressed, I can tell you. Since that time and after much experimentation, my partner has purchased logs from the local garden centre that are sold for use especially in these types of fire baskets and pits, and has resulted in a less smoky atmosphere and a longer lasting burn time. Due to the openness of the basket, the air gets in and burns the contents more readily, so we get through rather a lot, rather quickly. Using dried logs and branches would work much cheaper if you can get hold of some (we can't sadly), as these specific Fire pit logs that we've been buying cost about £8 a bag, which is enough for two or three uses, and would work out quite expensive over the fire basket's lifetime.
~~~ My Thoughts ~~~
Overall, we're all really happy with this (not so) little fire basket. It's enabled us to enjoy our garden and being together for longer and later, due to the rather belated summer we've had this year. I personally love the design of this basket. Its petite proportions in relation to the oversized fire pits available, give it a lovely homely feel and works well with my old fashioned cottage style garden planting but modern influences from the zinc and flashes of Moroccan blue ceramic planters. I like mixing old with new to add a new twist, and the medieval design of this doesn't immediately spring to mind upon first glance, but once you know it, it's instantly recognisable. I like that I can get much use out of this fire basket, as over the winter months where it'd be too cold to use this, (I'm not that brave), I could put a medium sized plant pot in it, with winter pansies, and it would still be a lovely centre piece in my garden. I feel that even at full price it's been a lovely addition to our home, so grab one at half price while you can (10.07.13), you'll be pleased you did.
This fire basket gets the full award of five stars from me, along with my recommendation.
Thanks for reading my review. :)
~ Yankee Candle - Summer Scoop ~
Almost 42 years ago a 17 year old boy melted his crayons, to make a candle to give to his Mother for Christmas, and so Yankee Candles was born. Since then, they have expanded into different types of home fragrancing, not just candles, and while I normally prefer the fragranced wax tarts from the range, they didn't have any in this fragrance (boo!); I chose to buy a votive candle otherwise known as a sampler, in order to get my fix and this review discusses my thoughts.
~ The Votive ~
The votive is the perfect introduction to Yankee Candles in my opinion. The wax tarts give more depth of fragrance more quickly than a candle ever could, but this miniature size is the perfect way to see whether you like it enough to invest in the larger house warmer or tumbler candles should they be your preference.
The candle is about two inches high, and one and a half inches in diameter. Summer scoop comes in the most intoxicating fragrance and is most definitely summer themed. The pale pink instantly draws you to it and gives you a hint as to what it is scented of... the most delicious strawberry ripple ice-cream ever concocted. This fragrance emanates even before you remove the cellophane shrink wrapped outer. The pictorial label depicts a fruity rippled ice-cream along with frosted summer berries; red currants, raspberries and blueberries. The fruitiness also reminds me of that quintessentially English of desserts, the summer pudding too.
The sugary candy coloured pink instantly drew me towards the candles for sale as I'd not seen one this particular shade before. Having a vast collection I knew it was a new one to the Yankee range from the instant I set my eyes on it. The votives cost around £1.80 each, but as a new item, Clintons Cards where I purchased mine, have 25% off making it just £1.35. In fact, even only having sniffed the wrapped candle I was tempted to go the whole hog and purchase a large candle straight away to make full use of the saving. The only thing that stopped me was my partner was with me; and knowing how many candles and tarts I have unused at home, I knew he'd complain.
~ Summer Scoop ~
I've waited until dooyoo add my suggestion to the catalogue to open this candle with the purpose of writing this review, so I had to wait two whole days - that was torture, let me tell you! After removing the wrapper and reducing the length of the wick down to a quarter of an inch, I lit it. Now the candle has been burning away merrily for the past two hours I can describe the scent for you.
I'd initially thought it was raspberry scented as that's really the only ripple ice-cream I am familiar with, but it wasn't until I looked online that I found out it was strawberry scented. All I know is that this is the most delicious, fruity, sumptuous scent that Yankee has ever created (until the next candle that is). Yankee Candles tend to have ranges - there are foodie scents, floral, mystical etc. and this is most definitely a delicious, sweet, fruity, foodie fragrance, all helped along with its pure, natural extracts. It's an English/British fragrance through and through - it's strawberries and cream with an extra sprinkling of sugar, tennis at Wimbledon and a lovely cool Pimm's on a summer's day.
~ Just Don't Eat It! ~
It smells of fresh fruit warmed in the sunshine and still on the bush. There must be a vanilla inclusion as this gives it a warm, well rounded scent. The fruit is sweet as one would expect but there's a touch of tartness there too toning down the cloying sweetness and adding a touch of acidity and depth of fragrance. It doesn't smell artificially fruity to me, but it is still overly sweet. It appeals to me because of this, but I can see that it 'might' be a problem to others or if I'd have purchased a larger candle. The votive is sat next to me in a Yankee Votive holder, and due to the closeness it's a scent that I can really appreciate, however, my partner sat at the other end of the room can't notice it as my votive doesn't have a very large throw. After blowing it out, I can detect a sweet lingering fragrance but it only lasts a short while, half an hour or so. I have no doubt that that's strictly due to my rather small candle, the larger one's fragrance would linger longer I'm sure.
~ My Thoughts ~
I think this is a wonderful, if overly sweet and sugary scent. It would make a lovely gift for summer birthdays or teachers end of year gifts, when they have the long summer days to appreciate the thought behind it. I can't say that only females would enjoy this as my partner was quite drawn to the scent when I finally let him have a sniff (just one mind), but the very sugary pink colour would definitely be a little off putting. Overall this is a very summery scent but one that's reminiscent of long school holidays and summer days at the beach, rather than the tropical inspired Yankee offerings in recent years. I love this scent and as soon as I can ditch the other half, I'm off to Clintons to buy the largest sized candle I can find.
Five out of five from me.
I had originally asked dooyoo to add this under a general heading of the BHS chenille cushions; however they have added the mink colour. I own the pale blue version and this review will be discussing my thoughts of those, however the composition is the same, just the colouring is different.
BHS - Chenille Cushion
When redecorating our living room late last year I had already purchased some soft furnishings in readiness for the overhaul. I knew what colour scheme I wanted and what sort of look I was aiming to achieve, and with careful planning the interior designer in me was having a ball sourcing bargains from here and there. I'd chosen curtains from Next, and a rug from Debenhams to go over the newly laid carpet and the overall finished look was wonderful; it was however lacking something, it needed something for the settee to soften the austere look of such a large leather chunk of furniture. It needed cushions!
I didn't have any particular style in mind and it literally took me weeks to find these cushions. I love that the supposedly pale blue, which is actually more of a pale teal (or I would tend to call it ocean spray) colour was the exact shade to match the curtains. The pale teal is also picked out in the pattern on the wallpaper above the dado rail, so I didn't want clashing patterns so the plainness of these cushions were perfect.
At 50cm x 50 cm these are a medium sized cushion and look quite at home on my oversized sofa, indeed any smaller and they would have looked ridiculous. In the store they looked wonderfully plump and inviting so after paying for them, I eagerly took them home. They are 'supposed' to be £16 each at full price, but I have yet to see them at that cost. They were purchased at half price, and I did initially think I'd got a bargain.
The 'chenille' outer is 54% polyester and 46% acrylic and is recommended that its hand wash only. Having two rather boisterous daughters (even if one is 22) these are needed to be washed regularly and I just put them in the washing machine on a gentle 30 degree wash. They just get bunged in with a coloured wash and there has never been any leaching of colour or shrinkage over the time. I do not tumble dry them though and let them air dry naturally. The cushion pad inside is sponge clean only and I wouldn't risk this in the washing machine as the fibre filling would go all lumpy within, and there's nothing worse than a lumpy, bumpy, uncomfortable cushion. It is useful noting that it complies with all British Safety Standards regarding fire and ignition.
On first impression these look beautiful cushions. I love the chenille outer; it looks and feels soft and luxurious. Due to the woven texture, it's not a flat, basic colour, there are lots of shades and tones of teal blue within, and it gives it different looks under different light sources. The cushions are beautifully soft and plump for oh, let me think... all of two days. That's the downfall of these cushions; they go incredibly flat, incredibly quickly. I think rather than BHS 'reducing' the price to fool us into thinking we are getting a bargain, I'd have been much happier if they'd have kept the price as it was and provided us with a feather cushion insert, or one of much better quality that will keep its shape and plumpness for longer. To counteract this problem, I've had to buy more inserts and place two (one new and one old) in each cushion cover. I still achieve the same look that I require, but I now get the fullness that I require and expect.
Having given the matter much thought I feel only a three star rating will suffice. The overall look that I wanted to achieve is still there, but the comfort and cosiness factor is not and I don't feel happy in having to spend further money after less than one week's use. I should have taken them back for a refund but they were the exact shade I needed so I've had to live with it. Not good enough BHS!
~ Circulon Muffin Tray ~
Over the years there have been several types of kitchen bakeware that I've had to replace as I've either not had the money at the time to buy a quality item, or I didn't think it would be worth my while shelling out on something that I wasn't going to use often. They do say, buy cheap and buy twice, so with that in mind, I've been slowly upgrading my cooking and baking items when the time has come to replace them. I chose to replace all my bakeware with items from the Circulon brand as they seemed to offer the best balance of quality versus price and the first purchase that I made was this muffin tray. This review discusses my experience with the product.
The tray as one would expect has a dozen cups in which to apportion your muffins or cupcakes correctly. These are the perfect size for a true muffin, but if you should wish to, cupcake liners still fit within the recess but only come two thirds of the way up the depth due to a muffin being a larger size.
This isn't the 'normal' colour for bakeware, it's not the shiny silver colour of cheap items that have no non-stick, but neither is it the darker graphite grey that one would normally expect, I presumed this was just down to the brands preference of colour, but apparently, according to the Circulon website (www.circulon.com), this is the perfect shade to promote even browning - well I never knew that! I thought it was down to temperature settings and the like, but I can confirm that despite my dodgy oven, I can expect even, perfect results every single time. No one muffin/cupcake is browner that the rest; they are all cooked through evenly and quickly too, so mind you keep checking.
The tray is manufactured from heavy density carbon steel, and it feels quite weighty and of good quality. I've owned this muffin pan for well over two years now and it's used weekly, and it all that time the bakeware has retained its shape and not warped or twisted like its many inferior predecessors. The heavy gauge of the pan also allows for proper heat distribution. This is oven safe up to 450 degrees. My oven doesn't go up that high, so I never have any problems in that regard.
I like that this tray is fully covered both inside and out with a Du-Pont non-stick coating. Du-Pont was 'the' name in non-stick when I was growing up, and as such it's always been the one I go for given the choice. Tefal are good, but DP has always produced exceptional results in my opinion.
Along with the easy release coating, this muffin pan features the unique feature from where Circulon gets its name. Within the base of each recess is the TOTAL TM food release system of Hi-Lo waves. These are seen as undulating circles which reduce surface abrasion from utensils, so if ever somehow you did manage (god knows how) to scratch the non-stick off the upper circles, the lower ones would still have some, and the food would still be able to be removed easily. This isn't a problem if you use muffin and cupcake liners, but I like my bakeware to be multipurpose and rather than filling up my cupboard space with yet more pans, I use this to make Yorkshire puddings in too, where I place the batter directly in the hole. There is said to be no need for greasing with this product, but I do feel a little oil is needed to aid release, and after following a low fat diet for a while now, I tend to pre-treat with a couple of sprays of Fry-Light rather than oil in this instance. Even with the greasy coating and direct cooking method, clean up us a breeze. This literally needs a quick dip in hot soapy water and all food residues are gone. Alternatively, this is also dishwasher safe and I've put mind though many, many cycles over the years, but to be completely honest, it's so quick and easy to hand wash this, that it's the way I clean it in the main.
At roughly £16.99 direct from Circulon this isn't a cheap purchase by any means, but I purchased mine from Amazon at roughly half that price so there are bargains available to be had. There are cheaper brands out there that do the same job, but if you want something that in my opinion will genuinely last a lifetime, this has got to be it. Along with other bakeware items from the range it would make a wonderful home warming or wedding gift, and would be used and enjoyed (or at least the cakes will be) for a long, long time. This product comes most highly recommended from me, with the full complement of five stars. Don't buy silly and twice, or three, four and five times like I did, buy once and make that purchase a quality item that will last.
~Enhance shimmer lip gloss from Makebelieve ~
This Enhance shimmer lip gloss from Makebelieve isn't a product that I received in my monthly Birch box, however that was where I'd first become aware of it. Birch Box is a company that showcase approximately 7 or 8 products every month. In return for a small payment I get four of five of these sent to me, according to a profile of my requirements. When I saw that this was one of the items that 'might' be landing on my doorstep, I eagerly awaited its arrival. Sadly, that wasn't the case, and after complaining about the pitiful contents of my first box, I was duly awarded enough Birch Box credit to make the purchase myself, and this review discusses my thoughts about it.
Like I mentioned before, I wasn't really aware of the Makebelieve brand before I'd made this purchase, but consequent trips to stock up on toiletries in Boots chemists have made me come to realise that it's stocked there, and at a cheaper price too. It's also available at lookfantastic.com and asos.com to name but a few.
~ Warning ~
Right, let's get this straight, this review is going to be a hard one for me to do because I just can't write bad reviews, I have to see the good in everything. There are positives to this lip gloss, and I so want to love it but I can't, and I can't recommend it either. I know it's odd that I'm putting this out there right from the off, but I just want to warn as many people and as quickly as possible so there can be no doubt - Do NOT buy this lip gloss!!! Phew, I feel better now that's out of the way. :)
~ Positives ~
Onto the positives: The packaging is really nice, and if the contents weren't so awful I feel it would make a lovely gift. The black cardboard box is accented with golden font and luxurious swirls, which in my opinion makes it look more expensive than it is. The gloss comes in a large tube, with a nozzle at one end that contours beautifully to the natural shape of your lips. Can you imagine the Lancome Juicy Tubes? This is just the same, but holds a marginally smaller quantity at 15ml. The box also informs me that no parabens are included but may contain mica; this is a natural substance so I'm not sure why they feel the need to warn us. After opening, this product should be used within 12 months although I feel you may have a problem with that.
The colour of this product is a beautifully soft tone of peachy pink, and would look absolutely stunning with a tan. Now this bit might put some people off anyway, but there is a pearly white shimmer running through it; this gives it an added dimension. Also, there is a micro glitter inclusion; this isn't white or silver to follow the shimmer, or golden coloured to enhance a tanned complexion, but teeny tiny particles of colour. You get flashes of blues, greens, purples and reds. They really are minute, so once the product is on your lips you cannot see them. I suppose if someone really got close and in bright sunlight they might, but on an average day to day wear, I don't think this is noticeable. On the lips, it has the most superb sheen and glistening shimmer. It's a really lovely lip gloss; in all aspects of the packaging, the colour and sheen of it, but that's where my love affair ends.
~ Negatives ~
And so to the negatives; I'll say it in three words but really only one will suffice - STICKY, GLOOPY and STRINGY. This is the worst lip gloss I've EVER had the misfortune to come across. Even my ten year old's play makeup is better quality than this. I made my first application a couple of weeks ago now, and despite me using lip gloss regularly as I don't get on well with lipsticks, this product has been languishing in a drawer ever since. For the purpose of this review, I've applied it again, and within seconds I've had to wipe it off again. It is absolutely appalling. It glides on like a breeze, but it sits there like gloop, and if you purse your lips together you get strings of glue like substance hanging like stalactites from upper to lower lips. I'd pass it onto my daughter to play with, but I love her too much to be that mean.
Even removing the product is awful as you are left with a sticky remnant on your lips that won't go away unless you use a facial wipe or makeup remover of some description. This lip gloss claims to have moisturising properties and I don't doubt that, but the lip gloss is so dire that I really can't leave it on long enough to find out.
~ Price and availabilty ~
I paid £10 from Birch Box for this product, and I see that full price on Boots.com it's usually £9.19 but is currently on promotion for a third off, making it £6.13. That is too much money to pay for a lip gloss that you cannot wear in my opinion; I paid £10 (well sort of) but even at 10 pence it would be overpriced.
~ My Thoughts ~
In summary, I really can't express how much I dislike the texture of this lip gloss, but if you can get past that, it does have a lovely, natural nude tone that would enhance a tanned face beautifully and lift the whole complexion. I can't in all honesty recommend this though, and I'm only awarding one star because dooyoo don't allow me to give none. I do want to love this product but I simply can't - it's awful.