Sunday, 17 August 2014

Picture Perfect: 4 Tips To Make Your Photo Gifts Beautiful

Photo gifts are a fantastic way to share treasured memories with those you love. But to make sure they look picture perfect follow these four tips to make sure your photos look beautiful.

Practise, Practise, Practise

If there is one thing that will improve the look of your pictures, and therefore your photo gifts, it’s taking a lot of pictures. Don’t just snap away blindly though. Think carefully about your shots, but make sure that you’re taking photos every day. Even if all you do is take pictures of everyday objects that’s fine, but see how you can make them as interesting as possible. By practising regularly you’ll find that your photos not only look better but that you can take them quickly and still make them look great, ensuring your photo gifts turn out simply stunning.

Compose Yourself. And Your Picture

Don’t fire off a salvo of pictures like a machine gun, hoping that one will turn out great, because it probably won’t. Instead take a second to compose your picture properly. Obviously with action shots you won’t have much time, but for anything else always think about what you’re shooting before you hit the button.

The Importance of ISO

Most people leave their ISO setting on automatic, and this is often because they don’t quite get what ISO does or why it’s important. All ISO really does is control the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor to light, and the higher the ISO the more sensitive the sensor. This means that pictures in low light are often clearer. But the problem is that turning up your ISO also increases ‘noise’ in your pictures. It’s similar to turning up volume on a tape recorder. The sound is increased but so are the background hiss and pops. To get the best pictures for your photo gifts take control of your ISO and match it appropriately to your lighting.

Set Your White Balance

White balance is another camera setting that some people shy away from. You may have noticed that when you take photos in different lights that white areas can take on unusual colours, appearing blue-ish or having an orange tinge to them. White balance corrects this but sometimes the automatic white balance setting overcompensates or fails to correct the problem. To avoid your photo gifts having odd colours try adjusting your white balance based on the ambient light.

If you want to give photo gifts to family and friends you want to make sure they look as good as possible. Hopefully these four easy tips will help you take beautiful photos you want to preserve forever.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Review - Temple Run (Run for your life) Multiple-ending books

JJ is a mega book worm, he adores reading and this is brilliant as otherwise he would want to sit at his screen all day. When I heard that Egmont were publishing some Temple Run multiple-ending fiction books I hoped he might like these and agreed for him to review them.

We received the first book in the series, which is available as of today, 7th August 2014. Temple Run - Run for your life - Jungle Trek is a 152 page paperback, which retails for £5.99 but I have seen it available on Amazon for £3.55, which is a super bargain. You can see it is aimed at a child by the large spaced writing.

Based on the very popular computer game, this book places you on a plane with Guy Dangerous and Scarlett Fox when it crashes. You need to make choices as you move through the book to determine how you will survive. The choices you make change the story and this means a different story every time. Your decisions will effect the outcome and if the story goes badly - which it often will - you can just start all over again.

JJ did like reading this and I have seen him pick it up a number of times but he said he preferred a classic book where there is just one ending as he wants to get into the plot. It seems like this book might be good to encourage kids who are not big readers to read a bit more as it is quite light and you can read through it fairly quickly.

JJ is nearly 11 years old but is a bit of a softie at times and he felt he could not read this book at bedtime as some of the plot lines like brain eating monkeys and snake pits worried him a bit, because of this I would not let his younger sisters read it. From the parts I've looked at though I think this book would be enjoyed by an older girl as much as a boy, particularly if they like adventure.

As well as this multi-ending book another has also been published today called Doom Lagoon and there will be another two to follow in November 2014.

We were also sent a couple of activity books, which are the shape and size of an iPad. These are approximately 50 pages of puzzles, quizzes, word searches, doodling, stickers, challenges and other word games. Retailing at £6.99 each I think they are good value for money and would make a fabulous gift for a youngster who is off to travel for a long journey and needs something fun to entertain them. The pages are a good thick quality paper and there is excellent variety in the books.

Disclosure: We were sent these books free of charge for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Back to School with Nutmeg at Morrisons (Review)

I'm always keen to get sorted for the back to school time as soon as the summer holidays start, I know some people think that is a bit sad but for me it just means I can then enjoy the six weeks off with the kids and really have some fun.

This year Morrisons have helped me with my getting organised mission and sent me some uniform for my girls to review. To be honest, until they contacted me I had no idea that Morrisons sold school uniform but then I suppose I've never really been to one of their big stores. Before we moved last year my closest supermarket was a Morrisons but it never had uniform, I'm now keen to travel to a big store and see the full Nutmeg range and what it has on offer.

The first thing I'd say about the Nutmeg range is that it appears to be really good prices. The 2 packs of polo shirts (sold in white, blue or red) start from just £2 per pack or £3 if you need the larger sizes like my girls and they are really soft.  Not as thick as some we have had previously but then at that price I don't really expect anymore. The good thing is that at £1.00 or £1.50 per top if the girls totally trash it then I'm not too worried. Have you ever tried to get that black dry wipe marker from a white polo shirt?  It's not easy, I'll tell you.

I thought the plimsolls were great value at £2.50 per pair and they have a good firm velcro fastening to keep them on little feet. The rubber round the edges seemed good too and I think they would last although Miss E felt they were a bit boyish for her but I'll soon sort that with some fabric paint!

Miss M liked the charcoal woven trousers and she especially like the fact that they had pockets and a bow detail on each pocket. These trousers for girls are £3 or £4 each depending on size and again that is a good price. They are quite a thick and rigid material rather than being a lighter flowing one, so I think they would wear well and the knees should not get worn through too easily.

We were sent the woven skirt, which again is a good price at either £3 or £4 each and it comes in either charcoal or black colours. Again it was a good thick material that is Teflon coated but I have to be honest and say I would not buy it as the pleats did not stay in. The items were sent to me via post so they were quite creased but even with ironing the pleats did not stay in nicely and this is one of my musts for a school skirt, I'd rather pay more for stay-pleats. On the plus size both the skirt and trousers had adjustable waists so you can make sure they are a good fit.

Finally the girls received a cardigan each and these are 100% cotton and feel super nice to the touch. The cardigans are available in cobalt blue, navy and red and retail for £3 or £4 (can you see a theme?).  They ironed well and looked really nice on but I did notice how easily they creased and this means by the end of the day the girls might look a mess after sitting on them or stuffing them in their bags. One of the really good things was that the cute little heart shaped buttons are really easy to do up and the girls commented on how cool these were.

In conclusion Nutmeg appear to have a good range of school uniform for both boys and girls, it does not appear to be available online and only up to about an age 13 years. They are not the best quality uniform out there, seams might not be perfectly matched and it is not the highest quality fabrics but in general they look like they will wear well and are very good value for money.

Disclosure: We received the school uniform free of charge for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Review: Childs Farm Hair Products for Kids

My girls do give their hair a good beating!

My girls have very long hair and this means I have to take care of it well otherwise it ends up a big tangled mess. I’m not quite sure why little girl hair gets so matted and messy when mine doesn’t but it seems to be the way, so I’ll just have to deal with it. I suppose it could be the toothpaste, syrup or bits of sweets I sometimes find in their hair!

With it being the summer and us living by a lake that the girls like to swim in daily we are washing their hair a lot at the moment and this means we need a shampoo which is kind to their beautiful soft hair but also effective at removing the pond smell!

We have been trailing out some Childs Farm products over the last week. I’d not heard of Childs Farm before they approached me but they are an award-winning British brand (always nice to buy something made here) which creates clinically tested natural toiletries for young and sensitive skin. Here is what we thought of those we tried out –

3 in 1 Swim
  • This shampoo, conditioner and body wash in one smells of strawberry and organic mint. Miss M described it as smelling like Haribo and she is right it is a bit sickly sweet, the girls do both seem to like it though.
  • It is 98% made from natural ingredients and does not contain any parabens, SLS’s, mineral oils or artificial colours.
  • I love the container that it comes in, it is a no-gimmick bottle shape with a big strong lid that has a wide pop-up top. Previously we have had issues with swim shampoos that their little lids break when dropped in the pool shower and then they are not portable anymore, this bottle looks as if it will not give us any issues.
  • The product is slightly thinner than I might have imagined and it is an opaque white colour, you don’t need that much to get a decent lather on your body or hair and it is not too bubbly to cause problems for little eyes.
  • The product is dermatologically tested and approved and thus advertised as being suitable for those with eczema prone skin and it certainly did not seem to have any drying effect on my Miss E who is our ones prone to dry skin.
  • It is also paediatrician approached and suitable for use on newborn babies.
  • A 250ml bottle retails for £3.99 and is available from selected Boots, Waitrose and Ocado.

Hair detangler
  • I’m always keen to try a new detangling product as there are not many I’ve found that make light work of my girls ratty hair.
  • This one smells of grapefruit and tea tree oil and I think the grapefruit does a good job of masking the tea tree smell which my girls do not like but I for one love the fact it is a natural head lice repellent. Anything we can do to keep those nasty things away is a godsend.
  • The liquid is a good consistency and white in colour, it is not sticky on the skin which is a plus point. When I have used it on the girls it does help and means that brushing out their tangles hurts them a lot less. It did not get rid of them totally though, there was still some work to be done.
  • The bottle is attractive to look at and will definitely appeal to children and I found the pump action top to work well.
  • Like the 3 in 1 product this is 98% made from natural ingredients and does not contain any parabens, SLS’s, mineral oils or artificial colours which is good for my peace of mind.
  • The product is dermatologically tested and approved and thus advertised as being suitable for those with eczema prone skin.
  • It is also paediatrician approached and suitable for use on newborn babies.
  • A 150ml bottle retails for £3.99 and is available from selected Boots, Waitrose and Ocado.

Overall we have liked our Childs Farm products and we will continue to use them, thanks very much.

Exciting new TV program for pre-schoolers
Today Childs Farm launch of a brand new animation series for pre-schoolers. The cartoon brings to life the familiar animals found on the Childs Farm product labels and sees them carry out their everyday antics on the idyllic farm, located in the beautiful British countryside. The debut episode ‘Pigs can Fly’ was aired today, Monday 28th July 2014 on Cartoonito (SKY 619 and Virgin Media 706) at 12:30pm.

Childs Farm centres around Radar the dog and his dynamic bunch of farmyard animal friends: Truffles; the ever-hungry pig, Bella; the dancing goat, Buster; the rather unusual pony, Peggy; the sporty duck, Mimi; the motherly mouse and Old Red the tractor. Whether on the beach competing to collect the prettiest seashell or being taught to dance at the farm, the gang learns that anyone can do anything if you give it a go, and have a little faith in yourself!

Disclosure: I was sent these hair products free of charge for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Review - Aqua Beads Jewel Starter Kit

Aquabeads have been a firm favourite for some time now, much like the more established Hama beads in that you can make little designs, keyrings, photo frames, 3D boxes etc but the massive plus point with Aquabeads is that they just need a spray of water and about an hour to fix solid and thus the children can do it themselves.  No more having to get the ironing board out and buying expensive backing paper to iron the beads and make their designs.

When we first got Aquabeads a couple of years back I did wonder if the designs might fall apart after a while but actually as long as you spray them and allow them to dry and then spray the other side they last an age. We still have some that have been hanging around way in excess of a year now.

The set we were sent to review is the new Aquabeads jewel starter set and this means the beads are not round and opaque they are jewel shaped and translucent and sparkly.  My twins really loved them and it is a nice twist on something which is popular with them already.

You make the designs in the same way as always. Open up your 800 beads (sounds a lot but actually they will be gone in a flash) and put them in the little plastic dish that you get to keep the colours separate. This has a very flimsy plastic lid for storing your beads but I would recommend getting a better storage box if you intend to build on your collection or use these a lot.

You then place a template sheet between the base tray and the layout tray and start to use the bead pen to delicately place your bead over the relevant space to start making the pattern shown in the template.  Of course you can also free style if you like to but my girls tend to like to follow the pattern.  Miss E actually finds it easier to use her fingers than the bead pen as she has a steady hand and lots of patience but Miss M uses the bead pen as she tends to knock all the other beads she has already placed otherwise!

The Aquabeads jewel starter set is recommended for age 4 years and upwards and I think it is worth every penny of its £10.99 price tag as it provides a lot of fun and some nice creative items at the end to keep. Miss E is currently making a rainbow with one bead missing at the top so she can thread a silver chain through it and wear it as a necklace.

For more inspiration you can follow Aquabeads on Facebook , Instagram and Pinterest and brilliantly you can also download new templates so your children can make even more designs.

Disclosure:  We were provided with this set free of charge for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Review: Sylvanian Families Cosy Cottage & Chocolate Rabbit Twin Set

Miss E has liked Sylvanian families for a while now and she was over the moon when we were offered the Cosy Cottage to review. The RRP for this is £24.99 and I think that price is a really good deal

In the past I have found that many Sylvanian buildings come without anything inside, no furniture and no figures and it then becomes a bit expensive to buy the building and kit it out. I really liked that the Cosy Cottage comes with a starter pack of Freya chocolate rabbit, table and chairs, bench, cooker and accessories, bed and linen and ladder.

You can have the house as two storey or the top floor is removable and when turned over the wooden floor becomes green grass and it can go just outside as the garden or in the case of Miss E be used as the picnic area.

I was super surprised that when Miss E (age 7) got this out to play with her 10 year old brother came over and really wanted in on the action too, so they got the camper van set out and played that long lost cousins had come to visit. I do love a bit of good imaginative play and the Sylvanian families sets really lend themselves well to this.

In my experience the Sylvanian families toys are very good quality and are built to last, the plastic is not flimsy like with some toys and there is also really beautiful and detailed styling in the accessories that come with the sets. In this case it was saucepan, plate and food.

Another good feature about the cottage is that it can be connected to Maple Manor and Beechwood Hall if you choose to buy more and extend your collection.

As well as the cottage we also received chocolate rabbit twin set and considering my girls are twins they really loved this. You get two little tiny babies, a double pushchair and a few accessories like a dummy and bottle for £9.99. Freya the rabbit that came with our house must be over the moon to have twins, but where is her husband?

Great prizes to be won
There is also a fabulous competition running at the moment to win a wonderful Forest holiday worth £1000 and some super sylvanian families products. All you have to do is take a picture of your Sylvanian family characters enjoying their summer and submit it by the deadline of 31st August 2014. Take a look at their webiste for full details and the T&C's too.

Just look at these little guys enjoying their time on the beach!

Disclosure: We received these toys free of charge for the purpose of writing this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Stylish Lunch bags from Sweeleestuff (review)

My girls have new lunch bags for school and they are over the moon and feel so grown up, I know that even the teachers have mentioned how great they are and if I was still working out of the home I'd happily take one with me.

Sweeleestuff lunch bags (or totes if you are posh) are a zipped bag made of Neoprene and they measure H29.5 x W29.5 x D17.5 cm.  They are small enough for even a young child to carry confidently and yet you can fit so much in them.  My girls have a box of sandwiches, bottle of drink, yoghurt and something snacky for lunch and this all fits in with a load of room, I could literally fit a couple of decent sized salad and fruit boxes in as well as a drink and they would still work fabulously.

Probably my favourite part of the bags (apart from them looking super stylish) is that they fold flat for storage, just look how much space I save on a weekend/ in the holidays when I put away these bags rather than the kids old more ridged ones.

When we first received the bags they did a smell a bit but I think that is just what happens with neoprene, we have had it with wetsuits too. A cool wash in the machine sorted this out in no time and that is another fabulous plus point for these bags, that I can put them through the wash as much as I like, I no longer have to deal with the horrible smelly stale yoghurt corners in square boxes and there is no lining to trap water when it goes through the machine, they are making my life just that little bit easier which is important as a busy mum.

The neoprene is super soft and the handles are comfy to use, there is a massive range of fabric designs but they definitely are more for those who like girly designs but there is plain black for a more masculine design. Here are some of the designs I particularly liked -

The bags are all the same size but the price does seem to range from £5.99 through to £12.99, I assume this depends on how popular the fabric design is. Both the designs my girls chose retail at £8.99 currently and I think this is good value for a stylish but long lasting and washable bag that is also free from Lead, PVA, Pthalate and BPA, harmful substances which have been found in lunchbags of other materials.

We are really pleased with our Sweeleestuff lunch bags and I'd happily recommend them.

Disclousre:  We received these lunch bags free of charge for the purpose of writing this review.