Sunday, 24 July 2016

Christmas in July: Food, Fashion and a Whole Lotta Toys Part 2: Tech and Budget Buys

If you missed Part 1 you can find it here, where I give you a sneak peak (along with my helper for the day, Littlest) into what Aldi, Morrisons and Asda have on offer for 2016.

Next up, another Wednesday and this time no Littlest who sadly had to go off back to School (with much persuasion after a day spent eating cake and playing with cool new toys).

First up, back to One Marylebone for Currys PC World.

It was tech heaven here! I am not kidding, I am half surprised I'm not still there, looking at all the amazingly cool gadgets on display.

Now that the two stores have merged, not only do you have all your kitchen and home gadgets sorted, you also have all your PC, tablet and even Virtual Reality covered in one place too.

Yes, I did say Virtual Reality. It is here, but it's probably going to take either a very large credit card bill or a few years before the majority of us can own it in our homes. The one pictured above, from HTC, was at the lower end of the cost bracket at nearly £700, but I did see another for £900!

However, if you prefer not to enter an alternative dimension (or value your credit rating), there were plenty of nifty Tablet computers for all ages. A particular favorite was a kid friendly Amazon Kids tablet with bouncy sides to stop it breaking when dropped. At £99.99, it is pricey for some, but if it's anything like my Kindle Fire, the kids will love it and it's a speedy little machine for kids gaming and for homework research too.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                As a kitchen gadget lover, I was very impressed with the shiny mixers, of which there was an abundance of brands and colours to suit all kitchens. I particularly liked the range of Smeg kitchen accessories, which featured an unusual lattice design with chrome accents.

There was also a great display by chef Luis Troyano, who used many of the gadgets to show us how to make delicate and tasty meringues, and a very Christmassy Mulled wine (although at 11am, it was a little early for me to indulge ad successfully make it around London!).

Next up, Argos, who always seem to have everything covered across the board in one catalogue.

I love Argos at Christmas as I have many happy memories of the Christmas book being available and of grabbing it, biro in hand and circling all the goodies I wanted to find from Father Christmas as a child.

I went straight to the toys and it has to be noted that Argos definitely put on an amazing experience for us to go back and write up. I've not been to many events where the adults are encouraged to play on the bikes and scooters in the middle of the space.

It was also great to see children there who you can ask what they thought of the toys too. There was plenty to see, and the guys from Argos were very knowledgeable on release dates.

Lego is a massive fave in our house, with Littlest dying to know when the new Ninjago sets are coming out (September in case you also wanted to know). Considering how long Lego has been around, I feel it carries on its success across generations as it taps into the modern world. None more so than with Lego Nexo Knights. These are more than just sets, including an app and TV show, where the child is encouraged to collect special shields to unlock features in the game.

For doll lovers, and all things pink, Argos is a one stop shop. I was impressed with the great range of varieties, from well known brands such as Zapf to Argos own versions, all budgets are covered, from the big toys to the smallest gift.

Gamers are sorted too, with new add-ons coming soon for Wii U, XBox 360 and Playstation too. I really loved the Lego Dimensions sets for Wii U, and like that boredom factor is taken into account with the unlocking of new levels and features. I also think that incorporating the building of Lego into the game is fun too and harks back to my days of building a house for fun!

Another interactive toy which I got to try out (and I'm sure I was allowed to win) was the ONKI Overdrive. Think traditional Scalextric and add a phone and virtual rocket launchers to stop your opponents car! Using a sensor filled material, you place your race car- or lorry which is coming soon- to the bendy track, pick up your mobile with its free app and play along. Unlike the Scalextric, the cars don't leave the track and aren't restricted to one lane, and there's no bits of plastic to attach which will break after a bit of a tantrum. I really loved this toy and for £150 for the starter set of two cars and lots of track, which can be added to, it's a toy I feel that would go down very well during Christmas and beyond.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Onto the homewares and electricals, it was great to see vintage re-imagined with the Bush portable record deck, which no doubt has far better sound quality than the 1960s versions it pays homage to, and the vintage designed radios with DAB capabilities. The colours were great with pops of pastels and vibrant hues a plenty.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Last stop, Poundland.

Now, there is sometimes a certain level of feeling that everything from Poundland will be rather plastic and cheap and cheerful.

Now, cheap, yes, cheerful, plenty, but plastic and not all that good? Never!

I was really impressed with the level of diversity available, all for £1. I loved the decorations- something that I know from going into the store at Christmas are always very popular. There were ranges which would convince people you'd shopped in the likes of John Lewis, with particular mentions for the wooden handcrafted fox and owls.

For Marvel, Secret Life of Pets and Frozen lovers, Poundland has a range that not only includes funky baubles for the tree but sweets, colouring books and stocking filler toys too. For a few pounds, you could sort out all the friends from school with quality Christmas gifts.

For older kids, look out for the new ranges hitting soon of make up and jewellery sets too.

You will ask yourself "did I really get this for a quid?" and of course, for those who find Christmas a budget nightmare, Poundland should be top of your list.

After viewing the Christmas shows, I'm up for some snow and turkey as soon as possible!

Hope we've given you some ideas for this year!

Friday, 22 July 2016

Christmas In July: Food, Fashion and a Whole Lotta Toys! Part 1- Supermarkets

It's July, we have a mini heatwave in the UK, the summer festivals are on right now, and so it must be time for mince pies, Santa hats and talk of Christmas.

Yes, it's Christmas in July season here in the UK, and over two Wednesdays in two weeks, LazyGirl has been all over London seeking out just what brands think we'll lust over come December.

On the first Wednesday, unusually for The Family Panel, I had a helper with me- Littlest, who had to be in London for a hospital visit too. He was very excited as he has never been to anything like this before for our blog, so anything child related was left in his capable hands.

Our first stop was Morrisons, at One Marylebone, a really great setting to get you in the mood for all things winter related.

First up, Littlest was shown how to make Panettone with one of the Morrisons in store bakers.

It was great for Littlest to get dressed up in the hat and pinnie, and he really enjoyed copying exactly what the baker was doing. As for the all important taste test, it was a big thumbs up from Littlest.

It was also great to see just how far Morrisons goes to check every ingredient, a big consideration due to the allergies which our youngest son has. There was no "oh maybe this might have nuts in it" everything was clearly listed and defined, which takes the guess work out of party food (and beyond). After all, you want to have fun, not a massive allergic reaction with your Christmas dinner.
The range of food and drink on offer is amazing, there was something for all palates and budgets, from the mini burger sliders (loved by Littlest) to the beautiful Norfolk Bronze turkey, and fizz for every occasion throughout the holiday season too.

It would seem Morrisons has listened to customers who may have started to shop at the cheaper stores like Lidl and Aldi, as the quality of the more purse friendly items was very good. 
We also had a sneak peak of the clothing from Nutmeg and whilst that's not really Littlest's interest area (food, toys and tech and he's happy), I spotted some very well designed pieces for party, bedtime and Christmas morning.

A particular favorite was the girls partywear, which took in that not all young girls of Mini's age of nine want pink, cutesy and girly. Rather, my fashionista daughter wants the type of clothes worn by Little Mix (but toned down to please us parent's), so Morrisons had fierce biker jackets, funky dungarees which could be dressed up or down, and chunky knits to keep you warm as winter draws in.

For boys- one thing I'm sure will fly off the shelves are the range of Marvel 3D tops- yes, 3D on clothing! Which child wont want to show that off at a school disco next term? 

Old favorites like comfy onesies and Christmas jumpers were also in attendance, and Littlest has already bookmarked the one he wants- featuring a "Santa- Define Good?" design to the front.
Again, the prices vary but are with quality and attention to detail like we saw, and clothes I would have thought were from Next or Zara, the prices are reasonable.

Next up, we went to Bank Tube for a Morrison's rival with Aldi and their Christmas showing.

We were handed a very handy IPad (I say we- I mean Littlest pinched it), to have a look at prices.

The food was pretty much a carbon copy of what we'd just left at Morrisons, but unfortunately most was to look at rather than to eat, so it looked very nice! We did get to try some wrapped chocolates, which were tasty, and I'd be  a box to receive a box on December 25th.

By far my favorite bits of Aldi's offering is their gifts.

Whilst it's true that Aldi tend to only have a short availability for non-food items, you can now order online and have them delivered, which is a bonus if your store sells out quickly.

Its also going to worth keeping an eye on their website as the gifts I saw were flipping amazing and despite looking like high end luxury items, were unbelievably cheap in some cases.

 Littlest was very happy to be allowed to try out some of the toys on display. He was very keen on the great range of heritage style toys available in wood, including a play kitchen complete with food.                                                                                                                                                     I was happy to see Star Wars toys as those are already on Mini's list of must haves, and because they're from Aldi, despite being official merchandise they were far cheaper than in other stores. I wouldn't mind a blow up remote control Darth Vader myself!
From a kitchen gadget lovers perspective, I fell in love with the range available soon from Aldi. They have two ranges depending on your budget. 

The more expensive range includes Tri Ply Copper pots and pans, which would last for years if looked after properly and which looked great shining away on display.                                   These were competitively priced, considering the quality of the range.                                                                                                                                The range starts at £2.99 for individual utensils, with a stock pot with lid or a 28cm frying pan priced at £34.99.

For those looking for a cheaper option without losing quality, Aldi also offers a more budget friendly cookware range, which although wont last as long as the Copper, will still look good, cook well and give you plenty of years of use. These started at around a tenner.

Next up, Asda, who I always feel has lots to offer.

Again, there was a great mix of toys and food for everyone, we were very impressed with the quality of the Christmas decorations on offer this year, starting at under a pound.

It seems that most supermarkets food and drink offerings are pretty much standard across the board, with Serrano Ham on a stand and chopping board being a particular favorite. Its all about the wow factor and indulgence at Christmas and the stores have this in spades.

                                                                                                                   It's great to see a mix of styles and prices though and if you're prepared to shop around online then you could save bundles and still fill your tables up with everything traditional and then some.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           We had a taste of the Mince Pies and turkey at Asda which were very tasty. The Mince Pies didn't look over produced and you could easily pass them off naughtily for home made if you get caught out by a school party last minute!

Again, Littlest was happy to see his fave toys will be available with new Lego sets, and lots of Marvel too.

Next up in part 2, we cover Poundland, Argos and Currys PC World.

We will update with prices and some more images soon!

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Interplay FabLab Hair Flair

In another review as Interplay Experts, Mini gives her thoughts on the Hair Flair kit. Mini is now 9 and is moving on in her toy tastes, so what did she think of this all in one kit?

So far we've loved the Interplay kits and found them really simple to use, so for this challenge I left Mini more or less to it to work the set out.

The Hair Flair is for age 8+ and comes with enough kit to make 8 possible designs as well as a instruction booklet.

It was something Mini had been looking at using her pocket money to buy. Being 9, she is now at that inbetween age where she wants to be more grown up and try out hair and make up stuff, but still considered quite young by us so we try and bridge the gap with kits like these.

To be fair, Mini did find the kit quite hard to work out. It's quite fiddly, not so much the plaiting of material but the little clips which fit in the hair are really difficult for her age perhaps, and she did have a few moments of having to ask me to do these for her.

I found that the hole to put the pre-made extension into was very tiny- too tiny for the end to fit through, and worked better with the plait it yourself string.

She was most interested though in the pre-made, funky coloured extension though and wanted to get stuck in to this straight away so it did cause a bit of a meltdown from her when we found it impossible to fit.

The Instruction manual is quite good though for the plait yourself version, with helpful photos which made it simpler for her.

The quality of the materials is good- the clips could be better as they tended to slip out of her hair easily- so if you were to wear one outdoors after putting the effort in to make it I'm sure it would cause tears if it slipped out and went missing.

For girls who like to fiddle with their hair its a good little pocket money set but perhaps suited to a little older than Mini.

The Hair Flair is available from Interplay for £8.99

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Interplay Secret Fairy Door

Another month and another in our series of reviews for Interplay UK. This month it's Mini's turn to review, and she chose the Secret Fairy Door set.

As an old skool parent, I am so very aware of the effect of social media, multi channel TV and gaming on my very much interested and modern children. I much prefer a toy that can encourage imaginative play.

So far I've found Interplay are experts on this type of toy, and can encourage imaginations whilst still keeping our hard to please generation of kids happy.

Mini asked specifically to try out the Fairy Door after seeing similar on TV in woodland in the school holidays. At 8, nearly 9, she is on the cusp of toys with fairies and dolls going out of popularity but is still happy to get caught up in wonder and make believe.

The set arrived with easy to use bits and bobs which meant that, once it was unwrapped from the box, she was easily able to fit it all together.

She loved the stickers to go on the wall- although we've put these away for now as her room is in the middle of a much needed redecoration- and liked that she could put little bits of personal importance, like a pound coin she has from her savings that she kept trying to hide from her brother in the tree too.

 She adored the fairy and made up little stories for her and the tiny but highly detailed hedgehog straight away. The story book included is also a very good extra, the illustrations are just superb and add to the stories a younger child could make up.

The attention to detail on such a purse friendly product was great. from the backing of the tree showing a little cottage interior to the fairy herself, it was very nice to see such effort go into the toy.

Even the key for the door had a little heart design molded in. I liked that there were two keys as being quite small its usually the first thing to go missing and end up up the vacuum, so now I have a spare "fairy key of magic" as Mini has called it o my key-chain.

Despite having to take up residence by the wall, we did try out the sticky pads and fund them very strong and yet they did come off easily with a little persuasion. She's now dying for her room to be finished so the door can go up properly with it's stickers.

For around £19.99, this is a great addition to any child's Christmas stocking, its big enough to place a few coins in and perhaps a child sized necklace, or just the little characters it comes with. Its definitely a great addition to our imaginative play toys. 

The Secret Fairy Door from Interplay is suitable for age 4 and over.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Christmas Preview: Lush Winter 2015

Last night I got treated to the heady scents and vibrant sights of Lush and their Winter 2015 collection....

I'm a recent Lush convert, by association of moving to a town where there is a store and my son being overwhelmed by love for their bath bombs shaped like robots.

So, when Unique Young Mum asked if I'd like to be her plus one for their event I was very pleased to come along.

I think the great thing about Lush, certainly my local Lush, is the staff and how much they appear to love their jobs and the merchandise they sell. There is nothing these girls and guys don't know about their products. They are also great at telling you what works for certain skin types too, which is handy with my sensitive skin and Littlest and his range of allergies. Yes, even soaps can cause him to have flare ups and he loves being able to go in store and asking if it's OK for him to use in the bath.

The range is just eye popping, with every colour accounted for, the smells are amazing, from earthy hues to flowery scents. If you love something subtle, or like a strong perfume, flowers in the bath or a coating of skin and environment friendly glitter, Lush has you covered.

I personally love the gift boxes they currently have for Christmas. Even something as simple as the box is seen as an excuse to go to town. One box doubles as a musical merry go round which you could use again and again without anyone realising it held soaps. There were kid friendly boxes with clowns which can be mixed up. I also liked the soap canon, a Lush nod to the traditional Christmas cracker.

They also sell a great range of cosmetics, and hair care too, all of which is not tested on animals, and is as natural as can be.

Lush also encourages customers to bring back empty cartons to refill rather than buying a new one and throwing the old tub.

I think if you have a family member of any age and you aren't sure what to buy them, Lush is the answer. Its so nice to receive some artisan bathroom goods, but Lush just looks as impressive as you're going to find and they look so good you almost don't want to plonk them in the bath!

They have prices to suit all budgets, and the staff are happy to help you decide if you get stuck.

I really enjoyed seeing the new range for Christmas, and now have a rather epic list of must haves!

You can find more from Lush at their website