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Thursday 4 December 2014

Review: Jabra Sport Rox Wireless Earbuds

A few years ago I received a Jabra drive to use and review and I'm happy to say that three years later I am still just as happy with the performance of my in-car Jabra hands-free speaker as I was when I wrote the review back in September 2011. So when I had the chance to review the Jabra Sport Rox wireless earbuds I jumped at the opportunity and I knew they would be super.

The Jabra Sport Rox wireless earbuds are premium earbuds to be used by those who love to indulge in serious sports whilst listening to their music or podcasts. They retail for £129.99 on the Jabra site but I'd recommend shopping around as I managed to find them as low as £75.59 on HandTec which is a seriously great price. They'd make a superb Christmas present for a runner or gym lover.

For sports use only?
I'll clarify for you now, I am NOT a serious sports star, many of you will have seen pictures of me and I'm just not cut-out for it but I do go to the gym each week and I love to walk round the three lakes at my home so these earbuds are great for the not-so-serious sportsperson too. The two earbuds are attached by a short wire that you wear behind your head/ neck and there is a tiny fitclip that you can put on the wire if you wish to make it shorter/ a more tight fit but do be careful as it is so tiny it would be very easy to lose and I have already dropped it under the fridge once!

I was impressed to see that these little earbuds have been built to US military standards and are sweat, rain, shock, sand and dust proof.

The ear buds are clearly marked with L and R so you know which ear they need to go in and there are 4 sets of different size EarGels which are very easy to attach to the earbud and ensure you have a nice cosy fit in your ear, of course this is important so they don't drop out whilst you are exercising. They also act as a good barrier to sweat getting in to the earbud. As well as the EarGels to ensure a good fit there are also 3 sets of different sized EarWings which fit into the top of the ear and give even greater stability to the earbuds.

I love the fact that if you want to pause your workout you can just hang the earbuds around your neck and the steel metal plate/ back side of each earplug is a magnet and they connect together so they don't fall off or get lost. When the magnets are connected they also send the earbuds into power saving mode which is very useful. The white colour is really stylish and anyone would be proud to be seen wearing these. Although to be honest once they are in they are nice and inconspicuous.

You can do everything you need to with this tiny headset - play and pause music, skip tracks, control volume, and even take calls with a quick tap on your headset. With the built-in microphone these earbuds are great for taking calls when you need your hands free to do other jobs as well.

As well as the earbuds, EarGels and EarWings you also receive a USB charger and armband to put your phone/ iPod in.

How easy is it to set up?
Super simple is the quick answer. They’re Bluetooth (4.0) and NFC/Perimeter Pairing-compatible, so you can choose the set up method that suits you, I used my Bluetooth. The instruction book says it is a 5 minnute set-up guide and it really is. You turn your headphones on for the first time by pressing the button on the earbud wire for 5 seconds and then you hear the audio set up instructions. Basically I had to make sure my Bluetooth was on and go to that menu and the Jabra Sport Rox appeared and I pressed it and it automatically paired and was ready for us.

I switched the EarGels to the right size for me and added on EarWings so I had a good close fit and that was it I was ready to go.

What is the performance like?
I loved the sound that came out of these tiny earbuds. It was so good and it is great that you can download the unique Jabra Sound App to experience Dolby sound (code included with each purchase). I didn't experience any interference or noises that I was not expecting, just good clear songs and speaking from my music and podcasts.

There is 5 hours music playtime before the earbuds need recharging and you can do this easily by slipping away one of the metal coverings and revealing the mini USB charging port. Plug the included lead into any laptop or USB charger and in 2.5 hours you will have fully charged headphones again.

The standby time is roughly 432 hours and talk time if you are using it as a phone headset is about 5.5 hours. I think these are all pretty good times and certainly enough for me exercising! It is also pretty darn good that you get a verbal cue to tell you when it is time to recharge the headset.

I'm really pleased with the Jabra Sport Rox earbuds, if I'm honest I think I am more of a traditional earphone kind of girl as I'm not so sure about having the tight fitting earbuds but then again as I do not do the rigorous sports I don't really need them. I was chatting to my friend Natalie who is an avid runner and she tried out the headset for me on a run and pronounced them a Godsend, so that is high praise indeed!

Stay up to date with all the latest Jabra products by following them on Facebook.

Friday 21 November 2014

Review: Photo Canvas from Wallcreate

Last week my Mum went in for an operation on her foot and now she is resting up in bed or on the sofa for the next few weeks and whilst I might think all that enforced rest is a good thing as it means I could ignore the kids and their constant demands, it seems my Mum is bored already.

I'm off to visit her tomorrow to provide some different conversation and to give my Dad a rest from the cooking, washing-up and ironing and I thought it would be wonderful to take Mum a gift.  We have already sent her cards and some flowers from our family but I now have a beautiful photo canvas to give her.

She has a space on the wall at the end of her bed and maybe she might just like gazing up at her daughter and grand kids whilst she rests up?  I'll soon find out tomorrow!

Above is the photo canvas that I am going to be taking down to Mum. It is 20 x 30cm and retails for just 14.97 with a 2cm depth frame or 16.97 with a 4cm depth frame from Wallcreate.

I was very pleased with this canvas and for the price it is fantastic value. It has been a couple of years since I last got a photo canvas but I'm sure they were not as cheap as this site.  Often cheap equals low quality but that does not appear to be the case here, the photo canvas is perfectly good, the colouring is accurate, it is finished well and you even get a couple of little fixings for when you want to wall mount it.

I like the fact that there is a whole variety of sizes available from Wallcreate (rectangles, squares, long rectangles) and I really adore the 3 canvas panels, where you have one print split over three different canvases. As I mentioned the prices are superb and the postage is reasonable too at 4.97 within the UK. They estimate that delivery will take 2-5 working days and mine did indeed take just 2 days.

I was happy enough with the packaging that the canvas arrived in, it was in bubble wrap and then sellotaped in a cardboard box. On the website it says there would be more card protecting it but I did not find that and frankly it didn't really need it anyway.

As well as the photo canvases Wallcreate also sell canvas wall art with famous pictures, pop art, cute images and so much more. It is definitely worth a good look around and see what you fancy.

Overall I'm very happy with my photo canvases and I'd happily buy from Wallcreate again.

Disclosure: I was sent 2 identical canvas photos for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Friday 14 November 2014

Shuffle card games - fabulous Christmas presents

Last week we were sent four Shuffle card games to review and I have to say I think they are fantastic. I love playing games with the kids but in this modern day I find it hard to carve out two hours to devote to a traditional game of Monopoly but this is where the Shuffle games come in extremely useful.  You can play with the kids and it is great that you can play a game with just two of you, for years JJ and I struggled as the girls were too young and dh was not into board or card games and you needed more players.

There are a whole variety of games and they all play in a different way, so the fun and variety just keeps on going if you have more than one set. Each game is clearly marked to show what age group it is aimed at, how many people can play and how long they estimate a game will take - about 15 - 20 minutes in the main, which is very realistic and manageable.

The games retail for £6.99 and can be bought in loads of major stores like WHSmith, Tesco and John Lewis. Or of course on Amazon too.

As you can see from the photos the games all come in the same sturdy plastic box, you will see the size from it in my hand and it has an easy to use but effective catch to keep it closed. These games are perfect for travelling and taking on holiday as they are small and easily portable. There is a sticky strip across the front of each box which shows you which game you have in the box and in honesty I'm not sure how long that strip will last before it is all dog-eared, dirty and has lots its stickiness, I say this as it was already curling up on a couple of the boxes when I too their brand new sleeves off.  This is cosmetic though and neither here nor there to be truthful.

The first game we wanted to play was the Littlest Pet Shop as the bright cards really appealed to my twin 7 year old's. Sadly our instruction booklet was missing from our package and we had no idea what to do but a quick look on the Shuffle website meant that I could print a new set of instructions an even watch a really clear demonstration video of how to play.

We found that the cards in each of the games are very high quality, the cardboard is thick and has a glossy, wipe-clean feel to it. The edges are really smooth and they are very suitable for children to play with.

Realistically it does take a few try-out games to get to know what you are doing and to start really enjoying yourself but once you know what you are up to, these are fabulous and such a lot of fun. Especially as many are based on games we already know and love like Cludeo, Trivial Pursuit, Battleships and Monopoly.

I'm pretty sure these games are going to be travelling with us when we go and visit all the family around Christmas time as we are staying in hotels and will have some down-time to kill and also it will be fun for the grandparents to be able to get involved with a game of Trivial pursuit that only takes 20 minutes. You can imagine how much fun the kids will think it is to steal a wedge from one of us!

Another great thing about these games is that once you have played them quite a bit and the shine might be wearing off you can then download a free app (both apple and android) for every game and this adds more fun, what it does will be different depending on the game but it is always great to get something for nothing.

At £6.99 I think these are perfect small gifts to give to children at Christmas and I'll certainly be stocking up.

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

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Mayfair Hotel, St Helier, Jersey

Recently we travelled to Jersey with condor ferries and enjoyed a great family holiday on the island. Condor kindly arranged our hotel accommodation with one of the hotels that they partner with when arranging holidays through them. We stayed at the Mayfair Hotel in central St Helier and it was fabulous to be able to head out for a spot of shopping, a bit to eat or to enjoy the local culture on foot.

The central location is excellent. It was also good to have a large car park at the hotel so we had the car handy for when we wanted to explore further afield. I believe in the height of summer car parking can be an issue but it certainly wasn't in the October half-term. A word of warning though space is tight in Jersey, so get good at reverse parking and using small spaces!

The hotel building itself is not the most glamorous to look at but the important stuff is all there. The hotel is very clean, it is well maintained and there was nothing else I needed in my hotel bedroom. The kids described the hotel as 'well posh', likening it to 4 stars we have stayed in in London but I'd describe it as old-fashioned and decorated to suit an older market to be honest. Again this isn't to say there was anything wrong with it, it is just that emerald green carpet, fussy floral curtains and pink table clothes are not to my taste.

Catering for children
We were really pleasantly surprised to find that the hotel catered well to its child guests and there were quite a number of them. Apparently in summer and at Christmas there are tons of kids. In the school holidays when the hotel has more than ten children staying they organise an on-site kids club for a few times a week. My girls went to two of the evenings and they had a ball, one night making craft times and watching a movie and another evening having a disco party. It was very welcome to get my evening to myself from 7-9pm on a couple of nights, I sat in the public lounge and made the most of the free wifi (the area where this is available is quite limited though - literally reception and the lounge - not the restaurant or coffee shop).

We didn't eat at the hotel in the evening but there is a children's menu but it seemed a bit limited with things like chicken teddies, burger in a bun and fish fingers. I'd like to have seen more family type meals like Shepherds pie but then I suppose they cater to the guests they have.

In regards to bedrooms we had two good sized interconnecting rooms. One with a very large double bed (two singles zipped together) and a single bed and the other room had 3 single beds. Of course both had a large fully equipped bathroom. We were supplied with tea and coffee making facilities, remote control TV, hair dryer, complimentary toiletries, a desk area, some comfy chairs and plenty of mirrors and lighting options.

The views from the rooms were pretty naff but to be expected in a busy town. Probably the biggest issue for us was that the hotel seemed really hot, we had our windows open at all times as much as we could without them being dangerous but still it felt too hot quite often. Air conditioning would be an absolute god-send but I realise probably prohibitively expensive.

Public Areas

As you can see the public areas are pleasant, the reception is spacious and the staff working there were friendly and helpful. There are two computer terminals with Internet access in reception if you just need to use a computer briefly. There is a bar area where there is live entertainment a few nights a week. We were there for bingo (not my bag) and a singer and actually we really enjoyed him and I sung along. The prices in the bar were reasonable and better than UK pub prices I would say. Opposite the bar was a lounge area with loads of comfy sofas and seats and this is where we mostly sat.

There is also a nice sun deck up by the leisure club which would be fabulous in the summer.

We ate lunch in the coffee shop one day (this is open the whole day and early evening) and the food was excellent. The menu was not that varied but it was as we would expect and the surroundings were pleasant.

There is a children's games room on the first floor by the kids club and my kids liked to hang out there and spend 20p on the teddy grab machine. There is also a coin operated laundry room available for all in the hotel to use which was well equipped and clean.

Leisure centre
We went along to use the swimming pool as a family and had a great time. For a small club I was super impressed with how nice the changing rooms were. Good private showers, lots of lockers and hairdryers available. The pool itself was not very big but big enough to have fun and there were lots of inflatables and hoops etc for the kids to play with. My husband enjoyed using the steam room and Jacuzzi bath.

We did not get to use the gym as hubby had a cold but it looked a nice facility.

We had breakfast in the hotel each day and this was a continental buffet and English breakfast served to the table. The quality of the food serviced in general was excellent and we really enjoyed it. We did find on the first day when we came down later, about 9am (breakfast was served 7.30-9.30am) that the buffet had no croissants, ham or cheese but when we asked for more it was replenished. Breakfast is served in a large room which looks like it might be used as a ballroom sometimes, it was a packed with tables and was serviceable but hardly a pleasant surrounding. We did find the staff really friendly and attentive though.

In all I think the Mayfair is a really good middle-of-the-road hotel. It offers everything you need from a 3 star hotel. It seems to be geared up for the coach/ package holiday market but also managing to work well for individual families. If we were coming to Jersey again I would happily stay there.

Top selling points
  • Large bedrooms
  • Central location
  • Free on-site parking
  • Good English and continental breakfast
  • Fabulous kids club in school holidays
  • Free swimming pool on site
Check out the Mayfair Hotel's website for the current special offers and also follow them on Facebook or Twitter for up-to-date news.

Disclosure: We were provided with 3 nights B&B accommodation for our family as part of our review holiday to Jersey. A massive big thank you to Condor Ferries, Jersey.com and the Mayfair Hotel for such a nice half-term stay.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Review: Fellowes 63cb Shredder

I've never owned a shredder before, I'll be honest and say I've not seen the need. Much of the private information I need to access nowadays is online and I don't print much off. The letters that come via the post that I don't want to keep I tend to rip into small shreds and get rid of as soon as possible. I'm not one to hold onto clutter.

I assume it is OK putting them in the bin ripped up, surely I'm not that interesting and no one wants my old bills or payslips? But I am becoming more aware that identity fraud is big business. New research shows that 24% of UK citizens have been a victim of identity fraud, this is the highest figure in Europe and I'll be honest, that is enough to worry me.

I think perhaps I should take more care and dispose of things in a more robust manner having learnt this fact. This is why when Fellows contacted me and asked me if I wanted to trail one of their shredders I was happy to say yes.

The shredder arrived quickly and was well packaged. My initial reaction was that it looks smart but realistically is a bit big and heavy for a home-use shredder. I can imagine if you have a home office and some spare under desk space it would be perfect. Sadly we don't have an office or much spare space so I might actually donate this to my husbands work and keep it in his office. As we live on site I can still use the shredder whenever I need to but it is nicely out of eyesight.

The kids were very impressed that we have a shredder, as they sometimes help out at daddy's work doing this job. To show how easy the shredder is to use and to explore some of its features I got my 11 year old JJ to help me in this video -

This shredder retails for £149.95 and can be bought at all good business machine retailers, John Lewis and on Amazon. In all it is a great shredder and we are very happy with it.

Key points -
  • 16 litre shredding bin, which pulls out for easy emptying
  • provides Security Level P-3 quality shredding, dicing sheets into 4x50mm cross cut particles
  • takes 10 sheets at a time
  • can shred continuously for 8 minutes
  • shreds paper, small staples, paperclips and credit cards
  • includes the Fellows advanced energy saving system with reduced in-use energy consumption and ensures automatic power down after a period of inactivity
  • jam blocker to stop jams before they even start
  • 2 year warranty for the shredder

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

Friday 24 October 2014

Review - Kids Stuff Crazy Soap Products

I was very pleased to be sent some Kids Stuff Crazy Soap products for review as my children have had the shake and sparkle bath foam before and really liked the smell and sparkle in the bottle.

This time the big hit was the green crazy soap foaming soap.  It comes in a 225ml can which seemed to last a really long time and squirts out just like hair mouse but it has a much better consistency than hair mouse for playing with. Squirt it out, leave it to solidify for about 30 seconds and then as long as you keep it out the water you can mould the foam and change its shape, of course you are not going to be able to make anything intricate but it was easy to make a ball or cube. Once in the water it starts to break down and if you use lots it will make the bath water green too, another reason for the kids to squeal with delight. I really liked the apple smell too, very fresh and not at all sickly like some.

The foam is available for £2.00 currently on Boots and I think that is a fabulous price.

The girls especially also liked the red body paint that we received. I was a little worried about this as it is very bright and I thought the grout in the tiles might get discoloured but I need not have worried as it went on easily with the sponge and then washed off well. There can be a bit of residue in the bath but nothing a good old wash does not get rid of. The body paints come in a 150ml tube and this really does go far, literally dozens of baths and that was with the girls painting each other.

All the Crazy soap products are designed for children and are thus gentle on the skin with a PH balanced formula, they are also paraben and SLES free.  My daughter Miss E sometimes suffers with eczema and there has been no signs after using these products.

We also received a pack of 3 fizzy bath tints and we have not used these as yet.  I have put them away as a Christmas present for Miss E as I know she will love them.  You drop one in the bath and they fizz up, smell fruity and tint the bath colour. I have enough trust in the Crazy soap brand to know they will perform wonderfully.

You can find Kids Stuff Crazy Soap on both Facebook and Twitter, so you can keep up to date with all their latest news and I'd highly recommend these products as great stocking fillers for your kids.

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

Friday 17 October 2014

Club Chic Girls - Review

My 7 year old twin girls are very lucky as they get a number of great things to review. The latest item they have received has only just launched and both girls love their Club Chic doll.

With five to collect there is something for everyone. We were lucky enough to receive the whole set but I asked the girls which one each they would like to keep and we will pass the other three to friends of theirs, as it is always good to share!

Based in Bear Valley Hills, the Club Chic girls are totes the trendiest, coolest bears around! Each Club Chic doll has their own individual style and comes complete with personalised fabric outfits and a super-styling hand bag that your little one can use too! It explans on the box who each girl is and what their style/ personality says about them.

These are who my girls choose -

Miss M - Candy, as she would love to have pink hair like her and she is really into fashion, which apparently Miss M tells me Candy is too. her name also sounds American which is something Miss M would love.

Miss E - Pippa, truth be told Miss E did not strongly identify with any of them, I suspect this is because she is still figuring out who she is as an individual. She liked Violet as she is arty but she didn't like her Goth look so she opted for Pippa in the end as she wears glasses like Miss E does and she blogs like Mummy,

The dolls retail for £16.99 and you can pick them up from most good toy retailers like Smyths Toys. So what do you get for your money? Take a look and see -

I found the dolls a bit odd as they have such big heads and small bodies and I had wondered if they would stand up unassisted but they do and my girls think the big head, big eyes look is cute and I suppose they are what matters. The actual doll itself seems well made and all the parts move, the hair is the same as any doll like this and the painted face is well done. I really liked the fact that the dolls have a childs body and there is no emphasis towards perky boobs and slim hips!

The dress on Crystal is literally just a piece of fabric with a velcro fastening, so not much to it but it fits the theme and looks good on her. The purse that comes with it is very cute and again velcro fastens and my daughters will enjoy using these for their pocket money.

I think these make a nice Christmas present idea and my girls are certainly happy with their dolls.

If you like what you see you can check out more of Vivid Toys brands on their website, it is always good to find a British brand.

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

Monday 13 October 2014

Baby Annabell Rocking Cradle & Nightlight

Of course what every child wants for their doll is somewhere cosy and beautiful for them to sleep at night and Miss E is over the moon that her doll is now by her bed in a cradle rather than a cardboard box (which is where she had been the last couple of months).

The rocking cradle is very cute and is was super easy to assemble, I didn't even look at the instructions. The good news is it also comes apart easily if you need to move or store it. The little lamb that hangs above baby's face plays a sweet lullaby and projects lights onto babes face and Miss E thought this was very special. She also particularly likes the gold plastic sheep end to the cradle leg, as it looks like the bed is for a princess (so I'm told!).

The cradle basket itself is two hard wires and a sort of fabric covered cardboard bottom so it can fold flat and then expand when the weight of the baby is in it. You can remove the fabric so it would just be sponge clean if it got dirty. You get a little padded satin pillow and soft sheet for the cradle and these are nice and fit well.

The rocking cradle and nightlight has an RRP of £44.99 and the cheapest I found it was £40.90 on Amazon  It does not appear that genuine Baby Annabell dolls or accessories get reduced anywhere as I could not find any particularly great deals on them.

Disclosure: We received this toy free of charge. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Saturday 27 September 2014

Review: OMY Colouring Posters

At the end of August a press release dropped into my inbox to advise me about some beautiful colouring products available from OMY Design and Play. After a browse on their website I realised that my children would like these products especially Miss E (aged 7 years) and my boy JJ (aged 10 years) and I said yes to a couple of products for review.

It is now about a 3 weeks after they have arrived and I have to be honest and say they have hardly been used. When they first arrived the kids saw them and 'ohhed' and 'ahhed' about how nice they were and my twin girls sat down to do some colouring straight away - one with pencils and one with felt tips (always different those two). They told me they liked the placements and they seemed to be enjoying themselves but realistically they didn't want to sit at the large dining table (where the placement would sit flat)  they wanted to sit on the floor and use the coffee table so they could watch TV at the same time. This made things a bit harder as the placements are bigger than an average size tray and they always use trays on the coffee table to protect the wood.

The actual placements are each 30 x 42cm and are a good quality thick paper, it is also recycled which is good. There are 24 place mats in a pack and we choose the City Map design, which means we had 6 each of the following - Paris, London, New York, Rio, Tokoyo and Atlas. We also could have chosen the Fantastic design pack. Each pack of 24 placements retails for £13.90 and that makes it about 60p per placement, which I don't think is bad value at all, given the good quality paper, the size and the intricate designs for colouring.

Postage in included in the price of the product and I love that, nothing hidden. That is normally the thing that puts me off buying online. There are also options to pay if you wish for courier service and to receive the product quicker than the standard 2-3 day delivery time.

We also received a London giant colouring poster, this measures 1.14m x 0.8 metres and is designed to go on a wall, the floor or a large table. We have not used this yet as I am saving it for a children's event I'm running in November. I will use masking tape to put it on the tiled floor and then lots of children will be able to colour it at the same time when we have messy church with a theme of love our world, God's special creation. The giant poster retails for £9.90 and again postage is included in that price. It comes folded into a small cardboard case and thus posts easily, you can see the folds when you undo it and that annoys me a little but my kids were not bothered by it when I asked them.

We have found that pencil, crayon and felt tip pens all work well on the OMY colouring products and that gives the child choice to use whatever they fancy. I do think these products are lovely if you want to sit down quietly and companionably with your child and do some colouring together, I can imagine Miss E and my mum doing this on a cold winters day. I think that has been some of the problem in the last few weeks, there has hardly been a spare moment.  The kids have all gone back to school, there has been tons of homework and we have had plans each weekend as well as visitors for a week. I know these products will come into their own when it is too cold or wet to venture out into the wonderful 220 acres that we live in.

You can see below the size of the giant poster and also the intricate detail of the poster.

There are six different designs of the giant poster and that means there is something to suit everyone and if this one is not large enough for you then you might be interested in the giant colouring roll this is 1.8 m x 1 metre and I think it would be fantastic as a centre piece for a birthday party, school holiday club or maybe Sunday club. It retails for £19.90.

In all these are really nice products but because they are so large it means they are not very portable and have not been played with as much as say a smaller colouring book that is easy to take to the car or a restaurant or a day trip out.

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

Thursday 11 September 2014

Free School Lunch for Every Child in Infant Schools in England

Such a shame that my little girls have moved into Key Stage 2 and won't be eligable for free school meals!

In an attempt to help ease the financial burden on families with young children in England, Nick Clegg has announced free school lunches for every child in state funded infant schools. Influenced by the recommendations of the government commissioned School Food Plan, the new policy entitles every child under 8 to high quality lunches saving parents on average £437 per child over the year.

For years government bodies, health authorities and the media have reiterated the benefits of high quality meals in cognitive development and learning in children. There are numerous reports and studies highlighting the correlation between children eating highly nutritious meals both before and at school leading to an increase in academic performance, healthier eating habits and a reduction in childhood obesity.

Students who were involved in the pilot study in County Durham and Newham provide evidence to support these claims as they were reported to have experienced positive improvements in their health, attainment and social cohesion with the introduction of the universal free school meals. They were found to be on average 2 months ahead of their peers elsewhere in England and were more likely to achieve their target levels at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 in Maths and English. The introduction of universal free school meals within these areas reportedly did more to improve literacy levels than the nationwide introduction of the compulsory ‘literacy hour’ in 1998. Interestingly, the pupils whose results improved the most markedly were children from the poorest households who benefited from the removal of social stigma and an improvement in atmosphere.

Even with the unarguable of pupils eating healthily at school, the introduction of the universal free school meals policy still has its objectors. Although head teachers and local authorities have voiced their support for the introduction of the new policy, there is a growing concern with schools preparing for the launch of the new national curriculum and upgrading their dining facilities that the government has over-promised and under-delivered. Nearly 2700 schools will not be ready to serve hot meals by December with students being offered cold meals until facilities can be upgraded or kitchens built.

The government has made just over £170m available to help schools upgrade their dining facilities to the latest high quality stainless steel kitchens to comply with their stringent health and safety guidelines, but this is reportedly not enough. There is a reported short fall of £25m in cash required to provide free school meals with local authorities diverting funds that were originally earmarked to repair school roofs to plug the shortfall.

At £600m, the overall yearly cost of the universal free school meals policy, may seem quite steep, it is a lot less than the £6bn a year it costs the British tax payer for treating illnesses caused by a bad diet. The introduction of the universal free school meals policy highlights the government’s long term commitment to our children’s learning and welfare as well as easing the financial burden on families. As Nick Clegg states: “Universal free school meals will help give every child the chance in life that they deserve, building a stronger economy and fairer society.”

What do you think of the introduction of free school meals for children under 8? Have your children enjoyed the free meals? All comments are welcome below.

Everybody Learns

I've recently become aware of a company called Everybody Learns and I have to say that I really like that company name. It is so true, everybody does learn but they just might do it at different rates and in different ways.

This is what Everybody Learns says about themselves on their website -
The Everybody Learns website is the work of teachers who believe we can make a difference. It attempts to present an accurate picture of education in this country, in so far as it is relevant to reading. In addition we provide advice on how to prevent or overcome the problems children will encounter in our schools.We are a learning support business based in North Yorkshire in the UK. We offer reading software solutions and other resources to help children learn. We have customers across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.
As far as I can tell the biggest product that Everybody Learns supplies is their online reading software Lexia, This is a subscription based service that I've not had any experience with. They also sell reading and writing workbooks suitable for first readers and both younger and older readers. These can be used alongside the Lexia reading course or independently. We had received some of these workbooks for review with my daughter Miss E, but it turns out that right now I can't use them with her. She has just gone into KS2 and as she has dyslexia she is overwhelmed with the change in learning styles that KS2 has bought. Her homework has tripled and thus we need to allow her time to settle and to feel happy in her education, I won't be one of those pushy Mums, her well being is far more important to me than her educational attainment level.

We received the complete set (8 books) of Lexia reading and writing workbooks for younger children. As a parent I found it quite hard to know what level I should be buying for my child as I could not see any indication of age or school year that might help guide me.

There is a full list of what is covered in each of the levels and it looks something like this "Level 4 Skills: Blending and segmenting vowel digraphs and vowel-r words, reading and writing two syllable words, reading and writing sentences, reading stories and answering comprehension questions, reading and spelling sight vocabulary words, learning word meanings." but actually that did not help me at all as I'm not a teacher and not aware what my children should be doing at what age.

Each workbook is between 45 - 49 pages long and they are printed on thick folded A3 paper so they do start to look quite dog-eared pretty quickly but I suppose this is not a problem as they will be short lived and moved through fairly quickly. Also at £24.99 for a set of 8 workbooks (including postage) that is only about £3.10 per workbook so they are a good price.

At the beginning of each workbook there is a key explaining what the child needs to do within the book and this gives good visual clues and is nice and clear. Then at the top of most pages you see those signs helping the child be aware of what they have to do. There is no colour or stickers to the workbooks so they are much more school like and lack the fun of something like the Gold Star books, but your younger child can colour in the pictures and they might enjoy that.

Here are a few sample pages from the books. Some of them do look quite wordy as you can see in the bottom right image -

We were also sent the set of workbooks for older children, called Strategies for Older Students and I can honestly say there are pages in those that I have no idea about; it feels to me as if they were designed for teachers/ tutors to use with students rather than parents. It does mention a Teachers Notes but I was not sent that and maybe that is the key to understanding those books.

After having a good look around the Everybody Learns website I was a bit saddened to see statements such as this -
* If you are a parent who is concerned about your child’s reading progress you are almost certainly right to be so. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. The truth is that if your child struggles with reading, you cannot trust the schools to help them overcome their difficulties. Overwhelmingly, they fail to do so.
* If you have been told by your child’s school that his or her reading progress is satisfactory, check it out. This might not be the case.
* The standards set by the UK government for our children are much too low and, even so, too many children fail to achieve them.
It does feel a bit like scare mongering to me and I don't like that. I'm not saying our UK schools are perfect but equally I don't feel making children spend hours at home (in the style of the Japanese or Chinese education systems) is right either.

The free reading assessment did seem quite useful and I had a go myself at both year 2 and year 6. It was simple and easy to work and I might get Miss E to try this out as it will give me an idea what level she is at. I won't be doing it with my other two as I can see from their interaction with me and home learning that they are age appropriately developing in their reading skills.

On the left is one of the pages of the year 2 test and it audibly asks me to click on words. Then on the right is the assessment from my year 6 test.

The Everybody Learns blog is worth checking out and there are regular posts recommending books for your child's reading age, this is great for me as my JJ (aged 11 years) is an avid reader and I never know what to buy him as he has devoured most books I know if already. I also read a feature about helping your pre-schooler with phonics and actually some of the tips are probably still really applicable now for me to use with my Miss E who is still struggling to master reading.

I think if you are the kind of parent that is interested in your child getting in some extra reading and writing practise at home then you might enjoy these workbooks.

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

Wednesday 10 September 2014

The Lake District Dairy Co Quark Cooking Sauces

A couple of weeks ago I was sent a nice hamper of ingredients so I could try out the new Lake District Diary Co cooking sauces. It is always good to receive one of these kind of hampers as it forces me to move out of my boring routine and to try something different. I'm not the worlds most inventive cook (despite being a qualified Chef!) and we could end up with the same meals all the time if I didn't occasionally stretch myself.

These cooking sauces are made from Quark and I can't recall if I've ever tried Quark before to be honest. I mentioned it to my husband and he turned his nose up, saying when he had it in his younger years it was awful so I was then interested to see what he thought of the cooking sauces.

Quark is spoonable soft cheese made from British cows milk and it is good to be using a product that is made at home and has not travelled hundreds or even thousands of miles to get to me. The Cooking sauces are sold in a 200g pot and they look very attractive. The retail price is £1.75 and this is comparable to other sauces I might buy. there are currently three flavours - Garlic and Herb, Tikka and Tomato and Basil and all are naturally low in fat.

None of the sauces contain any preservatives or artificial flavours and they seem to come with about a 2-3 week shelf life and as a diary product they must of course be kept chilled. I think these cooking sauces make a great healthy alternative to other diary ingredients such as creme fraiche or double cream and what is really good is that the sauce can be used as a cold dip, so is fabulous for buffets and packed lunches too.

My favourite sauce was definitely the tikka, it came with the ingredients to make Chicken Tikka and Quark rice and we all really liked this. It was not too spicy but was flavoursome and made a good biriyani style meal, although the consistency of the meal was wetter than  a biriyani but that did not bother us. Everyone asked for seconds of this.

I was asked to make a Quark version of spaghetti carbonara, they called it Quarkonara which made me smile. It is impressive when you read that using this cooking sauce instead of cream cheese will reduce the fat content of the dish by 28g, a massive 88% and the calories per portion dropped by 227 kcals too. I also like the ease of the cooking sauce, cook the pasta and pour in the sauce, ham and a little cooking water and perfect finished dish once heated a bit. Sadly for me I thought the taste of this was pretty foul, one of my daughters would eat it but the other refused and I had to cook her something else so we wouldn't buy the Garlic and Herb one again, it was just too strong in smell and taste.

As far as the tomato and basil sauce is concerned we never got to use it. It was in date but when I opened it I noticed there was a bit of the orange around the outer lid which made me wonder if it had burst a little in transit. I assume it had as when I put my finger in to try a little it was fizzy and tasted bad. It also stained my hands as it is a vivid orange colour, so I've really been put off that one I'm afraid.

Our family would buy the tikka sauce again as it was very pleasant with the rice, sadly the other two are not for our family.

Disclosure: We received a hamper ingredients for the purpose of this review, I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.

Thursday 4 September 2014

Get the Label - a fabulous find!

Have you heard of GettheLabel.com? I hadn’t before they contacted me and as I’m now becoming a convert to online shopping I was sure pleased to find out about an online store which offers up to 75% off brand name clothes and accessories. You can find popular brands including Converse, Adidas, Kickers and Quicksilver

My children were sent an item of clothing each to review and see what we thought of the kind of things stocked on Get The Label.

JJ received a Le Breve navy blue hoodie and he loved it, it was so much better than his regular ones bought from high street stores, it has a lined hood and the material feels really thick and comfortable (50% cotton and 50% polyester). I don’t think there is any chance of the zip coming off in the washing machine as has just happened with one of his other ones. We ordered a size 13-14 years and it feels true to size.

The hoodie can be machine washed but I was a little sad to see it can’t be tumble dried as I do not have an outside line but I suppose at least this means there won’t be any shrinkage like there is with some tumble dried items. This hoodie retails for £14.99, instead of the RRP of £34.99.

You can see from these pictures that JJ is loving his new hoodie. He commented to me the other day that he looked like a teenager in it and apparently this is a good thing!

I ordered a coat for Miss E but she decided it was better on her twin sister as Miss M is more into fashion and in her words ‘this is a big girls coat’. So Miss M turned out to be lucky and she got a coat and a pair of hi-top trainers.

First up is her Bench coat, it is black with a great pattern on the external stitching. The interior is shocking pink and it has nice Bench branding on the front. The sleeves are cuffed to keep her warm in winter and the material feels as it is would give good warmth even though this coat is not too thick or too heavy.

The coat retails for £29.99, which is a saving of £10 against the RRP, it is machine washable and has a special waterproof coating that will last for the first ten washes. As the coat is black I’m hoping it won’t need washing too much as actually ten washes is not that long and I’d want the coat to remain waterproof for the full duration of her needing to wear it, we are in rainy Britain after all!

The other product Miss M received is Supra skytop trainers and she is absolutely in love with these, she thinks she is some kind of cool teenage street dancer/ skateboarder in them which suits me just fine as they are a nice sturdy pair of trainers.

The pink colour of these trainers is lovely and they are finished well with white trims, you can see the Supra branding really easily. They can be laced fully to the top or just on the lower part and we now have to teach Miss M to tie her own laces as it is a bit of a bind having to help her constantly. The tongues are nice and soft so they are easy to get off and the ankle support is padded.

These trainers are a super bargain, they cost £19.99 on Get the Label and the RRP is £49.99 so that is a massive 61% saving.

Our parcel arrived nice and quickly and was well packaged. Standard delivery is £3.95 and will arrive in about 3-5 days. Next day delivery is available for £5.95, although I see standard delivery is free right now (when you spend £40) if you use the code FDGTL4 at the checkout. It is good to see that if you return any unworn item in 21 days you can get an exchange or full refund.

In all we loved our clothes from Get the Label and I will happily buy from here again.

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

Monday 1 September 2014

Back to school with BHS

We are literally round the corner from being back at school now and it has been an amazing summer but it is time for the kids to get back into routine I can see that. The summer holiday is gone is such a flash that it is important to really embrace and enjoy it and I think we have done that with some wonderful holidays, family days out and even just some downtime alone and with friends.

I’ve mentioned before that I am super organised with uniform and I generally like to have it all long before now. I had thought I was sorted but then BHS contacted me and asked if we would like to trial some of their uniform. I’ve not bought BHS school uniform for the kids before and I’m not really sure why as I like BHS as a shop and have some of their clothes myself.

Generous Fit
The thing that appealed to me about BHS uniform is that they have a generous fit as well as the standard fit. My 10 year old son is very tall for his age and a bit more rounded in the middle than the average child and we struggle to find trousers to suit him. The current trend of slim or skinny cut trousers does nothing for him and generally he likes an elasticated waist for comfort. That was fine when he was younger but hardly anywhere makes trousers for 13 year old boys (about the size he wears) with elasticated waists and I understand why as most are fashion conscious by that point and don’t want to be wearing them.
Senior boys school trousers

This is where BHS have come up trumps for us. Their generous cut trousers are bigger in width but not in length and this means an age 12 trousers fits JJ perfectly. The waits has a secret stretch panel at the side hidden into the pocket and this means they can move and stretch with him. We have already tried them out and JJ is calling them his smart trousers as he has worn them to help out at Daddy’s work for a day or two in the summer.

The trousers are a thick material and at first feel a bit stiff but after a wash they are fine and I think they will last a good amount of time due to the quality of the 65% polyester and 35% acrylic fabric. I also like the fact they can be machine washed and tumble dried without the need for any ironing, this makes my life much easier.

Other good features of the trousers are well secured hems so I don’t have to keep re-hemming trousers that fall apart (I’ve had that before!), large front and back pockets and a Teflon coating to help repel stains and keep the trousers looking smart. They are available in black and charcoal (which is a very dark grey).

Senior boys school shirts
We also requested some generous fit white shirts as JJ is going into year 6 he has decided he would like to look smarter and wear a tie sometimes and of course cotton polo shirts don’t really work with a tie. As I was ordering near the end of the summer I had trouble getting the size I wanted for JJ but looking on the website I see they are now back in stock. We received a pack of two long sleeved white shirts in generous fit, age 14 and they really do look enormous, far too big for JJ. So we will take these to our local store and swap them for some smaller ones.

In regards to the shirts themselves they look nice quality, that fabric used is 65% polyester and 35% cotton which is probably a higher polyester content than I would ideally like. I know this makes them better for washing and tumbling and less need for ironing but as JJ is heading into puberty years I suspect he would be better in a shirt with a higher cotton content to keep him cool and with minimal sweat. This two pack of non-iron stain release shirts is £12 and each has a reinforced collar, so the tie will look smart with them, a front breast pocket and long button cuff sleeves. There are also a variety of other senior boys shirts available and prices start from £9 for a two pack, they come in white or pale blue.

Boys winter coat
The last thing we received for JJ was a winter coat. We did in fact buy JJ’s last coat from BHS and it lasted the season really well and for a boy who batters his coat and really puts it through the mill I was super pleased. The coat we received this time is grey with a green lining and it looks really stylish.

JJ was laughing at me when I made him try it on as it was one of the only beautiful days we have had in the last two weeks, this week I can fully believe that he will be wearing this to school every day soon as the cooler weather is arriving. You can buy a basic winter coat from BHS from £18 for an older boy and I think this is a great price, it was just this basic one we bought last year.

This year’s coat that we have received starts at £28 for age 8 upwards and goes up to £32 for a 15/16 years. It features panel stitching, contrast lime panels and reflective trims. Two front pockets with snap flaps and two chest zip pockets will keep valuables safe. Contrast lime polar fleece lining is used throughout and JJ loves that it feels so snug. There is also has a snap closed chin guard and rib storm cuffs and velcro tabs on the sleeves keep arms warm and dry for when the cold winds and snow comes. Again the coat is machine washable which is a necessity with my messy boy.

Overall we are very pleased with the uniform we have received from BHS and I would happily shop there again for both the kids and I. If you need generous fit uniform this is the place to visit as it is still stylish but also practical for your child’s size.

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

Friday 22 August 2014

Miss E jumps for joy with her new Mountain Warehouse winter coat

So here we are in August and whilst the weather has definitely cooled in the last couple of weeks I'm still hoping for some sunshine and the chance to wear short-sleeves next week whilst we are on holiday. My little 7 year old Miss E is seeking something quite different though!

In my quest to get ready for going back to school and preparing for the cooler months I was given the opportunity by Mountain Warehouse to let Miss E choose a coat for herself, well as soon as I showed her the girls coats web page she knew exactly what she wanted. "Ohh mummy, I love it. Look at the hood, it is so cosy, I'll be just like Elsa" (that's a reference to the film Frozen in case you are unaware).

So when the package arrived she pulled it open and rushed to put her coat on. I told her I needed to get some pictures and at first she started to pull cute faces and snuggle into her beautiful fur trimmed hood. Here is her best cheesy grin -

Then when I told her we needed to head outside to get some better shots she got up on the bench and started to jump for joy! I think these above photos pretty much sum up how she feels about her new coat, it is a definite hit.

The Victoria kids quilted jacket normally retails for £69.99 but I see there is a special 50% off everything this weekend on the Mountain Warehouse website (how fabulous is that?) and delivery is free for purchases over £50.

The coat is available for ages 5 through to 13 and it feels true to size, as Miss received a 7-8 year size and it is just right for her, with a bit of room for growth. They grey outer fabric feels soft like felt (but much more sturdy of course) but it is actually 89% polyester, 10% viscose and 1% elastine and it is 100% polyester lined and padded. I was really pleased to see that the coat can be machine washed and then drip dried.

The lining inside is a beautiful fuchsia pink and it feels really thick and will keep Miss E warm I have no doubt. I had worried it would just be a toggle button front fastening but there is actually a full zip and bottom popper to keep it done up. There are two front slant pockets which are deep enough for Miss E to get her hands in. One thing I would like to have seen is ribbed cuffs inside the sleeves to ensure no cold air gets up there in the winter but as they are with gloves I am sure they would be fine.

The coat is a good length and covers Miss E's bottom and has a back pleat to allow for good room for movement.

As the coat has been folded in transit it was quite creased when it arrived but after being hung for a few days it has dropped out nicely and now looks pristine, ready for Miss E to wear it once the appropriate weather arrives.

We think this is a lovely coat and would be happy to recommend it and Mountain Warehouse. As I stated in my other recent review we have been customers for a whilst and are completely happy with their products and service. I recently had to return a coat for Jacob and it was very easy to use the returns label to send via the post office. There is also the option to take it in store or to use Collect +. So shopping online with Mountain Warehouse really should not create any fuss at all.

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

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.