Sunday, 30 August 2015

Zombie Blast

I love zombies. If any monster could Riverdance, it would be zombies.” Craig Ferguson

The beauty of being a lifestyle blogger is that you never know what you might be asked to review next. Never in a million years would I've guessed I'd be shooting zombies. Yet this is exactly what I did when a Zombie Blast toy from Character Online arrived. This is not a kind of toy I would give as a gift to unsuspecting relatives, but my tearaway of a son found it hilarious.

How does this toy work? The zombie comes with a pistol, which has a start button on the side. Point it to the Zombie and press the button. The zombie starts to roar and move aggressively. Shoot him 3 times, and an arm falls off. Another 3 shots, and another arm is off. Three final shots topple the zombie over.
The toy requires 6 AAA batteries.

I'm not the biggest fan of toy weapons, and try not to buy them, though we do have a plastic sword with a king's costume for Eddie, and one of those sticks that Ninja turtles favour, whatsitcalled, bo?!
When I asked my son if he'd like to play with this toy, he had one look at the screen and his reply was a very enthusiastic Yes.

I'm in two minds about these toys. On one hand, Eddie goes on play dates where he plays with his friends who have quite an ammunition, on the other, I'd rather he played with something productive and not destructive. At 5 years old, Eddie doesn't go for deep thinking on the subject, for him it's just a toy which gives the thrill of shooting the target. And the zombie doesn't seem to be much affected either, he keeps roaring and smiling.
What are your views on this matter?

Notwithstanding my misgivings, this toy will make a super gift for someone who loves zombie movies and books.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Photo diary: week 35, 365

The sky on Sunday evening was all about the dramatic pinks and greys. It looked like it was on fire.

On Monday the weather was prominently autumnal, quite a change from a stifling hot afternoon on Saturday. It rained quite a lot too, and to cheer my guys up, I  have baked a lemon drizzle cake, which my men deemed my best cake ever.

More rain on Tuesday, so we were entertaining ourselves by taking photos of Lego minifigures. Eddie's new passion is the latest series of minifigures. Banshee is one of my favourites. I thought at first it was a water spirit.

Wednesday was the day of deliveries. My Mum said that the posties and couriers must hate me. I said: Quite the opposite, I am securing their jobs. We had a Degustabox box for August, a big box of Coco Vita coconut water, a parcel of Grana Padana Goodies and something else, all for my blog.
Of course, the cookies were polished first. When I asked Eddie to pose for me with a Pick up biscuit, he made a horrid-Henry face.

On Thursday we made a little trip to Burford garden centre. While boys enjoyed some bakes and crisps, I had a cup of latte. Then we wandered around, admiring the late roses and lots of blooms and flowers. This echinacea caught my eye. My Mum keeps telling me I should grow them in our garden, as they are pretty and have medicinal properties too.

My Mum whom Eddie calls Baba (Grandma in Russian) has been watching a few of Eddie's favourite films with him. Not sure which film they were watching at that moment, when I took this picture, it could have been Sword in the Stone or Brave.

In the last month, every Saturday there is a show in Marriott's walk. Last week we visited a magic show, this time we met Reggie the Raptor and the Jurassic professor. Some poor babes were scared out of their wits and kept crying. Eddie told me he wasn't scared as "the dinosaur is not real, and there is a human inside". But he added the dinosaur in the egg was real, because a human wouldn't fit in there. That statement made me chuckle.

Wild Pets Spider

What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails
And puppy-dogs' tails
That's what little boys are made of

Spiders should be added to this list along with the other creepy-crawlies. Personally I cannot stand the spiders. I'm fine seeing them in nature and admire the spider webs, as long as they are not in the house. But take my younger son. He is fascinated by them, and if I let him, he'd bring a spider as a pet inside. For little people who love critters there is a new range of toys called Wild Pets Spider from Character Online.

This wild pet is safe enough to keep in the house. Pick up your pet spider, and control its behaviour with a touch of a hand. Leave it alone (with a switch on) and watch how it moves around the floor, turning round when it meets the obstacle, stopping for a moment to think.
The sensor on its back can change the colour. When it's green, the spider just roams around, exploring the area. Keep pressing the sensor until it changes the colour to red, then the spider is ready to attack you and chase any moving target. Quite creepy, if you ask me, but apparently cool, according to my young son. But then I am not surprised, as he loves the old show Goosebumps on Netflix and enjoys all things scary and macabre.
There are four different Wild Pets to collect - Creepster, Eyegore, Chiller and Wolfgang. The one which we received is called Wolfgang.
Eddie cannot wait to take Wolfgang with him to school, but I tell him that perhaps this is not the best idea.
Would you take a spider toy to school? I'm sure the teachers will be "delighted".

And to prove the point that little people love spider toys, have you seen what Mary from Over40andMumtoOne blog wrote about her Monkey and their Wild Pet Spider?

Disclosure: we received the toy for the purposes of testing and reviewing. All opinions are Eddie's and mine.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The snowman and the snowdog personalised book from Penwizard

There might be still four more months till Christmas, but bloggers have been on the lookout for Christmas gifts wish list ideas as well as attending lots of Christmas-in-July etc events. While I am not that well organised to plan my posts for December, I keep an eye on the latest gifts to add to the wish list. Take my younger son, he likes nothing better than adding the items to his list for Santa which is forever changing. Back in June he wrote a letter to Santa with a modest request of "lots of Lego". He also loves books and films, and we have watched The Snowman and the snowdog so many times, I have lost count. We are both big fans of this warm-hearted story, and I knew Eddie would love a personalised version of The Snowman and the snowdog from Penwizard.
It's not the first time we received a personalised book from Penwizard (three years ago I reviewed the book Peppa Pig Goes to Eddie's Birthday Party, and if you care to have a look at my little man, you'll see how ecstatic he was with his gift, and also how much he has grown up since then. My baby is not a baby anymore).

Creating a personalised book online is an easy and quick process. Visit the Penwizard site and choose a book from a wide range. You could order a hardback at £24.99 or a softback at £17.99.
Choose a gender for your book hero, add their name, and create a character by selecting a skin colour, hairstyle and pyjama style.
You may add a personalised message to the book if you wish (I opted out).

The story is of course well known, and is based on much-loved characters created by Raymond Briggs. It never ceases to move me. When it is retold with a child's name and personalised character, it makes it even more special for children.

When the book arrived, Eddie couldn't wait to open the packet. His eyes were sparkling like stars when he read his name on the cover. He couldn't believe it. Seeing his name printed on the cover was like a mini-miracle for him. I wish I had the camera ready at that moment.

We sat on the sofa in the entrance hall and had to read the story there and then, with Edgar's name appearing through the narrative.
The illustrations are beautiful and warm.

This brilliant Christmas story is poignant and touching, and I find myself sniffing at the end, when the snowman melts, a big softie that I am.
We love the story, and we love the personalised book.
It will make a wonderful gift for any Snowman and Snowdog fan.

Disclosure: we received a free book for the purposes of reviewing. All opinions are Eddie's and mine.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

'Hippy dinners' and a lemon drizzle cake

Abbie Ross, the author of Hippy Dinners, is a couple of years younger than me, but our memories of the 1970s couldn't be more different. I grew up in the Soviet Union, under the Communist regime.
Abbie's parents moved to rural North Wales from London, swapping a town house in Islington for a farmhouse on a hill. Our childhood realities and backgrounds were completely different.
What we share perhaps is the sense of powerlessness of being a child and a wish to conform, to be like the others.
It was in my pre-teens and teen years that I strived to be different. But when I was in primary school, I liked to be like everyone else. We were also quite brainwashed with this notion, in the nursery and school. Individuality was not encouraged.
I was a big city girl, and detested my parents taking us away for a month to stay at our grandparents' houses in the middle of nowhere, in the Russian steppes. There were fun times of course, like trips to the river, but mostly I resented being away from the "civilization". The geese who started honking at the ungodly early hours annoyed me, I didn't like the smells etc. I'm afraid I was not a countryside girl. To escape it all, I'd spend hours in the hammock in the garden with a book.
So, while Abbie's memoirs have not much in common with my life in the 1970s, I could relate to her in many ways. When we are children, we are completely dependent on the decisions our parents take. We have to follow their choices, whether we agree with them or not.
Abbie's parents chose to live in a rural environment, escaping all the chaos of the city life. Abbie's disapproval of her mother's taste in food and clothes is palpable years later. And then there is a constant dread that her near-hippy parents would abandon their house altogether and move in with the hippy commune. It didn't help that the hippy commune dwellers were all bonkers, and quite irresponsible.
The narrative is a set of stories or novellas, which are inter-laced and share the characters, but tell a new story in each chapter.
There are wonderfully conventional Liverpudlian grandparents who disapprove of the life their children and grandchildren live.
There are delightfully bizarre friends of Abbie, some touchingly vulnerable, some alarmingly bossy bordering on horribly unpleasant.
The book is very warm and a great pleasure to read.

There were quite a few contenders for #ReadCookEat recipe recreation in this book. I didn't quite fancy "hippy dinners", and decided to cook a lemon drizzle cake. It is Abbie's Nana who baked this cake in the book.
I don't know the exact recipe which Nana used for her lemon drizzle cake, and I guess it might have been baked in a loaf tin rather then round-shaped, but I hope little Abbie would have approved of my version too.

Lemon drizzle cake
2 lemons, zest and juice
120g butter, softened
200g caster sugar
3 medium eggs
150g self-raising flour
50g cornflour
4tbsp milk
for icing:
6 heaped tbsp icing sugar
lemon juice (about 2/3 of a lemon)
Dr Oetker lemon meringue sprinkles.

In a medium bowl beat together the zest of 2 lemons with the softened butter and caster sugar. Add the eggs, and mix together. Then add the flour and cornflour, a bit of milk and juice of 1 lemon. Mix well.
Pour the cake batter in the round spring form tin. Put the tin in the oven preheated to 180C.
Bake for 40+ minutes, until the top is set and is golden brown in colour. Check readiness with a wooden toothpick. Take the tin out, and carefully remove the cake while still warm.
Make the icing and pour over the still warm cake. Decorate with Dr Oetker lemon meringue sprinkles.

This is such a simple yet moreish cake. My husband ate three pieces in one evening.
Eddie and he said that this was my best cake ever. As much as I appreciate the compliment, I was a tad peeved, as I think in my life time I have baked prettier and tastier cakes. Though I agree, it was lovely, very moist and zingy.

Disclosure: I received a free book as part of BritMums Book Club.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Ravensburger Twitter Party

If you were on Twitter last Tuesday between 2 and 4pm, you might have seen lots of tweets with the hashtag #RavensburgerPuzzles. Several bloggers were holding Twitter parties for their children and friends, and tweeting at the same time, describing all the activities taking place and the puzzles they were solving.
Our house was a pretty noisy place on that day. It was very hectic but also full of fun and laughter.

A week or so before the party we received a huge haul of Ravensburger puzzles, it was like Christmas in August. The party box included a set of party invitations, goodie bags for all guests, a wrapped up Pass the parcel packet, colouring sheets and felt tips, A6 Printed puzzle card, rulers, scissors for the puzzle making activity, and 14 (yes, 14!) boxes of Ravensburger puzzles to suit several age groups and abilities.
Eddie couldn't wait for the day of the party.

The activities were timed, and as agreed, we didn't do all the puzzles in two hours. To start with we had four different puzzles to choose from - Farmyard Friends, Thomas & Friends, In the Night Garden and Alphablocks. As all our guests (except one) were the same age as Eddie (i.e. 5 year olds) they have chosen puzzles which were more suitable to their age.
We have a couple of Thomas the tank engine-themed puzzles, they have been much loved and played with. The boxes are pretty battered, but all the pieces are still in good shape.
Thomas Night Work, Glow in the Dark is a 60-piece jigsaw puzzle. 

The design shows Thomas working alongside Skarloye and Sir Handel. Once finished, the puzzle measures 36x26cm. Like all Ravensburger puzzles, the pieces are made of durable recycled card.

Another puzzle which is a great fun to assemble was Alphablocks Giant Floor Puzzle. It is a bright, colourful puzzle which depicts all the well known characters from the much loved children's TV show. Earlier this year, Eddie has been working with the Alphablocks magazines set and enjoyed it very much. The show introduces the pre-schoolers and Reception year children to the alphabet and teaches them how to read and spell. The puzzle features all the funky letters, doing different activities. 
As Eddie and his friends were assembling the puzzle, they were reading the words aloud.
This is a super puzzle for younger kids, and we will give ours to Eddie's old nursery for the other children to enjoy it.
It is a big size puzzle, perfect for the floor.

Alphablocks puzzle completed

Alphablocks puzzle close-up
Both of these puzzles were a big hit. 
The next slot in the busy schedule was dedicated to two biggest phenomena in the recent animation - Minions and Frozen. Both have fans worldwide, and both movies broke records. The spin-off merchandise is flying off the shelves.
We have split into two teams - Minions vs Frozen. Team Frozen had to complete one of the three puzzles from the set Frozen Fever.
Frozen Fever comes with three puzzles showing Elsa and Anna, adorable Olaf and the girls again.
It was a hoot. I was asking the teams questions relating to the films, but each time I asked a question, everyone was trying to outdo each other. So, it was a very boisterous activity.

Team Frozen was faster, but their puzzle was easier to complete. Minion 3d puzzle is more tricky. We have several Minions 3d puzzles in our collection, they are all on display among the children's books. Our guests haven't had a chance to try a 3d puzzle before, but were quick to grasp the idea, looking for the numbers on the back of each plastic piece. 54 pieces are made of durable curved plastic and once assembled, make a great gift for any Minions' fan. The puzzle is about 12cm in height, and will look lovely on the window or shelf in children's bedroom.

After an hour of frenetic puzzle building and tough competition (and oh my, some of our Mummies were as competitive as the kids, if not more. We don't name names, but you know who you are - insert a lol here), we were all ready for a tea time.
That is, Mummies had tea and coffee, while kids enjoyed a variety of junk food snacks. To be frank, I offered a wide choice of healthy and not so healthy snacks including veggie crudites with dips, crisps, ice lollies and sweets. Knowing that there would be a Frozen puzzle to assemble, Eddie insisted on buying a tin of Frozen-themed cookies for the party which we spotted in 99p shop.

The next activity - colouring -was a quieter one. The party pack included a lot of colouring sheets with the images from Inside Out and Shopkins. I probably live on a different planet, as I haven't heard of Shopkins before, and our guests have "educated" me on the matter. We added our own crayons and even paints to the arty stash so that everyone could join in at the same time.

I think all our kids did a great job, but one of them was particularly creative.

The bigger Shopkins colouring sheet had lines for cutting it into a jigsaw puzzle. But we also made our own puzzles. Using the rulers, we drew lines on the back of each coloured card before cutting it into pieces. Every guest put their own puzzle in the small plastic bag to take home together with their goodie bags and puzzles.

This activity has taught us how to make our own puzzles, and I think we'll be doing something similar again. A perfect activity for a rainy day.

Believe it or not this Shopkins puzzle sheet was coloured in by a 5-year-old girl (with a teeny weeny help from her Mummy).

Pass the parcel is everyone's favourite. Little gift in each layer included sweets and Shopkins mini-bags, with the final winner receiving a Disney Pixar Inside Out puzzle.

Our last puzzle of the day was Inside Out puzzle. It is aimed at children aged 6+ and consists of 100 pieces. It was deemed a little bit tricky, and needed some adult help.

And of course, everyone was eagerly awaiting for a goodie bag, which didn't disappoint. Each bag had more colouring, sweets, Shopkins and Ugglys (apparently another must-have toy, which I haven't been aware of).

I have been tweeting along with the party, offering a prize for my Twitter followers. It was a great success on all levels. We had fun at home, our guests left very happy with the activities and the gifts.

Many thanks to Ravensburger and UKMumsTV for sending us the gifts and the instructions for the fun Twitter party. Our guests had a puzzle each to take home, and I have already promised Eddie's old nursery to bring in all the puzzles which we have solved at the party for the children at nursery to enjoy. The only puzzle which Eddie asked to keep is a Minions 3d puzzle. It will go on the shelf with the other 3d Minions puzzles.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Blackberry and apple pie

It's the season to be blackberry-picking, yay! My favourite kind of foraging. We are so lucky to have fileds nearby which flood, and thankfully they are left as they are, without greedy builders ruining the quiet peaceful location. There are lots of brambles and wild roses, and even more of nettles. I have seen families with big baskets picking juicy blackberries. It is great fun. last week Eddie and I picked a small container of berries, just enough to eat and bake a blackberry and apple pie.

Blackberry and apple pie
1 block of sweet pastry
80g butter
2 apples, peeled and sliced
300g blackberries
100g caster sugar
1/2tsp cinnamon
1/2tsp cloves
3tbsp cornflour

If you are a GBBO worshiper and find the idea of using ready-made pastry an abomination, look elsewhere. If you read my blog regularly, you know that I often use it, and don't feel ashamed to say it out loud.
So, take the block of ready-made sweet pastry and unroll it. Spread it over the pie dish and cut off the extra bits, and add some patches on the sides to make borders all round. Prick the pastry with a fork.
Prebake at 180c for 15 minutes.
In the meantime, peel and slice the apples and cook in a big pan with butter and spices. Add the berries and cook stirring for about 10 minutes. At which point the pie mix will be overflowing with juices. Add the cornflour and keep stirring for about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Spoon the pie mix in the pre-cooked pastry shell. If you have some pastry left over, cut out strips and decorate the pie.
Cook for about 15-20 minutes at 180C.
Serve hot with the ice cream or cream. Enjoy!
I was very surprised to see my older son eating it in the kitchen, as in the past he didn't show any interest in fruity-berry pies.
It was very tasty.

I love blackberries, and am very happy to join in The Great British Blackberry Round-Up hosted by Janice from Farmersgirl Kitchen and Karen from Lavender and Lovage, two of my favourite foodie bloggers.