Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Category: Reviews (page 3 of 8)

A Halloween treat

It turns out that Halloween can actually be quite fun, who knew? If you can get past the obsession with sugar and some of the quite ridiculous (nothing to do with Halloween) costumes there are some really fun activities to do with your children. The bonus of being on paternity leave at this time of year is that I’ve been able to get properly involved with the build up and it’s been great.

This had the added bonus of providing some much needed distraction to a half term week where we suddenly had 3 children at home and no preschool to occupy Matilda and Henry for a few hours. It’s been nice having so much time with them but also hard when you’re adjusting to having a new born again and we all know very well that bored preschoolers can test the patience of anyone.

With perfect timing HP also delivered on the first day of my paternity leave 2 items of shiny new technology to help us in our Halloween activities; a red Pavillion x360 laptop and an Envy 5640 wireless printer. The 360 in the name of the laptop refers to the fact that you can flip the screen over 360 degrees so that it can be used either as a standard laptop or as a tablet (and anything in between). My work laptop is a similar design and it’s so useful; having touch screen just feels normal and is great for scrolling pages then you can flip the screen over when you’re watching videos or using it for recipes in tent mode.

IMG_3659

After a week of using them they are my new best friends when it comes to crafting with the children, I have all the motivation and good intentions with crafting but really not a lot of skill. I know lots of people say they have no skill but my drawing skills are so bad it’s hard to tell which bits Matilda did and which I did. Which is where the world of printables comes in handy and I know I’m late to this party but they really are awesome aren’t they? We wanted to start the week making some bats that Matilda and Henry could decorate, we could have drawn one but it might have been hard to distinguish from a boomerang, instead we fired up the laptop and grabbed a free printout which duly appeared as if by magic on the printer. We quickly transferred it to card and used it as our stencil on some black paper and then let the kids loose with glue, paint and glitter. The result is somewhat Christmassy bats but I like them.

Glittery bats

Next up of course was carving the pumpkins, HP kindly included a pumpkin carving kit which I was a little sceptical of but quite honestly it’s fab. Having the small saws and a roller for doing the outline before cutting is much easier than using a kitchen knife and probably a lot safer too. I did a free hand silly face which is actually not bad for me but the lady of the manor was in her element and put me to shame. She printed off a stencil of an owl (Snapfish is a great resource for free printables for most occasions) which she stuck to the pumpkin and then marked out. The children loved this one and watching the candle flickering inside.

Carved pumpkins

We didn’t really want to take the children trick or treating as they’re a bit young and also aren’t too keen on the other kids dressed up (one dressed as a werewolf that knocked on our door really freaked them out) so instead I did a little trail around the garden. We waited until it was dark after dinner and then I put the lit pumpkins in the trees at the end of our garden with a little tub of sweets next to each one. We then gave Matilda and Henry a head torch each and let them search out the sweets, they thought being out in the dark was hilarious and loved running around finding sweets to put in their bags. One of the most fun 20 minutes I think I’ve had as a parent and we finished up trying to take some slow shutter speed photos of the lights in the dark. Hard getting the kids to wave their lights for 10 seconds in one place though!

garden pumpkin trail

We also made good use of having a wireless printer to print off sheets of pictures for colouring, we’ve been trying to get Matilda and Henry to do some drawing after meals as a quiet activity. They have a little table to do it on in the kitchen so I just print off some new sheets each day and leave them on the table for them. Very quick and convenient and means we can choose whatever pictures to colour fit with their interests etc.

Drawing after breakfast

A quick final comment on the HP kit; the laptop is a great bit of kit, quite light but so far seems robust enough for the children to handle. The rotating screen makes it really versatile (we used it in presentation mode to watch videos of fireworks with the kids so they knew what to expect at bonfire night) and I love having touch screen. The only negative for me is it can be a bit sluggish at times, it’s the bottom spec model so if I was buying it I would go for one with a better processor (an Intel Core i3 ideally). The printer so far has been perfect, having it wireless means you can set it up somewhere out of the way as you don’t need to get a cable attached and printing from your phone is so easy. I haven’t tested it for printing photos yet but everything else has been good quality wise, will have to see what the running costs are like for ink.

Mini Hornit – the ultimate children’s light and bike horn

Ok parents listen up, if you’re looking for a birthday (or dare I say it Christmas) present for a bike loving child then this is the post for you. In fact it doesn’t even need to be a bike as the Mini Hornit will attach to any bike, scooter or balance bike in just a few seconds. You may remember that I reviewed its big brother the Hornit dB140 almost exactly a year ago and was impressed with how well it was made, its simple construction and how loud it was. So when Hornit offered me the chance to review their new product aimed at children I said yes and then immediately asked if they could send 2, after all no one wants to be the dad who gets just one child a present do they?

Mini Hornet in box

Henry and Matilda absolutely love their Mini Hornit’s, in fact they love them so much that they ran down the batteries in 3 days whizzing around the garden on their balance bikes. Now don’t interpret that to mean that the Mini Hornit has poor battery life, I’d actually say that’s very good battery life given how much they used them and I found them with the lights left on on a number of occasions. Top tip though, when you replace the batteries you have to push the large button on the back to turn the Mini Hornit back on, definitely don’t email the company to tell them it’s broken, only an idiot would do that.

The design of the Mini Hornit is great, so easy to use and no fiddly bits which is perfect when you know a child is inevitably going to want to take it off and put it back on at least 100 times a day. On the bottom of the Mini Hornit are 2 rubber wings that simply wrap around the handle bars and then push the fixing points through the holes in the wings. It also comes with a remote trigger that attaches in the same way and can be put next to the child’s hand at the end of the handlebars. This makes using it much safer when on the move.

I’ll let Henry give you the full demo:

My grown up Hornit had just 2 sounds whereas the mini version has 25 different sounds, my favourite by far is the trumpet whereas Henry seems very contented with a simple bell noise. They have great fun working their way through them though and pretending to be either a police car or fire engine with the siren sounds. The Mini Hornit also has a light on the front which can be either green or white and either constant or flashing. My 2 may not need that from a safety perspective as they don’t cycle at night or on roads, but for older children who do this would be perfect and is very bright.

The Mini Hornit comes in 4 different colour combinations and costs £19.99, really good value for such a well made and designed product in my opinion. What’s more if you enter 646420 at the checkout on the Hornit shop you’ll get 20% off your purchase, don’t say I don’t look after you!

Mini Hornet on balance bike

Review – Braun CoolTec

It would seem that I am fast becoming the authoritative voice on male grooming in the parent blogging community. First there was the Braun series 3 shaver, then there was the premium toiletries from RockFace and now the latest in electric shavers from Braun. Let’s be honest it’s no surprise that these brands are looking to me to test these things out, I have that rugged but classy look going on that all the top models do these days. Now I’m just waiting for a spa to offer me the chance to try out some treatments for men, I know my poor battered running feet would appreciate that.

Braun CoolTecI’ve never really been an electric shaver kind of guy, but using the Braun Series 3 shaver got my interest, it didn’t quite cut as well as a wet shave but it did mean I could shave in the shower. I’ll be honest more and more I’ve been using the Braun rather than my trusty razor; I run most mornings and being able to stand in the shower a bit longer with the excuse of shaving is most welcome. So I was intrigued when Braun offered to send me their latest shaver, the CoolTec (in sexy white), which of course they claim is ‘new and improved’.

Specifically ‘new and improved’ refers to the CoolTec technology which as the name suggests is designed to cool your face as you shave. One of the downsides of not having a wet shave is you have no shave gel to lubricate your skin as you shave and so your skin can get irritated. I have found this with the Series 3, especially when not shaving in the shower, so was interested to see if it really made a difference.

Braun CoolTec bladesI’ve used this shaver for a week now and I have to say I’m impressed, the CoolTec takes the form of a bar between the 2 cutting elements and it really does make your skin feel cold. It does a really good job of cooling your skin and reducing any irritation as you shave. You can turn it off if you want using a button on the side, I’ve tried this a few times when shaving to compare the difference and every time I turn it back on again, it just feels better with it on.

The acid test of course is whether I would give up my shave gel and disposable razor to use the Braun CoolTec permanently? Almost, I think 90% of the time I’ll use the Braun but sometimes only a wet shave will do, I don’t think an electric shave cuts quite as close and smooth. It’s pretty close but not quite, which is fine most days, it’s also better than a razor when I’ve not shaved for 3-4 days (over a weekend for example) and cuts that long stubble really well.

Also one final tip I discovered, I now use the RockFace face scrub most mornings and have found using this before using the shaver gives a better cut. I think it’s because the scrub leaves a bit of the minerals in it on your face and helps create a bit of friction for the shaver. Certainly seems to cut better than if my face is just wet.

Rockface toiletries review

There really couldn’t be a better person than me to review toiletries from a company called Rockface could there? You know because I’m all rugged and manly. No? Well at the very least my feet are like a rock face from all the running I do. However I’m a tough audience to convince when it comes to toiletries, my wash bag contains deodorant, E45 moisturiser and an electric razor. That’s it. I even wrote a blog post about it a couple of years ago for Listography and nothing has changed in my washing routine since. So when the parcel turned up with 5 different bottles in it I was a little confused, why exactly do I need 2 different types of moisturiser and is shower gel not a kind of face scrub anyway? But you must have an open mind when it comes to change right? So I persevered and for the last couple of weeks I have been diligently using my collection of potions.

RockFace toiletries

Alas they haven’t magically made me look 10 years younger or for that matter tough and rugged but I have actually quite enjoyed taking a little bit more care of my skin. I received shave gel, face & body scrub, post shave balm, all weather moisturiser and active body spray. All have a similar fragrance which is pleasant, event the lady of the manor commented on it so must be ok, but not too strong or overpowering.

I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t really used the active body spray as I find I’m quite sensitive to deodorant so have stuck to my usual one. But all the others have been well used. I really liked the shave gel, it certainly resulted in a nice shave you only need a small amount so lasts a long time. I also have used the face scrub a lot, given all the running I do I’m always conscious of keeping my skin clean from the sweat and using this means I feel clean and fresh.

Those 2 I would consider buying myself but the moisturisers I’m not so sure. They work fine but for me I don’t think I’d bother with 2 moisturisers and I prefer the slightly thicker E45 I use now both for general use and post shave. Might just be my skin type but that’s one thing I think I’d keep simple for now. I’m interested in trying out their shave butter at some point though, it sounds like a really interesting product and I think could be better than a traditional gel to use.

If you’re interested in finding out more or buying some of the Rockface products you can find all the details on their website here.

Weber grill academy review

I’d meant to write this post about a month ago but got a little distracted by running and building my pizza oven (more of that to come later this week) so I thought it was about time I shared my experience of the Weber grill academy. As you know I attended the grill academy with Cancer Research UK to help launch they’re Burger off Cancer campaign. But what I wanted to share here was a few thoughts on the grill academy itself (it was awesome) and more importantly all the barbecuing tips that I picked up.

Weber BBQ lined upIf I’m honest the grill academy would have had to have been pretty bad for me not to enjoy it, after all it’s an afternoon involving food (already a great afternoon) AND cooking on fire. What more can you want? The 2 chefs helping us were great, both clearly passionate about the way of cooking and thankfully wanted us to spend as much time hands on which is after all the way that you learn isn’t it?

We spent a couple of hours preparing and cooking a 3 course meal using various techniques on both gas and charcoal barbecues. I’d tried to keep track of all the tips while also paying attention to the cooking, not an easy task but despite this I did manage to capture some great words of advice. So here’s my top 9 tips (who needs round numbers?) for awesome barbecue cooking:

Basting chickenThe quality of the charcoal is important; cheap charcoal is cheap because it’s been bulked out with sand amongst other things. This means it doesn’t burn for as long and therefore you use more. It also means that the period where it’s at the right temperature to cook on is smaller. I’m sure there is some balance here between cost and cooking time but maybe think twice about that bag of charcoal from Poundland?

Choose the right type of charcoal for the cooking you’re doing; now that I know this it’s pretty obvious but I’ve never specifically chosen briquettes over lump wood charcoal because of the type of cooking I was going to do. But lump wood burns hotter but for a much shorter period, so great for cooking steaks or for hot smoking some salmon but not so great for a big family BBQ. Briquettes on the other hand doing get quite as hot but do burn for much longer. Perfect for cooking chicken or when you’re hosting a big BBQ and need to cook lots of food.

Roasting potatoes on BBQUse a chimney starter to get the charcoal going; these chimney starters aren’t just a fancy gadget they do actually help with lighting the BBQ. To light place a couple of lit firelighters on the bottom of your BBQ and sit the chimney on top. This gets the charcoal lit evenly and can then be tipped out into your BBQ once the coals start to glow.

Direct vs. Indirect cooking; again fairly obvious but something to think about depending on what you are cooking. Direct cooking means simply directly above the coals while indirect is next to the coals. Direct is really grilling and is a faster, hotter way to cook. While indirect can be used for slower cooking and for larger pieces of meat. Weber barbecues have baskets in the bottom that allow you to keep the coals to one side so you can cook right next to them or on the grill but not directly over heat. We cooked some small roast potatoes this way which were amazing, all smokey and crunchy.

Hot smoking salmon on BBQUse metal trays to make cooking fish etc easier; you can buy metal trays with holes in the bottom that make cooking fish on the BBQ much easier. Simply play on the grill while cooking and then take off using an oven glove. Avoids sticking the fish to the grill while not losing any of the flavour etc of cooking on a BBQ.

Hot smoking is delicious!; we hot smoked some salmon on the day and it was amazing. The coals are kept to the side using the baskets mentioned above, we then placed a bowl of water between them and some soaked wood chips on the coals themselves. Then the fish (on a metal tray) goes on the grill and you put the lid on. It gives such a soft, smokey flavour cooked this way and something very different to simply grilling. You can also buy a box that sits on the burners of a gas BBQ to achieve something similar when cooking on gas rather than charcoal.

Smoke box on gas BBQUse a thermometer; this is one I’m definitely going to start doing, use an instant read thermometer to check if food is cooked or not. Particularly useful for joints or fish and saves you taking things off that aren’t cooked.

Put the lid on when cooking; we’ve all got a family member who when barbecuing looks like they may need to call the fire brigade to put the flames out. It doesn’t lead to food that is cooked well and means ever burnt to a crisp or under done. But if you close the lid when cooking it slows the feed of oxygen so stops the flames building and cooks your food all the way through due to the increased temperature all the way around it

Cook asparagus in a fish basket; if you like grilled asparagus (and who doesn’t?) put it in a fish basket to save you having to turn every single stalk individually.

Hot smoked salmon and asparagus

There you have it, my top tips for awesome barbecuing. If you have any of your own to share feel free to leave a comment. Now I’m off to bankrupt myself buying Weber BBQ products.

The one with the 41mp camera phone

Penguins!I don’t think blogging events come much better; free entrance to London zoo, lady of the manor and little monsters invited too, food and drink, a chance to meet reindeer and the icing on the cake a free phone. Unsurprisingly this was an event I said yes to very quickly both for the chance for a great family day out but also to have a play with a phone I’ve been curious about for a while.

Some of you know that I work in the tech industry, so Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are things I hear a lot about but have never had a proper chance to actually play with. If you follow the tech industry at all you’ll know that this latest version of Windows hasn’t had the greatest reviews but I’ve always wondered if that’s simply because the testers aren’t used to a system that relies on touch so much.

Once the lady of the manor was settled at the event with the children and a whole pile of toys we were given an overview of Windows 8 and handed a very bright and yellow Nokia Lumia 1020. Not my personal choice in colour but actually quite nice using a handset that wasn’t simply another ‘me too’ device. It looks and feels very different from an iPhone that’s for sure.

Having had a Windows phone now for a couple of weeks I’m going to sit on the fence a little and say I’m still undecided. It’s such a different design to Android and iOS (which let’s be honest are essentially the same) that I need to give it more time in use before deciding if I like it or not. Is different good or bad in this case is really the question. But no matter what the final decision it does have some really nice features.

Bright enough for you?

Bright enough for you?

Kids Corner

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has children that see their parents using their smartphones and want in on the action. I’m also sure I’m not the only one who has had a child send an email or text from said phone while playing with it. Technology is a good thing and has some great benefits to our children’s learning but sharing a phone or tablet with them isn’t always easy.

This is where kids corner comes in, you can set up a separate profile on your Windows 8 tablet or phone where you can choose what apps your child has access to. This means no more sending emails to your boss containing gibberish of course managing to rack up some costs through using apps etc.

On my shiny new Nokia this means swiping to the right once set up and another log in screen appears. Your child can then swipe up to log in as you normally would but they see only the features and apps you want them to see. Now I’m not how much I truly want to share my phone, I already resist doing this today but that’s mainly because a phone to me is personal. It’s ‘my’ device so I don’t want someone else using it, but maybe that’s an adjustment needed as phones get bigger and more powerful.

Windows phone home screen

But for a tablet this feature would be perfect, I’m sure you could achieve something similar on other tablets but the fact this is already built into the software makes it very easy. Plus I would expect it to be more robust set up this way than simply a normal profile and you adjust the settings.

Customised start menu

The tiled start menu takes a bit of getting used to, but in terms of being customisable it’s streets ahead of anything else. You can choose exactly what to see on that menu, what size it should be and where it’s located. I’ve gradually tweaked mine until I have all the apps exactly where I want them based on my usage.

The resizing in particular I like and how it isn’t just horizontal rows of apps, once you’ve used it for a while it feels like it’s more intuitive and efficient than what I have on my iPhone.

Henry at London zooThat camera

I can’t finish without saying something about the camera, it’s quite simply awesome. I’m still learning about all the controls and settings I can adjust but in its simplest form as a point and shoot (which let’s face it is the main use of a phone camera) it takes some incredible shots. You’ll see a few here taken on the day at the zoo, the focus is fast and the colours on this autumnal day were captured really well.

If you want you can play with the ISO, shutter speed, aperture etc much as you would with a DSLR. I haven’t spent enough time on that but it certainly gives you the opportunity to get rid of anything but a DSLR. Sure we’re probably heading that way already with smartphones but this should at least mean you don’t have to compromise on picture quality.

That’s all for now, I’ve also been testing out some of the children’s apps so look out for a review of those soon. That’s if I actually let Matilda touch my shiny yellow phone!

Me and my boy

I really love to cuddle him and feel the prickles on his chin

This is a review post

We have a book called ‘I love my daddy’ which I of course take great pleasure in reading and asking Matilda if she loves her daddy like the girl in the book. Matilda loves the fact that the girl has a bunny just like her AND the daddy in the book is just like me. You know, handsome, talented, funny and makes awesome pancakes (the last one is at least true). One of the last pages in the book says ‘I really love to cuddle him and feel the prickles on his chin’ and when reading this Matilda of course feels my chin.

Braun series 3 razorNow being a blonde person I don’t really get a huge amount of stubble and can only grow a poor excuse for a beard, but I still love her rubbing my chin to see if I’m prickly. Which brings me onto the challenge that Braun have given me. They claim that their new series 3 shaver can tackle 3 day stubble and leave a smooth finish. I was a little intrigued by this as I’ve always been a wet shave man believing the might of the triple blade razor to be better than a machine any day. But of course willing to take them up on their offer.

So for the last 3 days I have been doing everything I can to make my stubble grow as long and tough as possible. I’ve visualised desperate dan in the hope my body will emulate his sandpaper face, I’ve eaten salmon and walnuts which apparently make hair grow thicker and I’ve rubbed a special oil on my chin every evening to give the hair some extra strength.

I then used the shiny new shaver (my first ever electric one) and asked the Simon Cowell of stubble judges, Matilda, to give her expert opinion on the finish. The first 3 times I asked her she told me to “get off daddy” but then I finally persuaded her to actually feel my chin and she said it was “good for tickling” which I’m going to take as a good thing. It certainly felt better to me than I expected and with a little practise would probably be even better.

Braun series 3

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t think I’ll ever convert completely from my wet shave, I enjoy the whole process too much and I don’t think an electric shaver will ever beat a wet shave done well. But I have started using this Braun shaver more regularly than I expected, it came in particularly handy when I ran to work the other day having left my car at work the prior day after my Christmas party. Having this shaver meant I didn’t need to try to find a suitable mirror and sink at work to use to shave. Instead I simply used the shaver while having my shower and I’ll never complain about being able to spend longer in the shower!

In fact I’ve actually found the shaver works better in the shower than after it and I’ve been able to get a better finish that way. I even managed to avoid leaving nice patches of stubble like I did the first time I used it. I don’t have other electric shavers to compare this to but I am impressed with how well it worked and price wise is fairly reasonable too. Given the time of the year perhaps a good present idea for the hard working dad in your life?

I’d like to give a special mention here to the PR people who sent me the shaver, they could have just sent a boring box with the shaver in it. But instead they sent it in a beautiful box with a snow globe and some chocolate coins for the children. They absolutely love the snow globe and such a nice touch, top marks.

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