Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The best 59p I ever spent

My mobile phone is of the variety that my kids would be ashamed to be seen with. It is big and clunky (ideal for me for ease of finding in the jumble of mess that inhabits my handbag) and does little else other than phone calls and texts. As the reason for owning a phone, in my opinion, should be for the functionality of phone calls and texts, I have always been entirely satisfied with my non-singing non-dancing equipment. Until this evening.

My eldest daughter insists that she needs a phone with internet capability for her professional and personal life. This may be true and as she is a working girl who pays her own monthly phone contract, it is no business of mine. She occasionally shows me the latest App that she had downloaded which tend to be vaguely amusing and trivial. None have ever convinced me that I am missing out on anything. Until this evening.

This evening my daughter, Liberty,  popped round for a visit as she often does. She was showing off her latest App - a jangly skeleton for Hallowe'en - shake the phone and the eyeballs roll out of the skull. It was cute but not exactly what I would classify as 'interest sustaining'. Then she told me about another App that her friend had shown her. This one did intrigue me.

The App was called Fat Booth. My daughter had not downloaded it because it was not a free one (I have brought all my girls up to be a little bit frugal - sometimes too frugal). I gave her the money. 59p. She humoured me.

The next 10 minutes or so was spent in hysterical laughter. It was definitely the best 59p I ever spent! We all took it in turns to have our photos taken on Liberty's phone and then gave them the 'Fat Booth' treatment. The resulting images were incredibly realistic pictures of ourselves in an alternative reality where we were junk food junkies, biscuit bingers and general all round overeaters.

It was hilarious but there was a serious side too. I am 7 weeks in to my 12 week plan to get into shape after having my baby boy. I have lost well over a stone and still have maybe 10lbs to go before I feel that I have achieved my target. It can all get a bit monotonous and dull if you're not careful and the bad habits can creep back very quickly. Seeing the pictures of obese me - even if they are just manipulated images - was actually very motivating.

I have a date to go to the gym tomorrow and I know now that I will pull a little bit harder on the rowing machine, jog a little bit faster on the treadmill and sweat just a little bit more on the cross trainer because that image will be dancing in my mind.

The FatBooth Treatment

Sunday, 24 October 2010

A Year of Being Virgos

A year ago today, my family was in full celebration mode - the reason? - a Naming Day.

Although I consider myself to be quite a spiritual person, I have never had any religious leaning. It was not my intention to have any  of my children christened because the ritual had very little relevance to me. I always said that when the children were old enough to make up their own minds and decided that it was something they wanted, I would support them and make that possible. I never actually expected that to happen, but it did.

We were living in a small Oxfordshire village. I was pregnant with my fourth child and Liberty was the grand age of 8. The primary school she attended was adjacent to and strongly affiliated with a lovely, rural church. From a very young age, Liberty exhibited a strong vocal talent. She had a beautiful, tuneful voice with a maturity far beyond her years and she loved to sing. When the church choir started recruiting for new members she joined with massive enthusiasm and proudly wore a woollen hat appliqued with the words 'I Love God' given to her by her auntie. To the ladies of the choir, most of them of retirement age, Liberty became something of a darling. For the first time in my life, I was regularly attending Sunday service and was even called upon to do some readings. Although my personal belief system remained unchanged, I did enjoy being at the heart of the life of the village and I will never forget the Xmas Carol Service when Liberty was selected to sing the traditional solo for the first verse of 'Once in Royal David's City' as the choir processed down the aisle.

When the new baby was born on New Year's Eve (there was some disappointment from the ladies of the choir that it wasn't a Xmas day birth) it was only natural that the church community would turn their thoughts to a Christening. As it transpired that not one of my little angels had felt the holy water on their brows, a quadruple event seemed inevitable. Liberty was thrilled at the prospect so we went for it.

It was a lovely pink and white themed occasion. The older girls wore co ordinated pink and white outfits with pink pearl necklaces and the baby wore a traditional christening gown borrowed from one of the godparents. One of the ladies of the church did an amazing job with the floral arrangements and my sister in law did the catering for the party afterwards which we held in the village hall. We had pink and white balloons and an absolutely fabulous cake which looked like an open book with all the girls' names written onto the pages.

Liberty's passion for the church choir finally deserted her when we moved to Shropshire and she discovered pop music!

Eleven years on from the quadruple Christening, almost to the day, I gave birth to baby number five with my new partner. I had no interest in the church side of things but I did want to celebrate my beautiful child and her place in our family. I found plenty of information and ideas regarding non-religious naming days on the internet and started making a plan. The event took on a new level of significance when my two younger daughters from my first marriage decided that they both wanted to adopt my new partner's surname. It was a slightly unusual request because at this point we were not married and I still used our original family name. They were undeterred by this fact and I think it showed a huge commitment to their new stepdad and the new life that we were all building together.

The girls' names were changed by deed poll with effect from the day of our Naming party, witnessing of the legal documents forming part of our ceremony. We performed a 'Rose Petal Blessing' during which our guests took it in turns to pluck a petal from a rose as they bestowed a wish. The petals were collected in a bowl and sprinkled over the heads of the wishes' recipients. We had music and readings and of course plenty of good food. Our colour theme this time was purple and both the older girls looked gorgeous in new purple party dresses. The little one wore pink as a tribute to the Christening from all those years ago. The final part of the ceremony was the 'Spirit Soaring Balloon Release' with each of our guests letting go of a helium balloon after the count of three to represent the bright little spirits of our children, climbing and soaring - so full of potential and on an unknown journey.

It is a year on now. I am married so I also share the new family name and we have another little addition in the form of my beautiful baby boy. We have a celebrated 'A Year of Being Virgos' with a small family get together. Perhaps what I ought to be thinking about now is a 'Naming day' for a new son.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Funeral (anagram of real fun!)

The were numerous reasons why my ex-husband and I were entirely incompatible. One such reason was the fact that he could not understand my habit of making a joke out of a bad situation. In my life, humour has helped me to deal with all manner of things that might otherwise have proved intolerable. I am a firm believer in the power of laughter. Thankfully, my new husband accepts me for who I am and how I deal with things.

When my sister-in-law telephoned to tell me that our Auntie Ruby was in hospital, I scribbled it down on the wipe board I have in my kitchen for memos to make sure I remembered to inform my husband when he returned from work. Ruby was my mother-in-law's sister, elderly and a little odd. I had only met her once briefly and I don't think she quite understood who I was. Sadly, she passed away. My sister-in-law called to break the news. In the way of most mums with young children I was holding the baby, trying to stop the 2year old climbing into the fridge to help herself to cheese whilst also preparing the dinner. Without really thinking, I grabbed my wipe board pen, crossed out the 'in hospital' from my previous message and wrote 'dead'.

Although I didn't know Ruby, news of a death still triggers feelings of sadness. This time of year I am particularly sensitive to it. Fifteen years ago, my sister who I adored, died of cancer. Her birthday was in October. She would have been 51 this year.

As well as bringing back the very raw pain of how much I still miss my sister, news of a death always brings to mind the awareness of one's own mortality. Having had two babies in my forties makes me very determined to live a long and healthy life so I can watch them grow to adulthood and play an active part in their lives and hopefully in the lives of their children. The thought of not being there for that is horrible. It was a thought that was made very real for me a few weeks ago when I heard the desperately sad news that a lovely lady I had worked with and had also had children in her forties,  had died aged 62.

In the face of all this potential sorrow, it was quite nice to laugh at how awful my note looked.

Ruby's funeral was a couple of hours drive away. We put on our best sombre attire, loaded the kids in the car and set off. It was always the plan for my husband to attend the service while I waited outside with the 2 year old and the baby and then for all of us to attend the wake. That is exactly what we did.

The crematorium was very nice with large well kept grounds. As the sun was shining on a beautiful autumnal day I took the children for a walk. The baby seemed to enjoy the fresh air and the 2year old loved the freedom to run after having been cooped up in the car for so long. She maybe took her freedom too far when she started running over the graves and saying 'hello flowers' to each of the floral tributes. I was about to rein her in when I thought that actually, the dusty dead would probably love to have such a bright little life light shining so gloriously in their midst. So I thought of my sister and how much she would have adored her feisty little niece and I smiled at her antics.

Graveyards are strange places. They really do seem to hold onto the sadness of mourners. It is hard not to be affected by it. I saw four funeral parties in all as I waited, passing through the system - in one door out another. It would have been a bit soulless and depressing had it not been for that heavy sense of solemnity that hangs in the air.

I had three really sad moments -when the hearse carrying Ruby arrived, when I found a grave of a 14year old boy and looking at the displays of sympathy flowers.

The thing about those sad moments is that they can really make you focus on your blessings. I am not short on blessings and I never want to take it for granted how lucky I am.

Friday, 22 October 2010


On the day my prize of a Divine Chocolate Hamper arrived, I spotted another competition on the internet that requires you to post a photograph of yourself with a bar of their Dark Chocolate with Orange and Ginger. I love to reinvest my prizes into new competition entries (false eyelashes in my very first win of a 'beauty bag' were reinvested into Taylor's entry into the video comp to win the signed guitar). I hadn't intended to look too closely at the contents of my chocolate hamper given that I am trying to loose weight but I just thought it was worth checking to see if it contained the bar I needed, then I could start planning my photo.

The good news was that yes it did contain the specified bar. The bad news was that handling all those chocolate bars, sorting through them like oversized playing cards, feeling the weight of that solid, melt in the mouth, dreamy chocolate goodness.....well it was too much temptation to resist.

I selected a bar - White Chocolate with Strawberries. I savoured every moment of opening the thick paper wrapping and the foil coated wrapping beneath. Once revealed, the white chocolate slab encrusted with tiny pink strawberry jewels screamed at me to place just one small square on my expectant tongue - which I did and then did again and again. Oh but it was nice. I loved the sweet and creamy taste of the white chocolate and the strawberry zing was delicious in taste and texture.

I did try and moderate my intake but my resolution to wrap it up and put it away for later did not last longer than a few minutes. Before my brain could say no, my hands had already given my mouth what it craved! For a brief taste of heaven, I had a 534 calorie excess to compensate for in some way.

I took my guilty calorie burden to the gym with me. I was determined to put in enough effort to make up for my weakness. Unfortunately my gym partner, Liberty, was suffering from 'end of first half term teaching' fatigue and still chasing off the remnants of a cough and cold. I was powerhousing my way through our workout whilst she delicately tiptoed through it. I relished the feeling of my hard earned sweat washing my conscience clean!

We always finish our workout on the treadmill but they were all occupied so we decided to put in a few extra minutes on the cross trainer while we were waiting for availability. Just out of interest we thought we would experiment with one of the different programmes and swapped our usual manual setting to a cardiovascular one. This involved inputting your age and weight and allowing the machine to read your heartbeat rate. It then automatically adjusted the resistance to bring your rate to the optimum level for effective exercising.

I had been on such a chocolate guilt fueled exercising frenzy already that the machine decided I should really take it easy - especially at my age!! It was not so lenient on Liberty. Being young and fit, the machine decided that she should be put through her paces.

Exercise is supposed to be good for you. Laughing at Liberty trying to keep up with the cross trainer was certainly very good for me! You know those dreams where you try to run but you feel like you're running through treacle.... Liberty was neck deep in treacle. Her face went a delightful shade of crimson. I could actually see her heart pounding through her gym top - but it was not good enough for the machine. Maybe there was something amiss with the sensor that monitored the heart rate because it seemed to just keep loading more and more resistance against the futile efforts of my poor daughter. At one point I thought her eyeballs might actually pop. She did eventually conceded defeat.

I don't know if the workout I did will counteract my chocolate indulgence - no doubt the scales will tell me next weigh in - but I do know that I love going to the gym with my very funny daughter.

As for the chocolate hamper, I will be putting that out of temptations reach for the time being and when I do dip into it again,  I will definitely make sure I share the calories!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Human Centipede

There are many reasons why I love my sister and many more reasons why I love that she lives just a few minutes away from me. One such reason is that she lends me her DVDs.

Since my sister's husband bought her 'The Human Centipede' on Blu-Ray, I could think of little else other than borrowing it. I envy her in the respect that horror has a very natural place in her household. Her husband and her teenage daughter are huge fans of all things gory, shocking and dark. For me, my love of horror has been more of a solitary occupation.

My big, hairy, sensitive husband admits to having fainted during a heart dissection in a school biology lesson and my 13 year old is just the jumpiest person I know, barely making it through an episode of Dr Who. Taylor is easing herself gently into the genre (currently reading Stephen King's 'IT') but she will only watch horror films during daylight hours. So, I wait until my husband is away for whatever reason and the children are in bed or otherwise occupied before I indulge my desire to watch decapitation, dismemberment and general bloody mayhem.

I confessed to my husband last night that  I could think of little else other than borrowing my sister's latest gourmet serving of the macabre. I think it is a real testament of his devotion to me that he was on the phone to my sister's husband in a heartbeat, asking if he could drive over to borrow 'Caterpillar Man'!

The film was marvellously grotesque, the basic premise being that a deranged eminent doctor specialising in conjoined twin separations fulfils his sick fantasy to engineer human Siamese triplets, surgically linked mouth to anus in a fashion giving rise to the film's title. The doctor was horror text book weird and creepy. The chinese man victim who becomes the head end of the mad doctor's vision was wonderfully noble and determined and the fact that he did not speak English so his frantic, screaming outbursts were subtitled somehow leant realism and made it more hard hitting.

My husband remained at my side for the duration of the film and did not complain or exhibit any behaviour that would have detracted from my enjoyment. I love him for that. I think he saw it as an opportunity to assess the quality of the Blu-Ray DVD (we had to borrow Taylor's Playstation 3 to play it) compared with regular DVDs in order to make an informed decision as to wether or not to invest in a Blu-Ray player for us. Even with a critical eye on picture quality rather than content, he was not able to hide his repulsion when the doctor examined the oozing pus of the infected surgical wound on the face of the last human link in the 'centipede' chain!

The part of me that takes delight in how far the makers of horror films have pushed the boundaries of good taste was not disappointed. The much bigger part of me that loves to be uplifted by the demonstrations of my husband's love was thoroughly satisfied. As a bonus, it looks like we will be investing in a Blu-Ray player.

It is not uncommon for my husband  to call me from work 'just to hear my voice'. I always enjoy these little moments of connection. This morning he called me. I thanked him for indulging me last night with 'The Human Centipede'. His voice took on the pitch usually reserved for times of extreme emotion as he declared:

"I woke up this morning and I still was a little disturbed by people being forced to eat other people's do-do."

That's my man!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Taylor's Tale

I thought I'd have a bit of a 'blog facelift' today. I enjoyed fiddling around with the different designs and layouts and font colours. I wanted to upload one of my own photos for the background but the one I chose came back with the message 'file too big' so instead I browsed through the images supplied. I could have chosen so many of them - a scientific theme as a tribute to my early leaning towards science and my chosen University degree in Chemistry, a natural one as a tribute to my ethos to live a harmonious lifestyle, a food related one as a tribute to my passion for cooking and goes on. In the end I settled for zebra stripes just because I love them.

Do you know the feeling when something important happens and you sort of forget about it and then you suddenly remember? Usually it is something bad like you've pranged your car or said something hideously inappropriate that could come back to bite you on the bum. I remember being partly responsible for my mum breaking her wrist. I wouldn't be thinking about it at all then all of a sudden, there it was, front of mind with all the associated feelings of guilt and sadness, totally fresh, totally painful. I find myself in that situation again but this time it isn't anything to do with vehicle mishaps, unwise comments, or maternal bone snapping - nor is it a bad thing at all.

My daughter Taylor is a big fan of a certain young, blonde haired American pop star who shares her name. She found a competition on the internet to win a signed guitar and feature in a fan video for the new release of the single 'Mine'. Inspired by the success of her Aunty and to a lesser degree, me, she decided to enter. She had to make a video of herself miming to the song, which as I have mentioned in an  earlier blog, was an obstacle because she didn't know the words. By the time she had learned the words and recovered from a cold, she was really running out of time. She had planned to do an outdoor video of her miming and playing 'air' drums with her drumsticks which she could also use as props to perform 'air guitar' and 'air microphone'. The finale was to be her boyfriend running on and spinning her around. Unfortunately, the weather was against her as well and it really looked like the entry was not going to happen. To add to the panic, she realised that the deadline was actually sooner than we had thought.

We found ourselves in a 'now or never' situation. We had a quick change of plan and I helped her to turn her  face into an upside down 'singing chin' version of Taylor Swift, complete with glittery guitar. I reinvested one of my competition wins in the form of some fabulous fake eyelashes to give the face painted eyes a bit of a 3D look and away we went. We did it all very quickly, submitted the video and that was it!

The video received some positive comments from other TS fans and it certainly did stand out as a one of a kind. Yesterday, she saw she had a comment from a fan saying 'congrats on your win'. As she had heard nothing about winning she was a little confused. It turned out that the winner had been announced on the fan video that had been put together from all the entries and posted to YouTube.  Due to copyright issues, the video had been blocked before she got to view it. The fan who had sent her the message of congratulations was able to send her a copy of the announcement. Reading "and the winner is...." drove the point home. Taylor HAD WON. There was much jubilation!! The signed guitar was HERS!!!

The fantastic news of Taylor's success does keep fading out of my conscious thought as life takes over, but then it's back. In a sudden, front of mind sort of way, there it is with all the associated feelings of pride, excitement and absolute joy, totally fresh, totally wonderful.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Terrible Twos

We all like to think that we are good parents with good kids who are a credit to us and our parenting skills. Let me tell you about my day.

My husband is a keen sailor. Two summers ago, he joined the Shropshire Sailing Club and bought a Flying Fifteen. Two of my daughters, Taylor and the 13 year old have taken RYA training courses and show a real aptitude for the sport. My husband is delighted to be able to share his passion for sailing with his step daughters and hopes that the two children he has with me will grow up to follow in his nautical footsteps.

When we woke up this morning with autumn sunshine streaming through the bedroom window, it seemed like too good a sailing opportunity to miss, especially as it was likely to be the last chance before putting the boat to bed for the winter. In a moment of sunshine fuelled optimism, my husband decided that this would be an ideal moment to introduce the 2 year old to the joys of messing about on the water. I knew this was likely to end up as hard work for me but I didn't want to be the one to burst the bubble of his paternal fantasy. We made a bucket load of butties, wrapped up for the chill factor and set off for the lake.

The 2 year old does love adventures. She was out of the car and at the waters edge before I had time to even gather my thoughts. The girls set to work getting the boat ready, my ever helpful husband was lending an ever helpful hand to all and sundry and I was left quite literally holding the baby (the poor little mite was so wrapped up in cosy layers that he could barely move but took it all in his laid back, good-natured baby stride).

The 2 year old decided that 'water's edge' was not adventurous enough for her. She wanted to run out onto the jetty.  This is where the fun really started. They don't call it 'The Terrible Twos' for nothing.

Picture the scene; tranquil lake, gently rustling leaves, sails flapping in the breeze, water foul taking occasional flight or landing on the sun rippled water, 2 year old screaming her head off because she doesn't want to put on a buoyancy aid! She worked herself up into an inconsolable frenzy so I wrestled her back into the car to try and reason with her. It would have been easier reasoning with an excitable pit bull terrier! I took her boots off to stop her doing too much damage with her kicking. She promptly hit me over the head with one. As my son-in-law-one-day-to-be would say "Call for Supernanny".

One thing I have noticed about being a mature mum who has done it all before is that I tend not to get overwhelmed by the moment. I can keep my eye on the bigger picture knowing that tantrums soon burn themselves out to give way to smiles and hugs. My snotty, red-eyed, hoarse little girl finally calmed down, put on the life jacket and was soon happily running up and down the jetty.

Then came the moment to introduce her to the boat and hopefully take the first step on the road to a lifelong love of sailing. The paternal fantasy bubble burst. She was having far too much fun on her jetty to even entertain the possibility of an alternative activity. Conceding defeat, I manhandled her and the baby back into the car to leave the sailors in peace to enjoy themselves.

My plan was to drive into town, take the little ones to the park and maybe even go on a shopping quest for treats but by the time I had parked, the 2 year old was fast asleep. So there I sat, in the car park, scribbling down in my book of crossword puzzles the words that would find themselves here in my blog, feeding the baby and listening to the odd snore from the blonde angel slumped in her car seat behind me.

So as I reflect on my day, was it a showcase for exemplary parenting? Hmm. Will I ever be able to show my face at the sailing club again? Probably. Am I glad that the sailing season is over? DEFINITELY!!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Being Vegetarian

It must have been about 9 years ago when I first cut meat out of my diet.

I was trying to loose weight (a common theme in my adult life). My sister had borrowed a Marilu Henner book from a friend. The book suggested some pretty extreme measures to turn your life around and promised not just weight loss but boundless energy. Now Marilu was looking pretty good on it and desperate dieters will go to desperate lengths in the name of slenderness, so I gave it  go.

The new regime involved cutting out meat, dairy, caffeine, sugar and chemical additives, which I must admit did seriously restrict what I was able to eat! Cheese and chocolate were the hardest sacrifices.

I actually stuck at it for a long time. I convinced myself that carob coated peanuts from the local health food shop were a delicious alternative to a creamy bar of Cadbury's chocolate and I did have an enormous amount of fun experimenting with non-dairy cheese alternatives. It was the day I made a dairy-free 'cheese' sauce out of little more than pureed potato and carrot that I finally realised that there really isn't a good alternative to a lovely bit of extra mature cheddar!

The thing about Marilu Henner's book was that it did make a lot of sense. It opened my eyes to what I was indiscriminately putting into my body on  a daily basis. The more I looked into farming and food manufacturing methods, the more determined I was to have a more mindful and aware attitude.

The whole family were involved in the changes, reluctantly swapping their white bread for wholemeal and their cow's milk for soya. I remember when the children first tried soya milk - they complained bitterly that it was a funny brown colour. Years later and they still prefer soya milk, complaining that cow's milk is too white!

Instead of buying the supermarket cheap meat, I would go to farm shops (of which there are plenty in rural Shropshire) and buy what we affectionately called 'happy meat'. It was more expensive but there was an honesty about it.  After a while, it slowly dawned on me that I didn't actually want to eat meat anymore. The vegetarian food I was experimenting with was far more appetising to me. After one last chicken tikka masala at an Indian restaurant with a friend, I made my commitment to vegetarianism.

I never expected my children to follow my example but they all turned away from the meat dinners I was still preparing them in favour of the food I was eating. As a family, we joined the Vegetarian Society and VIVA, bought the merchandise and displayed the car sticker! Our memberships may have lapsed but our commitment to the meat free diet is still as strong as ever.

My new husband has embraced our lifestyle and my 2year old has never known anything other than vegetarian. All my children are strong and healthy and wonderful.

It can be difficult sometimes. I resent paying the same for a plain cheese pizza as one loaded with pepperoni and spicy sausage.  Our local Wetherspoons sometimes runs out of the veggie options. I have had some pretty revolting offerings as alternatives to roast dinner when we have been at functions and parties. The special offers at supermarkets often neglect the meat free aisle. The meat free aisle is more of a 'blink and you'll miss it' space frequently invaded by fish fingers! I hate being a nuisance to my meat eating friends and family, especially my parents-in-law who find it all a bit confusing.

Difficulties aside, I have never looked back from the decision to become vegetarian. I thoroughly enjoy cooking and eating and celebrating food, and although my weight does still fluctuate, it does so about a dress size 10-12 rather than my pre-veggie body of 12-14.

I recently bought a Grow Your Own Mushroom Kit so the children could witness the growth cycle of one of our shopping basket essentials. I leave you with a photograph of the wonderfully alien fungi.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Explosion of Love!

Since I started entering online competitions about a month or so ago I have won:
  1. Beauty Bag
  2. Cinema Tickets
  3. Hawx 2 game
  4. Doc Martens
  5. £10 gift token
  6. Eyeshadow
  7. Hallowe'en goodies
  8. Children's books
  9. Tea 
  10. Chocolate Hamper
  11. Party pack
In addition, as a direct result of entering competitions I have received a free T-shirt and facial wipes and had a story picked up by a magazine for publication. 

Each and every one of these has given me a great deal of pleasure.

I am not a big player in the comping world. I pass under the radar thoroughly enjoying my small wins. My sister, by virtue of her husband winning a car last week and herself being one of three finalists with a chance to win a brand new Volkswagon Touran or Sharan, has had her comping status significantly elevated. You would imagine that this would be the dream of every person that fills out an entry form or thinks up a catchy slogan but no, on the contrary, it was in danger of becoming a nightmare. 

It seems that many competition promoters are using voting systems as a means of judging. This can be as simple as getting the most 'likes' on a facebook comment or one vote per day running over the course of weeks or, as in the case of the Volkswagon competition, one vote per email address. On the face of it, this might seem a fair system, everybody has the ability to judge for themselves which entry they consider the best and register their vote. In reality, few people would actually have the time or the inclination to look at each of the entries and make a decision based on merit. What actually happens is the contestant who manages to court the most internet users by means fair or foul will generally triumph. If you are a ruthless self promoter with no morals, you will be rewarded. 

The VW competition offers prizes of family holidays as an incentive to vote. There is nothing to stop you putting a link to your particular entry on every competition forum on the internet saying vote for me and WIN. Busy people with their eye on a prize draw may well do just that without giving it a moment's thought - the click of a button for the chance to win a holiday - you don't even have to watch the video you are voting for!! As any competition can only be posted once on the forums, the person who gets there first with their link is going to capitalise on all that traffic. The moral thing would be to post the link to the page displaying all three entries and let the voters make a choice. Of course, this did not happen.

Unfortunately, dangling a carrot the size of a £20+K family car is going to bring out the worst in people.
Rather than a 'may the best man win' attitude coupled with a genuine appreciation of what a fantastic competition it had been up until this point and a camaraderie born out of a shared experience, the whole thing took on a rather nasty face. It is one thing to boast and gloat and generally slag other people off in the privacy of home or your local pub, but to do it in such a public arena as Twitter and Mumsnet (to name just two) is unpleasant. For a 'Superhero' competition, some of the behaviour was frankly less than heroic! My poor sister felt totally violated and angry at herself for being so naive as to think that people would play nice! She was on the verge of tears and we were all so disappointed that this horrible black cloud was now tainting what had been such a positive and wonderful family experience. 

There was a silver lining to the cloud though. The genuine support of family and friends which spread to friends of friends was quite overwhelming. There was an explosion of love on the internet last night!  We even managed to claw back a couple of percent on the voting!

It does make you stop and think.  What is more important - integrity, honesty, kindness and love or a free car at any cost? 

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Going Live!

After waiting all day, our Ultimate Family Superhero video finally went live. There was a bit of cringing as we watched it but the overriding emotion was one of great excitement.

It has been lovely to see that friends and family have made the effort to watch the video, vote for us, leave comments and take it upon themselves to encourage others to vote.

Either our friend and family base is considerably smaller than the other two contenders or they have been cashing in on other networks, such as the competition forums, because we are being mightily thrashed in the voting stakes at the moment.

My sister's dream of winning two cars in as many months is looking highly unlikely.

Our chosen charities and local causes still benefit by a healthy sum even if we do come last and for me it has all just been a great experience. The voting doesn't close until November 7th and my sister may have a few tricks up her sleeve yet...there is still a chance that the tortoise could win the race!

Monday, 11 October 2010

The great petrol robbery

I've just had a rather nice policeman with a big shiny police baton knocking at my door. Now my daughter's other half is a policemen so I am quite familiar with uniformed men but I was a little concerned when he asked me if I was the owner of a blue BMW ZX. I'm not but my husband is. It turned out that my daft husband had filled said BMW  ZX up with petrol and driven away from the garage without paying. The policeman could see by my reaction that this was one of those stupid oversight situations rather than an intention to steal. I know my husband has a lot of balls to juggle almost all the time, but really...

Anyway, the policeman was very good humoured and even admitted to having made the same stupid mistake himself once before. I did promise to ensure that my husband felt suitably embarrassed.

One of the balls my husband has been juggling recently is the possibility of a new job. We are very happy where we are living and he is reasonably happy with his current job despite it being an hour commute each way and not really challenging him to his full capability (paying for petrol is not part of his job description luckily!) The new position looks absolutely ideal for him on paper but would potentially mean relocating to Leeds.

I have moved about a lot in my life but having been settled in Shropshire for the last decade and being comfortable with my network of family and friends here, I would find it quite a wrench. This is not a reason to discount the possibility of a move though.

My husband has a wealth of knowledge and experience in his particular field and is full of ideas about what he wants to include in his motivational letter and job application form, but he's not too clever at getting those ideas expressed in a coherent form in writing. This is where I come in. Between us, we have managed to put together what  I hope is an impressive application. For me, it's not dissimilar to entering a competition - you put your entry together to the best of your ability' submit it  then forget about it. If you win the prize, then it's fantastic. The prize in this instance is something that has become more important to my husband the more he has invested in it. Right now,  I'm happy not to even think about the implications for me and the family if his application is successful and I am very proud of my husband for his ambition and the hard work he puts into progressing his career.

Apart from the brief distraction with the policeman, I have been waiting anxiously all morning for our Ultimate Family Superhero video to go live on the Volkswagon Facebook page. The PR company responsible have said that it will be 'after lunch'. I don't know what time PR people generally have their lunch but  I had mine ages ago....

Sunday, 10 October 2010

X Factor

My workout at the gym yesterday has reminded me of some long neglected muscle groups. I am wondering if my brother-in-law is feeling much the same after his 6 hour stint of keeping two hands in one position on a car  yesterday in the 'Hands off my Hyundai' competition. He at least has a brand new shiny Hyundai to take his mind off any aches and pains he may be suffering today!!

Still on the competition theme, I held an 'X-Factor party' yesterday in order to take some photos to post on the Chicago Town facebook page. This puts me in with a chance of winning 'The Ultimate Saturday Night In' with ex-contestant Danyl making a special guest appearance to give a private performance. As my sister and her family were busy off winning a car and my husband was busy at work, the 'party' was a little thin on guests. However, what we lacked in numbers, we made up for in enthusiasm. We had a lot of fun with the 'Eggs' Factor - decorate an egg to look like your favourite judge competition - and thoroughly enjoyed our Chicago Town Pizza and Cheryl Cole-slaw lunch! All the time, the kids were protesting that they don't want Danyl to come round our house! 

Our party culminated with actually watching the  X Factor first live show. I had already chosen my favourite, the ex-painter decorator Matt. What surprised me was how much I totally loved Aiden, who bears an uncanny resemblance to my daughter Liberty's other half. He was incredible. I am really looking forward to the next show to see if he can surprise me again.

I have another party to attend this afternoon - a  Spongebob themed birthday party for my niece. Before I rally the troops together to set off for that I just have time to make a feta cheese and spinach pie ready for tea tonight. The pie might just be glazed with an egg bearing a striking resemblance to X Factor judge Cheryl Cole.

'Eggs'  Factor's Cheryl Cole

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Gym

I have lived in Shropshire for 11 years. For the first 6 years I had a cottage out in the country. It wasn't brimming with the character you expect upon hearing the word 'cottage'. It had been extensively extended in the seventies and had a predominantly 'seventies' feel to it. It did, however, have some nice features, plenty of space and a peace and solitude which I loved.

My home in the country was a casualty of the break down of my first marriage. It was put on the market, sold, and the proceeds split.

The decision to remain in Shropshire was based on the fact that my girls were all settled here with friends and boyfriends and extended family and doing very well with their educations. Having suffered the disruption of divorce, I really wanted to keep any more upset to a minimum.

My new partner and I looked at several houses in the country to try and replicate the lifestyle I was used to before making the radical decision to move into the town. We found the perfect house with a big, well established garden that shielded us from the 'town-ness' of our new environment. The new location gave the girls much more independence and freed me from having to chauffeur them everywhere. I got used to walking to the shops and the girls got used to walking to school.

The town where we live is a small market town. We have pretty much everything we need in the way of shops to mean that travelling further afield to a larger shopping centre is more of a treat than a neccessity. We are not blessed with a huge choice of vegetarian eateries but we do have a Wetherspoons that serves an OK selection of non meat options at reasonable prices and I have high hopes for the new Indian restaurant opening soon (can't beat a good curry). We have a lovely community hall that puts on a variety of entertainments and classes, most of which are not at all  up my cup of tea, and we have a canal! I'm sure there is plenty more I could mention but  I will conclude by saying we have a gym.

A few years ago, my sister and I embarked on a get fit quest and took advantage of a special offer membership at the gym. We started off with the best of intentions religiously striving to achieve the targets set for us by the exceptionally fit gym staff. We also attended a weekly pilates classes held by the most gorgeous of the staff, Pete. As time went by, our commitment to the cardio vascular workouts declined, the weight machines began to look more like instruments of torture and even the thought of Pete demonstrating pilates moves was not enough to convince us that we should get our gym wear out of the cupboard. The time we spent chatting in the jacuzzi and sauna far outweighed the time we spent actually exercising. My sister, rightly or wrongly convinced,  herself that exercise was the cause of all her physical problems and the final nail in the coffin of our best laid plans was the fact that I fell pregnant.

Our Gym membership sat unused and forgotten  and my waistline expanded, albeit for the best of reasons. We would occasionally see Pete through the window or around town. He was living proof of the efficacy of exercise if done correctly - every time we saw him his muscles seem to have become more defined and pumped up.

Last week, my eldest daughter came to me bemoaning the fact that she was so unfit and her clothes were getting too tight. It was my husband's idea that we join the gym together. I am at the point in my weight loss plan where a little exercise would probably make a big difference, and I love the idea of having a really good excuse to spend time with my daughter. We went along for a trial and an assessment and I remembered how much I used to love it when I first started going with my sister. We signed up for a full year and I am determined not to let it slip this time.

This morning, we went for our next session which we finished off with a lovely relaxing time in the wet room.

Sadly, the gorgeous Pete is no longer there. Perhaps he pumped those muscles just a bit too hard and exploded!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Can Openers

As a 'leftie' I have always struggled a bit with using can openers, much to the amusement of those quick to call me 'cack-handed'. To uncomplicate the issue, I have favoured the simple, old fashioned butterfly design of can opener. They are cheap, I can see what's going on so don't tend to turn the wrong way and I usually manage to get at the contents of the tin eventually. On the down side, I could never say they were an elegant addition to my utensil drawer, they are not satisfying to use and my kids look at them with total disdain. Also, they seem to rust the minute you show them any water.

I bought a Brabantia Essential Can Opener. Relative to my butterfly can opener it was a massive improvement in terms of design, the kids seemed to recognise it as something that might be used to remove the lid from canned goods and I although I can't honestly say I was proficient in its use, I would get there in the end having first tried every permutation of orientation and direction.

If I was alone in my kitchen, I would battle on but if there was ever someone who could do the job for me. I would be quick to delegate. I gave my exceptionally helpful fourth daughter the title of 'Fastest Opener of Cans....Ever'. I could only dream of imitating her effortless technique.

Every now and then I would purchase a butterfly opener that would co-exist with the Brabantia purely for my benefit, and then throw it away when inevitably, the rusting became too obvious. Eventually, having outlived countless butterflies, the Brabantia started to show signs of decline - a crack in the handle, an inability to make it smoothly all the way round the tin. Having never forged any sort of loyalty to this particular utensil, I didn't hesitate to throw it away and replace it with a generic model. Big mistake. It was cheap and it was useless. Now it wasn't only me that struggled to open cans!

My husband purchased mistake number 2. It looked very nice, and it worked OK for the first couple of times (although daughter number four never took to it, not yet forgiving me for discarding her trusted weapon of choice!) When my husband came to use it, he applied a little too much force to achieve that initial piercing of metal. He bent the whole thing out of alignment rendering it completely unusable.

Left without a serviceable can opener and a daughter constantly reminding me that I should never have thrown away the old one, I was reliant on cans with the ring pull design and a 'more than once' bitten, twice shy attitude to purchasing another.

You've got to love the internet. I decided to do some research. Typing 'can opener' into the Google search bar comes up with over half a million results. Who would have thought there was so much to say on the subject of can openers? (says she who is merrily blogging away on the subject!)

I read countless customer reviews, watched videos extolling the virtues of various different brands, browsed online shops, became briefly distracted by garlic presses (another kitchen gadget I don't get on with although that has nothing to do with being left-handed), was momentarily seduced by the electronic variety of openers that 'do it all for you at the touch of a button' and finally decided on the product for me.

I am now the proud owner of an OXO Softworks Can Opener which, if it delivers what it claims, will put baked beans back on the menu.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Diet Success

The last time I weighed myself I was infuriatingly close to the next milestone in my weight loss plan which would mean opening the second of my incentive gifts devised by my wonderfully supportive husband. The last time I weighed myself was before the weekend party, before the incredible chocolate birthday cake, before the baked banoffi cheesecake, before the leftovers. Needless to say I have been a little wary of stepping back on the scales.

Today, I plucked up the courage to venture into the family bathroom, activate the digital scale with a sharp tap to the top right hand corner, and step on. I needn't have been so cowardly. The numbers that appeared in the little window told me that not only had I reached my milestone, I had gone beyond it sufficiently to be in sight of the next. It was a happy moment.

My next happy moment was the anticipation of what might be inside the gift box that has been sat in plain view waiting for me to be worthy of its contents. Firstly, there was the little red envelope that contained vouchers for a hair cut in the posh hairdressers in town and then there was the box. I took the lid off and lifted the carefully scrunched tissue paper to reveal an absolutely gorgeous necklace and earring set.   My initial thought was that it wasn't the sort of jewellery that was very practical when you have a darling baby boy that loves to snuggle into your neck - then I thought that as much as love to be a mother, and will always think of myself first and foremost as a mother, sometimes it is nice to take your mummy hat off and wear a different persona.

There is a new indian restaurant opening soon in town. It looks very elegant and I love curry. I am thinking there is an opportunity here to take my mummy hat off, put my delicate, dangly new jewellery set on and have a proper grown up night out with my husband.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Celebrating the Children in Your Life

I was reminded of a joke yesterday:

How did Mary Ingalls die?
She bled to death trying to read the cheese grater.

I didn't say it was a good joke.

For those of you who did not grow up loving Little House on the Prairie, rushing home from school on a Thursday to catch the 4pm start (no Sky planner then!), Mary Ingalls was the eldest daughter of Charles and Caroline Ingalls. She lost her sight, learnt to read using Braille and eventually opened a school for the blind. So, a stupid joke that surfaced from somewhere in my memory bank as I tried 'to read the cheese grater' concealed by a particularly bubbly sink full of  washing up (curse those Fairy suds)  - result: blood in the washing up water and one very sore fingertip!

One very sore fingertip - but not so sore as to stop me blogging.

Blogging is beginning to be something of an addiction. I need my daily fix of verbal outpouring. As a newcomer to the world of online journals, I have been having a look around at other people's blogs - people more established who seem to know what they are doing rather than stumbling around in the dark like I am. I have been amazed by the wealth of interesting, informative and witty examples, many from stay at home mums just like me. Plenty to aspire to.

There is also no shortage of blog giveaways and competitions, which are always a bit of fun. I found a competition on the blog Diary of a First Child which invites you to create something to celebrate the children in your life. This ought to be easy for me as I feel I spend nearly every moment celebrating the fact that my amazing children are in my life. However, translating this into something specific that can be posted online left me at a bit of a loss.

When I was in labour with baby number six, my husband captured some of the experience on video. It was a disappointment that the hospital policy was such that the final moments could not be recorded but we kept the camera rolling until we were asked to turn it off. I wasn't sure how I would feel about seeing myself in such an intimate and personal situation, reacting in a primal, instinctive way rather than the more usual measured responses of home video footage that I was used to. When I watched it back, it felt amazing - reliving the drama of the moment without the distraction of the pain and the uncertainty. It was also an opportunity to notice my husband's response to the event - a response that would otherwise have been lost in the sea of emotion that inevitably accompanies the miracle of childbirth. I have watched and re-watched the footage many times and each time it makes me smile how his normally deep voice becomes high pitched and unguarded. I love how my hand shakes as I reach down to touch my baby's soft little head - six births and that was the first time I'd ever done that. Six births had created a familiarity to the whole process but that familiarity did nothing to suppress the awe and wonder. It was breathtakingly magical.

I decided to edit together a few moments of my birth video to try and create 'something that celebrates the children in your life'. For me, nothing celebrates the children in your life better than evidence of that flood of love that springs from the deepest part of you when 'bump' becomes newborn - the flood of love that infuses every part of your being and NEVER diminishes.

I invite you to watch my video:

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Apple Season

I love good food and I  love to cook. Sometimes I will throw a bag of oven chips and a pizza in the oven and open a can of baked beans, but when time allows, there is nothing as satisfying as preparing a wonderful, well thought out meal and having it enjoyed by my family.

Most of all, I love to embrace the seasonality of cooking. Don't get me wrong, if I want fresh strawberries on Christmas day I will buy them, but I can guarantee that they won't fill me with the same joy as the first succulent red fruit of the summer from my garden. Better yet if that fruit is picked and eaten straight from the plant, warmed by the summer sun.

At this time of year, there is no shortage of windfalls from the two apple trees in my garden. The trees are very old and seem to harbour quite an extensive ecosystem of bugs and fungi. This does not create an environment conducive to the production of perfect fruits. They do tend to be a bit scabby and ... well maggoty! It takes a braver person than I to actually bite into one without a preliminary exploratory! I suppose I could fight back with insecticides and fungicides but it goes against my principles to live as natural and organic life as I can. I could tackle the problem with the alternative green solutions but if I'm honest, I don't really have a problem with the bugs taking their share as long as there is some left for me.

I do still buy apples from the supermarket for just straight eating, but for cooking, my garden apples are great. My favourite use is for Apple Crumble.

My family never tire of crumble. We vary the crumble topping by using different sugars (from regular white granulated to the dark muscavado) and adding oats of different grades (from fine oatmeal to jumbo oats) and sometimes using a range of different chopped nuts as I have available. No two crumbles are ever the same! I also vary the filling by adding small amounts of other ingredients. Summer fruits from the garden that I have frozen are a family favourite but my personal favourite is to mix some pear in with the apple. Served with cream or ice cream or custard it never stops being a treat.

I have recently started going to a local ice cream farm that sell 30 amazing flavours of ice cream. I am already imagining an apple crumble served with their sticky toffee pudding flavour ice cream.

As much as I love variety and experimentation, there is also something thoroughly comforting about my mum's apple pie. 

My mum is amazing. You give her a giant bag of cruddy old windfalls and she will return the following week with a beautifully crafted home made apple pie for me and one for my sister. They are always identical. They are always delicious. As long as I keep giving her the apples, the apple pies keep appearing. I make sure I keep giving her the apples!

I will finish with a story from 'apple season' a few years ago.

My husband is a darling. Every morning, for as long as we have been together, he brings me a cup of tea in bed.  He is a morning person. I am not. I can barely open my eyes without that first injection of caffeine. This particular morning, as with most mornings, I was thoroughly enjoying my morning brew whilst relaxing into my plumped up pillows. I am a 'drain the mug dry' sort of person and that is exactly what I did. There was something a bit odd about that last mouthful though. There was something solid in it. Thinking it was a lump of scale from the kettle I rolled it around my mouth with my tongue to identify it and get it into a position for easy ejection. It didn't feel like scale. It felt more meaty somehow. Could it be a large grain of rice that had become engorged with the boiling water? No, it was far too big for that. I was absolutely horrified when I removed it from my mouth to see that it was a grotesquely bloated, pink headed maggot. It must have migrated from the gathered windfalls in my kitchen and found its way into the mug that my husband had left by the kettle in readiness for his tea making duty. Even now, thinking about those moments that I rolled it around my mouth with my tongue make me feel a little peculiar.

It is a testament to how much I love my husband that I was able to forgive him!

This post was inspired by 'Oui Chef"  at 
"Mum's Cooking". 


Although my car constructed from underpants did not make it to the ten finalists stage, my brother-in-law's computer car did! As much as I would love to be in with a 1 in 10 chance of winning a brand new shiny car, the next stage of the competition is not something I have any desire whatsoever to be involved in. Ian will have to get to High Wycombe first thing Saturday morning and with the nine other contestants, lay both hands on the Hyundai in the shopping centre and keep them there the longest (up to a maximum of, I think, 6 hours). If, by the end, there is still more than one person with their hands on the car, there will be a tie breaker question. Quite how capable anyone would be of exerting any mental effort after a mind numbing 6 hours of keeping your hands on a car I don't know - and how gutting would it be to survive the endurance ordeal and then fall at the final hurdle? Horrible. If anyone can do it, Ian can. I would have had serious issues trying to breastfeed a baby with both hands out of commission and in a very public forum!!

My Hy-Undie

Monday, 4 October 2010

The post party house blitz.

My post party house blitz began in earnest today. My husband had already put all the furniture back in its proper place and we had done a bit of a tidy up but it is surprising just how messy things get. Even rooms that hadn't been used were crying out for a good vacuum and polish. And then of course there was the laundry mountain that had accumulated because I had been neglectful of it while the party was occupying so much time and attention.

The laundry mountain actually served me quite well last night. My sister has been trying to rally up support for another competition that she is involved in. The competition is to win a car (again) and the first round only required you to submit a picture of a car that you have made out of anything you like to the Eden Shopping Centre Facebook page. Her husband made a lovely little boxy car out of computer components with DVD wheels and cleverly spelling HYUNDAI (the prize car) out of computer keys for decoration. There is a special prize for the person who gets the most 'likes' on the photo so I was loyally 'liking'. It thoroughly deserved the 'like' incidently! I couldn't help but notice that the response to the competition was still pitifully low - only about 20 entries despite the deadline for submissions being extended. It seemed silly not to give it a go myself.

It was 10.30pm after a manic weekend but the deadline was 10am next morning. It was a now or never situation.

I tried to think of something to make my car out of that hadn't already been used. First I tried money - a £20 note folded for the body, coins for the wheels. That didn't work. I tried to objects in my baby changing box - disposable nappy for the body, tubs of nappy rash cream for the wheels. That didn't work. I tried items from my bathroom. That didn't work either but the lovely smell on my fingers after having tried to model a vehicle out of lush products really made me fancy a nice relaxing soak in the tub! Meanwhile, my daft husband was constructing a life size landrover in the kitchen out of bakeware and  kitchen appliances. I was losing the will a bit by now so decided to go and put a load of washing on whilst waiting for inspiration to strike.

Sometimes, inspiration strikes when you least expect it. About half an hour later, I was uploading a photograph of my car constructed out of laundry! - underpants for the body, rolled up socks for the wheels, a little bit of yellow sock peeping out for headlights and Liqui-tablets for the windows (white diamond and lotus flower scented!) I was very excited to see my creation appear on the site and now hope I get some 'likes' myself for what I affectionately refer to as my Hy-Undie.

Back to the more serious part of today's blog. So there I was post party blitzing.... the baby was asleep in his cot and my 2year old  was now playing nicely in her room after having been frightened by the noise of the vacuum cleaner. Playing nicely in her room ... or so I thought. I suddenly had one of those disconcerting sensations that something wasn't right. I dropped what I was doing and dashed off to check.

It didn't take me long to find my little girl. She was in the bathroom, had somehow managed to get the lid off a bottle of extra thick toilet cleaner, had dolloped it liberally all over the toilet seat and floor and was merrily splashing in it with the toilet brush. I could see that her trousers and socks were already starting to bleach. I grabbed her, pulled her to safety and stripped her clothes off before she even knew I was there. Miraculously, she had come to no harm whatsoever (which is more than can be said for her trousers and socks!)

I do at least now have a spotlessly clean bathroom

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Day After

It's the day after the crazy Superhero surprise party and I am back to my morning blogging over a cup of coffee.

I spent a little time this morning looking at the Volkswagon Ultimate Family Hero facebook page. The three finalists have been announced and showcased using the photos taken from the photo shoot. I have to say that the two Toms who came from London and turned my conservatory into a studio really knew what they were doing. The photos are incredible. Mum and dad look absolutely amazing and they stand out from the other finalists for three reasons
  1. There are two of them in the picture whereas the other two superheroes are single nominations. 
  2. Their age somehow gives them an air of authority and solidity that the other two do not possess
  3. They are positioned right in the middle which seems to elevate their status and make them more prominent.
Out of curiosity I had a look through all of the original entries to see if I could spot the other two finalists and see what competition Wendy had already beaten off. The first round of the competition required a photograph of a nominated superhero to be uploaded and 'Heroised' using a very simple 'drag and drop' technique to create something in the style of the front page of a Marvel comic. I wasn't able to find the other two finalists efforts but I did notice that out of 477 entries, 116 comics were called 'Enter a Title'!! 

Wendy's comic was lovely - simple and symbolic - Nan and grandad wearing matching masks and belts and displaying their 'hearts of gold'. The swishing red heart shows how they bring their love to the family. 

I was really pleased to see how the video I had made to support Wendy's entry compared with the other two finalists videos. I am not generally one to blow my own trumpet but my video really was tons better than the other two. It made me feel very proud and encouraged.

We are all intrigued to know what the professional  media company are going to put together from all the raw footage they took yesterday at the party along with the video we recorded prior to the party and all the dashboard webcam footage. I am hoping that there will be  a lot I can learn about film editing by being involved in the process from the start and seeing the finished product. 

The whole Supapops and Nana experience has been enriching to the whole family and it has felt like the Gods have smiled on us by providing perfect weather for the day of our ice cream farm visit to buy ice cream for the party and perfect weather yesterday for the filming (and meaning that we were able to have a late morning barbecued sausage in a bap to keep our energy levels up and the mess out of the kitchen). 

It does seem for some contestants, the experience was not as positive. The following comments I have copied and pasted from the Volkswagon Ultimate Family Hero facebook page.

"thanks for phoning and telling us we're not through, got my kids really excited for nothing, maybe a email would be better :(

as it's a family competition a bit more thought should have been given, my middle 2 were asking 'why don't they want us?' wouldn't have had to mention anything if we hadn't had the phone call."

I do think it is sad that some people take such a negative approach to things. It was exactly the same with the competition I entered to win my Doc Marten's. Here is just one of the negative comments that appeared accusing Schuh of being racist, not explaining the competition adequately, discriminating against people who were not creative...etc

 "It sucked, we wuz robbed!!! One of the entries was so wet I nearly spewed, there's no way it should have beaten ours!! The judges lacked wit and humour."

If I were to let it, the nastiness of certain individuals could really take the shine off a harmless, entertaining and sometimes profitable pursuit. I have no intention of letting it.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The Ultimate Family Superhero Surprise Party!

We have come to the end of a totally insane day. It isn't even 9pm yet but it feels much later.

The camera crew arrived at my house exactly when they said they would (8am) and miraculously I was up and dressed. I hadn't really known quite what to expect. What I got was Charlie the director, a very enthusiastic young man who spent a lot of his time peering into his monitor, a camera guy with the biggest camera I've ever seen, a sound guy with the whole fluffy microphone on a pole thing going on, a lighting guy (very yummy with long dreadlocks), the lady Wendy has been exchanging phone calls with all week and one other random guy whose role we couldn't quite work out.

To begin with, they wanted us to pose by the Volkswagon car that Wendy has been using to help with the party preparations (and about which the whole promotion centres) and then, on Charlie's count, to nonchalantly all walk into the house and go about our business. A large group of people trying to nonchalantly walk into a house created an inevitable bottleneck. During the slight delay before entering, dad began to talk loudly about a giant snail or some such nonsense, causing my lovely niece and I much bemusement and really setting the tone for the whole day.

The crew quickly picked up on the fact that my dad was a 'character'.

Trying to 'go about your business', which at that time of the morning mainly involved drinking coffee and making toast, is not as easy as it would have been without the all seeing camera lens and a huge hairy microphone in your face.

The camera crew 'discreetly ' filming!

I am very glad that I had rearranged all the furniture in my house to accommodate the band and maximise the seating capacity because it made it feel more like a party venue and less like my home. I would have been much less comfortable with how invasive the camera was had it felt more home-like.

I was not directly involved with any more of the staged sequences of filming. That responsibility rested on the head of Wendy mostly (only fitting as it was her that had got us in to this). Mum and dad (or for the  sake of this film - Superpops and Nana) were given some instructions and wired up with microphones. After a couple of false starts, they seemed to deliver. All of the children were fantastic, rising to whatever challenge was posed.

The whole premise of the film was that this was a surprise party for Kizzy (who was 8 today). She believed that the party was in honour of Superpops and Nana, the superheroes of our family, and she gladly sacrificed her birthday celebrations for their benefit. It wasn't until 'the big reveal' - which involved a song from the band, confetti cannons, a cake, a shiny new bicycle and a giant poster of 'Princess Kizzy' - that she would twig that the whole day was really all about her.

In order to get plenty of footage of the car, Wendy's husband, Ian, was sent on an errand to collect various party items from different locations. The car had a dashboard videocam to record the action from within and a convoy car was all set to follow him with the film crew for the external shots. Unfortunately, Ian jumped the gun a little and left without the film crew. Wendy had to call him on his mobile and get him to return and set off once more.

They were gone with the car a long time. The crew were very particular about the shots they wanted trying different angles and different takes if the traffic conditions weren't exactly right or if there were too many curious bystanders! So much attention to detail, so much footage, all ultimately to be cut to a three minute film.

Eventually, we reached the moment in the party when Kizzy needed to be made scarce. She was to accompany my mum and dad back to Wendy's house so they could all change into party clothes and grandad could rest his knees. Wendy had a moment of sheer panic when she realised that the camera crew where going with them. She hadn't expected her house to be used in the filming and consequently had made no attempt to tidy up, wracking her brains to remember what sort of state she had left it in before adopting more of a 'too late to worry about it now!' attitude.

Buffet preparation, bike assembly, band sound check, 'surprise' prepping and hand held videoing filled the moments before Kizzy's return with the grandparents.

The return of the guests of honour

All the party guests lined the hallway and the band played their upbeat song 'Life is Just a Movie' as the door was opened to welcome the return of the 'guests of honour'. They were lead to their seats in the main room and the other guests filtered round into position. The cameraman and the sound man found their optimum position as the band played their next song, 'Draw me a Picture', written by Liberty.

The camera man and sound man find their optimum positions

Then followed the beautiful song Ella had written about her love for her grandparents. I'm not sure who was the first to start with the tears. I was certainly grateful for my tissue, Wendy didn't hold back, mum was filled with emotion, Kizzy's little eyes welled up seeing her nana cry, even the sound man had to wipe his eyes. It always disappoints me that dad does not allow himself to give in to his emotions. He obviously feels it but he stiffens and his expression turns to something like a grimace rather than a joyous outburst.

The final song was the 'Happy Birthday' song. The band performed it beautifully leaving no doubt that this party was really about Kizzy all along.

The giant Kizzy poster for the birthday princess

I certainly saw some fantastic moments that were charged with joy and love and humour and genuine surprise. Whether the camera crew were able to catch those moments and will subsequently edit them into something truly representative of what we were trying to achieve with the day remains to be seen. It is out of our hands now and we can only wait anxiously until the finished film 'goes live' in a few weeks time. It is equally possible that a careless comment in an unguarded moment or a blank expression or a story about a giant snail or even a grimace could paint a very different picture!

The departure of the camera crew did not mark the end of the party. We carried on well into the evening enjoying the food, the company and the impromptu band set with guest vocalists until giving in to the exhaustion. It was an amazing experience but I am very glad today is over and I can relax.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Oiling the cogs of the party machine.

I won! In the penultimate hour of the Schuh competition, my entry was selected as most deserving! Now as long as I have managed to send my details to the right place (it can all get a bit confusing) a shiny new pair of Doc Marten boots will be making their way to me. I can't even begin to explain how happy that made me.

Another update is that the magazine that wanted to publish a short article about my Murder Mystery party now want to turn it into a full story about my pregnancies and my wedding and my family! It could be most amusing to see my life written about in the house style of the 'real life' magazines. And of course, being a fan of said magazines herself, my mum is loving the idea.

Yesterday, I had a trip to Cheshire Ice Cream Farm with my parents and my sister and her husband and of course our three little ones. The baby slept the entire time but my 2yr old and Wendy's 1yr old ran their nana ragged wanting to play in the toddler soft play area and pop the bubbles blown by the scary 7ft tall automated bubble blowing clown located just inside the entrance to the Crazy Daisy Play Barn.

The main purpose of the visit was to film ourselves purchasing ice-cream from the amazing selection of flavours for the party preparation video footage for Wendy's competition to win a car - but while we were there, it didn't hurt to have a cup of coffee.....and then lunch..... and then a scoop of ice-cream! Our most generous old dad dug deep into his wallet to treat us all. It did make a really lovely day of it.

Tomorrow is the day of the party. There is lots of 'on' and 'off-camera' work to be done today to get things ready and give ourselves the best chance of having a party that runs smoothly, is enjoyed by everyone and gives the film crew some material to work with. If nothing else, the litre tubs of Mocha Coffee Bean, Fruits of the Forest, Banoffee and Apple Pie and Custard Ice cream now nestled in my freezer should oil the cogs of the party machine.
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