Thursday, 31 May 2012

Winning Wenlock

Yesterday, the Olympic torch passed through Shropshire.

I have to admit it didn't inspire me enough to get in my car to drive the 15 minutes to actually witness this event but it is hard not to be infected a little bit by the growing excitement that the games are generating.

Shropshire has a strong connection to the Olympics. Much Wenlock, a small town near Telford, is considered to be the birthplace of the Modern Olympic Games. One of the 2012 London Olympic Games mascots has been named Wenlock in honour of this sporting heritage.

I was sent an official Olympic plush Winning Wenlock mascot from Golden Bear to review.

At 35cms tall, cycloptic and proudly sporting a patriotic red, white and blue Union Jack design and holographic gold medal, Winning Wenlock is instantly recognisable. He has poseable arms, great for raising in a victory cheer (or covering his large single eye in case things don't go so well for Britain!)

Best (or worst depending on your point of view) of all is that he gets down to some seriously groovy moves whilst playing the official mascot song.  Lots of fun!

We are Olympic ready. Are you?

School Uniform

When I was at school, our uniform consisted of a green and white striped blouse which could only be purchased (at great expense) from the department store Caley's in Windsor, grey skirt, grey cardigan or jumper and a black and green striped tie. The blouses were uncomfortable and the grey colour was drab. Pupils desperate to express their individuality would undo a top button and wear their ties long and thin (or short and fat depending on current trends) Some teachers were stricter than others at enforcing the correct dress code.

I remember being involved in a campaign to allow the girls to wear trousers. We thought it grossly unfair that the boys were able to wear trousers but girls were forced to wear skirts. Ironically, I now find myself in a position where I am opposing a ruling at my daughter's secondary school to ban skirts.

I am very much in favour of school uniform and I think the one adopted by my daughter's school is  sensible, comfortable and thankfully easy to launder.  It comprises polo shirt and sweat shirt with school logo and black regulation trousers or (until recently) skirt.

The move to ban skirts is because a number of girls have taken to wearing the very short, figure hugging style of skirt that leaves little to the imagination. I have seen the girls walking round town and at the risk of sounding like a fuddy duddy (think I may have already condemned myself there with my choice of language!) I don't honestly think that it is appropriate for a learning environment. I would not be happy for my daughter to dress in a revealing way for school.

I agree with the headmistress and governors that something has to be done to bring the uniform back to an acceptable standard of modesty and smartness but to address the problem with a ban on all skirts seems to me a lazy solution most likely to cause an inflammatory response from parents and pupils alike. Several boys have already turned up to lessons wearing skirts in protest.

My daughter does not actually own a school skirt. She likes the practicality of trousers. However, during hot spells such as we have been enjoying recently, the last thing anyone would want to wear is black trousers (especially since some of the classrooms are impossible to keep cool). It was the morning before the skirt ban was announced during assembly that she had asked me if we could go school skirt shopping for her. I received a letter by post with the same announcement. When my daughter came home that afternoon she was incensed by the decision. She is not one to make trouble but when I told her that I wholeheartedly agreed with her and would be happy to take it up with the head, she surprised me by not shying away from potential confrontation.

I believe that the best way to run a school is to have everyone involved working together for the good of all wherever possible and practical. There will inevitably be conflicts of opinion. As the cliche goes - you can't please all of the people all of the time.

I am unimpressed by the poor management of the age old problem of kids rebelling against their dress code but I am sympathetic to the fact that the head is only human and trying to do a difficult job. I wrote a polite letter strongly stating my viewpoint and my daughter delivered it the following day.

I don't know what the outcome will be but I do know that I am proud of my daughter for not being afraid to stand up for what she believes in. I also know that if we are lucky enough to have more sunshine, I will support my daughter in breaking the rules to wear a skirt, although not one of the skimpy variety that caused the problem in the first instance. My daughter will be a 'knee-length' rebel and I will love her for it.

The Hoarder at the Bottom of the Garden

I don't watch a lot of TV these days but one of my 'must see' shows is Thursday night's "The Hoarder Next Door" on Channel 4.

I don't watch it just to see if psychotherapist Stellios Kiossis (is that really his name? - sounds like a Harry Enfield character) can possibly get any more orange - it is a genuine fascination with these people who have taken the natural tendency of everyone to be a bit of a hoarder to such damaging extremes.

Recently, a housefire took the life a local lady. Although there were no outwardly visible signs, it transpired that she was an out of control hoarder. As well as hampering the rescue efforts of the fireservice, the hoard was almost certainly instrumental in the cause and spread of the conflagration that  killed her.

I would classify myself as  'de-clutterer' rather than  a 'hoarder' but of course, in order to have anything to de-clutter implies a basic underlying compulsion to hoard in the first place.

My husband would be the first to say that possessions weigh you down. As a young man, he was very happy to pack up his life in a backpack and head off to Greece without a plan. Opportunities presented themselves, he took them and ended up running a successful business in the Caribbean. Not bad for a man without a plan! Why then, when I entered his workshop to find a tool I needed, was I met with a sight that could easily have featured on my Thursday night's viewing.

In his defence, he has been saying for some time that his workshop needed a good sort out (understatement!!) but every time he tried to do it, he seemed to spend a lot of time taking things out then putting them back in. I always thought he was being gentlemanly and attentive whenever I said I needed something from the workshop and he would rush to get it for me. I now know it was driven more by shame and embarrassment.

After confronting him with the state of it, we tackled it together.

Loading up the back of the Galaxy

Sacks full of rock hard paintbrushes and mouse nibbled rollers

I am not going to say that it is now a neat, well organised work space but we did achieve a great deal by clearing out the rubbish (and there was A LOT) and taking it to the dump. We still have a lot of work to do to get it how we both want it but at least we can see the floor now! It is certainly going to make DIY jobs a lot easier to manage although I may find my 'chilvalrous' husband isn't quite so quick to bring me the things I need - I might just have to get used to getting them for myself!

Ready to organise

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Gallery - Sunshine

"A flower cannot blossom without sunshine, and man cannot live without love."
Max Muller

This little cactus lives on a sunny windowsill in my kitchen. I was quite surprised to see that it was forming a flower bud and delighted yesterday when it opened up into this beautiful bloom.

I left it on the windowsill to photograph it because I liked the way the sunshine made the petals glow. I used the black corrugated packaging material from the top of a box of chocolates (that also bought some sunshine to my day!) as a makeshift backdrop to give the definition I wanted.

This is my attempt to capture sunshine and my contribution to this week's Gallery.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

I Knitted the Queen!

In gratitude for the long weekend coming up, I have hung my Jubilee bunting, bought the Union Jack themed 'Party in a Box' and knitted the Queen!

I still have the coat part of Liz's two piece to knit and the reason she is hiding her lower body is because I didn't have the needles I needed to make the shoes. Barefoot and bare armed, I still rather like her.

Her outfit is more 'peacock' blue than the distinctive 'royal' blue I intended to use, but that was because I forgot which shop it was that I had seen the correct shade.

The pattern is from 'Knit Your Own Royal Wedding" by Fiona Goble - a book that could be barely be given away once William and Katherine's nuptials were done and dusted. I'm sure this is not the last time I shall make use of it.

Congratulations to our Queen on her Diamond Jubilee and however you choose to celebrate - enjoy!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Why I Love my Garden

How blessed have we been with the weather? We've had more glorious sunshine than anyone knows quite what to do with. For our family, this has meant lots of time out in the garden - working and playing.

One of the jobs that we wanted to achieve was to fence off our ponds. We managed to do this with one, but the other needs a rethink, with maybe a metal grid over the top to make it safe.

When we were house hunting six years ago, one of the criteria high on our wish list was to have a large garden. We were very lucky to find a house with a nice big plot and an extra piece of land at the end that many years ago,  the homeowners along our road had been given the option to purchase. Luckily for us, the previous owner bought the piece of land allocated to our house AND our neighbour's. This extra bit of garden contains my vegetable plot, fruit trees and has been used for the odd football match. Separated by a hedge from the main garden and accessed via two narrow side paths, it has always felt exactly what it was - a bit added on. When we were fencing off the pond, I had the lightbulb moment that by removing a dead section of hedge and laying some turf, the two parts of the garden could be connected and made to feel as one. Almost as soon as I had thought it, my husband got to work doing it and ably assisted by a little worker, my vision was realised.

To make the most of opening the garden up, my husband somewhat impulsively purchased a Jungle Gym that would provide all sorts of play opportunities for the little ones. It was supplied as a box of fixings, colourful accessories and a big pile of planks and posts in different sizes that had to be pieced together. Thankfully, also supplied was a booklet of fairly comprehensive instructions.

It was wonderful watching my husband, my daughter and her boyfriend working as a team to turn the components into a fantastic construction.


If I had been consulted regarding the purchase, I would have probably said that it was maybe age inappropriate for my little ones - aimed at slightly older children. I am glad I was not consulted. Four year old Addy clambers up and down like a monkey and loves being "up in the trees". Dylan, not yet 2, pushes himself beyond the limit of what he has ever done before to climb up and although he still needs a reassuring hand when he comes down the slide, it won't be long before he is whizzing down independently. As he pulls himself up the little climbing wall feature, I smile to myself that this is exactly the sort of boy I want him to be - strong, capable, determined, not afraid of challenges.

The garden is coming together so well now. There are always hedges to  trim, grass to mow, borders to weed, vegetables to tend.... but it gives us all pleasure in so many ways. Not least is how much I appreciate turning this:

into these:

Rhurbarb Muffins - serve with a blob of creamy custard

Happy days!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Perfectly Alive

"For man, as for flower and beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive."
D. H. Lawrence

Friday, 25 May 2012

Matchbox Collectibles

As a little girl growing up, my two best friends were both boys. I did have dolls to play with but the influence of my male friends meant that I also had a fondness for tree climbing and the more traditionally 'boy' toys.

One of my treasured possessions was my Matchbox car collection. I may have had very little appreciation of make and model and horsepower, but I loved the colours and shapes and designs.

Not many of my childhood treasures followed me into adult life but my Matchbox cars in their collectors case, marked with my name in indelible ink to claim it as mine, did.

It never took pride of place, it was just tucked away and forgotten until I stumbled upon it from time to time. It truly was like discovering a secret portal back to my childhood every time I opened the lid and gazed upon the familiar die-cast metal contents.

When I had children of my own, the cars were offered as playthings. Each of my four oldest daughters now has a memory of discovering  mummy's toys and maybe connecting with the child I once was.

As my girls outgrew toy cars, the collection was once more packed away.

After the irretrievable breakdown of my first marriage, I had a ruthless sort out to prepare for moving from the family home and starting a new life. The car collection did not fall victim to my streamlining. I saved them for the day when future grandchildren would visit and I could say to them "These cars belonged to granny when she was little girl."

Little did I know that my new life would include the miracle of two more children of my own.

My older girls were as excited as I was when the car collection saw the light of day again for their siblings to enjoy.

My fifth child was another daughter and it was something of a surprise to me with child number six, to give birth to a son. He is not yet two years old but it has already given me such pleasure to experience the world through his eyes. The way he plays is so fundamentally different to the way my little girl plays. In the example of the toy cars, she will name each of them and have them make friends and go on adventures. He will park them in neat lines then zoom them across the room with suitably enthusiastic 'brooming' sound effects! He loves wheels - spinning them and gleefully shouting "Whee-yals".

My Matchbox cars are taking a serious hammering in the hands of my son. He is really a little young to be playing with toys with 'small parts' but he absolutely delights in them. Six little girls (myself included in that number) have used them in their games with very little deterioration in their condition. One little boy, in a very short time, has bent axles, dislodged windscreens and removed large chunks of paintwork. These cars that spanned a generation, will not survive another. My future grandchildren will not hear those imagined words "These cars belonged to...."

I am not sad about this. When I see my little boy heading purposefully off, crying "Tars! Tars! Tars!" (he isn't good with the 'c' sound!) I can't help thinking that my Matchbox collection has waited 40 years to be played with exactly like this.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Happy Anniversary

My daughter, Taylor, is celebrating an anniversary today - 3 years of being together with her boyfriend George. They have bought each other touchingly thoughtful gifts and as I write , they are snuggled on the sofa watching an episode of Bones.

George is completely lovely.

He calls my daughter 'Beautiful' and buys her Lockets when her voice is croaky.

There has never been an awkward moment to trigger maternal disapproval. Their relationship and George's place in our family have evolved slowly and naturally.

George gets on well with Taylor's three grown up sisters and has a very strong bond with the two younger siblings.

My little Dylan adores George. In a predominantly female household, he relishes the 'boyness' that George provides. He also relishes the breakfasts that George provides when mummy is a bit slow getting downstairs in the morning!

I used to joke with Taylor that if they ever parted company, we'd keep George. I don't say it anymore because she started to believe me!

George is wonderful but nothing less than my daughter deserves.

There is a difficult path ahead for the two sweethearts.

This autumn, Taylor plans to go off to University. George will remain here to complete his A levels. The separation and the inevitable changes that Taylor will experience in her life will undoubtedly put a great deal of strain on their relationship.

Big sister Liberty's relationship survived three years of University and she is now happily settled in a home that she and her boyfriend have purchased together. It is a positive example but certainly not a guarantee that everything will work out the way Taylor and George imagine.

Right now, they are not worrying about future challenges. They are quite rightly celebrating how far they have come as a couple and have a whole carefree summer stretching ahead of them to enjoy.

Photograph by the fantastically talented,  Kirsty Warner

Happy Anniversary to two amazing young people. 

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

TOTS 100 Film Club - Looney Tunes Big Faces Box Set

The Looney Tunes Big Faces Box Set contains 10 DVDs, each dedicated to one of the Warner Brother's famous cartoon characters, so familiar from my childhood: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tom, Jerry, Tweety Pie, Speedy Gonzales, Road Runner, Taz, Porky Pig and the fabulous Wile E Coyote.

The running times and number of episodes on each DVD varies but they are all packed full of cartoon capers and the comic violence which Mary Whitehouse once tried so hard to ban for fear of the damage it could cause to young minds.

The cartoons are undeniably old but classics never lose their charm. The box illustrations give the whole thing a modern, fresh feel with glorious, updated portraits of all the characters.

I felt very nostalgic watching episodes of Daffy Duck and my daughter fell in love with the impossibly large eyed canary, Tweety Pie (although personally, I'm always rooting for the Puddy tat, Sylvester!).

The box set has huge appeal and I think represents excellent value for money.

Definitely a welcome addition to our DVD library.

That's All Folks!

GCSE Survival Tips

I was so pleased to see my daughter heading off to school this morning to face her English Literature GCSE exam with a smile.

I am praying that the questions will be what she is expecting and that she will return with her smile still in place.

One GCSE survival tip must be to start the day with a good breakfast. Charis made sure of this by leaving an impossible to ignore instruction on the cake tin containing the "DON'T PANIG" cake that I made for her to help combat the pre-exam stress she was suffering (survival tip #2 - keep your sense of humour and relax)

Monday, 21 May 2012

Don't Panig

I have always suspected that my daughter, Charis, has her feet firmly on the Autistic Spectrum - not least because she is incapable of touching her own nose with her eyes closed. It has not gone unnoticed by others but she has never had a formal diagnosis. She is extremely bright and learns to deal with the things that she finds challenging.

Charis excels academically and has high expectations placed on her across the syllabus. She is hard working and methodical and finds most subjects easy. There is an exception. English Literature.

There are some aspects of English Literature that can be tackled with her usual approach. She regularly scores 10/10 on the exam question that asks you to analyse a passage from the study text. However, her overall score is seriously compromised by the scores she achieves on the other questions, in particular when asked to comment on unseen poetry.

Poetry is a mystery to Charis. When asked about the mood of the poem and how it makes you feel - she is completely lost. It doesn't make her feel anything. It is simply a string of words put together in a less than logical configuration.

Charis has her English Literature GCSE tomorrow.

As usual she is putting everything she has into doing well but her inability to 'get it' was starting to drive her to distraction.

I have done my best to help her - including speed reading "Of Mice and Men" so we could have detailed discussions about the characters and themes of the book. We looked at past papers and I tried to give her clues to help her decipher poetic code. I have every confidence that she will do well but it doesn't hurt to remind her of the safety net of resits.

My final offering to help with exam stress was to make her a DON'T PANIC cake. Staying calm is the most powerful strategy at her disposal.

Unfortunately, I was in a bit of a hurry. When I selected the embossing letters to imprint my message on the top of the cake, I picked up the G instead of the C (they looked virtually identical to me). My message read DON'T PANIG.

It was possibly the best mistake I've ever made. It made Charis laugh and relax. I hope in some small way that will help her deal with the task she has ahead.

Dear Blog...

This is the longest I have been away from you since we first made our acquaintance.

I have compared my life to a high speed train and you, dear blog, to the stations where I stop, take stock and reflect before continuing down the tracks.

Just recently, my train has run into a few problems. Nothing insurmountable - nothing really that important - just enough to slow its progress.

All I have been doing is taking stock and reflecting as my train grinds painstakingly forward.

Finally, I feel my wheels turning purposefully once more and it feels good.

I have been known to complain that life is too hectic - that I never seem to get the time to do all the things I need to do - let alone the things I want to do. My unscheduled days in the slow lane have made me really appreciate the crazy pace of life that has become my 'normal'.

It is with a happy heart that I return to full speed and the familiar place at my computer screen - the magic doorway to the tiny part of cyberspace that  I think of as mine.

Ready to enjoy the journey,

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Elf Games

It was a happy day for my youngest daughter when she discovered the Little Kingdom of Ben and Holly. She can often be seen running round the house with her 'magical' wand (a Spongebob Squarepants plastic maraca) calling to her little brother that she is a fairy and he is an elf!

There is a new Ben and Holly DVD entitled 'The Elf Games' (perfect for getting into the Olympic mood) due to be released, featuring the following ten delightful episodes:

The Elf Games
The Toy Robot
Dinner Party
Big Big Bad Barry
The Wand Factory
KingThistle's Birthday
Daisy & Poppy's Pet
The Elf Rocket
Picnic on the Moon

Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom DVD The Elf Games is available to own from Monday, 14th May 2012 (RRP £8.99). 

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Knowing when to give up

My daughter Liberty is at the age where a lot of her peers are getting married. She is at a wedding this weekend and in a rather nice twist on the wedding present idea, the couple have asked guests to bring a favourite pudding and the recipe. The puddings obviously form part of the wedding feast and the recipes will be compiled into a book which should make a quirky little memento of their happy day.

Liberty's pudding making is limited in a number of ways:
1) She isn't really that interested in cooking
2) Working as a secondary school teacher is a demanding job which leaves her with not a lot of time or energy in the evenings
3) Despite our noble attempt to clean the oven that she inherited with the house she and her boyfriend recently bought, it still spews out toxic fumes and flakes of black nastiness when you turn it on.

I am very happy that when my children need help, they are not afraid to come to me. I offered use of my kitchen, my recipes, my assistance and even my ingredients. When I discovered two half bottles of wine in my fridge, leftover from an event that had kept my husband working late the previous night, the pudding making evening started to look a little bit more like a party. Liberty's boyfriend came over too - drank beer and watched us cook (after reading bedtime stories to little Dylan which was very heartwarming to witness).

We decided on a favourite, practically foolproof recipe for chocolate fudge cake.

Whilst the cake was cooking, there was plenty of opportunity for talking and laughing and the wine did slip down a little too easily. By the time my husband came home to join the party, having been participating in a drizzly, mostly windless race meeting at his sailing club (I struggle to see the pleasure in it sometimes!) the fudge cake part of our reason for being there was almost forgotten. We ordered our favourite Indian takeaway to round off a perfectly lovely evening.

I was left with the task of finishing the cake as Liberty had a parents evening the next day that would keep her late at work. I was more than happy to oblige.

The fudge icing part is easy - I have done it many times before - but I started thinking about how I could add some embellishment to make it look really special.

One of my Cake Decorating Part Works featured a Blossom Cake. Using a petal nozzle and icing bag provided with the part work, it showed how delicate white blossoms could be piped using royal icing.

Blossom Cake

Liberty had seen the picture of the Blossom Cake back when the part work first arrived and said that she thought it was the most hideous thing ever. I  wanted to change her opinion by creating some blossoms to use sparingly on the fudge cake - pure white petals contrasting with the rich chocolate fudge icing and mirroring the abundance of blossoms adorning fruit trees at this time of year. In my mind's eye, this was going to be breathtakingly beautiful in its simplicity.

More often than not in life, things don't turn out exactly how you planned them.

I had a packet of Royal Icing sugar. I thought I knew and understood sugar. I thought it would be a simple task to mix the sugar with water to the required consistency. Wrong. The packet warned: "At no time allow the icing to become too stiff and heavy". Mine seemed to start off too stiff and heavy and never recovered.

My second attempt began more promisingly but simply refused to go to the soft peak stage, no matter how long I mixed it. I added more sugar which helped a little. I was probably overly cautious of  the 'stiff and heavy' warning, convinced myself that this would do the job and proceeded to fill my piping bag.  It soon became obvious that it was the wrong consistency. My petals were at best - blobs!

I thought I had nothing to loose by mixing Attempt A (too stiff) with Attempt B (not stiff enough) in the hope of creating a perfect hybrid. It turned out I had nothing to gain either.

My mum always stands by the old adage "Third time lucky" so I decided to clear up the mess I had so far made and start again with a fresh batch. Attempt C, from a different bag of Royal Icing Sugar which was actually just past its sell by date, turned into a big pliable ball which would have been great for modelling but useless for piping.

I probably should have given up at that point, but much like the repeated (ineffective) cleaning of Liberty's oven, I decided to give it another go. When you have already invested so much energy, the desire to see it through and have it come good can be strong. I wondered if the icing sugar I had used on Attempt C was to blame for the failure so I went back to the original bag and started again.

This was the most promising attempt yet. My flagging confidence was restoring itself and once again I allowed myself to have the fantasy of the finished cake - blossoms that appear to have drifted weightlessly on a warm breeze to settle on the decadent richness of the earth brown fudge topping.

I transfered Attempt D into the cleaned icing bag and squeezed.

What happened next really should have been the sign (neon and flashing) to GIVE UP. The seam of the icing bag spit and the icing extruded through the hole in a thick cylinder.

I can be too stubbornly persistent for my own good.

I fashioned a new icing bag out of greaseproof paper and attached the petal nozzle with an elastic band (too big for the job and wrapped round a gazillion times). With the determination of a woman who knows this is the very last hope, I piped.

With hours of practice and experimentation, I may have gained some proficiency in the fine art of blossom piping. I didn't have hours. It was nearly time to collect my daughter from school. I was creating the odd useable one but far from being delighted by my minor success, I began to see the blossoms with different eyes. I was starting to think that Liberty had been right all along - they were quite hideous!

I thought about the sugar I had wasted and the time I had spent - and for what. That was a huge amount of effort for very little reward.

Liberty has ripped out her unclean-able, unusable oven and ordered a brand new one.

I am letting go of my unhealthy pre-occupation with imitating nature's perfection with out of date comestibles.

I have learned some valuable lessons, and not just with regard to the quality of the free gifts provided with Part Works.

Knowing when to give up and letting go without regret is a good feeling.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Pixum Photo Books

Back in the days before digital photography, I would carefully compose each shot on my 36 exposure rolls of film before sending them off for processing. It could be an agonising wait for the prints to be delivered if there were some pictures I was particularly excited about. Sometimes the photographs exceeded my expectations, sometimes they were a disappointment. I never threw any away. I could never quite make up my mind how to organise them.

Nowadays, I take hundreds of digital photographs. Sometimes they exceed my expectations, sometimes they are a disappiontment. I rarely delete any. I still can't quite make up my mind how to organise them.

When I was offered a Pixum Photo Book to review, I thought it would be a great opportunity to get me thinking about my collection of photographs - what is the purpose of it and what do I actually want from it? Establishing that might just help me to decide on how best to organise it.

It can be a dangerous thing - looking back through old photographs. Time slips away and before you know it,  your children are hungry and demanding to be fed. The housework remains undone and you have not the least idea what you are going to give the kids for dinner that can be prepared with super speed so you are still on track for a reasonable bedtime.

There were lots of themes that presented themselves as possible subjects for a Photo Book - selections of photographs from recent holidays, the stages of development of my growing children, special days, celebrations, DIY projects documenting the before, during and after.... I even considered a colour themed Photo Book. In the end I opted for an eclectic mix of images that I had used in this blog over the course of the previous 12 months. All the images meant something special to me and they could be tied together by simply titling my book: QWERTY Mum Blog - A Year in Photos.

I put the pictures together in a folder for ease of uploading and decided to not think too hard about the ones I wanted to include - to go with my first instinct.

Then came the tricky bit.

The Pixum website gives lots of different options for uploading photographs, including one specifically for Mac users.

I have never come across an online system that is as simple and quick for uploading photographs as they would have you believe. It is a fiddle and it is time consuming but with perseverance, you get there in the end. The Pixum site was no different.

Once my album was uploaded, I had decisions to make about format, design and layout for my Photo Book. I went for the A4 portrait format for ease of fitting onto my bookshelf. I chose a simple, plain black design to showcase the images without too much fuss. As for the layout, by now I was really running out of time and energy, so I decided to leave it in the hands of the Gods and opted for the autofill.

Could I have done better  by manually inserting each of my photographs? Possibly - but the autofill took seconds whereas I would have agonised for hours. The autofill did a pretty good job.

One thing that I possibly should have changed was the front cover. Some cosmic influence meant that the A3 sized image splashed across the front and back cover in glorious colour and perfect focus was the photograph I took during my husband's vasectomy operation. I thought about changing it for about a microsecond! It was far too funny to undo.

My Photo Book arrived within a few days of placing my order. The images were beautifully printed on high quality paper and the front cover looked amazing!

As well as being a great way to enjoy your own photographs, a Photo Book would make a truly unique gift.

I still have no idea how I am going to organise my collection but I do have a shiny new hardback book of memories to treasure.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Squeak and Grunt

I love to hear my girls sing, whether it be at a music festival, buskinga pub gigstudio recordings or just at home.

When Charis and Taylor disappear to Taylor's room to 'do homework', it is never long before you hear the muffled sound of them singing behind the closed door. They have a special playlist on their i-tunes that they sing along to. Charis sings high and Taylor sings quite low so they have called it their "Squeak and Grunt" Playlist. Far from squeaking and grunting, what I hear are perfect vocal harmonies. They are always happy to perform for me if I have any requests.

For my birthday this year, Charis had the idea to put together a list of some of my favourite songs and let me pick which ones I would like to listen to in my own private little concert. A lack of rehearsal time and the unexpected arrival of Ivy who wanted to join in, meant that the concert was not as polished as it could have been - but it was the best birthday present I could have wished for.

The video is Charis and Taylor's brave attempt to sing I Dreamed a Dream.... with plenty of mistakes!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Lidl's Boys

We call them the Lidl's boys. They congregate in their cars in the Lild's car park that my house happens to back on to. They favour the summer evenings.

They can be annoying at times with their car stereos blasting out monotonous, bass heavy music and their tyres screeching as they wheel spin on the tarmac - but mostly I feel a gentle affection towards them and smile as their particular blend of sounds adds to the rich tapestry of life in a small market town.

Sometimes the police are called and they are asked to disperse. I have never known them to cause any real trouble.

Two of the Lidl's boys are dead.

Their tragically short lives ended in a horrific car crash on a long stretch of road on the edge of town. There has been the inevitable speculation that they were driving too fast - that maybe their driving skills did not quite match their ambition. Whatever the reason, it does not deflect from how desperately sad it is that these two boys are gone, leaving a huge, heart wrenching hole in the lives of their families.

Last night, despite the miserable weather, people gathered in the Lidl's car park to show their respects and express their grief. The police were present but the crowd of upward of 250 was mostly subdued in a moving demonstration of genuine sorrow and disbelief.

Photograph from the Drayton Crier Facebook Page

I don't imagine that this tragedy will dampen the spirits of the young lads who live for their cars for long. No doubt the sound of screeching tyres and car stereos will be the soundtrack to accompany my summer evenings soon enough. It will be hard to listen to those sounds without thinking of this day and remembering the loss and sadness.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Cherish Every Breath

Yesterday was my birthday and the sun shone all day. I felt glad to be alive.

Today, the rain is back and I have just found out that someone close to our family has lost her brother in a car accident. I did not know the young man personally but I am deeply shocked by the news and can only begin to imagine how the bereaved family are feeling.

So much of life can be mundane and routine. It is easy to feel miserable, dissatisfied, frustrated, depressed - to overlook the everyday miracles. It is a cliche but what if today were your last?

Yesterday, I felt glad to be alive. Today, even more so.

Cherish every breath.
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