Saturday, 30 November 2013

Ironing in the Great Laundry of Life

I was married to my first husband for nearly twenty years and have been with my second for coming up to a decade. There are not many similarities between the two men but they did both choose careers that required them to wear suits. For me, that has meant nearly thirty years of ironing shirts . 

I actually quite like ironing. Don't get me wrong, there's any number of things I'd rather be doing - drinking wine, reading a good book..... - but for a chore that needs to be done, there is a certain amount of pleasure involved. One pleasure these days as I set to work on my current husband's crumpled cotton is seeing the label  that proudly states '2inches longer'. I know it refers to sleeve length (my husband is a tall, long limbed gentleman) but I can't help feeling a bit smug and mildly amused in the knowledge that this applies equally to other body parts. It is good to be reminded of the husband 'upgrade'.

The pleasure I get from ironing, and indeed any task that requires an appliance, is influenced greatly by the quality and design of the equipment used.

I bought a new iron in 2008. 

The purchase wasn't something I had planned but became a necessity following an ironing board repositioning manoeuvre that went badly wrong. My precariously balanced appliance was flung to the ground, smashing rather spectacularly. I persevered and ironed a couple more shirts regardless of the exposed inside iron parts that no housewife should have to see until I concluded that it was probably all a bit dangerous. Having decided that a new iron was a better bet than a repair job with insulating tape, I headed off on an emergency  shopping mission.

 My product selection was based entirely on price rather than features, being seduced by the big red letters announcing HALF PRICE. I really had no idea exactly what I had purchased until I got home and unpacked it. It looked like an ordinary iron until you plugged it in when suddenly the whole thing lit up. It was a 'digital colour select iron' which meant that instead of having a nice sensible dial  to choose the operating temperature, you had a little bippy button that toggled up through all your usual heat settings as the water tank lit up in pretty rainbow shades. There was a certain degree of flashing and beeping that occured during the process which I failed to fathom the purpose of  but it was all good. As luck would have it, the cotton setting which is my temperature of choice as a general rule just happened to light up with one of my favoured wavelengths of the visible spectrum - purple.

I had a panic moment as I was ploughing my way through the pile of waiting shirts. As I was ironing, the shirts were getting really wet. Now my old iron used to dribble a bit when it wasn't quite up to temperature but nothing like this. I was pressing buttons, turning the iron upside down, shaking it...but I couldn't work out where all this water was coming from. I was starting to think I must have purchased a faulty one and would need to take it back to the shop (which was a bit embarrassing because my baby girl had chewed a big soggy hole into the cardboard packaging while I was trying to make sense of the instructions). What I hadn't realised at this point (but thankfully did realise before I became 'angry consumer demanding full refund') was that whilst I was shopping, the old iron carelessly left on the ironing board had emptied a nearly full tank of water onto the absorbent material of the ironing board cover. It was absolutely saturated and hence the source of sogginess. That sorted, new iron and I began to forge a happy working relationship.

That relationship was  doomed to failure. The 'bippy button' that toggled through the heat settings was situated inconveniently on the handle so I would inadvertantly toggle it with the palm of my hand as I ironed. This became a major problem when the light that elevated this appliance from 'iron' to 'digital colour select iron' stopped working. Toggling to the wrong setting without the colour change to alert me was a huge annoyance. I would only become aware that it was too hot when I scorched the fabric (too late) or too cool when the creases laughed out loud at my vain attempts to flatten them (much time wasted). I struggled on regardless through the years until such a time that I became convinced that the thermostat mechanism must have given up. The quality of my ironing had deteriorated to the  point that I might as well not have bothered at all.

That all changed with another half price offer. A sexy black iron with no-nonsense, straightforward controls. It was everything I wanted  from an appliance - love at first sight.

I bought it.

My ironing experience was transformed. Gliding effortlessly over even the most crumpled of garments with the gentle hiss of steam, my lovely new iron delivered crisp, crease free results. The clothes rail began to fill with perfectly pressed shirts. 

An upgraded husband and now an upgraded iron. The three of us are still living our happily ever after in the great laundry of life.

This blog post is my  entry into the Tots100/PartSelect ’Love Your Appliance’ competition.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Comet ISON

I have been following the progress of comet ISON, ever hopeful that I might see its glorious presence with my own eyes and share that wonder with my children. Last night, the path of the comet took it perilously close to our sun (only in space can 1.2 million kilometres be considered 'close'!) It seems that this encounter may have been the undoing of what had been hailed as 'the Comet of the Century'. There is a sliver of hope that part of the comet may have survived and still be visible. The next few days will reveal the truth.

If the comet has persished / disappeared/ died / ceased to be - then what? All that we will have to look up at is the unfathomable mystery of countless stars and an ever changing moon with the knowledge that each of us is part of something amazing. That doesn't seem too bad to me.

The Day a Comet Came to Tea

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Day a Comet Came to Tea

There is a comet on its way - comet ISON. For a million years it has journeyed through space and later this month it will pass close to our sun. It is predicted to be a spectacular sight - so bright as to be visible during daylight hours to the naked eye.

I have been keeping a lookout for the celestial visitor but all I seem to see is clouds and more clouds. I have not given up hope but it is frustrating.

There is another comet on its way. This one is less elusive and it's coming to tea!

The Day a Comet Came to Tea is a wonderful little story told in satisfying rhyme with quirky illustrations from 'Judge Dredd' artist Stewart Moore. The author, Guy Lachlan, was inspired to write the story as a means of encouraging children to join in with his love of science. The comet that arrives outside the house of a boy and his daddy with a bang then joins them for tea is certainly one way of opening a child's eyes to the wonders of the Universe and being part of that Universe. I can't think of a better way of introducing my young children to the idea of the very real comet that is passing our planet right now and just possibly inspiring a lifelong passion for science.

The Day a Comet Came to Tea is available to purchase for iPad, Android and Kindle all at pocket money prices, from the website which also has lots of information, puzzles, games, free downloads and a competition.

I absolutely love the story and the concept behind it but don't take my word for it. Listen to what Addy has to say (and don't forget to look up to the skies - Comet ISON is up there somewhere!)

For twitter feed on Comet ISON follow @Cometison2013

Introducing Topsy and Rex

Yesterday, I pushed back my keyboard and mouse and made space for some plasticine modelling.

I have been sent Dinosaurs in Space to review and having familiarised myself with what it was all about, my next task was to make the stars of my stop-motion film, Topsy the triceratops and Rex the (no surprises) T Rex.

I started with Topsy. I watched the tutorial on the website and felt fairly confident that I could do this. With just my hands and two double ended modelling tools, I could turn formless green, white and black  plasticine into a characterful little jurassic film star.

I do suffer with cold hands so it took quite a lot of squishing to warm the plasticine up enough to make it workable. The thing to remember about making models for stop-motion animation is that they need to be made from one piece of plasticine. Making the head, legs, body and tail separately and joining them together is a recipe for disaster. It is pretty much a given that at least one (probably more) body part will fall off as the model is manipulated during filming. The appendages need to be pulled and coaxed out of the single lump. It is tricky but the plasticine is very forgiving and an oversized leg can have material dragged from it to compensate for an undersized head! Once I had my plasticine warm and workable, I was surprised that in only 5minutes, I had a basic shape that I was reasonably happy with.

From that basic shape, you can smooth and tweak until you are satisfied. I am a bit of a perfectionist and I was in danger of smoothing and tweaking my dinosaur out of existence. Luckily for Topsy, I had a time limit. My little boy needed picking up from nursery soon so I decided to move onto the next stage - adding the details.

Wiping your hands with a baby wipe when you switch colours prevents cross cotamination and keeps the model looking crisp. As shown in the tutorial, I added horns, bulgy eyes and claws with white plasticine, cut a slit for the mouth then finally, added a black tongue and tiny balls of black for the pupil which brought the whole thing magically to life.

Some time later, spurred on by my success, I had a go at Rex. I found it harder to get the basic shape right - the head never seemed chunky enough - but I perservered. I wasn't all that happy with how the teeth turned out but overall it wasn't too bad and if my children were to stand any chance of being fed, I really had to leave it and get on with cooking the dinner.

However your dinosaurs turn out, they are your unique creation. Every little defect adds character. Be proud and get ready to start filming!

Monday, 18 November 2013

Dinosaurs in Space

Every so often, a product aimed at kids is launched that has me every bit as (or more) excited than they are. Dinosaurs in Space is one such product.

Dinosaurs in Space is a kit that contains the basics you need to make your very own stop-motion animation - Zu3D animation software, a nifty little webcam, modelling clay and tools.

The box sleeve has a space scene printed inside that can be coloured and used as the backdrop for your film.

You can see in the photograph above that the instructions are clear and friendly and supported by an easy to navigate website The website has tutorials, ideas and even a gallery to share your own creations.

The kit is aimed at the 6+ age group. My daughter, Addy, has not had her sixth birthday yet but I am sure that with plenty of supervision, she will get  a lot out of Dinosaurs in Space. She has already loved colouring in the backdrop (which proved to be an excellent lazy Sunday activity before getting dressed or having her hair brushed!)

Our next task is to make the dinosaur models, Topsy and Rex, to star in our animation. I have just watched the tutorial on how to make Topsy, the triceratops. As much as I want Addy to take ownership of our project, I know that she would struggle with this and as the success of our film is rather dependent on having a recognisable character, I am taking the lead in this part.

The kids are at school. There is no one here to laugh at me if it all goes horribly wrong. I am ridiculously excited about the excuse to play with plasticine. I will let you know how I get on.

To find out more about Zu3D animation software and for some fantastic animations, follow Zu3D on facebook and twitter.

Dinosaurs in Space RRP £34.99

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Fifty things

My husband and I had a plan. We called it Fifty things to do before we're Fifty. We originally gave ourselves a budget of 50 x £50 but it soon became obvious when we made the decision to send our daughter to boarding school that the budget would have to be cut (50 x 50p was more realistic!) It was supposed to be an excuse to do crazy things, have adventures, live life to the full and blog all about it. Last week, my husband turned fifty and in a few short months the dials on my age counter will click over to match his. Far from being well under way with our amazing new experiences, we haven't even managed to complete #1 on the list which was, quite usefully,  Think of Fifty Things.

Our plan failed. Fifty Things to do Before We're Fifty was a failure.

Should I let this get me down? Definitely not. Failure is just another teacher with a lesson to deliver. Failure is probably one of the most important teachers we can have.

Why did our plan fail? The simple answer is lack of time and money. Time and money are two things no-one ever seems to have enough of. The lesson learned - never waste either.

Instead of feeling down about the failed plan,  I decided to put a more positive spin on things and make a retrospective list of Fifty things we DID do before we were fifty from the time we got together in our early forties. It is colour coded - black things we did together, blue things are his achievements, pink are mine. Here is the list:

1. Meet up on a romantic trip to Paris
2. Fall in love   (  The beat, beat, beat of my heart  )
3. Ski for the first time
4.  Fly alone to see Coldplay in Barcelona
5.  Get stranded in Barcelona airport with no flights home!
6. Move job and country
7. Buy a house together   (  A tale of two plates  )
8. Make that house a home  (  Home  )
9. Have horse riding lessons
10. Buy a boat    (  Finding sea legs  )
11. Dig a fish pond (not for the boat!)
12. Fall in the fishpond
13. Fly to to Greece
14. Swim in an infinity pool
15. Go snorkelling
16. Announce a pregnancy.
17. Have a baby girl.   (  Addy  )
18. Have a naming day party for all the new Virgos   (  A year of being Virgos  )
19. Learn to dance
20.  Dance in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom   (  Blackpool  )
21. Finalise divorces
22.  Plan a wedding.
23. Get married   (  Remembering a Wedding Day  )
24. Announce another pregnancy.
25. Have a baby boy. (  Dylan's Birth Video - celebrating the children in your life  )
26. Prevent the possibility of any more pregnancy announcements  ( not for the squeamish  )
27. Start writing a blog (  One Year of QWERTY Mum  )
28. Learn to knit  (  Knitting with my mum  )
29. Knit a zombie  (  Knit your own zombie  )
30. Join a running club  (  Running Club  )
31. Run 10K  (  Market Drayton 10K Road Race  )
32 Become regular Parkrunners ( More Parkrunning  )
33. Create a vegetable garden.  (  Why I love my Garden  )
34. Watch shooting stars
35. Taste Paneer Tikka Masala ( A Curry to Remember  )
36. Have a boudoir photo shoot  (  Boudoir Photography )
37. Buy a sports car  ( Mid Life Crisis  )
38. Sell a sports car
39. Cycle to London (not through the lack of a more appropriate vehicle)  ( Men in Lycra  )
40. Alphabet Date  (pull out all the stops for A but never reach the end)  (  Aerial Adventure  )
41. Complete a triathlon  (  A Sporty End to Half Term  )
42. Swim and cycle the distances for an ironman competition.
43. Support four daughters on their journey to independence
44. Keep chickens  (  Here come the girls  )
45. Eat meat (not the chickens)  (  Gloucester Old Spot Piglets and Sausages  )
46. Deal with the loss of a loved one  (  My Mother in Law  )
47. Take part in a Colour Run  (  Color Run  )
48. Complete two Race for Life events, raising money for Cancer Research (  Race for Life  )
49. Discover Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead TV shows

There were plenty of contenders for number 50 - spa days, counting blessings, appreciating the little things, falling out and making up...

I decided to leave 50 blank. There are still a few months before the deadline we set ourselves originally - midnight on 30th April 2014. I am counting on the fact that we can pull one adventure/crazy thing out of the bag before then - one amazing experience to demonstrate our commitment to living life to the full. Number fifty is hope for the future, never knowing what is around the corner, grasping opportunities, being willing to put in the effort or step outside the zone of complacency. Life's plan will unfold before me. I will be ready for it.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Life, death and the existence of God

I am often amazed by the conversations my kids have, especially about the really big topics - life and death, the existence of God.

This morning, whilst getting coats and shoes on ready to go to school, five year old Addy and three year old Dylan were talking about not wanting to die. I interjected in my usual matter of fact 'let's try not to make a big deal of this' way that no one lives for ever. The following conversation ensued:

Me:      No one lives for ever.

Addy:  God does.
            God gave us all of this stuff.
            But he didn't want us to all squash each other so he gave us dying.

Dylan: God is nice.

Addy: What he said.

Dylan: I want to see god.

Addy:  He is up in the clouds, like a giant.
            You will have to fly really high.
            You'll have to find a bird and hold onto his legs and the bird will flap like this (runs around flapping wildly).
            It will be dangerous.
           Are you sure you want to go?
           You will miss us because we will be way down here.
           Are you sure?
           Cos you are precious.
           We don't want you to die.
           Are you sure?
           If the bird drops you it might hurt.
           You might fall into a a spiky bush.

Dylan: I'll stay here.
            I want mum to look after me.

Me:     (hugs them both tightly with a heart full of love)

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Tree Fu Tom Adventure Castle Playset

My little boy, Dylan, really enjoyed playing with the Ultimate Tree Fu Tom that we were sent to review in September, so when I showed him our latest review item - a Tree Fu Tom Adventure Castle Playset - he was more than a little bit pleased. In fact, he literally jumped up and down and said: We gettid anover Tree Fu Tom fing. I'm incited!!!

We took a break from our Hallowe'en activities to have a little play with the Castle Playset. There was a small amount of adult assembly required which I always find more challenging than I should.  Dylan was kept entertained playing with the little Tree Fu Tom figurine supplied.

I'm not always a fan of the plastic 'playsets'. They can be fragile and designed to be played with in a very specific way that does not allow a child's imagination to be let loose. I have to say that this one seemed fairly robust with enough features to make it interesting but also plenty of space to just 'play'. And play Dylan did - with big sister Addy.

Dylan particularly liked the little Trap Door feature while Addy was keen on a Wind Up Lift.

Some intervention was needed to help them to get their Tree Fu Tom to 'fly' around the top of the castle. Luckily there was a big sister and someone in need of a manicure and hand cream willing (a little too willing!) to help.

I rather liked the Leafboard onto which Tom fits securely so he can perform daring stunts down the Leafboard ramp. It looks as though he may be just about to jump onto his Leafboard in the following photo.

Another interesting feature is the multifaceted Seeking Crystal that can be seen in the previous photo. It can be illuminated by pressing a button on the castle floor or on the crystal holder (batteries included). The holder is removable which enables the light to be used to seek for 'splats'.

After a while, one of our Hallowe'en props became incorporated into the game...

Tree FuTom is hiding under the pile of green crinkly paper shreds. Can you spot him?

... and then took over completely.

Conclusion: Tree Fu Tom Castle Playset - great little toy for fans of Treetopolis and a lot less messy than green crinkly paper shreds!

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