Friday, 27 April 2012

From Cabbages to Roses

I've been baking again.

I am really enjoying receiving my Cake Decorating Partwork through the post. I do not regret my decision to subscribe.

As it was my sister's birthday at the beginning of the week and my birthday at the beginning of next week, I decided that it was as good an excuse as any to make some celebration cakes. My parents were visiting so I made my dad's favourite - coffee and walnut cake (from issue 5).

Issue 4 came with a modelling tool to make sugar roses. I have had a go at making roses in the past but they have always looked like cabbages. Using specialist flower paste and the new tool to roll the petals very thin, my roses were much more delicate and flower-like. I was quite pleased with the result. I used one of my own tried and tested recipes to make a chocolate cake with fudge icing as the vehicle for my little flowery creations.

Making the roses was one of those laborious repetitive tasks that requires a certain amount of concentration but frees your mind to wander. I found myself thinking a lot about my mum as a mother to me and my two sisters - about how terrifying it was for her giving birth for the first time knowing so very little about what to expect all those years ago - about a young woman suffering from post-natal depression with no medical support or understanding of the feelings she was experiencing - about a mum doing her best to care for her children. I made three roses, one to represent each of her three daughters. The number of leaves represents how many leaves it was possible to make out of the trimmings of sugar paste!

I was really pleased with the ivory colour that I achieved using gel food colouring - hugely disappointed with the limp shade of green that I managed using liquid food colouring. If I attempt this again, I shall definitely buy a better quality green colouring.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Somewhere in my Mind

When we moved to Shropshire back in 1999, I was sorry to leave behind a wonderful piano teacher who inspired my girls to play and compose and gave them a good musical grounding.

It was my eldest daughter, Liberty, who drove the search to find a new teacher. Before long, they were under the tutelage of one Mr Sterling, who also taught music at the local secondary school.

That was many years and many hours of piano lessons ago. Mr Sterling, who has now retired from his teaching position, continues to visit us weekly to guide the youngest two of my four accomplished pianists.

I have come to think of Mr Sterling as much more than just our piano tutor. He is a friend. As he has watched my children grow and mature, I have watched his two sons do likewise.

This post is about his younger son, Joe.

Joe Sterling is one of those people that shines with an inner light. He has a mass of curly hair and a friendly smile. Although his dad plays down his own influence, I don't find it surprising that Joe is a gifted musician and vocalist.

I remember him as a young lad singing the Once in Royal David City first verse solo at the church Carol Service. I think his voice must have been on the point of breaking at the time because it wasn't a perfect performance - there were definitely a few wobbles - but it didn't matter.

He was a member of a popular band at school - The Froliks - (my children still tease me because of how I can't help dancing and singing along to their song "Bring Back the Disco") but I always enjoyed his solo acoustic performances the most. His cover of "Cannonball" by Damien Rice moved me enough to request it during a busking style gig at a school event. He willingly obliged and made my day.

I was very excited for him when he got a minor acting role in the 2007 movie Atonement (my excitement may have had something to do with the fact that I adore James McAvoy  who played the male lead). I never actually spotted Joe when I watched the DVD (a victim of the cutting room maybe?) but what an amazing experience that must have been.

Since leaving school, Joe has been working in musical theatre and most impressively, has collaborated to write a musical - "Roundabout". The following video is Joe's performance of Sophie's Song which was the inspiration for the musical.

Joe's talent for songwriting is starting to be recognised and I am very proud to own his debut album "Somewhere in My Mind - the Songs of Joe Sterling". The  CD features songs from the musical (including Sophie's Song) sung by a host of West End talents.

My favourite track (although I can't honestly say that my natural bias didn't influence my choice!) is  "You Could be the One, They Said" sung by Joe himself.

The album is well worth a listen and Joe Sterling is definitely a name to watch out for in the future.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

HAPPY FEET TWO - a TOTS100 film blogger review

tots100 parent bloggers film club

I do remember watching Happy Feet (which my mum claims is one of her favourite films) but don't remember much about it other than it was something to do with dancing penguins. I had intended to re-watch the original before sitting down to the sequel but time simply did not allow.

Happy Feet Two very definitely had dancing penguins!

Like many people, I was spellbound by the wonderful David Attenborough series Frozen Planet. In many ways, Happy Feet Two had the same effect on me. The animation was utterly spectacular from the vast frozen landscapes to the intricately detailed animal characters.

I found it quite amazing that while the penguins performed beautifully choreographed dance routines (including some very cool street dance moves) they still retained their essential penguin qualities - completely believable. The one possible exception to this was the main character from the original, Mumble, voiced by Elijah Wood, who I felt moved more like a meerkat than a penguin (but my kids assured me that this was to do with being dropped when he was an egg or some such thing). Mumble still had his baby feathers rather than the distinctive emperor penguin plumage but he was in an adult relationship and was father to a chick. This puzzled me but again my children had an explanation that was rooted in the earlier dropping incident. (I really wish I had had time to re watch that movie!)

Mumbles' chick, Erik,  deserves a few words in this review. I think he was supposed to be adorably cute. I think he was supposed to be inspirational in that he had to struggle to find his way in the world and triumph. In fact, I found him extremely annoying and when he had his prolonged solo singing moment to try and convince the Elephant seal to help his 'hero' of a father (persistent and resourceful, yes,  but I never really felt the heroism) to save the Emperor penguin population from certain death, I wanted to rip my own ears off.

There were some moments of absolute brilliance in this film but I did find myself at times wanting to fast forward. Both my littles ones fell asleep!

The underlying theme of the film is the effect of global warming on the polar ice caps. The collapse of a huge iceberg results in the Emperor penguin colony becoming trapped in an ice valley with no access to the sea for food. It is left to Mumble, Erik and various friends to overcome the odds and save the colony.

The best part of the film, for me, was the sub plot of Bill and Will the Krill, voiced by Matt Damon and Brad Pitt, who break free from the krill swarm to discover what lies beyond. The animators did a breathtaking job of depicting life in the swarm and life beyond from a krill perspective. My favourite quote of the movie, shortly before the big climax was when Bill asks Will why he thinks the penguins dance. Bill the Krill unexpectedly replies that it might provide "momentary release from the existential terror of existence"

My favourite, laugh out loud, jump off the sofa cheering moment was when the Elephant seals, animated to enhance their extraordinary power and bulk, mobilise to the tune of Rawhide. Genius.

This is not a film that would make it into my top ten must watch children's movies, which is a shame because it has a lot to commend it. Somehow,  it just didn't hang together to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

Kiddy Guardian Pro 2 Car Seat

I have been having trouble on car journeys with my son Dylan, who is nearly 2 years old. He does not like to be restrained by the harness on his car seat and is very adept at wriggling out of it. I am not so adept an wrestling him back in - especially when trying to achieve this whilst leaning into the back from the front seat.

Inadequately restrained toddler, stressed mother - definitely a situation to be avoided.

I was hopeful that the design of the Kiddy Guardian Pro 2 would suit him better so that I could stop dreading taking him anywhere in the car.

Rather than using an integral harness, the Kiddy Guardian Pro 2 has a substantial impact shield that slides into position across the child's middle and the whole thing is secured using the car's three point seat belt. It  is very easy to use and I felt that it offered a good deal of protection. I was slightly worried that it looked a little cumbersome and would not be comfortable but Dylan seemed to really like it.

We put the car seat to test on the hour or so long drive to Liverpool airport on our way to Spain. We left very early in the morning so I took advantage of the recline feature on the seat in the hope that Dylan would go back to sleep. Again, this was very easy to use. A sleeping clamp located on the back of the seat is unfolded to rest against the back of the vehicle's seat which reclines the child.

Sleeping clamp unfolded

Dylan never actually gave in to sleep during the journey but he sat quietly and contented.

In Spain, the seat that we were provided with in the hire car was of the integral harness design. He was quickly back to his old tricks wiggling and squiggling out like a tiny Houdini and crying with frustration every time I tried to make him safe again. It was all the more annoying for me knowing that the perfect solution to this problem was in a long stay car park at John Lennon Airport!

The seat has some clever design features that mean it can adjust to suit your growing child from aged 9 months to 12 years.

I was really impressed by how easy it was to use in terms of making the adjustments to ensure a perfect fit, switching between reclined and upright and getting Dylan in and out. I would definitely recommend it, particularly to anyone like me, who has a little wriggler for a child.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Hola! Do you speak English?

It was an early start to catch the Easy Jet flight for our holiday to Spain. I really love getting up before the sun rises and seeing the part of the day that I usually lose to sleep. It wasn't quite such a good experience, however, when shared with two grumpy little ones who didn't really understand what was going on!

A series of errors including miscalculating the time we needed to leave, being diverted in Liverpool and my failure to check the hand luggage our Charis had packed for herself for non-permitted items meant that we only made our flight by the skin of our teeth. It took all of my husband's best delaying tactics to stop our checked in bag being unloaded from the plane as Charis, myself and the buggy containing a somewhat startled nearly 2 year old made an epic dash through the terminal from baggage control to the boarding gate. I was glad that I had recently restarted my running training and that my Life Line Screening had detected no abnormalities with my cardiovascular health! Although there were no audible disapproving tuts, my frazzled mind certainly imagined them as we walked the walk of shame along the central aisle of the aeroplane, past the unsmiling faces of the delayed travellers, to our seats.

Once on board with seat belts fastened, I dared wonder what would have happened if we had been denied boarding. Not the best start to my 'relaxing' getaway!

We flew into Alicante airport, picked up our hire car and headed for the villa we were renting for the week.

Our villa was up in the mountains in Tibi on a small development made to appeal to the leathery skinned ex pats hoping to enjoy their retirement in the sun. Unfortunately, the Spanish developers went bust before completion. Many of the villas lining the unadopted roads in various states of completeness were displaying "se vende"signs. The value of the villas had plummeted from the initial purchase prices, undoubtedly leaving some people's financial security in ruins. It painted a grim picture of shattered dreams. For us, though, we had the use of a lovely villa with beautiful views of the mountains from the roof terrace (although it was mostly a little too windy to benefit from that).

Near to our villa there was a small herd of goats that were driven for milking by their gnarly goatherd on a daily basis. We were only there once when this happened but it was a memorable moment for me hearing the tinkling of their various sized bells making an eerie discordant sound as they walked obediently over the rugged terrain to their familiar destination.

We had two separate agendas for our trip to Spain. One was to get the little ones on a warm, sandy beach and the second was to give Charis the opportunity to practise her Spanish with the natives. We achieved both objectives with the bonus of my personal objective to sample plenty of Spanish wine.

Rioja on the terrace of our villa

We organised our days almost like a Spanish language text book: Shopping at the local Market, At the Beach, In the Restaurant. Charis coped really well - even when she inadvertently asked for 5 kilos of oranges rather than 5 oranges and had to quickly back track. (Incidentally, the oranges were delicious). I'm ashamed to admit that my best attempt at speaking the language was a confidant "Hola" followed by "Do you speak English?"

We contributed to the struggling Spanish economy when we were ordered to pay a spot fine for speeding by the rather intimidating Guardia Civil. We were incredibly vigilant after this when it came to watching the speedometer, even if it meant crawling along and being overtaken in the 60km/h stretch of road which we became increasingly certain was only put at a 60km/h speed limit to catch out poor unsuspecting foreign drivers.

I had another personal objective that I wanted to achieve during our vacation. At Christmas, I couldn't help feeling disappointment with my husband's choice of present for me - namely a bottle of suntan lotion with a 10 euro note taped to it. I was determined to use that 10 euro note for something amazing to somehow make up for his unimaginative gift. I succeeded.

We were visiting the harbour in Alicante. My brain could barely comprehend how many millions of pounds worth of yachts of all descriptions I was looking at. I had a brief 'winning the lottery' fantasy moment then got totally distracted by a magnificent sight. A pirate ship. I was kicking myself that I had left my camera back at the villa. Charis took some photographs with her phone. The pirate ship had been converted into a tourist attraction where you could dine or simply board and enjoy a beer or soft drink for the admittance fee of 4 euros. There was little hesitation. My 10 euro note (complete with sellotape that I had failed to pick off) was handed to the attendant and Charis and I spent a very happy time sitting in the sunshine on the top deck drinking our drinks and imagining what it must have been like to be a pirate (Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow did, of course, make his way into my day dreams!)

The beaches were everything you would expect from a stretch of coastline known as the Costa Blanca.
It was a little too early in the year to enjoy the sort of hot sunshine that has you stripping down to your bikini... but that was possibly a blessing!

The journey back to England was mercifully uneventful and despite the rainy welcome in Liverpool that made me long for the Spanish weather, it was good to be home.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Off to sunny Spain...

Tomorrow, my husband and I are taking our two little ones and 15 year old Charis to Spain for a much needed holiday. As well as an opportunity to relax and enjoy a sandy beach (and hopefully some sunshine), it gives Charis a chance to practise her Spanish and get a feel for the language to help her with her GCSE.

I am normally terrible when it comes to holiday preparation. I pack for every eventuality and throw in a few more things for good measure. I invariably end up bringing back a whole lot of unused things that would have been much better off left at home! This time, I am breaking the habit and using "Travel Light" as my mantra. I am convinced that the less burdened I am with unnecessary luggage, the freer I will be to enjoy my holiday. I have packed frighteningly little but am determined that I won't have an eleventh hour panic and start filling additional bags with 'just in case' items.

I will be taking our Peppa Pig Mini Sketchy Fun for Addy's amusement and we will be trying out our Kiddy Guardian Pro 2 car seat for the hour long drive to the airport at silly o'clock in the morning (full report on how we get on with that to follow).

I shall be going to bed shortly to get a few hours sleep before our adventure begins so I shall bid you Adios for now. Back in a week!

Leave mum to do the packing while we chase bubbles!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful

The fact that both my little ones are back to their normal naughty selves after such a long time of being ill with chicken pox and sickness, has made me incredibly cheerful.

We had a successful shopping trip to buy clothes and Dylan surprised us all with his penchant for modelling when we got home.

It may have cost an arm and a leg and a few extra limbs thrown in for good measure, but all the children and myself have had a long overdue trip to the hairdresser. For Addy and Dylan, it was the milestone moment of first haircut. Dylan sat beautifully while his fluffy, baby hair was trimmed into a 'little boy' style. Addy was less co-operative and considerably more vocal but we eventually came up with a strategy that worked. It was such a pleasure to wash and brush her hair last night compared with the usual battle with the tangles.

My husband has been away since Tuesday visiting his parents and his daughter from his first marriage. As far as I can gather, it is all going well which pleases me but I am missing him. I did, however, get to spend a lovely evening with him before he left, without the kids interrupting. I am always so grateful for the time we have together when the spark of magic, that makes me know I want to spend the rest of my life with him, ignites.

On Monday, we are off to Spain for a short break. Due to a mix up with dates, this trip falls in school time rather than the Easter holiday. Once we explained the situation, the kids' schools were really understanding and granted us leave of absence. Given that the first week of our Easter holiday was so completely consumed by illness, I am really happy that we are having this extension. It's actually more than just happy - I feel that I need it! Sunshine, relaxation and a goodly amount of Spanish wine should be just what I need to recharge the batteries ready to face whatever new challenges lie ahead.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Peppa Pig Minis

Travelling with little ones is so much less stressful if you take a selection of toys that are easily portable and can hold a child's interest. I am always on the lookout for such toys and was delighted to be sent a selection of Peppa Pig Minis from Golden Bear to review.

Mini Stick on Felts (RRP £9.99)

This set contained a good sized board with loads of big, bright, colourful, reusable, sticky felt pieces.

The easily recognisable characters from the Peppa Pig cartoon made this an instant success with my daughter, 4 year old Addy. She loved looking through all the pieces to see what she could use for her picture. She particularly like the sun and clouds. She happily told a little story as she used the pieces to build a scene.

Once completed, she proudly held up her creation and announced that she had made a beautiful picture. She then asked "Shall I make another beautiful picture?"

Of course there is no limit to the amount of beautiful pictures that she can make.

As this does not come with anything to store the board or felt pieces, I will need to find something suitable to make it useful as a toy for travelling.

Mini Dough Set (RRP £6.99)

The mini dough set contained two little pots of modelling dough, a cutting tool and two Peppa Pig moulds.

In terms of being useful as a travelling toy, I think it was actually far too messy. Having said that, Addy did love making Peppa Pig, George and George's toy dinosaur using the moulds and then engaged in some imaginative play with the characters until they became squashed beyond recognition from over enthusiastic handling! That signalled the time to remake them. It kept her entertained for ages.

Mini Sketchy Fun (RRP £5.99)

This was one of those little doodle screens that uses iron filings and magnets to sketch pictures and was probably the product that excited Addy the most. She loved the pink colour, she loved that it was 'Peppa Pig', she loved drawing on the screen with the special pen and most of all, she loved erasing her drawings with the plastic slider. She kept exclaiming "This is MAGIC!" and trying to impress her little brother by showing him.

Once the novelty of the 'magic' wears off,  I still think this will have great play value - particularly for a little girl that loves to practise her letters. I don't doubt that it will be hijacked at some point by older sisters for a quick game of noughts and crosses!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Wishful thinking

Just after I finished writing my post yesterday and turned off the computer, my upbeat mood that had blossomed from a lovely Easter day and having both babies asleep in bed, suffered something of a
setback. My little Dylan woke up screaming and would not be settled back to sleep. I gulped down the remainder of my sparkling chardonnay getting all the calories and none of the pleasure and resigned myself to another night of bed sharing to the detriment not only of my back but also my time spent with my husband.

Time with husband has been very lacking of late. As well as the disruption to our evenings because of the children's recent illnesses, I also lost him for two days during a well overdue visit with his best friend. And now, I lose him again as he spends the next four days with his daughter from his first marriage. The relationship with his daughter has been strained almost to the point of estrangement but he has never given up hope that his love will find a way to bring her back to his paternal embrace.

Demands on his time are great. Our time is always the first that is sacrificed.

Often I don't even realise how much I desperately need that time. Time to reconnect. Time to restrengthen our bond. Time to re-energise. If I am not careful, I can easily find myself in the position where I am now -feeling low, withdrawn and frankly, not coping all that well. I hate it. Stupidly, it means that I waste the opportunities where I actually could be having the sort of wonderful shared moments that can make a marriage so fulfilling.

I had been looking forward to the Easter holidays not just for our family time but as a chance to get some of the jobs on our ever growing job list crossed off, getting out in the garden for some spring planting and also grabbing with both hands those opportunities for the indulgence of my need for quality time with my husband.

None of the above have really come to fruition...


The optimist in me is insisting that it could all still happen.

As I type this, my husband is putting to bed the two little ones (who I know he is going to miss terribly over the next few days when he will be far away and doing his best to cope with an altogether different parenting challenge).

Maybe they will settle quickly and sleep peacefully throughout the night. Maybe then, just maybe we can relax and enjoy our last evening together before he heads off tomorrow with his hastily packed bag and headful of dreams of a happy reunion with an eighteen year old whose life has become so unfamiliar and distant.

And if not... he'll be back on Friday and maybe then, just maybe......

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Easter Sunday Farmyard Cake Fun

This is what happens when you let your six children plus one boyfriend and your husband loose with buttercream, sweets, fairy cakes and inspiration from your Cake Decorating Partwork.

Chicks, sheep, cows and pigs

It's been a lovely Easter Sunday:  teamwork in the kitchen to get the dinner prepared, Easter Eggs well and truly hidden by Liberty and Taylor's evil boyfriends, hours spent rediscovering retro board games from the depths of the games cupboard and of course the farmyard cakes.

Unlike last year, my husband even remembered to get me an Easter Egg!

It's 9.30pm now. The little ones are asleep in bed, and the big girls have retired to their room to multitask with TV and computers.

I still have a little sparkling Chardonnay to finish and the rest of the evening to relax and enjoy.

Life is good.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Carrot Cake Catastrophe

It was probably a little ambitious to attempt making a cake when my little ones were both recovering from illness and I myself was feeling run down and exhausted. However, my new Cake Decorating Partwork issue 2 had arrived in the post and I was really keen to try one of the amazing looking recipes.

I chose a carrot cake with a cream cheese frosting, decorated with little carrots modelled out of marzipan.

Alarm bells should have rung when the recipe stated that it was 'very hard to go wrong'.

Mine went wrong!

I followed each step carefully but rather than producing a moist, light carrot cake, mine was stodgy and undercooked on the inside, overcooked on the outside.

I carried on regardless.

I didn't like the frosting at all. I only used half the amount recommended and still found it overpoweringly sickly. (Not sure what to do with the remaining half, which is now taking up space in my fridge, other than to throw it away)

The carrot decorations, though... they were fantastic! We used ready roll icing rather than marzipan which was a bit harder to use but still gave a reasonable result. I thoroughly enjoyed making my carrots and my little girl made her own versions too. (Hers, unfortunately, didn't make it onto the cake after she rolled the icing down her woolly jumper to get it into a sausage shape!)

The icing did go a little soft and sticky after all the shaping to get it to look carroty but they firmed up again nicely in the fridge. They looked great (if a little oversized!) on the disaster of a cake but after a while, the orange food colouring started leaching into the frosting. It was not pretty!

My kind guests tucked into portions of my Carrot Cake Catastrophe. Nobody asked for seconds!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012


I'm not one of those mums who dread school holidays. I love having the kids home. I love the noise and chaos. I love finding them activities to keep them occupied.

However, this easter holiday has not started well.

Both my little ones have recently had chicken pox and my little boy in particular had a very hard time of it, covered in spots that drove him crazy. Just when I thought we were putting illness behind us, they both started vomiting.

I assumed it was a 24 hour bug and they would bounce back quickly but 48hours later they still weren't even able to keep down water.

We took them the see the nurse at our health centre. She examined them and could find nothing that started alarm bells ringing. We were advised to keep trying to encourage them to have sips of water and as long as they were peeing there was nothing too much to worry about. She did ask that we bring my son, who was clearly in a worse state than his sister, back to see the doctor later that day for a second opinion. As a child, the nurse had developed meningitis following chicken pox and was well aware of the potential dangers of a lowered immunity.

The doctor confirmed that regular sips of water and monitoring their hydration levels was the only course of action required.

They have both slept for much of the time.

I have been desperately trying to keep on top of the unavoidable mountain of sicky laundry and doing my best to stay positive.

It is very difficult to stay positive.

My precious holiday time is ticking away. I have achieved none of the plans and goals that I had set myself and I am left feeling incredibly tired and run down.

Little Addy is in bed now, sleeping peacefully. Dylan is in his daddy's arms ready to be put in his cot. Maybe tonight they will actually remain in their beds all night rather than ending up in mine. I never object to bed sharing if they need it but it does give me back ache to add to my woes.

I want my little ones back healthy and happy. I want to see their appetites return. I don't want to feel their tiny bones through their skin where they have both lost so much weight.

They have been brighter today and hopefully tomorrow they will be brighter still. There is still plenty of holiday time to enjoy and I won't care what the weather does outside as long as I can finally wave goodbye to the black cloud of illness that has hung about for far too long.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Idiot Box

"We don't need television. Not as long as we have our....*makes a rainbow with hands* .... imagination."

Spongebob Squarepants

Winners of the Crazy Soap Competition are :
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