Saturday, 30 June 2012

Tots 100 Film Club - The Secret of Moonacre.

tots100 parent bloggers film club

The latest film sent to me from Warner Brothers was an adaptation of Elizabeth Goudge's novel The Little White Horse - the sort of old book that uses 'ejaculated' as a synonym for 'said' (which always appeals to my childish sense of humour!)

The Secret of Moonacre opens solemnly with the funeral of 13 year old Maria Merryweather's father. He died in debt, leaving Maria orphaned and homeless. Along with her caretaker, the marvellously eccentric spinster played to perfection by Juliet Stevenson, Maria is forced to leave London to live with her Uncle in the country.

It is on the Moonacre estate, under strict instructions from her cold, intolerant Uncle not to enter the forest, that she discovers an ancient feud between the Merryweather and De Noir families and a curse that only she can lift.

This heartwarming, satisfying story has some good character development, wonderful settings and costumes and a good sprinkling of magic and mystery. The charismatic Tim Curry is superb (although under used) as the head of the De Noirs.

I have to admit that I did nod off for a while during the film, missing a chunk of plot development. This is more indicative of how tired I was than any failure of the film to entertain.

The Secret of Moonacre would be unlikely to sustain the interest of very young audiences (my 2 year old slept soundly through the whole thing) but would make ideal viewing for families with slightly older children.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Galt Fairy T-Shirt Set

Craft sets have always been my standard default kid's gift idea when any alternative inspiration eludes me.  I rarely buy them for my own children.

I was recently sent a Fairy T-Shirt Set from Galt to review.

I have to admit that my little girl, Addy, enjoyed it so much and I was so impressed by it that I may have to have to elevate my 'craft set' thinking to a whole new level.

The kit contained a quality white cotton T-shirt, printed transfer paper, fabric crayons and full instructions.

Addy couldn't wait to get started. The fairy themed transfer collection was comprised of a choice of two scenes for the front of the T-shirt, two pairs of fairy wings for the back and three pairs of small designs for the sleeves.

After much deliberation, Addy selected a design to colour.

My daughter, at the tender age of 4 years, has very strong opinions about certain things and will not be persuaded otherwise. She executed her design in her own way (which to my eyes was somewhat heavy on the brown!) She refused to have it that these were fairy wings. She insisted that it was a butterfly and added her own butterfly body. At first, I was frustrated with her because she wasn't doing it right but thankfully, after taking a deep breath, I realised that she was creating in her own way which had far more value than trying to reproduce the exact examples on the box illustration. I think even the most extreme perfectionist would struggle to keep completely within the lines with the chunky crayons (which incidentally were perfect for little hands)

Addy's best attempt to stay within the lines

The colouring kept Addy thoroughly entertained for far longer than I imagined it would. Once she was satisfied with her creations, it was over to me to iron the transfers onto the T-shirt (although Addy's little brother was very keen to help with their toy iron!)

The transfers needed to be placed colour side down onto the T-shirt and pressed firmly for at least 30 seconds with the iron on the hottest setting without steam.  I found the 'placing' part quite nerve wracking. I was worried that they would look wrong if they were too high or low or wonky or off centre. Deep breath again before I got on with it.

I would advise that this part of the process is done with care to get a good bond and to ensure that the backing paper comes away easily.

The colours came out very vividly. Addy loved her T-Shirt so much that we made a second one with the spare transfers for her sister. Here they are modelling their Galt Fairy T-Shirt creations.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

J is for Junk to Funk, Jazz Band and Jogging

One of the suggestions put forward for a J Alphabet date was a romantic 'jog for two' down on the canal towpath followed by a well earned jug of Joules Pale Ale at our local brewery. I was slightly relieved when a well timed 'Junk to Funk' event came up at the school two of my daughter's attend featuring performances from the Jazz band that they both play in. I bought two tickets!

The Junk to Funk part of the evening was a fashion show. The jubilee inspired fashions were created using recycled materials and modelled by the girls who had designed them. Some of them were quite impressive - others seemed little more than ordinary clothing with union jack napkins pinned to them but it was still lovely to see the girls strutting with increasing confidence as the audience showed their appreciation with clapping.

On display at the front of the stage were two incredible Junk to Funk creations. The fantastically talented Kirsty Warner (a name to watch out for) whose photographs I have featured on this blog, had made a jacket out of teddy bears that she had purchased in charity shops. Just as a faux fur jacket it was beautiful but she had incorporated teddy heads in the design which made it look quirky and almost evil in a Cruella deville sort of way - completely original in concept and perfectly executed. The talent continued to scream out in the shape of a futuristic dress made of coke cans which looked part robot part fish. I'm not sure that sharp edges wouldn't rip your flesh to shreds if you actually tried to wear (and move in) such a garment, but it was visually stunning on the mannequin. This piece was created by the son of my dental hygienist. I actually can't wait for my next appointment so I can tell her how much I loved it (before I have to open wide!)

Although the event was named for the fashion show part, the majority of the evening was a musical showcase. The much loved, long serving music teacher (who also teaches my girls piano and has become a family friend)  retired recently. We wondered how anyone could fill the shoes of a teacher that had become such a fundamental part of the music department, and indeed the school as a whole, but judging by the success of the evening, the replacement is doing a wonderful job. My girls adore him and my first impressions during the brief meeting I had with him when I brought Taylor's drum kit in to set up earlier in the day, were very positive. Since taking the post, he has formed a Jazz Band and a Glee club, both of which delivered performances.

The show opened with a lively samba drum piece leaving no doubt that proceedings had well and truly begun.

The jazz band featured my Taylor on drums and Charis on piano (she was very excited to be playing a grand piano even though it was possibly the most battered and un-grand grand piano I had ever seen). All of the members had clearly worked hard to achieve a level of competence in a style that, for my daughters at least, was different to what they were used to. However, with members of staff taking leading roles, it did somehow have the feel of a vehicle for frustrated teachers to live out their musical legend fantasies! Despite that, it was very enjoyable (although I must try and teach Taylor to stop pulling unflattering 'concentrating' faces as she drums!)

There were several solo singing performances, the majority of which, Charis accompanied on piano. I have listened to her practising these accompaniments at home (in fact she broke a low C string on our piano during one particularly enthusiastic session) but I was absolutely amazed by her performances on the night. It wasn't just that she played the pieces practically note perfect (I think I did detect one or two tiny mistakes), it was the way she supported the soloists,  subtly emphasising notes when the singers went off key to help them find the melody again, keeping the timing and allowing the vocal to shine. She never once sought the limelight. In her very unassuming way she  delivered what was needed.
I have so much respect for my daughter. She has a maturity, poise and confidence that totally belies her tender 15 years.

I didn't take my camcorder.  Recording something necessitates watching the action through the screen  (unless you have a well placed tripod or don't mind the inevitable 'drift' that you get when not monitoring hand held equipment). I hate how that detaches me from the moment. At the expense of having the recordings, which I would have loved, I stayed completely in the moment. On balance, I think I loved that more! Plenty of people did video. This is footage of Charis on piano and my niece on guitar singing Rhianna's Take a Bow (taken by Ella's mum - my sister).

A highlight of the evening for me was when Taylor's boyfriend, George, took to the stage with his theatrical friend Ollie for a 'showbiz' performance of Me and My Shadow. George has one of those voices that has lovely tone and timbre but doesn't co-operate in terms of staying in key! It didn't matter that it wasn't the greatest vocal performance of the night. For me it was definitely the most entertaining. Performed with panache and swagger, it provided me with much needed comic relief from the emotional  roller coaster I had been on watching my girls. I could see Taylor watching her man with pride and embarrassment in equal measures. 

During the interval, there was a raffle. After my success in the 'I' date raffle, George's mum (who was sat with us) said she wanted some of my luck because the first prize of £100 in Argos vouchers would be very nice. Would you believe it? She won first prize!! What's more, my number came up too!!! I won a trip to Wolverhampton Races. It is all a bit of a mystery because there was no information provided with the tickets but I'm sure we'll work it out! I had a big smile on my face and congratulated my husband on his raffle ticket buying skills.

The show overran the advertised finish time and daughter Ivy who was babysitting the little ones was waiting for us to get back so she could go to the pub with friends. I left my husband to wait around to pick up the drum kit and bring the girls home in the car while I made a hasty exit and ran home. 

I had a really good time on my J date and I even incorporating some of the Jogging that I was trying avoid.

When my husband got home with the drums, the girls, the 'Shadow' (or the 'Me'!) and a mountain of chips, I had recovered from my impromptu marathon enough to enjoy a greasy supper and a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the end of Taylor's A levels and a successful night.

For my 'K' date I am going to insist on something more intimate that does not involve a raffle. Any suggestions?

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Frog O'Clock

I recently found out that my daughter and her boyfriend's mother both share the same intense dislike of frogs (we did wonder if Sigmund Freud would have anything to say on the matter).

My best friend when I was growing up was frog phobic. I remember a long and happy game we played by his grandad's pond with a dart tied to a piece of string planning to harpoon a particularly fine specimen that seemed to mock his irrational fear with every blink of its bulging amphibious eyes. The game ended abruptly when finally plucking up the courage to throw the dart, my friend ran in screaming, convinced that he had made a direct hit. He hadn't even got close but it was definitely Game Over.

We have two ponds in our garden and both are home to a number of frogs. Despite some casualties over the cold winters, the populations continue to thrive. This pleases me and my little boy who loves to look at the "flogs and flish" but is not such good news for my daughter.

Even worse news was a spectacle that I witnessed one evening as the sun was setting  - a time we now think of as "Frog O'Clock".

We have recently fenced off one of our ponds to make it safer for the little ones to play in the garden. The back of the pond is unfenced as a raised rockery area already provided a barrier.

I would never presume to understand the behaviour of another species or to judge their intelligence but it was hard not to think that the frogs in my pond were, to put it bluntly, a bit daft. As they left the water in the cool of the evening (perhaps in search of some tasty morsel), instead of taking the unimpeded rockery route, they opted to access the garden through the mesh fence. When they failed to make progress through it, they began to try climbing over it. Credit goes to the more tenacious of our soft bodied friends who made it about a foot up the mesh before falling backwards onto the rocks below.

Part of my daughter's dislike of frogs is rooted in their apparent vulnerability - their almost jelly like appearance. This idea was reinforced when one of my large Golden Orfe (now sadly deceased) bit off more than he could chew, so to speak, when it tried to swallow an adult frog. It eventually spat it out but not before the whole head area of the unfortunate frog had become the stuff of nightmares.

It was painful to see the mesh climbing frogs falling in ungainly heaps onto hard rocks (and almost certainly painful from a frog perspective). They recovered enough to have another go... and another. I was willing them to realise that this was never going to work. All they had to do was jump back into the pond, swim across to the other side and exit through the frog friendly terrain. Alternatively, hop round the edge of the pond to the point where the fence ends and away you go. As I stood watching, not one of the desperate creatures had their light bulb moment.

It was grotesquely fascinating but eventually, as it got darker and colder, I went inside and left them to it .

I did feel a bit guilty about putting the fence in their way but a few inconvenienced frogs is nothing compared with the risk of one of my children falling in the pond. Nature always finds a way. They'll work it out, hopefully before one or more of them becomes frog pulp.

If my daughter has the misfortune to find herself in the vicinity of the pond at Frog O'clock, it could be enough to upgrade her 'dislike' into full blown Batrachophobia. If she ever runs screaming into the house, much as my dart-harpoon throwing friend did so many years ago, I will have a pretty good idea why!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

I is for Indian

I have to admit, we have been a little stuck on our Alphabet Dates, my husband and I. What started off as a fun way to make sure we spent some time together, was starting to feel a bit like a chore. Our "I" date simply wasn't happening.

If time and money were no object (and it was winter!), my ideal I Date would be a stay at the Ice Hotel in Lapland. I love the idea of a hotel constructed of ice and it feeds very much into 'Snow Queen' fantasies of my childhood (I never identified with the princesses - always the evil [misunderstood?] villainous female characters).

Back to reality - we finally settled on an I Date - a meal at our favourite Indian restaurant. 

It didn't feel too much like a cop out because it wasn't an ordinary curry night. It happened to be the first anniversary of the restaurant and to celebrate, they were hosting a special charity event in aid of Midlands Air Ambulance. I always feel good about doing my bit for charity and giving something back to the community and if by so doing I get to enjoy the divine Paneer Tikka Masala, so much the better.

It was a lovely night - lively atmosphere, delicious food and the pleasure of supporting a good cause. When a follically challenged gentleman won a cut and blow dry in the raffle, an impromptu  (and quite hilarious) auction began, which included a jar of beetroot chutney being sold for £6 - all boosting the grand total for the Air Ambulance.

I won a prize in the raffle. It was one of those spooky moments. The lady calling the raffle said that the next prize was chocolate donated by the town's Fine Confectioners, Tuesday's. I commented that I wouldn't mind winning that one and lo and behold, my number was called. If I am in possession of powers that can influence outcomes, perhaps I should be setting my sights a little higher and wish for a stay at the Ice Hotel! In the meantime, I have a rather interesting chocolate novelty to share with my family.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Who killed Nanny Plum?

Was it King Thistle, in the Living Room with the Magic wand?

Saturday, 16 June 2012

For sale...

Desirable, fully furnished residence - one bedroom, well fitted kitchen, luxury bathroom, three good sized reception rooms, walled courtyard. This unique property is full of interesting features including magic. Would suit elves and fairies.

Ben and Holly's Little Castle Magical Playset is a delightful interpretation of the home of King Thistle et al from the popular animated kid's TV show, Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom. The set comes with six tiny figurines of the key characters and a magic wand that uses magnets to create 5 magic spell effects in different rooms.

Ben, Nanny Plum, Holly, King Thistle, Gaston and Queen Thistle

A magic wand just like Holly's

There is a small amount of assembly required but allow plenty of time (preferably without an impatient child trying to 'help') to attach all of the stickers. This was a real fiddle and as I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to this sort of thing, I got quite cross once or twice!

My little girl, Addy, was totally captivated by the playset, instantly placing the figures in different rooms and acting out scenarios with them. She was particularly delighted when a real live "Gaston the Ladybird" landed on the castle and started climbing up the tower!

The set is intended for the 3+ age group but my two year old son wanted to play. He was far too heavy handed with it, broke one of Princess Holly's delicate little wings and started peeling off the stickers (I was not best pleased about that!) Sadly, I have had to place it on a shelf out of his reach which means it isn't very accessible now for Addy.

Addy loved discovering how to cast the 'magic spells' and loved even more that the magnetic wand stuck to cutlery.

This set was a Winner in the 2011 Right Start Best Toy Awards and I can understand why. I found myself drawn into the Magical World with the same glee as my daughter. Even my teenage daughter and her 18 year old boyfriend couldn't resist a little play!

(Ben and Holly's Little Castle Magical Playset was provided free of charge for the purpose of this review)

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Whistling women...

...and a crowing hen, are neither good for God nor men.

This saying was apparently a favourite of my grandad on my mother's side. I never really got it but neither did I ever forget it. It jumped back into my mind this weekend as my four year old, after months of trying and becoming ever more frustrated by her lack of success, finally managed to make a tiny little whistling sound by blowing air through pursed lips.

I clearly remember going through the same process as a young girl myself (possibly causing my grandad to quote those favourite words of his).

Now that she has cracked the mystery of whistling, she is experimenting with pitch and volume and thoroughly enjoying herself.

I can't believe that my joyous little tuneless whistling woman child would not be good for God nor men. She certainly warms my heart.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Dustbin of Love

Although I have only been married to my current husband for a little over two years, I have known him a long time.

We were students together at Bristol University back in the eighties, where he lived on the floor below mine in the first year Halls of Residence. There was never any romantic interaction between us (with the exception of a half hearted attempt to plant a drunken kiss on my equally drunken lips after my 19th birthday celebrations - a kiss which I expertly deflected with a sharp turn of my groggy head) but we had a special connection.

He was a guest at my first wedding.

He bought me a wedding present from my list - a galvanised steel dustbin. Inside was a bottle of Moet and Chandon champagne.

We lost touch for many years. I went about being a wife and then a mother while he sailed the Atlantic finding work in exotic locations and eventually settling in the Caribbean where he ran a successful business, married and became a father.

I never forgot him. I often wondered where he was, what he was doing and if remembered me.

With the introduction of wheelie bins in the late eighties, my galvanised steel dustbin became redundant. I could not bring myself to part with it. It was too strongly attached to a happy memory, not of my wedding itself, but of my tall, bearded, gangly friend arriving late and looking like a dustbin man in a suit!

Over the years, my special dustbin accompanied me on many house moves and performed many different 'containment' tasks including storing chicken food during a brief period of chicken keeping.

When my dustbin giving friend and I found each other again and fell in love at the turn of the millennium, he was quite surprised to see that I had kept his wedding gift to me - this small connection to him that had silently witnessed my journey through motherhood, depression and divorce.

The dustbin is part of our life together now as husband and wife and has continued to prove its usefulness. When we used it to collect moss that we were raking from our lawn, our little girl could not resist the temptation to climb in and make herself a cosy nest in the soft springy green stuff. I did what I always do since starting this blog - I got my camera.

As she made herself comfortable in the battered old bin, it was hard not to think of that brand new, shiny, un-dented dustbin from some thirty years previously with its bottle of Moet hidden inside.

My husband has said that he loved me then and never stopped loving me. I feel so blessed that we are together now and the love we have for each other can flourish. We have shared many bottles of champagne since our reunion.

He also told me, as we watched our daughter's dustbin games (with our son supplying her with more moss), that if he had been granted a glimpse into this future back when he presented me with my unusual wedding gift... a future in which the dustbin he carried would hold our beautiful, mischievous child...  he would have been a very happy man.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Did somebody have ...

a party?

An 18th Birthday Party

Half term is definitely over.

Amidst the bedraggled jubilee celebrations, we had an 18th birthday to celebrate. We delayed the party until the weekend after my daughter Taylor's birthday so as not to be in direct competition with the Queen.

It being June, I thought a garden party would be lovely. As the day drew nearer, the weather showed no signs of brightening up and headlines in the local paper read "Strong winds and rain set to batter region" (or words to that effect). I had to accept that it was time for a Plan 'B'.

Without the garden seating at our disposal, I was worried that we would not have enough chairs for our 30 or so guests moved inside. It used to be that we had 60 ex-school chairs in our garage - left over from a plan I once had to hold my wedding reception at home - but my husband gave them away when he got fed up of having nowhere to keep his bicycle and boat sails.

Taylor's boyfriend volunteers at the Relate Charity shop in town that sells mainly furniture. I asked him if they had much in the way of chairs in stock and how much they charge. I was pleasantly surprised by his answer that they had loads and some for as little as a couple of pounds. Compared with my first thought of buying plastic garden chairs at £6.99 each, this seemed like a promising option.

I left my husband with the task of visiting the charity shop and he returned with the back of the Galaxy full of all sorts of interesting examples of what would have been in their day, really good chairs. They were all, shall we say.. well loved, but at £20 for the lot it was a perfect solution to my seating crisis.

We arranged the house to make best use of all the space and ever optimistic, set up our gazebo outside.

During the week, I had been on a mad baking mission. I love making cakes and although I didn't have the time to get really creative with decorating them, I did manage to try a few new recipes and ideas. I had  thoroughly enjoyed the cooking part and I must admit I did feel quite pleased with the result when they were all laid out on the table ready for an afternoon tea and the start of Taylor's birthday party. My mum, prone to poetic exaggeration, said that my fairy cakes were so light that she floated to the ceiling. Thanks mum x

The weather was actually much kinder to us than we had imagined. Taylor and her friends got out into the garden for a mad game of volleyball and a clamber on our Jungle Gym!

A roaring fire in the chiminea (tended lovingly by our very own fireman) meant that we could all enjoy the outdoors when the veggie sausages were barbecued and Taylor bravely sang a song that she had written (with sister Charis providing the harmonies).

It was a lot of hard work with the preparations and the post party clear up but it was such a lovely opportunity to spend time with old friends that had travelled up especially to celebrate with us and to invite Taylor's boyfriend's family to unite with ours. The grandparents got on famously. I regret that Taylor's grandparents on my husband's side were not also seated at the "VIP" table but the trip all the way from Brighton to Shropshire is just a bit too far for them to undertake easily.

Raucous grandparents show the teenagers how to have a good time!

Yet another cake, designed for a maths geek, with candles and an exuberantly performed "Happy Birthday" song well and truly marked the occasion of Taylor's 18th and the party went on into the night.

Photo borrowed from Liberty Falls Down

I now have two rather nice charity shop boudoir chairs in my bedroom (and homes to find for several more) and a good supply of leftover cake to see me through the next few days (not to mention enough alcohol to probably last until the end of term - and it is quite possible I am going to need it!!)

Friday, 8 June 2012

Minnie Mouse My First Puzzle

My four year old, Addy, loves jigsaw puzzles and loves Minnie Mouse. Not surprisingly, she was rather excited when we were sent the recently launched Minnie Mouse My First Puzzle from Ravensburger to review.

The box contained four separate puzzles aimed at children from 18 months. The simplest puzzle had just 2 large, colourful pieces with the most difficult being 5 pieces. Addy actually found it far too easy but it was the right level of difficulty for her little brother, who will be 2 years old at the end the month. He didn't seem to object to the fact that it was rather pink and girlie, concentrating hard on getting the pieces to lock together and proudly proclaiming "Done it!" when he achieved his aim.

Large, thick card pieces - ideal for little hands

Ravensburger are intending to launch three further designs in the My First Puzzle range later in the year - On Safari, Travel Far and On The Farm.

As a gentle introduction to the world of puzzling, this product is perfect.

Saturday, 2 June 2012


I have to admit that the confusion of events being organised for the Jubilee along with the drizzly weather (although my dad, who took part in the Coronation back in 1953, assures me that the weather was very similar as he marched down the Mall to Constitution Hill) has made me feel a little less inclined to wave my Union Jack.

I did, however, bake some cakes which my willing assistant helped me to decorate. Blue and red food colouring only managed to tint the butter icing pale blue and pink but nobody minded.

My older girls had been playing a Best of British set on the bandstand at a local 'Party in the Park' event.

When they all arrived home, cold and hungry, I had a Veggie Sausage and Chip Curry ready for them. The chips were leftover from yesterday's dinner  (my husband had miscalculated how many portions to order from the chip shop when I was too tired to cook). The curry did have an alarming yellow glow due to a measuring mishap with the tumeric and our tongues did take on that same hue when our plates were emptied but everyone raved about it. Veggie Sausage and Chip Shop Chip Curry has now earned a place as my quintessentially British signature dish whenever an occasion warrants such a thing.

I did insist that everybody join in with a rousing rendition of God Save the Queen (although shamefully Taylor didn't know the words) before cakes were served - on union jack paper plates.

I had also made a madeira cake decorated with strawberries and blueberries to represent the colours of the flag. I didn't have long for my fruit positioning but then it didn't take my girls long to demolish it, either.

It was so lovely to have the family together, relaxed and happy and well fed. For me, this was a perfect way to spend the start of the holiday weekend.

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