Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Hallowe'en that wasn't

I love Hallowe'en so it was a big disappointment to me when my husband told me that he had a work commitment that would keep him away overnight on the day that the veil between worlds was thin. I was going to carry on regardless with a slightly scaled down celebration that would also incorporate a fancy dress run for me with my Running Club.

Disappointment revisited.

A cold that has been threatening to grab me by it's evil viral hands finally delivered. The last thing I need with a sinus headache and uncontrollable outbursts of explosive sneezing, is exercise. The only running I'll be doing is out of my eyes and nose. On top of that, my poor little Addy is not at all well.

Addy was supposed to be going to a friend's house this afternoon for spooky arts & crafts and cookies. Unfortunately, she did this instead :

I put on my new pumpkin orange T shirt, skeleton socks and vampire necklace..... lay down on the sofa and looked not dissimilar to my daughter in the photograph above!

It's 5 o'clock in the evening now and dark outside. Normally, our Hallowe'en festivities would be in full swing. Not so this year.

But ever the optimist, all is not lost.

My daughter, Taylor, is coming home from Uni this weekend. We are going to celebrate with fireworks and friends and food and there is absolutely no reason why we can't throw our Hallowe'en eggs into the same basket. These fellows will still be there to preside over events:

Paper Mache skull

Hand print spider!
My wonderful daughter Charis refused to let October 31st go by without some spooky baking and took it upon herself to get busy in the kitchen. I have yet to see the results.

If the bakes served up by Charis fail to cheer me, my final fall back is my bottle of Pumpkin beer tucked innocently away on a  shelf in my larder.

I will definitely be digging out the bottle opener and enjoying this later, probably during tonight's episode of Dallas. JR Ewing is surely good for a Hallowe'en scare.

Monday, 29 October 2012

A Pumpkin Sort of Day

I'm loving that it is half term and Hallowe'en. I have a couple of family parties that I'm planning for (which will involve lots of baking) and I am busy getting in the mood with some arts and crafts with the kids.

Today we have carved pumpkins and had a go at some hand print spiders. The pumpkins turned out great. The spiders? Well, the less said about them the better. Suffice it to say there was an awful lot of mess and not a lot to show for it! On the plus side, the kids did enjoy smearing the gooey black paint everywhere.

Addy drew the design on with a wipe board marker and I helped her carve it.

Once our hands were cleaned (which took an awful lot longer to do than it took to write that), we treated ourselves to a girlie manicure (even little Dylan offered his finger nails for varnish).

Addy wanted a pumpkin design nail art (it was definitely a pumpkin sort of day) so I searched through my collection of nail varnish and found an orange one. It had actually come in a Strictly Come Dancing nail polish set that I had impulse purchased in the January sales. The orange shade was romantically called Cha Cha. I have never used it nor do I think that by doing so my performance in Latin dance would be enhanced but as far as our pumpkin nail requirements went - it was exactly what we needed.

I was surprised that I had no black nail varnish to paint the Jack o' Lantern faces. Black nail varnish is my favourite. I wore it all the time as teenager and wore it on my wedding day in honour of those teenage years when I first met the man I was about to marry.

We improvised. We used a sharpie marker. It wasn't brilliant but it was good enough.

I'm going out for a run later. I don't know if I am alarmed or delighted that my pumpkin nails perfectly match my new high vis orange running shirt!

Friday, 26 October 2012

Knit Your Own Zombie

The chill in the air and the carpet of autumn leaves is leaving no doubt as to the time of year and Hallowe'en is very nearly upon us. Usually by now, my house would be decorated and parties planned but I have been very slow to get going for some reason I have yet to fathom. I have, though, completed a craft project which combines my love of the macabre with my knitting hobby and made this handsome little fella.

The pattern is from Fiona Goble's Knit Your Own Zombie which I highly recommend (should you have any leaning towards knitting needles, yarn and the undead).

The protruding entrails do detach completely from the 'gut pocket' leaving plenty of room to insert a brown rat should you desire. I have made the rat but my personal preference is for the guts. I just love the colour!

One day I may progress onto sensible and useful hats, gloves, scarves and jumpers but for now, I'm having far too much fun.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

I am a Runner

Yesterday, I completed the eight week beginner course with my local Running Club.

From a gentle 1 minute run 1 minute walk pattern at the start of the programme, I have quickly progressed (thanks to the comraderie of fellow beginners and encouragement from the trainers) to comfortably running for 30 minutes without stopping. In fact, yesterday when the 30 minute call came I found myself thinking really? already? and kept running for another 6 minutes back to where we had started from. I'm not sure exactly what that equated to in terms of distance but it was in the region of 3 miles.

We were awarded certificates for completing the beginner's programme. In years to come, the certificate may mean a lot to me but at the moment, a piece of paper doesn't come close to reflecting how fantastic I feel about my achievement.

Despite the title of the post, I still don't consider myself a 'runner'. Hopefully the confidence to label myself such will come in time - with experience and improvement.

I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of the Club. Surrounding yourself with positive people is such a good way of bringing out the best in yourself. It has certainly brought something out in me.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

My parents are stars!

For as long as I can remember, my dad has been prone to problems with his back and knees. As a younger man, it made him irritable but it didn't stop him from doing the things that he wanted to do and being the strong man my mum expected from him.

Ageing can be cruel.

My dad is a proud man and for a very long time he refused to admit that there were things that he really should not be attempting to do any more. Gardening, climbing ladders, getting in and out of the loft, even getting out of the car when space was restricted - all these things could leave him in agony. Perhaps hardest  to admit was that he could no longer walk very far.

I was so pleased when he made his life a little easier by applying for a disabled badge. It meant that he could park close to the shops and go to the bank again without too much of a struggle. And the world didn't collapse in on itself just because he accepted his disability.

Maybe as a result of his time serving in the army, my dad has always had a very upright posture. He stood over six feet tall, stuck his chest out and held his head high. Boyfriends I had in my teenage years did find him quite intimidating and his very existence could pour cold water on any potential lust fuelled fumbles.

Over the years, my dad's height  noticibly diminished. His legs bowed out and he began to stoop. He still maintained the larger than life air that he has always carried but his physical presence no longer matched it.

My mum is fond of saying that she Believes in Fate and one day through a chance meeting,  Fate lead my dad to a weekly exercise class designed to improve strength and balance. Dad completely embraced the opportunity. Each week, he gave it everything he had and practised at home. Before long he was enjoying praise for being the star performer in the class and helped other people who were less able. Mum was always there to support him. They made new friends who have given them a focus to their social life. They both seem happier and more positive. Dad is always keen to show off his moves for anyone who will watch!

The difference the exercises have made to my dad physically is amazing. He is standing taller, he can straighten more, his flexibility has improved and he seems to be able to manage his aches and pains better.

Recently, they were asked if they would be willing to take part in a video to demonstrate the benefits of the exercise programme to other members of the medical profession. Dad was like an excited kid and mum was already composing her Oscar acceptance speech. They loved it. Yesterday, mum rang me to tell me that the video was now available to view on YouTube.

I felt so proud watching my parents (Jill and Stanley) on the short film, endorsing something they both totally believe in - something that genuinely has enhanced their quality of life.

Friendship, camaraderie, routine, gentle exercise, praise and the odd film crew have certainly proved to be vital ingredients for my parents health and well being.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

When instincts let you down

There is a lot being said at the moment about Jimmy Savile and the allegations of sexual abuse... and more worryingly the possible existence of a paedophile ring that had operated within the BBC.

As a child growing up with Jim'll Fix It entering our living room through our TV screen, I never liked Jimmy Savile. There was just something about him. With the benefit of my experience as an adult and looking back at the overfamiliarity he exhibited with young people involved in his shows as part of his presenting style, I can see that my child self's instinct was not wildly wrong.

But what happens when that instinct lets you down?

I like to think I am a reasonably good judge of character and can spot a 'bad' person when I see one. I like to think I can protect my children from such people. I have found out that this is not always the case.

I knew a man who I liked very much. He was a bit rough and ready to the extreme that you might call him a thug if you didn't know him (or even if you did!). The self inked tattoos on his knuckles did rather emphasise this aspect of his character. I knew that he had been in trouble with the police for violent behaviour in the past but he had done his time, paid the price and I do believe that people deserve second chances. I judged him not on his past or his appearance but in the way he treated me. He made me laugh, he was full of life, he seemed very down to earth and I had no reason to suspect that he was not doing his best for his family within his means. He seemed to me a decent 'what you see is what you get' sort of bloke.

I liked him well enough to ask him and his wife to be Godparents to one of my daughters. I respected his honesty when he said that he didn't believe in the God bit but would be honoured to do it if I was prepared to overlook that. I am not a religious person in the traditional sense so it was not a problem. For me it was all about celebrating the network of support from family and friends that is so important in life.

Geography separated us so I only saw him on rare occasions but when I did, I enjoyed his company.

I was saddened when he and his wife divorced and surprised when details of their life emerged that contradicted the impression I had forged of him. I never saw him again after the divorce but held onto the idea that there are two sides to every story and hoped that wherever he was and whatever he was doing, he was happy.

I should not have wasted good thoughts in his direction.

This week, he appeared in court to plead guilty to charges of child abuse and was sentenced to 9 years in prison.

I feel so desperately sorry, not just for the victims of the abuse, but for the families that have been left devastated by one man's evil. I sincerely hope that they are able to find closure and move on with their lives now that justice, such as it is, has been served.

It is hard for me to admit that I liked this man capable of such behaviour. We surmised that being a convicted paedophile negates any Godfatherly duties or promises made in the house of God.

The Jimmy Savile case obviously has implications that are much more far reaching and the thought that he never had to face the consequences of his perverse actions is appalling

I can only hope that as a society we can learn some valuable lessons about how to protect our children. My experience has certainly taught me that you can't always spot a paedophile but I do not want to live in a constant state of suspicion and project fear onto my children. I want my children to know right from wrong and feel empowered to speak up if they are made to feel uncomfortable in any way. It does not seem like much in the way of armour but it is all I have to give.

I have to keep reminding myself that there are many more good people in the world than there are bad. It is just a shame that the few bad ones do so much damage.

Monday, 22 October 2012

P is for Party

It is rare for me to go to a Party without my children but this weekend saw me do exactly that with my husband for our P Alphabet Date.

I have a neighbour who is similar to me in age and the similarity theme continues in the paths our lives have followed. Like me, she has grown up children from a previous marriage that would never have won any 'Perfect Match' prizes and has since met and married a man that restored her faith in happy ever afters. She has a daughter from that marriage who is just a little younger than my Addy. This weekend, she threw a party to celebrate the 5 year anniversary of meeting her Prince Charming.

The party was in the function room of a country pub. Daughter Ivy agreed to be our taxi for the night (payback time!!) and she straightened my hair for me for a bit of glamour. I left my Doc Martens and trainers at home, dusted off my ridiculously high heels and felt good to go. My husband rethought his scruffy T shirt and jeans combo when he saw that I had made the effort with my faithful Little Black Dress. He didn't look too shabby when he teamed a white dress shirt with the same jeans (that he claims are all he's got).

I didn't recognise many faces at the party but there was a wonderfully friendly, fun atmosphere. I felt a sharp pain in my heart missing my Addy as I watched the pink princess offspring of our hosts twirling on the dance floor with an inflatable guitar, blonde curls bouncing, but the freedom to enjoy myself without my 'mummy hat' on was liberating.

We danced to the 'so bad they're good' songs of the 80's and 90's, drank enough beer to ensure a mild hangover and generally had a fantastic night. The dance floor cabaret of guests letting their hair down perhaps a little too much kept us thoroughly entertained. I have to include my husband in their number with his rather embarrassing improvised Michael Jackson party piece complete with sequinned glove prop.

Ivy came to collect us before midnight but she knew some of the party guests who had been in her year at school so she stayed for a while for a drink (lemonade!) and a dance. The reprieve on our curfew did make me feel like a naughty teenager. It was great. It also meant that Ivy got to witness her stepfather's Michael Jackson routine which quite possibly will scar her for life!

Thursday, 18 October 2012


I am always talking to my older children about creating opportunities for themselves and this blog has certainly done that for me, the latest being the chance to host a Sylvanian Families Twitter Party. I wasn't really sure what I was letting myself in for when I accepted the challenge but I was sure of my great fondness for the miniature inhabitants of Sylvania and their intricately accessorised homes.

My older girls had a collection of Sylvanian Families when they were younger including: a mansion house, a tree house, a bus and my personal favourite, a bakery. These provided many happy hours of make believe play, not forgetting a memorable incident when my daughter Ivy knocked out her cousin's wobbly tooth! Ivy was very quick to volunteer her services to help me co-host the party.

We had a lot of fun with the planning and preparation and particularly enjoyed sorting through the box of party games and toys we were sent.

Even with the best of planning, you can't budget for illness which did jeopardise the success of our party but we muddled through and as the saying goes - it was alright on the night.

Our party guests got stuck in with the Sylvanian themed colouring sheets, plasticine modelling, party food and of course experiencing the world of Sylvania through the lovely Log Cabin, Camper Van, Bathroom Set and Celebration Cat Family generously provided for that purpose.

Although the party was aimed at little girls, I have to say my 2 year old son probably enjoyed playing with the toys more than anyone!  I did put some of the really tiny accessories to one side for fear of losing them.

Sylvanian Families Camper Van

The party lasted two hours which went by very quickly but it was quite frantic trying to keep up with Twitter aspect of the event. The idea was to live tweet about the party using the #sylvanianfamiliesparty hashtag. Competitions and discussions meant that everyone could be involved and it wasn't long before the hashtag trended. It was an exciting moment being a part of that accomplishment. I did curse my computer when it seemed to take forever to upload my photographs and the twitter feed did move so fast it made my head spin at times. I was very grateful for Ivy's help.

Sylvanian families are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year which I think is testament to the fact that they are a timeless classic. I am very happy that my younger children are discovering these lovely toys and will hopefully carry some happy memories of Sylvania into adulthood as my older girls have done (maybe without the home dentistry part though).

I very much enjoyed sharing the Sylvanian experience both online and here at home with my party guests who took away with them some gorgeous sets to start their own collections.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Magpie Monday - Chillies

It's been ages since I joined in with Magpie Monday at the Me and My Shadow blog but I really wanted to share this particular find that has been brightening up my kitchen and making me smile since I parted with the £2.50 to make it mine.

My daughter's boyfriend volunteers at the local Relate charity shop and I often pop in to say hello when I happen to be passing. The shop sells mostly furniture (which was massively useful when I held a big family party and found myself with a shortage of chairs) but does also have a few books and odds and ends.

On one particular visit, a colourful string of chilli peppers immediately caught my eye. On closer examination, I found that they were ceramic rather than plastic and I knew I had to have them. I love chillies from a culinary point of view and find them aesthetically pleasing in shape and colour. My daughter, who was with me at the time, shook her head in disbelief that I was considering buying such a piece of nonsense and the chap who took my money actually laughed at my purchase. He wasn't laughing so much that he didn't try to sell me a second string (candidate for charity shop salesman of the week!!) but this one was chillies in autumnal colours and held no appeal to me whatsoever.

It was a little dusty but it washed up beautifully and I love it!

Oh, and here's one I knitted earlier!

Me and My Shadow

Friday, 12 October 2012

A Passion for Paint

I did enjoy myself yesterday.

One of the things that I transported to Coventry when I took my daughter to start the University phase of her life, was a large print from Ikea with a mathematical theme (reduced to next to nothing I believe - mathematical themed posters clearly do not have wide appeal). The print was packaged against a cardboard back and wrapped in cellophane. Once we had hung it on the wall of the room she will call home for the next 36 weeks, I put the packaging back in my car to take away and recycle for her. I was neglectfully remiss with my recycling. Two weeks later and the large rectangle of cardboard was still in the back of my car.

Yesterday, it came out. Not to be recycled. To be reused.

I was thinking about the Sylvanian Families Twitter Party that I will be hosting next Tuesday and wondered if there were any decorations or scene setters I could use to help create a party atmosphere. Blackcurrant Cafe is one of the many lovely playsets available from Flair so I thought that I could easily give our dining area a Sylvanian makeover. I used the cardboard to make a Cafe sign (no menu as yet!) and had enough left for a little signpost as well.

I used some old acrylic paints that belonged to my daughter, Liberty, back when she did her Art GCSE. Liberty always found academic subjects easy but Art really challenged her. She did not possess much in the way of natural ability but her dogged determination to succeed saw her achieve a grade C. The lone C may look like a failure amongst the A*s that she was awarded for just about everything else, but for me, that C represents a huge triumph. I am incredibly proud of her for that C.

One of Liberty's Art coursework projects is still lying around in the garage somewhere. It is a huge, ugly purple flower thing without many redeeming features. It was, however, the exact shade of purple I wanted for my Blackcurrant Cafe sign. I didn't think it would be too difficult a task to mix red and blue to make purple. How wrong I was. By some strange transformation, red and blue made brown. I tried again and made an equally dingy shade of yuck. I tried several times, mixing together different proportions on the off chance some magic would happen. It didn't. Could the fact that the paint was some 7 years old have had an effect? My 15 year old confidently took over to save me from myself ... and made a lovely vivid russet! I am not one who gives up easily. Eventually, using a lot of red and a little of one of my reject shades I made a colour that, compared to it's predecessors, looked acceptable. I amalgamated all my previous attempts to make a grimy pot of gloom - perfect for Hallowe'en crafts.

By comparison with the mixing, the painting bit was easy. In the dim light of energy saving light bulbs I thought it looked pretty good. In the cold light of day I feel less inclined to run away to Paris to start a new life as an artist but in terms of creating a bit of Sylvanian atmosphere, I think I achieved my objective. And I loved it. It was so relaxing and the sensory pleasure of slopping the paint about is something I'm sure I will never tire of.

There are strong indications that my little boy shares my passion for paint. This makes me very happy!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

A Date for your Diaries #sylvanianfamiliesparty

Anyone that knows me will tell you that I love a good excuse for a party. The Sylvanian Families Twitter Party has given me an excellent excuse.

I am one of the bloggers lucky enough to have been selected to host a Sylvanian Families Party at my home for friends and family. Yesterday, I received a big box of goodies including Sylvanian playsets for the guests to play with, themed activities with prizes, lovely gifts for the guests to take home with them and one rather sad box of cupcakes that I found squashed right at the bottom! I am not too sad about my squashed cupcakes. I'm sure they'll still taste good and it gives me a reason to do some baking (which I love) to make some alternative treats perhaps more worthy of Sylvania's Blackcurrant Cafe.

I will of course be tweeting and blogging all about the preparations and the party itself.

Don't forget to make a note of the date and time - everyone can join in on twitter and have the chance to win some fantastic prizes.

Tuesday 16th October 2012, 4pm - 6pm

Follow @ukmumsTV and use the hashtag #sylvanianfamiliesparty

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Running Club

I am trying to remember what on earth possessed me to join a Running Club.

I have never considered myself a sporty person and although I enjoyed stumbling my way around a 5K Cancer Research Race for Life course last year, carried along by atmosphere and sense of occasion, I have definitely never thought of myself as a runner.

Maybe it was the positive influence of the summer of sport with the impossible to ignore Olympic games. Or maybe my husband's obsessive enthusiasm for the triathlon he took part in recently was actually more infectious than it was annoying. Or just maybe it was simply to please my daughter who is very keen to increase her fitness and had already roped me in to the odd jog along the canal tow path with her (which I loved because it is a beautiful place to be plus a good excuse to spend time with my daughter).

Whatever it was, I am very glad I did.

Five weeks ago I went along with my daughter to the first session of the Beginners programme at the local Running Club. The beginners group was made up of a 60+ strong crowd of people (probably asking themselves the same question as I was - what am I doing here?) We started under the careful guidance of the instructors with 1 minute of running followed by 1 minute of walking to recover. This was repeated eight times.

The route we took was down a lovely country lane which for me made the whole experience much more enjoyable -  but even with rolling green fields, majestic trees and babbling brooks, my attention was never drawn very far from my laboured breathing, aching muscles and number of repetitions still to go. The thing that really kept me going was running as a group. If other people were still managing to put one foot in front of the other, so could I. The feeling when the eight repetitions were completed was nothing short of elation.

To achieve success with the programme, it was necessary to commit to running three times a week. The Running Club organised a second mid week run leaving us with one final run to do on our own before moving onto Week 2 of the training schedule.

The mid week run happened to clash with our  Zumba class. I love Zumba - bouncing around to energetic music and learning all the moves - but we made the decision to take an eight week break from it in order to give 100% to the Beginners course that promised to ease us gently into running continuously for 30 minutes. Although on paper, this seemed like an achievable target, the reality of struggling through the 'run 1 minute walk 1 minute' eight times target made me wonder if I'd ever actually get there.

Over the weeks, the nights have drawn in and we now find ourselves running in the dark.The lovely country lanes are off limits because being unlit, they are more dangerous than running through town. Everyone sports high vis clothing in some form or other which makes us look like a formidable dayglo pink and yellow army as we pound the pavements en masse. Head torches and flashing armbands must at times make us look like a low flying alien spacecraft (or travelling disco). We do attract quite a lot of attention.

The instructors are brilliant - full of support and encouragement and there is something about running in the group that makes me feel like a herd animal, compelled to move as one.

I laugh at how difficult I found that first week now that I have reached Week 6.

There was some confusion over the Week 6 target. The idea was to run for 12 minutes then walk for 1 minute and repeat either twice or three time depending on which schedule you looked at. I was fully psyched up to run three times and although somewhat daunted by it, determined to succeed. I paced myself sensibly running the first 12mins at barely above walking speed. At the start of the second 12mins it was clarified that we would only be running two. I felt as though I had practically finished already. It was no problem at all to run that 12 minute block at a pace I was proud of. Unfortunately for my daughter, despite my best attempt to inform her that we were only running two repetitions, she had her headphones in listening to a 6 minute Taylor Swift song so she would know when she had reached halfway point because she needed all the motivation she could get. She mistook my wild gesticulations as 'waving' and couldn't hear what I was saying. She was confused and felt slightly cheated when she eventually twigged that there would not be a third 12minutes. We both agreed that the mind was an incredibly powerful tool for the runner. Had we not been mentally prepared to run three lots of twelve, I'm sure the two lots of twelve would not have felt so easy. I don't really know how to fully exploit the power of mind to achieve my goal but I can certainly crank up my I CAN attitude and turn down any really? you gotta be kidding!! thoughts I might have.

There are plans for us all to dress up on the run that falls on Hallowe'en. Already there has been talk of stick on wounds, fancy tights and glow in the dark skeleton costumes. I have a whole range of costumes brought very cheaply in the 'clear out the spooky stock to make way for Xmas stuff' sales last year. One of them will hopefully be something I can actually imagine running in (certainly not the werewolf with hairy hand gloves and full mask!)  It seems that we may attract even more attention than usual.

Another idea on the table is for a charity Santa run. I love the idea of that although the only costume I have at the moment is a somewhat skimpy Santa's Little Helper outfit designed to be worn with stilettos rather than trainers. I'm sure it will look very fetching worn over the top of my jogging pants!

My goal after the 8 week course is to run 5K at least once a week (we are already regularly covering distances close to that). If I can reach that goal having a lot of fun, making new friends and maybe raising some money for charity on the way, then that makes me very happy. Whatever it was that possessed me to join the Running club, it certainly did me a huge favour.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Bananas in Pyjamas

The Bananas in Pyjamas characters were inspired by the annoyingly catchy song originally composed in the sixties which talks about the yellow fruit dressed for bed and chasing teddy bears with a view to catching them unawares! I find it quite amazing that something created purely out of the beauty of poetic rhyming can have evolved into a top pre-school children's TV show and I have to admit (excuse the pun) I find B1 and B2 (the banana stars of the show) most a-peel-ing.

We were sent a Bananas in Pyjamas Funhouse Playset from Golden Bear to review.

The fold out plastic playhouse comes complete with B1 and B2 figures with hinged legs enabling them to sit and make good use of the colourful furniture accessories. Best of all is the musical staircase (batteries required) which plays (if you haven't already guessed) the famous Bananas in Pyjamas song, also used as the theme tune to the show.

The set was very cute and ideal for my two little ones as they had a banana each to play with. It has kept them happily entertained and inspired a bunch (sorry!) of make believe games. They particularly liked putting the bananas to bed beneath their plastic duvets and true to the spirit of the song, making them come down the stairs.

As the whole thing folds up it does not present any problems from a storage point of view.

RRP £34.99

Bananas in Pyjamas do not contribute to your 5-a-day

Thursday, 4 October 2012


We recently acquired one of those giant foam glove things that you use to wave in a crowd. It came from a friend who had ventured down to London to see the Olympic parade that marked the end of a fantastic summer of sport and patriotism. Undoubtedly there would have been a lot of waving in a lot of crowds! It was in the shape of the National Lottery symbol and my little girl has adopted it and has it in her bed with her. She call it Toodles.

The focus of this post is not about the weird and wonderful things children attach to. It is more about a way of seeing things.

I remember when the National Lottery launched. I remember buying my very first ticket for the very first draw and my complete belief that I could win. I remember lying in a hot bath (not really relevant but sets the scene I suppose) fantasising about how I was going to spend my millions. I entered religiously every week up until the time that the Wednesday draw was introduced (two draws a week seemed excessive and I lost interest). I never won anything. I do still buy the occasional ticket when I remember or I'm feeling particularly lucky and I still fantasise about spending my millions.

In all the time that the National Lottery has been present in my life, I have only ever seen the symbol as crossed fingers. When my daughter started talking about the National Lottery 'whale' (in reference to the foam glove thing that accompanies my little one to bed) I had no idea what she was meant. I'm still not sure if it is supposed to be a whale or a fish but I can definitely see some sort of fish-like character looking at me from eyes that I only ever saw as fingers. I don't know how I never saw it before.

My daughter Charis always surprises me with her way of looking at things. Although never formally diagnosed, she has always exhibit characteristics associated with Asperger's Syndrome. I read on a T Shirt recently - Autism: It's not  a processing error, it's a different operating system. This perfectly describes my daughter and I'm not too embarrassed to be educated by slogans on casual wear.

Charis does see things differently. From a  young age, she puzzled us all when she talked about the road sign with a chair on it. It transpired the road the road sign was actually the one warning of a slippery road and to this day she insists it is not a skidding car - it is a chair.

If (like me) you are struggling to see it,  the car part of the image is the back of the chair, the white space between the two skid lines above the crossover is the seat and the two black lines below the crossover are the two rather wobbly chair legs.

I do love optical illusions. I recently came across a knitting technique called Illusion Knitting and I really wanted to have a go. It is quite simple  - using different combinations of  plain and purl stitch to create raised areas that when viewed from a certain angle create an illusion of a pattern that cannot be seen when looking directly. The pattern I used was this Piano Scarf. I knew I wouldn't have the patience/time to knit a whole scarf so I adapted the pattern to make another 5x5 square for my patchwork blanket project. I admit the illusion of a piano keyboard would look a lot better as a scarf but I was quite pleased with the taster that my blanket square gave me for this technique. You can almost see the piano keys!

Illusion Knitting viewed straight on

Illusion Knitting viewed at an angle - can you see the piano keys?

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Morrisons Bakery

The supermarket that I do the bulk of my weekly shopping in is Morrisons. In part, this is because it is very conveniently located but I do like the whole shopping experience - range, price, layout, special offers etc (although more special offers on the vegetarian foods would be appreciated as would keeping the fish fingers from creeping into the meat free freezer display!) I particularly like the bakery department, being a big lover of the carbo-licious bakery products.

I was delighted to be offered a selection of new bakery products to review. I collected my samples in store and was not disappointed. 

The Sourdough Boule (400g £1) was still warm and smelled amazing - a smell that is right up there with frying onions and new books. The floured surface marked with a cross gave it a rustic appeal and the dense textured dough made it a perfect warming comfort food, ideal as the seasons change and the weather turns colder. I served it in thick slices, generously buttered, with a bowl of chile. Delicious. This will definitely be on my shopping list for our annual bonfire party.

The Chocolate Twists (£1) looked lovely but I know I am not keen on confectioners custard or the type of chocolate used in pastries so I handed responsibility of taste testing over to 18 year old, ever hungry, George. He made short work of both pastries in the pack and his verdict was simply : "Gorgeous".

The final product to sample was the Tiger Paw (75p per pack or 2 for £1).

Tiger Bread is described as 'white bread with a savoury glaze'. Whenever we have tiger bread there is much debate as to what the 'savoury' glaze actually is. I just googled it and the answer is 'rice paste' (whatever that may mean). I always think it has a slight fishy flavour (not great for a vegetarian) but I do love the appearance. This particular tiger bread was shaped into bread rolls in a paw configuration which I thought was clever and cute.

The rolls were crusty with a light airy texture inside. My dad would have loved them but my personal preference is for a softer, doughier type of bread. 

I think it is fair to say that the Morrisons bakery range has something for everyone and I am definitely enjoying finding out which my favourites are.

Monday, 1 October 2012

A cabbage, goat and wolf problem

Do you know the puzzle about a farmer with a cabbage, a goat and a wolf that he needs to get across a river? Unfortunately for the farmer, his boat is only big enough for himself and one other of his commodities for any particular crossing. His problem lies with the fact that if he leaves the goat unattended with the cabbage, the goat would eat the cabbage and likewise the wolf and goat left together would result in bloody carnage and a self-satisfied wolf licking his lips. The farmer has to devise a solution whereby the unfavourable combinations do not occur and his cargo arrives on the opposite riverbank intact. It takes a bit of juggling but it can be done.

My weekend was very much like this.

Obviously there were no actual wolves, cabbages, goats, farmers, boats or rivers involved but what I did have was one daughter (Taylor) that needed to be settled into her new room at University,  a car load of belongings that needed to be  moved into said room, a boyfriend (George) that wanted to see off his student girlfriend and make sure she was OK, two under fives that create a certain amount of chaos whatever is happening, one husband and (unofficial) son in law taking part in a Triathlon half an hour away from the University, sports gear and two bikes needing to be in place for the Triathlon transitions and another daughter (Liberty) wanting to support her sporty man at the same time as marking homework and planning her next week's lessons. Thankfully, the presence of this daughter and her boyfriend meant that we had a second car to relieve the burden on mine but two cars to park in a) the multi storey car park from hell and b) the insanely busy sports centre that was the starting and finishing point for the triathlon, did present a whole extra problematic layer.

Originally, the plan had been to settle  Taylor into Uni life on the Saturday, stay overnight at a Travelodge in Coventry and dedicate Sunday to the Triathlon. As is often the way with plans, this did not happen. Registration and room allocation at the University was split into two groups depending on where your surname fell alphabetically and being a "V" meant that Taylor was a Sunday arrival.  Now we could have called the University, explained the situation and  asked to be admitted on the Saturday, but with Taylor already being quite anxious about the whole leaving home thing, I didn't want to put her in a position where she would feel singled out and different. She was my top priority. We decided to stick with her allocated day and fit the Triathlon around it.

But being in two places at the same time is one of those useful tricks that I am still trying to master!

We stuck with the plan to travel up on the Saturday for what was supposed to be a leisurely drive to the Travelodge that we had already booked. 'Leisurely' quickly turned into stressful when the sat nav was no help whatsoever in central Coventry. I had volunteered to drive to give my husband a chance to relax before his imminent athletic endeavours. I did not cope well with the unfamiliar traffic systems, dodgy junctions and a complete lack of knowledge as to where I was supposed to be going. When I found myself, quite by accident, in  car park - I stayed there (at least until my panic started to subside). My husband went off on foot to locate the Travelodge and he drove the rest of way through town to our destination.

We had to unload most of the car contents for security reasons. Luckily, one of the rooms that we had booked was larger than the others. There was plenty of space for the suitcases, boxes and two racing bicycles. Less than luckily, was the state George's trousers were in after manhandling two racing bicycles up three flights of stairs and into the room.  I really hope that his mum's washing machine and detergent can handle oil stains.

There was a fantastic looking Primark opposite the hotel. I really wanted to browse the three well lit levels of reasonably priced fashion items for some retail therapy but it was closed for business by the time we were together enough to have taken advantage of the consumer paradise, and would be leaving before they reopened the following day. Shame.

Finding somewhere suitable for all of us to eat on a busy Saturday night proved nearly impossible, even with the aid of phone Apps that should have made it simple. We ended up in one of the nicest Wetherspoons I'd ever seen but despite the architectural elegance of their exterior, they were unable to provide me with a veggie burger and came close to not serving us at all because they were unexpectedly busy, short staffed and  running out of clean plates!

Sometimes, when stress and disappointment piles on so thick, you start to feel a strange sense of elation - that you are a survivor and whatever life throws at you... you will triumph. I was getting to that point. Beer helped. Chocolate helped further.

Back at the hotel room, my husband and I watched X Factor in bed while trying to persuade an overexcited two year old that sleep is best. The rest of our party congregated in the largest room amongst the luggage and cycles for a slightly surreal round of the Pointless board game.

Our plan for the next day was to drop Taylor and George off at the University with Taylor's things first thing then speed off to Stratford for the triathlon registration and prepare for the race. As I lay in bed, unable to sleep and going through this in my mind, I realised that it could not possibly work. We would not be able to physically accomplish this within the time constraints. In the morning, I announced a change of plan that seemed to work better.

After a quick croissant breakfast, we used our best logical approach and working together to bring the cars outside the hotel, reload them with everything and check out. Not as simple as it sounds when the code number needed to get out of the car park didn't work, causing Liberty's boyfriend to engage in increasingly heated conversations with an unhelpful car park attendant at the other end of a tinny intercom. The bikes came down one by one in the lift with minimal oil soiling and just as it seemed we were ready to go, my little Addy announced she needed a poo. The hotel toilet needed a key card (which we had already posted in the slot on the reception desk in the absence of staff manning it). A lovely hotel guest came to our rescue, averting certain disaster by lending us her key.

Both cars set off together with sat navs programmed for the start of the Triathlon. I should have known not to rely on sat navs alone. It wasn't long before we reached a road that was not recognised. As far as the sat nav was concerned, we were in the middle of a field. We found ourselves in the dangerous situation of two cars following each other, neither knowing which way to go. After what could have been a rather nasty incident with a bus - we got back on track. The route to the sports centre was the same as the cycle route for the triathlon so we got a taste of what our men had in store for them as we passed cyclist after cyclist, race numbers flapping in the wind, powering their way up a long steep hill.

The sports centre was insanely busy but with over 1000 athletes taking part in the race, that was not surprising. A friendly traffic warden (thank God he was a friendly one) allowed me a bit of leeway to park in a coach space while we unloaded the bikes and other gear. We had one near disaster when George used D locks to secure the bikes to a lamppost only to learn that the whereabouts of the keys to open the locks was unknown. Keys located - panic over.  Sensible Liberty headed off to a cafe to do her marking and planning and I left our slightly bemused competitors to work out where they had to go and what they had to do while I headed back the way we had just come towards the University with Taylor, George and my little ones.

After my bad driving experience the day before, I was feeling a little anxious but with George up front telling me where to go in his lovely calm voice, I soon relaxed.

The University had done a good job with signposting and we were lead through coned off lanes towards a short stay car park for unloading. I was doing really well until the very last little bit where I did actually hit a cone and sent it flying.

One good thing about the stress and the madness and the destruction of innocent orange traffic cones was that it had all been a distraction for Taylor from her own anxiety about leaving home. She simply hadn't had time to think about her own personal worries! Now we were here and this was it.

I was so glad that George was with us. He straight away suggested that they go and get her keys and gave Taylor the confidence she needed to do everything she had to do. Not only this but he also brought me a cup of coffee while I waited at the car with the little ones. I really needed that coffee!

They found her room (which would be on the top floor!) and we made a start with the unloading.

Her room was lovely. Clean and bright and well equipped. The little ones were happy to try out her desk with drawing activities while George and I carried everything up the (never ending!) flights of stairs. Taylor unpacked and made her room a home. Our 30 minute allotted unloading time turned into more like an hour but after seeing what I did to their traffic cone, I don't think anyone was going to challenge me on it!

Eventually, I left George and Taylor to get on with it and took the little ones back with me to try and catch the start of our Triathlon category. It was touch and go whether I'd get there in time and far more worryingly was the problem of finding a parking space. I resorted to using my old parking mantra (hadn't done this in years) - Gracious Goddess show your face, lead me to a parking space. The Goddess certainly was gracious. I found a space big enough for me to manoeuvre into (just about). After a bit of a tussle with the Pay and Display machine (life really never is easy, is it?) I was eventually fighting my way through the crowds with a buggy that has seen better days and refuses to go the direction you want it to. Miraculously, I spotted Liberty in a good viewing position to see the exit from the swimming pool and transition onto bikes. I'd made it. Within a few minutes, there was Liberty's boyfriend running to his bike, mounting and zooming away on the next leg of the race. My husband was not too far behind. We cheered. We watched them disappear out of sight then we went to the cafe for a well earned lunch.

The fourteen mile bicycle road race was due to take about an hour so we made sure we were well positioned at the finish line in good time to cheer our men onwards. I spotted my lycra clad hero from quite a way off and gave him a cheer. Such was his concentration, I 'm not sure he even registered my presence but Liberty and I were rewarded with a big cheesy grin when her boyfriend crossed the line a few minutes later.

It did actually make me feel quite emotional to see them doing so well. Not for the last time this weekend, I felt that telltale throat tightness and blinked away an escaping tear.

We were there at the final finishing line as well to witness their victorious ending. My husband is not really built for running. He did look ungainly as he lumbered over the line but he finished the whole thing in 1hr and 12 minutes and came 15th in his category (which I think was a group of about 50 competitors). Liberty's boyfriend looked amazingly fit as his long strides carried him over the finish (shoelace undone!) a few minutes later. They both did so well and I am incredibly proud of them.

All that was left to do then (after showering, changing and reloading the bikes) was to return to the University, pick up the boxes and suitcases that Taylor didn't need, say goodbye and take George back home. I picked up a bit of shopping for her on the way. I think half of the new students and their parents must have had the same idea because the shop was heaving with young people looking excited and terrified in equal measures with their parents worrying how their babies would cope with this new found independence and remember to eat properly.

With it being much later in the day, the busy registration period at the University was all but over. The traffic cones had been removed. I parked without incident and went up to see how my baby was doing. She had met some people already and had a look around the freshers fair with George. He was happy to have been mistaken for a fresher and collected freebies which he delighted in showing us.

The moment we had all been dreading was looming ominously. The time to say goodbye. I expected tears but little Taylor sobbed. I am getting a lump in my throat now just thinking about it. We hugged and cried and laughed and cried some more. Walking away was hard but I knew that the sooner we did it, the sooner she would regain control, venture out and start making friends and having fun. We left George to say his final goodbye.

I was glad that the driving responsibility fell on me. It meant that I could not give in to my tattered emotions. I concentrated on getting us home safely and by the time we did, Taylor was socialising in the shared kitchen with her neighbours. She has an amazing adventure ahead of her and although we will miss her like crazy, she is exactly where she needs to be.

It was a long and difficult weekend but one full of achievement. I feel very relieved that I got my cabbage, my goat and my wolf safely across the river.

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