Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy New Y-ear

On the back of the success I enjoyed modelling Topsy and Rex plasticine dinosaurs for my Dinosaurs in Space animation, I had a go at making a sugar paste decoration for our New Year's celebration cake.

Inspired by my favourite TV show, The Walking Dead - or more specifically Daryl Dixon's zombie ear necklace - I wish you all a Happy New Y-ear!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

How many sleeps until Xmas??!!??

If I'm not careful - I'm going to miss the whole thing! It's a cliche but I can't believe how quickly the time is flying by. This year will be a test of what I always say to people who ask me if I'm ready for the big day,  that is - not really but it'll happen regardless of me.

In case I don't get a chance to sit down at my computer between now and then, here is my QWERTY QWistmas message to all who chance upon this post.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Christmas Running

I  honestly never imagined that running could become a part of the Christmas tradition for my family but that is exactly what has happened.

Last year, my eldest daughter and I took part in a Santa Dash which, thanks to poor quality santa suits that split far too easily, turned out to be an even more fun than we expected 2.4 mile race through Bridgnorth to raise money for the Shropshire Smile Maternity Charity. This year I joined, my husband, two of my daughters and their boyfriends and lots of friends from our running club to take part in a Turkey Trot in our hometown.

The Turkey Trot was sponsored by the local brewery which meant a free pint of ale for participants on finishing. This proved to be a not insignificant motivator on the way round the course - especially when any hills were involved. Participants were encouraged to run in festive fancy dress which made for quite a spectacle. It was a wonderful feeling as the race started to be running with Christmas puddings, elves, Santas a-plenty, Christmas trees and the odd character from the nativity!

I dressed up in a so called 'sexy santa suit' that was far from sexy and my husband squeezed into the jacket that was all that had survived from my Santa Dash costume last year. The jacket was definitely a little on the skimpy side but with the addition of a tinsel belt and a borrowed santa hat, we were good to go!

Photo by Adrian Roberts

We ran all the way round together at a nice steady pace and crossed the finish line holding hands. It was lovely.

Photo by Adrian Roberts

We waited at the finish to cheer my daughters but began to get a little concerned when there was no sign of them.  I should perhaps explain a little about the fancy dress they had opted for.

My daughter's boyfriend's mum had had the slightly crazy idea of turning her dad's mobility scooter into a sleigh with some craftily sculpted cardboard painted red and decorated with tinsel. This would be 'driven' by one of her daughters dressed as santa and 'pulled' by her son and daughter and my daughter dressed as reindeers. It had been her intention to be the fourth reindeer but an unfortunate work commitment meant that she had to drop out. My other daughter stepped willingly into the reindeer onesie to fill the vacancy.

Photo by Maureece

They looked fantastic but had perhaps misjudged how difficult it would be to pull the scooter. Their festive harness broke before they had even crossed the start line leaving three untethered female reindeer to run free whilst the one male reindeer had to put his back into pushing. I am sure that 5 kilometres would feel like a VERY long way.

Photo by Chris Bourton

Much to my relief, they did eventually come into sight. With a couple of willing volunteers helping to push and taking advantage of a short cut, they made it home.... all smiles!

It was a thoroughly enjoyable event - fun and friendly and in aid of a Childhood Leukaemia Charity.

The complimentary pint of ale at the finish slipped down a treat (as did the second pint that my non-beer-drinking daughter donated to my cause). Lovely. It did mean, however, that I spent a good part of the afternoon on the sofa sleeping off the combination of exercise and alcohol.

All of the photographs I have used in this post have been borrowed, mostly from good friends who were visiting for the weekend and came out in the cold to support us. This is because my own camera that was being used to take photos has been misplaced. I do hope it turns up soon - not just because I want my camera back but because I can't wait to see what other memories have been captured.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Woolly and Tig App Review

Twenty five years ago when I became a parent for the first time, things were quite different to how they  are today.  It used to be that if I was travelling, visiting, dining out or any other number of occasions during which I would know the kids would need distractions, I would have to go armed with an assortment of toys, books, activities and bribes to keep them occupied. Nowadays, a few well chosen apps on a mobile device and the kids are happy for hours on end.

We have been trying out a brand new Woolly and Tig app on our ipad. Due for release shortly, the app features Woolly, the cuddly spider character from the popular CBeebies show. The app has a lovely clean, uncomplicated look and feel to it and with three different aspects - free play, structured play and parent scheduling - there is plenty to discover.

The free play enables children to interact with Woolly in different ways such as making him roll over, giving him a cuddle and counting with him. For a spider (!) he really is quite loveable and tirelessly performs his actions to the correct touch screen prompts.

The structured play features a selection of familiar tasks to choose from including getting dressed and cleaning teeth. Virtual medals are awarded for completion of the tasks. Woolly gives the instruction for each of the tasks to negate the need for reading skills and develop listening skills. Cleaning a spider's teeth may not have the same thrill factor as high octane car racing and shoot 'em up games but it does represent experiences that young children relate to and develops the coordination required for touch screen technology (my mum should probably have a go at it!)

Finally, there is a parent scheduler that can be unlocked and set up to provide reminders to your children to clean their own teeth, get dressed etc.

My three year old (who has already shown a great interest in video gaming!) really did enjoy finding his way around the app, completing the tasks and earning medals. He did not need any supervision from me. It was lovely to hear him giggling as he played.

Our favourite activity was 'Fun in the Snow' where we help Woolly to build a snowman. It put us in a warm  Christmassy mood while we snuggled under my duvet together.

To see what twitter is saying about then new app use #woollyAPP

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The making of an epic adventure

I had an enormous amount of fun making plasticine model dinosaurs from the kit Dinosaurs in Space that I have been reviewing.

My enthusiasm for squishing and shaping was contagious. Addy made her own little multi coloured creation that kept her amused for quite some time. She was also very curious about how it would be possible to make the models move for an animated film. I tried to explain it to her but I thought the best way would be to actually do it.

With the justification that the whole process of film making with Addy would run smoother if I knew what I was doing, I decided once again to wait until the kids were at school and have a little 'run through' on my own. Of course I knew before I started that this would be all consuming and the housework would be neglected for another day - but it was all in the name of creativity.

The Zu3D software was straightforward to install (once I realised it wouldn't run on my Mac and dug out my old windows laptop) and fairly intuitive to use. The webcam simply plugged into a USB port and was ready to go. There was plenty of help to get started in the form of tutorials but I found it easiest  to just find my way around by clicking things and seeing what happened.

When the time came to actually start my animation, I was quite excited. I had a story of sorts in mind and had made an additional character to Topsy and Rex as well as a couple of props. I set up my background, adjusted the position of the webcam and started posing my 'actors'. It was easy to take a frame, move the models a little using a transparent overlay of the previous frame on the screen as a guide, then take the next frame. At any time, the frames could be played through to see how the animation was looking. Yes, it was easy, but it was incredibly time consuming. A lot of work went into a very short clip of movement. However, it was hugely satisfying watching the models come to life which made it all worthwhile. In an attempt to streamline the process and speed up the progress, I found I took several frames without moving my hand out of shot first. Annoying but all part of the learning curve. The frames can, of course, be deleted if you notice in time!

There are all sorts of effects that can be added to the film including opening titles, closing credits and music but that neglected housework really was calling at this point!

Addy absolutely loved making her own animation (with only the barest minimum of supervision) but she did struggle with the whole concept of 'planning a movement and executing it a little at a time over a number of frames'. She actually preferred the effect of them disappearing and reappearing somewhere completely different. She wanted to call her film 'Crazy Dinosaurs' which did seem quite fitting. She had a heavy handed approach to positioning which was quite hard on the models. They were rather worse for wear by the end of her session, but the beauty of plasticine is that you can just squish it back to the way it needs to be (within limits!)

So here is Addy's movie in the basic form. One day we will spruce it up with the effects but she is very proud of it just as it is.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Ironing in the Great Laundry of Life

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

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

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

I bought a new iron in 2008. 

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

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

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

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

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

I bought it.

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

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

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

Friday, 29 November 2013

Comet ISON

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

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

The Day a Comet Came to Tea

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Day a Comet Came to Tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

For twitter feed on Comet ISON follow @Cometison2013

Introducing Topsy and Rex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 18 November 2013

Dinosaurs in Space

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

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

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

You can see in the photograph above that the instructions are clear and friendly and supported by an easy to navigate website http://www.zu3d.com/dinosaurs_in_space. The website has tutorials, ideas and even a gallery to share your own creations.

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

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

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

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

Dinosaurs in Space RRP £34.99

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Fifty things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 8 November 2013

Life, death and the existence of God

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

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

Me:      No one lives for ever.

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

Dylan: God is nice.

Addy: What he said.

Dylan: I want to see god.

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

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

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

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Tree Fu Tom Adventure Castle Playset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

... and then took over completely.

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

Monday, 28 October 2013

Helping Charis to Help Others

Send Charis to Malawi Project

Over the summer, my daughter Charis worked tirelessly to fundraise for a project called Medic Malawi, a charity that runs a hospital, an orphanage and a new eye clinic in one of the poorest parts of the world.

The main fundraiser was  a Musical Evening that she organised and performed in. She also hosted informal  'Charis Karaoke' events during which friends and family would pay £1 to sing a song to her piano accompaniment. She attempted to sell eggs (but our chickens were not very co-operative) and she did a sponsored 5K run. Ticket sales, sponsor money, donations and a grand total of £1 in egg sales all added up to an impressive amount.

The qualitiies that Charis demonstrated in her fund raising work  - initiative, hard work, creativity, determination and the ability to do it all with a smile on her face - were recognised by the charity and she was offered the opportunity to join a group of students from her school to travel to Malawi to see the work that was going on there for herself and to get involved in a hands on capacity. The experience would be invaluable to Charis whose ambition is to study medicine at University and has the potential to be life changing.

The trip will cost approximately £2,000.

In an incredible display of sibling love and support, two of Charis' sisters have started a campaign to help raise the money needed to cover the cost of the trip. I had tears in my eyes as I read the 'Send Charis to Malawi' Project Blog, the facebook page and the touching video that gives an insight into Charis as a person and the thought behind the campaign.

I am immensely proud of my daughters for what they are trying to do for Charis and I think it goes without saying that I am immensely proud of Charis for wanting to throw herself into work of the charity. 

I hope with all my heart that the campaign enjoys some success.

Please Help Charis Help Others by sharing the video, the blog, the facebook page or this post. Best of all, donations can be made very simply via the blog .

Many thanks for reading and for your support. 

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Two teddies find their smiles

Last Friday was a wonderfully serendipitous day.

It all began when I decided to sort out my knitting cupboard into some sort of organised system so that I could easily pick up a 'work in progress' without having to search through piles of mess. The mess is how it came to be that Usain Bolt's impressive limbs remained detached from his slightly overstuffed torso and lead him to become a subject for a Gallery post rather than a finished product. Even small obstacles can serve as a deterrent to success and the 'mess' became a large obstacle quicker than the real Mr Bolt could sprint the 100metres.

So I tidied. Knitting patterns cut from magazines were slotted into punched pockets and put in a file. Unravelling yarns were rewound into neat balls. Like was stored with like. Bits of rubbish were binned. Everything fitted back into the  cupboard with considerably more ease. All that was left was to remind myself of the forgotten 'works in progress' and make a decision about whether they were worth finishing.

One of the forgotten works was a pair of trauma bears that my mum and I had knitted. They were complete but for the faces. My mum is a very competent knitter but is the first to admit that when it comes to the finishing touches, she can be very far from her comfort zone. She left me with the task of embroidering the faces onto the bears and I honestly had every intention of doing it. I just put it off for a while. When guilt forced me into action, I went back to the website that had launched the trauma bear appeal to look for any tips on how to do the face. I wasn't sure if I was disappointed or relieved to read a new article about the massive response they had had and how they had been inundated with teddies from knitters far and wide. Our lovingly knitted trauma bears were now surplus to requirement. I wrapped them in a plastic bag, still faceless, and buried them in the cupboard.

Rediscovering the bears reminded me of how much we had enjoyed knitting them and how nice it had been to be doing it for such a good cause. I wondered what I should do with them now.

It was that very evening that the same friend who had first told me about the trauma bear appeal came over to see me with a favour to ask. She had been talking to one of the volunteers in a local charity shop who had been putting together shoe boxes of Xmas gifts for disadvantaged children. The idea of including a small knitted toy was mentioned and my friend thought of me. She came to ask if there was any possibility of my mum and I getting out our needles and making something along the same lines as the bears.

As she was asking, I couldn't believe the happy coincidence. I told her about the two faceless teddies that had languished in the cupboard for too long and how happy it would make me to finish them off and donate them.

And that is what I did.

The task that had filled me with dread before became an exciting challenge and it wasn't all that difficult to do to what I considered an acceptable standard. They are both back in their plastic bag and ready to be taken to the charity shop. Only this time, they can look out and smile. And I can smile too.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Competition at Trade Radiators

There is a great little competition with Trade Radiators  at the moment to win £1000 of John Lewis vouchers (but hurry it closes on 7th November)

To enter, you need to submit a photograph of any household object that seems to have a face.  There are some fantastic examples already that are well worth a look.

I was reminded of a photograph I took some time ago. The waste trap in my sink had caught a few small bits of potato peel that just so happened to arrange themselves into a smiling face. I took the photograph because I found it so cheering looking up at me. Maybe I will submit this as my entry or maybe I will go on a new search to find an expression on an inanimate object.

Door handles are always good. This one from my bathroom door is always sticking its metal tongue out at me as I perform my ablutions

 It certainly makes you look at things in a slightly different way.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Big Knit

It has been about a year since I last picked up my knitting needles.

It's daft really because I enjoy knitting and I was pleased as anything with the last project I completed, my Zombie. It's like a lot of the things I enjoy - dancing, playing guitar, painting, reading, running,  photography, decorating... - there is simply not enough time to dedicate to them all. Knitting was one of the hobbies that slipped down the priority list and landed in the holding pen to be rediscovered later.

'Later' came yesterday.

I had heard about a campaign from Innocent to raise money for the Age UK charity. The campaign was called The Big Knit and the idea was for people to knit little woolly hats that would be placed on Smoothie bottles to be sold next month. For every 'hatted' bottle sold, 25p would be donated towards the cause. I thought I had missed the deadline to submit the hats but when it was extended, I knew it was a project that I wanted to get involved with - along with my trusty knitting partner, my mum.

Mum came to visit yesterday and after lunch, we printed a knitting pattern from the Big Knit web page and got cracking (or perhaps I should say clicking). We opted for the most basic design but took a moment to marvel at the intermediate and advanced designs on display.

I wasn't even sure I'd remember how to knit, but I did. The pattern, true to its word, was very easy. It was no time at all before our first hats were completed. All that was left to do was make little bobbles to sew on top for decoration. My daughters Ivy and Charis were both available to help so I delegated the task of bobble production to them. They were willing - but not very able. Ivy nearly cut her finger off and Charis decided it would be easier to learn to knit. Sadly, that was not the case!

Charis - talented musician, gifted scholar, rubbish knitter!

Between us, with some input from dad who never likes to be left out, we muddled through with laughter aplenty. We made five in total - four bobble hats and one Hallowe'en inspired design that I made up. I felt proud of our efforts.

It was a lovely project to take part in - lots of fun to do and helping a worthwhile charity.
Ours are all ready for posting. I can't help but wonder where they will end up. 

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Gallery

It has been a long time since I took part in The Gallery at Sticky Fingers, a weekly linky where you share photographs on a theme. I was reminded of it yesterday with a tweet from Tara Cain, author of the blog.

'Body Parts' was the theme for week 41 of the Gallery and has been resurrected for this week, week 162 (it really has been a long time since I took part!). And yes, @PaulaHaylock (aka me) did post a picture of a willy.

I am joining in today with the following Body Parts.

This was an attempt I made to knit Usain Bolt during the excitement of the 2012 Olympics. The poor woollen chap has spent the last year buried in my craft cupboard in this dismembered form. I fear that may be as good as it gets for him.

For anyone interested, here is the link to my original Body Parts contribution: 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A discovery in the dusty archives

I have been doing a lot of clearing up, de-cluttering and reorganising lately - tackling the areas of chaos that I have steadfastly ignored on previous attempts to sort my life out. The mood has followed me into my little corner of cyberspace - deleting anything that served no useful purpose.

I found a draft blog post from the beginning of July 2011. Although I had published an abbreviated version as part of a Reasons to be Cheerful post, I had never published the full version. Neither had I deleted it. As I read through, every word I had written still rang true. Apart from the fact that my son is now three and a half and the cake is a very distant memory, I really could have written this post today. For that reason, I have decided to rescue it from the the dusty archives and publish it now.

Summer 2011

My baby boy turned one this week, which inevitably involved cake.

But it wasn't all about cake. It was a lot about reflection and celebrating the huge amount of joy that the little fellow has brought into my life.

I never expected to be a mum to a boy. I had four daughters in my first marriage and felt that my family was complete. I did not long for blue baby clothes and trains sets. My girls were everything to me.

When my marriage failed irretrievably I had no idea what the future would hold. I felt so blessed to find a man I truly love and we have a life together that is better than anything I might have dared to wish for. I did not expect babies to feature in my new life. I thought I was probably too old to have much left in the way of fertility. I am so glad that I was wrong.

My first child with my new man was another girl. Was I disappointed? How could I be? I had a beautiful baby girl that I fell in love with instantly.

Against the odds, when I fell pregnant again at the age of 46, I allowed myself to imagine what it would be like if this child was a boy. The pregnancy felt different and I wondered if that was an indication but I was far more concerned with having a healthy baby to give the whole gender issue much consideration.

When people said to me that they bet I was hoping for a boy this time, I would reply that  a boy would shake things up and be fun but a girl would fit much more neatly into my life.

I didn't get neat!

When that baby was born and I saw it was a little boy it was quite hard to take in. Even now, a year later,  I look at him and have to almost say it out loud YOU'RE A BOY.

He's a laid back, happy little soul, generous with his kisses and cuddles. He loves his food. He is strong and tough and has the softest skin. He loves anything with wheels. He has an expressive little face and a smile that shows his cute, baby teeth.

I love him with a whole new flood of love that came from a place inside me that I didn't even know existed.

He is my son. One day he will be man.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Make Do and Mend

To say that money is tight for me at the moment would be a bit like saying the Universe is quite big - a classic understatement. I am having to watch every penny.

There are some aspects to economising that I really enjoy. I feel much more inspired when I go grocery shopping if I know I have to stick to a budget and I am more creative with the meals I make. I also do a lot more baking which the kids love.

There are other aspects that are simply grim - no take-aways, not even allowing myself to think about Christmas.

When I changed my bed clothes recently, I noticed that there was a ragged tear in the fitted sheet. Normally, that would have been consigned to the dust sheet/rag bag and a new one would have been purchased.

Not this time.

This time my 'make do and mend' mentality had me reaching for my sewing kit.

My mother prides herself on being a master of the invisible mend.  She has never taught me any of her techniques. I wondered if they might have been passed on through the wonder of genetics.

They hadn't!

But at least my (slightly bumpy) sheet lives on the see another bedtime.

Monday, 21 October 2013

My Little Year One Schoolgirl

With half term rapidly approaching, my little girl is very well settled into being a year one. I am so pleased with the progress she is making and how much she loves school and learning.

This is a letter that she wrote at the beginning of the summer holidays.

A quick translation for anyone not completely in tune with emergent writing reads: To everyone, I love you so much. You've been nice to me. Especially the teachers and the children. From Addy.

I found that incredibly heartwarming and encouraging.

Her little notes aren't always so lovely. This more recent one requires no translation though possibly some explanation!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Twilight Race for Life 2013 - The Day of the Race

When you sign up for something like the Race for Life, you imagine perfect weather, being in peak physical condition and having a wonderful time. The reality of it as the day approached was wet, miserable weather and my daughter recovering from a knee injury that meant she hadn't run in weeks. We weren't sure if she would be able to run the full distance but we were determined to make it round even if I had to carry her and whatever the weather threw at us, we were going to have a wonderful time.

On the day of the race, I was pleasantly surprised to see blue skies and sunshine. I was hopeful that the weather would hold out for us. As I was getting ready in my 'Cancer, we're coming to get you' bright pink T shirt, there was a heavy downpour that prompted me to pack emergency rain ponchos. I ignored the sudden change in the weather and carried on regardless, adorning myself in pink fairy lights, getting my little team of supporters ready with some pink floral face painting and pinning on my race number and tribute to my sister who was a victim of the disease we were all coming together to fight. The final touch was some pink lip gloss.

It was light still when we left for the venue at Trentham Gardens in Stoke but by the time we arrived, it was already starting to get quite dark. Ladies in pink with various illuminations were everywhere to be seen. It felt instantly like being part of something special. I had bought pink fairy lights for my daughter but unfortunately, did not have the AA batteries needed to power them. We'd 'borrowed' the batteries from the TV remote control for her but her lights were dim in comparison to mine. I think she felt a little put out that she wasn't lighting up like a Christmas tree but a bigger concern was whether her knee was recovered enough to withstand the rigours of running 5K.

The weather was perfect - dry and mild. The emergency rain ponchos were superfluous to requirement. The venue was perfect - a beautiful lake reflecting moonlight from a full moon in a cloudless sky. It was hard to get a proper feel for the grounds in the dark but I saw enough to  make me want to return during the daytime. We could see parts of the route marked out with tape, big arrows and rotating lights in the ground. A stunning effect was achieved at various point around the course by uplighting trees. The pink uplighters were particularly beautiful and fitting. We could see the starting line. I couldn't wait to get going and I knew that I was going to love this.

First we had the warm up and then a minute silence to remember those who have lost their lives to cancer. And then we were off....

The route snaked around the grounds of Trentham Gardens with terrain varying from gravel to grass to hard surfaces to wet muddy, potholed, tarmac. It certainly kept things interesting. Some parts were floodlit, some parts were spookily dark. I think I smiled the whole way round. From some vantage points you could see an almost endless stream of runners, joggers and walkers creating a mesmerising vista of light.

My daughter did amazingly well. I only had to slow down for her once and although I lost her for a while towards the end of the race, she put in a massive effort to catch up with me so we finished almost together. We celebrated with a packet of jelly babies and a well earned bottle of Aqua Pura.

It was a wonderful experience and it felt good to be doing something positive for an important charity. I would strongly urge anyone who was considering taking part to absolutely GO FOR IT!!

My daughter's thoughts on the Race for Life Experience:

Friday, 18 October 2013

Pink and Twinkly - Pinkly?

It has been a bit of a bad week for me this week and my running has suffered as a result. I haven't actually been out for a run for ten days.

Tomorrow I am running the Race for Life and I'm not sure if my unscheduled break in training will have a huge detrimental effect or if in fact I will actually be so desperate to feel those endorphins I'll have to be held back until the starters orders.

I suspect the latter.

If I have to go upstairs, I run. If I have to go out into the garden to feed the chickens or some such thing, I run. Just going back to the car after dropping the kids off at their schools, I run. These tiny bursts of activity do feel good.

I am very much looking forward to having the opportunity tomorrow to run for 5K - to stretch my legs, to breathe deeply, to feel my body working...

...and to say that I'm not looking forward to dressing in pink and adorning myself with fairy lights would be a lie.

For training tips, inspiration and photos visit Race for Life's sponsor Aqua Pura's website at http://chooseaquapuralife.co.uk/
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