Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Chocolate Biscuit Dispensers and other Machines

When I was a little girl, my imagination transformed a panel of the garishly patterned 70s wallpaper that adorned my bedroom walls into a Chocolate Biscuit Dispenser, from which I was able to keep my collection of teddies, gonks and dolls lavishly bestowed with sweet treats. I remember it so well.

This is not the exact design of my wallpaper but it had a similar colour palette, a floral theme and  a repeating circles pattern. My parents must have thought it quite attractive! To a child's eyes (this child's eyes at least) it was a control panel and dispensing hole for imaginary biscuits.

I was reminded of this yesterday when my 4 year old (nearly 5 actually - where does the time go?) daughter called me into the conservatory to see a 'machine' she had made. Various household items and toys had been carefully arranged to create a rather interesting construction. Nothing was randomly placed. Everything had a function and she proceeded to explain in detail what it was all about.

I love her creativity. I love her imagination. I love that she has taken my "Chocolate Biscuit Dispenser" to a whole new level. I didn't love so much that I was instructed not to dismantle the machine. The strange collection of objects now dominates my conservatory.

If it was summer, this would be more of a problem but as the conservatory does not get used very much during the cold weather, I am happy for the machine to remain. Perhaps there is something to be said for those 70s wallpaper designs though. My plain walls painted with emulsion clearly do not fire any sparks of imagination.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Panto Time (Oh no it isn't!)

The first school run of the second half of this term went remarkably smoothly. I woke up feeling refreshed and ready for the day ahead after an uninterrupted night's sleep and Addy was very eager to be back in the classroom with her friends.

It has been a half term holiday dominated by pantomime. Oh no it hasn't - I hear you say. I can definitely reply - Oh yes it has! 

My 16 year old daughter Charis has been involved with the local Amateur Dramatics group for quite a few years. It has been an absolute privilege to watch her on stage in the many productions that she has played a part in and to see her blossom as a performer. Her part in the latest production - the annual panto - was as a member of the chorus. She only had one line to say but the chorus had a significant singing and dancing role for the majority of the show.

I am not really a fan of pantomime as a form of entertainment, but it was probably one of the best I've ever seen. It was without a doubt the best amateur panto I've ever seen. This had a lot to do with an inspired performance by a new member of the group cast as the evil fairy. She was amazing. My favourite scene involved the evil fairy concocting an equally evil spell with my Charis and another chorus member playing the part of her minions. Charis was fantastically creepy as she danced with lithesome grace around the cauldron.

Charis is not a natural dancer. She does not have dance lessons. It was through sheer determination and tireless practise that she not only mastered the steps but made them look effortless and professional. I was impressed beyond words. As a result of her accomplishments, she was approached to take on the role of musical director in future productions. Unfortunately, that is an opportunity she is unlikely to be able to explore. This was probably the last production with this particular group that she will be involved with.

The dedication to dancing has also seen her lose inches off her waistline. She was never overweight but she now has a enviably toned, slender body. She looks incredible.

The panto impacted on my week in different ways. For a start, we have had to live with Charis dancing around the house almost non-stop! Rehearsals have been taking up more and more time to the extreme that the technical rehearsal did not finish until after midnight. My husband was always on standby to pick her up and I could never properly go to sleep until she was home.

There were five performances in all including the matinee and Charis was overflowing with enthusiasm for each and every one. I took my mum along to see Thursday night's show. Spending time with my mum was a special treat and I love how she always jumps at the chance to see her grand daughter in action. She agreed with me that Charis was phenomenal with what she had achieved with her dancing. To top it all off - I won the raffle!

As a thank you for the opportunities and support that Charis has been given, I was very happy to make cakes for her to take to the after show party. I am really enjoying baking at the moment and had good results with coffee and walnut, lemon drizzle and chocolate marble cakes. My kitchen was a busy place. I cut all the cakes into slightly bigger than bite-sized, manageable party nibbles and tried not to feel that my sister in law and her children who were staying with us for the weekend were given the thin edge of the hospitality wedge by serving them inelegant piles of off cuts!

The after show party went on well into the early hours. One very jubilant Charis eventually texted one very tired stepdad for a lift home. At this point I was a little worse for wear having consumed unhealthy amounts of wine (and off cuts!) with the afore mentioned bad influence of a sister-in-law.

Charis is not quite sure what to do with herself now that the hectic schedule of rehearsal and performance has come to an end but the friendships she has forged, the confidence it has given her and the many happy memories will no doubt endure.

Friday, 22 February 2013

The Breakfast after the Romantic Night before

For my Anniversary meal, I served heart shaped toast to accompany the mushroom pate starter. I hate wasting food, so my breakfast the following morning looked like this:

Unbelievably tricky to spread the butter and marmalade around the gaping heart shaped hole but it made me smile as memories of the romantic evening flooded back. It also provided me with a reduced calorie start to the day to compensate in some small way for previous overindulgence!

Thursday, 21 February 2013

T is for Three Years, Three Miles and Three Courses

Yesterday was the third anniversary of hope triumphing over experience (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde) - the day I married my second husband. 

It has been a wonderful three years in so many ways and definitely worth celebrating. In the interests of economy and convenience (our babysitting daughter was busy with the opening night of the panto staged by her amateur dramatics group), we opted for a stay at home three course meal. Three years and three courses - a perfect T alphabet date.

Yesterday was also one of the nights I run with my running club. I didn't want to miss it because I have a 5K race to prepare for on Saturday and I am trying to keep on track with my Lent target to run 40 miles before Easter. As has become the norm for my life, a lot to fit in with very little time!

I had to keep things simple to make it all work. I chose to do a starter of mushroom pate which I could prepare well in advance and has romantic significance as it was one of the starters served for our wedding breakfast three years ago. I was kept well entertained during my planning and preparation as a very large tree in my neighbour's garden that had become somewhat unstable was cut down section by section by a nimble and completely fearless tree surgeon.

Choosing a main course that required very little work yet was impressive enough to feel like an indulgence was difficult. Despite having already had it a week ago for valentines day and the fact that my O'Level Food and Nutrition education could find compelling reasons why it did not go with the starter, I decided to go with baked camembert. It is so simple, my husband and I both love it and camembert was on special offer in Morrisons! To make it slightly different from last week's meal, I chose to serve it with sliced red pepper cooked in olive oil. A little splash of colour would look good and there is always that whole 'five a day' thing to think about. Camembert and baguette were purchased, peppers sliced and ready.

I was just contemplating my options for the third course when my husband telephoned to ask if I would like him to bring dessert home with him. YES PLEASE!

I put a lot of thought into laying the table. I used the black and ivory colour scheme we had at our wedding with a red accent colour. Folding red napkins into a heart shape is so easy and I thought it was a cute touch. I found heart table confetti when I was looking for something else so that was sprinkled liberally (to disguise the fact that I hadn't ironed the tablecloth). Three candles represented the three years of married life and each candlestick was decorated with little wired crystals that I had saved from the wedding flowers. The table runner was a bargain I picked up after Christmas. It reminded me of the design on my wedding cake and with a price tag of 10p it was perfect!

I was already in my running gear when my husband came home from work. He presented me with a single ivory coloured rose which finished the table setting off beautifully. He had also bought a bottle of 2005 wine - the year that we got together. His dessert offering was a dodgy looking trifle that had not travelled well in the carrier bag but he had fresh strawberries and assured me it would look beautiful when he had finished with it. I left him to it with two eager little assistants willing to eat any unused fruits!

I ran. I had the option to run a 2 mile route but wanted to push myself a little and joined the 3-4 mile group. There were a few moments during the course of the run that I regretted that decision, especially around the 2 mile mark when I was thinking - I'd be finishing now with the other group!! But I never gave up and I smiled thinking of the evening ahead waiting for me. Had we been a herd of migrating wildebeest, my daughter and I would definitely have been the two picked off by hungry lions... but we didn't care. We were comfortable with our place at the back. I think it was probably my favourite run of the year so far. For the majority of the route we were running down unlit country roads, relying on our head torches and reflective running clothes for any sort of visibility. I loved it. After three miles, we joined a smaller group led by Taylor's boyfriend, George, to take a more direct route back. When the finish was in sight I lengthened my stride and put every last reserve of energy I had for a final push of speed. I felt strong and powerful and fast .... until George came up behind me saying "you've got to do better than that Paula" as he literally flew past, like a rocket, leaving me standing! He's 18, I'll be 50 next year - does that make it OK?! I know I will never be a competitive runner but I am really enjoying what I do - at my level. Maybe one day I'll tie George's shoe laces together and see if I can beat him.

A slightly sweaty but exuberant me returned home. A quick shower later and I was ready to help put the little ones to bed. Once they were both sleeping peacefully, our T date could begin. Everything was wonderful. The food turned out even better than I hoped - it was unhurried and stress free. The trifle was never going to win any prizes for presentation but it was delicious and served at a point in the meal where enough wine had been consumed to totally see the funny side. We listened to love songs and reminded ourselves how lucky we are to have each other and share the love we have.

Saturday, 16 February 2013


I'm not great with early mornings but this morning I was up and dressed and ready to go by 8am to get to Telford town park in time for the start of their first ever Parkrun.

Parkrun is a not-for-profit organisation that arranges weekly, timed 5K runs all over the world. They are open to everyone and free to enter. It was exactly what I needed to get me on target for my goal of running 40 miles between now and Easter for my slightly modified Lent commitment.

It was a beautiful sunny morning (not exactly warm by any stretch of the imagination... but uplifting) and the route through the town park was lovely. One hundred and seventy eight runners turned up to take part and there was lots of support on the way round from the marshals and other park users. I ran with my daughter and my husband (while my daughter's boyfriend shot off to run it in a time that put our efforts to shame!)

I am still recovering from a horrible cough and cold and the exertion made it very difficult to breathe properly but I battled onwards and ran the whole 5K without stopping. Just under 36 minutes was a pretty rubbish time but I was delighted to have survived it and felt a great sense of achievement.

I'm sure my husband could run much faster than me if he really wanted to but he is more used to running on a treadmill and he does suffer with a niggling pain in his hip and calf tightness so he ran at my pace all the way. We crossed the finish line together holding hands (a little lingering Valentine's romance).

It was a friendly, well organised event and I really enjoyed taking part. Hopefully, it will be the first of many Parkruns for me and although I know I will never be in the top half of the field, not coming last and making small improvements to my personal best will make me a very happy woman.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Valentine Cookies, Carrots and Cenobites

I have been having a lovely time making Valentine Cookies for the family - and the positive response from everybody has certainly been enough to melt my heart.

Dylan was not so impressed with the heart shaped carrots I served him with his dinner yesterday. Just being heart shaped didn't stop them from being too yucky. Addy, on the other hand, was delighted which made my effort worthwhile.

I am feeling the romance today.

Red roses presented to me with my morning tea got the day off to a good start and we have candlelit Baked Camembert for two to look forward to as well as Red Wine, my favourite chocolates and a Valentines Social Dance. I'm not quite sure how we are going to fit it all in.

I was also surprised with a gift from my ever thoughtful friend Kirk. I was quite puzzled when a parcel was delivered. I knew I didn't have any reviews due and I hadn't ordered anything. When I opened it, all became clear - a replacement for my beloved Pinhead mask (Pinhead being the leader of the Cenobites from Clive Barker's Hellraiser).

A little poem sent on facebook read:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
A Valentine Pinhead 
Just for you xxxx

I can't stop smiling!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013


I am not a big fan of pancakes, but my kids are. I enjoyed watching them yesterday as they indulged in more lemon juice and sugar than you would consume under any other circumstances as good old dad produced perfectly tossed pancake... after pancake... after pancake.

Today, my thoughts turned to Lent and the annual tradition of giving something up. I confess that, even with the very best of intentions, I have never completely succeeded in a forty day giving up of anything. I have already given up (or at least seriously cut back on) a whole load of things for an entirely different reason (which I shall blog about in due course) so this year I thought it might be a nice idea to acknowledge Lent by doing something positive instead. Something additional and significant.

My confidence in running has taken a bit of a battering this year. Ill health and bad weather have affected training and it doesn't take that many missed sessions to make you feel as though you are back to square one in terms of fitness and stamina. I thought it would be a really good way to kickstart my training for a 10K race I've signed up for in May if I were to resolve to run 40 miles for Lent.

So that is my plan.

Between now and Easter, run 40 miles for Lent.

It's not going to be easy but it isn't supposed to be and hopefully, the rewards will be greater than a forty day abstinence from cake, chocolate or wine. That would just be miserable!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Computer Kids

I don't get much of a look in with the computer these days. My two and a half year old son has decided it's his cam-pooter. It astonishes me that he can successfully use the mouse and keyboard to navigate his way around and play whatever game he wants to. I've even found him reclining in my chair with his feet on the desk watching cartoons he's found on iplayer - a tiny version of the teenager he is destined to become.

Is it really so astonishing though that our children are savvy with technology?

As humans we have an incredible ability to adapt to our environment, with thriving populations in all but the most inhospitable of conditions. We adapt, we survive, we thrive.

My children have all their basic needs taken care of. They do not need to worry about finding food or shelter. The environment they are adapting to is one which is rich in technology. Even as tiny babies they seemed to have an instinctive knowledge that the remote control operates the television. They are immersed in a world where this is how it is. This is normal. Point a small plastic thing (also good to chew) at a larger distant thing - something happens. They are not fazed by this. They accept it. They accommodate this fact into their own construct of reality. Their reality is intricately connected to the technology they are exposed to.

I have not quite got to grips with smart phones yet but my four year old will quickly find and explore any apps that interest her. Her little brother isn't far behind her - with a particular interest in Angry Birds.

My mum does amazingly well in terms of what she can do with a computer (which is brilliant given that she still can't fathom how to use Sky TV). However, she is inhibited by worries that she might break something or do something wrong. Children are not burdened by such concerns. They are never afraid to have a go and can quickly translate skills learned on one device to another.

How adept my youngsters are with technology contrasts with what I feel is a distinct lack of online presence amongst many of my peers. The reason for this may be that my peers have not got to grips with the technology or it may be a reflection of my own inadequacy in knowing how to find them in their own little corner of the web.

I do wonder why the same rules of adaptability do not seem to work to the advantage of adults trying to master technology. Do we lose the ability to adapt as we age or is it just that we become much better at controlling our environments so there is less requirement to adapt. I suspect the latter, which explains why I still do not own a Smart phone (or ipad) and that the things I do on my computer now are essentially the same as I have been doing since I first came into possession of the Mac that dominates the desk in my office.

At least I do know that if I ever need a little bit of help with anything high-tech, I can always ask my kids!

Friday, 8 February 2013

Goodbye to an Old Friend

I don't even remember when the latex Pinhead mask came into my life but for the last 8 years it has been propped on the windowsill of my front room. Pinhead from Clive Barker's Hellraiser was a character that I adored. I loved the horror genre. I thought that Clive Barker was a total visionary. I thought that  Doug Bradley, the actor that breathed life into the Pinhead character, was inspired. I bought the DVD. I allowed myself to be scared, fascinated and spellbound by the storytelling. My friend Kirk gave me the mask.

I absolutely loved that mask. I tried to find one of those head mannequins for wigs to display it (I used to have one that I bought in a jumble sale once but have no idea what became of it). In the end, I stuffed it loosely with tissue paper and put the whole thing over the top of a suitably shaped vase. It looked amazing. And scary. My children confessed to being 'freaked out' by it but I did not let that deter me from displaying it prominently.

Nearly sixteen years ago, after the birth of my fourth daughter, I organised a Christening for all my girls. I was never much of a church goer but my eldest daughter was a member of the church choir and expressed a desire to be officially welcomed into the Christian family.  We did all four girls together. It was a lovely day with lots of pink, a beautiful cake, balloons and flowers (and a splash or four of holy water). Before the ceremony, the vicar came to our house to meet with us and discuss the solemnity of the occasion. He was more than a little alarmed by the Pinhead mask that I hadn't even considered moving out of respect for a sensitive man of God. Once I convinced him that I wasn't a devil worshipper (or worse) and that my interest in horror films was purely rooted in entertainment, he relaxed!

The mask was not very effective as a mask. The horrible rubbery smell inside was almost unbearable. It was not exactly breathable so you would overheat very quickly within its confines. Also, the rods that represented  Pinhead's pins (or rather 6" nails!) fell out a little too easily. It was only ever used as an ornament.

At Christmas, I would sometimes give him a festive flourish.

Many times we have had young offenders at our door selling overpriced J-cloths and dusters as part of a rehabilitation programme. I find it very uncomfortable saying no but often when they spot Pinhead through my front window, hard selling is forgotten and conversation turns to films. I have had many film recommendations made from the young men who have not had the best start in life along with confessions of their crimes and their hopes for the future. I don't know if I should be alarmed by the correlation between criminal behaviour and obsession with the horror genre but I am always happy to have had a meaningful exchange rather than being forced to shut the door in their faces.

Pinhead has been been part of our family for a long, long time. He is so familiar, I barely notice him. My little ones have never been unnerved by his presence. Recently, I was cleaning the windowsill where he resides. I was shocked by how old and tired the poor thing had become. The latex was very brittle and splitting in many places. The number of pins protruding from his skull were seriously depleted in number. I found several on the floor below, like dead leaves from a tree in autumn.

With huge regret, I felt that the time may be close to saying goodbye. I could never bring myself to throw him coldly into the dustbin. He would need to be carefully placed in an appropriate receptacle and stored away in a dusty recess befitting of an iconic dark soul.

Today, I took a deep breathe and actually did it. A coffin shaped empty chocolate box with black satin lining seemed a perfect final resting pace for my old friend. It was a delicate procedure to remove the rubber skin from the vase and tissue that had given him shape for so long. The vase was a gift from my sister who died many years ago. It was nice to have it back. The tissue paper was suitably yellowed and crackly.

It was impossible not to damage the fragile thing further as I placed it in the box and closed the lid. Even as it split and rained pins onto the floor, I couldn't help thinking what an incredibly powerful image it still possessed.

Goodbye old friend. You have silently witnessed monumental changes in my life. Your imperceptibly slow decay marked the passage of years. Your time in the sunlight is over.  Gather dust now. Wait in the dark. One day, someone might discover a coffin shaped box and wonder what lies inside. Be ready for that day, old friend. Be ready.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Shoulder Buddies

January ended and February began for me in a fog of ill health. Hopefully I am over the worst of it now - just a lingering cough and lost sleep to catch up on.

I have barely been near the computer (preferring instead to adopt a mostly horizontal position beneath a duvet on the sofa) so it feels good to be back in the little world of my blog -  starting with a review.

I was sent one of the range of  Shoulder Buddies from Golden Bear.

Shoulder Buddies are cute collectibles that attach to a child's clothing with a 'magic' coin. What sets this product apart from other collectibles is that it claims to help children learn about confidence and social skills. How exactly does it do this, you may ask.

Aimed at boys and girls aged from 4 to 8 years, Shoulder Buddies come with 'Smarts' collector cards which cover a range of subjects from taking care of yourself to having fun at parties. Our particular Shoulder Buddy was Diva who loves to share his 'Superstar Smarts' so everyone can shine.

We are also lead to believe that by wearing the Shoulder Buddies, our children will feel more confident because of the companionship.  As the marketing spiel goes - Shoulder Buddies are the friends kids wear ... with 'Smarts' to share.

Personally, I'd rather my children had human friends and I would hate to think that their confidence relied upon a collectible, however cute. I would also feel that I was failing as a parent if I was not able guide my offspring in the types of social skills covered by the 'Smarts'. That said, it can't hurt to reinforce these things in a variety of ways and the Shoulder Buddies maybe do have a valuable role in that sense.

Putting to one side the whole social skills and confidence thing - I really liked the little plastic fellow himself. That colourful crazy hair never gets old and begs to be styled and played with. There is a strong magnet inside the Shoulder Buddy which attaches to the magic coin.With the coin placed on the inside of the child's clothes, the Shoulder Buddy forms a good bond and sits securely..... until it doesn't. Once it becomes dislodged for whatever reason (in our case it was usually little brother grabbing it), there then commences a desperate search inside your clothes to find the coin! It was probably the most fun we had - hunt the mysteriously elusive magic coin.

My daughter has a metal framed bed and she loves to stick her Shoulder Buddy to it. She doesn't call it a Shoulder Buddy or use its given name Diva - it's her parrot. There is some logic. Parrots do sit on shoulders and it does have a beak. The Shoulder Buddy has definitely become one of her treasures. She lost the collector card.

The product I have mentioned in this review is from the Wave 1 Launch. The Wave 2 Launch for 2013  features a brand new range of characters including (and I know my daughter would LOVE this) the feline with the very large head - Hello Kitty. 
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