Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Tree Fu Tom "Ultimate Tom"

My little boy has had a lot to deal with in the last few weeks. As if starting preschool five mornings a week wasn't enough, neither my husband nor I have not been here to look after him as much as we normally would. My boy loves his big sisters and I am very confident about entrusting them with his care, but it can never be quite the same as mum and dad.  And he's had to say goodbye to two of his sisters who have been a big part of his life all summer as one went off to start life as a boarder for her A level education and another left to start her second year at University.... and goodbye to his sister's boyfriend with whom he has a very close bond as he embarked on his University adventure.

Lots if upheaval for a three year old.

For this reason, I was very glad that I could spoil him with a new toy that we were sent to review from Flair.

The toy was a Tree Fu Tom Ultimate Tom. Although we have not watched the show on the television for quite some time, the figure was instantly recognisable to my son who was desperate to get him out of the box to play with.

As an articulated figure, I thought Ultimate Tom was great. Chunky, colourful and easily poseable, my little boy loved 'flying' him around the room.

Couldn't get him to keep still to pose for the 'action' shot!!

I wasn't quite so enamoured with some of the other features. Pressing a button on the figure's chest made wings pop out and the Tree Foo Tom theme tune play. The tune went on rather too long (and was rather too tinny!) for my taste and got somewhat annoying after a while. Unfortunately, the removable cape and pop out wings were irresistible to my little boys inquisitive fingers. We lost the pieces on a few occasions and had to mount a full scale search for them. One of our wings now has not gone back on properly and dangles rather than pops up!

Buttons on either side of Ultimate Tom's belt cause the buckle to light up (always fun) and activates one of over thirty 'Tom' phrases. My son loved copying the phrases, often with comedic inaccurate mimicry. 

Our Ultimate Tom has disappointingly run out of power already from the demo battery (maybe testament to how much my son played with him). The instructions do state that for best performance, the demo batteries should be replaced. Tom is now lying on my desk gently ticking, waiting for a small screwdriver and 3 LR44s.

Despite my slight annoyance that I now have to go out and buy the new batteries before Tom can speak again, I can't deny how much my little boy loved his new toy.

I think the following photograph of my son fast asleep in my bed and still clinging to Ultimate Tom, says all that needs to be said!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Our Color Transformation

Last weekend, my husband and I joined 6000 other people in pure white Tshirts to take part in a Color Run event in Brighton. The basic idea of the event is to run a 5K course and have paint thrown at you. The more serious side is that it is in partnership with the Stand Up to Cancer Charity - a cause close to my heart since losing my sister to cancer 18years ago.

We started the morning with a cup of coffee (and a big hug) at my father-in-law's house, then headed down to the seafront. 

My husband knows Brighton well having grown up there and his dad had some advice about the route to take and where to park. We arrived in good time and joined in the warm up. Any melancholy that had been affecting me thinking about my sister and the more recent tragedy in the family was relieved by the sight of my husband trying to master the zumba style exercise routine. 

There was a wonderful party atmosphere and it was an amazing feeling to be running with such a huge group of people. The real fun started when we reached the first Color station. There were four Color stations along the course. At each, a different vibrantly hued powdered Color was liberally sprinkled, squirted, thrown and generally 'applied' in explosive plumes. It was a glorious sight. And messy. Very colourfully messy!

It was the easiest 5K I've ever run. We stopped for photographs along the way. Everything slowed down at the Color stations. There was a huge amount of joviality and the camaraderie of sharing a common experience. I loved it.

Our Color Transformation was all over too quickly but the party went on as finishers were given sachets of the Color to create their own chaotic rainbow clouds.

I will definitely be back again next year to do it all over again.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

My Mother in Law...

My mother in law passed away.

Just a day previously she had been dancing with her husband. It was their passion for dance that inspired my husband and I to take to the ballroom some years ago.

The phone call from my father in law telling me of the sad news and the suddenness of it, was absolutely shocking.

My husband was not home. He was at my daughter's house helping her boyfriend erect a new shed in their recently paved back yard. I put on my trainers and ran. I ran all the way to my daughter's house. I was trying to imagine how I could possibly tell my husband that his mother was dead. When I arrived, he looked so pleased to see me turn up unexpectedly. The words that I had rehearsed over and over in my mind for the duration of my run felt so wrong as they came out of my mouth. It was incredibly hard to have to witness the look on my husband's face as the meaning of those words registered. To see his pain. To watch him slump.

He picked himself up. He explained to the shed building party what had happened. We turned our backs on their stunned faces and walked home. It took him no time at all to shower, pack and set off on the four hour journey to Brighton to be with his dad. I felt helpless.

Life carried on for me. I had to prepare a daughter for her first term at boarding school. Uniform and casual clothes complete with neatly stitched name labels were packed along with bedding and stationery and anything else we could think of that she might possibly need. I drove her to her boarding house and was proud of how well she settled herself into her room and boldly introduced herself to the other girls.

My two little ones were about to start their own school adventures - Addy as a year one and Dylan with his five mornings a week at preschool. I wondered when would be the best time to explain to them that their Grandma - the Grandma who shared story books with them and always made shortbread when we visited - their Grandma, had died. I did find the right moment. We set a photograph of her as the wallpaper on the family computer and Addy said  she wanted to keep it there for ever and ever.

Meanwhile, funeral arrangements were made.

When all that could be done in Brighton had been done, my husband came home bringing his dad with him to stay with us for a few days. I was worried that the hustle and bustle of our family life might prove too much for one so recently bereaved but he seemed to enjoy the change of scenery and coped well with being surrounded by people. I was able to hug my father in law, which was all I had really wanted to do ever since that first devastating phone call. We cried together and shared memories. We even made grape jelly together with the harvest from the vines in my greenhouse. My husband returned to work and did his best to deal with the backlog of urgent matters demanding his attention.

The funeral was booked for Thursday 12th September. By coincidence, we already had planned to be in Brighton for the Saturday after this to take part in a Color Run. Advertised as the happiest 5K on the planet, this is a running event with colour stations along the route where brightly hued powdered paint is thrown at the participants. We had booked a table at a restaurant close to the event for us to all meet up for a meal. Unbooking this table in the light of the tragedy was so sad. In her usual meticulously well organised way, my mother in law had already made the famous shortbread to offer us when we went back to their house for our post meal coffee. Carefully wrapped and frozen ready for our visit was that last batch of shortbread she'd ever make. My father in law brought it with him when he came to stay. It was such a potent symbol of the woman we loved. We ate it with reverence - sadness and joy in equal measures.  We made the decision to go ahead with the Color Run as planned - to run it for her.
We booked a nice hotel with spa for a couple of nights - figuring any chance to relax and unwind would be more than welcomed. We packed our running gear next to formal black attire.

When I told someone that my husband loved his mum, he replied that we all love our mums. This is probably true but the love my husband had for his mum was coloured with the deepest respect and admiration. He was inspired by her and truly adored the times when he saw her  barefoot in her garden, jeans rolled up to reveal tanned legs. The photograph that I set as the wallpaper on the family computer for Addy's benefit did in some small way capture this side of her. My daughter used her photoshop skills to remove the background and the resulting image was quite beautiful - serene, knowing smile, kind eyes, relaxed. We used the image on the order of service for the funeral and it is probably how I will always remember the woman who welcomed me and my children into the family, thanked me for making her son happy and indulged my love of her raspberry trifle. 

Myrtle Lillian Virgo
5th Dec 1934 - 29th Aug 2013

Sunday, 8 September 2013


Skwooshi. What a fabulous word.

When I was sent a Skwooshi Activity Set to review I didn't expect it to be very much different to the modelling materials my kids had played with in the past. Don't get me wrong, I would have been quite happy with that. We all love squishing, squashing and rolling.

Skwooshi satisfied all our squishing, squashing and rolling desires but also gave us the Skwooshi Effect. More about that later.

The set we were sent contained 3 x 2oz pots of the Skwooshi compound along with a variety of activity tools all in packaging that looked like it had been squished in slightly at the sides.

The tools were brightly coloured and interesting. My little ones played  happily with them for quite some time on their own before we opened the pots of Skwooshi...

...which themselves were nicely quirky.

The Skwooshi compound was soft and squishable straight from the pot but less vibrantly coloured than other modelling materials we were familiar with. This lack of vibrancy was forgiven instantly when we discovered the Skwooshi effect. 

The kids had great fun rolling and stamping and cutting and everything else you'd expect from  a modelling material...

...but when you pulled it, something weird happened. I tried and failed to capture in a photograph exactly what this weirdness involved. 

I'm not sure that words are really adequate either. My daughter described it as like cake and it was true that there was a sponginess to it. My husband said it reminded him of wet sand. It would have to be the finest, softest sand for this to be true. For me, the closest I could get to describing the phenomenon was somewhere between magnetised iron filings and candy floss. This was the Skwooshi effect. The compound went from a pliable solid to something that seemed to flow - not quite liquid, not quite a granular solid. It was.... sort of 'Skwooshi' really!  It was definitely strange and intriguing and eminently tactile. I loved it.

The kids enjoyed experimenting with mixing the colours and creating beautiful marbled designs which sadly means that much of our Skwooshi compound has now merged into a dull brown colour. Even dull and brown that Skwooshi effect transforms it into something magical.

The inevitable 'bits that dropped onto the floor' swept up easily lending weight to the Skwooshi 'mess free' claim and despite much handling, showed no signs of drying out.

Skwooshi is wheat and gluten free (although I'm not sure why this matters because at no point were we ever intending to eat it!)

For more information, news and competitions follow Skwooshi on Facebook

Suitable from age 3+

Monday, 2 September 2013

Camping in Wales

The summer holidays were coming to an end. It had been weeks packed full of activity but two tasks I had set myself at the start had been completely neglected. One was to do some work on the exterior paintwork and the second was to take the little ones away on vacation. I felt guilty about the paintwork but guilty doesn't even come close to describing how I felt when 5 year old Addy looked at me with such longing and asked "When are we going on holiday mummy?"

I shared the exchange with my husband whose guilt meter also registered off the scale. We decided that whatever happened, we would squeeze in a couple of days of adventure for them.

With our sixteen year old about to head off to boarding school, finances had been stretched to the limit. There was never any question that the shape our holiday would take would be 'wet weekend in Wales' rather than 'exotic luxury'. We made our plans.

My husband has wonderful memories of camping trips with his family as a child: a resourceful grandfather who fashioned a cool box for the butter out of a biscuit tin lined with polystyrene and ever more elaborate solutions to the practical problems arising from living under canvas. It isn't something I have much experience with but I am always willing to have a go.

And 'have a go' we did.

With the aid of the internet, we found a perfect campsite in Cardigan. It was very basic - a field on a farm by the sea with a toilet/shower block. The friendly, laid back owner rode around on his quad bike to make sure everyone was happy.

It was Wales but it wasn't wet. In fact we had one gloriously sunny morning that saw us head off to Mwnt (got to love the Welsh names with no vowels) to the beach with our swimming gear. It was a beautiful sandy beach nestled between high cliffs with steep steps leading down to it. The kids loved it and I was very excited to see a dolphin. Addy clambered on rocks reminding me of my own childhood holidays spent in Barry Island.

They played in the sea and ran over the soft sand.

It was all very carefree until a huge wall of fog began snaking its way into the bay blocking the sun. Moments before, people had been enjoying the warm sun on their skin. Now they were huddling under towels and blankets to protect themselves from the chill whilst waiting for the icy fog to pass. It didn't pass. It was the sort of fog that I could imagine harboured the souls of men lost at sea. It was ominous and bone chilling. We eventually retreated back up the steps to the car park via a small reasonably priced kiosk that sold all your beach essentials and snacks - and most importantly for me, coffee.

My husband was fabulous with his car boot cuisine which was just as well because we were not within easy reach of pubs or restaurants. Our diet was limited - but nobody went hungry.

There was a lovely walk down to the cliffs from the campsite through a wheat field. I love how the ripe wheat brings out the colour of Addy's hair.

Three year old Dylan is a lazy walker. He prefer to ride on dad's head, steering him by his ears. It is cute but does limit how far we can venture.

The farm had a few animals that the children were able to feed, in particular donkeys. A baby donkey was born during our stay. Adorable.

The children also had the opportunity to ride bareback on a donkey which we lead around the field (probably in breech of all known health and safety regulations!) I think Addy imagined herself as a horsewoman but Dylan held on tight and kept repeating with his little lisp Iths a long way down!!

There were a few incidents I'd rather forget.

I took Addy with me to the toilet block to clean her teeth before bed and told her to wait for me. She didn't wait. I assumed that the lure of the donkeys was too much and that she had gone to say goodnight to them. She hadn't. I looked up and down the road. No sign of her.  I scanned the field. Nothing. I asked fellow campers if they had seen her. They hadn't. I was starting to panic but before mounting a full scale search I ran back to the tent to tell my husband what had happened. There was Addy. Sweet and innocent, changing into her pyjamas. I admired her for finding her way back to the tent on her own in the dark but I was also furious.

Then there was the time when the owner turned up on his quad bike to see if we needed anything and dared to call Addy Princess. She stamped her feet petulantly shouting I'M NOT A PRINCESS. DO I LIVE IN A CASTLE? NO! I was mortified.

Overall I have more good memories than bad and as the sun set on our holiday, I'd happily do it all again.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Fun Run

It was a perfect morning for a run this morning, which was lucky for us as the whole family (bar Charis who is now happily ensconced in her posh boarding school) were heading off to take part in a local  5 mile Fun Run.

Liberty, Taylor and myself had plans to run the course hopefully within an hour. Ivy was roped in at the last minute but would only commit to a leisurely walk. Dad was in charge of the two little ones who had their own race numbers and and a bicycle made for three.

Taylor's boyfriend's family were also taking part so we posed for a team photo before the start. That's me in the middle all in black, flanked on either side by my daughters with Ivy in the blue hoodie on the far right.  The little ones were still happily playing in the playground at this point and Liberty's boyfriend was busy doing a warm up run up and down the field. I am terrible for not warming up. I always think I'll use up all my energy before I've even begun. I did a token stretch then I was ready for the off.

It was a friendly, relaxed event with no official timing but I had my running watch on to see if I could hit my target time. The route was along pretty country lanes with very little traffic although I did have a bit of a mission trying to navigate around a huge tractor carrying straw bales.

There were two water stations on the course for which I was very grateful - more to douse myself with welcome coolness than for actual drinking (I worry about needing a wee). Liberty has not yet mastered the art of drinking and running at the same time so she and Taylor stopped to rehydrate. Worried that if I stopped I'd struggle to restart (I worry a lot!) I carried on moving. I assumed my girls would catch me up but they didn't. For a mile or so, I could still hear them chatting behind me but a niggle in Liberty's knee slowed her down and I ended up with a good lead.

I am quite used to running 3 miles but I wasn't sure how well I'd cope with the extra two, especially as the course had a fair few inclines. When I only had one mile to go, I felt great and even managed to pick my pace up. Then there was the hill from hell - not particularly steep, but very long. By the time I reached the top I felt as though I was practically crawling. But I did reach the top! From then on, it was a simple case of crossing the finish line. But where was the finish line? I passed the 5 mile marker and was very happy to see that I was comfortably within my 1 hour goal - but still there was no finish line in sight. Then I saw Liberty's boyfriend, long since finished his run, armed with a camera and shouting not far to go now. I have yet to see the photo he took but he did mention something about me looking very sweaty! 

I did not have much left for an impressive finish once the elusive official end finally came into view but I did cross with a smile and within an hour.

I was exhausted and elated in equal measures....

... the little ones were now proud owners of finishers medals....

...  and I recovered quickly enough to be there to cheer my girls as they finished.

I think the happy faces of the 'walking' contingent of our team sum up what a lovely family day it was incorporating a not insignificant sense of achievement, lots of fun and best of all ... sunshine!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...