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.

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