Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Goodbye Forties

This evening is my last evening of being a lady in her forties. When I wake up tomorrow morning (or more like shortly after midnight when my little boy pads along the corridor from his bed to climb into mine because his cough has woken him up) I will have reached that monumental half century.

So how did I spend my last evening of being a lady in her forties? I went for a run.

I ran for about two miles out along the canal and back again pausing briefly to get a stone out of my trainers. I was hot and sweaty (rather overdressed for a mild evening - must start being brave enough to wear shorts). The tow path was muddy in places. It was a slow slog out to my half way point. Looking at my watch and making a quick mental calculation I thought it might just work out that by the time I finished I would have run for 49 minutes. Rather elegantly, that is one minute for every year of my life.

Either my mental calculation was wrong or my return journey was a little speedier (I suppose there was no repeat of the stone removing exercise) because I didn't quite clock up the full 49 minutes. I could have ran past my house to the end of the road and back but that would have felt like cheating!

I am showered now, there is a takeaway curry on its way and a beer with my name on it. Suddenly my one minute for every year of my life ambition seems very unimportant.

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Monday, 28 April 2014

So that was Easter

The kids are back at school. Easter came...

... and Easter went. Much like the beautiful pink blossom that screamed Spring is Here...

... all that is left is a little mess to clear up.

I had set myself a challenge to complete 40 minutes of the torturous planking exercise throughout the 40 days of Lent. Despite missing some days out completely and leaving myself with three minutes worth to do on the final day, I met my target. If you ever find yourself complaining that time is passing too quickly, put yourself into the plank position and hold it for a minute. Never have sixty seconds passed so laboriously slowly.

The planking challenge was part of my One Small Change for March, to improve my core strength. From a vanity point of view, I can't say I've really noticed much difference. My wobbly bits still bulge over the waistband of my jeans making me reluctant to abandon the baggy jumpers in favour of more weather appropriate attire. However, beneath the wobbly bit, if you should happen to prod, there are definitely abs waiting to reveal themselves should I lay off the chocolate, cake and beer long enough to give them half a chance. And I feel fitter - which has become a far greater incentive for me than chasing the perfect bikini body (a losing battle at my age I fear!).

My One Small Change for April has been to run more with my husband. This has never been very easy because one of us usually has to stay and look after the children while the other wears the high vis lycra and takes to the streets. With two of my daughters back home for the easter holidays from their places of education, it has been easier. We took advantage of the babysitting availability and put in a fair few miles together. And I loved it.

I used to feel a little bit anxious about running with my husband, He runs faster than I do and I worried that I'd hold him back or that I'd do myself a mischief trying to keep up with him. It hasn't turned out like that at all. By some happy coincidence, my 5K pace is not far off his 10K pace and my 10K pace is the sort of pace that he can just keep going and run marathons. We train together but with a different focus. He has inspired me to run a little faster which is reflected in a new Personal Best and slowing him down has made him less prone to injury. We have run some beautiful routes together in the sort of weather that makes you happy to be alive. It has been a wonderful shared experience.

One time, we ran together around Preston park in Brighton where he ran as a boy. It included a lap of the Preston Park Velodrome, the oldest cycle track in the country. It was especially nostalgic for my husband but it was lovely to be part of a new memory we were making. We have plans for lots more running in the south coast when we go on visits to see my father in law.

I never imagined that running would become such an important part of my life. As we were running in Brighton I did remark to my husband that it just was the equivalent of a nice stroll around the park for people who don't have much time. We certainly fall into that category of people. I hesitate to say that there is not enough time to do all the thing I want to do because to follow my own  advice, I would have to get myself into that plank position and hold it for sixty seconds. And to be honest, I've had enough of that for the time being!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Outdoor Mandala Designer

There is something quite lovely about scribbling on the ground outdoors with chalks. We've had some dry sunny days and I was sent a rather intriguing Outdoor Mandala Designer from Ravensburg. I didn't need any more reasons to get the kids out onto the patio.

The Outdoor Mandala Designer kit contains a pack of chunky, brightly coloured chalks, a mandala template and instruction booklet.

My little boy, having never heard of a mandala and unable to read the words on the box, called it a carpet making kit and was desperate to get outside and make carpets! With a 5+ age recommendation, it was more suited to my daughter who was also keen to get started.

The template fitted very neatly onto our standard sized paving slab (that could really do with a bit of attention from a pressure washer!).

The first job was to draw around the circle and then make a chalk mark by one of the arrows on the circumference.

Probably the hardest part was deciding which of the designs on the template to choose for our first attempt. We made our choice and used the stencil to chalk the pattern onto the paving slab. Next, the clever bit - the template was rotated using the arrows and the chalk mark as a guide and the process repeated. With each rotation, the pattern builds until you have completed the full circle.

Patterns can be overlayed using a different design from the template. Varying the designs used, the number of repetitions per complete revolution and the colours chosen means that there is a huge amount of variety that can be achieved. Once the outlines are completed, the patterns can be also filled in with colour to create stunning results.

I loved how our 'carpet' looked, especially for a first attempt - really brightening up the dull paving slabs.

Of course, there will always be someone who just wants to go freestyle... and I'm very much in favour of that too!

Saturday, 12 April 2014


For reasons that I will go into later, I was slightly disappointed with a craft set from Cool Create that  I was sent to review. However, I can't deny how delighted my two little ones were with the finished product that they made. With great sincerity, Addy proudly exclaimed I never knew I was such a good art maker!

The Japanese inspired craft set is called Suteki.

It comes with a work station which I always think is a good idea to keep everything neat and organised. It has enough vibrantly coloured paint, white card and multi layered stencils to make three different Japanese style pictures and three frames to display each of your finished art works. The novelty of this set is that it also contains a golden Ninja stamper (which I thought looked rather like an Oscar). The golden Ninja has two detachable sponges with which to apply the paint to the stencils.

The first of my disappointment with this set is that the golden Ninja only has two detachable sponges. Each of the pictures requires three stencilled layers to complete it. Three different coloured paint and only two sponges meant that one sponge needed to be washed and dried before work could continue. It seemed an unnecessary aggravation for the sake of including one more sponge.

Addy chose the design that she wanted to do and I helped her sort out the three stencils that overlay each other to build the finished picture.

She placed the card in the work station and lay the first stencil on top. The card and stencil fit snuggly into the work station so they do not move around too much during the stamping. She squeezed the first colour of paint into one of the paint holes on the workstation and then put the golden Ninja to work stamping the paint onto the stencil. She really enjoyed this part.

She actually enjoyed the next step even more - lifting the stencil to reveal the design on the card. She was quite thrilled with what she had achieved. Of course, without the second and third layers, the picture did not yet look like anything recognisable!

The instructions do warn that each stencil has a front side. You can use them the right way or the reverse way but it is vital that you use the same orientation for each of the three layers to ensure that everything is correctly aligned. We knew this to be the case but still made a mistake with our middle layer. Addy didn't seem to mind at all that her picture was not quite right but it was another little annoyance for me. It would have been really useful to have the front side clearly marked.

Between layers, we needed to wait for the paint to dry. Waiting for anything when you are not quite six years old can be challenging! Addy took her work station outside and held it up to the sun to speed up the drying time.

The final layer turned out a bit smudgy because the sponge that I had washed and dried to reuse, wasn't as 'dried' as I'd thought but Addy was delighted when the finished picture was revealed.

Whatever Addy does, little brother Dylan thinks he can do too. We let him have a turn. Unfortunately, the sponge fell off the golden Ninja (another disappointment) so we had to resort to holding it which was a lot messier.

Dylan was even less patient about waiting for the paint to dry between layers which did result in some of the damp card sticking to the underside of the stencil and coming away when the stencil was lifted. He didn't seem to notice the imperfections and was very pleased with himself, especially when the artwork was framed.

Despite my reservations about this kit, the kids were definitely happy customers!

Monday, 7 April 2014


I honestly think that these could have tasted awful and everyone would have still loved them because Mas#tags - the social media inspired potato shapes from Birds Eye - is such a genius idea. The truth is that they tasted great too.

My family is already a big fan of Birds Eye Potato Waffles so there was little doubt that they would be enjoyed. However, the enjoyment was taken to a new level simply by the fact that the fun shapes included the iconic hashtag, @symbol, star and emoticons. Everyone had their own favourite. During a "trying to be serious moment" of our Mas#tag dinner, one guest described the taste experience as  exactly the right ratio of tasty outside bit to fluffy inside bit. High praise indeed!

I was impressed that the shapes were all very easily recognisable and out of the four packets I purchased (using vouchers sent to me for the purpose of this review) I only found one broken one. The broken one was half a hashtag that, to my little boy's delight, looked like an aeroplane!

Our Mas#tag dinner was actually a Mother's Day treat for me. One of my daughters offered to cook and to keep it simple, (she was cooking for rather a lot of us) I suggested that she make use of the convenience of the potato shapes. She served veggie sausages (only slightly cold in the middle), fried fresh eggs from our own chickens (a touch sloshy), baked beans (almost warm) and Mas#tags (cooked to perfection).

Despite some culinary fails (which she more than made up for with her home made treacle tart), it was a wonderful meal with lots of fun and laughter to which the Mas#tags were definitely a contributory factor.

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