Sunday, 29 July 2012


I have been loving the hot sunny weather and clear blue skies but when the all too familiar grey clouds gathered overhead, we decided to add a little sparkle of our own to a dull day.

I had recently been sent Blingles from Character to review - a Bling Studio to create your own jewelled stickers. It is aimed at girls aged from 8 years but my four year old, with a little help from her big sister, was more than willing to have a go.

The studio holds everything you need to make your own gem designs that can then be used to add a touch of glamour wherever you want it.

Once the components had all been placed in their correct compartments in the studio, the first job was to choose a design template for our creation. Addy opted for a star and big sister Charis (who had been experimenting with nail art!)  helped her to load it into the template tray.

The next job was to master the technique of picking up the tiny gems with the 'gem pen' tool provided and to position them carefully on the transparent mat over the design template. With perseverance, Addy became quite adept at this and giggled when things didn't go completely smoothly.

Turning the design into useable bling was a little tricky for Addy but she helped when possible with pushing and rolling and peeling.

Addy was delighted with the finished bling saying it was "luvverly" and stuck it to her much loved Box of Books.

She immediately asked "Can I make another one?"

The Box of Books now has a sparkly rainbow next to the star!

Silent Sunday

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Garden Fresh

Dora's Little Cooks Party Special

Some time ago I wrote a post about Dora the Explorer's Little Cooks Partwork and the banana muffins my daughter and I made together from a recipe contained within the colourful pages. Recently, I was sent a complementary copy of the Party Special from the same series.

If I'm honest, the price (£9.99) would have put me off a bit but the silicone moulds provided to create Dora Party Pops seem to be of a good quality and could be kept and used over and over again. They could also be used to make shaped ice cubes (if filled to the level just below the hole for the Party Pop sticks!)

Having just come back form a week's holiday and about to go off again for a further few days, we have not had the time to spend cooking but my four year old has thoroughly enjoyed looking at the stories and doing the activities in the magazine. She has had a good look at the instructions for how to make the Party Pops so we will be ready to go with that as soon as we get the chance. I will let you know how we get on!

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Orbeez Soothing Spa

I love the rare opportunities I get to pamper my feet. It feels so wonderfully relaxing. I do own a Foot Spa that I don't use nearly enough.

I was intrigued by a new product launched by Character that brings the foot pampering experience to children in a fun and unique way. The product is the Orbeez Soothing Spa and I wondered what my little girl, Addy, would make of it when we were offered one to review.

The spa required a small amount of assembly, including fitting two C batteries.

The Orbeez themselves are squidgy little hydrated gel spheres in an array of colours. The kit contained two bags of these - a total of 1,500 Orbeez.

With both bags emptied into the spa it looked like a most inviting, moist mini ball pool especially for feet.  By soaking the Orbeez  in warm water prior to use you can achieve your preferred temperature for optimum enjoyment - but we left them as they were.

Addy sat on a comfortably low seat and plunged her feet into the spa. When we turned it on, the balls were picked up by a slowly rotating (shielded) wheel and deposited into the top reservoir where they gently cascaded down into the bowls below. It was a relaxing and quite mesmerising effect. She said that the Orbeez felt soft and happily wiggled her toes around.

Unfortunately, we did not have alkaline batteries and the cheap ones that we used drained too quickly to get the full effect of the ambient light that is a feature of the Spa. 

Addy loved the little bottle of perfume provided that can be added to the Orbeez for another sensory dimension to the relaxing spa experience.

The bowls that form the cascading Orbeez waterfall are easily removable and double up as finger soaking bowls for manicures.

Two sealable bags are provided to store the Orbeez after use to keep them in good condition for the next time that little feet need a treat.

I have to admit that it was a bit of a fiddle trying to manage the multitude of slippery little Orbeez and several did end up rolling away and getting damaged when I tried to retrieve them. Replacements are available to order.

Although this is quite a large piece of equipment to find a home for when not in use, I did think it was a lot of fun and worth the effort. Next time I treat myself to a grown up pampering home foot spa session, I will definitely have my little girl beside me for some mother/daughter bonding with her very own Orbeez Soothing Spa. If I am honest, I might even be a little bit envious. My own foot spa seems  quite boring now by comparison!

The Graduate

It's been a difficult couple of weeks with my husband being away on his cycle ride to London and everybody having to adjust to the new dynamic at home now that Ivy has moved back for the foreseeable future to work out what she wants to do with her life.

It was especially lovely, therefore, to have a day yesterday that was purely about celebration as Ivy graduated from the University of Northampton with her BA in Film and Television Studies. The ceremony was just the right mix of pomp and uncontained exuberance. Ivy was radiant.

I hope that whatever career Ivy chooses, she will to pursue it with the same enthusiasm that she had for her degree course and that her future will be as bright as the smile she wore yesterday.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

A Bad Day and a Tiny Miracle

I thought that having Ivy home from Uni and Taylor on the long summer between the end of A levels and the start of Uni would make my life easier with a lot more fun thrown in. It hasn't really turned out that way so far. My work load has increased along with my stress levels. I keep trying to tell them both that this is a really important summer for them - for Ivy it is the springboard to the rest of her life and for Taylor it should be about having new experiences and preparing for Uni life so that when she leaves home, she can hit the ground running. It worries me that they both seem so unmotivated - happy to roll out of bed at 10am and do nothing much.

Having Ivy back to live means that we really need to make the best use of the space we have. I was getting seriously fed up of our front room being cluttered with things Ivy had brought back with her and had yet to unpack and the instruments that had been used for the Junk to Funk Jazz Concert still in disarray. Every time I walked past it depressed me a little bit more. I can only ask so many times before I feel like a nag so I spent the morning sorting it myself as best I could. Some of the rubbish that Ivy had brought back with her from her Uni accommodation was fit only for the bin. She could have saved a lot of trouble by throwing it away when she moved out rather than bringing it all home.

I got a small amount of help from Taylor but she quickly settled down to play the piano, oblivious of the large pile of drum bags that really needed storing away in the loft.

My girls can be wonderful - willing helpers, fantastic company - and I love that. But sometimes I feel like I have to beg them to lift a finger and when they do it is with reluctance bordering on resentment. As today was definitely shaping up to be the latter of these two scenarios, I decided to tackle the drum bags on my own.

Big mistake.

The drum bags, when all stacked one inside the other like russian dolls, are quite substantial and wider than the loft hatch. I was halfway up the loft ladder trying to stuff this huge object through a too small hole. My arms and neck were aching and I was far too intent on succeeding to concern myself with the fact that I was very precariously balanced on the ladder. It was inevitable really. I lost my balance, toppled backwards off the ladder and fell with the massive bag on top of me. Our loft hatch is inside our family bathroom. The bath tub was behind me to catch me and cushion my fall slightly. The bump to my head was the hardest, the bumps and bruises on other parts of my body were relatively minor. I got off quite lightly all things considered. Before I had time to realise how shaken I was, I was back up that ladder showing the drum bags who really was boss. I shut the loft hatch and tried to forget the incident had ever happened. The tender lump on my skull was not going to let me.

That afternoon, I had an appointment at our local Community Centre to Give Blood. It has been years since I donated blood and I was looking forward to doing something good that would help others. I was reluctant to leave my two little ones with Ivy and Taylor because of the dark mood of unco-operation that was still hanging in the air, so I took them with me. Little Addy insisted on taking a tiny toy seahorse with her and I didn't have the energy to persuade her otherwise. We walked to the Community Centre that was opposite the Care Home where my daughter Charis was doing work experience. I thought it would be lovely to walk back home with Charis after I had given my pint of A+ and she had finished for the day.

We arrived with plenty of time to spare but the Community Centre was dark and locked.

I felt such an idiot for not checking. There was another Community Centre across town and I hadn't even considered that I might have been heading blindly for the wrong one.

I thought that I might just have enough time, if I hurried, to make it to the other Community Centre in time for my appointment. I set off purposefully in approximately the right direction. Had I known exactly where I was going I might have made it but my route was somewhat convoluted. I was also struggling with the 'hurry' part of the equation, trying to push my son in the pushchair with my daughter riding the buggy board on the back - difficult at the best of times but with the catalogue of minor injuries I had sustained earlier from my accident it was beyond difficult. Time was running out.

I started to feel almost cheerful as I arrived in a part of town that I knew well. I didn't know the exact location of the Community Centre but  the road I was headed for was not far and even better, slightly downhill. I would be a few minutes late but it was still doable.

This was the moment when Addy suddenly realised she had dropped her tiny toy seahorse.

She was distraught. I tried to spin a tale of the seahorse on a fantastic adventure making new friends and having a wonderful time but she wasn't buying it. She howled and countered "He can't do that - he's got no legs".

There was only one solution. Retrace our footsteps and try and find the limbless troublemaker.

The toy seahorse was a grubby orange colour, not dissimilar in size and hue to a cigarette butt. I lost count of the times that the discarded remains of someone's nicotine habit offered a glimmer of false hope. Eventually, Addy had a change of heart, resigned herself to the fact that the seahorse was lost forever and asked to go home.

We turned around and headed back

I was now 20 minutes late for my appointment but it was only a little bit out of the way to drop by the Community Centre. As we approached, I could see the the NHS vans parked outside. Although I wasn't able to Give Blood, I was glad to have the chance to apologise for missing my appointment and the lovely man offered me a cup of tea because he could see how frazzled I was.

As we set off for home, my heart felt a little lighter knowing that next month I will have the chance to donate again and this time, I will know the right place to come.

What happened next completely astonished me. On the pathway just ahead was something small and orange. I honestly could not believe my eyes. The tiny toy seahorse  was sitting right there as if it had been waiting for us. I am prepared to accept that it was only my imagination that saw a little glint in its tiny seahorse eye.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Middle Aged Men in Lycra

I love the BBC comedy The Office for all sorts of reasons, including the fact that it was set in Slough and offers nostalgic glimpses of the town I grew up in during the opening titles. My favourite character is Gareth Keenan (played by Mackenzie Crook) and my absolute favourite moment is from the deleted scenes of the series 2 DVD and basically involves Gareth posing in lycra cycle shorts.

I have had many occasions recently to be reminded of this hilariously funny spectacle.

My husband is organising and participating in a 6 day, 200 mile charity bicycle ride from The Queen's School in Chester to Buckingham Palace. 

The planning and arranging part has been something of a mission but on top of that, there has been the task of making sure he had a bike that would withstand the rigours of such a journey and likewise, a body that had the best chance to do the same.

I am getting used to the sight of an upturned bicycle in my conservatory, spare parts arriving by post and today there appears to be a small selection of inner tubes dumped on a chair.

I am also getting used to my husband waking early in the morning for a training session before work. I probably wouldn't even notice that he had gone were it not for the fact that he has to open our garage door to get his bike. The electric opening mechanism is extremely noisy and clunky. Unluckily for our  poor Charis, her bedroom is directly above the garage. It is like a small earthquake in her room. The bed actually shakes.

What I will NEVER get used to is the sight of my middle aged husband in lycra cycle shorts!! He has gone the whole hog and kitted himself out in a fluorescent cycling jacket, lycra trousers when there is the need for warmth, and a lycra vest. He thinks he looks fit and sporty. My eyes see a completely different picture! It never gets old. The belly straining against the sleek fabric tells a story of beer consumption rather than sporting prowess.

My 6'5" husband has a very long body. This often means that there is a small discrepancy between where his tops end and his trousers begin. Add to this the bending posture of a cyclist and a small discrepancy is in danger of becoming a butt crack revealing catastrophe. Bearing in mind that the cyclists accompanying my husband on this trip are refined young ladies from an all girls public school and you can see that this is a problem! His innovative solution was to purchase  a 'Slimmer Belt'. This is a thick band of neoprene that is wrapped around the middle and secured with velcro. He says that the back support it offers will be useful. He didn't mention the 'instant slimming effect' or the 'flattens and tones abs' promise on the box!

Inner tubes and the Slimmer Belt

I do tease my poor husband but I am incredibly proud of him for even considering undertaking such a mammoth task as cycling all the way to London. I will continue to support his endeavour and be ready with the Deep Heat on his return to ease his aching muscles and the offer of a gentle massage to relieve his aching saddle sore unmentionables.

I don't know if he will be hanging up his lycra once this is over or if it will continue to be made use of. Maybe the Slimmer Belt will do its job and he will cut a fine athletic figure. Whatever happens, I do know that the image I have of him in my head now will never lose the power to make me smile!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Heart to heart

I was feeling a little down in the dumps this morning but I couldn't help feeling cheered when I spotted  this heart shaped petal stuck to the wet car window. Even on the dullest days there is beauty all around waiting to be noticed. This little white heart touched mine and made the world feel a better place.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012


It has been lovely to see celebratory statuses popping up on Facebook from recent graduates finding out what degrees they have been awarded by their Universities. My Ivy was no exception. It was almost with disbelief that she posted a photograph of a section of the letter that informed her that she was now a Bachelor of Arts in Media and Film Studies with a 2i.

I am so proud of Ivy- proud because she thrived in her second choice University after failing to achieve the A level grades she needed for her first choice, proud because she threw herself into her course and loved every moment of it, proud because she did things her way and without regrets.

To commemorate her success, I have been busy with a meerkat knitting project with my mum. As much as my daughter's three years at Uni have been a journey with tears, laughter, frustration and elation - so too was the knitting project! I will never forget the afternoon I spent with my mum crying with laughter when her meerkat ran into hilarious difficulties at the making up stage (what a difference a placing of a body part can make to the overall effect!)

We finally completed our project today and so all that remains is to say ... "Con-graduations" to my beautiful Ivy and all the other graduates who will now be anticipating the next exciting phase of their lives.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Party Month

I had imagined that June would have been all about the garden - trimming, weeding, planting and generally getting everything just how I want it. The weeds and overgrown hedges will bear testament to the fact that there has been very little in the way of gardening (apart from tackling the large beech hedge that marks our front boundary). June has been all about parties.

Party month kicked off in patriotic fashion with a family jubilee tea party. The baking I did for this was a rehearsal for the mountain of cakes that I made to celebrate my daughter Taylor's 18th birthday with a garden party that the weather dictated we move inside.

The following day, my little girl had been invited to a Wacky Warehouse birthday party of one of her nursery friends. This was the first time she had been to a party without me and it felt  monumental. She, of course, took it all in her stride

Another cake marked the occasion of Taylor's boyfriend, George, turning 18.

At the weekend, our whole family were invited to George's house for a celebratory barbecue to honour George and his twin sister's birthdays. The weather was determined to sabotage the event, but nobody was going to let it. I had such a good time. My vegetarian resolve was weakened by the selection of succulent animal flesh on offer (I didn't succumb but I did have one of those just remind me why it is I don't eat meat moments)

Taylor is not a party animal by any stretch of the imagination. She rarely drinks alcohol and does suffer from a certain amount of anxiety at the thought of eating out. It was an absolute pleasure, therefore, to see her let her hair down, have a few drinks and relax. I don't generally encourage my kids to drink to excess or applaud displays of drunken behaviour but it was exactly what she needed as an antidote to the exam stress of the previous weeks. 

George's mum's Killer Cocktails helped my eldest daughter find her dancing feet and a willing partner in the shape of George's younger sister.

It may have taken me the whole of the next day to recover fully from my own indulgences (and my photographic efforts were all a little blurry and badly framed) but it was well worth it.

The next party was a more sedate affair, being to celebrate my little Dylan's 2nd birthday on the 28th. We had an afternoon out at an Ice Cream Farm (which inevitably involved the consumption of delicious ice cream in a baffling choice of flavours - I went for the Oreo, White Chocolate and Raspberry) Back home, we had water bombs (it was one of those rare hot days) pizza and cake. We were joined by friends  and Dylan was particularly pleased by the arrival of two little ones to make trouble with!

We had a big party to attend on the 30th, some 4 hours away in Essex, but before that we had to squeeze in Taylor's college Leavers do. I took her shopping for a dress, waited up until gone midnight to collect her afterwards and had the worry of whether  she would enjoy herself or make herself sick with her usual anxiety. She wasn't completely unstressed but she did manage to mostly enjoy the experience.. and she and George looked gorgeous.

The final party in Essex was a combined celebration -  my sister-in-law Jan's 50th birthday, my niece's 21st and my nephew's 18th (I do wonder if her family planning was cunningly designed to create this triple excuse for a do). Jan's husband had put together a lovely powerpoint presentation of photographs from the time that Jan was a baby (who bore a strong family resemblance to my own little girl) until present day. It beautifully illustrated the journey they had taken together as a family over the years, with the tagline 'Three Lives, One Thread'. I couldn't help but feel a little sad that my journey with my husband has been so much shorter - but I can't regret all the wasted years when we were not together because to do so would devalue the four amazing children that were the product of my first marriage. 

My niece provided some entertainment by performing a selection of songs, mostly from musicals. I do joke that she makes my ears bleed when she belts out the high notes but she was brilliant - the best I've ever heard her.

It was all over too quickly and we were soon making the long trek home. 

In fact the whole of June was all over too quickly. 

Let's see what July will bring.

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