Thursday, 28 February 2013

59/365 incy wincy web spinner

This arthropod joined the breakfast melee this morning, spinning silk from the cupboard by the dishwasher.

We watched it scrabbling up the web, slipping back, then climbing again. I could draw some kind of Robert the Bruce in the cave persistence parallel, but I won't.

 

Review: Jumping Clay is good clean fun

Look at all the things you could make

Oooh, this feels nice
Meabh making it look easy
There are two kinds of parents - those who craft with their kids and those who would, frankly, rather have hedgehog spikes poked under their fingernails while being made to listen to endless broadcasts of Paul O'Grady's radio show. 

I'm one of the latter.

I'm quite comfortable with it now - I hate gluey, painty, making stuff and I've stopped pretending I don't. 

 It never works out and all you achieve are disgruntled kids and a sticky mess. The only thing in its favour is it teaches them early to handle life's disappointments. 


A car with eyes, of course
So when Meabh Bradley got in touch to say she, as Scotland's only Jumping Clay instructor, would like to come over and show the Boys and I what it was all about, I was hardly enthusiastic. But very wisely she highlighted the bit that said it was "completely mess free". She also promised to bring everything we needed and that there was nothing I needed to do.

The boys, particularly Boy Two, seemed keen. Boy Two is actually very arty and, with a different parent, might have been able to let his creativity flourish. Instead, under my guidance he's an expert moocher.

On the appointed day, he invited a couple of his friends round and we were all set. Well, as set as we'd ever boy. Boy One and Boy Two's friends looked as if they'd far rather be doing something much more grown up, like playing Minecraft or pretend shooting each other.


The end result

However, as Meabh unpacked her box of coloured clay and started to explain what it was all about, they were hooked. She let us all have a go at creating with this wonderful stuff. Jumping Clay is soft, clean and malleable for a while. Then it dries permanently in the shape of whatever you created. It doesn't stick to stuff, is non toxic and it bounces (hence the name).

Under Meabh's instructions we all created a car. I was amazed how six children all working with the same stuff and following the same basic structure could come up with so many different designs. 


Three wheels on my wagon...
Boy One - dancing to his own drum as usual - created a Reliant Robin and, with the leftover clay, the Eye of Sauron, of course. 

By the end the world-weary 10 year olds who started off champing at the bit to get back to some virtual universe or other were begging for more. 

Jumping Clay is a fantastic thing to do for a kids' party. It's also creative and educational. Meabh also runs classes in schools, nurseries and care homes.

What's good about it? 

Jumping Clay is great fun. It feels fabulous and you can create the most amazing creations. It's clean and safe. Meabh seems to both unlimited patience and  ideas. 

What's less good about it? 

Nothing as far as I can see and I don't say that very often. If a glitter and glue phobic non-crafter like me can have fun with it, I'd say you have nothing to lose. 

Read Boy Two's review


Cars plus Sauron's eye


Boy Three in a crafting trance

Review: Silly Slippeez Dizzy Dinosaur slippers



Quite frankly, what's not to love about a pair of dinosaur slippers with mouths that snap open when you walk? 

That's right. Absolutely nothing. Well not if you're three anyway. 

Boy Three adores his Silly Slippeez Dizzy Dinosaur slippers although there were a couple of teething problems. 

The first one was that when he stood still to admire them the jaws didn't open, because he wasn't moving. He found this very frustrating and it took quite a while for him to work out that if he marched on the spot in front of a long mirror he could enjoy the show. 

The second was that his feet slithered around in the slippers a little. Boy Three isn't known for his staid and steady gait so climbing and running didn't help. I solved this by sewing a piece of elastic around the back of his foot to keep the slipper in place. 

These slippers, available from Find Me A Gift, are popular in this house and questions are already being asked about why they don't come in much bigger sizes. 

We were sent a pair for Boy Three to try. 

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

58/365 Ha top that

 

Today I have a riddle.

What do you get when you turn your back on a three year old and a container of sprinkles?

 

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

57/365 Finding a Fairtrade balance


It is, apparently, Fairtrade fortnight. And we are, apparently, a Fairtrade region. 

What this means is that Boy One has come home from school with a very pretty, but entirely pointless, balancing dragon fly for me. He spent the change from his dinner money on it.

Meanwhile, Boy Two has been on the stall at his school. Today he brought me home a bar of Divine orange milk chocolate (75p) for which I had given him £1.50.

Can anyone explain the fair element of this business to me?

Review: LeapFrog app Team UmiZoomi Street Fair Fix-Up game



It's not really surprising that Boy Three has taken to LeapPad2 apps like the proverbial duck to water.

He sees his big brothers playing away at their games on their iPods and computers and he wants a piece of the action. 


In fact he's so much a child of his time, that the other day I found him with a framed picture I was about to put on the wall. He was swiping the glass trying to make the thing do something more interesting than just sitting there. 

So he was delighted to try out the Team UmiZoomi game on his Leappad2. 

The game

A storm has just blown through Umi City Park and you have to help Team UmiZoomi clear up the mess using the power of maths. It teachers numbers, pattern recognition and shapes. 

The playing

At first it was a bit shouty. Boy Three isn't a very patient creature and his fine motor skills needed a bit of work to be precise enough to play successfully. However, Boy Two kindly showed him how to do it and helped him practice and he soon got the hang of it. Now he's happy to play for a reasonable amount of time. 

The verdict

The game is aimed at three years and up. It is a bit of a stretch for the younger end of the bracket, but then that's part of the point. I feel sure Boy Three will come back to the game as he develops his skills a bit and find more fun to be had. 

As educational apps go, this one is great.  At £7.50 per download, it's is good value for play... plus your children may learn some maths, improve their fine motor skills and have great fun. 

Monday, 25 February 2013

56/365 library lady

 

Super Sister and I managed a little us time with Mum in Glasgow today. The dome on the Mitchell Library looked grand against the blue. But who is that woman and why is she there?

 

Sunday, 24 February 2013

55/365 50p short of a shield

 

We even looked down the back of the sofa, but we couldn't complete the picture.

 

Saturday, 23 February 2013

54/365 Monopoly but not as you know it.


Without Monopoly, London would have felt like an alien place. Really. Pall Mall and the Strand, Knightsbridge and all those stations. Their names are so familiar because of the game.

Of course there have been lots of varieties - Disney, Star Wars and those created around different cities - but they have always been more or less the same game. Until now. 

Boy One came home with Monopoly City. You can build industrial units and residential (cheaper, but more hassle), aspiring to own the Monopoly Tower. You need planning permission and you can stuff up your opposition by building a prison or a power plant on their land. 

Anyhow, the most important thing was that I won and Boy One learned that you shouldn't bid more than you've got in the bank. 

Friday, 22 February 2013

53/365 My kind of training


I took another step towards 10K success today... hence the photo taken from the window table at Tattie's Bistro in Glasgow's Otago Street, of course. 

Over meltingly wonderful cheesy mushrooms on toast, Deb and I discussed the progress of our training. Very good, thank you. 

And beside me, on the floor, in a bag, in a box, sat my new trainers. Pristine but apparently very supportive. 

We had been to Achilles Heel where the charming, persuasive and ever so slightly hot, Stefan had me trot up and down the shop in various lurid trainers until he was satisfied.

He pronounced my feet "well behaved". If they weren't, would he have sent me out with black leather footwear, finished with zips and safety pins?



Emotions: Where do you feel them?

Serious question. Where do you feel your feelings? 

Are they in your heart, your chest, your feet, or, perhaps, just hanging around in your head with the shopping lists and conversations you haven't had yet?

I hadn't given it much thought until lately. 

Of course the really big emotions - grief, shock, in-loveness - are physical, very physical. And when you're in the grip of them, the sensation is all you can think of. 

But what about the lesser stuff? 

I'm in the middle of a Mindfulness course which is proving to be a fascinating and potentially wonderful thing. I haven't written about it before because I'm finding it a bit tricky to grasp. Just when I think I get it completely, the understanding wriggles out of reach. 

However, our teacher, the lovely Jeannie said something that made me stop and reconsider something fairly fundamental. 

An emotion is a thought that shows up as a sensation in your body. 

That's it. So every emotion, is an actual feeling if you pause to work out what and where. How interesting. 

For the past couple of weeks I've been testing it out. Trying to find a quiet moment in the noise to see what I can feel and where. 

And sure enough, Jeannie was right. All day there are twinges and tingles, prickles and heat as my body and brain go through their daily motions of considering and processing my world. 

Obviously, this isn't a total surprise. When you consider the language of emotions, it's all there. Things stick in the throat, people are sick to their stomach, they have heartache, butterflies and shivers down their spine.

It's just I hadn't thought of it for even the inconsequential. The tiny panic when traffic causes a delay, the minor sadness as a cup gets smashed, a fleeting shame of broken promises years ago or the infinitesimal joy at the perfection of buttered toast. 

I haven't a clue what good will come of knowing this, but I'm pretty sure good will come...

Meantime, here's a poem that Jeannie introduced me to. It's by Jelaluddin Rumi a 13th century Persian Muslim poet. 

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, 
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor. 
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, 
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture, 
still, treat each guest honourably. 
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight. 
The dark thought, the shame, the malice
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes, 
because it has been sent 
as a guide from beyond. 


When getting dressed is a challenge

It would be entirely wrong to say that I haven't got anything to wear, I've got a wardrobe full of stuff. 

However, there is always room for something else, something that has the magical makes you look younger/taller/slimmer/yet still essentially you factor. 

So when I was challenged by Netvouchercodes.co.uk to create an outfit for under £50, of course, I said yes. 

I like a tunic - flattering and comfy - so I picked this at £21 from La Redoute. 

And then some skinny jeans to go with it. Only £12.50!

That leaves enough for a scarf. 
At £17 it has bust the budget by 50p.

But then I realise that buying stuff through Netvouchercodes will get me a £15 discount for orders at La Redoute of more than £30. 

So I can afford shoes and still have change. 


This post was created in partnership with Netvouchercodes and I had fun. 



Thursday, 21 February 2013

52/365 Colour changing mystery



I hate not knowing how things work. Much as I would like to believe in magic, I know I'd spend days googling "explain the invisibility spell" and "how does prince to frog really work".

So today something as simple as a candle has caused me much vexation. In the shop it was clearly marked as 'colour change' and I had assumed that the wax was of different hues, or something. 

Then I lit the candle and the patterned bit at the side glowed immediately, then cycled through blue, green, red, yellow and coral at a remarkable lick. But how?

There are no switches, instructions or anything obvious. How did this happen?

I asked Twitter and Heather came to my rescue: 


Or it might be pixies with torches...

When I get to the end of the candle I'll let you know. 

My top five gigs

Do you go to gigs? Once upon a time, I went quite often. 

My first gig

The summer of 1983 and I went to see David Essex at the Sands Centre in Carlisle. I went because he was on and I could get there, rather than out of devoted fandom. I stood on a chair beside my then friend Mandy and he looked right at me. Right into my eyes. 

Later Mandy and I fell out forever because outside the station - where we were waiting to be picked up - we spotted the support act. She wouldn't go over and join the fans waiting for autographs but asked me to get her programme signed. Star-struck by the band I can now not remember the name of, I gave my name not hers when they asked who the autograph was for. She claimed I did it deliberately and never spoke to me again. 

My coolest gig

First term at Uni and I helped the girl in the room next door shave the side of her head to look like Annabel from Bow Wow Wow. It was actual Halloween 1984 and we went to see Souxsie and The Banshees. 

My most memorable

It must have been 1988 or thereabouts. I caught a plane from Aberdeen to London to see Pink Floyd at Wembly. They had gigantic inflatable cows wafting about above the crowd. It was very hot and I was the most grown-up I had ever been.

My most fun

Last summer, or was it the one before, the Panther of News bought us tickets to see Neil Diamond at Hampden. To an accompaniment of creaking hips and knees, we joined the most enthusiastic crowd for singing, dancing and handwaving. Neil still has it by the bucket load. 

My most recent

For our wedding anniversary, the PoN and I saw Eddi Reader at the Concert Hall in Glasgow. The sound quality wasn't very good, but toes were tapped aplenty. 

Actually Eddi very nearly got most memorable gig too. Back in 1988 - when Perfect was at the top of the charts and the charts counted for something - I saw Fairground Attraction in Aberdeen. 

What are yours? 

This is a partnered post with Stubhub.com the online ticket marketplace owned by ebay. You might find the makings of your most memorable gig on there. Click here for Robbie Williams tickets.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

51/365 Me and the troll



There are days I know exactly how this little creature feels. I have so many ideas - things I want to write, thoughts to create things from - that they feel like they could push the top of my head right off. 

It's not going to happen, so you don't need to keep edging away from me like that. 

Does the same thing happen to you or am I special? Just wondered.


Children's parties: What exactly is the point?

My nephew at his very excellent birthday party, just going
to show there's an exception to every rule.
I have a theory that children don't actually like parties very much. 

Don't get me wrong, there's no great cruelty in dressing them up as cartoon characters and taking them to your local soft play to celebrate some other child's big day. It's just that I don't think anyone actually gets any benefit. Apart from costume makers and disposable toy manufacturers, of course. 

If your child goes to nursery, then there's quite possibly nothing special about parties. Noisy free play, sitting down to eat, then musical bumps or statues. A typical day at the kindergarten. 

The only difference is there are the presents and e-numbered icing. Oh and party bags. 

Party bags! What pointless corner of hell were they devised in? Bags full of small brittle things that, in our case certainly, don't even make it out of the car at the end of the journey home. Has anyone ever tried to stop the madness and say: "No, this time, there will be no bag of junk that I don't want to pay for and you don't want to play with."

Perhaps kids are trained to a Pavlovian response - they'll only leave the village hall or soft-play when they are clutching the tiny tat packet. Without them are they destined to wander they halls sobbing softly and asking when will it be home time? 

Maybe it's the kind of bribery that keeps the thing going. Just like the Happy Meal. Who'd really be interested in three shapes of re-formed mechanically recovered poultry and some spikes of deep-fried carbohydrate without a toy as compensation?

And on the subject of food. Party food in particular. Tiny children who normally have to eat wholesome balanced brown things are suddenly encouraged, because it's a party, to pig out on multi-coloured saturated fats and refined sugar. How are they supposed to cope with that?

Most things stem from childhood, and perhaps my party aversion started there. I was certainly a beat apart from my peers - preferring the meat paste sandwiches to the garishly iced sponges. I will concede that parties did improve over the years - when lemonade gave way to gin and tonic, but I'm not suggesting we try that with our kids. 

No, for those still in the sober years? From what I can see, most of them don't really enjoy the noise and confusion. They either hypnotise themselves by running in circles until they collapse glazed and sweaty or they sit in the corner until it's cake time. I'm sure they just do party stuff because they're so used to it, it has become a drill. A drill for which they earn party bags and cake. 

Then why bother? Good question. Here's my theory. We love our children very much. Of course we do and that love is demonstrated by the ends to which we will go to make our little darlings happy. We gave birth to them and still kissed their little tootsies even when they vomited on us in the middle of the night. OK, once the barf was cleaned up. 

Therefore children's parties must be stressful. It isn't easy to make sure your party is as good as the other ones on this year's circuit, that the food is as fiddly and the cake as expensive, that the party bags are inventive and the games imaginative. You must magic up a theme that will challenge and delight, you must play the execrable music that children will dance to and you must be pleasant and polite to all the guests - no matter how rude and revolting. This is simply another way that you demonstrate your maternal or paternal love. 

One day, you hope, your little darling will realise that the night you stayed up til midnight making a treasure chest out of yellow cake and icing was because you loved them very much. They will know that the party where you endured the heart-stopping few minutes of having lost someone else's child was all for them. They must realise that the sledging party where you broke your Achilles tendon, yet limped on til the end was an act of selflessness. Or the one where your own  overwrought child sobbed into your shoulder for the whole two hours while you entertained their guests was all for them.

The thing is they'll probably never ever even notice. I'd say it's time we called a halt to this party, give everyone their party bags in exchange for the magic words "thank you for having me" and got on with some much more entertaining stuff. 




Mex therapy: Lunch at Chiquitos



What's not to love about being invited to try out a restaurant's new menu - even if your going out is so sparse you don't remember the old menu? 

Answer: nothing. 

So when Chiquito launched their revamped menu and invited me along to give it a spin, I was delighted. 

The Mexican restaurant chain has a branch at Xscape in Braehead, not far from us. And my friend J was free to come with me. Perfect. 

I've often wondered if what we know as Mexican food is anything like what you'd actually get to eat in proper Mexico. One day, I hope to find out. However, until then I'm more than happy to settle for the version we get here. 

J and I were welcomed and swiftly found ourselves making acquaintance with a Margarita. Very nice it was too.

The new menu, apparently, includes new dishes such as goats cheese and roasted veg salad, blackened salmon and jambalaya. All of which look and sound delicious. 

One of the dishes is a chorizo and gem lettuce wrap. A smush of chorizo, sweetcorn, jalapeno and onion with crispy lettuce. Spicy yet not overwhelming. Yum. 

I find choosing from a Mexican menu especially taxing. Someone once opined that the difference between the dishes was simply a matter of how they were folded - more origami than culinary. 

Anyhow, I went for self folding and plumped for the steak fajita. Delicious, but, ultimately predictable. J went for the prawn fajita. We're definitely going to need to return to try the rest of the menu. 

We were impressed by the selection and the atmosphere - although we were in the heart of a busy leisure complex - it was quiet and relaxed. Chiquitos is on our list of places to lunch again soon. 

For more information visit Chiquitos' website. 



Tuesday, 19 February 2013

50/365 Let the processing begin...


My old food processor had started to make slightly strained squealing noises and smelling rather odd. But it just wouldn't give up. 

Then one day Boy Two dropped the jug bit on the floor and it broke. Ooops. The food processor is dead, long live the food processor... there's a new kid in town. 

One of my favourite features so far is the fact that there's a box for all the bits.

So far I've made two batches of soup and I'm looking forward to much more fabulousness. My biggest difficulty is that I can't decide what to make. What do you suggest?

Monday, 18 February 2013

49/365 Iced to see you


This was the edge of the car roof this morning, snapped as I bundled Boy Three in to take him to nursery. 

I just love a bright frosty morning. My very favourite. If I could live somewhere guaranteed sharp and clear air with blue skies, I'd be off now. 

Review: Snugg ipad 4 ultra slim bluetooth keyboard case

Review: Snugg ipad 4 ultra slim bluetooth
Review: Snugg ipad 4 ultra slim bluetooth

It started when my friend and fellow freelancer Fionaoutdoors showed me her latest gadget and I was impressed. She had a keyboard for her iPad. 

Perhaps it's because of my age and background, but I like to type. I touch type and find that, most of the time, the words flow fairly effortlessly from my fingertips. But then I've been doing it quite a long time. 

While I love the astonishing technology that allows a tablet to do amazing things, I do miss typing. 

And because I work around my family (often literally) I find myself typing a post or replying to an email while I'm supervising a child in the bath. And that's when I miss a keyboard. The finger swipy thing isn't as satisfying for me and neither is using a stylus. 

So when Snugg got in touch and asked if I'd like to try out the ipad 4 ultra slim bluetooth keyboard case I said: "D'oh."

Then I recovered my manners and said: "Yes please, that would be lovely."

What it is?

The keyboard also doubles as a case for the ipad. It's about the same size as an ipad and either clips to the front when used as a case or has a slot to allow you to prop the ipad when in use. 

How does it work? 

You charge it for four to five hours via USB to your computer. (So this rather assumes you have a computer as well as a tablet.) This should give oodles of charge time - and certainly I haven't run out yet. 

Pairing to your ipad is fairly straightforward, requiring typing a code generated every time. It's supposed to stay paired, even after it has gone into sleep mode, but I had to re-enter a code every time. Not such a huge hastle though. 

And that's it. 

The naked ipad

Now in order for the clipping together of with the case and the standing up groove to work, the ipad needs to be naked (ie removed from any cases). 

One of the first things I did when I got an ipad was I bought the chunkiest, most robust case that I could possibly find. I have messy children and hard floors. My ipad lives in a fat case that has already protected it from splashes, mushed up Cheesy Wotsits and having heavy things put on it. 

Therefore, I'm not going to take it out of the case just so I can use the keyboard case at home, however, it pairs up perfectly well if I'm using it, say, in the kitchen. 

I will undress my ipad and allow it to wear the Snugg keyboard case on special occasions, like when I get to travel like an adult and go places where no one will demand to watch another Umizoomi Episode.. 

What's good about it? 

  • I can type and use the ipad. 
  • The keyboard is responsive and works for touch typing. 
  • For travel the case provides protection to the front of the ipad. 
  • Connection is easy.
  • Battery life seems good. 
  • The keyboard has ipad specific buttons. 
  • Switching between touchscreen and keyboard is seamless.
Any reservations?
  • Having to charge it by USB could be limiting. 
  • Having to type in pairing code again was a bit tiresome. 
In conclusion

I really like this piece of kit. It allows me to do the one thing that I can't on an ipad - which is type.  At £39.99 it's pretty good value too. Get one from Snugg.co.uk.


I was sent a keyboard case to review.




Sunday, 17 February 2013

48/365 First bike ride of the year


It was a beautiful day. Possibly my favourite kind of day - cool and bright. So Boy Two and I decided to get our bikes out for the first time this year. 


Saturday, 16 February 2013

47/365 Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet


It was another day at the coal face of the cutting edge of news today. I don't suppose it'll be very long before no one is doing this anywhere.

One day, I'll be able to tell all the young folk at the digital news dissemination hub, or whatever, that we used to put the words in boxes of a fixed size in order that they could be printed on paper. Imagine that? 

The day Tree Fu Tom came to visit





Tree Fu Tom has long been popular in this house. I mean, what’s not to love about a cute little guy that lives in the woodland (sorry Treetopolis) and uses magic to get himself out of scrapes?

The fact that Tree Fu (I’ve never worked out if it’s Mr Fu Tom or just Tom) is voiced by the dreamy tones of David Tennant is, obviously, neither here nor there.
Boy Three – aged three and a half – is keen on helping TFT with his moves and can often be found leaping about the sitting room, following the instructions. He was delighted to be given the Magic Sapstone Belt and Holopax Set to try out.
What do you get?
The belt is a chunky plastic affair with a round sap container at the front. It’s instantly recognisable as TFT’s. The ‘sap container’ needs batteries.
The Holopax, is a semi-rigid watch-like affair that goes on the wrist and activates much of the magic.
Both things were fixed into the display box by what felt like thousands of those annoying plastic fixers – why do they do that?
What did we love?
Boy Three was thrilled. We immediately had to attach both the belt and the holopax to him and he didn’t take them off until bed time and even then reluctantly.
They look just like TFT’s kit and, therefore, must do magic the same…
The ‘sap container’ light goes on when the child moves enough. This should encourage exercise.
They seem to be made of sturdy plastic and look like they would tolerate lots of play.
What did we like less?
Try as he might Boy Three couldn’t get the light to go on by jumping alone. He – and his big brothers – quickly worked out that you had to take it off and shake it for the light to come on. When it did, it was on for a while.
However, Boy Three didn’t seem to mind this – for him it was all about the imagination.
When worn all day, the belt did dig in a bit when Boy Three bend over, but then it’s probably not designed to be worn all day.
The Holopax doesn’t open or do anything.
Conclusion
The Magic Sapstone Belt and Holopax Set is a great toy for a Tree Fu Tom fan and encourages some very cute play. The fact that the belt and Holopax transform the ordinary human Tom into a magical tree dweller easily has little ones believing the toys will do the same.
Is it worth it?
For TFT fans, yes. They are the most magical part of the paraphernalia.
The Tree Fu Tom Magic Sapstone Belt and Holopax Set is available from Toys R Us and The Entertainer.

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