Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Gallery - Celebrations

No, no - not the chocolates... This week's theme for The Gallery at Sticky Fingers is Celebrations.  So, today, I show you the old me - before I became a mother, when I still had a waist, disposable income and reasonably gainful employment. For ages, it was my profile picture on Facebook as it is one of the photos of me that I quite like. Oh yes, it is a picture from our wedding celebrations. Not our actual wedding though.

We actually got married in Key West in Florida with only our parents present. So that everyone else didn't miss out, we had a party after we returned at a local hotel. It was slightly low key - the cake you can see us cutting was a £9.99 special from Costco. OK, so the dress maybe wasn't, but I loved it from the second I first put it on in the shop. Do you like it?

Why not pop over to The Gallery at Sticky Fingers and have a look at some of the other entries this week?

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Tantrums - how do you cope?

Monkey has a bit of a temper. He's been like that, almost since the day he landed on this earth. We even have footage of him as a baby, giggling and laughing away at us, when his mood turns suddenly and he starts crying instead. Missy Woo was a revelation in terms of being even tempered and sleeping well as a small baby when she arrived.

As time has gone on, and particularly since he's started school, tantrums have become a real issue with him. Every now and then, they happen. Normally, straight after school is the time. He walks out of school - where, it must be said, he will have been an angel all day long - and stridently demands something, I say no, and then it starts. Name calling, foot stamping, even violence against me and Missy Woo. I get all of it. 

Yesterday was a case in point. It was a freezing cold day and standing in the school playground was not a pleasant experience. (Why is it that they are always late out when the weather is wet or cold?) As we walked out of school, he stopped by the back gate and told me he wanted to look for his car which one of his school friends had kicked under the fence a few days ago. All I saw was a pile of leaves, and I was freezing - even the path was still icy. So, I told him no, we'd look another day when it was warmer and carried on walking back to the car. 

And that was it. I'm used to a bit of truculence but this was different. He went mad. He shouted at me, aimed his book bag at me, tried to hit me, all in the space of a few yards. He threw his jumper on the ground, which for some unknown reason, he was carrying instead of wearing.

We got to the car in a few minutes instead of a few seconds. We had an argument over who was sitting where in the car and finally I almost wrestled him into the car, during which he hit Missy Woo just because she was nearest. Finally, long after everyone else had left, and a reading of the riot act, we got away with the situation generally calmed, although his face was bright red from crying. 

However, we had to pop to Asda after school. He was a bit disobedient - every time I said no, he started off again and of course, that got people staring at us. The children went off to look at DS games as I went through the checkout and then he showed me a case for his DS that he wanted NOW which set him off again.

Back at the car and we were off again. He argued - and lied - about where he'd sat in the car on the way from school. He started screaming, and kicking out again so getting him in the car was a trial. Having had a final warning, I told him he was going straight to bed as soon as possible. The 5 minute drive home was hell - kicking, screaming, shouting stuff at me about how I was rude and horrible and how he wanted me to go away, or worse, go to prison and so forth. 

When we got home, I sent him straight upstairs to put his pyjamas on whilst I fix a quick tea. He threw his uniform downstairs. Everything I said was met with screams. I managed a tearful tweet on my phone before struggling through getting him to eat his tea, brush his teeth and go to bed, still with him screaming at me between mouthfuls, or every time I asked him to do something. Finally, I got him upstairs to his bed and I tried to have a chat about why he was going to bed so early - it was 5pm. By this time, he was contrite to try and make me go back on my decision to send him to bed, but it had already gone too far. He was trying excuses - Missy Woo woke him early (not that much), the alarm clock on the landing ticks too loudly (never mentioned that one before) and so on. But it was too late. I said goodnight to him and gratefully shut the door. He was asleep before 6.

It was less than 90 minutes, but it felt interminable. I just wanted to go and cry at the end of it. Thankfully, Missy Woo had been an angel through the whole process and after, went and sat in the kitchen playing with play dough whilst I sat down and vented on the phone to a friend, before coming to sit with me and give me a big cuddle.

At the end of it all, I just felt drained. When his tantrums happen, they're exhausting and it spoils what should be a nice time for us together as a family. (He did it once when we went out for Missy Woo's tea). Some of it is down to tiredness, but not all of it. Some of it is down to hunger but again, it doesn't excuse it. He gets sanctions, so it's not like he gets away with these episodes. He's so good at school, that if I mention his tantrums to the teachers, they honestly don't recognise the child I'm talking about. I know it's because he's more comfortable with testing us than anyone else, but it doesn't make it easier. And I have another child to consider, who kind of gets sidelined when it happens - although I'm pretty sure she understands that she is better off being good and helpful when he's like it. 

So, I ask you - does your child have tantrums like this? How do you cope if you do? How do you deal with your child in these situations? 

I find it exhausting, draining, highly emotional and dispiriting. I love my children dearly but this just makes me feel like the worst mother in the world.

And to all the lovely people who sent me messages of Twitter love, hugs and support, thank you. The internet is a truly great place when you're feeling very lonely and need a bit of a boost. There are way too many to mention, but you know who you are. Some really lovely people even went out of their way to make sure I was OK and I really appreciated that. You cheered me up and made me feel less lonely. For that alone, I love them to pieces. Thank you.

PS Monkey came out of school today to say that another of his friends found his car for him, so it can't have been where he said it was anyway. Grrr...... 

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Gallery - Black and White

So, the theme for Week 36 of the Gallery at Sticky Fingers is Black and White. Not being anything more than an amateur photographer, I don't really do arty photographs in monochrome. So I've taken one of my pictures and converted it. The picture I have chosen was already had a lot of black and white in it. It's of Monkey aged about 19 months, dressed up in a cat costume for a Hallowe'en party, sat in the double buggy. I am not sure why I have not used this picture before because I love his - as usual - cheeky grin.

If you want to have a go yourself at the Gallery, there is another prize on offer this week of a canvas print of the winner's favourite photo. Or you can just visit a few of the other entries and see the different interpretations. Why not take a look?

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

I love...

I love that my children are growing and changing every day.

I love their smiles of delight when they first see me after school or I pick them up from somewhere and the cries of "Mummy" that they utter almost involuntarily.

I love the way that Missy Woo wants to cram onto my lap at every opportunity to get a cuddle and if necessary, be scooped up and held like the baby she no longer is.

I love that they eat like horses and thankfully eat their fruit and veg.

I love that last week, Monkey said "Mummy, your cooking is LOVELY" whilst eating his tea. Unprompted. On two separate days.

I love that Missy Woo wants to buy me a new phone for Christmas, even though she won't be able to afford it for the next 10 years. I love her selflessness and kindness to others.

I love their growing independence, even if it a nuisance sometimes when we're in a rush.

I love their sense of humour, even if the jokes they tell are terrible.

I love that they went to a wedding last week, stayed up late and behaved so well. Some of the dancing was a bit dodgy, but they had a ball.

I love the way they take things so literally. Missy Woo wanted to know last week if she was once a twinkle in Mummy's eye how babies get from your eye to your tummy. (Yes, I know, my own fault.... )

I love that Missy Woo can now hula hoop, having not been able to only a few weeks ago and almost giving up. That she has worked out that practice really does make perfect.

I love that they have an answer for everything, even when it is damned inconvenient to get those answers.

I love how they continue to amaze me with new abilities every day.

I love when they use a word, in context, that I didn't even know they knew. And I also love when they use a word and it comes out all wrong.

I love how they can sit down sometimes and totally absorb themselves in an activity.

I love that they are true 21st century children - Monkey told us to "look it up on the Internet" tonight.

There are often many things I don't love about my children but then, they are not perfect. Nor are they meant to be. However, there are many more things that I do love about them. They are beautiful. They are funny. They are clever (although I am biased). They make my heart burst with happiness.

I may not say it enough but I love my children.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Dear So and So

Dear So and So...
There is only one letter I could really write this week. 

Dear sister and fiancé,

I found this and thought of you: 

Now you will feel no rain
For each of you will be shelter to the other.
Now each of you will feel no cold
For each of you will be warmth to the other.
Now there is no loneliness for you
For each of you will be companion to the other.
Now you are two persons
But there is one life before you.
Go now to your dwelling place to enter into the days of your togetherness
And may your days be good and long upon the earth.

Congratulations on the occasion of your wedding. 

Much love, 

All of us. x

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Gallery - Before & After

When I first saw the prompt for week 35 of the Gallery, I was totally flummoxed. Situation normal there, as it's not the first time I've been stumped by one of Tara's prompts. But this one was "Before and After" and the brief was to recreate one of my older photos.

For a few days, I really thought I was going to have to give this one a miss. I mean, I have photos of me in my wedding dress and I'm not quite ready to try that one again. I've got pictures of the kids as babies which could be fun to recreate but they really aren't small anymore.

Then I realised the answer was virtually looking me in the face. I had the perfect picture, the means and the opportunity to recreate it. It's one I've used for the Gallery only a few weeks ago so you have seen it before. All I had to do was suggest it to Monkey. Thankfully, I caught him at a good time - he was eating - and he nodded enthusiastically in agreement. I wasn't sure what it would be like but in the end, it turned out pretty well.

So here is the Before picture, taken when Monkey was about 15 months old:

And here is the After, taken after tea tonight:

He still fits in but he has to crouch now.

And not to be outdone, Missy Woo had to join in too as she is surely her brother's shadow:

Why not take a look at the rest of the Gallery at Sticky Fingers? Or have a go yourself if you like. There are prizes on offer this week - two people will win the chance to create their own book with Blurb using their own words and photographs.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Review: Fun & Games for the 21st Century Family

I was so intrigued by the title and the concept of this book that I couldn't really turn down the opportunity to review a copy. What the authors Steve and Simon have done is give some traditional games a modern twist with the help of the gadgets that we often now take for granted. I will be honest and say that we don't have all the gadgets that are mentioned in the book but that doesn't matter. There are over 200 games or activities so there should be something for everyone except the most dyed-in-the-wool Luddite to enjoy.

I liked the layout of the pages for each game. The left hand column has a key listing what age it's suitable from, the number of players and the type of activity. The set up time and expected play time is also listed for each game, along with what you need to get going, all of which are very handy so you don't discover halfway through you need something you haven't got or that it's going to take longer to set up than your children's attention span. Activities are rated for level of difficulty and how long it will take to complete for the same reason.

The book also includes a 6 step film course, and an appendix "Techno" section with lots of short "How to" articles to do various whizzy things on your PC or Mac that will help the games along. Simon and Steve have also set up a website here with lots of resources to help you play the games - like grids, bingo cards etc. There is also a discussion forum where you can share variations on the game with other readers and the book includes a notes section to write these down if you can't get online straight away. I think that's great as the games they have created or collated will change as families adapt them to suit their needs and it widens the appeal of the book even further. And to top it all, the new games are interspersed with short sections of games from the archives - more traditional games with enduring appeal.

The index makes it easy to find the games as they are all listed by type. I'm particularly pleased that there are lots of car games, as we are driving to Devon and back at the end of the week so no doubt we will be road-testing them then, having never driven that far with the children in the back.

As Monkey and Missy Woo are only 5 and 4, some of the games are still a bit old for them, but that means the book can be used in years to come as they get older and are more suited to the games for older children. I really want to have a go at Hairdryer ping pong (page 36) the next time we have a rainy day so it's perfect for the big kid in all of us.

I think this is a great book, which will be useful to us as a family for years. Monkey and Missy Woo are already adept at using technology in their lives - they had me looking up pictures of cliffs for them only this evening - and the book really shows you how to make the harness the technology around you for the sole purpose of having fun. It might also give you a solution the next time your child says "Muuuuuum, I'm bored" on a rainy day.

Fun and Games for the 21st Century Family is out now and costs £9.99

(I was provided with the book to review and have received no other compensation. The opinions stated here are my own, and have not been influenced by the aforementioned compensation.)

Monday, 15 November 2010

Strong is sexy

Recently, I've become a member of a gym again, thanks to my husband taking out a year's family membership. It's given me the chance to start going to classes again - something I did regularly for a few years until the children came along. Before I got pregnant, I used to do 4 classes a week. I tried going again between children but never made more than 1-2 classes per week and as the children got older, I tried again a few times more. One of my issues was that one of them would not like being left in a creche.

But now is the time. The children are in school all day and I can make full use of the membership. The same sort of classes I used to do - namely Body Pump and Body Combat - are still offered where we are members, and all I had to do is get back in the habit. For me, it has not been difficult because they are both classes that I used to love.

When I first started going to these classes, I was really unfit and couldn't move for days. Thanks to some home exercising, it has not been like that this time.

In particular, I can feel the progress in Body Pump. For those of you that have never done it, it is a workout using a barbell to music. Each track is designed to target a particular muscle group, and the class is always done in the same order. There is something about me that likes that about this class.

Knowing that overdoing it would only cause injury, I started on the smallest weights possible and decided to listen to my body and how it coped with each track, making a mental note to up it next time if it felt too easy. My first class was 20th October and I've done about 8 classes in total. In that time, I have moved up weights in all the tracks but in some, I have already moved up 3 times, and am ready to go up again for one of those.

In other words, I can feel myself getting stronger. I can see it too. My arms in particular are looking less flabby and more "toned". (It's actually a word I don't like using that much for other reasons but I can't think of a better way of putting it) Bingo wings in particular are much less diminished.

I called this post "Strong is sexy" because I think it is - and I mean in women just as much as men. I know however that lots of people disagree with me. Now, what I am not suggesting that this is the ideal:

Particularly as she has no fat and women look wrong without a small amount of fat to soften their outline. But if you do like that sort of thing, then fine. You go for it.

What I do mean is more like what my friend Jo achieved. Look here for her weight loss pictures. And she achieved that mostly through weight training. Or perhaps this:

I canvassed opinions on twitter the other day and was surprised how negative people were - about women being "strong". Most people felt that a strong woman was a turn off. Most expect strong women to look like the first picture (they don't, that's very rare and I suspect involves taking steroids) or to be stick thin and that's a turn-off.

I don't think it has to be like that. Yes, the woman in the bottom picture has some muscle definition, but she does have a softness to her outline that the body-builder doesn't. Some of that is down to body shape - I am hourglass so always have curves whatever I do. I suspect unless you see a body-builder like in the top picture, you'd never know that a woman does strength training unless she is very thin.

But is it just about the body shape and how a woman looks? Is having physical strength something that men feel threatened by? Certainly, you will find blokes in Body Pump classes the world over loading up the bar because they are damned if they are going to be outlifted by a "mere" woman. The instructor that sometimes teaches me admits he did the same at his first class and nearly did himself a mischief in the process. They seem to forget that Body Pump is about working to your own level - to the level that works you hardest but safely. It damages their ego that a woman could do better. I see blokes struggling or doing downright dangerous things in classes sometimes because of it.

Now, I am a long way from reaching my goals so I'm not about to post pictures of myself in my underwear on this blog. Body Pump is, however, helping me to progress. I like the feeling of getting stronger. It's empowering because it helps me do things. Does it make me feel sexier? I guess it does. All empowerment does and it's just another form of empowerment. I'm not about to take up body-building, spending insane amounts of time in the gym and possibly risking my health by taking steroids. Body Pump makes the building up of bulky muscles almost impossible in women anyway because we don't have the testosterone in the their body. I'll ask to be taken out and shot if I ever do look like the woman in the top picture. If I end up with a figure like the woman in the bottom picture, or Jo, I will be over the moon.  I suspect it might end up being a curvier version of either, thanks to my body shape, but even then, I won't be unhappy. Building some muscle helps to boost your metabolism (because muscle burns calories, even at rest) making it easier to keep the weight off in the longer term. That sounds like a good thing to me too.

So I tell you - strong is sexy. You may disagree with me, and if so, feel free to explain to me in detail how and why it isn't in the comments below because I'd like to know.

This post was linked to the Show-Off Showcase oh The Boy and Me blog for Saturday 19th March 2011. Click the badge below to see more entries. 

ShowOff Showcase

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Catch 22

This post has been brewing within me for a while, but what really prompted me to write was The Writing Workshop on Sleep is For the Weak. I've never yet taken up the challenge of writing to one of Josie's prompts but as I'd been thinking about this for a while, I felt I was ready to have a go this time. I'm worried it might turn into a bit of a rant but I won't know until I try.

I've been looking for a job. A part time one. Apparently, that automatically means I only want a particular type of job. I'd like, if possible, to work from home, as that would give me the greatest flexibility in terms of working hours and anyway, I have pretty much all the right equipment to do so. Apparently, that means that I want to work for a pittance, not get paid for several weeks after the work has been done, have little status or opportunity to network with peers.

That's a fairly cynical view, but honestly - where ARE the proper family-friendly jobs for working parents - you know, the ones that challenge the mind, that stretch the employee and allow them to contribute to the common cause, with decent pay and prospects? It does seem that those that have that sort of job are the ones that were already working for their employer before the arrangement was put in place. They are largely those who have had the law on their side, who have used the legislation on flexible working to negotiate an acceptable arrangement for all.

Even then, that's not easy to do. I was full-time in a job before having Monkey, returned temporarily part-time when pregnant with Missy Woo but when I applied to return part time after maternity leave, I was turned down, despite there being insufficient work for me to keep me occupied for 37 hours a week. I had to take them to a grievance in order to get them to agree to any form of part time working and that was on the basis that they would turn it into a jobshare. The second person to share my job was never actually recruited and I never had too much work! The stress I went through dealing with the grievance was unimaginable  - I can see why some people just won't fight if they get turned down. But at least, the law was on my side.

But I don't work for them any more. If I talk to recruitment agencies, you can hear the incredulity in their voices when I say I want to work part time, preferably from home, like I have just asked for a solid gold laptop and an expense account to rival those enjoyed by MPs until recently.

Is it so bad to want to do something approaching the skillset and brainpower required in my last job as a part time job? After all, you'd think employers would perhaps look at their profit and loss account in the current economic climate and be happy to take on someone skilled and experienced for part of the working week - or even have two people sharing a full-time job. After all, each employee has their own experiences and ideas to contribute, and the more the merrier. If you have 100 staff filling 80 jobs, you have 100 lots of ideas for the cost of 80 people! Surely, that's good financial management. And if some of them work from home, you need less office space, which means further cost savings. Yes, working from home does give you control issues - but I worked 200 miles from my boss for 8 years and probably had the same amount of supervision as a homeworker.

I accept that working in IT does require an element of anti-social working - certain tasks have to be done out of hours to avoid disruption. I accept that customers expect a service in office hours. What I can't accept is that there is no way of making jobs family friendly and flexible for those that want it. I'm sure they'd say the demand is not there for it. But I went to an interview in June for a part time IT role working 20 hours per week. The shortlist was extensive and varied - I saw two other interviewees; both were male, one was young, the other probably close to retirement and they interviewed all day. Now, possibly these people applied for this job because they felt that any job is better than none and needed a job but I don't believe for a minute that employees don't want jobs that offer flexible work.

It seems that I am in a Catch 22. If I want a job I want to do, I need to get full-time work and forget being a parent, something I don't want to do. If I want a flexible job, be that at home or elsewhere - and a job that gives me employee status and regular pay - then the options are limited, the work far less challenging, verging on boring. Something I also don't want to do.

What do you think? Do you work flexibly? If so, what do you do and how did you get the job? Did you apply for that job, or did you negotiate the flexible working with your existing employer? Should there be more jobs that allow flexible working? How can we change attitudes to part-time working and stop seeing part time workers as second class citizens?

Monday, 8 November 2010

A century of blogging

Well, kind of....

Blogger tells me that this is my 100th published post in 212 days. Wow, I do go on, don't I? I surprise myself actually - not that I can go on, more that I have turned some of my "going ons" into posts. When I started this blog, I really wasn't sure whether I had much to say. I'm still not sure I've fulfilled the original brief that I set myself, given that I don't blog about football all that much, nor do I talk about fitness that often. But I do blog about food, and you're probably bored to death hearing me talk about my family and the fun bit - well, that is just part of some of my posts. I hope.

But there we go. I've made it to 100. At first, I really didn't know what I was doing and just wittered on a bit. I lost a friend in March and a month later, her husband too which inspired me to blog, but the rest of April is just recipes and a couple of memes where others had tagged me. And then I stopped - I barely blogged the whole of May after going away three weekends out of four and being busy for the fourth weekend. But it saw my first post for the Gallery at Sticky Fingers to which I regularly contribute. In June, it caused to inspire me to write this post about my Dad. It was the hardest post I have written, and I cried buckets in the process of doing so. But somehow, and I can't explain exactly how, what or why, it fired me up to write more. The bug had bit.

July saw Missy Woo's 4th birthday, and although I suffered a bit of blogger's block, I tinkered with the look of the blog and changed it pretty much as you see it today with a few minor alterations. I also wrote a meme post about how you know you're a mum when various things happen and I wrote my first Dear So and So post, an idea started by Kat from 3 Bedroom Bungalow which was fun. Kat stopped DSS for a while but has now revived it so expect more posts from me in future as I find writing the letters both cathartic and hilarious at the same time.

August was an even bigger month. I was asked to be a Toys R Us Toyologist and so started to be sent lots of toys to review. And then, I took part in a Daily Mail article (not that I knew that it was for them at first) and they came to do me over so I ended up having a late (and so far singular) foray into "modelling". And I blogged about my weight loss progress.

Life changed completely in September when Missy Woo started school. She loves it totally and they love her. In truth, she was ready last year but had to wait her turn. September being back to school month caused me to reflect on our experience choosing a school for the children. And I started my very own Twitterholic meme which led to some great posts on lots of other blogs, all of which I enjoyed reading because I am nosey curious and have an inquiring mind. I wrote 21 posts in September so I think it's safe to say by then that I'd hit my stride.

October saw me make another big change in my life when I decided to reduce some of my volunteering commitments by stepping down from one role. In lighter moments, I wrote about my success as a Slummy Mummy and about my boobs - that post turned out to be particularly well read (must be the pic of Marilyn Monroe). I also gave a gift to Victoria as she left to go round the world and gave you my Desert Island Discs. I also ran a competition, for which I had an overwhelming 200+ entries.

And now, it's November. A week of toy reviews was leaving me flagging a bit but I took inspiration from other blogs and came up with the A to Z of my browser for this weekend. And that was post number 99.

So, here I am. I started out thinking I'd have a go, and 100 posts later, I'm hooked. I can't imagine not blogging - it adds an extra dimension to my experience of social networking that I previously only observed from the sidelines. I feel part of something, which is something that is often a bit of an issue for me. (And yes, I've blogged about that too!) Sometimes, I am up late - largely because I can't resist the hubbub of Twitter on a busy evening which distracts me - willing myself to finish a blog post so I can go to bed. A bit like now.  But I wouldn't swop it for the world.

Most importantly, for me anyway, I'm having fun. Thank you if you have been part of that fun over this century of blogging through comments here or on Twitter, or by writing a post linked to one of mine. It has been a blast. And long may that continue.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

An A to Z of the web - courtesy of my browser

Recently, the lovely English Mum started a post called Around the web in 20 clicks listing her top 20 recent reads. I got a mention in Tara's post of the same name, although she actually had 24!

I wondered if I should have a go myself. However, I don't think I could ever choose.  Then I had an idea.....

I am not big on storing things in my browser's favourites. I do favourite some things - mostly long and obscure URLs that point to a particular page that I use from time to time. The rest of the time I just type in the address bar and I often use the auto-complete feature. There are certain sites whose addresses pop up as soon as I type in a single letter because of my regular usage, so I thought I would go through and list the sites that are stored in my browser when I type a single letter into the address bar. There aren't 26 as some letters don't give me an answer but this gives you a flavour of my internet usage habits and where I like to hang out.

And so, I give you my browser's A to Z guide to the web.

A is for A|Wear, an Irish clothing retailer who sell to the UK. I was very lucky earlier this year and won £1000 store credit on their site so I am forever planning what to buy from them. I still have about £300 to go and it's been fun picking stuff, ordering it, and it turning up - all without costing me a penny!

B is for Blog Up North, a blog written by Garry aka himupnorth. We've been twitter buddies for what feels like forever and it is because of him that I started writing (I wrote him a couple of guest posts earlier in the year) which led me to start this blog. Form an orderly queue to thank or complain as appropriate.

C is for Chorley Guardian which shocked me as I really don't read it all that often these days.

D is for Disqus - which you may recognise as my commenting system. I log on to reply to comments so that I don't miss replying to anyone that's taken time to comment on a post.

E is for English Wikipedia's main page - again, I was surprised by this as I don't think I visit too often. I am more likely to access Wikipedia direct to an entry from Google.

F is for Feedburner which creates a blog RSS feed, allowing people to subscribe to my blog via readers or email.

G is for Google, which I guess is not a shock really. I am forever googling pretty much everything.

H is for He Tore A Hamstring, a blog written by Rohan. He writes a lot about sport - in particular Liverpool FC - but also about his life. He writes poignantly about his struggles with depression but also last year, he lost his fiancée Dani and many of his posts are inspired by her, documenting his journey through grief and his enduring love for her. Some of his posts have just blown me away.

I is for (I am) Typecast, a blog by Nickie. A couple of weeks ago on Twitter, Nickie was asking opinions on new blog templates etc and the conversation turned to domain names. The lovely Marylin from Pure Unadulterated Softthistle offered her a free domain. I came up with the name "iamtypecast.com" which turned out to be available and the rest is history. You can read the full story of that night here.

J is for JAG's Fitness Blog, written by Jo. I've known Jo for several years online, mostly from the Handbag  discussion boards. She started her blog to document her weight loss journey in 2009 and lost 50lbs in a little under 6 months. Her posts document what she's eating, how she's training and other details of her life. She is truly inspirational and her blog has a sizeable following.

K is for Kirsty's Gone Bananas blog. Kirsty lives in Florida, although she is half British. She has a daughter who suffers from epilepsy and at the moment, she is blogging about that throughout National Epilepsy Awareness Month. She also hosts the Friday Food Fight, along with her sister Karen who blogs at If I Could Escape and who has recently moved to the UK with her family.

L is for Lancashire Evening Post for which, the entry for C also applies. I don't read it that often but I do look at the news.

M is for my mailbox. Not a lot to see here, move along now.

N is for National Rail Enquiries - and I don't go on trains that often. Still, it's useful to find out train times - the fares bit is rubbish tho.

O is for Ocado. They're the only internet food retailer I will use now as they are so reliable and they rarely make mistakes. I booked my Christmas food shop with them last year and then spent an agonising 8 hours waiting for it to turn up as we were knee deep (ok, ankle deep) in snow and the delivery lorry bringing orders up from their warehouse blew a tyre on the motorway. They got here - but the van got stuck on our road. I don't use them all that often, but it's always a nice treat when I do.

P is for Pizza Hut. Not entirely sure why - although the kids love pizza, we don't go there very often.!

Q is for Quidco. This site allows you to earn cashback on your internet purchases. Liking a bargain, I always check for deals before I buying anything large!

R is for Random.org which is a random number service. I used it to help me draw entries for the competition I ran a couple of weeks ago.

S is for Sticky Fingers, written by Tara. It is, of course, home to The Gallery most weeks so I'm constantly visiting to load pictures or to check the prompt. However, the whole blog is great and unsurprisingly, it has some great pictures too.

T is for The Five Fs blog! Hardly surprising, is it?!

U is for, erm, nothing.

V is for Very Bored in Catalunya. It is a blog about Very Bored and her life as an English ex-pat mum of one in - strangely - Catalunya (northern Spain).

W is for Who.Unfollowed.Me, a tool to discover who has unfollowed you on twitter. I know some people use it and agonise over any unfollows. To be honest, it doesn't bother me unless it is someone I am very close to. I guess I just like to know who has unfollowed me. Sometimes, I do ask people why they have unfollowed if I feel I know them well enough to do so and it is usually a twitter problem. I generally check it 3 times a week although sometimes I forget to do it.

X, Y, and Z are for .... erm, again, nothing.

So, there you go. I think I may have revealed myself as obsessed by blogs, stats, information, saving money and food and possibly retail therapy.  I fear my browser says way too much about me.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Toyologist Review Week - Power Rangers RPM Wolf Cycle

Today on the Five Fs, I'm delighted to welcome a guest post by Marylin who blogs at Pure Unadulterated Softthistle. I sent Marylin the Power Rangers RPM Wolf Cycle (£12.98) for her to review with her two boys, Zack and Max. Over to Marylin.... 

When Max (3) saw the box for the Power Rangers RPM Performance Wolf Cycle, he was at it instantly. His grabby hands made sure that he got first dibs. I don’t think Zack (5) was too bothered though, as he’s not really a Power Rangers fan, and he knows better than to argue with his little brother... poor wee thing!

I used to be a Power Rangers fan, back when I was about ten or so, I used to LOVE the Red guy, I would imagine me being in danger, and him coming to my rescue, then making me the Pink Ranger, and getting to be one myself!

The packaging wasn’t too difficult to open, which was lucky as Max was DESPERATE by this point to open his new toy. Once it was out, he was off with the little figure and the bike.

It turns out there are three different “modes” that the bike can go in, “cycle mode”, which is how it arrived, “slider mode” which is vaguely shown in a small picture on the box (no instructions inside by the way!), and a “zord” mode, which I’ve yet to figure out.

Trying to get it into “slider” mode wasn’t that easy to figure out for me, so I don’t think a 4 year old (it’s rated 4+) would have been able to do it alone.

For the price, £12.98 from Toys R Us, it’s not too bad, but I wouldn’t give it to a younger child. The hands of the figure come off very easily (intended by the look of it for some reason?), and can be lost (we now only have one hand, after only about 5 days of play).

I don’t think I’d personally buy any of these for my boys, but if you have a kid who *looooves* Power Rangers with a passion, it’s not too expensive, and I’m sure they would have fun!

As it is, despite the lost hand, Max adores his new black Power Ranger, and carries him around everywhere.

The bike has been left by the wayside under my bed though...

(Marylin was provided with the above toy to review and received no other compensation. The opinions stated here are her own, and have not been influenced by the aforementioned compensation.)

Thanks to Marylin for writing the review and to Zack and Max for testing it so thoroughly! 
This post marks the end of my Toyologist Review Week, but not the end of the reviews. We are still madly testing toys here and there will be more reviews in the coming weeks. If you are interested in testing a toy and writing a review as a guest post, do get in touch - my email address is kateab65@gmail.com .

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Toyologist Review Week - Creative Play

Day 4 and today, we're onto creative play - things to make basically. I'm always a bit wary of such items because, in our house anyway, the potential to a) go wrong and b) make enormous amounts of mess is huge. So, we've been sticking, moulding, pressing and twirling on your behalf to put them through their paces.

Firstly, there is the Bendaroos Creativity Centre (£19.99). The idea of this that you have flexible wax strips wrapped around string which you wind around models or templates to create 3D models. The set includes scissors, a couple of models and a shaping tool to help create your models. In theory, it looks simple. We have had this for ages and both Monkey and Missy Woo have been pestering to have a go but I've always held back. Well, I think I know why. They actually found it really hard to do the shaping/winding part. Although it's labelled as suitable for 5 years upwards, they actually ended up giving it to Daddy to do for them. The models that you make are fairly small and also easy to squash (I may or may not have sat on at least one by mistake) but they can be taken apart easily and the strips reused, so this can be a blessing as well as a curse. My overall verdict is that this is OK, but perhaps better for children older than 5 - maybe from 7 upwards. The children enjoyed it but soon gave up and since we played with it, they have not asked to play with it again.

The same could not be said for the Sticky Mosaics Dinosaurs (£14.99). This is like painting by numbers but with little coloured sticky mosaic foam tiles to stick on 4 different designs. Although they needed some help - because there are lots of tiles to put on each design - they loved doing the sticking and were very good at making sure they stuck the tiles on the right number. It kept them busy (and quiet) for a substantial period of time, largely because it is easy to do and they can see instant results. Both are very proud of their achievements and have a finished design up in their rooms. There are other designs available - most of which are very girly, and so would appeal to Missy Woo more - and I would happily recommend your kids try any or all of them. The finished result looked very professional so this would make a nice present for children who like to make things and then give them away as presents. It's a resounding thumbs up from us for this.

And then, the original creative play item - Play-Doh. We were sent the Play-Doh Mega Fun Factory (£24.99) to try which has a real conveyor belt. The Play-Doh is loaded in one end and it squishes it out onto the conveyor belt. You can then use one of 15 moulds to press out pretend food or toys. It also includes 4 tubs of Play-Doh.

We got this out at a gathering of friends who'd come to try some toys with us and it was the most popular toy of the morning. Children - aged 3 and upwards - were queueing up to use it. The conveyor belt in particular seemed a big hit. Anyway, there was nearly a fight over who was going to use it next. One little girl sat there absorbed by it for a good half an hour. They thought it was great fun. If your child likes Play-Doh (and let's face it, most do) they will love this. Hopefully, in the process, they won't make as much mess as usual.

That's it for today. Tomorrow, I'll have a guest post for you reviewing the Power Rangers RPM Performance Cycle. Do come back and have a read then!

(I was provided with the above toys to review and have received no other compensation. The opinions stated here are my own, and have not been influenced by the aforementioned compensation.)

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Gallery - Show Me The Funny

If you've come to the blog to see my Gallery entry for this week, you can find it here. Whilst you're here, why not have a look at some of my toy reviews, which are below?


Toyologist Review Week - Games

Games are great for us, because they tend to be largely gender neutral so they appeal to both Monkey and Missy Woo and they can play (and fight) together. They are normally good value for money and they will often get games out over other toys and are great for rainy days. We have tested 3 games for you today. 

First of all is Zingo (£12.99) which is described as "bingo with a zing". The "zing" seems to come from the Zinger card dispenser, which actually dispenses tiles to go on the cards, not the cards themselves. This sets it apart from other sound and words bingo game you might get (we already have one of those). It claims to help teach shape and pattern recognition but as it's aimed at 4 year olds and upwards, this seems a moot point. However, the words AND the picture are both on both sides of the tiles. This means the children just recognise everything based on the pictures as they are relatively simple images. I think it would be better if the tiles had the words on one side, pictures on the other or the words on the tiles and the pictures on the card as our other game has. This would encourage the children to recognise the word and match it to the relevant picture. 

The children did love this - in particular the Zinger dispenser which they spent a lot of time fiddling with. When tidying up, they insisted on putting the tiles in carefully one at a time, which meant that it took quite a while! Overall, it was a hit with the children and a qualified hit with me. I think it could be improved if it's going to be properly educational for the age group it's aimed at. If it's just going to be a game, just say so. 

Next is the Peppa Pig Tumble and Spin game (£9.99) . It is a memory game that features a spinning Peppa Pig that plays the Peppa Pig theme tune whilst spinning then gives you instructions when it stops. Each player plays as one of the characters and has to collect six cards showing that character. The cards are laid face down and the spinning Peppa tells you how many cards you can turn over or to put one back. If you turn over your character, you can keep that card. The trick is to remember where the cards are as they are turned over by the other players. 

This appealed to Missy Woo more than Monkey as this game is more girly as all the featured characters are girls. What we found was that sometimes the spinning Peppa's music didn't stop so had to be spun again or shaken to get Peppa to "speak". Other than that, it was quite enjoyable and a relatively short game, which can be played with 2-4 players. Apart from the music, that is - listening to the theme tune over and over again gets slightly wearing after a while so I will be suggesting that Monkey and Missy Woo play it well away from me! Other than that, we like this game. It would be perfect if the spinning Peppa worked properly all the time. 

And then, finally, we have the Crazy Chefs game, which is a very reasonably priced £6.99, although there is not a great deal to it. It is another variation on the theme of the memory game - players have a chef board and attempt to collect all the ingredients on their board by turning over cards. Once they have collected them, they must spin a spinner first to get a plate and then to "cook" their meal. It's relatively simple to play (and suitable for 3 years upwards) although Missy Woo seem to get the most pleasure by laying all the cards out by herself and placing all the ingredients in the right place on the boards, like some kind of large jigsaw! The spinning part does seem a bit pointless - the game would be fine stopping once a player had found all the ingredients and to be honest, it would be simple enough to leave that part out. I do however think it is good value and a simple game like this would be a great addition as it's easy to understand, doesn't make huge amounts of mess, and doesn't take ages to play. 

Talking of mess, come back tomorrow and we'll have some reviews of crafty/making type things for you. 

(I was provided with the above toys to review and have received no other compensation. The opinions stated here are my own, and have not been influenced by the aforementioned compensation.)

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Toyologist Review Week - Boys' Toys

So, after yesterday's foray into girls' toys, we got out the boys' toys to give them the once over. They're all based around familiar characters that all boys of Monkey's age seem to love.

Firstly, we have the Transformers Cyber Ops Bumblebee, an eye-popping £59.99. Monkey leapt on this when we got one of our parcels. It turns from a Guardian into a Warrior (whatever that means, numpty mummy strikes again) but basically changes from the Transformer Robot into a car with flip out cannons. Sounds simple, doesn't it? And it should be as it's marked suitable from 5+, although it is also marked Level 4 - Advanced. Well. Monkey had a go at taking the robot and turning it into a car. After a few minutes of trying, he gave it to his manservant Daddy to complete the job. It took Daddy twenty minutes to achieve this Herculean task. This may just be transforming it into the car - because since then, I have seen the car back as a robot and assume Monkey has done this by himself. Still, not easy. The robot has lights and speech activated by pressing a button on the robot's torso.

Monkey seemed to like this but never plays with it for very long. One of his school friends came round to play and had a quick look at it before moving on to something else. The longest it was played with was when Daddy first transformed it into a car! On that basis, as a parent, I don't think this toy is best value, certainly not for a 5 year old like Monkey. It may well suit an older (and more dextrous) child better. 

Next, we have the Ben 10 Alien Force Laser Lance (£19.99). First, I must mention that I am uncomfortable with my children having weapons. I don't ban them but I really don't like children talking about "killing" each other. I'm afraid that is what happened when my children picked up this and played with it. Basically, it is based on the Laser Lance from the Alien Force series which is used by Kevin Levin and the Forever Knights. It has sounds - perfect for imaginary play. It also has a "concealed Omnitrix cross-hair" - in other words, a target or sight. Unfortunately, we didn't get that much chance to test this feature as it snapped off on first use. Apart from that, both Monkey and Missy Woo enjoyed running around with it "firing" it. However, as I said, they also talked about killing people whilst playing with it and I felt I had to tackle this with them when they did. My children are not  violent and I intend keeping it that way. 

They never play with this for long but they do play with it regularly. I would say, therefore, that it is a bigger hit with them than it is with me. I wouldn't have chosen this for my children for reasons I've already mentioned but they seem to like it. Monkey has been slightly obsessed with Ben 10 so this may be a factor but really (and particularly without the cross-hair) it features no overt branding. But if your child loves Ben 10, they'll love this.

Our final toy today is the Toy Story Klip Kitz Buzz Lightyear model kit. (£9.99) It's a put-it-together-yourself model of everyone's favourite astronaut. As the name suggests, the pieces, snap and clip together, meaning there is no complicated screwing or gluing. The pieces can be locked into place using a key to achieve different poses. It also means that it can be taken apart and put back together again. This is another toy that Monkey leapt on when he first saw it, largely because he had recently seen Toy Story 3 at the cinema. He did need help from Daddy to put this together but he was better able to do some of this by himself, plus there are stickers that you can use to decorate your completed Buzz. We have discouraged taking it apart again but Monkey is quite happy to play with the model. For the price, it is a complete steal. I would say out of today's toys, it is the best value of them all. 

That's all for today. Come back tomorrow when we will review some games for you.

(I was provided with the above toys to review and have received no other compensation. The opinions stated here are my own, and have not been influenced by the aforementioned compensation.)

Monday, 1 November 2010

Toyologist Review Week - Girls' Toys

So, it's the start of November which means that parents are beginning to think about what to get their little darlings for Christmas. Yes, I know I just said (well, typed to be more precise, but you know..) the C word but there are those of us who like to get their present shopping done by the end of November - as we have a particular allergy to visiting shops in the month of December.

As we have had so many toys from the Toys R Us Toyologist programme, this is going to be a tough one this year as the children have had so many new things to play this although they have started writing frighteningly long lists that look more like toy catalogues. However, as we have been doing so much testing - both with friends of ours and without - that I thought I would devote several posts this week to different types of toys. 

Today we're looking at some of the girls' toys that we have been sent. Little girls don't generally build, want to fight or bash cars together so if you're not used to buying for them, it can be a real headache. However, from my experience, they do love role play type things a lot. Missy Woo is very much into craft and making things, as well as a lot of colouring but that could just be an individual thing. 

One of the things that Missy Woo is not big on is dolls. Don't get me wrong, she has them and she says she likes them, but she really can take or leave them. She'll play for a while but I'll then find them left on the floor and doesn't naturally go to them when she's looking for something to do. We are then, perhaps, not the best people to review the Girls Only Emma Doll (£29.99). It's a 50cm doll dressed ready to go out with her friends and carrying a mobile phone. Well. Since we got this doll, Missy Woo has included "real phone" on her Christmas list. It does seem aimed at her age group so it does seem odd to include a mobile phone as an accessory as it does give the impression that it's normal for a child that age to have one (she's been told she's not getting one by the way!). Missy Woo likes to dress and undress dolls but the clothing on this one seems particularly tight and difficult for her to take off or put on. The doll also comes with an audiobook on CD, which has some odd stories where Emma goes online and talks to people which again is not really appropriate for the age. Having said that, Missy Woo has only listened to about half of it and then lost interest. I don't really see the point of the audiobook - I think the makers would be better to focus their efforts on making the doll better - like better clothing and so forth. This is definitely one for the little girl who really likes her dolls, otherwise it is a lot of money to pay.

Next up is the Sylvanian Families Brother at Home Set (£12.99) I am way too old to have played with this myself as a child so it's a new experience for me. This little set includes all the parts for a bathroom - and yes, that means a toilet too! There is also a Tam Tailbury figure, who is a dog. Apparently, he likes to spend lots of time in the bathroom annoying his sister and making her late for school. (Ooookaaaaaaayy!) The detail on this is amazing even at the smaller scale and you can see it's really well made. The little girls that played with this loved it - it was a perfect size for their little fingers and everything worked. I can see why it became so popular with children and adults alike - particularly as it is reminiscent of a more innocent type of toy. I just had a quick squizz at the Sylvanian Families website and the sheer range of characters, families and sets is completely amazing so buying such a set could be the start of a lifelong obsession. This would probably work best as a present to add to other sets, but would also be good as a starter present to gauge a child's interest in the range. My only concern as a parent is what to do with all those tiny little pieces which are bound to end up strewn across my floors. 

And then there is the Strawberry Shortcake Cafe Playset (£34.99). This is a strawberry shaped two storey cafe with a Strawberry Shortcake doll who appears to live above the shop. The set smells of strawberries which is a bit overpowering when you first open the packaging but the smell does subside after a bit. The set is coloured to appeal to little girls in a big way but feels more flimsy and less "real" than the Sylvanian Families set. This did not put off the little girls that played with it one bit. They loved playing with the doll, putting her in the cafe, moving all the pieces around. Again, lots of little pieces to get lost but that means there is a lot to keep them occupied with imaginary play. Overall, the girls gave this a big thumbs-up. As a parent, I would be happy to buy this too as it doesn't require purchasing other sets to be of any use, although other Strawberry Shortcake sets are available.

Come back tomorrow to The Five Fs blog when we will have more reviews of toys - but next time, ones that largely appeal to boys.

(I was provided with the above toys to review and have received no other compensation. The opinions stated here are my own, and have not been influenced by the aforementioned compensation.)
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