Thursday, 30 October 2014

The bird said it! Daddy has smelly socks

S asked for the Little Live Pets Bird Cage toy as she had some birthday money to spend. I have to confess that I didn't expect much from it - even for £19.99 - but we have all been very pleasantly surprised.

The bird we received is a very nice looking green and yellow 'budgie' style - much better than the weird pink one shown on Amazon's page.  In fact, the one that I looked at on Amazon seemed almost 'inflatable' looking.  Can you see what I mean?

However, the cage is nice with a little catch for the door, a food bowl, a little 'stopper' to prevent the perch swinging around if you're taking it in the car perhaps, and on top of that, the perch will hold up to two birds. This, naturally, means she wants another one already *sigh*

The bird has an on/off switch (hooray!) and responds to touch by tweeting cheerily or whistling a tune when it's very happy - London Bridge or Yankie Doodle it seems.  Both girls adore it already and I can see another one of these going onto N's wish list for Christmas (ok, I confess, I've put it there now already).

The best thing about it?  You can record your own things for the bird to say.  Have a listen to our little fun one on the video.

I have to say that this little bird is a super toy for children. It says from ages 5 and upwards but N is only 3 and she works it fine. There are no small parts for younger children to be concerned about so I would say it's great from age 2 onwards personally. Even the teen thinks it's great!  We've been giving it silly stuff to say all afternoon. I can foresee messages being left for the family via bird now!

It's always lovely when a toy surprises you for the better.  This little bird cage certainly managed that.

This review was done because we all had so much fun making the bird say whacky things and, well, just because it's so darned cute!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Ewe'll find it over there

Headed up to see my friend G in Woburn Sands today and, naturally, along with the usual chatting and putting the world to right, it involved so geocaching.  She had found some caches for us to do which involved us driving to the starting point and then walking back to her house to collect her car to collect the first car.  Hope you followed that.  Off we went and parked up in an area called Great Brickhill.  Funnily enough, I'd parked very close to the first cache of the line without even meaning too.  Super!

Fluffy boots changed for walking boots and off we went, heading out about 11am.  Our first of the day was Red 09 - Fallen Tree.  A nice easy spot for us both.  G was collecting the bonus letters and numbers as these caches formed part of the Milton Keynes Boundary Walk which is approximately 65 miles long and contains some 300 caches, split up into sections. She's working her way around it.

Red 08 - Kissing Gate (hey that rhymes) was next.  The cache was laying on the ground right in front of us.  Reading the clue we suspected it had fallen down so tried to put it back where we suspected it should have been.

Red 07 - Even Better Tree took us a few minutes to discover.  There were quite a few possible options but finally G had her hand on the prize.  There were two big rams on the footpath we were to continue on.  Now, cows are something I will avoid like the plague and would rather turn back than cross a cow field any more.  Rams...umm....not sure what to make of this.  G and I did a minor risk assessment and decided we could jump the low fence very quickly if required but hoped we didn't have to put that to the test!  In we went.  They were less than interested to be honest but while she snapped some photos, I hurried past. Well, I could always phone for help if he was stuck on the barbed wire jumping the fence right?  It was at this point also that we remembered that G hadn't got the bonus letter for Red 08.  No way were we walking back so she said she'd email the CO and ask for it and hope they let her have it (she did sign the log after all).

Red 06 - Round the Bend confused us for a moment.  G went into the "Private Land" check from that angle. I was busy picking prickles out of my head as I'd not ducked down quite enough.  Lots of animal burrows around so surely it's not there?  Finally found the right area and the cache was quickly in hand.  I was still picking out prickles.

Red 05 - On the Corner was an easy spot for us but probably not obvious enough for muggles.

Red 04 - Gap in the Hedge was another easy spot for us.  I have to say this isn't a challenging set of finds by any stretch of the imagination but the countryside is lovely.

Red 03 - By the Steps was another cache container just laying in the grass. We signed the log then read the clue to see where it should be.  Absolutely no idea what the clue meant so we just had to put it back where it was as, quite frankly, there was nowhere at all to hide it which seemed rather odd.

We headed down the steps and into another gorgeous wood. Chatting away as we went we suddenly realised that we were walking in the wrong direction.  Oh dear, back we went and spotted another path.  Up the hill we wandered still chatting. Good, the countdown to the next cache was decreasing so we were going the right way now.  Then we got to a gate that was chained and padlocked. Apparently we needed to go through this.  Bugger.  G decided to download another app onto her phone that would give footpath lines for us to follow.  Once we had that, we saw that we had to head back to the steps and cross the field that way.  Off we went, across the field finally and into what seemed to be a farmyard.  Yes, we were chatting again and had missed the footpath sign. Back we went yet again and finally spotted it (some of them really aren't very obvious at all).  Finally back on the correct footpath, we carried on. My feet were beginning to ache just a touch.

Red 01 - In the Deep Dark Wood was now at the point that G had done before so it was just me to find this next lot as we headed back to hers.  It took a bit of reaching but was soon in hand.

We crossed over the A5 and headed towards the Orange section of caches.  First for me to find was Orange 28 - The Bridge.  Gave me the opportunity to sit down for a second. My boots had filled with mud/clay from walking across the field so I got a stick and poked it off. It was like wearing platform shoes by the time I'd crossed the field.  G faired a little better.  Clearly her proper walking boots were a bit better at not collecting everything.  She checked the distance to home and her phone informed her it would take us 1.5 hours. What?  When we set out she had checked the route and it was about 1.5-2 hours then. How was this possible?  Apparently the app wanted us to walk along the A5. No thanks.  Surely it couldn't be that far across country.  Oh well, we'll soon find out.

Orange 27 - The Greensand Ridge involved me climbing onto a rather wobbly fence. I had to give G my stuff as I needed to hold on to a post too.  Fortunately the cache was a simple spot and I did the retrieve, signed and climbed back onto the wobbly fence to return it.

It was at this point that we both noticed our phones were running very low on battery.  No problem, we both have portable chargers!  I plugged mine in. Nothing.  G plugged hers in and it began to charge. She was just telling me how she'd exchanged one of her style chargers before as it kept switching itself off and not charging as...yep, you guessed switched itself off.  It seems my PowerMonkey had been left accidentally knocked on and so it was flat. Bugger.  G persevered with hers and it did start to charge her phone.  Mine was low so she turned hers off and we planned to use mine until it died and then use hers.

Orange 26 - The Quercus was next.  Went to the wrong one a few times before the compass settled and I found it.  We were moving at a bit of a pace now. My feet were seriously aching.

Orange 25 - Smileys did make me smile.  Unfortunately my phone would no longer take photos so I couldn't get one of this.  Easy find though.  My feet!

Orange 24 - Under Buttermilk Wood.  My phone died after I got this one so back to G's to get us home.  My feet...did I mention they ache?

Orange 23 - Black Squirrel was a quick find.  Bag very soggy but cache ok inside. One more to get and we were heading back to G's as my tummy was also rumbling now. It was around 2pm and we hadn't had any lunch of course.

We missed Orange 22 as we had walked past it and by the time G noticed, I really didn't fancy doing any back-tracking. What with my aching feet and rumbly rummy, it was time to go home.  Agreed and off we went.

We finally arrived back at G's house at 2.30pm.  My feet!  I realised today that I missed a few caches we could have got en-route but, quite frankly, we were (a) low on battery and (b) normally nattering too much and walking past these things so saving them for another day was just fine.  I wonder how far we actually walked?

Thursday, 23 October 2014

50% of a Brilliant Weekend

Two of the road-trippers
Last week I had training for the new Key Stage I will be teaching with The Brilliant Club.  I'm off to teach KS3 this time you see so I need to understand more about how this age group learn and how to stretch their knowledge within the remit of the Philosophy course that I will be giving.

As usual, my two friends from Royal Holloway, S & J joined me on the road trip to Hammersmith Academy.  Much chatter went on in the car about the contents of the course and, of course, what would be for lunch that day.  We are students after all ;-)  We arrived in good time, parked up and headed in to coffee and biscuits.

A good introduction in the main lecture theatre kicked off the training and then we went off into our groups to learn. I wish I didn't have the remnants of a rotten cold and chest infection as I didn't feel I was as involved as I'd like to have been.  However, it was all good and I feel I learned a lot in a very short space of time.

The afternoon kicked off with a talk from the leader of the Headteachers' Union who made us all laugh.  Very entertaining.  Afterwards we went off into more sessions to meet up with the new tutors who were starting this time and share some of our knowledge about being a Brilliant Club tutor - good and bad.

I then had to beat a hasty retreat at the end of the day as it was my middle daughter's 6th birthday the following day and I had presents to wrap, cake to bake and balloons to blow up with hubby and the teen once the two youngest were asleep.

I couldn't make the Sunday training as it was the big 6th birthday itself so I'm off for a 'wash up' session next week. I hope that doesn't mean they are making me wash up as a penance for not making the second, surely not....?!

P.S. Lunch was nice

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Anna but no Elsa (do I have to buy one?)

Elsa and Anna dancing
S went to a friend's birthday party on her actual birthday (although it wasn't quite the friends one yet)...if you followed that.

I have to say what super folk these are and to make matters even better, C's grandma had made the cakes.  Aren't they amazing?  Now as you can see, she had not made only a cake for C for her party, but also one for S!  C's cake even has a edible, sugar cape.  Impressive huh?

S had a wonderful surprise when the cake was put in front of her as it was the last thing she suspected.  Naturally huh?  I mean, how many party guests normally get given a whole cake and sung happy birthday to?  Exactly!

Anyway, even better than the very scrummy cake and super surprise that S had actually getting a cake at someone else's party...she now has an Anna from Frozen doll (the clothes were sneakily given to me at the party to hide in my handbag).   She's been very popular since as you can imagine.

She's joined a bunch of Barbie's, Aerial and two Rapunzels (Tangled variety) already in the dolls dressing up box but I have a sneaking suspicion, an Elsa doll is now going to be wanted by N for her birthday. Unfortunately I am not up to the lovely Maderia cake making of C's grandma - I may just have to buy the doll and get a cake from Sainsburys!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Happy Birthday to our gorgeous 6 year old

Wow, 6 years. Where did that time go?  It doesn't seem that long ago daddy held you in his arms for the first time and we brought you home from hospital wearing the cute 'smurf' hat.  Here you are now 6 year old.

You are a bright, loving, kind, happy, wonderful little girl who lifts our hearts every day.

You are thoughtful and caring to your friends (but not always towards your younger sister of course).

You were shaking this morning opening your presents. You were so excited and love your new scooter most of all.  You were very quick to pick up how to scoot on two wheels around the house but don't want to take it outside yet in case it gets dirty :)

Your little face when our local radio station, Eagle Radio, announced your birthday as you were opening your presents. Yes, it was you they were saying happy birthday too.  How cool is that?

Cake is coming soon - your favourite - Betty Crocker chocolate fudge cake with chocolate buttercream icing and Cadbury giant buttons on top.  6 candles of course.

We love you our sweet S.  Happy super-dooper 6th birthday sweetheart.

Friday, 17 October 2014


It's that time of year.  We've done so well with having a super summer and boy has is lasted but when it ended, it kind of missed Autumn altogether and rushed headlong into Winter.  One minute I'm in a maxi dress and flipflops and the next I'm in boots and a raincoat.  Can't complain though.

Trouble with this rapid season change is that it has affected me quite badly.  I've hit a chest infection and a cold at the same time.  I did my best to avoid going to the doctors for four days by increasing my inhaler use (I'm Asthmatic you see) but finally yesterday I caved in and booked an appointment. Glad I did.  I now have steroid tablets  (not good) and some antibiotics in case I start to get wheezy. I've popped those into my medicine cabinet just in case but I am hopeful I won't need those.  With luck the steroids will get me through.  The downside is that I seem to get rotten headaches with them and I bruise easily. Oh well, at least I'm feeling a tad better today.

Coughing and sneezing doesn't help my sleeping. Nothing worse than that feeling when you roll over in the night and everything moves from one nostril to the other.  Poor hubby was like a student last night kipping on the sofa.  At least that way he could get some sleep!

This is not the best weekend to feel unwell.   My head is a fog today and yet tomorrow I am on a training course for The Brilliant Club (leave me a seat at the back somewhere) and on Sunday is S's birthday.  Fortunately we are not doing a party until next month (it's a shared one with N) so I don't have to worry about making sandwiches, etc.  We are off to one of her school friends' party though in the afternoon so that will be nice for the girls. Of course J and I will make a lovely Betty Crocker chocolate fudge cake for her birthday cake as that's her favourite and she asked for one.  Yummy...even if I can't taste it ;-)

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Brilliant tutoring again

My new tutoring look
I'm off to be trained for another bout of tutoring for The Brilliant Club.  I'm delighted to say I have a lovely new school to head off to in Uxbridge (well, more Hillingdon when I looked at the map).  This time I'm going to be teaching Years 7 and 8.

Now, rather than teaching my own subject area this term, I'm teaching philosophy. Yes, I know. I'm going to have to grow and beard, and wear sandals and a toga.  How much fun is that?!

Seriously though, the course is amazing.  I can't imagine how much fun I'd have had at school if a tutor had come in to talk to me about "Can terrorism ever be justified?"  Bit different from maths and English now isn't it!  Don't panic though, these courses are put together incredibly well.

All the pre-designed courses allow the young people to focus their own thoughts and ideas about the subject matter in a university style tutorial.  They have homework and a final assignment to complete, building their knowledge as they move forward.  Discussions are encouraged. Getting you point across and defending it are all part of the experience.   Alongside this are the learning outcomes such as: pupils demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of key concepts and processes and theories; they show contextual awareness and use good examples to illustrate points made; they learn understanding of different ideas and perspectives; and most importantly (I think) they learn how to discuss and debate in a group situation.  See, university style lecture!

As a mum, I know that talking - especially for teens - is not always an easy thing to do. I'm sure if I texted them the lesson, or used Twitter or WhatsApp, they'd be conversing like crazy (I base this example on my own almost 16 year old daughter).  Having a conversation though...pfftt...that's hard work!

Here's a fab video illustrating what The Brilliant Club are all about. If you're a school who fits their criteria - get in touch.  You may get one of us turn up at your door, toga in hand ;-)  Honestly, I'm not on commission (just tea and biscuits at training), I just think this is such a fantastic thing for both us tutors and the schools who join in.

So perhaps now you can see why all of us PhD students or PostDocs need training on how to deliver these courses to young people.  There's a lot to this isn't there.  But what fun they are going to have as each tutor has their own style of delivery and way of engaging the young people.  Last term there were even Roman sacrifices going on in the school grounds. Now, that's what I call fun at school.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Steampunk search on eBay brings out the fetish in sellers

I decided to have a nose around eBay today for some steampunk gear (well, my birthday isn't too far off now).

As you may (or may not) know, the outfits are often quite Victorian in style and corsets are common - mostly over the clothes. So, clearly you'd expect a lot of corsets to pop up.  I do enjoy a good gander round the wonder range of corsets that are made for this alternative fashion.  I know I need to buy the right blouses for it, long skirts, coats, hats, goggles...yes the list is almost endless. Not a cheap style to acquire but a bit of window shopping is good for the soul (or something like that).
Buy me now!

Quite a few of the corsets are shown either as a 'white background image' (see above) or are modelled in the traditional 'catalogue' format by a real person - well real in the sense of someone who is a model and therefore nothing like most of us women who are buying the stuff. But then of course us girls need to see how wonderful these items would look if we were a size 8-10 and had 36" long legs don't we.  I digress...

However, there are some people who have - in my opinion - just got it wrong. Badly wrong. This lady is one example.  Really....what the fuck is going on here?  


Does she realise she's forgotten to model the knickers? Was she so keen to get the image up on eBay that she thought "oh to hell with the fact I can't find the knickers in my drawer, I'll just forget about them" or is she making the point of "I'm clearly not selling the matching knickers".  I don't know. I'm no prude but...really?  She's not the only one.  If you recall when I was looking to sell some bras, similar images cropped up (see here)

Next time love, just lay the corset/basque out on your bed or floor like most other people do or, if you're desperate to show how marvellous it looks on - do us all a favour and buy a mannequin! *shudder*  Suffice to say I've stopped looking on eBay and reverted to some of the better known alternative fashion suppliers.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

What diet?

I have been feeling quite 'lumpy'.  Yes, lumpy. That describes it well. I have lumps. They tend to be around my waist, thighs and man my butt looks more like that of Jo Lo's every day (I wish).  Anyway, I decided to try and diet.  Argh!  The very word makes me feel hungry. I joined Slimming World online.  Should have known that wouldn't work.  I paid my £60 for 3 months membership, bought a couple of books, cooked a couple of meals and....yes, gave up.  You see I struggle to manage on a flat teaspoon of Clover daily as I like a piece of toast or some in my baked beans.  I am happy substituting fry light for vegetable oil and even hubby is now using it when he cooks (that has to be good right?) but I found the rest of it quite hard work.
I'm not a bad eater.  We have lots of fresh veg, chicken (mostly), lamb (sometimes), beef (occasionally) and the odd fish finger (yeah, I know, I'm rubbish with fish).  We eat fruit and yoghurts and the girls and I drink lots of sugar free squashes.  So what was going wrong?  Snacking.  God damn it, those blasted biscuits really do shout loudly when I'm watching TV  relaxing on the sofa in the evenings.  How dare they. I've tried ear-plugs but to no avail.
As I became a bit more lumpy, I started to weigh myself.  My weight could fluctuate a whole 3-4lbs over night.  What?  Was I sleep-snacking?  How is that even possible?  My weight  resembled a yo-yo although going up more than down at know, when the string all gets tangled up.  I digress...
I got to the "too heavy for my liking" point. It seemed no matter how little I ate during the day, my weight didn't budge.  Seemed a diet was the only option but sod it, that's not worked either.
My hubby works funny hours so getting to the gym just isn’t possible for me so all my exercise has to be at home (Zumba and Just Dance) or the occasional cycle out in the day when the girls are at school. I think I need stabilisers again though.  My poor bum too after my first ride.  Blasted racing bike seats.  I've just bought a gel one for next time as I looked like John Wayne for about a week afterwards!
I used to be content and very happy with who I was as a person.  Sadly for me, I once lost a lot of weight (a serious lot-ness).  I felt great then with my bones sticking out but according to everyone else around me, I looked ill.  I guess a forty-ish *cough* woman shouldn't find a size 6 in Next too big for her but hey, that never lasted.  I was soon back to my bouncy size 14.  Trouble is, my lovely size 14 began to feel a bit tight and I know why this has happened. I'm a student see. A full-time student doing my PhD.  Researching - for me - involves huge amounts of time sat on my (rather ample) bottom, at my PC, typing.  I often do this from the moment I get home after the school run to the second I have to run out of the door again to do the pick-up.  I'm at the point of almost falling over when I take my glasses off as I've been focusing for so long and everything goes just that bit blurry when I finally put them back in their case. Bit like a few drinks but without the giggles to go with it.
Student life is therefore useless for my weight.  So, despite having nearly 2 months left of Slimming World, I've not weighed myself for the past 2 weeks and today was another week the email popped up and I just resigned it to the trash.  Instead, I'm cutting down on portion sizes and keeping away from the biscuit packet or bar of Galaxy in the evening and eating a yoghurt or some oranges instead.  Do you know what?  My jeans are starting to feel less tight again already!  Hooray. My wobbly bits are still there but so what, I'm a mum of 3 so I'm entitled to have wobbly bits which I shall wear with pride (I decided that recently) as I had 2 of those 3 in my 40s.  Go me!
I'm beginning to realise I'm not going to be a 'thin' woman now. Hell, I never was as a teenager either. I had boobs, waist and bum.  That's me.  I am happy to be a size 12/14 and stay right there (also for financial reasons as most of my wardrobe is that size!).  I just want to feel a little more toned and less lumpy so watch this space!
P.S. I'm trying a new font. I kind of like it.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Beware...I'm about to use the 'C' word

Christmas! There, I said it.  I like to try and get a bit organised around this time of year as something I have noticed in the past few years is that things tend to creep up in price as the festive season approaches. This is particularly prominent on sites like eBay, Amazon and shops like Toys R Us and The Entertainer (who are the most expensive shop in our town for toys!).

As we all have an Amazon Wish List (yes I even add things for the children), it makes life so much easier. Friends and family can buy us things that we want and vice-versa (most have their own lists too).  Much more sociable than getting some cheap Monsoon perfume that you're never going to use in a million years or yet another men's toiletry bag for hubby filled with brands he's never heard of and never uses.

As well as shopping online, I'm raising money for S's school this year as one of the parents pointed out that they have subscribed to Easy Fundraising. So, whilst buying, I'm helping the school. That has a super good feeling to it.  Double delight at spending for Christmas then.