Friday, 28 September 2012

Nanodots Giveaway


Nicely timed to coincide with you all starting to think about your Christmas shopping, those lovely people at I Want One of Those have given me one of their most popular products this year to give away.  Isn't that nice of them? I thought so too.  Pop across to when you've got a minute and peruse their fine array of gadgets and geekery for the nerd in your life.

Back to the product - have you heard of Nanodots?  Described as "Lego for the 21st century", they are sets of little magnetic balls (made from the strongest magnets in the world) which you can stick together to make lines, shapes and sculptures.  You can follow the tutorials on their website or create your own (I made a particularly pleasing outline of a cock and balls out of mine. Mature) or you can just fiddle with them aimlessly because they make an excellent stress toy.  I can't put mine down. We're still talking about Nanodots here.  Minds on the job, everyone.
Before I go any further, I have to state that they are for ages 14 and upwards and should be kept out of the reach of children as swallowing magnets can cause serious or fatal injury, so please don't enter this competition with the intention of winning some for your child.  They are for teens and adults only.

OK, so I have one pack of 64 Nanodots in the soon to be launched purple colourway to give away.  They're worth £16.99 and are currently pre-orderable - if that's even a word - at IWOOT.  Enter below via Rafflecopter (if I can actually work out how to set the thing up, which will be a chuffing miracle as it appears to involve html).  One winner will be chosen at random next Friday - 5th October at 6pm, so you've got a week to get your entries in.

Good luck! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, 21 September 2012

Baffling things my parents used to make us do #1: Make a 'Humpty Dumpty' out of a pair of tights.

I always assumed my childhood was normal - possibly quite boringly so - until I mentioned a few things to my friends, expecting them to say "oh yeah, I remember doing that too" only for them to respond with "what the shitting shit?"  Things like when my dad used to take me out for an hour long drive until we arrived at a trout farm.  We would then go into the trout farm, he would purchase some form of fish food, we would chuck it all in the water and watch the trout eat it. Then we went home.  Until I was about 25, I thought everyone used to go on 2 minute long visits to distant trout farms of a weekend.  Just like I thought that when there was a thunder storm, everyone's mums ran around turning everything electrical off, shut the curtains, lit candles, made everyone wear wellies (lest we got struck by lightening) and started playing the piano and singing at deafening volume to "chase the thunder away".  I was never scared of thunder per se, but I didn't look forward to it as I knew it meant an hour of sitting under the table in darkness, clutching a rubber (US people - I mean an 'eraser', not a condom) in the absence of welly boots, listening to my storm crazed mother bashing out Rachmaninov.

For your delight, I have decided to share one of the crazy things my mother used to get me to do with you today.  You can join in too.  Please do.  I fully expect you to be putting this on Pinterest after you've read it - just set up a new board entitled "sinister looking things to make with the kids" or something.

How to make a Humpty Dumpty Out of Tights:

You will need:
* A pair of tights.  For full child of the 70s/80s effect, you need American tan ones, but I could only locate a holey purple pair.
* Lots of old newspaper.  Note re photo below: Only in my town is a photo of a child eating a sandwich considered front page-worthy news.
* Scraps of felt.
*A hat. The crappier the better.

Lets just bear in mind what we're aiming for here:

It's not looking good is it?

Rip up your newspaper and screw it up into balls.  use these to stuff the legs of your tights.  Small children are good at this, but you may need to redistribute it at the end to prevent Humpty from looking like he's suffering from elephantitis.  

If you've got enough newspaper, use it to stuff the top of the tights to make a body as well.  We ran out so I shoved a cushion in there.

Now get creative and cut out features from felt.  Be sure to choose lurid colours and make them look as macabre as possible for that full late 70s effect.  Tie a knot at the top of the tights to keep all the newspaper/cushions in and top with a foolish hat.  sit the terrifying result on a chair to await the return of daddy from work/some other poor unsuspecting visitor who you want to scare the very crap out of.

Look at my oddball child loving this creepy monstrosity to bits.  He's definitely more impressed than I ever was.  I clearly remember thinking that my mother had lost it, but I'd better be kind and pretend it was good in case I tipped her over the edge.  Maybe Rory's just a better actor than I ever was.


Linking up the the Pin Addicts challenge HERE.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Listography: Top 5 Truths according to women (well, me).

I don't usually join in with Linky things (memories here of my mum shaking her head and whispering "she's not a joiner" to my nursery school teacher), but this one gives me the chance to create my own Manifesto of Great Truths.  Self indulgent.  Satisfying.  Lets do this thing:

1. The day after you finally bite the bullet and deep clean your bathroom, someone will puke in it.  Solution: don't bother.

2.  You can tell a lot about a man by looking at his feet.  Horrible, scruffy, cheap shoes which are falling apart suggest a complete lack of self care and a potential aversion to personal hygiene.  I don't want to be involved with anybody who can't look after themselves, thankyou.  This has nothing to do with only finding fashionably attired men attractive - it's all about the lack of self respect.  On the other side of the coin, any bizarre fashion victim-y footwear points to a self obsessed peacock who also requires your avoidance.  And freakishly long, skinny feet are CREEPY AS HELL AND YOU SHOULD RUN AWAY IMMEDIATELY.  

3.  Don't be a smug parent.  The very second after you say something smug about your child, they will prove you wrong in the most horrible and publicly humiliating way possible.

4.  Eating healthily, drinking 8 glasses of water a day, abstaining from chocolate and going for a run every other morning makes you look and feel amazing.  Finding the motivation to eat healthily, drink 8 glasses of water per day, abstain from chocolate and go for a run every other morning and stick to it for more than a fortnight is impossible unless you a) have an eating disorder or b) don't actually like food.

5.  Pre baby, it is perfectly possible to live a life of glorious harmony with your partner.  Within a few months of giving birth, you will both be masses of seething resentment, and you will have made up an offensive song about them which you sing whenever they leave the house after pissing you off (possibly to the baby - it can't talk yet after all).  Mine is called 'Richard You're a Wanker' and is to the tune of 'Rhythm is a Dancer'.  I am fully aware that he's probably made one up about me too.  I'm fine with that. Whatever keeps the homicidal tendencies at bay.

Do you have any great truths you'd like to share with the world?  Or do you just want to read some more?  Link up with Kate to join it.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Things To Do With your Child: Ice Decorations

I did a fab activity with Rory this morning.  I thought I probably should seeing as yesterday was slack by anyone's standards and we did precisely nothing apart from watching DVDs and eating biscuits. Also, I plumbed new depths of Slumminess yesterday when, on noticing we had no clean cutlery, I gave him one of the free medicine spoons you get in the Calpol box to eat his yoghurt with. Slacker than slack.  Time to redeem myself:

Ice Decorations
You Will Need:

* Water
* A receptacle for the water (I used a cake tin. you could use anything that's OK to put in the freezer - a yoghurt pot, ice-cube tray, dog bowl - whatever)

* A freezer or below freezing conditions outside
*Interesting stuff to freeze into your water.  We used sequins, glitter and beads but the possibilities are endless - buttons, little toys, autumn leaves, wild flowers - anything.  Although not, say, the hamster. Just saying.


Get your child to pour some water into your container, then add whatever you've chosen to it.  For some reason it makes it far more exciting if they're allowed to stir it up. 

Let them suggest things to put in the water then talk about how you're going to put it in the freezer (or outside overnight if you're doing this in winter and it's below freezing).  Ask questions: What do you think will happen to the mixture? Why? Just before we put ours in the freezer, I made a loop out of ribbon and put half of it in the water so it would freeze inside it and make a hanging loop.

When a suitable amount of time has passed - it only took a couple of hours for ours to freeze, but we left it overnight because I wanted to look at it in the morning. You could do this or put it in the freezer before you go out for a few hours and take it out when you come back home - take it out of the freezer and let your child explore what has happened - encourage them to touch the ice and talk about it. Ask why has it turned into ice? What will happen next?  There is so much learning potential in this activity.

It will soon melt enough to be taken out of the container, and what you have then is a beautiful, magical looking ice decoration.

You can hang this up outside (or inside if you haven't thought this through and really want to spend the day mopping up a tidal wave of water and glitter have no other option).  Depending on the temperature, it will melt slowly or quickly and you can observe what happens to it and make predictions.  
On a freezing cold day, these will last until the temperature starts to rise above freezing, at which point they will melt slowly.  I'm already imagining Rory and I making a snowman in the back garden with lots of these twinkling in the trees on a snow day.

A great thing about this activity is that if you put something under the melting decoration to catch the sequins etc you can use them again, plus when your toddler has a screaming meltdown when it has melted and disappeared you can make another one but add different things to it or coloured water or make it different in some other way.  Ooooh - you could do little cut out paper snowflakes suspended in ice - two activities in one!

On that note, it really is time for me to leave this post as I'm showing my true colours (those of a secret early years education geek), and I feel the need to do something slummy to make up for it. Time for a Pot Noodle.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Taking it for the team.

Your love for your child is unconditional.  That goes without saying doesn't it?  You'd do anything to stop them from hurting.  How many times have they been ill and you've wished that you could be ill for them instead?  How many times have you sobbed into your third glass of wine that you'd take a bullet for them? Countless times, I'd imagine, and you really really mean it too.  So did I.  Until today.  Now I'm having a re-think.

We went to the local farm this morning and did the usual sitting on tractors, goat poking etc etc.  Then we went into the huge outdoor play area (which, incidentally, you have to pay £2.50 for, which is daylight robbery).  I was already not looking too hot as a parent due to a) viciously bollocking Rory for running into the path of a go-cart, b) ignoring him while I had a go on the zip-wire and c) allowing him to go on the slides unprotected ("Those slides get very hot in the sun. You'd better tuck his t-shirt in so he doesn't burn his poor little back."  Thanks smug mummy, now I look like a borderline child abuser).

The slides in question are particularly vicious, although this has nothing to do with how hot they get in the sun.  They're set into little hill, very steep and fast and have half metre drops at the end, so kids go flying off them at speed, whizz through the air and land on their bottoms until they're old enough to work out how to move their bodies to land on their feet.  This makes it necessary for a parent to catch them at the bottom when they're very small to avoid injury and crying fits.  Now, I don't know what sort of dodgy plastic they're made from, but catching a small sliding toddler at the bottom of one always results in a static electric shock for the parent, and not just the usual millisecond of buzzing that you'd usually get from static.  No.  They hurt like a bastard, forcing you to immediately let go of your child, and you get little aftershocks afterwards.  Oh how glad I was when Rory got big enough not to need catching at the bottom any more.

But today, for reasons only known to himself, my idiotic son decided to go down the biggest slide head first on his back.  There was no way he'd have been able to save himself at the bottom due to his arms being in the wrong position, and as I turned around to the sight of him pushing himself off the top, I knew we were looking at a serious head injury at the very least.  He was going to land right on his head and at high speed.

I'd like to say that I leapt into action without thinking about it, but even as I shouted "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO" and automatically threw my body onto the ground to break his fall, I was internally wincing and thinking "this is really really really going to hurt."

WHOOOMPH.  2.5 stone of toddler made contact with my body as did the strongest static charge I have ever felt.


I lay there convulsing on the ground, my body spasming with every shock, trying very hard to stop shouting mid-swear so as not to offend anyone even further.  Meanwhile, Rory lay on top of me, convinced I was doing this for his entertainment and laughing his head off.


I managed to get control of both the situation and my poor battered body.  Nothing sobers up a situation like the threat of being soaked in urine (and being told to pack it in by a pre-schooler).

Unsteadily, I got to my feet, helped Rory up and staggered off to get an ice-cream with as much dignity as I could muster, then walked home feeling exactly like someone who'd had their head plugged into a Slendertone belt.

So, I saved my child from a serious head injury or perhaps even death.  I should be congratulating myself on my excellent motherly reflexes, but what I'm actually doing is plotting another trip to the farm - one way in the future when he is bigger and stronger than me and I am old and frail and hopefully a little bit incontinent.  I'm going to go down that slide dressed entirely in man made fibres with a metal prong in each hand and land on him at the bottom.  See how he likes it.  And I'm having a serious think about that bullet.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A wee by any other name...

Rory started pre-school yesterday and I was so cool about it.  He gets a raw deal on here usually as I like to write about him in all his mayhem causing glory, but the truth is that he's actually a cheerful, confident, well adjusted sort who's always super polite and has only had about two half hearted tantrums since the age of around 14 months.  I mean, yeah, he's an evil genius when it comes to thinking up mischief to torture me with, but he's a lovely boy who takes things in his stride, so I knew he'd be fine at pre-school.

He ran all the way there yesterday morning, and went in with a cheery wave.  I was so relaxed about it all that I practically skipped off with glee at the thought of so much uninterrupted time stretching before me.  As I'd expected, I was given a glowing report when I picked him up later on.  Completely painless for both of us.

"Did they have any good cars to play with?"
"They did."
"And did you like playing with the sand?"
"Yes.  It was splendid."  (splendid = Rory's current favourite adjective of choice)
"And did you remember to ask to go to the toilet when you needed to?"
"Yes.  I did a wee-wee."

Excuse me, you did a what?

Wee-wee is not a word that Rory is familiar with.  I've always made a big deal of talking to him like I would talk to an adult (but with much less swearing).  I mean, he doesn't go around saying "Mother, Father, I wish to defecate", nor does he bellow "I NEED A SHIT", but a simple "wee" or "poo" will suffice.  It's not that I particularly mind people using "wee-wee", I just can't bear to say it myself as I don't have an ounce of cute in my body.  I'd feel ridiculous.  So hearing my son come out with this alien word gave me that punched in the stomach feeling - the sort of feeling I might get if someone I thought was my soul mate gave me a teddy as a gift.  Why the hell would I want a teddy?  I even used to throw them out of my cot when I was a baby, such was my disdain for them.  This household just does not do cutesy.

I felt weird for the rest of the evening and I still do now (the fact that I've eaten my way through most of the contents of the fridge is a clue that my mind is unsettled).  My boy isn't going to be my boy any more.  For the first time, outsiders are having an influence on him and I don't like it.  It's nothing against the staff of his pre-school (who seem brilliant, incidentally), it's just horrible knowing that someone can change his vocabulary in the space of 6 hours.  What else will they change about him?  What's going to happen to my confident, cheery, polite little boy?  What about the other kids he'll meet there?  Is he suddenly going to emerge from the pre-school doors wanting to play with guns and fight with other children?  I'm almost scared to pick him up at 3pm today because it feels as though every day a tiny part of him is going to be taken away from me and replaced with a child that I don't recognise.  Not so cool now, am I?

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Motherhood: Airbrushed (in which you get to see some hideous photos of me)

Last week, I had cause to dig out my headshot, which I use to accompany features when I'm writing.  Want to see?

I'm totally hot, right?  Do you hate me?  Well, don't.  For a start, it was taken by a professional (my lovely friend Ian whose arm I sometimes twist into taking photos to illustrate my work).  Also, it is airbrushed to buggery.  Oh, it's me alright, and it's not a poor representation, but the exhaustion and eye bags have magically been whisked away.  It's how a nostalgic ex might remember me when wearing his slightly rose tinted glasses.  It is a far cry from the woman who spends Working From Home Wednesday banging out articles whilst eating a Mr Freezey ice pop and wearing a paint splattered Jon Spencer Blues Explosion hoody and PJ bottoms.  Nobody wants to see that.

Want to see my house now?

Charming.  Utterly charming.  Country cottage?  Ideal Home exhibit?  No. 1950s ex council semi with bits falling off it that generally looks more like this:

The only bit of photoshopping I did on that was the big yellow star to cover up my son's naked bottom.  Classy.

So, what's my point?  Well, that it's easy to put a picture perfect, airbrushed view of your life on the internet for all to see.  I could write a home style/family life blog if I wanted to - you know - all instagrammed cupcakes and charming bashed up painted furniture and barefoot children frolicking in the leaves.  Me And all my ants.  (How hard can it be to remove some ants via photoshop?)  I just prefer not to because, as nice as those things are to read, they don't half leave you feeling like shit about your life.  Because in real life, toddlers draw on cushions with felt tip pens and smear jam down the walls.  They have a crust of unwiped food around their mouths and there's plastic V-Tech crap cluttering up every surface.  And God, Mummy needs an eyebrow wax and her roots doing. 

Now, suppose - just suppose - that the people who write those sort of things don't live like that all the time.  Maybe they have a bit of wallpaper held up with Pritt Stick where their child yanked it off too.  Maybe there's a stain on their ceiling where the tin of condensed milk exploded when they were turning it into caramel on the stove to make millionaire's shortbread (er, just me?).  Because it's incredibly easy to airbrush real life out and only show what you want to these days.

I decided to put this to the ultimate test.  Do I have photographic evidence of me looking the worst I've ever looked in my life?  Damn right I do.  No sleep for 48 hours, 30 hours of serious pain, a heart problem, a chest infestion, losing God knows how many pints of blood all over the delivery room floor, a pair of enormous forceps and  what felt like several hundred stitches.  Yet still someone took a photo of me a few hours afterwards (and made me hold the baby when all I was capable of doing was dropping it).  I wanted to kill them with a stick.

Please don't make me hold the baby. I quite want to die.  I am terrified of the baby.  I don't think there is any blood left in my body, I am traumatised from the pain, I haven't slept and if I could actually stand up without being in searing agony I would do a runner. Also, you are never comning near me again, partly because I'm traumatised (did I mention that?), partly because I've been sliced open and stitched up where one should never be sliced and stitched and partly because I'm pretty sure something prolapsey is happening down there.

Isn't motherhood beautiful?

Now here's what 10 minutes of novice faffing on did for my post birth self:

Here I am, fresh from labouring in a field of wheat. I did a small cough and the baby popped out onto a bed of rose petals.  I have never felt better.  I think I'm one of those earth mother types.  Now, how about some lovely sex once this little one's fallen asleep, or maybe some waterskiing.

Yes, I even airbrushed out my baby's forcep mark.  That's how easy it is to fake a perfect birth.

Cut to about 10 days later.  I had now barely slept for nearly 2 weeks.  I was still seriously anaemic and my face was still a lovely shade of mottled grey.  I don't know when I'd last washed my hair or got dressed.  Richard took this photo of me when I fell asleep with Rory on our bed after feeding him.  I kind of like it because of the cute matching hands on stomachs.  What I don't like is my face and how ill I look, oh, and the unmistakeable shape of a crumpled breastfeeding pad under my top.  (Please note: The relatively flat, stretchmark free stomach is 100% un-airbrushed.  I don't care if you're jealous; I had an awful pregnancy, a barbaric birth and a baby who didn't sleep through the night until he was two and a half.  I deserved that post partum stomach).

It's definitely photoshop o'clock.

Much better.  Yes, I gave my newborn baby a virtual spray tan. What are you going to do about it?

I can even make myself go from 39 weeks pregnant water retaining barrage balloon to flat stomached virgin holding an invisible beach ball with just a few clicks of the mouse. Look:

I hope that has demonstrated to you how easy it is to fake the perfect house, the perfect skin, the perfect life.  Just remember this: If it's that easy to make your photographs put a different message across, it's even easier to lie with words.  What you see (and read and even hear) might not be 100% the truth.  In fact, there might only be 3% truth in it and a lot of artistic airbrushing of the facts.  That style blogger who always looks perfect?  She probably slobs around in an ancient pair of gym tracksuit bottoms and her husband's t-shirt like the rest of us.  The home educator who seemingly devotes her life to the education of her children?  She watched Jeremy Kyle this morning and left the kids in front of CBeebies while she pottered around on Facebook for an hour earlier.  Even the perfect mother you see at playgroup every week who never seems to get anything wrong or have a hair out of place might be struggling with PND or an unsupportive partner behind the scenes.  So take their ideas, friendship and inspiration, but lets leave the feelings of inadequacy well alone, shall we?

And from now on, this is the only sort of photo editing I want to see: