Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Museums, half marathons and pizza

Summer often brings days which are difficult to fill – especially if it’s raining, as it occasionally does in Wales – and we’ve come to love the National Museum of Wales for those eventualities. I am always astonished these wonderful facilities are free to enter, which makes for some really good value days out.

Our nearest is the National Wool Museum at Drefach Felindre which guides you through the process from fleece to finished garment. H8 and R6 came away with a keepsake card with various bits of wool they had carded, spun, stitched and woven. We also love St Fagans National History Museum, which has lots of fascinating old houses and buildings to investigate and some enjoyable hands on exhibition pieces inside too.

The jewel in the crown, though, is the National Museum in Cardiff, with its floors of lovely exhibitions and the added bonus of spotting the parts of the building which have been used in filming episodes of Dr Who. H8 and R6 particularly love the Evolution of Wales exhibition – complete with dinosaur skeletons – which charts the development of Wales from the Big Bang to the Ice Age.

We’ll be going there again in a few weeks’ time when I take part in the Cardiff Half Marathon. This is becoming a bit of a family tradition. We book a hotel for the Saturday night before Sunday’s race, have dinner at Pizza Hut – where I can scoff the necessary pre-race carbs and H8 and R6 can pile into the Ice Cream Factory – and then the following day I run while Brian takes the girls to the museum.

Last year it was such a hit, H8 and R6 demanded to do exactly the same this year. The grown-ups, of course, were also delighted to find Pizza Hut has extended its Kids Eat Free offer, which has been such a success this summer.  The offer, which allows children under 12 to eat for free, has now been extended until January 9th 2011.

For every adult main course or adult lunchtime buffet purchased, an accompanying child can choose from either a FREE two course kids’ meal (which includes a drink) or a FREE kids’ lunchtime buffet (which includes pizza, pasta and salad). For more details click here: http://bit.ly/a1DhgJ You'll also find a code on your Pizza Hut restaurant receipt which you enter at the website to get great deals on family activities and adventures including theme parks, zoos, holidays and more.

I can see it’ll be busier than ever with that offer this year. Last year Pizza Hut was full of families getting ready for the half marathon and there was a happy buzz of anticipation as everybody enjoyed pizza and pasta before the following day’s exertions. This year, I am sure, will be every bit as good and we’re all looking forward to it.

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There were never such devoted siblings...

Any mum will know that, when it comes to siblings, there is an order. One arrived on the planet before the other and she knows that.

Take my two. One is the oldest and first and boy does she remind us of this. Actually she mostly reminds her younger sister of this.

"I was here first." She doesn't actually say this (much) but it's in the expression on her face.

Imagine the rare treat of sitting in the front seat of a car. H8 will expect the position of privilege.

R6 meanwhile is a much more laid back character but occasionally just to wind up her elder sibling or just because... she will want to sit in the front seat. So she puts forward her case and wins.

H8 refuses to sit in the car at all.

Eventually, after much persuasion (and a bit of shouting) she will condescend to sit in the rear seat behind her younger sibling.

For the entire journey she is plotting R6's downfall. She would rather the car crash than give up her front seat. She kicks the back of the seat in front of her and scowls.

On the occasions H8 is (triumphantly) in the front seat R6 might sulk a bit, but then being much more laid back she sits behind happily pointing out things of interest ("Ponies!") and making observations ("Mummy are you driving too fast?").

Actually they rarely travel in the front seat - only in Grandma's Micra which doesn't have an airbag and usually when there is a there and a back so they can swap. But H8 is very much aware of precedence.

Which is what makes me uncomfortable about the Labour leadership election. It made me uncomfortable all along.

What were they thinking? One brother or the other but not both.

So the younger sibling got into the front seat and not just the front seat, the driving seat. Is David going to sit behind Ed watching him drive? Or will he be sitting there waiting for him to crash?

It might make for some entertaining politics but I can't help thinking that the trades unions have just shot the Labour party in the foot.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Because I'm worth it

So there we were R6 and I watching the Simpsons on Channel 4 and up pops an advertisement for foundation.

"Everyone's talking about (some roll on foundation stuff)", coos Eva Longoria rolling expensive gunk on to flawless skin.

"No we're not," I yell at the telly. "I'm not." I turn to R6, "are you?"

"Er, um, maybe," says R6. Mummy's off on another rant again.

"It's obviously such rubbish stuff they have to 'enhance it in post production'," I continue. I hate those adverts. How can you believe something is worth parting with your (husband's) hard-earned cash for if it is 'enhanced in post production' or 'styled with lash inserts'. (I read a funny blog about this somewhere...here it is: Very Bored in Catalunya.)

I stomp off in the direction of the kitchen to do what one normally does during the ad breaks - make a cup of tea.

"See so we're not all 'talking about it'," I add as a parting shot, mimicking Eva's accent.

There's a pause from the sofa.

"We're talking about it now Mummy," says R6 with her usual dose of logic, shooting ranting parent down in flames.


Thursday, 23 September 2010

A difficult decision

The horse vet has just been. This is a regular occurrence as Pippin, our 13hh grey mare, had to have a tooth removed eight years ago and that has had consequences since.

Horse teeth never stop growing so her lower teeth grow into the gap left by the missing upper molar. They have to be filed down instead, which is quite normal. At first this was every two years, then annually, now it's every six months.

Today the vet discovered that the plug put into to fill the hole in Pippin's upper jaw is loose as are teeth either side and below.

Pippin meanwhile discovered that even after three doses of equine sedative she could flatten the vet against the wall and stop him annoying her teeth with his rasps. This is quite unlike her normal behaviour - she'll put up with most things - and indicates that her teeth are now causing her pain. This is bad news. The pain is bad news and the fact she cannot be treated at home (or risk damage to the vet or to Brian who was holding her) means she must go to the vet hospital for treatment.

But there's more bad news. Underneath her tail and around her personal area are melanomas. About 20 of them, some big, some small, some tiny. This is not unusual in greys and they must be removed while small.

All of this adds up to a Very Large Bill. But (another 'but' - there are so many 'buts') Pippin is now 20 years old. She's a small Welsh pony of little value now except sentimental. I bought her when she was two years old and I was at university. Mum has ridden her for miles around here and we've broken her to harness. H8 and R6 sit on board (looking tiny) for pony rides. She's a bit of a character, boss of our little herd of three ponies and a definite fixture on the farm. Her age is showing and we had to feed her extra pony nuts soaked in water this summer to put weight back on her because she just can't chew up enough grass.

Can we afford to pay a hefty vet's bill? Simple answer: No.

So we are left with a difficult decision and Pippin is left with doses of the equine painkiller Bute to ensure her teeth aren't bothering her. Even that, at 70p per day, isn't an easy annual bill to face.

We have two options:

  1. Find the money somehow. Pay for transport to get her to the vet (twice) to have her teeth removed and rasped and her melanomas 'harvested' as the vet so charmingly put it. Then spend £500-£1000 on the resulting bills. It's not just a one off either. She will need to visit the vet at least twice a year for teeth rasping and melanoma treatment.
  2. Do nothing. Except for when the vet is rasping her teeth she's fine. We can give her Bute to ease any toothache and we can keep an eye on the melanomas.

Option one will, inevitably, result in euthanasia but delay it by who knows how long. Option two will ensure she's comfortable. We'll monitor her condition and as soon as she deteriorates, it'll be euthanasia.

Perhaps the time has come to admit defeat on this one. Perhaps the time has come to spend the money instead on a younger schoolmaster that H8 and R6 can learn to ride on before graduating up to Itsy (aka The Most Beautiful Pony in The World).

We have up to a week to decide. Such a difficult decision cannot be rushed.

I'm going to sleep on it.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Lego: Just for boys?

My daughters, now eight and six, regularly played with Lego when they were younger. We have big boxes of Lego Explorer, the chunky type brick. Then they passed the age of six and suddenly Lego was 'for boys'. They dismissed it out of hand.

I was really disappointed. I had fond memories of playing with the little Lego bricks when I was a kid. So I scoured the shelves of poor old Woolworths looking for suitable Lego. I found robots and monsters and cars that turned into machines.

I tried the internet and found a nice set where you could build a house and put little flowers in the garden. It was sold out.

I have recently been sent two copies of the Lego Club magazine which is free to Lego-lovers everywhere. Lego Club Jr. for four to six-year-olds and Lego Club Magazine for seven-year-olds and over. R6 pounced on the former and did all the quizzes and puzzles, the colouring and drawing pages and read the story. H8 took one look at the robots on the front of the Lego Club Magazine, muttered "It's for boys. Boring." and went back to reading a book about magic ponies that turn into unicorns.

Even the Junior magazine is a bit 'boy' though. The pictures of readers with their 'Cool Creations' are all boys, the building challenges are for an alien and a sports car and it's chock full of 'villains', 'dudes', 'warriors' and fire fighters.

And it's a shame. When did Lego become for boys only? The front cover of this particular issue features Toy Story 3 with Jessie, Woody and Bullseye which the whole family love. That's not just a boy-thing surely?

I loved Lego when I was a kid and I have, I can assure you, ALWAYS been a girl. A girl who likes cars and used to play with a garage admittedly but a girl all the same. When did Lego abandon us girls and why?

The sad thing is I really want to go to Legoland. We even have handy relatives to stay with a stone's throw away and we pass the signs every time we visit my mother-in-law but my daughters (well mainly H8) won't have any truck with visiting what she sees as a purely 'boy' thing.

I've checked out the Lego online store and there is a large pink brick box aimed at seven to eight-year-olds but it's listed as 'hard to find'. My two would love that. It's got a horse in it (not because it's pink, pink is irrelevant once you're eight). There's also horse jumping and horse stable which my two would also adore (even more so if they featured Bullseye from Toy Story 3) but are these on sale in our local Tesco? No. Argos has those and Playful Puppy, but only online.

Obviously the lack of Lego in my life is entirely my fault. I should have given birth to boys not girls. Tell me though, is it me? Are there Lego-playing girls out there or is Lego just for boys?

Links: Lego Club homepage, Lego Club magazine sign up page, Lego Club Building steps, Lego Club Cool Creations, Lego Club TV.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Go Grandpa!

I had two grandfathers, which is the usual number, although it later transpired that my paternal grandfather wasn't exactly a blood relative - but that's another story.

The were a cheeky pair. My maternal grandfather was already in his 50s when my mum was born, so he was pretty old by the time I came along. He'd spent World War I on the front line as an engineer mending the little train which took food to the soldiers. Every day the Germans shot the train to bits and every day my Granddad - who was called Frederick but known as Jimmy - fixed the little train and sent it back to the front to be shot at again. I remember his cardigans, sitting on his lap shrieking "tickle me slowly" and paper bags full of stripy humbugs.

The other one - Stanley - was our very own Percy Thrower. His garden was huge and bursting with vegetables and fruit. He'd arrive to dig our garden in his old suit, hang his jacket on a garden fork, roll up his shirt sleeves and set to the double digging. In his youth he was an excellent snooker player and behind the wheel of a car he was utterly lethal.

They're long gone now and I have children of my own and they have their own grandpas. Granddad Peter looks after St Anne's Head lighthouse in his spare time, so my two think it's perfectly normal to have the free run of a lighthouse from time to time. Granddad Bob is impossibly tall, ex-army former butler to Lord B, with a handlebar moustache and the bearing of great grandpa Wallace who was in the Horse Guards.

There's a unique bond between grandparents and their grandchildren. There's no need for discipline and often there's a mischievous anti-parent, 'let's see what we can get away with' bond. This is the basis of the BAFTA nominated CBeebies series Grandpa in my Pocket, of which I've just been sent series one, volume two for review (out today with a finger puppet of grandpa, so his young fans can put him in their own pocket).

We hadn't seen this before for some reason but I mentioned it to friends who said it was good. So we watched it and it was. Grandpa is played by James Bolam who has been on my TV since he was a Likely Lad and right up to the present with his New Tricks. He has a shrinking cap which he puts on his head to shrink down to fit the pocket of his grandson Jason.

Grandpa does fun things like drive a toy car, fly a plane and ride on the back of Gordon the seagull. He loves hiding in things and making them look alive to the other grown-ups and he uses his voice to pretend that his Yorkshire terrier Beowulf can actually talk. Jason - and us, the viewers - are the only ones in on the joke and it's really quite fun. Grandpa does quite naughty things really and runs about the house causing comedy chaos - chased by Jason - shouting: "Catch me if you can!"

My six-year-old loved it. My elder daughter stated it was B. O. R. I. N. G. but as she's eight going on 13 so that's understandable. It's gentle and involving. Grandpa helps Jason to deal with things like nerves and he hates it when people are rude, mean or selfish. He's a mini force for good and it made a nice change - sorry H8 - from the relentless onslaught of Tracy Beaker and Hannah Montana.

Grandpa in my Pocket Volume Two DVD is released today RRP £12.99.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Fashionista? Moi?

So there we are at the wonderful National Botanic Garden of Wales enjoying a sunny but chilly September day.

"Excuse me..." says a voice, tentatively in my direction. I'm in the midst of organising kids, husband, table for four and assorted lunch options in the cafe and they couldn't possibly mean me, so I ignore.

"Excuse me," says the voice again, bolder this time and stands up and heads in my direction. A quite a bit younger than me woman, unencumbered by husband and kids and she's looking at my boots. I give her my full attention. "I hope you don't mind," she adds, "but can I ask you about your boots? What brand are they?"

Husband, kids, food get INSTANTLY forgotten. This is a conversation about boots and I L. O. V. E. boots, especially these particular boots that arrived spankingly new and gorgeous in the post* yesterday.

"They're Fitflop Superboots," I say rather too proudly. "Brand new. Only just out. I've only had them since yesterday."

"Can I ask how much they were? They're lovely," she adds.

"£124.99," I reveal while OH winces next to me.

"Oh, that's not too bad," she says correctly.

"That's made your day hasn't it," says OH as I trot happily back to the mayhem of the queue.

Well yes it did make my day. These boots are unique in my wardrobe (where too many other pairs of boots reside) because I pre-ordered them. I've never done that before. That's the sort of thing rich fashionistas do to get their hands on the latest It bag. But these are Fitflop Superboots. I live in Fitflops during the summer and last winter they did wonderful sheepskin boots called Mukluks which cost £150. I dithered over the price for so long that when I finally decided to take the plunge they had sold out.

So pre-ordering was deemed necessary. I ordered them back in August and they arrived yesterday at 2.50pm hot off the press and immediately went on my feet and off to the school run. They are utterly gorgeous and comfortable. Not long before the I-like-your-boots encounter Brian said they look like remedial motorcycle boots. Which they sort of do, but don't. You be the judge!

* Actually it was a delivery man and I'm embarrassed to say he came to my house two days running at the same time and on both occasions clutching Fitflop footwear (Thursdays were a lovely pair of bronze Electras in the sale from Rubbersole.co.uk.) I promised him I wouldn't be buying any more... this week...

Friday, 17 September 2010

Funny Friday

This took place between me and the small but perfectly formed R6 on the way to see the foot physio this morning

R6 (spying a handwritten sign): Ooh look a garage sale!

Me (driving the car, indicating, pulling out of junction, removing coat because I'm too hot, putting on sunglasses, dodging oncoming lorry): Mmm hmmmm.

R6: Oh. It's on Sunday and we won't be here because we'll be having lots of fun at G8's house.

Me (steering car back to the correct side of the road): I could go after I have dropped you off.


R6: How much is a garage anyway?

Saturday, 11 September 2010

9/11 Remember this day

I remember this day so clearly nine years ago. I had finished work early and driven to Tesco.

I parked, got out my shopping list, grabbed a trolley, shopped and came out of the store again. The sky was a vivid blue, cumulus clouds towered above. I remember lifting the tailgate of my hatchback and looking up at the blueness and thinking: That's odd, the planes are turning around. It didn't seem significant, just something slightly out of the ordinary. I thought of Lockerbie, briefly, and then turned back to the task in hand.

I finished unpacking my shopping, returned my trolley, got into the driving seat of my car and switched on the radio. I buckled my seatbelt carefully over my five-months pregnant tummy.

The newsreader was reporting something about a plane crashing into the World Trade Centre. Gosh, I thought, how terrible.

I drove home, switched on the TV and tuned in to the BBC and then CNN. The World Trade Centre was on fire. I telephoned Mum, eyes on the screen.

"Have you any idea what's going on?" I asked her, "An aeroplane has crashed into the World Trade Centre."

"No," she replied, just as the second plane swooped towards the second tower, made an adjustment on its approach and sank fatally in like a knife.

"You need to switch on your telly," I said, "something awful is happening."

We didn't know then how awful but I remember sitting with a cup of tea watching all the news channels alternately. I remember I was watching one of the US news channels, the burning towers visible over the reporter's shoulder, when the first tower crumpled and fell.

I wondered, then, what sort of a world I was bringing a child into.

A funny old week...

I love to do competitions. I've been trying to win a car or a new fridge or cash and so far have won a picnic basket, boules, grape juice secateurs, mugs, bowls, muesli and porridge. This boxful is my latest prize from the Dorset Cereals spin the bottle competition. It contains everything I didn't know I needed for a party and more besides - all from Party Pieces. There's an oddly light canister bottle of balloon helium, a piƱata, sky lanterns, all the plates, glasses, cutlery, jugs, ice buckets and bowls you could wish for - so much! With two birthday parties on the horizon for the youngest members of the household, it couldn't arrive at a better time.

Another thing that couldn't have arrived at a better time are my new running shoes. Lovely Asics Cumulus bouncy clouds of snuggly foot comfort. The increased miles in my Cardiff half marathon training are taking their toll on my legs and back and the bouncy shoes stop me panicking I might not make the distance. Lat week I abandoned running in favour of my bike and went for a 10 mile ride through the Preselis on a gorgeous September day past the hill where Colin Firth filmed the TV drama Tumbledown. Where running can seem like serious grown-up hard work, my cycle ride has moments of sheer child-like joy as I speed down the hills. I came back wondering why I don't cycle more often. Then it rained like it has never rained before and I remember that although I love splashing through puddles on foot, I hate cycling in the rain. I'm an all-weather runner, but a fair-weather cyclist.

This new month brings with it work in the form of commissions for articles for the website Ready for Ten. This is a parent-powered website for parents of six to nine-year-olds and I really enjoy writing  for it. It's making me realise that I prefer to be a writer rather than an editor, so perhaps I should concentrate more on this in the future.

Not so hairy
Really long hair is all very well but it can end up ruling your life so I finally plucked up courage to go for the chop. I've blogged before about hair angst and how I love my long locks but running in the rain, its high maintenance needy nature and the fact that I keep lying on it at night and waking myself up finally got on my nerves. I put myself in the hands of the ever patient Christine who swipes four inches off the bottom. My hair responds by bouncing up into joyful curls and I get a shock every time I look in the mirror.

Thirty-five days left until the half marathon. It's sold out, the website informs me, with 15,000 signed up to take part including little ol' me. Gulp. This is when I start thinking, as I head out on another nine mile run, why oh why oh why....?

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Shell hunting at New Quay

Shells, lovely shells, as far as the eye can see.
Shell hunting
Sea dancers.
Fishy swims in a sandy sea.
Slate fishy.
Twenty minutes past four (in the afternoon).
Love me tenders.
Temporary homes for hapless crustaceans.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Happiness is...

... a Pigloo for two in the sun.