Monday, 24 November 2014

What I've Been Doing- CRAFT!

I know I've been neglecting this blog, well, in a way I have because you haven't seen much action here. However, I have written loads and loads of posts, I have just chosen not to publish them. The problem is that there are so many people with vested interests in the blog these days, many of whom interpret what I write in a way which is different to which my posts are intended that it doesn't feel like a place where I can really talk freely about what it is like 'Being a Mummy' for me anymore.

Alongside this recently I've been tied up with an enormous project: The St Albans Literary Festival. This resulted in a massive festival with over 40 events and more than 1300 tickets sold for the adult events alone. It absorbed all my time and energy and I'm still recovering, given that it was a completely voluntary venture I'm hoping for my honours nomination soon (only joking).

However, one of the things I have tried to do is to reprise my love of crafting. The early years of this blog were full of craft posts, mainly about sewing little dresses or skirts for my daughter and how to do it yourself.  I'd love to move back towards writing a few more posts like those. I really enjoy the satisfaction of having created something from scratch which is useful to the household. Making clothes also ties in really well with my love of historic costume as it allows me to add little historical touches to my clothes or explore how things might have been made in the past. In fact one of my all time favourite and useful history  of clothing books is this one: The Tudor Tailor: Reconstructing Sixteenth-Century Dress
snowflakes in production

Anyway, I set myself a challenge a few years ago to learn how to crochet. After failing at home (who knew you looped the wool around the needle in the opposite way to knitting?!) I finally scraped together the cash to learn and took myself off to one of the lovely Helen's courses. It took a lot of determination, but eventually I got there and I'm now slowly tackling various fun projects such as these snowflakes which are incredibly satisfying to make.

Working out how many snowflakes to make!

I also made up my own little pattern to make Fifi these little fingerless gloves, I'm rather proud of these as I think I can class them as my first fully independent successful bit of crochet.
Fifi's gloves- getting rather well loved...

I then used this bookGeek Chic Crochet: 35 retro-inspired projects that are off the hook
to make the husband a tie. He is rather pleased with it and since it only took one ball of Rowan wool I think its quite good quality for a low price!
The husband modelling tie for work


One of the project I've been working on whilst I've been sitting in the car is this really simple scarf for the boy. He chose the colours himself and decided he wanted some crochet snowflakes attached to it for decorative purposes. It gave me a great deal of joy to give him something he really wanted that I had made for him and was such an easy project that I could knit it up really quickly in the dark whilst stuck in traffic!
A well loved scarf for a 7 year old

Next up I've been meaning to make some of the patterns from this book: Love at First Stitch: Demystifying Dressmaking I thought I'd start easy and use up some of my stash of Amy Butler fabric to make a Clemence skirt. I'm thrilled with the result, especially as its the first time i've ever put pockets into something i've made.


Now I'm on a little roll and I'm going through my fabric stash and furiously knitting things as I really want to have a go at making a crochet blanket. If only I had lots and lots of time!



Sunday, 23 November 2014

Film review: Paddington the Movie

There has been a fair amount of coverage in the press this week past over the rating that Paddington was given. Paddington is a PG, which has had a few people scratching their heads. Darkest Peru's most famous export is also famous for being one of the most gentle children's favourites of the past 50 years. His scrapes with his adopted family, the Browns, his run ins with their irascible neighbour Mr Curry and his friendship with Mr Gruber certainly don't lend themselves to such a high rating, so there was a degree of consternation all round when we were invited to a preview screening yesterday- would the magic of Paddington still remain?

The answer is a qualified yes. All the things that instrincally make Paddington are still there. He's wonderfully well mannered, very well meaning and about as clumsy as a little bear from darkest Peru could be. In order to inject some cinematic "excitement", the film makers have decided it necessary to introduce some mild peril in the form of a cartoon baddie played by Nicole Kidman. She plays a taxidermist who, for reasons that become apparent later in the film, is obsessed with obtaining Paddington and stuffing him. In this sense the plot is as much 101 Dalmations as it is Paddington, and Kidman's part is no less over the top than Cruella D'Villes too.



Fortunately this doesn't spoil the film- Paddington is still Paddington and if you've seen the trailer that features the bathroom sequence (a trailer than sadly continues the trend of showing all the best bits of the film in the trailer), there is plenty more like that. There are a few changes that time and circumstance, or the plot necessitate- Mrs Bird is no longer the housekeeper but an elderly relative who lives with Mr and Mrs Bird and Uncle Pastuzo is somewhat prematurely killed off compared to the books.

The plot itself is pretty simple; Paddington comes to the UK after an earthquake in darkest Peru, the Browns take him in while he looks for the explorer that invited his Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo to visit, Nicole Kidman tries to stuff him and some high jinks occur. It's simple enough that even the littlest of Paddington fans can follow the story but, like all good films, has plenty going on to keep the grown ups equally amused.

The casting is pretty much spot on, Hugh Bonneville's portrayal of Mr Brown is both funny and full of warmth. Unusually for a kids film, the parents are properly released characters with identifiable motivation for what they're doing. But of course the real star of the show is Paddington. He is wonderfully realised as a full CGI bear that interacts with his environment perfectly. How well? Consider this: there is a scene where Nicole Kidman lowers herself down into the Browns house on a winch to try and abduct Paddington. It's a riff on a scene from her ex-husband Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible films (complete with the music) and I found myself shaking my head thinking, "Ridiculous", completely ignoring the fact she was actually chasing an anthropomorphised bear in a duffle coat. He's wonderful and I genuinely don't think he could have been done any better at all. There is also a more subtle use of CGI that's very clever too- the Browns have a mural in their stairwell of a tree and the state of it's leaves alters to reflect the situation- when there's turmoil the leaves blow off the tree, when everyone is happy, the leaves and flowers are blossoming. It's a wonderful touch that sums up the attention to detail nicely.

There are technically a couple of deaths but both are implied rather than directly witnessed. Uncle Pastuzo is flattened by a tree during an earthquake and Matt Lucas's taxi driver is dropped into the Thames bound hand and feet. The first might upset the more tender little ones, the second would require a lot more thought to work through. A large part of the PG rating is down to a frankly hilarious scene where Mr Bond (cross) dresses up as a cleaner to infiltrate the Geographers Guild and ends up having to flirt with the security guard. Bonneville is in his element here and, Paddington aside, he is the best thing in the film in my opinion. To put it in context though, a PG is the same rating as Frozen, which is hardly a terrifying movie but Lego Movie was a U (as was Despicable Me 2), both of which contain a lot more action, so who knows? We certainly had no issue with letting Ned (3 in January) watch Paddington and having seen the film, I feel in no way irresponsible for doing so.

I have to say for me one of the highlights was the costume, Mrs Brown's outfits were perfectly realised and I was completely in awe of her magnificent sense of style. Nicole Kidman's outfits would leave any fashionista green with envy and helped her realise the character she was playing perfectly. Lindy Hemming, Oscar winning costume designer worked on the film and looking up her biography she has worked on some of my favourite films. Maybe I just like her style, but for me the costumes added a lot to the film and helped to realise the characters beyond the script.

In conclusion then, Paddington is a great kids film. It suffers for the emphasised need for dramatic threat that the translation to the big screen entails but it is difficult to see how it could have been done much differently.

Paddington is a PG certificate and is on general release from 28 November.

Playmobil Advent Calendars and introducing Playmohair



I really don't know where the time has gone! One minute it was summer and now its not long till Christmas. With these thoughts in mind I've been on the hunt for ideas for advent calendars for each of the children. I'm really lucky as I get ahead start as we get to try out a new Playmobil Advent calendar each year in our role as Playologists. That means we have a guaranteed brilliant fun advent calendar and I can be a bit mean and make something myself as well which makes them think a little about the religious meaning of Christmas. I think I'm going to write some little poems, tasks and activities for them.

I know which advent calendar they will prefer, by a long way, the Playmobil one. Every single year Playmobil advent calendars have been quite a focal point of excitement in our house with the children running downstairs at the crack of dawn to open the door to reveal another part of their new toy. The days when they get an animal or a new figure have proved the most exciting. To be honest, I'm really excited by them and seeing a little scene slowly build up on my mantelpiece fills me with happy thoughts.

This year we have been gifted Santa's Workshop, I think its the best Playmobil advent calendar yet. I'm almost temped to keep it to myself and the husband as I'm really excited about Christmas this year and I know that if I am, the children will be exploding by the time it comes around. This advent calendar comes with Santa (Playmobil Santa- how fantastic is that?!), an angel, a reindeer, sleigh and some elves. I have to say its taken all my will power not to open it all immediately as there is quite literally nothing I like more than Playmobil animals so the thought of a reindeer to add to our collection genuinely fills me with excitement.
All the individual elements. I CANT WAIT to get the reindeer

I think this Playmobil have the best Christmassy themed toy advent calendars  this year, so if you are looking for something which doesn't contain chocolate (so bad for teeth!) then make sure you check them out. They are also incredibly reasonably priced for what you get.

Whilst you are on the Playmobil website, if you are looking for a super-cool, unusual, Christmas gift for a Playmobil fan whether adult or child then you cant go wrong with Playmohair. This is a really genius idea, basically a woolly hat which is in the shape of Playmobil hair. I love it and its only a matter of time before it appears in the what to buy gift guides!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Book Review: Snappy Birthday written by Mark Sperring and illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson

One day an invitation 
Came to number 24
It was from a next-door neighbour
Who they'd never met before

As soon as I started reading this book to the children at bedtime I knew that I would love the flow of the text. The extract above gives you a flavour. Its a wickedly slightly sinister take on scary neighbours and provides plenty of talking points which we really enjoyed. The basic premise of the story is that the children are invited to a birthday party from a neighbour who turns out to be a crocodile with his own reasons for inviting them. As you can imagine its a superbly written book with lots of style and a great ending. We loved it.

A picture book is nothing without its illustrations and Laura Ellen Anderson has done a superb job with Snappy Birthday producing some stylish colourful drawing which really capture the essence of the story and childhood. I loved the illustrations of the children, in particular their expressions. From this we actually did a little project at home on how to draw emotions on faces, so many thanks to Laura for that!

The paperback copy of Snappy Birthday is out on 15th January from Bloomsbury at £6.99 and is well worth a pre-order. You can find out more here.



Disclosure: We were sent a review copy


Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Book Review: Sir Charlie Stinky Socks The Pirate's Curse by Kristina Stephenson

We first discovered the Sir Charlie Stinky Socks books when the eldest was in year one and he came home with one as a reading book. He was so excited about the book and the way that it made use for the pages having to rotate them, or flip them and the way the text curled around the pages out really captured his imagination. From that moment onwards we became quite firm fans of the series and eagerly await the next book.

This is Charlie's seventh adventure and Sir Charlie sets sail on the Black toenail for an adventure with pirates, mermaids and a man eating monster. There is a very unexpected twist at the end which we loved.

These books are brilliantly illustrated and well written. The one criticism I will make is that they are quite long stories and so they are great for 6+ age groups but a challenge for younger fans to read in one go. This also means that they are fractionally long for a picture book bedtime story with siblings. However, the illustrations are amazing, the stories great and they have provided me with hours of enjoyment reading with one child and sharing my enthusiasm for a story. They really are perfect for that 'one on one' time.

For us, these books marked a bit of a turning point as it was through these books that my reluctant reader began to see a value in books. I think they are perfect for boys in particular and this story is as good as any of the other ones to start with (they are all stand alone adventures). What more could any little boy want; adventure, humour, friendship and pirates!

If you want to find out more about Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the books have a look at the website: www.sircharliestinkysocks.co.uk

Disclaimer: we were sent a review copy

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Film Review and Competition: Earth to Echo

Earth to Echo is an interesting kids film. For starters, it's live action, and in terms of kids films, especially kids films with aliens in them, that's fairly unusual in this day and age.


What's more Earth to Echo a found footage film, like the Blair Witch Project or more recently the sci fi thriller Chronicle. We initially weren't convinced that this sort of format would suit a kids film but surprisingly it lets you get much closer to the action and the reactions of the characters.

In term of plot, the film follows three lads when a mysterious construction project begins digging in their street. Best friends Tuck, Munch and Alex start receiving strange, encoded messages on their mobile phones. Filming themselves and uploading evidence as they go the three embark on a secret adventure to crack the code and follow it to its source. But taking matters into their own hands gets the trio in way over their heads when they discover a mysterious being from another world who desperately needs their help.

The kids carry off their roles pretty well considering their age and the unorthodox style of shooting for a kids film. There's no overacting, that's for sure and for the most part they carry it off well. Clocking in at 100 minutes, the film is just about the right length, balances some very impressive action sequences with that all to rare thing in modern cinema, dialogue.

Earth to Echo makes a good change from usual kids fair, and is well worth a watch.



I have three copies of Earth to Echo on DVD for lucky readers. Just  tell me what your favourite children's Christmas film is in the comments below and fill in the rafflecopter. Good Luck

a Rafflecopter giveaway


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Sunday, 16 November 2014

Book Review: Big City Explorer Written and illustrated by Maggie Li

One of the first pieces of homework my won had this year was to find a city of interest and produce a poster full of facts about it. I must admit, we struggled a little bit with this because we don't have many children's books about cities and the Internet can provide some complicated and confusing information on this sort of thing. We needed something which was pitched at the right level.

This book fills that gap perfectly. Big City Explorer is a guide to 28 cities around the world. Penguin is your tour guide and he takes your everywhere form Mumbai to Washington DC. For each city there are two pages of information and maps which are brilliantly illustrated and provide a real flavour of the place. In fact, its such an enjoyable read that I haven't been able to put it down myself and I'm brimming with facts to rival the most experienced pub quiz goer!

The children have really enjoyed this book and it has found price of place on their non-fiction bookshelves to be read and consulted at leisure. It has been a real joy to catch them learning about various cities when I thought they were watching TV.

I think this is a brilliant book and I will be buying this as a gift for friends and family. The addition of a compass provides additional interactivity and learning opportunities. However, in providing the compass the publishers have had to make the front cover thicker than usual. This is a bit of a nuisance as the book takes up more space on the shelf and also is more bulky when you want to take it out and about. I'm not a fan of books with non-standard covers as they detract rather than add to the experience especially for little hands, making the book heavier and less easy to handle.

This is a lovely book and well worth adding to your collection or would make an ideal Christmas gift for a child.

You can find out more and get hold of your own copy here.

Disclaimer: We were sent a review copy

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