Thursday, 30 October 2014

Creating Hope this Halloween

I try not to get on my hobbyhorse.
But I recently read that, as celebrations go, Hallowe'en is the third most lucrative. After Christmas and Easter.
Oddly this upset me. I like Valentine's. I don't like the idea of spending more on ghosts and ghouls than love.
And whilst I love any cause for celebration and fun.
And I don't like, particularly, where life has taken us with Hallowe'en.
From family time to commercialism.
From remembering the dead, to focusing on the powers of death.

And so, this Hallowe'en we have been organised a Light Party.
With plans moving to reality, I was really pleased to see an email about World Vision’s Halloween campaign for A Night of Hope.

As ideas go, this one has my attention turning a night, now associated with fear, into A Night of Hope for the child refugees of Syria.

And so here's our offering:
Please join in:
• Carve a heart in a pumpkin as a lantern of hope – real or virtual
• Text Heart8 to 70060 to donate £5 (any donations made with be matched)

What will this achieve?
• You will be helping us raise money for schools and educational equipment, to give the children hope for the future
• All the pumpkin pictures shared will be shown to the children of Syria later in the year in a special event for them

There are lots of resources on the campaign page which are free for you to use, including a carving guide and stencils, bunting and pumpkin recipes on the World Vision page.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Everything IS Awesome - Half Term & The Lego Movie #Review

There are fads and then there are the staples.
Lego has become our staple.
From Duplo as toddlers, to Lego and wish lists for Christmas.
And Tom & Seb were lucky to receive The Lego Movie to while away afternoons where the rain has poured.
And give mummy some time to enjoy a coffee before it reached lukewarm.
I have no idea why Lego has gripped their attention so much, in the same way it continues to draw me in to join in the creation game.
But where the children beat me hands down in with their imagination.
The roles they take and where it carries them.
Twins watching The Lego Movie
And so, they embraced The Lego Movie.
The focus of the movie is on Emmet, considered an average mini-figure, is the only one who can save the Lego world from the evil President Business.
For Tom, Seb and Seren, they all love the film, and have been happy to watch it- interspersed with episodes on Ninjago.
For me, I just can't keep focus (probably because my to-do list keeps distracting me), it is such a clever film, there is humour in the film which is lost on younger children, there is wit, there is ultimately a positive message.
And yes, if the children love it, it has a permanent place on our tv unit.

Disclosure: We received a copy of The Lego Movie for the purposes of this review. All opinions and views contained are our own.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Enjoying photography and dreams of the Northern Lights

Since Mr J gifted me a DSLR some years ago, I've known I'm only using a small part of its ability. Auto.
I have been on a photography class at Center Parcs (without said DSLR) where it all made sense, but nothing stuck.
As well as a few 'moving to manual' workshops as part of blogging conferences.
It all makes complete sense. But my brain as basically just responded with "computer says 'no'."
I got to the stage where I decided my brain could not balance the three fundamentals of a manual camera.

Being invited to a blogger session at Chapter Arts Centre for a Transun Photography Workshop was a fantastic opportunity which, in spite of a day's work in Birmingham, was grasped with both hands.

Transun specialise in holidays to see the Northern Lights, so ensuring people can capture their memories is a priority. And so the focus of the evening was around capturing perfect night light images.

Being able to take my camera along was the first bonus.
And, led by Simon from Iguana Photography, it was great to appreciate in real time how the settings changed, and what are safe options, and which can make maximum impact.

Speed, aperture and ISO are the three aspects which my brain has not been able to balance.
Although as neatly captured by Liska, evidence the penny dropped:

The session, focused on night time photography, allowed me to understand the benefit of shutter speed, the ability of the camera to capture as much light as possible. I also discovered from a practical outside session that leaving the focus on auto can work, but not necessarily, so if moving to manual it really is better to go wholeheartedly, and commit.

Fortunately for me, one who does not cope well with failure, this session got lots of quick wins to build confidence. From an indoor demonstration which, by playing with long exposure:
So with your camera adapted to these settings, you can take photographs (think November 5th!) like this:
And then, with positivity bottled, we went outside and tried to capture the Arts Centre, and (after quite a few attempts with my settings) I was proud to see how far playing with the three elements could take me:
 And then, Simon took us one step further in really appreciating the art of night photography:

And, I've walked away inspired, enough- when not photographing my children- to play with manual settings.
I remain a realist. I do not want to compromise photos of my children having experimented with manual settings.
But having the scenery we do on the Welsh Coast, and with Bonfire Night approaching, I really want to take the tips and hints gained and take my gradual steps to manual photography.

And so, what tips did I learn that I really would feel confident passing on? Hmmmm, here goes:

  • For night photography, use a tripod, or anything (pillar, post...) to offer balance rather than relying on your non-jittery hands.
  • ISO is usually the final consideration- play with aperture and speed first. 200 is a stable choice in the first instance.
  • Long shutter speeds will capture more light, but require steady hands.
  • The F.stop is your depth of field, which will get things in focus up front with blurry backgrounds, or get everything in focus, 2.8 gets you a good focus. Less gets the upfront things in focus, higher gets more in focus.
Thank you to Transun and Joe Blogs for organising the event, and to Simon for offering his tips and expertise.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Apology Edition

I am a recluse.
I have become a recluse.
I'm sorry.

This year's just been more difficult in work than I could have imagined.
It means when I come home I just want to embrace my family.
I want to wallow in their laughter, their love, and their friendship.
When I'm feeling strong enough, I love the company of my besties.
And when things are going well I like to go out and meet, and enjoy the company of lots of people.

But sometimes reality brings down its weight, when I least expect it.
And my efforts go back into the battles I would rather not face.
When I would rather hide under the duvet and attempt to catch up on sleep which has been lost forever.

I have periods of optimism, when I think I'm out the other side.
But it's almost a mirage.
As people really do behave in the least expected ways.
And the battles are transformed.
Beyond reason.
Beyond rationale.

One day soon.
One day soon I will look back on this.
I will be in disbelief of how much energy I directed at it.
I will regret not investing enough in myself.
And missing so many moments with friends and family.

But for now.
Please bear with me.
I am rubbish.
I will hide under my covers as much as I can.
I will tiptoe out.
But it may not be enough.
But for the foreseeable, it really is all I have.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Proud mummy- bear with me- it will pass

Being a parent.
I find myself in situations where I don't know how to act, how to behave.
Parents Evening.
What am I meant to ask? What am I not meant to say?
Is there a code to the words being chosen by the teacher.
My daughter is 5 years old, does it matter?
And to be honest.
I don't have the answers to any of this.
This evening was my appointment with Seren's Year 1 teacher.
And it seemed to be more of an introduction than anything else.
Which is probably right, half a term in.
But I did feel the need to ask questions.
I was really proud of how Seren was described in terms of her behaviours.
I was surprised, and not surprised, to hear Seren commended for her artistic and creative ability.
I know this is true of her, but have no benchmark, so it was good to hear this is a strength, and surprising given I don't think this trait is true of Mr J or I.
The remainder of the report seemed to focus on maths, on one hand Seren is undertaking Year 1 maths (speed) and the other she is currently achieving 7/10 and she needs to be at 10/10 (click).
I am sort of ok about this, to be honest, I think Seren is better at maths than I was when I was 7 years old, and I am reassured that she's doing ok.
I asked about her writing ability, I try not to be concerned about every hint that my children might have the same learning difficulties as me, and then Seren presents me with this picture and I can only be concerned (Seren has changed to mirror writing half way through... which is basically how I spent my childhood writing).
Seren's teacher reassured me that I shouldn't be concerned. And even sought Seren's exercise book for me, which she said wouldn't usually be covered until Seren's second parent's evening. She commented that sometimes Seren's writing is messy, but never mirror writing. I felt reassured that it may just be tiredness.
And that Seren's reading ability is fine.

And I am over the moon.
This term, Seren has also been the recipient of an Award twice. And I think- only from my twitter stream- that this is a rarity. To get one is special it would seem.
The Awards are given out, when warranted, on a Friday. They seem to be given out for behaviour traits rather than academic achievement- being kind, helping others,  tidying up.
And to be honest, these are the behaviours that mean most to me in my 5 year old.
Recent experiences seem to show to me that when you are kind, thoughtful and helpful, good things happen. I don't like the idea of 'mean girls'.
And given the horrible world of work, I want Seren to have the opportunity to, one day, find a career which she wants, that offers reward, that she knows what she wants and can be supported in achieving this.
And of course, all of this is written, because of my guilt.

Because in spite of everything she is doing well.
She wasn't breastfed beyond six weeks.
Her mother went back to work full time at six months.
Her parents changed her life by making her a sister to two boys when she was only 22 months.
And then at 30months uprooted her from her home in Yorkshire to Wales.
And her mother obviously favours her brothers.
And can be quite mean to her.
And her mother works a way a lot.
And doesn't remember to help her with her homework,
Or make a packed lunch.

And yet, we rub along.
She forgives me.
She makes me a proud mum.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Planning an office makeover

When we moved to South Wales from Yorkshire we had a particular specification in mind for our new home.
We wanted an office.
Whilst work will not classify me as someone who works from home, I average two of my four days at home, which means some times my four days are working from home.
Sitting on the sofa working is not really practical.
Taking away any family space is far from ideal.
So we were really lucky to find a home that not only has four bedrooms, but also an office.

And common to the rest of the house, it came with the green carpet and, in this case, the light green paint.
And it's been difficult to justify changing, because why would you invest efforts in work stuff when other rooms need improving.
So, Seren's room has been painted pink, the boys have moved to the bigger room and have a Fireman Sam themed room, the spare room has been madeover, the lounge has had wooden flooring and the playroom new furniture.
So, I'm sort of ok with looking to improve my office, as probably a room that has a lot of my time.

And the office has become our (my) dumping ground.
As well as my desk, it contains all of my books, all of my craft bits 'n' pieces... and a chair which I love, but the cats' claws' love too.

And so, this weekend I have started small:
I choose, and purchased paint and wallpaper.
Albeit, I choose the wallpaper first.
I decided, after all of my Pinterest aspirations, I would be inspired by our surroundings, and bringing the inside in, our coastline, I decided on beach huts.
And then considering that I can't afford to replace the carpet, I decided to find a way to compliment (!) the carpet as well as match the wallpaper.
And so Graham & Brown wallpaper met Dulux Paint.
I hope it's going to work out ok:

A coat of paint in, I'm definitely optimistic.
And, of course, I've starting thinking about the furniture which is going to make this room fantastic.

I'm intending to move the bookcases to the corner which has been dominated by storage (aka dumping ground)

And ideally, use the space created to have meaningful storage for my cardboard boxes crammed with craft materials, as well as space for my birthday gift- my Cricut Explore.
And I have found plenty of ideas:

Of course I got carried away, from permanent storage to match the wallpaper, to a new chair to replace my 'three cats loved, and scratched to bits' chair; and something I can use to have my latest project- easily transferred from office to lounge.

And then I started dreaming big.
My new desk, which needs some TLC.
And I have no idea what.
But I would love your advice.
If this desk could become part of my life, how could I nurture it and make it its best?

#LoomtotheMoon with Rainbow Braid

Over the summer holidays we became loom band addicts.
We had tried them earlier in the year, I had got so frustrated with the loom I had wanted to throw it into oblivion.
Fortunately, we had friends to stay, and they taught Seren and me how to loom with our fingers. And we were away!
And it transpired, in the most unlikeliest of suspects, Mr J turned out to be the pro with the loom and the complex designs!
And shortly after we found out about Skye's ambition- to Loom to the Moon.
And after receiving Rainbow Braid's Refill Pack we were over the moon to help.
5400 bands, including lots of clips (although it later transpired that the clips need to be removed to contribute to Skye's ambition).
And the pack includes 18 colours- so there were lots of patterns to make- with solid colours, fluorescents and glitter.
And they were great to loom with- fantastic quality in terms of not breaking and stretching. And colours which added variety to our braids.
Currently, this pack has a 66% reduction, so is priced at £12.90 on Amazon.
So, if you or your children are 'loomers' and you want to make a difference- to celebrate Skye's life- please consider contributing, to what is now Skye's brother's wish, and see Skye's hope to Loom to the Moon realised.

Disclosure: We received a Rainbow Band refill pack for the purposes of this review. All opinions and views contained are our own.
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