Monday, 30 January 2012


A few weeks ago I wrote about random objects found in children's toys (original post here). The story now continues.

We gave my son some dinosaur toys for Christmas, yesterday my daughter brought one over to me and said "what kind of dinosaur is this mummy?". Well it really stumped me. I'm no dinosaur identification expert, but I was pretty sure that no dinosaurs had ears. It looked like a kangaroo's head on T. rex's body. It was time to call in the professionals. Luckily I have an old friend who is a palaeontologist.

Dave was stumped when I described it to him, so I sent a photo. You can read his response here.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Big Hair

All my life people have commented on how they would love to have thick hair like mine, I would just like to put them straight and say “no you wouldn’t”.

Now, you are all thinking that this is just like a supermodel complaining that she wishes she could put on weight. Someone who has something everyone wants trying to get rid of it. But you don’t know the reality of having thick hair. Oh how I wish I had less hair.

I’ve got so much hair that hairdressers go and get other hairdressers to look in amazement at it. So much hair that hairdressers book me extra long appointments. So much hair that it puts boobles under so much strain that they have been known to give way and ping across the room.

I’m going to let you in on a sight that only my nearest and dearest get to see – me just after a blowdry. I don’t usually dry my hair, it takes such a long time it makes my arms hurt. Luckily my hair only needs washing once a week so I leave it to dry naturally all day on the weekend. It does take ALL day, not only is my hair thick it also appears to be made of sponge! Once it is dry I bring out the GHD straighteners – I don’t know what I did before they were invented, after straightening I almost look like I’ve got normal-person hair!

Has anyone out there figured out how to control their big hair? Help me! 

So here is my secret -  me before (and after) straightening……

Thick hair, before straighteningThick hair, after straightening

Sunday, 22 January 2012

There's a hole in my wall!

The building work has started and I’ve spent the last week feeling like I was covered in a thin layer of dust – everything in the house certainly was. But there is good news on the dust front; the wall is down so the rest of the work, although it will be disruptive, won’t be so messy.  The weekend has been cleaning, cleaning and a bit more cleaning. I started at the top and worked down, there was dust EVERYWHERE. It’s was a good excuse for a proper spring clean.

I’m really pleased with the speed that everything is happening. I never expected this part of the work to be done in just a week. We’ve still got a couple of weeks of fiddly little bits for the builders (plumbing, electrics, plastering) before the new kitchen arrives. Here are a few work in progress pictures so you can see what chaos we are living with:

builders, wall
that wall had to come down and go back up again to make it a supporting wall
The new step is being built - can't wait to be able to walk straight into the dining room


Monday, 16 January 2012

My 10(ish) Favourite Books for Under 5s

Its very important that parents enjoy reading the books that their children like, after all you are going to read them again, and again, and again, and then a few times more! My pet peeves with children’s books are when things seem like they should rhyme, but don’t or when some lines accidentally rhyme. It ruins the flow of reading aloud.

I also object to speech bubbles. These are fine when a child is reading themselves and can see which character is talking, but I prefer the speech to be written into the text, as its not always obvious on first reading where best to say the section in the speech bubble, or if I will be repeating myself to say both the main body of text and the speech bubble. I’m tired, I need someone to come up with a set of rules on how to use speech bubbles that everyone must comply with. Don’t make me do any more thinking than is absolutely necessary.

These books are my personal favourites, and if I read them with passion because I enjoy reading them, then my children enjoy hearing them:

Everything by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

I couldn’t include these books separately as they would take up half the list! These are so easy to read; the text just trips off the tongue. Of course I love The Gruffalo, but Zog and Monkey Puzzle are my favourites.

Who’s in the Loo? By Jeanne Willis and Adrian Reynolds
Another book with easily flowing prose, a little added toilet humour and a penguin having a stand-up wee! Could you ask for anything more?

Big Red Bath By Julia Jarman and Adrian Reynolds
Illustrated by the same artist as Who’s in the Loo? it seems that Ben and Bella from this book are the children trying to figure out why there is a queue for the toilet. This time they have moved across the bathroom and are having an amazing fantasy bath with a host of animal friends. I love the way the rhythm of the book speeds up to the exciting climax of the adventure and then suddenly calms as everything returns to reality.

Man on the Moon: A day in the life of Bob & Bob’s best ever friend by Simon Bartram
The illustrations in these books are astonishing, the same attention to detail (especially in the background) as you would find with Axel Scheffler, but painstakingly painted in acrylic. There is so much to see, it’s a good job I know these by heart, now I can enjoy the illustrations whilst reading.  I also love how what should be an amazing job of being in charge of the moon, is just treated like a normal 9 to 5 job, I mean, why wouldn’t you commute to the moon daily?

You Choose by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharatt
Another of my favourite illustrators Nick Sharatt has crammed this book full of pictures for your child to choose from. You start choosing where you would like to go, from a single illustration the landscape changes from city to mountains, from volcanoes to paddy fields, from desert to seaside and even into space. Further pages let you choose outfits, houses, modes of transport and where you want to sleep. I don’t know of any other book where you could teach your children the names of such diverse objects.

Kipper’s A to Z by Mick Inkpen

Alphabet books are usually so boring, but this actually manages to make a story out of Kipper and Arnold finding things beginning with each letter. My favourite letter is N which features a zebra – and Kipper saying “N is for No Not Now”

Threadbear by Mick Inkpen
This is an adorable story of a worn out bear whose squeaker has never squeaked because he’s too tightly stuffed and has always felt he is letting Ben (his owner) down because of this. Its OK – it all works out in the end!

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
Getting a kite out of a tree becomes rather absurd. A little boy throws his shoe up to knock it out of the tree, but his shoe gets stuck too, so he has to throw more and more bizarre objects into the tree to try to knock each previous item out. When his kite finally frees itself he goes home, leaving a very full tree.

The Tiger who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr
I once heard an interview with Kerr where she was asked if The Tiger who came to Tea was about Hitler (Kerr was a Jewish refugee), her reply was “no, its about a Tiger who came to tea”, I don't think the plot requires any more explanation!

All of the Hairy Maclary books by Lynley Dodd
I love the short lines of prose, leading to rapid, rhyming, rhythmic reading. There are so many characters, but my favourite has to be Schnitzel Von Krumm (with the very low tum) when I read his name I want to get myself a daschund just so I can call him the same.

Alright, thats more than 10, lets call this post my 10(ish) favourite books for under 5s!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

How to hold an Octonauts Birthday Party

My children are both obsessed with Octonauts; it’s very funny to hear a 2 year old say “Octonauts, to your stations”. So when it came round to their joint birthday party (their birthdays are only a few days apart) there was one very obvious theme.

The party was much like any other child’s party, there were balloons, cake and pass-the-parcel. It was just all very underwatery.


I found a picture of the Octonauts online, then used phrases like “flappity-flippers you are invited to a party” and “shiver-me whiskers its at 3 o’clock” to print out my own invites

Octonauts, party decorations

We are very lucky to have a neighbour who has a sister who lives in Sweden, why, well they have an annual crayfish festival, so I was able to borrow lobster shaped fairy lights and paper streamers. Most people won’t have access to such unusual decorations, but it is easy to make crepe paper seaweed and blow up some blue balloons.

Octonauts, party decorations


To enable the children to have a bit of a time out from all the excitement and running around I set up a craft table. We made Octonaut hats and paper plate fish. The hats were pre-cut; so all they had to do was glue on the logo I’d printed and get a grownup to staple the strap on to make it the right size. To make the fish I bought small paper plates in a variety of colours and cut a wedge out of each. The cut where the wedge was makes the mouth and gluing the wedge to the back makes the tail. I then let them go made with stickers and “scales” cut from metallic wrapping paper and glue.

Octonauts, hat, craft
Octonauts, fish, craft, party


Rather than putting sweets in every layer before the Octonauts themed prize everyone got a pirate eye-patch, so they could be just like Kwazii. Make sure you’ve got a few spare in case any break.


Peso, medical bag, Octonauts, party
I found I could go to town on fish themed food; there were so many ideas I found on pinterest I couldn’t make them all. I made each child a party box for their food because we didn’t have enough room for them all to sit around the table so we had an indoor picnic. I bought plain white boxes and then made the Octonauts medical logo to stick on each. This gave each child his own version of Peso’s medical bag. If you want a PDF of the logo that I made click here.

Apart from all the usual party food I made “fish biscuits” (just like the vegimals do) by cutting out my Nanna’s cheese straw recipe with a fish shaped cutter. 

Octonauts party, clam biscuits
I also made clam biscuits, an idea I got from greygreydesigns, I put pink icing on one ginger biscuit, placed a mini marshmallow in the middle and another ginger biscuit on top of that, sticking it with the icing. The eyes are Wilton Candy eyeballs, which I bought online as they don’t seem to be widely available in the UK.

fish, jelly, jell-o

It wouldn’t be a children’s party without jelly and this one didn’t escape the fish treatment. I found this idea on the Martha Stewart website. All you do is cut slits into a set jelly and slide the fish inside. I had to buy the blue Jell-O from an importer of American food on EBay because no UK company makes blue jelly. If you can’t get blue then the Martha Stewart website tells you how to make it from gelatin.


Gup-a, Cake
I went with the GUP-A in the end (after toying very briefly with how I might make an Octopod). I’m only learning how to ice cakes, so the GUP itself is a bit rubbish – but I’m really pleased with the figures. These were moulded from pre-coloured regal icing, and it was a lot like making models from plasticine, only a bit stickier. If you are anti cake making, I would buy a plain cake and then have a go at modelling the characters in icing to go on top, as this bit wasn’t too hard.

Sound the Octoalert - Octonaut mothers – to the kitchen!

UPDATE: Octonaut fans might want to visit this page - my Octonaut Hama Bead designs


I've had so many people contact me to tell me that they've had an Octonauts Party (I even bumped into someone on holiday who knew who I was because of this post!). I'd like to share some great ideas that others have had.

Louise Bridges came up with this idea for the party bags - the balloons contain sweets and come with the instructions 'pop to eat'.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Highs and Lows of 2011

Oh, I’ve been tagged to take part in my very first meme. My immediate thought was The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, taking me back to the first year of my degree. A meme being a thought or a cultural element passed down like a gene, only quicker because you can pass it to people other than your children. So I guess I need to pass this on……

What was your happiest event? Holiday with my family, my mum, my stepdad, my brother, my sister-in-law, my nephews, my niece and amazing April weather
What was the saddest thing to happen? The loss of someone too young
What was the most unlikely thing to happen that actually went ahead and did? Me getting the chance to be properly ill and stay in bed and do nothing. Didn’t enjoy it one little bit!
Who let you down? Friends
Who supported you? My lovely husband, other friends
Tell us one thing you learned? You can polish a cake (will that scare everyone off Purple Mum?!)
Tell us one thing that made you laugh? Dave Gorman (2nd funniest comedian – if you’ve seen his Powerpoint presentation show you’ll get that)
Tell us one thing that made you cry? Loneliness
Tell us three things your children did to make you feel proud? My son speaking, my daughter taking her first tentative steps into reading, my daughter eating cauliflower without coaxing (a MAJOR event)
Tell us one thing that made you proud of yourself? I made a dress that everyone compliments me on
Tell us one challenge you overcame? 2 small children on the train!
Is there anything you would like to change about your life in 2012 I’d like less stressful mealtimes with the kids
So to pass it on here you go What are we doing today mummy and Needles and Pans?

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Build-a-Bear Review

My children we lucky enough to receive giftcards for Build-a-Bear for Christmas, I’ve never had an excuse to go there before, so it was going to be an exciting experience for us all.

For those who haven’t been before, this is how it works; firstly choose an un-stuffed bear and a sound to put in it. The staff will then stuff the bear using a big machine (a bit like a reverse Hoover hose) in which you can see the fluff blowing around in a big tank. They let the kids operate the machine with the foot pedal, but as my kids are quite shy they didn’t want to do this. Then the child chooses a satin heart, kisses the heart and places it inside the bear, before the hole is closed up.

Afterwards you make a “birth certificate” for your bear and choose some clothes if you want. The birth certificate acts to register your bear, which has an identity tag inside. If it is lost (and returned to build a bear) they can return it to you. It’s a bit like microchipping a pet!

Build a bear

My daughter picked a bear with camouflage fur which she has called “Florence”; my son a cream bear which he has called “Punsey” because he thinks all bears are called “Pudsey” after the Children in Need bear, but he can’t say it properly! Neither of them wanted a sound inside their bear.

They are very generously stuffed bears, which makes for a very satisfying cuddle (I have been giving them a squeeze when the kids aren’t playing with them). The kids both adore their bears, but I think they might be a tad young to fully enjoy the experience of making them. They didn’t really understand the birth certificate bit and they were too nervous to take part in the stuffing bit, although they did enjoy choosing a heart. I would think that a 5 or 6 year old would think it was wonderful. They would be old enough to read the birth certificate and brave enough to help stuff the bear.

One thing that had put me off in the past was the thought that I would go in there and want to choose a more expensive bear, but I thought that the cheapest selection of bears priced at about £9 were the nicest ones (sounds and clothes are extra). I did however feel that the clothes selection was either very boyish or very girly with little middle ground. As my daughter isn’t a girly girl there wasn’t much for her to choose from, so we left the last bit of the money on the gift card for another day, she’s going to have a think about what she wants and go back later.

Disclaimer: I received nothing from build-a-bear for this review, the opinions of the experience are all my own.

Monday, 2 January 2012

How not to design a kitchen

In the next few days we will be turning our house into a building site, knocking down a wall and getting a new kitchen. Before the kitchen is ripped out I thought I would take a few photos of how not to design a kitchen.

The cooker is against a wall
This means that I can’t use all 4 rings at the same time, because there is nowhere to put the fourth handle. Also, if I cook on one of the left hand rings, things on the side of the pan nearest the wall cook faster (or burn) because of the reflected heat.

Badly designed kitchen
The section of wall where you can see the paint testers is going to be knocked down
Badly designed kitchen
Due to lack of cupboard space the bread is currently stored on top of the scales!!

Lack of useable workspace
Even though it is a reasonable sized kitchen there is only worksurface along one wall, once you take out the space used by the cooker, the sink, the kettle and toaster, and the washing up it leaves just the space on top of one cupboard to do all the prep. When we moved in we immediately bought a Flytta trolley from Ikea as a temporary (5 year!) fix. (By the way, the photo doesn't do this problem justice, because I'd just loaded the dishwasher).

The non-corner corner cupboard
As our worksurface only goes along one wall I can’t understand why the end cupboard is a corner cupboard. Why do I have to scrabble around trying to find something at the back of the cupboard when there is space to have a door?

Non-matching cupboards and handles
The wall cupboards above the metal table aren’t at the same height as the ones by the window, they have pewter handles when the rest are silver, they don’t have a plinth like the others and the flouncy bit on top of the cupboards (no idea what that might be called) doesn’t continue down the sides (I really hope this kitchen wasn’t put in by a professional).

No draining board and a sink with a thin lip
When our dishwasher broke we didn’t have anywhere to put the washing up – even with towels on the counter the water ran down the front of the doors damaging them. We also have a puddle of water on the counter pretty much constantly, this is because the sink only has a thin edge (the tap is mounted in the work surface not the sink). I think it’s a sink that you are supposed to fit under a granite worksurface, not on top of a laminate one.

Badly designed kitchenHead injuries for anyone sitting on the fridge side of the table
Because of the step into the kitchen (and the placement of the existing cupboards) the only place we could put our fridge means anyone sitting at the table gets hit by the door when it is opened.

I’m actually surprised I’ve tolerated it this long. Good riddance horrible kitchen!

If you want to see how it all turned out in the end the finished kitchen can be viewed here
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