Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Another sports day, another disappointment

As another school year comes to a close we have the annual events of  sports day and parents' evening. As usual I attend the parents' evening on my own, and always try to get time off work to be at the sports day.  This morning's sports day was held in bright sunshine and I got to see Tall Daughter take part in several races and even though she didn't win she looked like she was enjoying herself.

But along with these events comes the usual upset for TD when she asks her Dad if he will also try and attend. It breaks my heart to see her so upset, but she always hopes he will come. In the whole of her school career to date (and she is now 10 years old) he has never attended a sports day or parents evening - although once he said he would come to the parents' evening and we waited for him at the school for an hour before realising he had 'forgotten'. This year she asked him if he could come and once again she was disappointed.

She told me she had 'phoned him last week "to give him plenty of notice, because he said if he knew in advance he would try and come".

I asked her what he had said.

"Oh, he said he had a list of priorities from A to Z and he just couldn't find time to fit them in."

I said I was sorry, but maybe next year would be better.

She looked thoughtful.  "Hmm.  Where do you think I come on his list Mum?  I think I might be around T."

I wish I could make things better for her.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Orla Kiely: my first designer purchase

I know I rarely write about design (in fact, let me check.....actually, hardly ever) but I have long been an admirer of the Irish designer Orla Kiely  There's something very pleasing about her use of colour and the simplicity of her designs and patterns - I like to flatter myself that they almost look like the type of doodles I find myself doing when my mind is wandering in meetings.

But even though I have spent hours salivating over her designs in magazines and on her website, I'd never come across any of her products in the flesh, so to speak.

This week I happened to be going to an appointment in Liverpool and parked as I normally do at the John Lewis department store car park.  I also happened to have had an unexpected tax refund in my pay the week before.  And as chance would have it I just so happened to pass the accessories department with a range of bags on display.  This unfortunate chain of events meant that I came face to face with my first ever Orla Kiely bags ~ and it was love at first sight.

I spent a good few minutes looking at them before rushing with The Chosen One to the cash desk to make my purchase.  And here it is:

I think we're going to be very happy together.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Hey Fatty Bum Bum

One of the disadvantages of being a single parent is that there are very few photos of me.  Our little family of three means that I am usually behind the camera while I take pictures of my beautiful girls for posterity.

One of the advantages of being a fat single parent is that there are very few photos of me.  I have managed, over the past 7 years or so, to avoid having my photo taken very often.  And if they do get taken it is under my instruction - "just wait till I lift my chins up" - and I get to delete all of the pics I don't like. (Usually most of them)  This means that I've been able to remain in denial about just how big I have become. 

Until now that is.

On our recent jaunt to Los Angeles there was a major problem.  All of the other families had cameras and they weren't afraid to use them, and some even went as far as insisting on group photos! And the horror doesn't stop there, because not only did they take photos of everyone in the group - me included - but they have been posted on Facebook.......

Imagine the horror of seeing yourself properly through someone else's eyes and several times over.  *shudders*

One of the photos was taken at the 20-strong group's breakfast table, with lots of smiling faces and mountains of yummy food, but what appears to be a marquee erected at the end of the table is, in fact, me wearing a white outfit.

In another,  taken late on after a busy day and couple of glasses of wine, my face appears to have taken on the look and texture of a slightly deflated lilo.

I kid you not. 

So, the problem is simple:  I am a big fat blogger.

The answer is not so simple: I need to lose humongous amounts of weight.  It's going to take me a long time, but in the meantime I have decided not to buy any more clothes.  I cannot go on buying bigger and bigger sizes and avoiding the truth.  Plus, I am having more and more health issues related to obesity, and my daughters are worried about me.

This is Day One of I don't know how many days before I reach a healthy weight.  Wish me luck.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Review Round-up: multi-phone charger, shoes and in-car Wifi

We were recently sent an ingenious little gadget - a Family Charging Station for multiple devices including phones, iPods and MP3 players.  It's very neat and keeps all the cables cleverly tidied away in little compartments which means that you're not searching for those elusive phone chargers every time you need them.

We have ours on the breakfast bar and just pop our phones in before breakfast and they're ready to go by the time we leave the house.  Such a simple idea, and I'm kicking myself that I didn't think of it first and get the patent in quick.

A little while ago I  took delivery of a pair of vivid red shoes.  Hotter Shoes is a family run, North-west company who are passionate about shoes that are designed with comfort in mind, and when I looked at their website I was surprised at the range of styles and colours.  I eventually opted for the Starshine in red, and I can vouch for the comfort factor!  I decided to wear these for my early morning walks with Tessie, before changing to go to work.  What actually happens is that I put these on and then realise later in the day that I'm still wearing them.  That's comfort for you, and in my job where I'm on my feet for most of the day that important. 

Yesterday we got to try out the new mobile in-car wifi system - or MiFi -  from 3 Mobile Buzz, who very kindly sent us one to try out along with an iPod Touch, tickets for Camelot Theme Park and some bags of sweets for on the way!   It's about the same size as a small mobile phone and once charged is placed in the car window for maximum wireless connection.
The good news is this:  MiFi is genius.  We had the iPod Touch playing music from Spotify and The Teenager used it for checking emails and looking at the internet - all in the backseat of our car. Actually, if I'm honest nobody else got to use the iPod Touch because we couldn't prise it out of her hands.  I'm just hoping it doesn't go missing before we have to send it back..

We only encountered one problem with the MiFi -we lost our wireless connection for a short while on the M6 strangely enough, although it was fine on the B roads and the M56.  And on the way home we just couldn't get it working, but I think that's down to our idiocy. 
The MiFi is going to be a 'must-have' gadget - there are so many things could use it for: directions, playing your iTunes playlist, checking business emails, you name it.  It's already been described by one blogger as 'the future of mobile broadband' and I'm inclined to agree.

The bad new is this: after a week when we had been to Los Angeles and visited Disneyland and Universal Studios it was a big mistake to visit Camelot.  It could never live up to the other two could it? Ho hum.  Never mind. 

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Lunch with La Belette Rouge

As soon as I knew we were travelling to Los Angeles to attend the launch of the Xbox Kinect I sent an email to one of my favourite bloggers, La Belette Rouge who lives near to LA. I asked if there was any chance of us meeting up whilst we were there, and her immediate response was an enthusiastic 'yes'. 

The funny thing is, when LBR adopted her gorgeous pooch Lily about 18 months my daughters both fell madly in love with her and wanted me to check the blog everyday for new pictures of Lily.  Little did we know that one day we would actually be walking along Venice beach with LBR and Lily! 

Look at Lily with her feathers in her 'do!

I met up with LBR in the lobby of our hotel, and went down to meet her feeling quite nervous - but I needn't have worried as she was so warm and friendly and within minutes we were chatting away like old friends. In fact, she's every bit as wonderful as I thought she'd be. When my girls finally hauled themselves out of the pool and came to meet us downstairs they were excited to finally meet Lily and all five of us took a walk towards Venice beach. We had lunch and the girls fussed over Lily who looked so cute with feathers in her hair!

It was a huge treat to meet up with La Belette, and I'd like to thank her again for driving for an hour to meet up with us.  Thank you La Belette, you're lush!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Our LA Adventure Day 5 ~ The Premiere of the Xbox Kinect

This was what our whole trip was about, and wow! what an incredible way to end the adventure. 

Yesterday afternoon we were taken by coach to attend the launch of the new Xbox Kinect previously known as Project Natal.  We went to a swanky penthouse in downtown LA, and were amongst the first members of the public to actually try out this new level of gaming.  Motion sensors and voice activation scan for movement so a hand-held controller isn't needed.  This means that you actually get to control the game by moving your own body, for instance when I tried out a game of ten-pin bowling I had to move my hand to pick up the ball and then throw it down the virtual alley in the same way you would in real life.  Same movement, same spin on the ball, same results! 

My girlies both enjoyed Dance Central where they were taught a dance step-by-step until they got it right. There were also options to do exercises, yoga and kickboxing, motor racing, hurdling and many more.  Amazingly, with the fitness game a scanner takes a scan of your body and your own body appears on the screen so all of the movements are your own.  There was also a game called Kinectimals where you could 'play' with animals, that was particularly popular with the younger children in the group.

There were about 50 people, mostly families, in the penthouse with us and everyone - everyone - was enjoying playing on the Kinect.  Mums, Dads, grandparents, kids, everyone.  I hear there has been a bit of negative press about it, but from an ordinary person's perspective - not a gaming expert, or a media commentator - this was a level of gaming we hadn't experienced before. So ignore the naysayers - Kinect is amazing fun and we can't wait for it to launch later this year.

After that we went on the see the show put on by Circque du Soleil where they imagined the Xbox Kinect.  We had VIP tickets to the show, and were taken along the red carpet into a lounge to have food and drinks before the show. Then we were ushered to our seats at the front (second row in fact!) and waited for the show to start.

Oh. My. God.  This was so spectacular - truly a spectacle if ever there was one - and we loved it! There were amazing acrobats and dancers, an enormous elephant puppet, drummers, lightshows and animation. The whole thing was just breathtaking.

This whole trip has been the most amazing experience from start to finish. Thank you to Microsoft for making all of this possible and Kerry at Digital Outlook for inviting us on this incredible adventure, and also for her amazing organisational skills.  Really, you are a star!

Not only have we had really fantastic luxurious treatment at the hotel, but we've had great days out, some great food, and lots and LOTS of fun.  But the best part of the trip has been the friendships that have formed.  I'm coming away from here today knowing that I've made new friends for life, and that is something money can't buy.

All images supplied by Microsoft.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Our LA adventure day four ~ Universal Studios

Yesterday we spent the whole day at Universal Studios in Hollywood, a theme park based around their film studios with rides and shows linked to films.  We took in the studios tour and saw many famous sets used in film and television, and most of the group enjoyed the rides.  We also watched the Waterworld show, featuring amazing pyrotechnics and stunts. One of the cast members correctly described it as fitting the whole of the original 3 hour film into an action-packed 20 minute show and it was one of the highlights of the day.

It was a scorching hot day but at Universal they have special mist-spraying fans all over the park which cools everything, and everyone, right down.  It made the heat so much more bearable and we all had a great time.

My girlies on their way into Universal Studios

The Converse crew

Susan Meyer's house from the Desperate Housewives set

One the rides at the theme park

In the evening we all had dinner together - table for 20 please! - and the children all sat together.  There are some real friendships being formed here, not just with the children but with the adults too.  It's been an unexpected bonus to the whole experience.

Today we are meeting up with one of my favourite bloggers, La Belette Rouge, who lives close to where we're staying in Santa Monica.  She's bringing her adorable dog Lily too. Can't wait to meet them!

Later on, we're going to be attending the Xbox Project Natal launch - which is the whole focus of our stay here, and the reason we were lucky enough to be chosen to join this trip of a lifetime.  I'll be blogging about the Xbox event tomorrow morning.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Our LA Adventure day three ~ chill out day

Today was about relaxing. Chilling out. Relaxing by the pool. A luxury spa facial. Sunshine.  The beach. A walk into Santa Monica.  Street entertainers. Shopping. Laughter.  Friendship. Counting our blessings.

Lobster salad by the pool

Our balcony area

The famous posing beach

Man with iguana

The huge bed that I have to climb into

Saturday, 12 June 2010

LA Adventure day two ~ Disneyland

We are so lucky.  Really lucky.  Because not only were we invited on this once-in-a-lifetime trip to LA, but the people we are travelling with are a great group of people.  Imagine this:  you get 20 strangers together, including 8 children, and everyone gets on well together. Amazing huh? The children have all bonded really well, and an outsider would be pushed to identify which children belong in which family as we all look out for each other and the children walk along holding hands.  Well okay, not the boys but you catch my drift. There's also an Italian family with us who were invited by Xbox in Italy, and although we don't all speak the same language (I'm still dredging my memory for the two years of Italian I did) we all get on brilliantly.

And this is what it's all about for the children - and the adults too.  Disneyland in LA, the original Disney theme park and the one all the others were based on.  It has an almost identical layout to Disneyland Paris, so we had a strange sense of deja vu when we first arrived. We walked through the whole park, and most of the group chose to ride on all of the roller coasters - the scarier the better!  The Teenager also did all of the rides, including the huge California Screaming and I had my heart in my mouth when I saw her trembling as the ride prepared to take off.  But I needn't have worried because when she got off she was exhilarated to have done it! Tall Daughter was happier taking in some of the gentler rides, including the teacups, and meeting a couple of the Disney characters.

Last night we slept the sleep of the dead. After our full day of travelling to get here on Thursday and spending the whole of Friday at Disneyland, by the time we got back to the hotel at 9pm we were so tired we couldn't wait to lie down, and when we did we stayed lying down until 7am this morning. 

Of course, room service made everything better by delivering breakfast this morning: strawberry smoothie, freshly squeezed orange juice, bacon and eggs with fried potatoes, two huge fruit plates, fresh coffee, croissants, toast and jams.  That's the life.

I'm already adjusting to living this fabulous lifestyle.  I may not go home.

Friday, 11 June 2010

We're in LA ~ yeah baby!

We've arrived in LA after a very long day travelling, and a big delay at the US customs when they could only muster 4 customs officers to deal with three plane loads of people entering the country.  You'd think they'd be expecting visitors at an airport wouldn't you?

Anyway, everything was forgotten when we were met by the lovely Kerry and whisked off to our fab hotel.  More of that later, but needless to say we're still trying to adjust to the time difference.  After arriving exhausted at 10pm local time, we've been wide awake since 5am and the girls have been completely over-the-top hyper.  I'm expecting a phonecall any minute from someone complaining about the noise level coming from our room!  Oh, hang on, they've now decided to use the (massive) bed as a trampoline...

Later this morning we're off to visit Disneyland - the LA version which is smaller than the one in Orlando, but as Americans don't really do small I'm still expecting it to be fantastic.

So it's time for another shower - in the walk in shower with three heads - or should I try the huge jacuzzi bath which all three of us could comfortably fit into?  Decisions, decisions....

See you later!

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Film reviews: District 9 & Have You Heard about The Morgans?

I had this copy of District 9 for a while before watching it and I kept putting it off for two reasons: 1) I'm not a huge fan of sci-fi films although I liked ET and Close Encounters; and 2) I don't like scary films, and this looked scary to me.

But I'm so glad I decided to watch it because it really is a very good film. The first part is shot with a hand-held camera to give the effect of a documentary and it does feel very realistic. This is Sony's synopsis of the film:

"With stunning special effects and gritty realism, the film plunges us into a world where the aliens have landed... only to be exiled to a slum on the fringes of Johannesburg. Now, one lone human discovers the mysterious secret of the extraterrestrial weapon technology. Hunted and hounded through the bizarre back alleys of an alien shantytown, he will discover what it means to be the ultimate outsider on your own planet."

I was gripped by this film. It's such an original concept, I doubt you'll have seen anything similar and the realistic way it was shot adds to the effects. Incidentally, it wasn't scary although there are some fairly gruesome scenes but is is rated 15 for that reason. It's also one of those films that stays with you and really makes you think about it long after it has finished. Highly recommended.

Did You Hear about The Morgans?
If I'd heard about them I wouldn't have watched this film.  On paper this should have been just my cup of tea; I love romcoms and I like Sarah Jessica Parker. Sadly it didn't work because it wasn't funny, the plot was ridiculous and there was absolutely no chemistry between the two leads - SJP and the way-past-his-sell-by-date Hugh Grant, who is still playing the same character he did in Four Weddings and Notting Hill.  (Note to Hugh:  you're too old, move on.) The best part of the film was when I left the room to make a phone call, have a cup of tea and load the dishwasher before returning to see the final five minutes and the credits rolling.

But hey, what do I know.  Here's Sony's description of the film:
Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker star in this delightful, heartwarming comedy about finding love in the most unexpected places. Two successful New Yorkers, Paul (Grant) and Meryl (Parker), are at their wits’ end on how to fix their strained marriage.

But when they become the only witnesses to a brutal murder, the police hide them away in Wyoming – together. Now these diehard city dwellers will have to survive the weather, bears, fresh air, and forced time with one another if they want to make it out alive. Co-starring Mary Steenburgen, Sam Elliott, and Elisabeth Moss, Did You Hear About The Morgans? is a genuine and funny adventure that will have you falling in love again and again.
You can watch the trailer here.

The blu-rays, trailers and images were supplied by Sony.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

We're going to Los Angeles!!

This time next week the three of us ~ me and my gorgeous girlies ~ will be in LA.  Los Angeles. The city of angels.

I can't believe I actually typed that last bit.  But it's true you see, because we've been invited by Xbox to attend the E3 Expo next weekend, and in order to do that we're being flown out there for five days.  Five days!!   And not only that, but just look at the hotel we're going to be staying at!  Just look at it. Have a look around the bedrooms!  And the hotel is actually, literally on the beach. OMG!

This has all come about because of my very own fairy godmother, Kerry at Digital Outlook. It was through her that we were recently sent an Xbox Elite to use and review, and lo and behold it has led to this amazing opportunity! We've been asked us to attend E3 as part of our roles as Xbox Ambassadors- along with 3 others bloggers who may or may not make themselves known to you.

I had been intending to keep this quiet until the day before we fly out but I just couldn't keep it to myself any longer!  Kerry has been keeping us up to date with other planned activities while we're there too, and I won't spoil it by saying what they are but needless to say we are mega-excited!  In fact we're so excited I'm finding it hard to write without needing to put an exclamation mark at the end of each sentence! The only real danger is the girls are so incredibly excited they may spontaneously combust  before we actually fly out on Thursday.  I'm keeping a bucket of water handy just in case.

But it won't be all fun and games y'know.  Oh no.  Kerry has told us we'll be expected to blog about the trip while we're away.  What a slave driver.  But don't worry about me, I'll soldier on ~ it's a tough job but someone's got to do it.

Watch this space!

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

My first ever organic veg box

On Bank Holiday Monday we spent the day at a local horse show, and one of the exhibitors was an organic veg delivery company.  I've always wanted to get a delivery of fresh organic fruit and veg delivered to my door, but none of them delivered in my area but Riverford do. 

So after talking to Big Al the Veg Man I ordered my first box of fruit and veg, as well as milk and eggs.  I only ever buy organic dairy products so it's a real bonus to get these delivered too, and the milk (unlike most supermarket milk these days) is unhomogenised which means there is cream on the top of the milk. 

In the photo you can see blueberries (which I had to prise out of my daughter's hand and she'd already eaten quite a few); vine tomatoes; mushrooms - just look at those beauties; onions; chard (in the bag) plus underneath is about a dozen apples and a dozen satsumas.  All organic. I was also given a pack of leaflets with recipe ideas and storage instructions, and the service so far has been excellent.  I can change my order week by week, and cancel when necessary.  But so far, I'm really pleased to have found Riverford, my only concern is that we're not going to use it all up, so I'm going to do a meal plan to make sure we do.  I know the fruit will be eaten, but I don't usually buy chard - even though I love it.  I'll let you know how I get on, but any recipe ideas would be much appreciated!