Monday, 21 April 2014

The 'Thon

After my little 5K swimming challenge of a couple of weeks ago - which I finished in the fine time of 2 hours & 15 minutes, I foolishly decided I was up for something else.  So when my lovely, lovely friend and Zumba teacher told me about the Zumbathon (with added Spin people in the corner) she was organising for Autism Awareness, something made me sign up.  I'd like to blame it all on an overdose of Pinot Grigio, but I was stone cold, boringly sober.

Well, somehow, a couple of weeks ago, I found myself in the local community centre, surrounded by almost 100 other likeminded crazy women (and a solitary man, counteracting the oestrogen in the room!) leaping around for no less than 3 solid hours of Zumba, all in the name of charity.  Three hours is a long time.  Three hours is almost two films.  It's more than the Corrie Omnibus, it's more than a Saturday morning shopping trip!  Three hours of anything is a long time, but three hours of crazy jumping around?  Well, that's something else altogether.  We're blessed in Ruth to have an amazing, awesome & energetic instructor, I don't think I would have been able to keep going with just anyone in charge.  But somehow I did.  The people, the cause & the music kept me leaping (with a bit less co-ordination than some!) for a full three hours.  Seriously, I've just got to keep saying that! Three hours!

Part 1 was last year, if you were wondering
Ruth's son was diagnosed with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder when he was three, and he's the inspiration for our efforts.  He's an absolutely gorgeous boy, in his own world of trains and therapy, and Ruth keeps us entertained with tales of his exploits.  No-one knows what his future holds, any more than any of us do, but his journey is going to be a long one as he learns to understand and communicate with the world around him.  Autism is especially hard, as it's such an invisible problem, someone who is on the Autistic spectrum can look no different to anyone else, but their behaviour and interpretation of the world is very different.  That "naughty" child in the shop, on the bus, in a restaurant, they might not be able to help their behaviour, and stares and complaints make things a whole lot harder for them and their families.  Awareness and understanding are massively important, especially as the number of people affected by autism is increasing.  I'm not going to make this a big "this is autism" post, there are many bloggers far more qualified to write that post than I am.

My crazy pink hair, and the amazing Ruth
I've found recently that I'm really enjoying exercise, possibly for the first time ever, and it comes down to finding things I enjoy doing, and having a challenge. I'm easily bored, see, and that's where Zumba helps, because it's fun, it's different every week, and I think I've almost mastered that kind of booty-shaking normally seen on MTV.  Whether or not the latter is a good thing depends on whether you're stood behind me at the time!  In fact, I've decided I enjoy it that much, I've even invested in the Wii Zumba game, so I can shake my booty even if I can't get a babysitter for Squeaky.

Shake that booty
Now, there is a video in existence of us all leaping around at the end of a three hour Zumbathon, but seeing as I was the only person with ridiculously pink hair, I'm far too visible, and none of my precious readers really need to see me in such a sweaty state, so I'll leave it to your imaginations.  However, if there's any spare cash burning a hole in your back pocket, or you've got a lottery win you just don't know what to do with, there's a Just Giving page here, where you can donate to the National Autistic Society, in support of our sweaty, silly, amazing day.

As for the next challenge, I don't know.  It won't be running, I can promise you that, but I'm low on inspiration.  Any ideas?

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Doctor Who Monster Family Day Out

It didn't make it to my Guilty Pleasures list the other week, because there's nothing to feel guilty about, but over the last couple of years, I've become a bit of a Doctor Who fan.  Not so far as to be a Whovian, and way too slow to watch any given episode, seeing as they don't yet show it on Disney Junior, but a fan all the same.  So when we were offered the chance to visit the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff as part of their Monster Family Day Out, we were pretty pleased. I've been meaning to go for ages, since they moved to their new home in Porth Teigr (Tiger Bay to you and me).  Actually, to be honest, the last time I went to the exhibition, it was a room in the back of Longleat House, and was nothing more than a couple of coats, K9, and a shop selling postcards.

Looking out for Daleks
Well, it's nothing like that now.  I shan't spoil the adventure for you, but there's an interactive walk through, lead by none less than The Doctor himself, with Daleks, 3D, and actual adventuring.  It might be a little scary for some small folk, but it's fast moving and the scary bits soon pass.  Squeaky said it was "really terrifying" in places, but I think she's just showing off some new words.  She joined in, and loved the Daleks, no matter how scary they're meant to be.  I wasn't allowed to take photos in that part of our trip, so as not to spoil it for anyone else, but trust me, it's great.

Then, after the interactive experience we moved on to the exhibition.  Squeaky was a bit less impressed with the first half, with costumes and TARDIS controls panels through the eras, but as she doesn't remember any of them, I can kinda understand that.  Upstairs however, it was much more to her taste.  There were activities going on, including face painting,and the chance to make your very own Dalek, lots of other Daleks, TARDISes (what is the plural of TARDIS anyway?) and props to look at, and one Dalek you could even control!

Busy making Daleky-Dalek the Dalek

The one thing that I found a little disappointing was that, aside from one mention of Clara as a Dalek, the experience stopped at the Amy and Rory era of Doctor Who, as if the last year or so, a new companion, and the latest regeneration had never happened.  It would have been good to see a couple of things relating to the current shows, especially for me as a fairly new viewer.  But that's me, isn't it?  For the dedicated Whovian, it would make much more sense.
Lego Dalek

We had a MONSTER fun day out at the Doctor Who Experience, and with the extra activities for children over the school holidays, it's a great choice for a different day out for the whole family.

Disclosure: I was given free entry for myself and Squeaky to the Doctor Who Experience for the purposes of this review post. I was not told what to write and all opinions are my own. Links are provided for convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not receive reward for their use.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Guilty Pleasures

I've got a confession to make.  It's been a bit quiet of late in this little corner of the internet, partly because Real Life has kept me on my toes, and partly because what downtime I have had has been indulgently filled with what can only really be called Guilty Pleasures.  And the Guilty Pleasures on my list have been growing, to the point where it's getting hard to keep up with them.

We all have them, let's be honest about it. Those nights where the kids are in bed, or out depending on their age, himself is elsewhere, and the evening is stretching out ahead of you, with nothing more taxing planned than topping up your glass of Pinot Grigio.  Pinot Grigio, by the way, is not a guilty pleasure. It's a necessity.  If I wanted to feel guilty about the odd glass of wine, I'd've stayed on at Catholic school.

Let me in!!
Well, those guilty pleasures.  First up The Valleys.  Ok, they've got the morals of an alley cat and all the brains of a teapot, but it's addictive viewing. Judge me all you want, I don't believe it's real, but it's pure entertainment.  I've never watched TOWIE, or any of the other "reality" shows, but when these are virtually my neighbours, I can't help myself.  Much as all Welsh people aren't like that, there are those who are, there is some degree of truth to it, and what else is going to happen when you take a bunch of deluded halfwits, ply them with as much booze as they want and drop them in a big posh house in the middle of Cardiff Bay?  (I've actually been to the house, but I couldn't get in.  Probably for the best)

I might have watched every episode in existence at least twice, but I still can't resist a bit of Dog The Bounty Hunter.  If you haven't watched this at least once, you haven't lived. Seriously, what is wrong with you?  Mullets, outsized boobs, crazy footwear, and stunning Hawaiian scenery.  And criminals.  Oh yes, this has to figure. I can't not, can I?  I keep trying to pretend it's educational, that I'm learning about drugs, the American criminal justice system and social commentary.  But really, it's all about the mullet.

But it's not all about the telly.  My guilty pleasures run far further than the Sky remote.  I'm torn whether or not to admit to this, but what the heck, we've all done it at least once...  Frosting straight from the tub. Admit it.  NOW.  Honestly, there is no better comfort food in the world, no matter what Squeaky might claim about mint choc chip ice cream (I can't stand mint choc chip!)

I know I'm not alone in my next guilty pleasure, even if you might have been scratching your head this far.  Meat Loaf.  Not the food.  The large, sweaty, hairy American singer.  (Is there a bit of a theme here?)  If you don't at very least crack a smile at the start of Bat Out Of Hell, you're not alive.  Nothing beats a few cheeky drinks and screaming along to Paradise By The Dashboard Light.  Even better if there's actually a karaoke microphone nearby, but that's just details.

So come on then, people of the internet, admit it.  What do you do when everyone else is out?  NOT THAT!! I don't want to know about that!  The other things, the ones you can talk about in front of the in-laws.  I've shown you mine, now it's time for you to show me yours.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Hot Dogs bite back! With Jungle Dogs

I know I'm boring you, because I'm boring myself, when I start yet another post telling you how Squeaky is what's politely termed a "fussy eater".  Believe me, we have many more creative terms in our house.  Truth is, she's picky in the extreme.  However, one thing she's guaranteed to tuck into is hot dogs.  So when Jungle Dogs got in touch and asked us to try out some of their dogs, we were happy to oblige.

Jungle Dogs are fresh hot dog sausages, kept in the fridge section of the supermarket.  They're smaller than canned hot dogs, just right for smaller appetites.  And most importantly for us, they come in a pack of 6, which is split into two smaller packs of three.  So no need to eat hot dogs for 3 days in a row, no bowl of brined sausages sitting in the fridge threatening to fall out every time you open it for milk.  Simple ideas are often the best, and this is a great one.  The dogs are able to be cooked in a pan or in the microwave - very convenient, though I did find when I microwaved them the ends expanded to look like something a bit ruder than a hot dog!  Made no difference to the flavour though!

Hot Dog, Hot Dog, Hot Diggity Dog!
I was quite impressed that Jungle Dogs are made from 85% pork, with no mechanically recovered meat.  That might not sound too surprising, but I looked at a tin of "normal" hot dogs to discover that they are mostly chicken, and mostly mechanically recovered (i.e. all the nasty slurry bits after the real meat has been taken off for other foods)  Makes me feel a bit wobbly, so Jungle Dogs get a thumbs up from me for being real food.  They taste great to me as well, a bit meatier than canned hot dogs, for obvious reasons.

The Squeaky verdict is obviously all-important.  We tried the hot dogs as hot dogs, in a bun, and they went down a treat.  We tried them alongside pasta (alongside, not mixed in, this is important!), and they went down a treat this way too.  I think we can comfortably call them a success!  In fact, if you want a confession, we ate them all so fast I had to go out & buy some more for these photos, and because Squeaky's enjoying them so much.  They've taken up a regular spot in my weekly shopping list.

A success!
Jungle Dogs are available in the chiller section of most major supermarkets, priced around £1.00 per pack.

Disclosure: I was provided with two packs of Jungle Dogs sausages free of charge for the purposes of this review, I was not told what to write and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for convenience only, I am not a member of any affiliate scheme and will not be rewarded for their use.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Castle Adventures

Raglan Castle
Living in South Wales, we're blessed with a fair number of local castles, in varying states of decay.  So Squeaky & I decided to have a little adventure to one of the castles we haven't visited before, Raglan Castle, in the hope of finding ourselves a brave knight or a handsome prince.  What? A girl can dream, right?

Anyways.  Raglan Castle, somewhere not far from Monmouth, and just off the A40.  Admittedly we went because Squeaky's school homework was to visit a castle & write about it, but I wanted to go somewhere different, rather than the ironworks owner's folly at the top of the road.  But an adventure is an adventure, even if there is an ulterior educational motive behind it.  Right?

Small archer
Pretentious arty moment
We were lucky to have a dry day, not many of those round here at the moment, and the sun even peeked out from behind the clouds for a while, just long enough for us to enjoy a picnic in the fountain courtyard.  We did everything it's posdible to do in the ruins of a 15th century castle.  Climbed to the top of the tower, imagined what it would be like to live in the bedrooms, shot imaginary arrows through the defences, went down into the spooky cellars (including a wine cellar! There was none left, I checked!), took pretentious arty photos through anything with a hole in, and were very glad we didn't have to use the soldier's toilet in the fortifications!
The soldiers' toilet
Squeaky and I came to the conclusion we'd love to live in a castle, but we'd prefer one with a roof and some glass in the windows!  It's just a bit too air conditioned for my delicate sensibilities.  That said, there's a lovely cafe, with free wi-fi.  All mod cons, almost!

Exploring castles can be a dangerous pastime, apparently.
Our castle adventure is linking up with the Coombe Mill Country Kids linky.  Show them some love!  Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

That London!

Post Office Tower - a useful landmark for finding our hotel
We did something amazing recently. Managed to escape La Squeak for a whole weekend & headed off to That London for excitement, adventure and really wild things.

I do enjoy London, all the glitz and sparkle, though there's a bit of me that's glad when I can escape back to my quiet little town in suburbia, and get out of the hustle and bustle. There's something for everyone, I find, and that's what I enjoy the most. 

Carnaby Street
 Carnaby Street is a good way to judge someone's musical age.  It can be the centre of Swinging London of the 60's.  It can be the home of the Smash Hits office of the 80's.  Or it can be "Eh? Where?" if your knowledge of music begins and ends with Katy Perry.

Ducklings in Regents Park

 Having an adults-only weekend means we can walk and mooch about to our hearts' content, no moaning about hurting feet or needing ice cream. We strolled through Regents Park, looking at the gardens and ducklings, wished our bank balance away in the shop windows of Old Bond Street, and took in the randomness of Covent Garden, where I might have slightly got carried away with shopping, just a little bit. Ahem.

The only Easter Egg I want this year
We didn't really make any major plans, and so wandered from our hotel in search of something to eat in the evenings, and happened across a lovely Greek Cypriot restaurant, only a few minutes from the hotel.  For a very reasonable price (even by my standards!) we tucked in to the most tender, delicious lamb I've seen this side of Athens.  And I probably shouldn't mention the sticky cake I followed it up with.  Mmmmmmm!  We could have so easily spent a fortune in an upmarket restaurant, there's plenty to choose from, but by just stepping back one street from the main shopping streets, we found fantastic food at much better prices.

Daddy decided he wanted to see a show, and got himself a cheap matinee ticket to Eric & Little Ern - the Morecambe & Wise tribute showing at the Vaudeville Theatre. That show was totally not my scene, so instead I was all cultured and spent a happy hour mooching the National Portrait Gallery and being amazed by the Andy Warhol picture of Elizabeth Taylor (which is under copyright, so I couldn't take a picture.)  The theatre can be great value in the daytime, the matinee shows are often cheaper than the evenings, and you can pick up tickets from cut-price vendors on the day.  The major galleries and museums offer free entry, though they do ask for a contribution (and give a rather hefty suggested donation), but it's all voluntary, and they offer good value as well as making you feel that you're all civilised and grown up.  (And galleries tend to have good coffee shops as well)

What else did we do?  We found a Banksy - completely by accident.  Though to be honest I was more amused by the comment someone had left alongside it.

We took a tour of BBC Broadcasting House, where we met up with an old friend.  These tours are a whole lot of fun, and you never know if you'll bump into someone famous popping out to pick up a sandwich.  The tours are a really interesting way to see a little bit of what goes on behind the scenes at the Beeb, we even got to sit on the One Show sofa (with a special cover on it, because Alex Jones' bottom couldn't possibly be contaminated by the mucky jeans of a mere mortal!)

I'm still a bit confused by Daleks, to tell the truth.  They're evil and all, but it's even more like an egg whisk, sink plunger & washing basket up close.  The security guard who was hovering somewhere just to the left of this photo was considerably more intimidating.  That's my suggestion for the next series of Doctor Who, forget the Daleks & Weeping Angels, have a terrifying race of security guards who won't believe you that the "suspicious shape" in your camera bag is the magic string that connects the camera to your computer, even when you show them.

And then there was this.  I have no idea why the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square is currently home to a giant blue chicken, but it is.  Your guess is as good as mine.

That's the thing really, the randomness of it all.  There's a London for everyone, whether you're grown up and cultured, a traditional tourist, in need of a good pampering & an expensive meal or a really silly person who spends half an hour going on about Big Blue Cocks.  It's all there, somewhere.