Sunday, 29 April 2012


Squeaky & Pirate Girl had a big adventure today, to see Peppa Pig at the theatre in Cardiff.  They really do make me laugh together, as they're getting older they just riff off each other, and have us all in fits of giggles.  OK, it's a bit like having a pair of insane parrots in the back of the car sometimes, especially when they're having a competition to see who can shout "MUMMEEEEEEE" the loudest and most often, but really, they're just so cute, and absolutely love each other's company.  Letting them loose together in public is a bit of a challenge, they're so fast these days, when we've got all the bags, coats, glowsticks, sweets, merchandise etc that comes with a trip out with 2 year olds!

It's really good for me, as much as anything, to see how normal she is.  There's times where you wonder if your child is particularly naughty, or if you're the only parent ever who can't cope with yet another round of squealing and demanding chocolate, but spending time with another parent and another child of the same age, just reminds you that, yes, they're all like that.  There's only so much of that you get from parent & toddler groups, sometimes you need to see them in a different environment.

I'm loving watching how friendships develop with Squeaky.  She's still so trusting, everyone is her friend.  She only needs to see a playground, and she demands "Me play with me friends", even when there's no-one she knows there, they're her friends regardless.  It's a lovely time of life, when you have no reason not to trust everyone you meet, though it scares me in ways I can't quite put into words.

Here's a couple of photos I took last month when we were in Spain for a week.  Squeaky made friends with a couple of little Spanish girls who were staying in the same hotel as us, and they spent their evenings haring around the dancefloor, getting in the way of the elderly Spaniards ballroom dancing, playing on the machines, and generally having a whale of a time.

The other two girls were about a year or so older than Squeaky, as you can tell from the height difference, and they spoke as much English as Squeaky speaks Spanish (i.e. none), but it didn't stop them enjoying each other's company.  While the trusting nature of children frightens me, I'm slightly envious of how easily they can make friends.  It all gets so much harder as we grow older.

Oh, and for those of you who have been playing the Spot The Squeaky's Clothes game, she's wearing the same dress I found in the NCT sale at the start of last year, that she wore to my friend's wedding reception last summer.  Sadly though, sometime between trying on & packing before we left, and coming home, she had enough of a growth spurt that the dress doesn't do up now!  Seriously, in a WEEK!!  Thank goodness it's car boot season again, we need new clothes!  (I can't blame my clothes not doing up by the end of a holiday on growth spurts, that's entirely down to enjoying the food too much!)

Thursday, 26 April 2012

How Clean Is Your... Beach?

No, I haven't caught a dose of the Kim & Aggies, don't panic. I'm still me.

With the financial climate not looking like it's going to get a great deal healthier at the moment, more & more people are likely to be staying within the UK for their holidays this year.  It's like the 1970's all over again.  We're actually really lucky in the UK, blessed with around 11,000 miles of coastline, according to Ordnance Survey (the map people).  OK, not all of that is accessible, and even that which is, it's not all the white sandy beaches of our dreams, but they're ours, and need our help.  I was lucky enough to grow up on the coast, and spent many happy hours on the beaches nearby, swimming, climbing, collecting shells, and generally being a kid.  I'd like Squeaky to have the same privilege.

My parents still live by the seaside (I moved, boooooo), but in a fortnight's time, Squeaky & I will be off to one of my childhood haunts, Sand Bay, near Weston-super-Mare, to join in with the Marine Conservation Society and their Big Beach Clean Up event, sponsored by Marks & Spencer.  There are Beach Clean Ups going on across the UK over the weekend of 11-13 May 2012, so there's bound to be one near you.  We were already planning to visit my parents, so we're going to their local event, rather than one closer to home (in case you were worried that my carbon footprint would be bigger than the impact of my beach cleaning).

It's been a good while since I've been to Sand Bay, I'm interested to see how time has treated the area, as well as seeing what interesting items we might find on the beach.  Apparently, during a similar clean up event, Marine Conservation Society volunteers found all sorts of things, including a plastic skeleton & a portable toilet!  Not to mention the cans, bottles, and plastic bags you'd expect.

The Marine Conservation Society are making quite a day of it, with children's activities and a barbecue for volunteers at our location, but each location varies.  Take a look at the map and see if there's a beach clean up going on near you (nowhere in the UK is more than 70 miles from the coast, so you stand a chance), and join Squeaky & I in cleaning up our beaches.  If the weather's nice, we'll get an added dose of vitamin D, if not, I'll just introduce her to the delights of a British seaside holiday!

Oh, and I've had confirmation that equipment will be provided on the day, just bring suitably outdoor clothing - wellies/boots, coats & clothes you don't mind getting a bit mucky!

If you can't make it, or you can, but your children can't, why not visit School Of Fish, the children's website for the event? There's games, downloads, "codcasts" (I love that!), and all sorts of info so you and your family can get involved even if you can't make it to the beach.  See you there!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Cybher - 4 weeks to go

Scary, isn't it? 4 weeks time, it'll all be over, I'll be back home, and recovering from a weekend's jaunt to That London for, well, I don't know what really.  I'm feeling unreasonably nervous, considering it IS still 4 whole weeks away, though it's a pretty busy 4 weeks.  And I'm making a list of the things I need to/would like to get done in preparation.

  • Get my laptop fixed.  I am definitely not a techie.  My lappie only has a little problem. That problem is Linux, and I don't know how to do anything with it.  As a result of running Linux & me not having a clue, it's running Firefox 2.something, and most webpages won't let me open them any more as it's prehistoric.  I'm sure it's only a 10 minute job for someone who understands these things, but that someone is not me.
  • Get my hair cut.  Vanity, yes, but it's looking a mess and I really need time to get it dealt with.
  • Choose clothes! Arghh!  This is probably the biggest issue. What to wear? Comfy & Casual, Charity Shop Chic, random mismatched & nearly clean, or quirky but liable to flash too much flesh? Decisions!
  • Work out the logistics of delivering Squeaky to my mum's, attending a beach-clean-up on the Friday morning, and getting back here in time to get the train to London on Friday afternoon. At some point I should try & see Daddy too, I think!
  • Work out how to find the hotel.  I get into Paddington at about 7.30pm, and then have to find my way across London.  Anyone who's met me will know my sense of direction is pretty much non-existent.  I have lost entire motorways before.  This could be a major challenge.  The hotel's directions look pretty easy, but I know me.  (In fact, I'm going to stick them on the bottom of the post for safe keeping)
  • See if anything is happening on the Friday evening, or should I just hold my very own PG Party in my room? PG Tips, Pinot Grigio & Pringles, along with having a TV remote all to myself.  In fact, that idea sounds better by the minute!
  • Grow a backbone.  I DO know people who are going.  I've met some of you before.  I've spoken to far more online.  Let's face it, a few years back, I went to Canada to spend a week with a bunch of Crazy Internet People I'd never met before, I'm sure I can manage a weekend in London!
Right. It looks quite manageable there, and the worries at least slightly irrational.  I'll get there.  I can always get a taxi if I'm completely lost. And I've got friends I can call.  Bring it on!  I'll see you there.

(Directions for finding the hotel. From Paddington – On the underground, take the Bakerloo line southbound to Charing Cross. Exit the station onto the Strand. The Strand Palace Hotel is on the Easterly side of the Strand. Walk in the opposite direction to Trafalgar Square for about 500 metres. The hotel is on your left.)

Cow & Gate Growing Up Milk are sponsoring me to attend the CybHer conference in May 2012.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Beaten to the punch

I'd been having a really good thought this week.  One that was going to make for a fantastic blog post, just as soon as Daddy was on a late shift & I got some uninterrupted keyboard time.  It was going to make everyone sit up and say "Woah, yeah, I hadn't thought of that, but you're right!", and make me the star of the blogging world for at least half an hour, until something else distracted everyone & I slipped back into obscurity.

And then I picked up this week's Radio Times, and found I'd been beaten to it. By the letters page, of all places!  Such are the trials of a part-time blogger's existence.  Still, the post, such as it is, went something like this...

Have you been watching CBeebies recently?  No, I mean actually watching?  Because I've noticed something.  It seems to be getting progressively more & more male-centric.  Where are our children's female role models? Where are the strong female characters?  Let's have a look at an average day's viewing, shall we?  I'm looking to identify the main or majority characters. Where they have no clear gender, I'll mark as Gender Neutral, where there are multiple lead characters and a rough balance, I'll mark as Ensemble shows.  You may want to disagree with some of them, but these are just my opinions. Schedule is Monday 16 April 2012, from Radio Times.  Hidden behind a jump, because it's one heck of a list!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Claudia Morris - Light Up My Life Review

I'm not exactly one of the "young & trendies" any more.  I'd struggle to pick Lady Gaga out of a lineup, unless she had that meat dress on.  That doesn't take away the fact that I love music, but in the words of everyone's dad "music with a tune, not just noise!", and so I'm always happy to listen to something new.

I've been sent a copy of Claudia Morris' new single, Light Up My Life, which is being released later this month in support of Allergy UK, the UK's leading charity dealing with allergies and allergic conditions.  Claudia's daughter suffers multiple food allergies, so the charity is one that is close to her heart.  A donation of £1 is made to Allergy UK for each copy sold, so she hopes that the single will help make a real difference to their work.

I've had the CD on repeat in my car for the last few days, and I honestly do like it.  Claudia's voice is smooth & rich, and the song works well with that.  It reminds of something I can't quite put my finger on, it could just be a slightly retro, traditional feel, and that's cool. The backing is beautiful, it grows and builds with the song, without ever overpowering.  (And at risk of gushing, I like the second track on the cd as much, if not more... but you'll have to get your own copy!)

The simplicity of the video complements the song, and the message, and shows the joy that Claudia gets from singing, and showcasing the extraordinary talents of Claudia and the musical team that worked to make the song a reality.  Have a peek at the video here...

Claudia is appearing live at Pizza Express Soho's Jazz Club Live on Sunday 15th April, Pizza Express, 10 Dean Street, London, W1D 3RW.

The single, Light Up My Life is released on 23rd April 2012.

Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of the CD single free of charge for the purpose of this review. I was not told what to write, and all opinions are my own.  Links are provided for your convenience, I am not a member of an affiliate scheme & will not receive payment for their use.

Friday, 6 April 2012

How smart is your phone?

I've got a confession to make. Until a couple of weeks ago, I had what I politely termed a "stupid phone". The opposite of a smart phone. It could make calls, send texts, take photos, and that was about it.  But when the touchscreen sensors all moved about an inch to the right and I couldn't press half the buttons any more, I decided it was time to join the 21st Century, and got myself an Android phone.

I'm still learning the ins & outs of having a phone that can do more than my first computer could.  (To tell the truth, it can probably do more than my current computer, as soon as I download a spider solitaire app!)  To help me, I've added Evi.

Evi is an artificial intelligence app that takes the hassle out of searching.  The artificial intelligence reviews and learns from information gathered in searches, giving you more accurate & useful results, and compares facts to derive new information.  You can feed back into the database if you think an answer was particularly useful, or if it didn't return what you were hoping for, which means that future answers will be all the more accurate as Evi learns from her hits & misses.

Click to enlarge
Ask Evi where to go for a coffee, and she'll use GPS information from your phone to work out where you are, and then give you a list of nearby coffee shops, with their addresses and contact details. Evi understands natural language too.  If you fancy a coffee, with a traditional search engine, you'd need to search "Coffee shops in Merthyr Tydfil", with Evi I can just say "I need a coffee", and interact with her as though I was talking to a friend.  She talks back, search results are shown on screen, and read aloud (if Evi finds a list, she reads back the reply, not the whole list) Bear in mind though, that like any "find my nearest" type app, Evi can only find places that have registered with one or more online directory. She can't see that nice new shop round the corner that just opened last week & isn't listed anywhere.  You could tell her about it though.

According to Evi HQ, around 250,000 of her users have been asking Easter related questions recently, and Evi has put together a top ten list of Easter Egg recipes, including Easter Egg popcorn balls, Easter Egg bread, and my favourite, Caramel Easter Egg Muffins.  Oh my, I feel a spot of baking coming on.  Evi has got loads of recipes at her virtual fingertips, and will even make suggestions of what to try - I asked her for an omlette filling, and she suggested a lovely sounding ricotta filling, which I'm dying to try out after I've done the shopping.

If you're stuck for ideas to entertain the family over the Easter break, Evi is a fab source of ideas.  You could make me some of those muffins (hint, hint!) or loads of other tasty treats, or ask her for nearby easter egg hunts, craft ideas for your easter egg boxes and tinfoil, or just the nearest place to buy some headache tablets.

In case you're wondering, Evi can't tell you who will win Britain's Got Talent.  In her own words, she can't see into the future.  So that's my money-making scheme down the drain.  But she's answered almost all the rest of my questions, I finally stumped her with "Why is Davina McCall so annoying?"

Evi is free to download for Android phones from Google Play (the new name for the Android Market), or 69p for iPhones from the App Store, and was developed by Cambridge-based True Knowledge.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Toddlers have got a lot on their plates!

Well, actually, Squeaky hasn't today.  Our conversations today have gone like this:
What do you want for lunch, Squeaky?
Not cake. Would you like some fishcake?
Cake AFTER. Would you like to try some fishcake, please?
Chips and sauce!
And fishcake, please.

(She did eventually eat some of her fishcake, and I ate all of mine.)

The Toddler Census found that 78% of parents think their toddlers nutritional needs will be met if they eat the same meals as the rest of the family.  But the reality is, our toddlers' nutritional needs are quite different to our own. Pound for pound, toddlers need nearly three times as much energy from food as adults, more than 4 times more iron & vitamin C, about 3 times as much calcium, zinc & vitamin A, more fat and less salt than in an adult's diet.  And when your toddler decides that all they want to eat today is cake, that's hard to achieve.

To put it another way, to keep up with the amount of growing, learning & developing our toddlers do between the ages of 12 months - 3 years, if they were adult sized, their daily diet would need to be about 7000 calories, rather than the 2000 of a "normal" adult diet.  Or...

Click to enlarge
4 bowls of cereal
4 bananas
3 apples
2 cheese sandwiches
8 cereal bars
4 slices of bread & butter
3 portions of fish
3 portions of rice
5 full fat yogurts
nearly 2 pints of Growing Up Milk
And a partridge in a pear tree!

(Only joking about that last one!).  I feel full just looking at that list.  Stick a pepperoni pizza, a bacon sarnie and a few dozen cups of coffee in there & I'd be done for the week!

The same research showed that more than 29% of toddlers have refused to eat healthy foods (and I didn't know Squeaky had taken the questionnaire!), and why more than 16% of parents find cooking different foods for their toddlers stressful & worrying.  I know there are days when it would be so much easier to just give in to Squeaky's demands for toast, cake, chips & sauce, but she doesn't understand what her body needs to keep her fuelled for throwing herself down slides, chasing boys and singing Row Row Row Your Boat.

That's where Growing Up Milk comes in.  Knowing that 2 beakers of Growing Up Milk a day will help to meet her needs, with added vitamins A, C & D, calcium, iron & omega 3 means I can rest a little easier.  It's not a substitute for a balanced diet, but it helps even things out.

There's loads more information at on toddlers' nutritional needs, and hints & tips on dealing with fussy eaters.  Do go over and have a look around.

Cow & Gate Growing Up Milk are sponsoring me to attend the CybHer conference in May 2012.  The statistical data in this post came from The Toddler Census, a questionnaire answered by over 1000 parents in July 2011.

On My Birthday meme

Kate over at The Five Fs has set herself, and the wider internet a challenge. She's collecting every day of the year in posts to the On My Birthday meme. So I'm adding my two pennorth for 4th January

What you will have to do is answer questions about your birthday. If you don't know where to look, the best way is to go to Wikpedia, type in your birthday in the search box and it will tell you all you ever want to know (and more) about your special day. Obviously, you can take what is said with a pinch of salt but it's mostly correct.  I actually did a similar meme way back in 2006 (OMG!), so I went on a hunt & have dug a few of the answers out from there.

So, here goes the questions...

When is your birthday? 4th January

Pick three people who share your birthday and share what you know about them
Michael Stipe. Lead singer of REM, prone to singing songs that make me cry.
Beth Gibbons. Lead singer of Portishead, also prone to singing songs that make me cry.
Craig Revel-Horwood. Ranked third in "People on Strictly I'd like to slap" after Brucie & Brendan Cole.

There's also a load of people I've never heard of, Louis Braille, and James Bond.  Not THAT James Bond, being fictional and all, but another one.

Is anyone listed as being born on the same say as you (i.e. in the same year)? If so, what do you know about them?
An American baseball player, and a cyclist from Luxembourg. I've never heard of either of them, so that's your lot.

List three people who died on your birthday and tell us what you know about them.
Erwin Schrödinger (status of the cat unconfirmed)
Phil Lynott - lead singer of Thin Lizzy. At least one song that makes me cry.
Gerry Rafferty - the Baker Street bloke. At last, a song that doesn't make me cry. And Bob Holness did not play the saxophone on it.

List three notable events that took place on your birthday.
1958 - Sputnik 1 falls to earth
1959 - Luna 1 becomes the first spacecraft to reach the vicinity of the moon
2004 - NASA's Mars rover "Spirit" lands on Mars

My birthday is a really good day for space things.

Tell us about a holiday that falls on your birthday
Independence Day in Myanmar, celebrating their independence from the United Kingdom. It's either that or the Eastern Orthodox church's celebration of 4th January.

So, that's my birthday.  I'm going to tag 
to share their birthdays with the world (I love a good meme!), and as ever, if I haven't actually tagged you, but you want a go, consider yourself tagged.

On my birthday

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Help! I Am A Blogger!

I've been tagged by Joanne, over at The Blunt Truth in a meme, started over at Dragons and Fairy Dust all about, well, blogging. I have days where I think to myself "why am I doing this?" so the reflection is no bad thing.  Anyways, here goes...

What is your blog about?
The subtitle says "Growing up together in the South Wales Valleys", and that's still a fair description. It's a record of Squeaky's journey through childhood, my journey through parenthood, and a place where I can say things I don't always want to say on other parts of the internet, never mind the real world.  Oh, and reviews.  Sometimes it gets a bit review-heavy, then it'll settle down to all personal stuff for ages again.

When and how did you start blogging?
March 2010, when La Squeak was still a teeny tiny newborn, and I was dazed, confused, and pretty much stuck in the house with nothing better to do between feeds.  I'd had a personal journal on another platform for some time, but I wanted my journal of my life with Squeaky to be separate from that, and so this blog was born.  I never really started to write having a readership in mind, it was for me to start with, then I discovered, bit by bit, that other people wanted to read it too.

What was your first post?
Welcome Aboard the Squeakytrain way back over 2 years ago.  (I know, I missed my second blogaversary as well. My first completely passed me by as well. For some reason March tends to be a bit of a blur.

Does blogging affect your life and if so how?
I'm determined that blogging will only affect my, and Squeaky's life for the better.  That's the reason my posting can be a bit erratic, as I have to grab my moments when I can, mostly either late at night, or very early in the morning, so I guess it affects my sleep a bit!  Blogging has given us some great opportunities to try out products and experiences we wouldn't otherwise have had.  I'm not a full-on review blogger, I don't have the time or the energy for that, and I live too far from London to go to PR events, but our little corner of the internet has given us buggies, toys, food, books, clothes, music, dvds, amongst other things. It's given me the chance to learn loads, and to share some of that information with others.  It's taught me a lot about how companies and PR agents work, and through writing, and the events I have managed to attend, allowed me to gain some wonderful new friends.

My next big opportunity, and a good example of the above, is being sponsored by Cow & Gate Growing Up Milk to attend Cybher.  My role with Growing Up Milk as a mumtor has given me access to the results of various surveys and studies carried out by Cow & Gate, which I've been able to share with both my online & "real-world" friends, and it's been a source of information that's been very useful to me when I've had concerns about Squeaky.  I'm a visible and real face for a brand that I genuinely use, and I'm honoured that they've agreed to sponsor me for an experience I wouldn't otherwise have the chance to attend.

What do you love most about blogging?
Well, the opportunities, as I mentioned above.  The friendships I've made.  The support and community of bloggers, via blogs, twitter and facebook.  I even love the semi-regular dramas (mostly the great blogger/blagger debate), though I prefer to sit on the sidelines with popcorn & watch.  I love the complements I get, vain as I am, when someone says they like my writing, my photos, my adorable munchkin it gives me the warm fuzzies inside.  And creating a memory for Squeaky as she gets older.  One of my friends said I should get the blog printed for her for when she grows up.  I'm still not sure about that, there's quite a bit about poo and my boobs back in the early days, but the idea is there.

I'm not going to tag anyone, I need a shower, and Daddy will be home from work soon. But if you want to take part, consider yourself tagged.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Pull Your Finger Out!

A two parter.

Part 1 - a mini rant.  How long does it take a flaming solicitor to get the searches done on our (potential) new house? I want it NOW, not some indistinct point in the future. NOW dammit!

Part 2. Squeaky is a nose-picker, as are many kids her age. We do the best we can to discourage her from this in the daytime, but we have a bigger problem. She picks her nose in her sleep. To the extent that she gives herself nosebleeds.  There's something quite horrifying about being greeted by a bloodstained toddler at 6-something in the morning.  Aside from keeping her nails short, has anyone got any suggestions what we can do?  HELP!!

Magpie Monday - The green shoots of spring

I know, it's been a while, but I've been gathering up a few treasures to share with you over the coming weeks (or as often as I remember), so I thought I'd share a single beauty today.

My lovely friend MummyMandy, PirateGirl's mummy, is a whizz with a sewing machine. She makes me quite envious to be honest.  Anyways.  I was out & about in Caerphilly a few weeks back, when I spotted something in the hospice shop that really caught my eye.  Let's face it, it was pretty hard to miss a double duvet cover in this fabric!

For the princely sum of £1.50, I was the proud owner of a huge quantity of  green fabric with flowers on it that screamed "Hello and welcome to the 1970's".  It would've been rude not to, right?

The lady on the till was a bit upset when I vaguely mentioned making something out of it, so I quickly had to backtrack & say that it doesn't match my bedroom at the moment, but we're thinking of redecorating (true, we freshened up in the same colours), so who knows.

I had a million ideas for what I was going to do with this, except I realised one important fact.  I can embroider, cross stitch & tapestry for England, but actual making-stuff sewing? Not a chance!  Buttons & hems are as far as it goes.  My kindle case will have to come from eBay, because I'd like one that doesn't fall apart.  So MummyMandy now has a huge quantity of insanely green bedding, and I can't wait to see what she creates with it.

Oh, and to give you some idea of her creations, take a look.  Those of you who have been paying attention will have seen this picture once or twice before, but I can't resist using it again, it's so cute!  MummyMandy made this apron for LaSqueak, and we love it.  More another time.

Keep up with the Magpies! Me and My Shadow