Saturday, 28 February 2015

A little trip away for half term

I'm making absolutely no excuses about this post, it is pure self indulgence about our few days away over half term in Manchester and Leicestershire.

The main purpose of our trip, as well as having some lovely family time together outside of the normal school and work routine, was to visit Great Grandad Roy in Ashdon Under Lyme. At 95, he's living independently , hugely interested in technology and has an eccentric collection of things in his back bedroom.  Although his sight and hearing are not what they used to be he's still revealing new and fascinating stories of his early life abroad.

We did however have to politely refuse his offer of a band saw from the back bedroom this time. Could you imagine me walking into our hotel in Manchester with that tucked under my arm?  Best not!

It was a decent trek from Wiltshire to Manchester but armed with our bag of car games we did well.  Miss M can't really do anything whilst travelling which doesn't include looking out the window as she can sometimes feel unwell.  On previous long journeys I have created paperchains which we've hung in the back of the car and the girls take it in turns to tear off a chain and reveal the task I've written on it. These can be things like "lead the car in a session of car aerobics" or "choose a song for the whole car to sing together" or "how many Mr Men can we all name in 1 minute" get the idea. We also have a "pick from the bag" where I have a bag of folded pieces of paper with further tasks, quizzes, activities or discussion questions to keep us going.  This time I didn't make the paperchains but we still had all the activities in our "pick from the bag" and amazingly only had three "are we nearly there" before reaching our destination!

Mr M had done us proud by finding us a very central hotel in Manchester so after dropping off our cases we set off for a wander.  Miss E was not too keen to come out again after discovering her hotel bed but soon changed her tune when she saw all the Chinese New Year decorations around the city as she'd been learning about this in her reception class. She became our little expert!

We found this huge Chinese Ram lantern in the window of The White Company in Kings Street and took a snap for Miss E to take into school after the hols.  I'm only in the photo as Miss E wasn't too keen to stand too close to the ram on her own...and not, you understand, because I wanted to be in the picture to be shown in her class!

We visited a favourite of ours, Tampopo in Albert Square for a delicious East Asian meal.  Mr M and I have visited this underground restaurant before on previous pre-children trips to Manchester but it was the first time for Miss M and Miss E and they loved it.

Miss E loved her child friendly chop sticks, being underground, the long tables and the noisey social dinning experience. 

And so did Miss M.  Both practiced before their meals arrived so they were ready to tuck in once their noodle dishes arrived; chicken and veggies for Miss E and chicken, prawns and muscles for Miss M.

The girls were given some lovely colouring and activity sheets as well.

When we left Tampopo we were treated to quite a sight, seeing the Town Hall building lit up in red for the Chinese celebrations.

The following day we set off in our waterproofs for the short walk to MOSI; Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry. Miss E decided to pose outside the main warehouse building, in the rain!

First stop, a quick pit stop at the very lovely Warehouse Cafe at the entrance to MOSI. Can you see the rain outside through the window? Mosi doesn't open till 10 and with two early risers we were up and out way before then.  With it being a wet day in the middle of half term at a mainly indoor attraction we knew it was going to be busy so wanted to get an early start to avoid some of the craziness!

A combo of it being wet and chilly and having a not so great hair day, (a stubborn tufty bit insisting on sticking up on top) resulted in me keeping my trusty and oh so cosy bobble hat on!

Now if you are eating whilst reading this blog, of even just having a snack, then please for your own sake, finish your food before scrolling down any further...don't even be tempted to sneak a peep....this post is about to take a turn for the worst and get quite frankly a little bit disgusting....a whole blinking bit gross if I'm completely honest....OK you've been sufficiently warned I think....

Let me introduce the Goo in the Loo workshop which Mr M and Miss M attended at MOSI!  At the same time Miss E and I attended a much less icky Pablo Fanque's Circus of Dreams Workshop for the under 8s where we met 3 mill children in Victorian Manchester and used our imagination and some great story telling to turn their dangerous and grim mill jobs into circus performances.  Perfectly pitched at this age group and I was having so much fun too I completely forgot to take any photos, sorry.  Any way back to the goo where we have several photos I'm afraid!

Basically they were learning about the sewers and water supplies, in a rather messy yet hugely appealing way if you're 9 years old!  Enough said!

MOSI is huge but well worth a visit and at a suggested donation of £3 per person, it's amazingly good value too.  These photos only capture a teeny tiny snippet of all the things in the 5 buildings they have on the site.  After our workshops we joined back together again for the Textile Mill demonstration.  Again the delivery by the staff was lively and fun and they were able to get several of the machines actually working explaining not only the cotton process but also the life of those adults and children working in the mills.

This is us having a go at twisting the cotton to make it stronger, obviously on a much smaller scale than the mill machines!.

We did lots more including Miss M doing a timed lap of the velodrome in the Pedal Power exhibition, making discoveries in the hands on Exploration Zone, getting into the cockpit of an aeroplane, seeing steam trains and engines in action and finally ending our visit with a trip down the sewer complete with authentic smells!!  Apologies for the rubbish photo but it was getting pretty busy by this point in the afternoon.

And just in case you're wondering, no the rain didn't stop all day and we had to put our PJs on when we got back to the hotel while we dried our clothes!

Our stay in Manchester was short but very enjoyable and we'll be back again as there's so much more we want to see and do.

The following morning we set off over the Pennine Hills on the Woodhead Pass into Derbyshire. It was brilliant to see the hill tops nestled in the clouds and the piles of snow at the sides of the roads at the higher points of the Peak District.  We were heading to my parent's house in Leicestershire and broke our journey at Hardwick Hall.  Again I forgot to get my camera out but we enjoyed a lovely lunch in the National Trust restaurant before looking around the house.  The only photo I took was Miss E getting to work in the kitchen polishing the shoes, folding napkins and making a rag rug.

Next stop Barrow-upon-Soar in Leicestershire, the village I grew up in.  It was my Dad's birthday and the Midlands as it's name suggests makes a pretty central meeting place for us coming from Wiltshire (obviously we normally take a more direct route than going via Manchester) and my sis and her family travelling down from Yorkshire.

On Saturday morning while everyone else was busy doing various things I took the girls for a walk in the village taking in a couple of playgrounds.  I forgot to take photos of the first part of our walk and playground number uno but this is along from where the canal meets the river Soar and after a few wet days, the canal was pretty full.

Miss E enjoying the muddy tow path and giving her best smile to send back to Daddy who was back at the house helping Grandad with all things computery!

Nobody was home at this canal boat but there were some lovely potted plants on the roof and at the back of the boat.

Looking back at where we joined the tow path at the lock and can you spot a couple of ducks?  A handsome drake and his lady friend decided to escort us along the canal.  I'm guessing they were expecting some food but we were unfortunately empty handed.

A quick group selfie to send back to Daddy....cheese!

Our duckie friends didn't give up on us...

...the drake even popped out of the water onto the path at one point, I think to just double check if were really were without treats for them both.

We spotted a field of beautifully woolly alpacas munching on the grass.

...and as much as we tried, we couldn't coax them to come any closer for their photo!

It wasn't the most sunny of days but we still managed to capture a few reflections in the water.

Often you can walk under this bridge along the tow path but not today with the water being so high.  As you can see our duckie friends popped out to say goodbye as we headed for playground number two.

We refer to this park as "the cow swings" which was the descriptive name we used when my sis and I were little.  We lived very close to the canal and would often walk along the other side of the canal from the walk we've just done, collect acorns and other treasures in our baskets on our way to "the cow swings".  The reason we called this playground "the cow swings" was that behind the swings was a field of cows.  Obviously that was a long time ago and things change, the new swings are still in the same place (just next to this roundabout) but the cows and field has gone I'm afraid to make way for these canal side houses.

This blue sky picture was taken minutes after the grey skied, slightly rainy one above.  Crazy British weather!

In the afternoon we all, us four, Grandma, Grandad, my sis, brother in-law and niece and nephew headed out to Rushcliffe Country Park which has a fabulous sensory play area as well as lake walks, adventure playgrounds, BMX track, exercise park, run routes and skate park to name a few...

We spent a long time having fun in the sensory park.  Miss E playing woodpeckers above and Miss M on the metal chimes below. 

Miss E make quite a racket on this Celtic Cymbal but the sun came out so we were very happy!

There were lots of puzzels to solve, tasks to complete, things to spot and music to make.

Well done if you managed to get through the whole of this post, it was quite a marathon!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Crochet Coasters

I am hooked (sorry no pun intended) to these fabulous crocheted coasters.  I discovered the pattern here and haven't been able to stop.  These are just a few I've made but there are others all over the house, hiding under cups, plant pots, vases of flowers and another little stash of them on a shelf under one of my side tables just waiting to be called into action. 

The pattern is for the size of the pink ones in the photo which are perfect cup coaster size.  But by just adding more and more rounds it's very easy to expand to pretty much any size I'm guessing although I can only vouch for going as large as this sunshine yellow one which is roughly 20cm diameter.  

They are so quick to make as well which is probably why I find them so addictive, kind of therapeutic in a way in their straightforwardness and very satisfying to be able to produce something gorgeous so fast.  I have a larger crochet project on the go mentioned in my Snow Day post but I keep popping back to this pattern to get that quick project fix where in an evening I can make several little ones or a larger one, get all the ends sewn in and be using quick as that.  I guess sometimes I need the odd hare project to help my on with my tortoise one.

It's a very straight forward pattern just basically rounds of double crochet (UK terms) making a lovely close, smooth finish just perfect for placing full cups of steaming tea on.

A very dear friend popped over a couple of weekends ago and gave me this stunning orchid.  I'm pretty nervous as I've not had much luck with orchids before but I'm trying to be very attentive to this one and so far so good.  It seems quite happy in it's spot on top of the piano so fingers crossed.

 These blue ones are actually a gift and created from a thicker yarn making them feel slightly more robust than the pink and yellow ones I crocheted in DK yarn but I still think they work OK.

I haven't tried making them in cotton yarn yet but I do have some odds and ends of Debbie Bliss cotton so that could be my next interruption from my ripple blanket when I need another quick fix.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Valentines Felt Flowers

I love flowers.  I love buying them, receiving them, arranging them and picking them from our garden, however there's not a lot of floral colour in our garden in at the moment, although the shoots of spring bulbs are starting to poke through the ground promising beautiful flowers soon to be.

If I'm honest we're not into big Valentine's Day presents in our house..  That's not to say that we don't show our love and affection for each other, we absolutely and thankfully do that but just not in a big showy way on actual Valentine's Day if you get what I'm saying.  In fact, this Valentine's Day after the girls dancing and swimming classes, we met up with some very fabulous friends of ours for ten pin bowling and a pizza tea....romantic it wasn't but fun, easy going and a very cherished time with true and treasured friends, it certainly was.

This year I decided that I would make us our very own 12 valentines roses mixing traditional crimson red with shocking bright pinks.  I love working with felt, the colours are so vivid and it's a great fabric for structure creating.  I cut the felt for the roses and the leaves free hand so each one is truly individual just like living roses.  The rose stems are made from sticks and twigs from our garden following a big pruning session that have been hanging in the garage drying out waiting to be put to good use.

Here's 3 felt flower facts for you...
1. They don't need their water changing, obviously as they don't need water at all...fact!
2. They don't wrinkle, droop and die...fact!
3. Yet they do have all the elegance, colour and charm of live blooms and like real roses, each one is unique....OK this one is more of my opinion rather than fact but I'm running with it!

Here they are in my living room standing tall and proud.  They'll be hanging around and still looking gorgeous way past Valentine's day.

I made some individual ones for a couple of close friends too.  Flowers are for sharing.

Which is your favourite, the pink or red?  I just can't decide.

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