Be blown away with paint!

The school holidays seem to be particularly dreary this year. The toddler seems to have fallen slightly out of love with painting so I decided to come up with a new method to renew her passion. 


This was a super-simple, fun and VERY messy project and one we both enjoyed. Seriously though, if you decide to try it, paint goes EVERYWHERE so make sure you put lots of paper down.


Those who know me, know I’m terrible at drawing (I once drew a stick an with three knees….) but luckily ‘Moon’ from the toddlers new favourite show (Sarah & Duck) is easy enough for even my cack-handedness to draw. I also did a few other simple outlines, including a tree, Spidergirl and a hedgehog.


Next, it was time to pour the paint. I bit of trial and error taught us that small drops, fairly close together worked better.


Then it was time to blow!


It was fun trying different lengths of straw and different ‘blowing’ techniques from short, sharp puffs, to longer blows while moving the straw around. They created surprisingly different results.


The tree is a little abstract.


Spider girl turned into a Deadpool/Venom hybrid. We used slightly too much paint on this one….


And here’s Moon, waving on his way to work.

Have you tried blow-painting? How did you get on? Let me know in the comments below! 

Make it Monday: Greetings! 

I love receiving cards, don’t you? But even more than receiving, I love MAKING cards! Here’s some of my recent makes. 

Movie review: Bait (2012)


Director: Kimble Rendall

Starring: Sharon Vinson, Richard Brancatisano, Xavier Samuel 

Synopsis: a sudden tsunami traps a group of locals in a grocery store, but it’s not just fruit and veg lurking in the aisles. 

As it’s Shark Week I had planned to do a movie review of one of the plethora of shark movies which have exploded onto our screens over recent years, but frankly they’re either so good they’ve been reviewed to a death more thorough than Quint’s in Jaws (it’s flawed but who doesn’t love Deep Blue Sea?) or frankly so filled with stupidity they deserve to be forgotten under the waves (I’m looking at you Open Water & the Reef) and of course there’s the kitsch world of Sharknado which even this horror fan has barely managed to get through. Then a came across Bait, an Australian movie from 2012.

The premise is similar to many of the movies I’ve mentioned above and I suppose it’s a bit of a mix between Sharknado and the Reef with a tsunami causing the local town to flood, trapping a group of people inside a rapidly flooding grocery store. However, what in my opinion elevates the movie is that whilst non of the characters are particularly likeable (of course there are a few who are sweet, and likeable etc, but none really stand out) there are a number of humerous quips and set pieces which I enjoyed, and firmly reminded me of the subtle dead-pan humour I love about the Aussies. There’s also the knowledge that Aussies are used to, or at least aware of sharks and so the stupid actions you see of characters in other films aren’t as evident here.

Set in the grocery store, the director creates a lovely sense of claustrophobia which builds tension, but also the space is used very effectively, with much of the action taking place in submerged garages or on top of shelving. Underwater shots are handled well, without the shaky-cam or loss of clarity seen elsewhere. Lighting and colours also add to this, which helps to elevate it slightly above some of the other shark movies mentioned above. 

The setting limits the tools and weapons the characters get to use too, although they are very industrious with what they have, and there’s the usual character with ‘knowledge’ of weapons (usually ex-services or ex-con. They simply allude to a ‘shady past’ here). 

I don’t know any of the actors, but a quick look at IMDB shows they’re all from assorted Australian soaps and they all put in good performances. However, I was really pleased that the director used animatronic sharks rather than going for CGI as I always feel it gives more realism and the actors are all looking at the same thing (I’m looking at you Star Wars prequels where no one seems to know which CGI aliens eye to look in!). 

There are a lot of shark movies out there, but this one has a little more bite than others. 

Shark week. Meeting the most vicious fish in the seas!

When hubby and I went on our little adventure, we never for one second thought we’d end up coming face-to-face with some of the most vicious creatures under the waves. We were blessed to dive in the Galapagos, Panama, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia and many more places, seeing stunning underwater worlds and the incredible creatures that live there. Of course, not every sea creature wanted us there and more than once we had a face off with the most vicious fish under the sea. And here he is…..


We got a couple of pictures of clown fish (in this case a tomato anemone fish) getting grumpy with visitors and this one decided that we’d got a bit too close to his home so bit my husband!

And now, here’s a few pictures of sharks…..

Grey reef shark, Thailand


Black tip reef shark, Malaysia


Leopard shark, Thailand


Thresher shark, Philippines


White tip reef sharks, Thailand


Leopard shark, Thailand


Whale shark, Philippines


Galapagos shark, Galapagos Islands


Another shot of that beautiful leopard shark in Thailand

I’m The Big Interview: Lois Kay

It’s funny and ironic but some of the loveliest Brits I’ve met have been one my travels and this is true of Lois. We both worked in Spain and would celebrate the end of a working week each Thursday (Feliz Jueves!) as we worked our way along Calle Laurel, tasting pinchos and wine as we went. Happy days!

Lois recently undertook the ‘plastic challenge’ from the Marine Conservation Society where she gave up using single-use plastic for a month and spoke to me about how it went. Lots of hints and tips which I’ll be using for my Earth Day Pledges.

GCH: Can you briefly tell us about your no plastic challenge?

LK: Promoted by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) for the month of June 2017, I didn’t use any food, cosmetics, toiletries or cleaning products contained within single use* packaging http://www.mcsuk.org/plasticchallenge/

Together with the MCS I tried to raise awareness of the reality which is that many single use plastic items end up in our seas and on our beaches, where they persist and impact our marine life and that nearly of these items we really didn’t need in the first place.

*a single use plastic is anything which has a very short lifespan in terms of its usage. Think of a plastic bag containing rice which rarely would get re-used, pots of ready prepared sliced fruit with a plastic film over the top – not resuable at all.

GCH: What motivated you to take part in a ‘no plastic’ challenge?

LK: I wanted to see whether it was possible, to see what positive changes I might be able to bring about amongst friends and colleagues. I love snorkeling and swimming in the sea, and it makes me so sad to see such a beautiful natural environment often damaged by humans wastefulness.


GCH: Did you need to buy anything new to help you with your no plastic challenge?

LK: Yes a lot!

I generally cook with fresh ingredients so that was just making the change from convenience shopping where the fruit and veg is in packaged in punnets to buying loose and visiting local fruit&veg shops – which I really enjoyed, and wish I had done more of before.

But then I realised that food really wasn’t the main problem – my toiletries, cosmetics and cleaning products are all in plastic packaging. So…I made a lot of things from scratch, didn’t wear make-up for the month aside from my homemade mascara (burn almonds until charcoal, and mix with vaseline), and have now switched permanently to Lush shampoo and conditioner bars. I also invested in a metal safety razor to replace disposable plastic ones.

GCH: What’s been the most challenging aspect of the challenge so far?

LK: Snacks. Everything in the shop bar fruit is wrapped in plastic! There’s only so much fruit you can eat! Once I found cashews, pistachios and almonds loose in a local Asian shop together with dates it got a bit better, and I have made quite a few cakes, biscuits, and my mum did make a batch of homemade crisps for my birthday party!

I didn’t manage to find pasta or noodles not in plastic anywhere so went without one of my favourite meals – pad thai in June!

GCH: Do you think it will be easy to continue once the 30 days are over?

LK: A lot of things now seem so easy. The first few weeks giving up Singe Use Plastics were really hard trying to find alternatives to my normal shop but now I have figured out a lot of it, I am going to continue with switching away from plastics as far as possible.

GCH: Any hints or tips for people looking to do the same challenge, or to even simply reduce the amount of single-use plastic they use?

LK: The four big nasties ending up in the oceans are Plastic Bags, Plastic Bottles, Plastics Straws, and Plastic Coffee Cups. I ask everyone to really try and unless an emergency, find alternatives or just do-without.

  • Make it fun and not a chore, spend a Sunday exploring your local shops and see what plastic free products you can find. Find a how-to online and make your own soap or lipbalm.
  • Stock up on glass jars and containers for all your lovely homemade products.
  • Talk to people about what you’re doing, You will feel empowered, people can be inquisitive and perhaps defensive about their habits to begin with but once you sow the seed in their minds, you will get a lot of respect and more

GCH: What other things have you done/will you do to minimise your carbon footprint?

LK: Cycle as much as possible and not just for recreation. Since I bought a second hand bike with a pannier rack (I am a big fan of bungee cords now!) I can go on adventures around Greater Manchester and do my shopping. You can travel through parks and along canal towpaths – something which you definitely can’t do in a car.

GCH: You’ve travelled extensively. Has seeing how different countries approach recycling and refuse disposal influenced you?

LK: It was sad to see the state of some of the laybys and waterways in Cambodia and Phillipines filled with rubbish but they are some of the loveliest people I have ever met and also some of the poorest. If they had access to the same infrastructure and education we have here in the UK, they and their environment would benefit in so many ways.

In the flip side, I don’t know how England is so far behind some of our European neighbours who pay a deposit for plastic bottles and on their return, the bottles are re-used. Knowledge and awareness around packaging and recycling, and the benefits of the basics of reducing and reusing could be so much better here!

GCH: We’re constantly asked if we have a favourite country and it’s always so difficult to choose because everywhere we’ve visited has been special. Do you have a favourite country or place?

LK:
• Cambodia for beaches and rivers
• Barcelona for its architecture
• Bangkok for its amazing buzz
• Manchester – my home
• Greece – for the food and friendly people

GCH: You’ve lived abroad. Any hints for people planning to move to a foreign country? How do you integrate yourself with the locals?

LK:
• Speak the native language at every opportunity
• A smile will help overcome what may seem like many barriers in communication and will make you so many friends along the way
• Admit when you need help or even just a hug.

GCH: Where would you like to visit again?

LK: Budapest in summer! I visited in December, and the -8 temperature made sightseeing a little tricky. I’v also heard in summer they have amazing roof terrace bars. That said, one of my most memorable travel experiences was sitting in the dark in an outdoor 30 degree pool in Budapest whilst snow fell around me.

 

Have you done the plastic challenge? Let us know in the comments below.

National Share-A-Story Month

We love stories here. Be it the worlds of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler for the Lamb,  Scott Snyder for hubby or Gaiman for me, there’s always a yarn being spun (I’m tempted to insert a pun about my knitting addiction here, but I digress).

SSM

But whilst I love to read stories, I also love to craft them. I’ve talked before about the voices in my head, telling me their tales (and more than once, their tails!). Way back in 2012 I submitted a short story ‘The Last Dragon Keeper‘ to the monthly Fantasy Faction Writing Challenge. In an open vote, my short story won! As part of National Share-A-Story Month, I thought I’d do a Throwback Thursday to the world of Eui, Rowan and dragons. Click the link to see the original article and carry on reading for my story of The Last Dragon Keeper.

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Original artwork by Katie Marshall

***

The Last Dragon Keeper

Eui watched as the waves surged towards the shore. Ice had formed on the water, the motion turning it to mush as it covered the smooth grey rocks that acted as boundary between land and sea. She wrapped her arms around herself, trying but failing to keep out the wind, which threatened to tear her clothes and pick at her bones. She knew that her mother would scold her for forgetting her jacket but in her desperation to get out of the house, she had left it, stowed snugly in her wardrobe. Eui stamped her feet to try to warm them but the wind kept forcing its way through her thick boots, biting her toes.

The ground began to shake. It started with a slow trickle of the smaller rocks, which quickly blended with the mush of the ocean water. The larger rocks began to vibrate then roll down the hill and into the water. Eui stood her ground as rocks large and small snapped at her heels, flinching as the larger ones bruised her. Eui breathed deeply, inhaling the familiar ash scent that covered the island more deeply than the perma-snow.

The earth juddered to a stop and Eui carefully stepped out of the pile of stones that covered her feet. The icy slush boiled along the shore then all was still once more. Eui turned as she heard footsteps crunching on the gravel and smiled at her father.

“Your mother is worried about you,” he said, not looking her in the eye but focusing on the ocean.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I did.” Eui risked a look at her father but could not read his expression. The silence settled over them, only slightly comfortable.

Finally, taking a deep breath, Eui said, “The dragons are dying father.”

“As are we, Eui, as are we. We can only hope that they die before we do. A dragon alone in this world, without a Keeper, would soon fall prey to the blades of the Sagar.”

If they’re lucky, thought Eui, but she did not pursue the matter.

Every Keeper knew the challenges faced by the dragons. The Sagars were hunters who sold dragon meat and their scales and teeth, which held magical properties. For over a generation they had hunted and killed dragons, depleting their numbers in an unending quest for the perfect hunt: A mythical beast, defined by its purity and beauty. With each retelling of the myth, the dragon grew in grace and size until Eui, who had been told stories of the Sagar which had kept her awake at night, did not recognise the creature as being a dragon but an animal of pure virtue. Knowing no dragon had ever been born matching the myth kept the Sagars hunting and Eui from peaceful dreams.

However, the biggest threat was the dragons themselves. Females would lay between 15-20 eggs and would continually defend her nest from attacks by males. Of the eggs that survived, not all would hatch, with some being trampled. Finally the female, tired and undernourished, would die. If she was lucky, she might see the one or two of her offspring who would emerge from their eggs, snorting flames and growling to be fed.

In the absence of a mother, when the infant dragons smashed from their eggs, they would bond with a Keeper. The Keepers were almost as old as the dragons themselves but they too had slowly grown fewer and fewer until Eui and her brother Rowan were the only non-bonded keepers. The last surviving female was guarding her egg, waiting to die.

“It’s a very special time for your brother. He will be bonded, probably today,” said her father, his eyes remaining on the waves.

“And what about me?” asked Eui.

“Is that why you wish to leave? You lack purpose?”

Eui flashed a quick look at her father. He would claim that it was the wind that brought tears to his eyes, but the clench in Eui’s stomach reminded her of the argument with her mother.

“There is a world beyond the isle, father. I wish to explore and there is nothing here for me. There will be no more dragons once this has hatched and bonded with Rowan. A Keeper with nothing to keep.” Eui’s eyes flooded with tears that threatened to fall. Her father swung an arm around her and gently pulled her close for a brisk hug.

“Come, Eui. They are preparing for the ceremony. I have to get to the Great Hall. Greeson and the elders are waiting for me.”

Together they walked slowly up the beach, slipping occasionally on the loose gravel. Kissing her on the head before gently pushing her towards the settlement, Eui’s father walked towards the mountain. Suddenly he called Eui and she ran to him as the wind stole his words.

“Eui, Keepers are like the seasons. We are currently in the darkest winter we have known, filled with darkness and despair, but after the winter, the spring warmth always comes. Remember, your name means spring in the old tongue. Wait and you will see the beauty when we emerge from the darkness. I know you feel there is nothing for you here, but your brother will need your support and love. Being a Keeper is not easy and he still has a lot to learn.”

Eui gave her father a small smile, then turned and jogged into the settlement, flinging open their door. Her mother looked up from where she was sat by the table, her sewing needle raised. She regarded Eui with a stony expression.

Eui paused, looking contrite under the glare of her mother. “Father said you might need some help preparing for the ceremony,” she said finally.

Her mother laid down her needle. She studied the garments laid out across the table then quietly said, “Go and wake your brother. He needs to get dressed. The ceremony starts soon. The egg is hatching.”

Eui dipped her head and avoided eye contact with her mother as she wound around the large table and up the stairs. Launching into her brother’s room, she jumped onto his bed, bouncing up and down.

“Wakey, wakey,” she called as Rowan swatted at her.

“Get off,” he shouted as Eui continued jumping.

“Mother says you have to get up. The ceremony is going to start soon so you need to get into your dress,” teased Eui.

“It’s a robe,” roared Rowan, sitting up and pushing Eui off the bed.

She landed with cat-like grace, giving him a smug smile. “Whatever. The egg’s hatching. You’re about to become a Keeper.”

“Yeah,” said Rowan without enthusiasm, pulling a shirt from the floor and sniffing it. Deciding it didn’t smell, he dragged it over his head, then ran his fingers through his hair.

Eui watched her brother. Three years older than her thirteen, his training made him appear older but seeing him first thing in the morning always reminded Eui of how young her brother really was.

Playfully kicking him, she ran from the room, calling, “Your dress is on the table. Hurry up or I might spill my breakfast on it.”

Eui charged into the kitchen, Rowan a few paces behind. They both stopped when they saw their mother’s stern face.

“Hurry up,” their mother said, handing Rowan his robe. Smoothing her hair, she stood a little straighter and scowled at her children. “I will see you at the Great Hall,” she said, leaving them.

Eui grinned at her brother. Rowan ignored her and carefully picked up the robes his mother had spent weeks embroidering. Slipping the delicate fabric over his head, it cascade down his body. Checking the sleeves were straight, he tugged at the hem. Eui bit her cheeks to stop from laughing while Rowan slipped into his boots.

“It’s a robe,” he growled.

Eui couldn’t contain herself and started laughing.

Looking down at himself, Rowan sighed, then he too started giggling. “Ok, it’s a dress. Can we go? I have a dragon to meet.”

Together they walked from the settlement towards the Great Hall, Rowan complaining about the cold and the snow getting into his boots. Entering the cave that would take them to the Great Hall, they could hear the Elders singing, and the pained final breaths of the female dragon. The Great Hall was a large cave, which had formed in the mountain, decorated by generations of Keepers. There were designs showing the bonding ceremony, the history of the keepers and dragons, with some designs used to train young keepers.

Eui and Rowan joined their parents, on a large platform just above the pit where the dragon rested with her last remaining egg. The female dragon was large, her scales a burnt orange turning to red on her belly and yellow on her wings. Her breath was shallow and laboured; the keepers knew that it would not be long before she would join her brethren in the flame halls of the underworld.

Eui stole a peek at the egg. It was about the size of a boulder, with mottled brown spots and she heard the frustrated squeaks as its occupier nosed its way out. The Elders stood on the opposite platform, their chants rising and falling with the breaths of the female. The large dragon’s head drooped, rose, then fell again.

Greeson silenced the Elders with a raised hand. “She has passed to the underworld,” he said.

No one made a sound as they watched the dragon ease its nose, then its body and finally its long tail from the egg. It opened its mouth and coughed, sending a ball of flame harmlessly against the wall. Shaking itself, its wings unfurled and the Keepers stood amazed. The baby dragon’s body was a paler colour than its mother’s, but its wings were pure white, veins highlighted in golden scales that caught the light. Shaking its head, it emitted a small bark before experimentally flapping its wings. Its dark green eyes took in the unmoving body of its mother before it spotted Rowan standing on the platform. Another flap of its wings and it was eye level with the platform, barking happily.

The Elders began chanting in the ancient tongue. Eui did not understand all the words but knew it was the song to encourage the dragon to choose its Keeper. Rowan grinned as the dragon looked at him and bowed deeply as he had been taught. The dragon started to dip its head when it caught sight of Eui behind Rowan. Cocking its head to one side it forgot to move its wings, flapping quickly as it began to fall. Rowan remained bowed, but his mother shifted nervously. Rowan dared to peek and frowned when he saw that the dragon was not returning his bow. Finally, he stood and looked at his father, who shrugged his confusion.

Standing, Rowan blocked the dragon’s view of Eui. The dragon craned his neck to look around the boy. Eui looked back wide-eyed back at the creature floating effortlessly before stepping past Rowan and raising her hand towards the dragon.

The dragon swooped close, it’s sudden movement causing Eui to step back in surprise until the dragons long black tongue flicked out, licking her hand. Eui giggled, running her hand along the dragon’s muzzle as it growled contentedly.

“The dragon has chosen its Keeper,” called Greeson, his voice echoing.

Eui stopped playing with the dragon as the words struck her like a physical blow. She looked at Rowan, his face contorted with anger, her mother with her hand covering her mouth in shock and finally her father who was smiling at her. Stepping forward he lifted Eui onto the dragon’s back. Eui hugged the dragon’s neck as it rose and circled the Great Hall.

“Spring has come with the last Dragon Keeper,” Eui’s father said.

***

Make it Monday: Bath Bombs!

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It’s a bath explosion! I’m going to a friends wedding soon and it’s my first night away from the toddler EVER so I’m feeling a bit unsettled (she’ll be fine with daddy and the pup, but I’ll definitely miss bedtime snuggles!). However, every cloud has a silver lining and as I’m staying in a hotel, I thought I’d make myself some bath bombs to enjoy while I have a (hopefully) uninterrupted bath.

I’ve been making my own bath bombs with the toddler for a while. She loves measuring out the ingredients, selecting the essential oils and then mixing the assorted ingredients. It’s  a fun, not-too-messy activity which teaches her about measuring, different ingredients and scents and also the pleasure of using what we’ve made come bath time.

As these were going to be a little treat for me, I decided to use some Himalayan Pink Salt, which is supposed to be a good detox tool. The mix of sweet orange and clove is delicious, and definitely one of my favourites, although it’s a tough choice between that and jasmine.

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There’s a lot of recipes out there (and I’ve tried a number, including one which used coconut oil which left my skin soft but the bath a mess!) but this is the one that’s been working for me.

  • one cup of bicarbonate of soda
  • half cup of citric acid
  • quarter cup of Himalayan Pink Salt (or Epsom Salts)
  • Witch hazel in a spray bottle
  • Essential oils

Measure the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix well, making sure there’s no clumps. Add your essential oils, approximately 15 drops, but I added 15 of both the orange and clove. Mix well to ensure they’re evenly distributed. Keep mixing and spray witch hazel over your ingredients. I generally do a couple of sprays, mix and see if they’re clumping together, if not I’ll do a few more sprays, then see again if it’s going to bind together. One thing I’ve found is using the salts, I need more witch hazel to get the ingredients to bind that I do when I just use the bicarbonate of soda and citric acid. Once it starts to clump in your hand, start pressing it into moulds. I’ve found cookie cutters to be best as they hold their shape while I firmly press the ingredients into it. Silicone moulds tend to bulge and the bath bombs then crumbled when I pressed them out. Gently press the bath bombs onto a rack to dry overnight.

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I really love the flecks of pink from the Himalayan Pink Salt. Don’t they look pretty?

I store my bath bombs in a pot in the bathroom. They’re so much more cost effective than those bought in stores, plus the toddler and I love experimenting with colours and scents – we even added a cup of ‘Lustre’ from Lush to create beautiful golden swirls in the water.

Have you made your own bath bombs? What’s your recipe? Let me know in the comments below!