Friday, 21 November 2014

Word of the Week #WotW

The upward curve continues.
Sunday was spent with some wonderful people- bloggers- enjoying coffee and conversation with Nespresso and Joe Bloggers.
I always know in my heart how much better I will feel after spending time with friends, the trepidation as the time approaches remains, but with the buzz of caffeine and positivity seeping through me, my week began.

As always, work wise it has ups and downs.
Fortunately I have one positive, which has been so long coming, it has not yet arrived but now it is tangible, and optimism is allowed to seep into my thoughts, and aspirations once again come to the surface.
Time at work can now spent on thinking about the 'nice to-do's' rather than catching up on the 'have to-do's'.

I have been more able than ever to say 'no'.
My own aspiration to know my values, to challenge where I feel compromised.
To know voices are heard, to know that even if I have to accept red tape, I have had my voice heard (and maybe ignored) but I have remained true to my values.

And I see these values more than ever in my children.
As manners and acceptable behaviour become promoted.
As the excitement they have inside every breath is inhaled.
And brought back to me as love and concepts of life, through their eyes.

And then more blogging.
More planning for #BlogOnCymru
And another visit to the Sherman.
But not for conference talk.
But to have a glimpse of a script becoming a play.
And meeting Rachel O'Riordan.
And trying to remember in my head "She is a human being".
But to meet someone, with such a fixed sense of perfection, to appear that she beats herself up for every compromise made, to have such a clear vision of the communities, and people she serves, to fight with every breath for what the theatre can achieve- given a fighting chance, to be unaccepting of funding cuts- for the damage they can do to every child who misses the opportunities to explore their own imagination and creativity.

I breathe.
I appreciate the gravitas of life.
These little people I bring up as best I can.
The choices made, the path chosen.
And with no regrets- to only be true- to be the best I can be.

This week, a teeny kick inside me has been restored.
I hope it continues to guide me.

The Reading Residence

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Arabian Nights - Inspiring Cardiff this Christmas

I have heard bloggers talk about the 'money can't buy opportunities', and today I got to realise mine.
Invited into the rehearsal room at Sherman Cymru to witness one of the two Christmas productions being realised.

'Arabian Nights' will be Rachel O'Riordan's second production in our Capital, and in the same vein as 'Romeo & Juliet' this feels special, it feels like a unique stamp is being brought to the stage, designed only with a view to engaging and capturing the imagination of all who sit in the theatre.

And not only did I get to witness some fantastically talented actor-musicians take hold of the space, I also got the opportunity to talk to Rachel afterward about this Christmas production, and Rachel's vision for theatre and Sherman Cymru.

When speaking to Rachel about the blank piece of paper- where to start in choosing a production to bring to the stage for the Christmas season, the mystery and majesty of Arabian Nights becomes evident as the perfect choice, and what becomes clear is that this is not just about bringing Dominic Coke's adaptation to the Sherman, this is about producing with a Cardiff audience in mind. The dynamism of the City, celebrating the diversity. And so an extra layer is added to Arabian Nights. A music score has been added, and so the performance is transformed with actors taking hold of the stage through more than words- and seamlessly interweaving music as the storytelling of One Thousand and One Nights unfold.
Photographer: Kirsten McTernan
And so it becomes evident how much the need to create a bond with the audience at the heart of what Rachel is seeking in the productions which are brought to the Sherman.
The stage is on a 'rake', sloping toward the audience to ensure everyone can see all that is happening on the stage, making the most of the space and ensuring the audience gets to witness all aspects of the story.
The incorporation of music means not only are the audience engaged through the character portrayal and storytelling, but also the atmosphere through a variety of wind, string and percussion instruments.

Photographer: Kirsten McTernan
And whilst it felt in the rehearsal space that there is a great drama in the production, there are also hints of humour which I was allowed to catch a glimpse of, and with a fantastic cast, including Anita Reynolds (The Nurse in 'Romeo & Juliet) and Kieron Self, I now have a little excited anticipation in seeing how their multiple roles will be performed given the moments of humour which was balanced in the drama today.

And then to receive the following photo, means I have definitely seen only a snapshot of what 'Arabian Nights' will offer to audiences visiting the Sherman this Christmas!
Photographer: Kirsten McTernan
Arabian Nights will be at the Sherman Theatre from 5 December 2014- 3 January 2015. Ideal for ages 7+ and families. Tickets are available from £12-£25, with half price tickets for childrens and under 25s. Concessions are available.
Please visit ShermanCymru or contact the Ticket Office on 029 2064 6900.

Life right now- Moving forward

I took this photo, trying to capturing the red skies as I passed through Newport, on the train to wherever.

The skies had been beautiful from starting my journey.
Although to others (sailors and the like), they maybe weren't as welcomed.

But for me, there was beauty, in spite of the circumstance.
The 5.15 wake up call.

It kind of summarises life right now. Trying but never succeeding in getting ahead of the curve.
Because. Really. Why is it even right that anyone should be travelling before sun rise?
Appreciating life, and the good, despite the things which are in the balance.

This is life. Coffee at the ready. Blackberry to hand. And Samsung charging so I am never without music nor access to the outside world.
As life is absorbed by work.

Accepting this has been a key part of 2014.
That life is better like this.

And whilst this is a bitter pill.
Because the best part of 2014 has been absorbed at work by HR 'opportunities'- you know because challenges really are opportunities in disguise.
I am going to stake my claim.

2015.
May I be so bold?
Could this perhaps be our year?
As the children all move into full-time education.
As finances balance,
As the opportunity for Mr J to take on work is explored,

That I might finally have a full team at work,
That I might enjoy my work again,
That a work life balance be established.

For physical and mental exercise.
For blogging and losing weight.
2015.
We're coming to get you!
Or something like that.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The perfect Chocolate Cupcake

The perfect chocolate cupcake, and chocolate cake for that matter, has been a battle of minds.
I blame it on me and the oven;
Or, me and the mixer;
Or, me and the recipe.

But I have overcome.
Trial and error has got us here.
But how rewarding was the success!
I am constantly battling Seren's desire for 'Cinio' (school dinners) versus my wish budget for 'Brechannau' (packed lunches).
And last week Seren waved 'chocolate cake' in her favour for cinio.
And for me, the challenge was accepted.

A zillion attempts on, success is mine.
(staying faithful to my cupcake recipe).
And so, it's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!
Ingredients
175g golden caster sugar
175g non-salted butter
40g cocoa
135g self-raising flour
4tbps milk
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla essence
3 eggs (equivalent to 175g)

Method
In your main mixing bowl, combine the cocoa powder and milk into a paste.
Combine the flour and baking powder in a bowl.
Add the sugar and butter to the main bowl and whisk until combined.
Add one egg and combine, add some flour, continue until eggs and flour are combined.
Add the vanilla essence, and whisk.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
With all the ingredient combined,
Line 2 12-hole muffin trays with cupcake liners.
Add the mixture to the cupcake liners.
Bake for 10mins or until risen and springy to touch.

Decorate to taste.

Link up your recipe of the week

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Being a Parent #TheGallery

With this week's theme being a parent, this would be my picture perfect image.
Me and my team.
My amazing children.
Creating the 'teamwork' ethos in the face of all tantrums.

The reality, to me, of what being a parent is,
Beyond the wonder of the bond created, the love which knows no bounds,
Lies the unquestioned acceptance of projectile vomit and equivalent nappies.
The reality, that sleep is never your own again.

This is written from the voice of a child who would sleep anywhere,
For as long as possible.
For the teenager who would read into the small hours to finish a book.
But sleep all day in response.
The young adult who would go to sleep in the small hours, due to work or socialising.
But sleep through the daylight hours of the weekend.

I read wise words recently, that lost sleep can never be found again.

Oh, the sleep that I never appreciated.
How I miss you.

The sleeping hours are now spent with children in mind.
The little people know when mummy isn't working away.
Musical beds prevail.
When mummy is working away, the 5am alarm clock prevents a restful sleep.
And when mummy is staying away, the night is broken with sleep interrupted by dreams of a little person's cries.
Saturday morning lie-ins are compromised by gymnastics and squash sessions.
Sundays by Sunday School.
The reality is it need not matter, sleeping beyond 0745 is a luxury long forgotten.

But then, for all of this, my instagram and facebook page is filled.
By the beauty of my children sleeping.
Because when they are asleep,
They are beautiful.




And yes,
It is because,
They are mine.
Being a Parent.
Rewarded.
Sleep deprived.
Forever.
Sticky Fingers Photo Gallery

Monday, 17 November 2014

Things to do in Cardiff- The Theatre Edition

It has to be said, one of the things I looked forward to most when we decided to move back to South Wales was the variety of theatres which would be on our doorstep.

Cardiff boasts some of the most fantastic theatre space and as a result, whichever day of the week you choose there is always a production worth taking in.

One theatre which has transformed the Cardiff skyline during my 13 year exile is the Wales Millennium Centre.
Located in Cardiff Bay, the first phase was opened in 2004. For my children, the building resembles a tortoise, the copper oxide of the dome is easily spotted on our travels.
They have loved seeing more mainstream productions (The Gruffalo and Mickey's Magic Show) in the Donald Gordon Theatre as well as theatre which makes great use of the space in the Weston Studio (Roald Dahl's "Little Red Riding Hood and Captain Flynn & The Pirate Dinosaurs).
For 'grown ups' the theatre space has so much to offer, successfully bringing the West End and Fringe theatre to South Wales.
And, if you do get the chance, and you're a theatre, design or cultural geek, the tour of the Centre is definitely an opportunity to explore a fantastic space, and understand and appreciate the design and features of a theatre- both for theatrical excellence and appreciation of the local landscape.
A theatre in the heart of Cardiff, and home to great drama as well as home to the Capital's Christmas Pantomime is the New Theatre. The theatre celebrated its Centenary in 2006, and truly is the gem of a great City. Memories of seeing the ballet there as a child are held close.
The theatre now plays host to a wealth of productions to introduce young people to the theatre (The Octonauts, We're Going On A Bear Hunt and James & The Giant Peach).
For adults, the theatre hosts both fantastic local companies as well as touring productions.

St David's Hall is the National Concert Hall and Conference Centre of Wales.
From ballet and opera to Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom St David's caters for all audiences, with a wide music offering. Attached to one of the main shopping centres, St David's Hall is a convenient location for matinees and evening performances. Its diversity holds a place in my heart, I have performed at the Hall both as part of a Rock School and alongside a Male Voice Choir, as well as my graduation ceremony- a few years later.
Another theatre space of my youth is Chapter Arts Centre. Located in Canton, on the outskirts of Cardiff, it is not as convenient a location by public transport, but definitely worth the visit. In my youth Chapter introduced me to contemporary dance, and continues to do so. Chapter not only has a great theatre space but also hosts a cinema offering (including NT:Live) and is always a hub of creativity with a fantastic caffi-bar.

I have, of course, left the best 'til last. Predominantly based on childhood allegiance, and also because it is the most recent theatre space in Cardiff to have benefitted from a refurbishment.
Sherman Cymru is within walking distance of the City Centre, adjacent to the Civic Centre, and the homeland of student life.
As a child I enjoyed the contemporary dance extended from Chapter, in 1994 as part of South Glamorgan's Youth Theatre I was able to perform in the Studio and fall a little bit in love, as a university student I was able to enjoy the proximity and the diversity offered.
And since returning to Cardiff, I have been able to appreciate it's new found place, fortunately it still offers diversity- comedy, music and drama are instinctively home at the Sherman.
And then, returning home as a mum, I have loved the theatre available, off the tv-converted track, which hypnotises my children (Corina Pavlova & the Lion's Roar and The Sleeping Beauties) which can take child and adult alike on an adventure.

If you're visiting the City, definitely find out which is your nearest theatre and what's on. For me, there is nothing more therapeutic that the tones of the Welsh accent on stage, but whether it be local or national productions, the stages in Cardiff more than create a fantastic experience.

If you're visiting Cardiff and looking to create an evening out, I would recommend The Millenium Centre and all Cardiff Bay has to offer in terms of bars and restaurants.
For creating a day of it, shopping excellence and theatre, the New Theatre is a great theatre to appreciate the best of the City's culture.
And if you're planning in advance, take in Sherman Cymru, and all that accessible theatre offers.

But without doubt, visit a theatre in Cardiff, and enjoy a little bit of our heritage.

Disclosure: This post is written in collaboration with The Millennium Hotels Group. All views and opinions contained are our own.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Gift ideas: The Very Hungry Caterpillar turns 45!

For all the things which change so fast, there is so much comfort in knowing Eric Carle's "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" is turning 45 years old.
A book which meant so much in my childhood has already had so much benefit in my daughter's.
The very first school assembly which I was invited to attend included Seren's reception year bringing the book to life.
And building on it with their own hopes and aspirations, where they had been and where they want to go.

And we were lucky enough to share this learning with Seren's brothers after receiving a hamper of 45th Anniversary gifts.

Of course, the favourite items were those which they could get their hands on and get creative.
This stamper kit was such a hit, and now embellishes all of the paper I try to print my work things on!
At £9.95 this makes a perfect gift for a toddler, and with replacement ink pads available from places like Hobbycraft it means the wooden stampers can be used for years to come.

My favourite, and Seren's favourite by far, was the drinks bottle and melamine plate.
I love the bottle, and its hardwearing casing, for both accompanying Seren to school as well as her after-school activities. And I love even more that she loves it.
The melamine plate is loved even more for its dividers. We don't use divider plates regularly, they are used for 'treat' meals. The children associated them with picnics and so Seren instantly loved this one. More so she loved the illustrations and the flowers, this is now 'Seren's plate', this is a non-negotiable!

A team favourite is the 'Chunky Strawberry Chalks'. Absolutely perfect for outdoor use, bringing colour to the patio, we loved using ours in the run up to bonfire night, and showing all the fireworks on dark paper.
But  more so, Seren loved creating a rainbow, and showing the change from rain to sun.
As well as gifts which are great for 3-5 year olds, there are so many which are perfect to babies and toddlers. From cot books, to touch-and-feel books and wall decals.

Whilst we were sent these products for the purposes of this review, I would wholeheartedly recommend them, and buy them.
'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' has and remains a loved part of my children's upbringing. I can't wait for next year when I know I will get to see the boys perform their hungry caterpillar (why change a good format?) as they begin their Reception year.
And if it's worked for forty-five years?

Disclosure: We received a hamper of 45th Anniversary goodies for the purposes of this review. All opinions and views contained are our own.
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