Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Half term fun at Sherman Cymru thanks to Boing!

Half term: exhausted children. The end of summer time. An oncoming storm. I hope I was more than forgiven for being completely at a loss as to what we'd do with three young children given all the outdoor fun we had over the summer.

With theatre one of our favourite treats we were delighted to find out the Sherman Cymru was hosting Boing! this half term.
Children back up to full health after using the first half of the break to re-energise the opportunity to stimulate their imaginations could not be passed up.
And the one thing I am learning is that there there are gems across South Wales which know how to put children first. That creating an atmosphere which children benefit from does not have to start and finish the moment they step into the theatre itself.

Having visited the Sherman for a few times over the past year I am always amazed by how much effort is put into keeping children entertained as they wait for the performance to start. There is no standing around waiting for the doors to open, the opportunity to colour and create art to accompany performances is a huge plus to those who arrive with time to spare, for others (like us) who arrive at the last minute having struggled to remember everything (and everyone!) there was no empty foyer to walk through at the end of the performance. With balloons, dressing up, games, and more it was not just a ticket to a 'show', children played, chaos ensued and no-one battered an eye-lid, except to mention the direction for much needed refreshments. (And did I mention? Good coffee. Huge mummy tick!).
Image Credit: Bristol Old Vic
And what of 'Boing!'?
Boing! is described as 'exhilarating dance theatre'. It completely is. Like watching Mr J playing squash, I was exhausted watching.
I was brave. I took a four year old and two 2-year olds.
They loved it.
Squeaks thought it was 'really, really funny'.
Tiny didn't like it when they went to bed, he was really upset. Until I explained that we didn't have to go to bed as well and we could watch Wilkie and Joel sleep the same way mummy watches him and his brother sleep. Then he loved every minute.
The boys completely loved the robots (the bit where I was left exhausted).
They all loved the super hero. And I fear for my sheets.
And for anyone whose children are already thinking about Christmas (mine have a list a mile long) this is a great motivator for sleep!

I love that the Sherman does 'proper' theatre.
That probably sounds wrong.
I loved taking the children to see Ben & Holly and The Gruffalo. But they know what to expect. It's great, and they love me for it.
Taking them to see theatre can be so much more. And this is where balance can be so good. The children are used to the theatre environment through tv coming to the stage, that stretching their imagination becomes a possibility in this setting.
I love watching their expressions, that commentary is not needed, that they can see things all around and different things will catch their eye and bring their own enjoyment.
I love that the performances are not overly long, there's no contrived interval for sugar intake. The story is complete before ants and pants come to mind.
I love that I can take nearly 3 year olds and they can feel at ease. 
Putting children's theatre 'in the round' means everyone can join in from in front of or behind the hidden line.
That there is so much going on that my child constantly chanting 'Boing!' is not in a hushed theatre but in a theatre full of energy where it is not noticed with much more than a knowing nod.
They are enjoying themselves.

So, yes, if you're wondering how to make the most of the remaining days of the half term, if you're looking for a way to learn something new about your children- then definitely try and get tickets to see Boing!
Disclosure: We received two press tickets and discounted tickets to see the performance. All views expressed are our own.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The finale - The Great Bloggers Bake Off

I can't believe it got here so fast (and I'm still a Dacquoise short of a finale) but there it was, the final.
And for me the right decision, I was backing Ruby throughout, and I do think so much about the bravado which accompanies some people who can't *do* for toffee and people who are more comfortable with being ready for the criticism, I digress. Frances had so many creative, lateral, talent which made a perfect winner.
And the nation breathed a sigh of relief.

So, what would finale week bring for me?
Jenny and Helen were of course on hand with smelling salts to keep a sense of perspective.
Well, it goes without saying, the usual stresses to accompany what seemed reasonable deadlines, and a few curve balls.
And so, of course, all I really wanted to do was throw myself into the kitchen. But, of course, those three pesky children.
And of course one pesky child became ill but she did regain strength for day 2. And, of course, Ben Bear, who has come home from school for half term adventures also contributed to our success.
A Hallowe'en treat was in order- a celebration cake (you see how I made it appropriate?).
And then of course Pinterest bore its influence.
And so it may not be a three- tier... and I  thought about using the term 'deconstructed' but anyone who knows me would understand my inability to understand construction to begin with.
But it is all the best parts of my #GBBO experience on one table!
So, I started with the shortbread I had made with my lemon possets. I used the same receipe, with probably an extra 80g of flour so I could work with the dough. I was nervous it would take away from the buttery taste which everyone had loved with the posset, but fortunately between the almonds and the butter it remained a success.
I then called in the troops to help me with the sponge which would be the base cake pops and fairy cakes.
As usual, I used my trusty receipe of weighing four eggs, and using an equal amount of sugar, Stork and self-raising flour, along with a splash of vanilla essence.

Our witches would be the sponge fairy cake, our googley eyes and orange buttercream, shoelaces, with a cornet drowned in chocolate.
Our pumpkins were cake pops, with orange buttercream, rolled black icing, and witches green hair from M&S.
Our ghosts were the cake pops with cream rolled icing, a bit of orange buttercream to attach and then we drew on detail with an edible pen from Hobbycraft.
And, yes, the complete cheat, Haribo marshmallows and the edible pen.
And this was my piece d'resistance, although it came with all the flaws of my Angel Food cake.
I used the Bundtt tin to try and create a cauldron, and used the Joconde sponge from my Opera Cake.
Unfortunately the Joconde had the same fate as the Angel Food cake, so chocolate buttercream creates the wonderful illusion of this beeing one cake.
And we used M&S skulls and rolled black icing spiders to decorate the cauldron.
Inside the cauldon we used green jelly, white chocolate mice, and sour worms, with a shortbread spoon.
And yes, I am so happy with our effort.
I am so happy with everything I've done.

Someone commented about not having the confidence to bake.
So this is it.
My daughter's 3rd birthday cake. March 2012.
Burnt base and rubbish icing.
And she loved it.
And 18months on I am making different types of sponge bases.
Get me :)


mummy mishaps

Disclosure: I received Stork to use for this challenge as part of the Great Bloggers Bake Off.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Oral B Triumph 5000 #Review

I don't know what you've been like about dental hygiene since your children were born but my priorities changed, and probably at some stage they tipped a bit too much in favour of my children.

Since Squeaks was a year old we have been going to the dentist. Unfortunately when we lived in Yorkshire we could only find an NHS dentist which would take children, so Squeaks went regularly and I eventually found one which would take me and ended up doing root canal. It took me a long time to return.

When we moved to South Wales I managed to register with the same surgery which I had as a child. Unfortunately my dentist had retired and now living a bit further out it was not a practical journey.
Five months ago I managed to find a local NHS dentist who could take on our family. She had a three month waiting list.

She was worth it.
As I think the best dentists are.
I went with a 4 year old and 2 year old twin boys.
It was exhausting.
But she took the time to inspect each child, thoroughly.
And somewhat ashamedly it was not all good.
Squeaks gave up her doh-dees 6 months ago after our dentist said she had to. She now has the begins on an underbite.
The boys are already both suffering from having doh-dees, not only affecting their teeth but also their bone structure.
Tiny has brown spots on one of his teeth- suggesting the begins of decay. At two years old! My need to ensure he is putting on weight means he is now probably snacking too much, which is probably the cause.
I walked out feeling like a failing mum.
And as someone who had failed to remember the importance of their own teeth.
I need treatment. I always start but never see it through because the children or work, or life comes first.

I now have two appointments booked to sort out my mouth.
And so the arrival of the Oral B Triumph 5000 to review was much appreciated.
I do have an electric toothbrush so it was always good to understand why this toothbrush would be an improvement.
The first thing that you notice is the inclusion of the extra gadget- the smart guide- and I wondered whether this would be a novelty which would wear off.
The second thing is how smart it is and how everything which could be an issue with standard electric toothbrushes has been thought of.
It has battery lights which reduce over time, so you have a good idea of how much battery life remains, rather than the sudden flashing you get a few minutes before the toothbrush stops.
It has a red light which tells you when you are applying too much pressure.
It has a great base unit which means you can keep everything in one place.
And it comes with a really handy travel case, which means each week when I'm working away I can take the toothbrush conveniently.
 And I am a convert to the handy gadget- the SmartGuide- which can be affixed to a wall, but sits on a shelf.
Which has a smiley face and four stars when I've brushed properly. Which automatically begins timing my toothbrushing session when I turn the toothbrush on, and guides you to spend 30seconds on each quadrant- resulting in four stars and a smiley face if you do.
It also allows you to see which setting you've selected on your toothbrush and which means when time allows I've been polishing my teeth alongside the regular daily cleans. And even with the daily clean, it's quite odd to ignore the SmartGuide and see if two-minutes is the same in your head as it is in reality. And the reality is that I do not spend as long on my teeth when I am estimating two minutes!
The toothbrush is recommended by dentists and has the British Dental Foundation Platinum endorsement. So yes, I think my teeth are feeling a lot cleaner, and I think the plaque build up is reducing.
And feeling good about your teeth is the priority.

Each time I use the toothbrush my teeth feel cleaner. They feel a lot smoother and along with knowing the difference the full 2 minutes might make, alongside being able to make a direct comparison, well, I really do think my dentist will see improvements.

The RRP of the toothbrush may be high, but finding it for half price at £79.99 makes it a much more reasonable purchase. Paying what you do for NHS appointments means it has to be worthwhile in immediate savings along. Having children wanting to brush their teeth because mummy is is such a treasured moment.

Disclosure: I received an Oral B Triumph with SmartGuide as part of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network, and for the purposes of this review. All opinions and views contained are my own.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

A belated week 9 of the #GBBO Chocolate Opera Cake

So I managed to get a little bit behind with the Great Bloggers Bake Off, and whilst the dacquoise is on my to-do list I decided to get ahead of myself and have a go at the Opera cake. And, yes, when I say getting ahead of myself, this is of course acknowledging I am now still a week behind!

Catching up was the right choice, I managed to make a cake that Mr J seems to think is my best yet.
I guess that's the thing with joining in with the Great British Bake Off. I am stepping away from my foolproof sponge receipe which the children devour and keep stepping into the unknown.
And like Angel Food Cake, we managed to create a sponge in the Opera cake which Mr J thinks is light (the bias on egg white) and in spite of the chocolate has managed to convince himself is light, and therefore good for you.

As I decided as I was making the cake that I wanted an Opera Cake which the children could eat. Cost had also proved a deciding factor (after pricing up raspberries in the volume needed by some recipes) so, I ended up adapting a few recipes. I did use ground almonds (I never know the rules about eating nuts where children are concerned, I decided they would be eating the cake with our supervision and there was no choking hazard so I was ok), and although I had prepared an expresso with the purpose of making a coffee syrup and buttercream, my parenting mind got in the way and I ended up nipping to Tesco to get more chocolate (sugar vs caffeine where children are concerned... I'm convinced caffeine is worse but really?!).

So, with the children on side, we set about to making a chocolatier's delight.
Recipe

Joconde sponge
6 free-range egg whites
25g/1oz granulated sugar
110/ 4oz ground almonds
225g/8oz icing sugar
6 free-range eggs
40g/1½oz plain flour
40g/1½oz cocoa powder
85g/3oz butter, melted

White Chocolate French buttercream
3 free-range egg yolks
55g/2oz caster sugar
2 tbsp water
225g/8oz unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla essence
125g/4½oz white chocolate

Milk Chocolate buttercream
115g/4oz unsalted butter
115g/4oz icing sugar
115g/4oz milk chocolate

Plain Chocolate Ganache
250g/9oz plain chocolate
125ml/4fl oz golden syrup
125ml/4fl oz double cream

Method

Joconde sponge
Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Grease and line two 46cm x 33cm/18in x 13in baking trays.
Whisk the egg white in a clean bowl until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed. Slowly whisk in the sugar and continue to whisk until stiff peaks form. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside.
Beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs together in a separate bowl for 3-5 minutes, or until the mixture has doubled in volume. Fold in the flour and cocoa powder.
Gently fold the whisked egg whites into the mixture.
Spoon a little of the mixture into the melted butter and mix until well combined.
Tip the butter mixture into the cake mixture and fold together until just combined.
Divide the mixture evenly between the two tins, spreading it smooth, especially at the corners.
Bake for 7-10 minutes, or until pale golden-brown and cooked through. Remove the cakes from the oven, cover with a large piece of greaseproof paper and carefully turn out the cakes. Peel off the greaseproof paper from the bottom of the tin. Cut each cake in half and set aside to cool completely.

White Chocolate French Buttercream
Whisk the egg yolks for five minutes in a bowl, or until pale and foamy.
Heat the sugar and water in a saucepan until it reaches 120C/250F (hope for the best if you don't have one- it works).
While whisking the egg yolks, slowly pour the syrup down the sides of the bowl. Continue to whisk for a further five minutes, or until the bowl is no longer warm to the touch.
Beat the butter into the mixture, one piece at a time, then add the vanilla essence and melted chocolate.
Set aside.

Milk Chocolate Buttercream
Beat the butter and icing sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy.
Beat in the melted chocolate.

Plain Chocolate Ganache
Break the chocolate into small pieces and place into a bowl.
Heat the golden syrup and double cream in a saucepan until just boiling.
Pour the cream mixture onto the chocolate and set aside for two minutes.
Whisk the ganache until smooth, then whisk in enough hot water to loosen the ganache into a pouring consistency.

Assembly
Place one cake square onto a serving plate.
Spread over half of the French buttercream.
Top with another cake square. Spread over the chocolate buttercream.
Place another cake square. Spread over most of the remaining French buttercream (reserving three tablespoons for the top).
Top with the final cake square. Spread with the remaining French buttercream.
Spread the chocolate ganache over the top of the cake.
Leave the cake to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes
Trim the edges with a sharp knife.

And this was it:
Ok, so the sponge wasn't baked evenly, so I should have shimmied them round to gain evenness (I had no idea).
But on the achievements- joconde sponge really is delicious.This was my first time creating french buttercream, and this too was delicious.
And yes, this was completely chocolate heaven, so I massive thumbs up!

Sharing
And, if you're wondering, I have found my new secret to sharing, counting to five and alternating. The boys were so excited to hand the spoon, sieve or whist over on the count of five we managed a practically perfect bake for them.

As always, a massive thanks to Helen and Jenny to keeping the motivation going. I know I wouldn't have got this far without their support, and when I see the positive feedback from friends about my baking skills- I remember my little girl's 3rd birthday cake and laugh. Not even I thought this was possible!
GreatBloggersBakeOff

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

"Mine!" by Sarah Hammond, Illustrated by Laura Hughes #Review

Our latest review as a Parragon Book Buddy was perfect for Squeaks.
"Mine!" is the story of a little girl running a coffee shop, trying to figure out whether it is best to run it 'just so' or 'with a little help from her friends'.
Not only does the book have lots of letters which Squeaks is learning and we can word build, but it is also so beautifully illustrated. It is so beneficial to have a book where the font supports learning, and the colours and images draw children in.
We have had so much fun not only reading the words but also spending time on each page admiring the detail.
Having fun making our own stories without reading the words.

For us, loving coffee shops and baking cakes, this is a perfect book for today's child. The illustrations reminding me of my childhood of ragdolls and china tea sets, well this makes it a book as appropriate for my childhood as Squeaks.
And for a mum trying to show to her daughter that the boys may not do things Squeaks' way, but life can be more enjoyable if sometimes there is compromise- well, of course this book says it so much better!

This book is a great addition to any bookcase, and especially for parents trying to demonstrate the benefits of sharing!

Disclosure: We recieved this book in our role as Parragon Book Buddies. All views and opinions contained are our own.



kjmhn

Monday, 21 October 2013

Making Profiteroles with the #GBBO and The Hairy Bikers

Profiteroles. A favourite. But admittedly it wasn't my first choice for a new recipe to try out.
Almost three weeks behind in my pursuit of Helen and Jenny I decided to forgo aspirations of Religieuse and go with my favourite.
As I looked up recipes I decided I had to go with a Hairy Bikers recipe, compared to others which have been a road to improvement, I made lemon and blueberry muffins and they were so good first time I knew this recipe was the way to go.
And it was.
This was a really straightforward recipe to follow. It made absolutely scrumptious profiteroles- the vanilla cream was delicious and the white chocolate sauce made them easy to devour in one sitting.
Making them again I would definitely try and make them more rounded rather than just throwing the heaped teaspoons on to the parchment.
Honestly though I would probably go with Choux buns, I think the children would eat them a bit more enthusiastically.... so I don't feel like I have to eat the majority rather than twiddling my thumbs.

A definite hit with us, a definite 'phew' from me- I made profiteroles and they were delicious- mission accomplished!

mummy mishaps

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The cupcake baker's staple: "Make, Bake, Cupcake" #Review

Cupcakes are a staple in our house. Everyone loves a treat and for some reason I have the logic that homemade cupcakes are much better for you then shop bought cakes.

"Make, Bake, Cupcake" takes this logic to a whole new level. With the first chapter entitled "Cocktails and Mocktails" this book takes my cupcake making exploits to a whole new level.
And the book has great balance, the scary cute section is providing lots of motivation for our Halloween party, we are especially loving the ghost cupcakes.
Squeaks has fallen head over heels for the 'heart in a cupcake'- and they do look a lot of fun.
And me, I love all the hints and tips at the beginning, and I do love how easy to follow the recipes are, making the cocktail cupcakes so straightforward, although with my baking record I would guess Limoncello cupcakes will be my temptation.
With something for everyone this is a great book to get creativity flowing.
I love the ideas, the presentation, and the ideas for not only great flavours but also great presentation.

Disclosure: We received a copy of this book to review as part of our role as a Parragon Book Buddy. All views contained are our own.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Productive time

The idea of having time which is better spent doing 'stuff'.

I usually work better on the train to and from London.
Despite a few hours sleep to ensure I'm out of bed for 0530 I get lots done on the train.
It's great to have 2 hours of time where there's nowhere to go. No distractions.
When I work at night, I can be really productive, but the downside of needing the time to unwind.
So I don't get to bed 'til late.
Tonight (this morning) the case in point.
Although there's a sense of achievement.
I've got some work done.

I have learned that being home from 6 'til 7 at night is worse when not at 100%.
I have learned that getting everyone out of the house before or after tea for a walk makes the world of difference for everyone.
And makes a better sleep for everyone.
I've learned that a great distraction for everyone is baking.
Everyone apart from my frayed nerves.
Colouring, painting, gluing, reading books.... all in good measure.
But don't rely on anything.
It's the equivalent of begging for defeat.

Productive time, whether at work or with children, is not looking for distraction.
Being willing to commit yourself.
Whether due to a small space or a big personality.
Give me the big personality every day.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Mack and Mabel by Sebastien Braun #Review


I can't imagine what life would be like if my little ones didn't love vehicles.
We drive past the airport most days, and there is always a competition to see who can spot the most planes, and then who gets to go in each (hypothetically speaking).
Our cars both have names (imaginatively 'Bluey' and 'Silver').
And emergency vehicles can't even go past without a reference to Sam (of the Fireman variety).

At this time of year the children are always on the look out for tractor, and as we live a way out they are in frequent supply.
Gone are the days of being annoyed at being stuck behind one, the little people get so excited and it is always good to see them so entertained.

So when Harper Collins sent us a book about tractors you can imagine the enthusiasm all three had to get to bedtime. And the book has seen lots of journeys up and down the stairs as it has to be read a few times each day.
The book has a great message, in a wonderfully engaging way. It details the arrival of a new tractor- Muck who Mack has to take under his wing. Beep is the wonderfully encouraging pink jeep (of course Squeaks now wants one for Christmas!), who does her best to support Muck and help Mack see how he can make Muck a great worker on the farm.
To me these are great messages for all three children.
As you can see the boys had lots of fun reading the book, deciding who would drive each tractor, practicing their counting and colours, and deciding who would be fastest.
The illustrations are bright and clear, facial expressions are obvious which really helps the boys to understand the book. For Squeaks the letters are clear and she can identify those letters she has learned so it is a great out of school support.
All three enjoyed reading the book, Squeaks at 4 understood the messages more so than the boys, although the boys definitely understood the importance of looking after little things.

Mack and Mabel is published by Harper Collins, and available from good book shops.

Disclosure: We received a copy of this book for the purposes of this review. All views contained are our own.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Project #365 - Week #41

This week has been about home, which has been odd as three days have been spent in London, but I am trying to offset this by walks about. Of course it benefits everyone, it allows me to have some great time with the children and it has the added advantage of exhausting them before bedtime.

Sunday: Ballet at Barry. After throwing herself in the sea.
Monday: Climbing at the Point before swimming lessons.
Tuesday: Back from London past the children's bedtime so settling for the view.
Wednesday: The boys get to enjoy the Point.
Thursday: Back home from London early enough to read some books together.
Friday: The first reading book came home from school and someone couldn't wait for mummy to get home from London to read it.
Saturday: Not the best photo with the evening getting dark so early, but we made it to the Point for some fun after the boys forgot to wake from their afternoon nap!

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Friday, 11 October 2013

The cost of forgetfulness

Do you ever wonder how you got to work?
One minute you’re locking the front door and the next minute you’re walking into the office.

And that you have routines.
The fact most days you do things in a certain order and it just happens.

Mr J is the forgetful one in our family
The other day he was taking the boys out using the back door.
I was taking Squeaks out through the front door.
I walked back into the kitchen and the door was wide open with the car gone.

Yesterday I got back from London, and phoned him in tears.
“It’s just not like you” were his words of comfort.
I got back from London to a parking notice on my car.

A couple of days a week I work in London.
I park my car at the train station.
I use ‘Ring Go’ to pay.
And yesterday I didn't.

I can’t even begin to explain it.
To the extent that the first thing I did when I saw the parking notice was reach to find the text which proved I had paid.
It wasn't there.

And then I remembered the distraction.
The need to get to London. To sit in a room and take and exam.
The need to revise on the train.
And I forgot.
And I am gutted.
I cheer myself up with the thought that I have never once forgotten to take the children anywhere, or pick them up from any place.
But it scares me that I managed to forget something which could potentially cost me £70.

I appealed to NCP when I got home.
I appealed on the basis that for two years I haven’t forgotten.
Two years of pulling into a car parking space, reaching for my phone and typing some numbers.
To be honest I think that’s pretty good going.
Bearing in mind as I type this (on a train to London, after remembering to pay for my car parking at the station) I have realised I have forgotten my power cable.

So, in the hope I'm not alone, what’s the most costly thing you've forgotten to do?

Confession: I am addicted to brainless tv viewing

Admittedly, I've known this for a while.
Let's call it years.

Obviously apart from Great British Bake Off, The Apprentice, Question Time and Master Chef.
Which we all know are educational.

I've never been able to shake off soaps.
It was the negotiation as a child.
Being allowed to stay up for Eastenders.

Loving when Neighbours, and then Home & Away competed with my dad and the news.
And then Hollyoaks became 'hangover Sunday' viewing.
And living in Yorkshire made Emmerdale mandatory.

And there was Friends, Ally McBeal, Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, Brothers & Sisters, Revenge, Parenthoood, Homeland.

And for some reason, years after the event, I discovered CSI and NCIS.

I think I need brain dead.
The ability to waste an hour of my life.
Whilst convincing myself I'm watching tv.

But oddly on Thursday nights it is Scandal.
And I've got really upset that the hotel I've been staying in doesn't have More4.
And then I got more upset last week when Mr J decided to switch the Sky+ box off.
So this week (for numerous reasons) I'm travelling to London on Thursday and Friday.
With the bonus of catching up on Scandal.

The interesting conclusion is that it's all American.
And maybe it's because I know I'll never live there.
So this is the closest to it.
Or maybe it's because I'm easily entertained.
PS Have you noticed the guy from Ally McBeal has turned up in the latest series of NCIS?

Thursday, 10 October 2013

"Can you Dance to the Boogaloo?" - A review

There remains something so special about opening a new book for the first time.
About whiling time away in book shops.

And it's so good to see our children have a love of books.
Albeit they're not so patient with the books mummy reads.
Although of course mummy has to be so patient with their books.
As we read them for the tenth time over.

Squeaks was delighted to receive a copy of "Can you Dance to the Boogaloo?" by Alice v. Lickens.
Squeaks loved the look of the book, instantly feeling the need to dance rather than sit down and read the book.
As we sat down to read Squeaks was taken with naming the animals, the musical instruments and the sounds associated with both.
For this, it was a great read. We took our time appreciating the illustrations and the bright colours were a hit.
Reading it's rhythmical words made it fun and it was a book we had to read twice.
On balance I think this is great for pre-schoolers.
I can't wait to sit down with the boys and read it, although with their animal antics and love of dance I will probably be there for some time.
The vivid colours and wonderful collusion of animals and music means it is right up a toddler's street!

For Squeaks I am now looking for books with the letters she associates with, and we'll probably be back with the book in a little while, but for now as she's learning how to create letters this book isn't keeping with her understanding.
Whilst it's not therefore a book for learning to read, it's definitely a book for having fun.

Disclosure: We were sent a copy of this book for the purposes of this review. All opinions and views contained are our own.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The Freak Show

At least once a week, in a work capacity, the conversation begins.
Beginning as reciprocal, but the questions hone in.
"Do you have children?"
"Yes, three. You?"
"[response given: none/ one/ some], how old are they?"
I always wonder how to answer this, if I say four and two, will it confuse? Am I deliberately provoking more detail. I choose to cut to the chase.
"I have a four year old and two year old twins"
Cue some kind of 'supermom' response.
In a typical Ruby-esque (Are you watching the Great British Bake Off?!) I reply along the lines of how much more difficult it was adjusting to becoming a parent than having twins.
I try to keep the questions reciprocal.
The conversation moves on, usually to childcare.
I am usually stood in London having these conversations. They know I'm trying to get going. Home. To Wales.
The stay at home dad gets brought into the equation.

Not only twins but a stay at home dad.

No longer supermom... edging into freak category.
The questions flow.
The point is always missed. We could never afford the childcare bill for three. We do not live of some form of inheritance or lottery win.
We do it this way because we have to, it wasn't a choice.
Admittedly I like the way the cards fell, in that our children have a stay at home parent.
But, most know, I wish they had fallen a little differently in my favour.
Mr J is the parent at the school gate. I am the one who gets the inquisitive look.
Until Squeaks comes out shouting "Mummy".
It's ok, I'm with her.

Mr J has the Yorkshire accent, I'm sure the foreigner status endears people to him.
I have ended up with a 'nothing' accent, not Welsh, not placed.
Basically, not Welsh. Unidentified.

More than this, I get frustrated.
I get frustrated with people standing up for stay at home mums.
Because they want equality for those who have no choice to stay at home.
But their equality doesn't overtly stretch to dads.
Why mums? Why not parents?
We're fortunate, dads at the school gate are common place.
But sometimes the need to stereoptype prevails. The assumption that this is because parents are separated.

After so many years of 'economic downturn' the cards have landed equally.
Sometimes mums can't find work, sometimes dads can't find work.
Sometimes it's more preferable for dad to work, sometimes mum.

A moment of calm.
Above this all, sometimes when you have children close together, you don't get a choice.
Childcare is not an option.
Sometimes you don't plan this, not because you are falling into the negative stereotype of 'unplanned'.
But because multiple births happen.
And they can't be planned.
And they are becoming more and more common place in the UK.
But the parents aren't 'super', they didn't get a choice.
They cope, because every parent does.
Because no-one chooses to listen to a crying baby.
Because everyone wants the best for their child.
So, we're not a freak show.
We're no different.
Like you, we've had to adapt, and change, sometimes to accept.
And like you, we want a Saturday morning lie-in, but will settle for a door flying open, shouts of "mummy", "daddy", followed by kisses, cuddles and jumping on the bed.
Happiness.
There's nothing more required.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Win a family ticket to see Peppa & Her Friends on stage (ends 23.59 29/10/13)

Come and join in the fun with Peppa, George and their friends as they tour the UK with the new theatre show Peppa Pig’s Big Splash. We have tickets for a lucky family to win.
The nursery roof is leaking and Peppa and her friends need to fix it quickly. They set up a fete to raise the money for Mr Bull to do the repairs. There’s plenty of fun to be had as Peppa, George, Mummy and Daddy Pig, as well as Danny Dog, Pedro Pony and Suzy Sheep put up bunting, run stalls and organise a great day out.

There's also a Champion Puddle Jumping competition judged by Mr Potato where everyone gets wet and Peppa needs to find her Golden Boots.

Another all-singing, all-dancing adventure full of songs, games and muddy puddles is guaranteed for all the family.

For your chance to win a family ticket to see Peppa Pig’s Big Splash on tour please enter the Rafflecopter below.

Competition Terms & Conditions:
1. This competition is open to residents of the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man and Republic of Ireland aged 18 years or over, except for those associated with the production company, their families or anyone else associated with this competition.
2. All information detailing how to enter this competition forms part of these terms and conditions.
3. All entries must be received by the advertised closing time date.
4. After the winner has been picked you have 10 working days to contact us to provide details to claim your prize. If we do not hear anything after this time period another winner will be drawn at random.
5. One entrant shall win a family ticket is for 4 people, minimum 1 adult. The tickets are non-transferable and are subject to availability. There are no cash alternatives, accommodation or travel included in this prize. The Criterion Theatre dates (5 December to 5 January) are excluded from this competition.
6. The winner may be required to take part in publicity.
7. All prizes are non-transferable and there are no cash alternatives. The prize is subject to availability.
8. Events may occur that render the competition itself or the awarding of the prizes impossible due to reasons beyond the control of the Promoter, and accordingly the Promoter may at its absolute discretion vary or amend the promotion and the entrant agrees that no liability shall attach to the Promoter as a result thereof.
9. Johnson Babies is responsible for the first part of the promotion, which is the publication and adjudication of the competition. All other facilities connected with the provision of the prize are the responsibility of the Promoter.
10. English law applies and the exclusive jurisdiction of the English Courts shall prevail.
11. This prize is only available to residents of the UK (No PO Boxes).
Peppa Pig’s Big Splash is on tour until October 2014.
For further show information and tour dates: www.peppapiglive.com
Follow @PeppaPigLive

Monday, 7 October 2013

Boots- for work, for home- for both?

There are some things in life which make me think I have the inability to grow up.
My love of cons and birkenstocks probably defines this.
I spent years thinking hobbling around in heels would make people treat me seriously.
And whilst first impressions obviously count, people lose confidence if your personality and ability don't stack up, and heels are not a part of this equation.
I have grown comfortable in flats.
And whilst I love to wear heels, this is weighed up with how much walking is involved in my day.

A few years ago wedges were recommended to me as the happy medium. Admittedly these were already my happy medium, and for work predominately I wear wedges, I have ballerina pumps for the summer, and one pair of heeled ankle boots which I adore, but otherwise, everyday work sees me in wedges.

But as we turn to autumn once more I am on the look out for boots to take me out with the family. Wedges aren't an option, and I feel my walking boots are only for serious occasions.So, once again, I am drawn to online shopping. Of course, K&Co.com is one of bookmarks, offering a range of my favourite brands along  with some great discounts I always feel the need to price check or rethink my options.

And fortunately the range of flat boots from K&Co means I am left with a shopping list for home and work, and with some wondering if they will travel across both.
I would love to reinvest in a pair of Dr Martens, the boots which saw me through my teenage years, but I'm not sure that I could wear them to work.
I've never had a pair of Uggs, and am so tempted, especially with the navy ones, but am not sure they're hardwearing enough for home life.
And I remain unsure about suede boots for home, but think as long as I protect them well enough I should be fine.
So, I think I have my top three
Although I'm not completely convinced. I really have a top 8.. at least.
I think I'd like to stick with wedges for work, so bottom left has it.
And whilst I love bottom right for home life... I'm still umm-ing over the suede... in favour of Doc's... or the boots with the overturned tongues.... or should I throw caution to the wind and go for my first pair of Ugg's.

Fortunately there's Father Christmas.
Maybe if I write him a letter I can let him decide?

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Project #365 - Week #40

Week 40, a scary but a rewarding thought.
Week 40, are we really here, October.
And have a really managed to, more or less, keep up with Project #365?

So, here were are:

Sunday: following the leader at Porthkerry.
Monday: nearly missing a train to London as a little too much effort was put into a packed lunch.
Tuesday: Fireman Sam is spotted on my desktop- I will never have a moments peace in the office.
Wednesday: A new dressing up outfit finds its way to the supermarket.
Thursday: Getting a glimpse of the massive redevelopment of Elephant & Castle.
Friday: School's out.
Saturday: Number counting and colour sorting.


TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky

Friday, 4 October 2013

Our month that was September

As I put Squeaks to bed tonight she noticed I had something written on my hand.
"What have you got written on your hand mummy?" (You never know, her first month in school might have made her incredibly literate).
Afraid to tell my children fibs, I replied:
"Need to do self assessment"
One of my luxuries on my nights away being able to watch BBC Breakfast. One of the sections today was about the imminent deadline for child benefit changes. Tomorrow. I wrote it on my hand so there as no way of forgetting.
"You're not to supposed to write on your hand mummy."
"I know sweetheart, but mummy was worried she might forget so it seemed a good idea."
"I think you should write 'do not jump on the sofa' on my hand mummy."

My children are growing up, and I love being a part of it.

Now on a Friday morning, at 8am, the boys phone me to say good morning. They tell me about their breakfast and plans for the day. And then they sing. The Fireman Sam theme tune.
It melts my heart and means the day starts well.

I love that the boys are now of an age where they can hold down a conversation. Albeit their attention span speaking on the phone is the same as it is with a toy. Fortunately, there are two of them, and between them I get lots of interesting chat.
And two versions of the Fireman Sam theme tune.
September has seen lots of changes.
We were all relieved to get into the routine of school and playschool again.
All three remain enthused each day with the school run and are eager to get to their respective places of fun.
Mr J only had one morning when he thought Squeaks might not be up to school, and after phoning to let them know she was feeling poorly, Squeaks managed a 10 minute power nap to recover and she was in school by ten past nine.

We have made decisions about after-school activities. And whilst ballet was not to be (Squeaks ended up being the only attendee) we have two that Squeaks loves. She is continuing her swimming lessons and is progressing well, now at half lengths (basically she's already better than her mum) which is Mr J's love and I get to take her to drama sessions once a week (my love). Does that sound selfish? She's doing things that we love. Probably. But we are both eager for her to do something sporty and something to build her confidence and help her harness her inner diva. They fit the bill. Ballet was Squeaks' choice, so now we are on the look out for another local class.

I am hoping we will be able to afford for the boys do also do after school activities. It's scary going from one to three, but with the money we will save from playschool when the boys start school we should be able to give them all the same opportunities.

September has seen Squeaks start school proper. And whilst she can be more moody due to her exhaustion she is an absolute joy. She is so eager to tell me about the letters she is learning through phonics, and her numbers, and I love sitting with her whilst she does her homework. She now has two best friends at school (Joel, who is in her class, and Matthew, who is in Miss T's) and whilst she has not for a minute forgotten about Miss A and Master H it makes me so happy that this is so.
September has seen the children interact more than ever. It is no longer the case that Squeaks and Cheeky are best mates, more often this month has seen Cheeky with me and Squeaks and Tiny playing. And more so than ever they are playing as a three. The boys now play together rather than play in the same place. Soft play sees the boys helping each other (to create chaos) than enjoying themselves in each others presence.

September has seen Cheeky retain his position of the king of strops as well as the master of sharing. Most likely of all three to be found folding his arms and refusing to move, and most likely to share his food or toys without prompt. This month has seen Cheeky become the most likely to want cuddles of the three, which has never been known before and is most welcomed.

Tiny retains his role of the honest broker. Taking responsibility for everything whether true or not. Whilst this can sometimes play to his favour, more often than not Tiny admits to being the master of all that is naughty. Playschool were unaware of the character defect, thinking Tiny to be the most honest of his peers:
"Who made this mess?"- Vicky
"Me"- Tiny
"Tiny"- Cheeky
"Well done Tiny for being so honest, please could you tidy up?"- Vicky
And as Tiny has a smidge of OCD he is more than happy to tidy it. The fact he didn't make the mess becomes irrelevant.

Workwise, September has seen me try to create a routine at work. Unfortunately the routine means being away every Thursday night. In some ways it is good, I miss home. It's a Thursday, at least I can watch Question Time in peace, and on my journey home I know I have two full days with the children to look forward to. September has seen the government announcement, confirming I get to add another £15m project to my work. September has seen me fighting tooth and nail for resource, feeling like I have no choice but to issue ultimatums about resigning my role in a bid to prove cost-effectiveness.
Workwise, September has confirmed that bureaucracy sucks. That sometimes organisational change and organisational direction are not compatible.
And yet, as always, common sense prevailing concluded September. And I thought of Green Day and wished that, as it ended as it should have that, perhaps I should have taken a lengthy blink.

September also saw me welcomed to the Children's Ministry Team at our Church. With CRB check in hand I can now move to 'leader' role. Fortunately this is a rota basis and is an enjoyable link with Squeaks and one of my original ambitions of teaching. I found myself volunteering to write this year's Nativity, which is oddly reinforcing my forward planning preference, as I have just finished and have enjoyed thinking about Christmas Carols- another benefit of having a night away with not much to do.

And September saw me discover a love of baking, able to try new things and hone my photography at the same time. I have felt so much better having another distraction from work.
And as for Mr J, well, he is now fully recovered from his op. Enjoying squash, he cycles Squeaks to school and back each day, goes swimming whilst the boys are in playschool, and has now started running in the evenings. He is as frustrated as ever being a full time dad. Not for the parenting part, but the sole income part, for the constant monitoring of purse strings. Truthfully, knowing how he was when I was on maternity, I know it would be no better if roles were reversed and I worry about the culture shock of him returning to work, but still he is looking forward to having the option.

And us, well, escaping as a family is always a much treasured time. All too often we are shipping Squeaks off here and the boys off there. Escaping on walks along the coast or blackberry picking have been the highlights.
And as we welcome October, and its dark mornings and nights, we need to treasure more those precious afternoons and early evenings.
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