Friday, 31 October 2014

Dinosaurs and Pirates- RAWR at the Millennium Centre

What wouldn't you love about a child's imagination transporting you from the classroom to adventures on the sea.
And then, to encounter not only pirates... but Pirate Dinosaurs!
This half term, the Wales Millenium Centre welcomed Le Petits Theatre and their production of "Captain Flynn and the Pirate Dinosaurs".
Transformed from the book by Giles Andreae and Russell Ayto, the production plays well in the WMC's Weston Studio.
With a brief "to ignite children's imaginations through the magic of theatre and storytelling" the small cast definitely succeed.
With interchanging roles, and puppeteering the four actors are certainly put through their paces.

And our little ones loved all the dinosaurs- apart from the big scary one- so pleased were they that there was actually a t-rex was spotted at the outset.
Children were engaged and encapsulated throughout, such was the energy, the singing, and audience participation in the performance.
With our created eye patches, hooks and "ah-har's" we were real explorers.
The participation, the audience interaction made the audience-stage divide fall away.
And I loved the friends we met along the way, most especially the puffer fish which resembled a lightshade, but also the stingray which caused great excitement.

I loved watching the three 3-year olds whom I accompanied.
The absolute enthrallment.
At times it was possible to see their jaws agog as they watched the story unfold, the excitement and the trepidation was an absolute delight as the pirate dinosaurs were spotted, fought, and conquered.
I loved that there was enough for not only the children but also the grown-ups (how I berated my boys for both deciding toilet-time was a necessity halfway through!).
I admired the choreography, the fight scenes, and the music.
I loved the clever use of rotating scenery to move from a child's bedroom, to a classroom, to an arts cupboard, to the ocean and onto a boat.
I loved the use of puppetry, and admired the actors for their changing roles.

What would I have liked?
More.
I genuinely think the audience could have handled it.
Admittedly, as mentioned, my children needed a toilet break, and maybe given the target audience lengthening the production would warrant an interval.
And I am not a big fan of intervals (they seem to encourage ice-cream).
But seriously, pirates, dinosaurs, and adventure.... an interval would definitely be acceptable to continue this adventure for a little longer.
Disclosure: We received press tickets for the purposes of this review. All opinions and views contained are our own.

Half term fun at Sherman Cymru with Match

If there's one thing (and there's a lot more) Sherman Cymru does well, it's holiday fun for children.
This half term we were invited to see the start of Dot & Ethel's new touring production of "Match".
And as we stepped foot into the foyer, we stepped foot into a busy, welcoming environment.
Full of crafts and fun for the little ones, and the usual fab coffee for parents with depreciating caffeine levels.
After dragging Seren away from the fantastic cakes and treats, we stepped into the magic of the Sherman's Theatre 2.
Theatre 2 is the perfect space for young people, a theatre informal enough to be relaxed into the performance as floor cushions are the order of the day.
"Match" is based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl", and explores the story of a little girl to afraid too go home, the performance recreates the memories of a grandmother, and the visions created through the lighting of a match, until they are gone, and one final vision is created.

This interpretation, by Eloise Secker and Jade Berks, saw children instantly transfixed as the two created a sequence of physical theatre, with very little dialogue. With the inclusion of audience interaction, the theatre was filled with delighted giggles as newspaper was used to prevent deflation.

In some ways the initial sequence was slightly too long, Seren did get a little restless but was soon back on board as the adventures of the two girls were explored and realised.
The two have a lovely bond, and succeed in engaging the young audience through the humour created by their facial and physical interaction.
There was something here for me that imaginative play is a lot of fun, but sometimes, as an adult bystander, our focus is only kept for so long before we want to join in or become distracted.

As the adventures were unveiled so attention was captured once more. With clothes created, bubbles from tea cups, fairy lights, walking sticks and floor lamps, cardboard boxes and red glitter shoes, so everything becomes a journey into the imagination.

Seren loved aligning the imaginative play with projected images, and whilst I am not sure she understood the symbolism of the final fairy lights and the little girl's journey to heaven, to an extent, I am sort of ok with this. Seren has an understanding of death, but for now, I am happy that my 5yo instead loves the idea of making her bedroom her space by recreating the fairy lights as stars in the sky.

Dot and Ethel are now taking "Match" on a UK tour, and their adventures can be followed on their blog.
For Seren, life quickly moves on, I still haven't been forgiven for not taking her to see Peter Pan at the Sherman (two years ago!) and so focus has already moved on to what the Sherman has in store this Christmas, which has also been accompanied by the request for ample time for cake!

Disclosure: We received tickets for the purposes of this review. All opinions and views contained are our own.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Creating Hope this Halloween

I try not to get on my hobbyhorse.
But I recently read that, as celebrations go, Hallowe'en is the third most lucrative. After Christmas and Easter.
Oddly this upset me. I like Valentine's. I don't like the idea of spending more on ghosts and ghouls than love.
And whilst I love any cause for celebration and fun.
And I don't like, particularly, where life has taken us with Hallowe'en.
From family time to commercialism.
From remembering the dead, to focusing on the powers of death.

And so, this Hallowe'en we have been organised a Light Party.
With plans moving to reality, I was really pleased to see an email about World Vision’s Halloween campaign for A Night of Hope.

As ideas go, this one has my attention turning a night, now associated with fear, into A Night of Hope for the child refugees of Syria.

And so here's our offering:
Please join in:
• Carve a heart in a pumpkin as a lantern of hope – real or virtual
• Text Heart8 to 70060 to donate £5

What will this achieve?
• You will be helping us raise money for schools and educational equipment, to give the children hope for the future
• All the pumpkin pictures shared will be shown to the children of Syria later in the year in a special event for them

There are lots of resources on the campaign page which are free for you to use, including a carving guide and stencils, bunting and pumpkin recipes on the World Vision page.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Everything IS Awesome - Half Term & The Lego Movie #Review

There are fads and then there are the staples.
Lego has become our staple.
From Duplo as toddlers, to Lego and wish lists for Christmas.
And Tom & Seb were lucky to receive The Lego Movie to while away afternoons where the rain has poured.
And give mummy some time to enjoy a coffee before it reached lukewarm.
I have no idea why Lego has gripped their attention so much, in the same way it continues to draw me in to join in the creation game.
But where the children beat me hands down in with their imagination.
The roles they take and where it carries them.
Twins watching The Lego Movie
And so, they embraced The Lego Movie.
The focus of the movie is on Emmet, considered an average mini-figure, is the only one who can save the Lego world from the evil President Business.
For Tom, Seb and Seren, they all love the film, and have been happy to watch it- interspersed with episodes on Ninjago.
For me, I just can't keep focus (probably because my to-do list keeps distracting me), it is such a clever film, there is humour in the film which is lost on younger children, there is wit, there is ultimately a positive message.
And yes, if the children love it, it has a permanent place on our tv unit.

Disclosure: We received a copy of The Lego Movie for the purposes of this review. All opinions and views contained are our own.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Enjoying photography and dreams of the Northern Lights

Since Mr J gifted me a DSLR some years ago, I've known I'm only using a small part of its ability. Auto.
I have been on a photography class at Center Parcs (without said DSLR) where it all made sense, but nothing stuck.
As well as a few 'moving to manual' workshops as part of blogging conferences.
It all makes complete sense. But my brain as basically just responded with "computer says 'no'."
I got to the stage where I decided my brain could not balance the three fundamentals of a manual camera.

Being invited to a blogger session at Chapter Arts Centre for a Transun Photography Workshop was a fantastic opportunity which, in spite of a day's work in Birmingham, was grasped with both hands.

Transun specialise in holidays to see the Northern Lights, so ensuring people can capture their memories is a priority. And so the focus of the evening was around capturing perfect night light images.

Being able to take my camera along was the first bonus.
And, led by Simon from Iguana Photography, it was great to appreciate in real time how the settings changed, and what are safe options, and which can make maximum impact.

Speed, aperture and ISO are the three aspects which my brain has not been able to balance.
Although as neatly captured by Liska, evidence the penny dropped:

The session, focused on night time photography, allowed me to understand the benefit of shutter speed, the ability of the camera to capture as much light as possible. I also discovered from a practical outside session that leaving the focus on auto can work, but not necessarily, so if moving to manual it really is better to go wholeheartedly, and commit.

Fortunately for me, one who does not cope well with failure, this session got lots of quick wins to build confidence. From an indoor demonstration which, by playing with long exposure:
So with your camera adapted to these settings, you can take photographs (think November 5th!) like this:
And then, with positivity bottled, we went outside and tried to capture the Arts Centre, and (after quite a few attempts with my settings) I was proud to see how far playing with the three elements could take me:
 And then, Simon took us one step further in really appreciating the art of night photography:


And, I've walked away inspired, enough- when not photographing my children- to play with manual settings.
I remain a realist. I do not want to compromise photos of my children having experimented with manual settings.
But having the scenery we do on the Welsh Coast, and with Bonfire Night approaching, I really want to take the tips and hints gained and take my gradual steps to manual photography.

And so, what tips did I learn that I really would feel confident passing on? Hmmmm, here goes:

  • For night photography, use a tripod, or anything (pillar, post...) to offer balance rather than relying on your non-jittery hands.
  • ISO is usually the final consideration- play with aperture and speed first. 200 is a stable choice in the first instance.
  • Long shutter speeds will capture more light, but require steady hands.
  • The F.stop is your depth of field, which will get things in focus up front with blurry backgrounds, or get everything in focus, 2.8 gets you a good focus. Less gets the upfront things in focus, higher gets more in focus.
Thank you to Transun and Joe Blogs for organising the event, and to Simon for offering his tips and expertise.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Apology Edition

I am a recluse.
I have become a recluse.
I'm sorry.

This year's just been more difficult in work than I could have imagined.
It means when I come home I just want to embrace my family.
I want to wallow in their laughter, their love, and their friendship.
When I'm feeling strong enough, I love the company of my besties.
And when things are going well I like to go out and meet, and enjoy the company of lots of people.

But sometimes reality brings down its weight, when I least expect it.
And my efforts go back into the battles I would rather not face.
When I would rather hide under the duvet and attempt to catch up on sleep which has been lost forever.

I have periods of optimism, when I think I'm out the other side.
But it's almost a mirage.
As people really do behave in the least expected ways.
And the battles are transformed.
Beyond reason.
Beyond rationale.

One day soon.
One day soon I will look back on this.
I will be in disbelief of how much energy I directed at it.
I will regret not investing enough in myself.
And missing so many moments with friends and family.

But for now.
Please bear with me.
I am rubbish.
I will hide under my covers as much as I can.
I will tiptoe out.
But it may not be enough.
But for the foreseeable, it really is all I have.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Proud mummy- bear with me- it will pass

Being a parent.
I find myself in situations where I don't know how to act, how to behave.
Parents Evening.
What am I meant to ask? What am I not meant to say?
Is there a code to the words being chosen by the teacher.
My daughter is 5 years old, does it matter?
And to be honest.
I don't have the answers to any of this.
This evening was my appointment with Seren's Year 1 teacher.
And it seemed to be more of an introduction than anything else.
Which is probably right, half a term in.
But I did feel the need to ask questions.
I was really proud of how Seren was described in terms of her behaviours.
I was surprised, and not surprised, to hear Seren commended for her artistic and creative ability.
I know this is true of her, but have no benchmark, so it was good to hear this is a strength, and surprising given I don't think this trait is true of Mr J or I.
The remainder of the report seemed to focus on maths, on one hand Seren is undertaking Year 1 maths (speed) and the other she is currently achieving 7/10 and she needs to be at 10/10 (click).
I am sort of ok about this, to be honest, I think Seren is better at maths than I was when I was 7 years old, and I am reassured that she's doing ok.
I asked about her writing ability, I try not to be concerned about every hint that my children might have the same learning difficulties as me, and then Seren presents me with this picture and I can only be concerned (Seren has changed to mirror writing half way through... which is basically how I spent my childhood writing).
Seren's teacher reassured me that I shouldn't be concerned. And even sought Seren's exercise book for me, which she said wouldn't usually be covered until Seren's second parent's evening. She commented that sometimes Seren's writing is messy, but never mirror writing. I felt reassured that it may just be tiredness.
And that Seren's reading ability is fine.

And I am over the moon.
This term, Seren has also been the recipient of an Award twice. And I think- only from my twitter stream- that this is a rarity. To get one is special it would seem.
The Awards are given out, when warranted, on a Friday. They seem to be given out for behaviour traits rather than academic achievement- being kind, helping others,  tidying up.
And to be honest, these are the behaviours that mean most to me in my 5 year old.
Recent experiences seem to show to me that when you are kind, thoughtful and helpful, good things happen. I don't like the idea of 'mean girls'.
And given the horrible world of work, I want Seren to have the opportunity to, one day, find a career which she wants, that offers reward, that she knows what she wants and can be supported in achieving this.
And of course, all of this is written, because of my guilt.

Because in spite of everything she is doing well.
She wasn't breastfed beyond six weeks.
Her mother went back to work full time at six months.
Her parents changed her life by making her a sister to two boys when she was only 22 months.
And then at 30months uprooted her from her home in Yorkshire to Wales.
And her mother obviously favours her brothers.
And can be quite mean to her.
And her mother works a way a lot.
And doesn't remember to help her with her homework,
Or make a packed lunch.

And yet, we rub along.
She forgives me.
She makes me a proud mum.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Planning an office makeover

When we moved to South Wales from Yorkshire we had a particular specification in mind for our new home.
We wanted an office.
Whilst work will not classify me as someone who works from home, I average two of my four days at home, which means some times my four days are working from home.
Sitting on the sofa working is not really practical.
Taking away any family space is far from ideal.
So we were really lucky to find a home that not only has four bedrooms, but also an office.

And common to the rest of the house, it came with the green carpet and, in this case, the light green paint.
And it's been difficult to justify changing, because why would you invest efforts in work stuff when other rooms need improving.
So, Seren's room has been painted pink, the boys have moved to the bigger room and have a Fireman Sam themed room, the spare room has been madeover, the lounge has had wooden flooring and the playroom new furniture.
So, I'm sort of ok with looking to improve my office, as probably a room that has a lot of my time.

And the office has become our (my) dumping ground.
As well as my desk, it contains all of my books, all of my craft bits 'n' pieces... and a chair which I love, but the cats' claws' love too.

And so, this weekend I have started small:
I choose, and purchased paint and wallpaper.
Albeit, I choose the wallpaper first.
I decided, after all of my Pinterest aspirations, I would be inspired by our surroundings, and bringing the inside in, our coastline, I decided on beach huts.
And then considering that I can't afford to replace the carpet, I decided to find a way to compliment (!) the carpet as well as match the wallpaper.
And so Graham & Brown wallpaper met Dulux Paint.
I hope it's going to work out ok:

A coat of paint in, I'm definitely optimistic.
And, of course, I've starting thinking about the furniture which is going to make this room fantastic.

I'm intending to move the bookcases to the corner which has been dominated by storage (aka dumping ground)

And ideally, use the space created to have meaningful storage for my cardboard boxes crammed with craft materials, as well as space for my birthday gift- my Cricut Explore.
And I have found plenty of ideas:

Of course I got carried away, from permanent storage to match the wallpaper, to a new chair to replace my 'three cats loved, and scratched to bits' chair; and something I can use to have my latest project- easily transferred from office to lounge.

And then I started dreaming big.
My new desk, which needs some TLC.
And I have no idea what.
But I would love your advice.
If this desk could become part of my life, how could I nurture it and make it its best?

#LoomtotheMoon with Rainbow Braid

Over the summer holidays we became loom band addicts.
We had tried them earlier in the year, I had got so frustrated with the loom I had wanted to throw it into oblivion.
Fortunately, we had friends to stay, and they taught Seren and me how to loom with our fingers. And we were away!
And it transpired, in the most unlikeliest of suspects, Mr J turned out to be the pro with the loom and the complex designs!
And shortly after we found out about Skye's ambition- to Loom to the Moon.
And after receiving Rainbow Braid's Refill Pack we were over the moon to help.
5400 bands, including lots of clips (although it later transpired that the clips need to be removed to contribute to Skye's ambition).
And the pack includes 18 colours- so there were lots of patterns to make- with solid colours, fluorescents and glitter.
And they were great to loom with- fantastic quality in terms of not breaking and stretching. And colours which added variety to our braids.
Currently, this pack has a 66% reduction, so is priced at £12.90 on Amazon.
So, if you or your children are 'loomers' and you want to make a difference- to celebrate Skye's life- please consider contributing, to what is now Skye's brother's wish, and see Skye's hope to Loom to the Moon realised.

Disclosure: We received a Rainbow Band refill pack for the purposes of this review. All opinions and views contained are our own.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Feeling the pressure- the cost of children's parties

When we lived in Todmorden, Seren's birthdays were celebrated with a tea party.
By the we moved to Wales and Seren started school, it became apparent classmates were all invited to celebrate the special day, and Seren had one party at a local venue and another at a softplay.
With March seemingly on the horizon, Seren has great plans for her 6th birthday, which seem to now be based on a select group of friends.

The expense of parties astounds me, and the reality is that whether it be a party for all the classmates or select few, the reality is the costs don't really change- the expectations just grow.

So, when GrowingUpMilkInfo.com shared their latest research, revealing that the average budget for a fabulous first-birthday bash is less than £114, as most UK parents choose to celebrate the milestone event with close-knit family (70%), over a bigger bash with extended family (33.44%) and friends (41%), I wasn't surprised- we tried to start small.

And as the research shows, making me one of four, four in ten mums (42%) feel there is more pressure on them than their parents' generation to throw a memorable party, and nearly half (46%) say they would be embarrassed if guests didn't have a good time.

So, my mission is to try and consider if I can become one of the thrifty parents who spend less than a tenner per head.
I like to think saving money by hosting one party for two children increases my odds!

And if you're interesting in some helpful tips, which may increase the odds of staying within a budget, I liked the ones GrowingUpMilkInfo.com provided from Celebrity Party Planner, Steven Duggen:

· There are many ways to achieve a stunning look at home for your toddler's party. It is important to decorate smart, for example, using recyclable products from your home and making interesting hanging features! When hanging, make sure your craft pieces are out of reach of little fingers

· The classic blue for a boy and pink for a girl has now developed into pale greens, yellows and other pastel tones to set a certain theme or 'look'

· Popular hired entertainment includes clay making, balloon modellers and face painting but something you can do at home is to have colouring competitions, cupcake decorating and decoration-making

· For the more lavish or elegant settings you wish to create, the use of a few fun props to hire, coloured wall up-lighting and even tall jungle trees will help to get a great atmosphere within the space. Themes are also impactful. You can choose anything from Alice in Wonderland, to Aladdin, to a Circus party and still be able to create the setting for less by being a little more creative

· The idea is to create a theme that is fun, as busy and detailed as possible, while using art supplies and items from around the house

· Soft play areas and mini ball pits are also very popular for the younger ones. Again you can have an entire floor of soft play and soft shapes to ensure they are safe.'
The Birthday Spread

First birthday menus include all time favourites, such as cocktail sausages and sausage rolls (63%), crisps (54%), sandwiches (53%) and pizza (44%), as well as healthy alternatives, like fruit (40%) and vegetable sticks (39%), and even sushi (2%).

Leading child nutritionist, Dr Carrie Ruxton comments: "The first birthday celebration is a wonderful time. It's a way to celebrate what is a milestone age and reflect on just how fast your little one is growing. Soon enough they'll be a fully-fledged toddler! They are walking, talking and growing into their very own person. As a result, they need to be fuelled with the right vitamins and minerals to encourage this healthy growth and development.

"Toddlers have specific nutrition requirements, however, that's not to say you should leave out the jelly, cake and ice cream at the first birthday party! But it is something important to think about as your child enters this new stage. Along with a healthy balanced diet, one way to help toddlers top-up with essential vitamins and nutrients such as vitamin D, omega 3, iron and fibre, is to serve two beakers of Growing Up Milk a day to support their growth and development."

Disclosure: This information is brought to you in my role as a Growing Up Milk Info Mum not least because I am planning Tom & Seb's 4th birthday party and thought it useful for keeping things in perspective.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Doddle for Dogs #Review and #Giveaway

Regular readers of my blog will know the firm part our pets take in our lives.
Thanks to Seren's Christmas wish we now boast a dog and three cats.
Our dog is Miller, a cocker spaniel, a couple of years older than Seren.

And, like most dogs, he loves, and gets giddy over the idea of a walk.
Like most things in our lives, we're loyal, we love the collar and lead we have.
We had harnesses when Miller was a puppy and have stuck with the same kind of stretchy lead ever since.

The opportunity to review Doddle for Dogs was intriguing.
Partly because Mr J and I love Dragon's Den.
A dog collar, with an inbuilt retractable lead.
Hmmmmm.

On arrival I was impressed but wary.
It appeared less hardwearing than Miller's leads and collars to date.
I was wary about how Miller would accept it, would it be heavier, given the inbuilt lead?

Of course, he loved it.
Any chance to get out of the house, of course.
And, in reality, the lead is lightweight, the pod weights 39 grams.
Doddle for Dogs lead for cocker spaniels
And the pro's quickly became apparent.
We live next to a nature reserve, so Miller is on a lead for the 10 yards from our home to the pedestrian pathway.
We like to have him on the lead when we're passing children or other dogs.
And apart from that the lead is worn around Mr J's neck, or when it's me, I carry it.
Acceptable but not convenient.

In terms of improvements, whilst Miller is microchipped, there isn't the facility for the collar to hold our phone number, which would be really convenient given it would just get him back to us a little quicker.
I do like the substantive handle we have on our current lead when bringing Miller close, however this really is outweighed by the amount of time he spends off the lead, and the convenience of the retractable lead.

As you'll see from our video, the lead is so convenient to extend when needed.
The consideration of carrying a lead disappears.
The ease of getting Miller onto a lead when needed is simple.

And so, it is now the "outfit" of choice.
To just clip on a collar now seems to much more straightforward.

And fortunately, I have been offered the opportunity to share this great product, and can offer one as part of a giveaway.
Please check out the rafflecopter widget!
Disclosure: We received a Doddle for Dogs for the purposes of this review. All opinions and views contained are our own.

Word of the Week #WotW

It's been a tough few months.
Work-wise.
There is a reality.
My family and friends are my sanctuary.
And the majority of people at work aren't so bad really (!).

And this week, randomly, things seem to be coming back together.
Last week, it happened, dates has been set on the thing hanging over so many peoples head.
The best and the worst of times.
There are much needed decisions on the horizon.
I have been offered help and support from the most unexpected of places.
And this week, for the first time in forever, I have needed to spend two consecutive nights away, something I used to completely begrudge. And as much as I missed my family dearly, it was bearable, I kissed my children goodbye at 0530 on Tuesday morning and got home in time for bathtime on Thursday.

And work, unexpectedly was good.
I had, what I think is a compliment, of being asked to be a part of an MBA Revalidation Panel. I was sooooo nervous. Despite the fact I think they were meant to be scared of us I was so petrified of holding so many people's qualifications in balance. And it was such a gruelling but invigorating day. I think I like academia. But definitely just for the day.

Wednesday was back to reality, excel spreadsheets and made-up algebra. And fortunately much laughter.

And Thursday, Thursday was homeward bound, keeping perspective, and laughing about it. The reality being made so much more cathartic than I thought. It's uncomfortable, and yet, as always, I am sure the end will justify the means.

And so, for the first time in some time, I arrived home without the angst of work.
I arrived home still laughing about moments of the last three days.

And, to know I have been laughing, about the last time I was laughing, when my foot and suitcase got trapped in the doors of a tube train, and I helplessly did nothing.
It's a good feeling to laugh about laughing.
The Reading Residence

Friday, 10 October 2014

Word of the Week #WotW

Last night I wrote my post.
And shut my laptop.
This morning, it was as I remembered.
My ramblings.

And so this week's word is meant on both levels.

The word I picked last night didn't sit right.
And this morning's phone call confirmed that.

Control.
The thing so many strive for.
And so we learn.
Assertiveness.
Resilience.

These were words I was pondering as my word of the week.
Because I am so trying to be a better person.

And yet there is a reality.
I cannot be all things to all people.

I spent two days this week on such a good course.
One of the learning points was the "sh*t sandwich".
Deliver a compliment. Reveal an area for improvement. Provide a positive recommendation.
In fairness, I think it works.
I am about to give up on people who simply tell me "it's sh*t", no explanation, and no recommendation.

Today, I talked to someone, about mental health, about helplessness and hopelessness.
And how and whether it is possible to return from an illness.
I felt helpless, I had no answers.
Apart from to ask how I can help.
But what use is that when there is no road map for the person to follow.
How does anyone know what help they need.
They just need help.

And when that help is so dependent on other outcomes.
And yes, it seems there is now a date in the diary.
The date, if there hadn't been a realisation before now, this is the date that everything is focused on.

And in the meantime there is everything else.
Saying goodbyes.
Realising confrontation is the only way forward.
Realising that you don't need to do this alone.
That you don't have to own everything.

Sometimes you just have to have faith.
It will be ok.
It always is.
But I don't want collateral damage.
I just want, that those people who want and do make a difference to be appreciated.
That making a difference to others is the greatest priority.
The Reading Residence

Siblings - October

After the summer months, and being surrounded by our little people, I couldn't believe how few photos I had taken of all three together in the past four weeks.
The curse of 'back to school'.

And I flicked through our 'staged' shoot, not my blurred photos of the children's first squash session, or of our trip to the park, but us getting out together for a trip to theatre.

For some reason- the reason being this is them- I love this photo.
This reflects them.
The collective naughtiness.
Stubborness.
There is no doubt they all knew what mummy wanted.
And what better protest.

I love these children.
Observing their daily steps towards independence.
With a reliance on their allegiances.
Loving one-to-one time but missing siblings as a result.
Because 'team work' seems to be their mantra.

And here's some others- as always, never knowingly looking in the same direction:


dear beautiful

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Romeo & Juliet at Sherman Cymru


Rachel O'Riordan has arrived at the Sherman Cymru. I have no doubt of the pressure of being The New Artistic Director. Completely, like, that- an emphasis on any first production.

Maybe it's a reflection of Rachel's character- Dream Amazing. I have no idea. But, yep, if that were the case, Romeo & Juliet would be an obvious choice.
Alternatively, just completely brave.

Press Night. I was probably a rare member of the audience. Romeo & Juliet was a set text, but more latterly (more my recent than is the reality) Baz Luhrmann is my reference point. I have never seen this classic on the stage, I took my mum- (even) she had.

And yes, I took my mum.
My mum, the person who introduced me to theatre, who took me to the ballet, who introduced me, before I turned 10, to Diversions, contemporary dance, back in the day, only found at the Sherman Theatre.
My motivation was 'quite-a-few-fold', I wanted to take my mum- she's my mum, she does an enormous amount for me, and I know she 'moans' that she doesn't get to see me enough (really, it's hard to believe, but I like to think she's genuine), she's my mum and enjoys nights out, she now usually just gets out to the two 'main' theatres in Cardiff, and yet she's the person who introduced me to contemporary theatre. I couldn't understand that bit, but thought... I sort of wanted to see, from someone who is obviously older than me, in that of my age, how different two generations would enjoy the performance.

And I loved the fact we both enjoyed it.
Admittedly, my mum remains the romantic, and was sadly disappointed that the interpretation didn't lend itself to changing the ending.
But we were both agreed, the translation was fantastic.
It was modern, but not timebound, the set was edgy, and relevant, it was anywhere most people could associate with.
And yes, accommodating Veuve De Clicquot and Stella, is definitely a match in (my reality) heaven.

More relevantly, if I were introducing my daughter (you know, in ten years time) to Shakepeare, this would be how I'd want her to experience his works.
I loved that this was her today, expressed in the words of yesterday.
With the echo of so many dialects, it was not placed, but everywhere.
It was, at times, the Wales, the Gavin & Stacey, of living in England,
But it was a pause,
And in a moment it was the raw reality of love and hurt.
Of course, I was captured by Romeo (Chris Gordon) and Juliet (Sophie Melville).
I am in awe of this being Chris' introduction to professional theatre.
This portrayal, the design, the atmosphere.
Everything coming together.
No doubt, supported by an amazing cast and crew.
This just felt the most real relationship.

And so, with the audience connected to the catalysts so the Capulets and Montagues are appreciated.
There is so much worthy of note, I could not breathe in the interval for the mourning of Mercutio's (Scott Reid) passing. Could the production still live success?

For me, it was the performance of the Friar Lawrence (Sean O'Callaghan) which captures the essence, the solidarity, the appreciation, the reality, of love presented.
I was encaptured, and yes, completely sold. The rawness of appreciating love. The ability to sacrifice all for love.
I have no doubt, that in other ways the catalysts were the supporting cast.
For the enthralling performance of Sara Lloyd-Gregory (Lady Capsulet), the camp portrayal by Tony Flynn as Peter. And, it should go without saying, that never has a pink velour tracksuit been dominated, so much so than Anita Reynolds as the Nurse.

There was so much about the production which err-ed from the text, the study of the detail.
But, life, life is about relevance, and now, to me, with children, more so than ever, is about seeing the beauty, associating with the relevance, looking at the detail, and appreciating this, life.
Rachel O'Riordan's ability to connect, to make something real to 60-somethings, to 30-somethings, and to make a pin drop in a theatre of those whom have never experienced the theatre.
This to me is why the Sherman can and will make a difference.
It will introduce people to the theatre.
And it will introduce and reconnect people with Shakespeare.
And it will mean that people can fall in love, with people, and what matters, all over again.

Sherman Cymru’s Romeo & Juliet runs until the 18 October.
For full details and times for the show please visit www.shermancymru.co.uk or phone 029 2064 6900

Disclosure: We were invited to the Romeo & Juliet press evening. All opinions and views contained are our own.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Fisher-Price Imaginext Batcave #Review

Which super-hero inspired child wouldn't love to find the Batman Imaginext Batcave in their home?
At 3 and a half years old Tom & Seb are just leaping into this world. Already fans of Spiderman and Iron Man, I couldn't wait to introduce them to Batman (I just want to have someone to watch the films with again one day!).

When it arrive, Mr J was impressed, always the cynic when it comes to toys I could tell he was itching to test it out.
I set it up ready for the boys to come home from school, and test out all of the features.
I was impressed, there's all sorts of little touches, one of my reservations was the boys wouldn't 'get' them, or would break them easily. 
  The Batcave comes with Batman and Robin, Batcycle, flight suit, and projectiles.
And lots of moving parts, activation pads will open walkways, the flight suit, and doors. You can pop open to Batdesk, jail and front door as well as firing the projectiles.
The verdict: all three of our children loved it (at aged 5, 3 and 3). It is big enough for all three to play together (it turned out our Playmobil figure liked to play at well), as there is quite a lot of activity that can be undertaken from the outside and inside the batcave.
There is a lot of variety and, despite my reservations, the boys quickly got the hang of all the switches.
The reservation that I did have was how easily it would break (my children break everything).
And positively, compared to many other toys, the only part that has needed mummy's intervention is the platform for the projectiles.
It did repair simply (like all of their Fireman Sam vehicles and doors) so it is a gripe more than a problem.
Another point, from experience, is the 'requirement' for the children not to wonder off with the parts. So often the boys have wanted to take their figures to bed, or to nursery, and they go missing. We're now in the necessary action of parts needing to stay with together. Which has been touch. Batman and Robin are now much loved.

It has kept interest. And what I really love, is that they play with the Batcave as individuals, pairs and a team. Few of our toys can a) meet this brief, and b) keep their interest.

At an RRP of £39.99 it is slightly more than we would pay for one toy, however with group play and another advantage of associated toys, it can keep on being revitalised in a child's favour.
Saying that, shop around, at the time of publishing, Argos are offering 25% off!

Disclosure: We received an Imaginext Batcave for the purposes of this review. All opinions and views contained are our own.


Sunday, 5 October 2014

Things to do this half term in Cardiff with children

Magical family fun for little ones this October half term at Sherman Cymru with Hans Christian Andersen inspired story for ages 2-6

Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s much loved classic, The Little Match Girl, Match is the enchanting story of a young child’s hopes and dreams; simple pleasures and losses. Match is a heart-warming, magical and life affirming tale made especially for children aged 2-6 .

And Bristol’s freshest Theatre Company, Dot and Ethel will bringing their Hans Christian Andersen inspired story, Match to the Sherman Theatre from 27- 29 October.

With beautifully inventive storytelling, puppetry, song and live music in this spellbinding production. Incredibly uplifting and raw, playful and tender, it is pure delight for younger audiences.

Match is Dot and Ethel’s first UK production. Founders Harriet De Winton and Heidi Vaughan met while working at the egg, Bath, one of the country’s only theatres entirely focused on making work with and for young people.

Match starts its tour at the Sherman Theatre on 27 October, before touring across all the UK until February 2015. You can find more details on the tour on the Dot and Ethel blog.

Sherman Theatre’s Artistic Director, Rachel O’Riordan said: “The Sherman Theatre has a strong reputation in Cardiff for programming high quality family shows, especially for the very young. Match has been inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl, a story that will capture the imagination of the very young. We are thrilled to be the opening date of this tour and to support this regional theatre company.”

Match will be at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff on 27, 28 (11am and 2pm) and 29 October (11am, 2pm, 4pm). Tickets are £8. For further information and tickets please contact Sherman Theatre on 029 2064 6900 or visit www.shermancymru.co.uk. Match is suitable for ages 2 – 6 and their friends and families. Running time: 50 minutes, no interval.

Disclosure: This post is in partnership with Sherman Cymru. No compensation has been received. All views and opinions contained are my own.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

A new beginning

Beginning a new notebook deserves cake.

My working life has been represented by notebooks:
In no other terms it represents new beginnings.
I extremely dislike beginning a new notebook with a residual to-do list.

I love the idea of co-ordinating notebook and pen.
I love coordinating ink and cover.

A love the suggestion of a fresh start.
The proposition of control.
The pause of reflection.

This time around.
It's causing more reflection than ever.

Do I make my break?
To go back.
To feel like I make a difference to the few, The pure majority.
Rather than impact and make no difference, due to the variety, of many.

I remind myself of my mantra.
That I want to be able to return home,
And say to my children.
"I have not been with you today, because I have been making a difference..."

And the reality, the reality is the few undermine the many.
We can no longer say "We're all in this together"
Because we have to maintain an unnecessary focus on the interpretation of the few.
For no other gain than their own.
And I am sick of fighting.
Fighting the ridiculous interpretation of the few.
Feeling my energies depleted by the few.
Not having enough left to promote the successes of the majority.

I am led to believe this is life.
But it is not the life I want to wake up to.

Let us create a well-meaning future.
Enable people to be the best.
Want people to the be the best.

To take the blank page of my new notebook and fill it with the ability for everyone to be the best they can be.
Without compromise.

And how?
What do I have to do to make my notebook credible?
I think all I have to remember
Is to be true.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Three years on: Home

Today marks three years since we made a house a home.
I'll be honest, nothing has reduced down the pain of the house move.
A meaningful estate agent, who forgot to mention our unadopted road (ten years on).
A well meaning solicitor who didn't mention want to stress you with a seemingly insignificant issue to your buyer (quickly resolved with a red biro pen).
Emotions running high.
Moving experts who forget to mention it's your responsibility to empty the fridge, because this is clearly different to emptying your cupboards.
A dent in your fridge which now represents moving day.

Oddly, the bit about moving 9 month old twin sons and a 30 month old daughter is almost the painfree bit.
And the relocation of two cats and a dog would have been stress free had it not been for Mr J having to detour back to Leeds to sign one more bit of paper.

And, because of, and in spite of all that,
We are here.
Home.
Uncomprehending of why we'll ever move again (albeit a lottery win would be due motivation, but then, we'd have to start doing the lottery).

Seren.
With an ever flourishing Welsh accent.
Tom & Seb.
I think they still have mummy's accent.
But now, they are my walking, talking, independent boys.

And him.
Mr J.
Admittedly, the Welsh accent hasn't got him. Yet.
But I arrived home on Sunday evening,
Past tea-time.
Tired.
And what did he offer me?
An omelette.

Seriously, he hasn't acknowledged it, but we are truly a Welsh family.
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