Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Staying Safe this Christmas

We are very much looking forward to “shutting up” for Christmas. The end of the working week signals the end of the working year for us. Kids are off school, we have a little break planned and lots of brilliant family time pencilled in over the festive period. Of course there will be lots of food and drink consumed – slimming will have to be put on the back burner until the New Year I’m afraid – sorry Slimming World!

Christmas is also a time where we can all let our hair down and have a drink. It’s great to celebrate Christmas with a few special drinks over Christmas and New Year, lovely to let your hair down and enjoy the time of off work – a little festive break. Usually we visit our parents on Christmas evening and share a few drinks. However, we always walk round and walk back. We are lucky that they do only live around the corner so it is easy for us to do this. However, if we lived any further away, we would make sure that we got taxis. Drinking and driving is never worth it. We just have a zero alcohol approach when it comes to driving, so at Christmas, we adopt a zero driving approach when it comes to alcohol! Sounds simple, but a car can be a deadly machine and getting behind the wheel of a car after consuming one to many would just be far too dangerous and a stupid decision that could ruin many lives.

The Co-Op have designed this designated driver finder to encourage people to be safe and sound this Christmas. Definitely worth a go if you can't decide which of you is to drive - go on, give the wheel a spin.




Please make sure that this year as you celebrate Christmas you keep safe. If you are drinking then make sure that you do have a designated driver – a taxi is perfect, then you can all have a little tipple knowing that you are safe.

Disclosure: This post was written in collaboration with Co-Operative insurance. All words and views are my own.

Monday, 14 December 2015

An Almost Teenager

Sore subject.

So I am going to talk in the abstract. This is just a blog post, we can get through it. 

The mist descends. 

OK we can't get through it. We can't get out of it. There is no escape.

Being in a room with an almost teenager is like a whole new level of hell. I wish it was funny and I would love there to be a joke at the end of this, but there isn't. I have two younger girls, aged 4 and 2. I know all about the pooing on the carpet phase, the throwing themselves on the floor in the supermarket phase. I have lived the screaming crying "I DON'T WANT TO!" phase. I know toddlers. They tantrum, they cry, they scream. Then there is the naughty step, and time out. They have a nap and feel better. Teething hurts, it gets better. Nappy rash hurts, it heals. They fall, they cry, you pick them up. You cuddle, you kiss it better. There is a resolution and all is well until the next phase.

But THIS is not THAT.

There is nothing wrong with the almost teenager. Nothing you can put your finger on. They wake up and instantly dislike you. You have done something wrong. What is it? I don't know. They will mope around and complain. They will have a messy room (normal, right?) They will sit on their mobile device and not move for hours. You might ask them to do something. A simple task like "can you pick that cup up?"

The world crashes in.

Like I said, I wish this was funny, but it is not. 

From the request to move the cup, accusations fly, biting at the air and scratching at your entire being. Complete, utter and total contempt. "Why can't YOU do it, it's JUST a favour, THIS is my DAY OFF." 

A growl.

A scowl.

You wonder what you did wrong.

You bought them a book on "growing up." They shouted because "you're so EMBARRASSING," then they spend the next two hours furtively flicking through it in the kitchen. Now it's hidden in a cupboard somewhere. "Mood swings are fine, but you need to consider everyone else from time to time," (you think you are being oh-so reasonable, and what a modern Mum you are!)

But you're not. You are an old fart and you know nothing, you don't even know what "swag" means. Sometimes you cry because they won't stop telling you how rubbish you are. This is compounded when it's the dinner table - all five in your family; You, husband, two terrible toddlers and the almost teenager,  sat around eating pasta and sauce and the almost teenager falls apart, a bubbling, seething volcanic erruption because "YOU should KNOW that I DON'T like THIS!" You choke on your tears at the table and everyone looks at you, but you worked six hours that day, studied for your masters for two hours on the packed bus, came home, collected the "terrible toddlers" from school, cleaned the house and then cooked from fresh pasta and sauce, grilled turkey with salad. But it was wrong and now you can't eat it because you are choking on your own tears, and the almost teen is growling and scowling at your error.

 But this is not about you.

And this is not personal.
 
You know this. You were worried so you spoke to a professional who told you quite clearly that this is a "phase." a pre-teen girl "phase."

You tell the almost teenager that having mood swings is normal. You tell her that she should try and feel like the luckiest child in the world (because she is one of them, let's face it - wants for nothing.) But she sulks and groans. Leaves dirty dishes with cheap noodles stuck to them next to her bed. She scrapes her hair back for school, smiles occasionally when she thinks you're not looking. Instagram is her thing, phone glued to her hand -  you know nothing. She tells you this and spits venom, occasionally telling you that she hates you and doesn't want to be anywhere near you. (You spent 2 hours cleaning her room today, treated her to Minecraft posters for Christmas and ordered her "main" Christmas  present.) So, predictably, tired and fed up, you sigh, push your hair out of your eyes and swear. You swear at your first child, this almost teen, and oh yes, the look on her face when you do. 

It's like Christmas came early. A thousand gifted weapons for her to harm you with forever.

As she lashes out and whips you with her harsh words again. You gather the terrible toddlers and take them to bed. To bath, to read to, to tickle, to cuddle and to kiss goodnight.

Just like you used to do with her.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

#ManicMumday with Toby Carvery

I was challenged tonight to have a night off cooking and visit our local Toby Carvery. Such a tough challenge, I know, but someone's got to do it!

I cook from fresh most nights, even on weekdays when we're working - we are just in the routine, or on the hamster wheel, whichever! Warren cooks about once a week when I am in late from work, the rest of the time I tend to do the cooking. This is fine, but now and again you do just need a night off - you don't appreciate how much effort it is after a day's work to get in and cook and clean up afterwards -  so I was more than happy to take on this challenge! Every day is a ManicMumday for me, as you can imagine!

Our local Toby Carvery is in Aintree just a short drive away. We hadn't took the girls to a Toby before and they love roast dinners so I already knew that it would be a hit with them. Staff were very friendly and helpful and all in the Christmas spirit with their jumpers and antlers - the kids thought it was great. The restaurant itself is spacious and ambient, bit of music in the background and generally a chilled out atmosphere.

When we were seated the kids were given colouring-in sheets and crayons and we set to looking at the menu. They do have a Christmas menu out now with a choice of two and three courses for a set price. We thought that these looked fab, and we decided to have roast dinners each. Warren had his upgraded to a King Size for an extra £1.50 and because Rosie is under three staff gave her a bowl and a spoon so we could share our food with her. Rosie is a good eater at times, bu
t at others she just picks, so it can end up being a waste of money as well as food, so we were grateful for the bowl!

We each took turns to get our food. At the Carvery you can have any of the four meats; pork, gammon, turkey or beef with a Yorkshire pudding. Then you can select your own veg and condiments. The vegetables were sprouts, carrots, roast potatoes, cauliflower cheese and a choice of two mashed potatoes. If you still feel hungry after your meal you are allowed to go back for extra vegetables, but we had already piled our plates the first time around so we didn't do this. We did add lots of gravy and tucked in to our meal.

Plates piled high!


That's one way to eat a Yorkshire pudd!
We really enjoyed our meals. Rosie didn't eat much, but she is just at that age. I think sometimes her teeth trouble her and she doesn't feel like eating. Alice, on the other hand ate lots and even stole some of our food too! It was great to see her enjoying her food and having a good time.

Child selfie!
We managed to squeeze in room for dessert. The dessert menu is great - plenty of choice and great prices too. We decided on the Chocolate Brownie Ice Cream Sundae and the Cherry Chocolate Torte with whipped cream. We all shared and just dug in. I barely had time to take a photo of or desserts - they all swooped around them as soon as they landed on the table.

Yummy!
We had a lovely night. The food was tasty, good value for money and we really enjoyed the restaurant. Staff were particularly helpful, our waitress Steph made a fuss of the girls and all the staff were friendly and seemed really happy. It does make a real difference. For five of us with two kids meals, two adult (one of them King Size) two desserts and drinks for all of us, the bill was just over £40. I think this is excellent value for money and we will definitely go back again.

Thanks Toby Carvery for this very tough challenge!! :)

Toby Carvery have also offered any of readers a free ice cream sundae when they visit. Here is the voucher below - I do highly recommend them and hope that you enjoy your visit.



Disclosure: We were invited as guests to visit Toby Carvery and were supplied with a voucher to cover the cost of our visit. As always, all words and views are our own.


Children's Winter Shoes

Winter shoes for kids can be a bit if a pain to buy. Our kids can be quite fussy with their shoes and we can try two, three, four pairs on before they settle on what they want. We're quite keen on getting shoes that we know will last them through the winter, anything else would be asking a bit much seeing as though their feet seem to grow very quickly!

Our girls absolutely love jumping in muddy puddles, just like Peppa Pig and so we tend to use wellies for winter. There are some lovely winter boots out there for kids at the minute and we did consider buying them some for this winter. We looked in Liverpool town centre last week as we are off to Belgium very soon - it is going to be quite cold and I was keen that the kids had boots to stay warm. However, when we thought on - we realised that they still have their wellies. Bright pink wellies that they absolutely love. I have decided that this year I am going to buy them a few pairs of socks to go under their wellies, and we are going to go jumping in puddles in Belgium!

Alice actually threw a bit of a strop the other day because I wouldn't let her wear her pink wellies for school. Nightmare times. However, I managed to coax her into her school shoes, so all was fine in the end. Wellies are brilliant. We even went to Crosby beach in them earlier in the year.

Alice in her wellies!
So, next will be new shoes for spring I suppose. But we don't need to think that far ahead yet. Brantano have designed a little guide for picking out winter footwear for your little one. Definitely contains a few good tips.

For now, we're sticking with our wellies!

This post was written as a collaboration with Brantano. All words and views are my own.


Garden Design

I know winter is not really the time to be thinking about gardening, but before we know it winter will be over and it will be time to start thinking about the outside of the house. We have never really been in a position to do any serious thinking about garden design. However, we have realised that this coming new year will be different for us and we are going to try and make a real effort with both gardens.

The back garden is basically just a decent lawn, we have a shed and some herbs growing. Ideally I would like to have a nice border around the edge of the garden with some plants and flowers growing. I love climbing ivy and I really do appreciate using the herbs that we have grown in the garden. We had strawberries and spring onions growing one year, so maybe we could pick that up again. I have also been looking at wooden play-houses for the kids, I think they look great and can also double as a little storage area for toys.

We do have a small paved area at the back door that I would also like re-doing. I think that decking would be great but I am not too sure our garden is big enough but I would still bear it in mind. I do like thinking about plans for the garden, but of course, the reality is that I have enough on my plate inside the house to be too concerned about the outside. Warren is the one who usually gets stuck in with the garden, I think I have picked up the lawnmower once in my life – but it’s not like I haven’t got enough to be getting on with!

Fun in the garden in summer!


I am looking forward to thinking about the garden next year though. It will be nice to have a spruced up garden all ready for summer – I’m sure that Warren can’t wait to get his gardening gloves on…. !

This post was written in collaboration with PR. All words are my own.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Our Berlin Trip

I can't believe I didn't write about this. I think maybe I was too busy. I put the photos on Facebook and then entirely forgot to write about it. Nevermind. We went in July this year after my final exams, all five of us.

Now I am a city break person. I hate lying-in-the-sun holidays (that's a post for another day.) We went for four days. We don't tend to leave the kids when we go away. We left Emily when we went on our honeymoon, but one kid is easier to bin off than three... So when we go anywhere we do have to plan meticulously. You can't just rock up to a beer hall in Berlin and chill out. It's never going to happen. When you tell people you are going on a city break, you would be surprised how many of them say "Ooh just you and Warren?" I don't know why people assume that we wouldn't take the kids on a city break.

So we set off for the airport, all packed, planned and excited.



We had all of the obvious supplies for the kids: nappies, wipes snacks, magazines, buggy and reins. We packed quite light but made sure we had all the essentials. Now we had planned Berlin before we left, we had an itinerary - I know, I know, not very spontaneous, but you have to be a bit more organised when you have kids. I would say that we got through about half of the things we wanted to do, which is definitely a win for us. We were probably being too optimistic in what we wanted to achieve; Berlin is a big city and it was really hot while we were there. We managed:

The Reichstag


We didn't manage to go inside the dome at the back. Next time, we will. It was too hot and instead we stopped for ice cream and beers.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe


We spent a long time here. Some of the blocks are huge and you can literally get lost amongst them. The architect Peter Eisener intended for the blocks to be disorientating, to reflect the terror and incoherence of the Holocaust itself.

The Brandenburg Gate




The Topography of Terror Museum


The panels that you see photographed were cells where so-called "enemies of the state" were kept. The museum itself is built on the site of the Nazi headquarters. We did not spend enough time here - it was too hot as this was in the middle of the afternoon - the kids were fed up and we were hot ourselves. When we go back, we will definitely spend more time here.

We also went to Checkpoint Charlie, which is a little bit commercialised now. We just walked by. It was enough to just be there.

DDR Museum


This is a brilliant interactive museum, the kids loved it and it was good to see what life might have been like in the former DDR. This was on the River Spree - we loved walking up and down here and visiting the bars and restaurants. We thought that a boat trip would have been more stressful than relaxing with the kids!

We walked to the memorial to the Russians and spent a lot of time in the Tiergarten which is a huge park - loved it. We also visited the memorial to the Roma people killed during Nazi rule.


Berlin Zoo


We spent a full day at Berlin Zoo. We did have a great day - we thought it might be nice just to have a chill-out day geared to the kids. They sold beer in the cafes on the way round so we were chuffed with that!

Karl-Marx Allee and Cafe Sybille


Loved it here. So much history. We had a beer and ice cream (can you see a pattern forming here?) in a lovely little cafe called Cafe Sybille. We walked past the Karl Marx Buchandlung (it is not open to the public anymore except for book signings)


The Berlin Wall & Memorial 






The Wall and Memorial is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. I can't explain. It was so still, so moving. To think that Berlin was divided for so long by this wall - families, friends - divided. People killed for crossing it. The memorial is beautiful and fitting not only as a way to remember those affected, but as a warning for the future.

The kids were dicking about on the grass the whole time, naturally.

So really we did see a lot, but we do need to re-visit to see more. The Berlin trains were AMAZING. We bought a family ticket every day and literally hopped on and off, we never waited more than five minutes for a train, ever. We covered a lot of ground for a good price and a comfy ride. People were friendly and helpful. We stayed in a Holiday Inn in Gesundbrunnen - I've linked it here - highly recommend them. The staff were brilliant with the kids and nothing was too much trouble.

We had a ball. I didn't want to come home.

Until next time, Berlin.

Identity Crisis, Direction and Change...

What a bloody brilliant title, eh. Inspired. (I am aware that my titles are the worst thing ever to come out of Blog-dom.)

Identity Crisis

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot lately. Too much, I think. The nature of this blog is that it is very honest. Sometimes this can be difficult, I don't focus on one thing, I flit around - this is how my life is. I write about something quite academic and then dress up and take the mickey out of the kids for driving me mad, and then the next day it's a review of a tea-towel. Or whatever, you get the point - this is the pattern of my day-to-day life. And so, I alienate people. If you show all sides then you are in essence revealing a part of yourself that you might not have wanted to reveal, or, I'll re-phrase that, a part that most people wold not want to reveal or share. Some things are reserved for very close friends and family. I am different in this. I don't have very close friends and family and so I tend to be an open book here, and I do whatever I like. My peers at uni might read one of my parenting posts and look at me in a different light, equally people who read the parenting posts might read my university posts and think the same. I am this wife, mum, student bum thing. And I created it, and I don't know how to get out of it. I don't even think I want to. The end result is isolation, or being split different ways. This suits me, and I love my life, don't get me wrong. It is just a very odd way to live it, and this blog reflects all of that.

Direction

I've been thinking about the direction my life is taking. I know, I know. I can hear you booing "But you're an adult, you have a job, and you're a parent, what more do you want?" It's never been enough. I can't settle for anything, I have to have my own thing that no one else can have. That is my education. I love it. I got a merit in my first essay and this is something worth shouting about. I hate to brag and I just get on with it but sometimes I sit and think. Wow. I'm working, I have three kids, the house is (reasonably) tidy, I cook from fresh every night, we take the kids to pantomimes, to museums, holidays, days out, ballet... and I'm doing a masters and I got a merit in my first essay. I get irritated by people who are tired FOR WHAT I SEE IS NO REASON and I want them to WALK A MILE IN MY SHOES. (This is ridiculous, I know - I am working on being more empathetic - we all have our own busy, right?) But I know they couldn't do it because it is hard. If it was easy then everyone would do it. But I digress...

So my direction. I'm doing what I want to do. If I had my way I would be a full time student, but as it is I am loving my masters part time. It's do-able, the reading is brilliant, I love the concepts, love being in the classroom again. My direction is there.

Change

I am designing change for myself. I have (very quickly) realised that if I want to get on in university and be respected for my views I can't come out with statements like "Austria-Hungary went tits up." Equally I can't refer to Stalin as a "bloody maniac" or breeze into my lecturer's office and say "Ooooh I LOVE your office." I mean... I can (and have done) all of these things. But I also need to be the professional person that I want to be, I can't just be that person in my head anymore, or at midnight talking about politics with Warren over a glass of red. I can't just think "Oh well I'll be that person in a few years when I'm doing x, y or z." The time is now, I need to be that person, because you know what, I have discovered that I actually am that person underneath. I am that working class girl out of Educating Rita, with ideas above her station. I have a great sense of humour and I am sociable and quite fun to be around (sometimes!) At the same time, I have realised that I can be this academic brainbox (for want of a better phrase) when I want to. I can talk like I write. Sure, I have a long way to go and I need some coaching and practice, but I'm changing, I can feel it.

And so, today I considered retiring from blogging. I am not sure what I can offer with this, it ends up like a diary and this can only get me in trouble. No one reads blogs, right? I had initially hoped to write this to show that you can achieve anything, I'm not sure how well this is going because what I do show is that life is an eclectic mix of random things - I can't stick to one subject. I've been reading some blogs by my peers and they are research blogs. Would I scrap this one and start a research blog? Where would I swear in that one, where would be my outlet? Could I put funny pictures on it? Of course I couldn't. And so this blog stays. (Although I might give it a spruce-up for the new year.)

I'm changing and I designed this myself. Education is changing me. The people that I am around in uni - this is changing me and it is making me re-think everything.  I worry about not being myself, and I worry about resisting change, change that is bound to happen - good change! I can't present a paper as the "old me." The old me is scared of this kind of thing, plays for laughs and doesn't comment seriously for fear of ridicule. I need to be professional. It is about expressing, being articulate and knocking the chip off my shoulder that says "You shouldn't be doing this." It's not about being someone else - I am the same person, just ever-so slightly more polished. I like this person that I am moulding into.

Because I never thought I could be her.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

We're Geronimo Festival Ambassadors!

You might remember last year we went to Geronimo Festival at Tatton Park. We had an absolute ball - there was so much for the kids to see and do. We loved the activities, all of the CBeebies characters that we met and we just had such a cracking time. We have been invited back as Ambassadors again next year so we are really looking forward to it again!

This was us last year, enjoying fun in the summer sun!




Next year the event is going to be at Tatton Park on 29th and 30th May. We absolutely can't wait. I know it might seem a little early getting excited for summer in winter, but we can't help it. We had such a lovely day!

You can check the line-up and purchase tickets from Geronimo Fest here. As an ambassador I'll be providing you with ticket updates, line-up announcements and other information so watch this space!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Giveaway: Bratz Snowkissed Doll

I have a great giveaway here to celebrate the famous Bratz photobooth which is coming to intu Trafford Centre this Saturday 5th December. The photobooth is great to get you in the festive spirit - the booth contains lots of winter themed Bratz props so your can take loads of cool festive pics! Best of all, it's free. 

I know my girls will absolutely love this. Once you have visited the booth and had your photos taken head to Facebook.com/BratzUK and tag yourself in your picture for a chance to win great Bratz prizes including a hamper of Snowkissed goodies. You can also check where the Bratz will be heading to next.  Definitely a great way to start off the festive period.

To celebrate this, I also have one Bratz Snowkissed Doll to give away here. To enter fill in the Rafflecopter form below. I have a short turnaround on this so that you should get it in time for Christmas. Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms and Conditions

The prize is one Bratz Snowkissed doll and will be sent out by PR, blogger assumes no responsibility for non-receipt of the item. Giveaway open to UK entrants only. Winner will be notified within 48 hours of the giveaway ending.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Masters: Three Months In

I've been doing the MA in Twentieth Century History at Liverpool for around three months. Three months is the time it has taken for me to feel comfortable, happy with the course, the workload and the direction that I am going in. The course is part time so it is basically a two hour seminar each week, which I love. I would say I am reading for around 15 hours a week, where I can. I break things down, simplify them and always try and contribute to the discussion. The course is Flashpoints and Watersheds, so it is a lot of political theory dealing with the rise of Fascism, Nazism, Communism and the overall fragility of democracy. Dry, eh? I love it.

First Assignment

So we can choose our own assignment titles. This sounds good but in reality it is quite difficult. For my first assignment I literally just picked a suggestion in my course book on the outbreak of WW1. I did enjoy writing it, but it was harder than I thought. The word length is 4,000 - it's easy to knock out 4,000 words, but after cutting and trimming and organising - it's hard to know if I've picked the right 4,000. I think my essay was OK. It's not going to set the world alight but it was OK for a start. I just want some feedback so I can improve. I just want a pass, essentially!

Second Assignment

I have now picked my second assignment, something I am much more comfortable with - resistance to Fascism; women, small pockets of people who resisted the Nazi regime. I've been reading around it already - it is due in middle of January so I have plenty of time, but I want to get a head start. I am happy with my question, I just need to get cracking with my research.

My Interests

Since doing this course, I have realised that I can hold an academic conversation with other like-minded people! This is important. I can be giddy and a bit silly at times (in case you didn't guess.) But I am very serious about what I want to do, I love being a student and I do love locking myself away for hours and writing - I want to one day make a valuable contribution to research. Having spoken to a couple of lecturers now I realise that my interests lie in social history. I like the stories of people, and I would love to really tap into this kind of history. It was also suggested that maybe I should have taken the Cultural History MA - I don't know whether I would have got on better with that - but in any case, I do love the MA I am doing and so I am happy with my path. However, if I was strongly urged to change then I would if it was possible. But for now, I'm going to "find" the bits of social history within this MA. 

PhD

I actually now have to start thinking about this. Although I am part time, so I graduate in two years - I still have to think about funding and possible projects. I love German history, always have, and I always thought I would do something about women in the resistance or something along those lines. However, one of my lecturers was totally honest with me and explained that if I couldn't speak fluent German in two years then I would have no chance. Now I hate being told that I can't do something (I was picking German back up and was considering an A-Level.) However, I think in this case, he has given me good advice and I need to "know my limits" (!) So I need to stick to British history. And you know what, even more, I need to keep it local. I have three children; they don't hold me back but I need to make a PhD work for me and around our lives too.

So I thought I would have to go back to the drawing board and get thinking about what I wanted to do. However, last year I wrote a PhD proposal about the diversity of experience in Liverpool during the Blitz. I was unsuccessful in my application; I didn't get the funding. However, I did have the support of a lecturer who advised me. For some reason (probably because I didn't get the funding) I assumed that the proposal was rubbish and forgot about it. However, I dug it out of my computer files and had a good read, and do you know what? It's bloody good. And not just that - it excites me - I know that this is something I could really get into. I have been thinking about altering it slightly - I work in Drug Safety at the University - my office is in the old hospital - history is all around me, and so I started thinking about the lives of nurses, doctors during the Blitz. What was it like for them and how did their role impact on the city, on morale on this "Blitz spirit"? Studies mainly focus on London in the Blitz - what about Liverpool? And maybe Manchester - maybe I could broaden the study that way. 

So - next steps - try and get funding. There is a competition every year to get funded. To be honest, if they waived the fees I'd be over the moon, self funding is hard. I plan on speaking to come lecturers about this soon. As long as I had their backing that my project is worth pursuing then I will do it. I think! It's hard speaking about something you want to do in two years time! Part time is good - but the decision-making process is harder I think!

Next

So for now I need to concentrate on my assignments. Improving my research skills and my writing, developing my academic voice, I suppose. I'm waiting anxiously on my first assignment result. I just want to know that I am doing OK and have something to build on. I'm still learning and I think I always will be.

Friday, 20 November 2015

St George's Hall Grotto, Liverpool

We were delighted to be asked to the opening of St George's Hall Grotto in Liverpool town centre. The kids are Christmas mad straight after Halloween so I knew it would be a great treat for them. St George's Hall itself is smack bang in the centre of Liverpool, so really easy to get to, just opposite Lime Street Station. We got the bus in and set off for the Grotto in the wind and hail! It was definitely worth braving the winter winds for.

The grotto itself is made up of a series of rooms and attractions. Accompanied by two very helpful elves, we were first led down the snow-covered corridor to write our letters to Santa. Alice wrote her own name and I helped them do the rest. On Alice's list there were basically every variation of "dolly" you could imagine, and Rosie's list included a "monster" a "snake" and a "car." I'm not certain that in any of these she meant toy either!



The next room was Santa's workshop area. This was filled with all kinds of tools and toys. Very Christmassy!


After this we were shown to a very lucky little girl or boy's bedroom, all done up for Christmas. (I wish our girls rooms looked like this!)



Next we walked through the snow-covered corridor with blue twinkling lights to wait to see Santa. The girls were very excited.


First of all Santa talked to the girls to ask them what they would like for Christmas. Then he explained what he would like to be left out for him on Christmas Eve for both himself and the reindeer. The girls were very chatty and were quite keen for this to be a two-way conversation. (In other words - they wouldn't shut up!)



Then the girls were given selection boxes each and posed for a photo. It was  a really great experience. It was very different to the usual "queue up to sit on Santa's lap" experience. The girls left feeling like it was really something magical. 

The price is £7.50 per child with up to two accompanying adults free. I think this is well worth the price and the quality time that you spend enjoying the experience with your child. If you are in the area, definitely give this a go. Last year they were queueing out of the door, so best get there early!

Dates of Grotto Opening (10am - 5pm)

Saturday and Sunday 21 - 22 November
Saturday and Sunday 28 - 29 November
Saturday and Sunday 5 - 6 December
Daily between 14 - 23 December


We were invited to attend this press opening event free of charge, but as always all words and views are our own.







Wednesday, 18 November 2015

My Graduation 2015

Huzzah I graduated!

 The night before I was nervous and to be honest, I had been so busy with my essay for my MA, looking after the kids and working and all the other things - that I simply hadn't had time to find anything to wear. Also, in a moment of panic I had done this:


However, I had already made my own shoes so I was really proud of these:



Anyway, I had spent a long time washing and re-washing my hair to make it less in your face. Stressed out the night before I had a little meltdown. "Oh my God I can't believe I've not had time to buy something to wear - I just can't get a minute for myself. I haven't even got anything to wear - and GOD FORBID I might want to wear some jewellery!!"

(I found a dress and calmed down, my orange hair still blazing.) Later that night Warren surprised me with a graduation present.



For some reason(!) this made me feel a whole lot better about everything...

So, after a hectic morning dressing the girls and doing their hair we got the train to Manchester - my parents were meeting us at the venue. We ate our dinner on the way there and trying to make sure the girls didn't ruin their outfits, run away, or kill each other with their umbrellas.


I was a bit nervous when I got there, but I needn't have been. Everything was perfect. It didn't matter what I wore, all that mattered was that I had made it. This day was about me, and that was nice. As a parent I find that everything tends to revolve around the children, and that's fine, but for once, this day was about me, and I was quite happy with that.

I had read that the graduation gown was quite heavy. It wasn't too heavy for me, I felt like I could wear it all day. I had worked so hard and for so long. You would think that I'd be emotional, but I wasn't.


Until I actually sat down, I looked around Bridgewater Hall and I couldn't see where Warren and the kids had gone. I hadn't checked where they were sat, so I was gutted - I couldn't find them. Then there was a point in the ceremony where one of the speakers asked us to turn around and look at all the proud faces behind us. I looked, and straight away I saw Alice waving, massive grin on her face, so proud. Only then did I get a BIT emotional, and I had to look away.

They filmed the graduation - here is my bit, the link takes you there directly. I skipped on, skipped off, massive grin, waving the little scroll thing around, FIRST CLASS DEGREE, all MINE! It all went so quick.

https://youtu.be/oliTS02FQQ0?list=PL_IhkJB-WjZX6JhMX1kOX2-KA9bbDjp9Z



It was such a lovely day. The OU did us proud. Everything was perfect.

After it had finished we bought some beers, got McDonald's for the girls and continued our celebrations on the train.


I couldn't have wished for a better day.

Thanks Open University. You changed my life.  x

Monday, 16 November 2015

Review: Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey Barbecue Glaze

We really do love dips, condiments, spices and trying out new flavours in this house. We like to try new things and get a bit creative with what we eat. We were really chuffed to be asked to try some Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey Barbecue Glaze.



We bought a rack of ribs and left them to marinate in the glaze for half an hour. We then cooked them in the oven and added extra sauce on top.



The sauce is sweet and sticky and made a great addition to the ribs. I think it would also be great with chicken kebabs or pork steaks - we will definitely be trying these next. I think the sauce would be a great addition to your condiments at a barbecue too - we will definitely be stocking up for barbecue season!

We were sent some Jack Daniel's sauces free of charge for the purpose of this review all words and and opinions are our own.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Review: Jamie's Italian, Liverpool

We were very excited to be asked to review Jamie's Italian in Liverpool. We do love eating out as a family and having the younger girls, we are always on the lookout for places that cater and allow for children. Sometimes our kids can be quite "lively" (as most children are) so it is important for us that wherever we go is relaxed, has plenty of space, possibly some activities for the kids as well as yummy food! So we went o Jamie's full of expectation of course!

The restaurant itself is in the heart of the city.

The Christmas decorations are just starting to be put up now so Liverpool at night looks amazing.  The restaurant itself is spacious and has a really lovely atmosphere. Relaxed with helpful staff and tables with plenty of space in between. This is really important when you have kids!! There were also activity packs for the kids to colour in whilst we waited for the food - perfect.

We loved the menu. There was plenty of choice and we took a while to decide what we wanted. Warren settled on Squid and Mussel Spaghetti Nero. This was seafood with pasta dyed and flavoured with squid ink. Warren really enjoyed it. I had the Turkey Milanese. The turkey was free range, stuffed with prosciutto and provolone - very tasty. Salad was served in fun pots, which was a bit gimicky, but we liked it - it was as fresh as a daisy too, crunchy and crisp. We also ordered Rainbow Slaw, which was a lovely variation on coleslaw - fresh and light.


The kids menu was also really great. I loved that the food was so fresh and healthy. We sometimes struggle to get the kids to eat their greens - I think most parents have this problem, so I like the fact that all of the items on the menu include fresh veg. We ordered the Organic Spaghetti and Meatballs - it has seven vegetables in it and tasted great.


We also picked the Baby Organic Beef Burger. We really loved how this was presented and so did Rosie.


I liked the fact that it had a yoghurt dip instead of mayonnaise or ketchup. I like that the kids get to mix up their diets and try new things when they are out.

For dessert the kids picked ice cream and Emily had the Chocolate Brownie. It had toffee popcorn, ice cream and chocolate sauce - I did have a little taste - it was yummy.


We really enjoyed our meal. The atmosphere was great, staff were helpful and the food was lovely. I also found the price to be good too. The kids meals were £6.50 and that included a drink - for fresh organic healthy food you can't really argue with the price.


We were asked to pose a few questions to our kids to give Jamie's Italian some feedback. Some of the answers are from all of the, some specific. Emily is 12, Alice is 4 and Rosie is 2, just to give you some context for their answers!

 “What does Jamie’s Italian smell like?”

Like nice food - and herby

 “What did you do until your food arrived?”

We coloured in the activity booklets and did a wordsearch

“What was your first thought about your meal when the waiter brought it to you?”

Mmmm tasty. I thought it looked yummy and I thought the meatballs looked yummy as well.

“What did you eat and how was it?”

Emily: Meatballs and spaghetti. It was lovely. The flavour was nice.
Alice: Meatballs and spaghetti. The flavour of my tea was lovely as well
Rosie: Yummy!

“What do you think your meal was made out of?”

Emily: Organic food
Alice: Organic food as well
Rosie: Sandwiches

 “Did you finish your whole plate?”

Yes to all!
Alice: My favourite part was that it was yummy. The salad was fun.

 “What did your parents have?”

Emily: Mum had turkey and Dad has  seafood pasta

  “Do you think eating vegetables is very important?”

Alice: Yes. Because they are yummy and they taste really good - and they are healthy for you.

  “Where do you think Italian food comes from?”

Alice: From really nice restaurants

“What was the best thing about Jamie’s Italian?”

The desserts

 “Would you like to come back here in the future?”

Yes

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

#TravelLodgeFoodies: Warren Cooks Scouse

We are big fans of home cooking in our house. We tend to cook from scratch (almost) every night. On the odd occasion we will go out for tea or grab a quick takeaway but general it is home-cooked food. I like to think I have quite a large variety of recipes up my sleeve. I enjoy cooking and love to try out new recipes. I love that our kids eat fresh fruit and vegetables (as well as the occasional treat of course!) We were delighted to be asked to be Liverpool  #TravelLodgeFoodies. Travel Lodge challenged us to cook one of our favourite regional dishes. I was really looking forward to this. I have a lot of recipe books, but I also love just home cooked comfort food – this is mostly what we eat.

However, as this was a regional cooking project, I decided to hand the baton over to Warren, who said he would like to cook a Scouse. Now I can cook Scouse, I do it now and again. It really is a great winter dish, however, I didn’t think there would be any point in me (a Mancunian) cooking the traditional Scouse dish when I live with a real Scouser! So I left Warren to it. He also enjoyed getting the kids involved with the cooking. I have added the recipe below. The dish served 5 of us so I have not put amounts on the recipe – you can just add more potatoes or meat to your taste – that’s the beauty of classic dishes you just make them as to how you and your family like them!



Alice loved getting involved in the cooking 



And the eating of course!

Warren’s Scouse Recipe

Potatoes

Carrots

Stewing Beef

Onions

Beef Stock


Method


1.       Lightly fry the beef with the onion, just until the meat is sealed.

2.       Cover the meat with water in a huge pan and add beef stock cubes and a bay leaf, salt and       pepper. Tip: Cut some very small potatoes, these ones will boil into the sauce to make the       Scouse thick.         

3.       Leave to simmer for 3 hours.
4.       Peel and cube potatoes and carrots. 

5.       Add potatoes and carrots to the stock and boil for 20 minutes.




You can add salt, pepper, more stock as required. Just make sure that the pan stays topped up with the water and you will end up with a lovely thick stew. Warren served this with hot buttered crusty bread. We loved this dish. Thanks Travel Lodge for inspiring us to write this post!

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Curtains and Home Furnishings


Now that our children are a little bit bigger we have been thinking about smartening the house up a bit. I have never been one for home furnishings, but I like to have the house how I like it. Our house is filled to the brim with all of our belongings, it is a true home, a true reflection of us. This obviously means that sometimes it is messy and it doesn't always co-ordinate. However, I don't mind that, it's who we are. 

So I have been thinking about new curtains for each room. I think they could really spruce up our house. 

I love these for the kids bedroom. I love the pink owl design, and as it is not a particular brand like Peppa Pig or frozen, the girls can't argue over which one it is, they share a room and so they both like to have an opinion on the furnishings of course!


For the downstairs we would be looking at a cream, beige or coffee coloured curtain. Something like these Yorkshire Linen CO  door curtains would be perfect. We have have also seen quite a few pairs in Dunelm Mill and Next, so we are going to keep looking round. We have the big double patio doors at the back of our house - I love the coffee colour and think they would look great.


I have been looking on the Internet and keeping an eye out when I have been shopping. Buying new curtains are just one of those jobs that tends to go on the backburner, but hopefully I will find time and spruce up our house!

This post was written as a collaborative post.

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