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.

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.


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.


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.

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