Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Keeping Your Home Safe at Christmas*

We are very much looking forward to winding down for the Christmas break. We work so hard all year and it is important for us to spend lots of quality time together as a family without the interruptions of stress and work.

That's why keeping your home safe over the festive period is very important. I know a lot of people, myself included, tend to stock up on Christmas presents throughout the year. I like to be very organised and ready for the Christmas period, this includes purchasing and wrapping gifts. I also recognise the importance of keeping these gifts safe. According to Chill Insurance, households can spend between £100 and £300 on Christmas gifts, and I'm sure that some people spend more.

Christmas shenanigans!


Over the years we have been careful with our Christmas presents and try to make sure that our house is secure. As well as being insured for all contents there are some other measures that you can take to endure that your home stays safe this festive period:

* Make sure all doors and windows are locked. This may seem obvious, but windows also need to be secure.

* Leave all valuables out of sight when you are out of the house

* Ensure that you have a working house alarm fitted to ward off potential burglars

* Also make sure you have a smoke alarm fitted and check it weekly

* If you are making a trip away from your home over the festive period, do ask a neighbour to check your home and give them your emergency telephone number

* If you do have valuable gifts to leave in your home while you are away then maybe think of storing them at a friend's house or parents house for extra peace of mind.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and New Year. I know that safety can easily slip off the top off the to-do list when it comes to such a busy time like Christmas - but it's really important.

All the best!

*This is a collaborative post. All words and views are our own.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Review: Every Day Matters Diaries

As a student, a mother and basically a very busy person - it is really important to me to have lists, diaries, calendars and notepads. I know that this is the electronic age and we should be thinking about moving everything across to digital, but sometimes it's better to just stick to paper. I know where I am with paper, I can feel it's pages and I can cross it off or tear it out when it is done. Although I do have an Outlook calendar, I don't think I will ever not buy a diary for the New Year.



That's why I was delighted to be sent two diaries from Every Day Matters. Every Day Matters produce beautiful diaries. I received a pocket size calendar and a desktop one. I love this - I always carry my paper diary with me and I like to have one on my desk in work too. I know that this means that I duplicate information, sometimes things do cross over, but generally I keep my family life in my bag and my work life on my desktop. This seems to work out fine for me, and although I am busy and sometimes slightly frazzled, I think I do a good job.





The diaries themselves are just perfect. I love the design of them, and of course the message. Every Day Matters. It really does. We are only on this earth once - we really need to fill our days where we can. I love the motivational quotes on the pages.




Disclosure: I was sent two of these diaries free of charge for the purpose of this review. All words and views are our own.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Review: Christmas Menu at Table Table

We were very excited to be asked to test out the new Christmas menu from Table Table at the Derby Lodge in Huyton. We love eating out as a family and menu testing is one of our favourite things to do. We are always looking for places to eat that will accomodate children but also be quiet enough for us to eat too - we don't want to eat every meal in a child-focussed arena. When we arrived we were really happy to see the Christmas decorations on the table. The kids loved pulling all the crackers and of course we hads to wear our paper crowns. Emily read us all the little jokes in the crackers and we pretended to laugh heartily, as is the Christmas tradition of course!

The staff were really lovely with us - we had pre-ordered our meals which meant that they were all ready for us when our table was booked. This was  massive help as you know if you have kids they can get a little bit fed up, especially if it is after school. The meals came out hot and ready and we were very happy! For this meal we decided to order three starters, three mains and three desserts - all adult sized and then share the food with the two little ones. We don't often eat three courses and I feared that if we got kids' food as well then it might go to waste and I hate waste. As it turned out the three adult sized courses were definitely enough for all of us and staff were only too happy to oblige with giving us side plates for the kids. I had a well-deserved glass of white wine and Warren had red. It was actually a lovely relaxed environment, the kids were well behaved and the food was spot on.



Our Food

To start we ordered the soup of the day, which was roatsed pepper and tomato and included bread, breaded garlic mushrooms with a barbecue dip and a pate dish. I'll be honest we wolfed the lot. The soup was so fresh and the bread was delicious. Alice didn't fancy a starter - the kids often don't, but she was happy enough colouring in with teh crayons and sheet she had been handed on the way in. Next up came the mains, we ordered the festive steak, a full Turkey Christmas dinner and a festive burger. We shared out a bit of everything for the kids, who wolfed down turkey with gravy, some chips, bts of potato, and we even coaxed them into trying a couple of sprouts each! There was no waste, and everyone was full. However, as Emily keenly explained, no matter how full you are, you always have a "dessert belly."

So out came the desserts: Chocolate brownie with caramel and icecream, a chocolate sundae and a choclate fudge cake with cream. As you can tell from the pictures, we all dug in and it was enough for all of us.



Our bill came to just under £60 which to feed five of us with a drink from a festive menu is really good value for a treat. They do have a really brilliant kids menu but on this occasion, I decided to share but of course you know your own kids and what they can and can't manage with a full meal.

We had a lovely night. It was great to have a night off cooking and also to eat a three course meak - we don't do it often so it was a lovely treat.

We would definitely recommend Table Table for a Christmas meal out. The food was great, there was plenty of choice on the menu, there was a lovely relaxed atmosphere and the staff were really helpful.



Disclosure: The cost of our visit was covered in exchange for this honest review. All words and views are our own.




Blackpool Tower Circus Panto - Jack & the Beanstalk

If you were to ask my kids what their favourite days out are, they would say pantomimes and circuses.  So we were delighted to be able to combine the two when we were invited to watch Jack and the Beanstalk at Blackpool Circus.




The classic tale was given a twist with the addition of the circus element.  We have visited the circus in the past, and have always loved it, and this was no different.

After taking our seats, the show starts with regular circus star Mooky playing the part of Jack, with Mr.Boo as the villain of the piece. Without wanting to give too much away, the regular pantomime story is given a boost with a variety of circus acts performing their speciality pieces, including incredible balancing acts, trapeze, clowns, a daredevil spinning wheel and much more.



All of this was wonderful aided by the house band, who played lots of well-known songs from down the years to accompany the acts.
The circus show is designed to appeal to adults as well as children, and all of us had a fantastic time.


We were sent a family ticket to the Blackpool Circus pantomime show in exchange for this review.  All views are our own.


Review: Liverpool Day Out

It's getting colder and Christmas is almost upon us. It's that lovely time of the year where the diary is packed full of fun and exciting things to do with the kids. We love taking them out and showing them new thing s- it's how we bond together and chill out as a family (sometimes literally in this weather!)

So we were more than excited to be sent on a Blogger Day Out to our home town. We are always singing the praises of Liverpool. We often go to the town centre, especially in the summer. There is something so warm and beautiful about Liverpool. It has such a rich history and there seems to be so much more to it every time we go. We like to go and be tourists in our own city, it is fun.

So we had a busy and fun schedule set out before us. The kids were all wrapped up warm and ready to go.

Dreamworks

Our first stop was at the beautiful St. George's Hall, what had been turned into a festival of light starring the characters of some of Dreamworks' best known films - Shrek, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda.  The scene was set before we even entered, with a giant Shrek looking out of the city from the roof.

Once inside, we toured around the hall, taking in scenes from films that we have watched over and over with the kids, who took great pleasure in pointing out their favourite bits.


Christmas Markets

After the Dreamworks tour, we decided to take a quick pit stop at the Christmas Market outside on St. George's Plateau.  A wide variety of market stalls covered food and drink for all tastes, as well as others selling Christmas gifts and goodies.  Alice and Rosie took full advantage, quickly working their way through chocolate covered marshmallow men.




Rides

Suitably refreshed, we heading up to Chavasse Park, with has been turned into a Christmas fairground.  The girls love getting involved in the fair, and could be heard screaming and laughing as they enjoyed the wide variety of rides.






Ice Skating

After making a point of testing every possible ride, we headed to the Ice Festival, situated at the historic Pier Head on the riverfront, in the shadow of the magnificent Three Graces.  Emily loves ice skating, and was soon on her way, speeding around on the ice.  It's fair to say Warren isn't quite as nimble, so decided to stay with Alice and Rosie and help them try and find their feet on the ice (whilst struggling to stay on his own feet).



Viva Brazil

By now, we were all hungry, so headed to one of our favourite restaurants, Viva Brazil on Castle Street.  We love getting the girls to try new foods, and this restaurant is perfect, with a wide variety of freshly barbecued meats being brought to your table throughout your meal, and a fresh salad bar available with a wide variety of Brazilian flavoured sides.



Overall we had a wonderful day out.  The kids had a great time, and we all enjoyed ourselves, spending time together and getting to see more of our wonderful hometown.  I would definitely recommend Liverpool for a family day out over Christmas.

Disclosure: We were invited on a Liverpool blogger's day out.  All our costs were covered for the purpose of this honest review.  All words and views our own. 


Christmas Decorating with Gel-A-Peel

As a family we are always looking out for new and exciting things to do with the kids. Sometimes we take them out and other times we like to sit and engage in creatve play. This is really important to us because it helps us bond as a family but it also encourages the girls to get creative and do something different

We were really excited to be sent a sample of Gel-A-Peel and we were very much looking forward to trying it out to make some wonderful Christmas decorations! Now everyone know that Christmas is definitely the time of year for getting our craft on. As you know, I can't claim to be the best crafter that there has ever been, but I do try, and I always encourage my girls to get involved even if what they produce is a little less than perfect!

Gel-A-Peel is a jewellery-making set for kids who want to get creative with gel.


The set comes with colourful gel tubes that you use to colour over the stencil. The gel is then left to set overnight and once it is set you have an amazing piece of jewellery.

First of all I let Alice and Rosie create some Christmas decorations using some glitter gel and gems.






This was an aside to the Gel-A-Peel - I thought it best that they use something a bit more age appropriate - Gel-A-Peel is recommended for children aged 8+. So while Alice and Rosie created the base for our decorations, Emily, who is a bit older and more sensible set to making some tree decorations using the set.

Emily said that it was quite fiddly at first but once she got the hang of it she really enjoyed it. It was simple to use and there were lots of designs to cover with the gel.

Overall we really like this product and as you can see it really did make some cool decorations for our tree.

The set is available in all good toy stores and would really suit a child over the age of 8 who loves to be creative and make jewellery or decorative items - I am sure that there are lots of ways that this set could be used and lots of ways the gel could be used to decorate trinkets or whatever you fancy.

Disclosure: We were sent this set free of charge for the purpose of this review, all words and views are my own.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Review: Bogs Boots

As the festive season approaches, one of our favourite things to do as a family is to visit Christmas markets.  It’s a great opportunity to get into the festive spirit, try new foods, maybe have a quick drink and generally enjoy being a family together.



However, more often than not, the British weather intervenes and makes things more difficult.  So we were delighted to be asked to review Bogs children’s wellies, and took the opportunity of trying them out at Liverpool Christmas market.



Both Alice and Rosie decided on the striped rain boot design.  The boots are 100% waterproof, lightweight, with a soft, flexible natural rubber upper.  Both girls loved the design, and were eager to test the waterproof properties by launching themselves into every puddle they could find.



Suffice to say, their socks remained bone dry (unlike me, who ended up covered in splashback).  The girls have already made big plans for taking advantage of their boots on even muddier terrain.

We were sent two pair of Bogs children’s wellies in exchange for this review.  All views are our own.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Review: Disney on Ice Presents Frozen at Liverpool Echo Arena!

We love taking our kids out to events, especially at Christmas. Christmas is such a great time of the year to realise what is important in life and spend time with the ones you love. Speaking of love, our girls absolutely love Frozen and Disney. I’ll be honest, I don’t really know any children who don’t like Frozen – it really is such a great family feel-good film.
We were delighted to be asked to review Disney on Ice presents Frozen. The kids were absolutely over the moon excited to go, dressing up in their brand new finest Elsa and Anna costumes. (Both myself Warren and Emily just wore our normal clothes, just to clarify!)

Disney on Ice presents Frozen was on at the Liverpool Echo Arena. This is not too far for us so straight after school we got the girls ready and set off. We even got to see the stars of the show beforehand for a photo.




The production itself was brilliant. Every song from Frozen was played and acted out on the beautiful ice rink. We were sat quite high up but we could see everything. The show began with an introduction by some of our favourite Disney characters – Ariel, Cinderella and of course Minnie and Mickey Mouse as well as others. There was a real party atmosphere in the arena and the Disney characters really got the show started. When Frozen began our girls were so excited. The ice skating was fabulous – the choreography was perfect. Every detail was brilliant from the costumes to the props. One of our favourite parts was close to the end when the ice monster scares Anna, Kristoff and Sven away – it was really well produced and the monster was a little bit scary but just enough to make it fun.



Rosie said her best part was the end when they live happily ever after. Rosie is a huge Olaf fan, so she was singing and dancing along to the brilliant In Summer. Of course, we all loved Let it Go, and the Love Expert Trolls were so cute. Fixer Upper was a lot of fun! At the end of the show the whole Disney cast finished with an impressive song and lots of amazing moves on the ice. We loved it.



Overall we had a wonderful time. There were lots of little Anna's and Elsa's dressed up running around, the whole show was brilliant and the atmosphere was superb.

If you would like to see Disney on Ice presents Frozen this Christmas, do see their website to book. Tickets start from £20 each at the Liverpool Echo Arena and  the show runs until 4th December.

Disclosure: We were invited to attend this event free of charge for the purpose of this review. All words and views are our own.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

New Smiggle Store: Liverpool

We were very excited to be asked to visit the brand spanking new Smiggle store which opened in Liverpool One last week. We are all involved in education in one way or another and so we all have a need (and a love) of stationery.

We have bought Smiggle stationery before - we always find it funky, colourful and cheerful. I still have a blue "toaster" in my office at work that pops up post-it slices of toasts! People in work are always commenting how cool it is. They make great presents as well as being useful for all of our work! Alice, Rosie and Emily were very much looking forward to visiting the new store and finding out what they had to offer.



Smiggle offer pens, pencils, rulers as well as a whole host of products for all of your stationery needs such as lunch boxes, pencil cases and even lip balms and fun notebooks. Our kids, being of school age all use these types of items and the more colourful they are the better!

We spent quite a long time wandering around the store. There is so much to see! Staff were friendly and helpful, assisting Rosie trying out the glitter pens as she doodled.



I loved that they had ready-made gift packs. Items are bundled together with a lower price tag. We chose a rainbow heart lockable notepad with some coloured pens and of course once Rosie had tried out the glitter pens we knew that we would have to buy them.



I would recommend Smiggle to have a look around. It is great for presents and they have some really good bargains at the front of the store. Although it does cost more than I would usually spend on basic stationery, I think the price reflects the value of the products - and the bundes of goodies definitely would make a great Christmas present. Online at the moment they have a 30% discount on selected pencil cases so it is definitely worth a look. I also see that they now have a Christmas range - perfect!

Disclosure: We were given a voucher to cover the cost of our items from Smiggle, all words and views are our own.

Breakfast With Santa at Selfridges Preview

We love to take the kids to see Santa at Christmas. It is one of our family traditions. The girls think that it is absolutely magical. We started taking them as soon as they were old enough to focus!

I think one of the main things about Christmas is family time. We are all so busy throughout the year that it just makes sense to slow down and spend some quality time together as a family. We try to go on as many days out as possible, eat together, play together and just catch up and chill out. Seeing Santa is one of the ways that we spend time together and also enjoy the magic of Christmas.

This one is from 2014


This year we will be having Breakfast with Santa at Selfridges in the Trafford Centre, Manchester. We absolutely can't wait. The Breakfast with Santa at Selfridges includes a bite to eat with the man himself, grab a photo with him and a bag of goodies to take home. To finish there are Christmas songs!

If you would like to book tickets to see the man himself at Selfridges in the Trafford Centre, please see their website for further information.

We really can't wait to see Santa. :)

Disclosure: We are invited free of charge to have breakfast with Santa at Selfridges. All words and views are our own.



Friday, 25 November 2016

My Office Chair(s)*


As a busy student and an office worker, I am quite aware that I do need to have a comfy chair to work at. I probably spend a ridiculous amount of time sat at a desk, whether it is my desk in work, my desk at in the library, or my dining table - which tends to act as a make-shift desk for as I do my uni work and assignments!

My work office chair and space is overseen by health and safety at work - so my sitting position, chair, desktop and workspace is checked regularly. At home - not so much! I do tend to slouch and when I get engrossed in what I am reading I tend to lean over the book or laptop. This results in bad shoulders and back the next day. - not good when I have the kids to see to, work to get to and a million things on my to-do list! I do try to avoid doing this but sometime it is easier said than done - we all lead busy lives and a lot of that involves computer-based work. I suppose we just have to do what we can to make it as comfortable as possible - finding the right office chair is definitely a good place to start.

If I could share one tip with office workers or students who are sat in office chairs for a long time - it would be to take regular breaks. Read one article, write a set amount of words, then get up - stretch your legs, make a drink. When you get back to your desk be mindful about how you are sitting and what your posture is like. It is really important!

I do love my office chair in work. It is adjustable and comfortable. Also, it spins. So when I am having one of those days, well.... I can just spin for a bit until I feel better......

See below for some more brilliant office furniture tips:





*This is a collaborative post. All words and views are my own.

Monday, 14 November 2016

What Education Means To Me

I remember the first seminar. Open University. I was 28 and wondering what on earth I was doing in this dingy old classroom. About seven other people sat there, all men. Some younger, some older. It was in a school in the centre of Liverpool - the OU hire their classrooms. Six seminars per year. Six precious two hour sessions. The rest of the year was spent learning in almost complete isolation save for a few Facebook groups and the odd email.

I had straightened my hair and was wearing make-up. Nervous. What on earth was I doing? Me. Silly me.

Getting ideas above my station.

Six years later, a first class degree and doing a masters, things have changed. So much. I am almost unrecognisable from that young, slightly embarrassed girl. It was like being stood at the foot of a mountain and now I am looking back, stood above -  waving. Smiling and waving. Telling her she can do it, not to be so nervous, to be bold, brave, intelligent and hardworking. To follow that almost nightly recurring dream.

I'd also tell her not to wear so much damn make-up.

You see, education is everything to me now.

I have one seminar a week and spend every spare moment I can reading. I do have three children and I do work, and sometimes it is a fight and a struggle to get to my books - but I make it. I manage well. I'm not afraid of saying that I manage well anymore. That's a nod to that journey from the foot of the mountain.

You see, I do manage everything well. Constantly juggling and trying to not drop plates. Sometimes I fail. I struggle to get in doors and I trip up, get tangled in my bag and headphone wires on the bus and there is an argument with the teenager almost every night. The two younger girls peck my head and work can be busy - you might think what on earth is she doing? But it's perfectly OK.

Education underpins everything that I do. It is both my crutch and my passion. After I leave the class, I am excited, confident, happy - I am ready to face the new week ahead. I want to read more, absorb more, I want to question everything and sit and just think about the world around me. Most of all I want to pass it on and I want to explain how important it is to be educated. And to educate.

In a rare moment that the teenager wants to talk, we discuss history, politics. We talk about homelessness, current affairs, Donald Trump, feminism. I cuddle with the two younger girls and we watch Horrible Histories. I read them their bedtime stories with a fresh voice. A voice I did not know I had. I tell them they are strong, intelligent and that they can do anything that they put their mind to.

Education has given me all of this. 

I often think of that silly girl stood at the bottom of the mountain - and her recurring dream of educating herself. I often wonder what would have happened had she not took that first step. That huge, frightening step. Make-up to cover her blushes and her own hands squeezed tightly together with nerves.

I find myself telling others You can do it. 

Because if you want to - you can you know.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

National STEAM Day: Project MC2 Spy Bag & H20 Remote Control Car

Today is National STEAM day - STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering Arts and Maths. The aim of this day is to inspire children, and particularly girls to get involved with these subjects. Traditionally these subjects have been taken on by boys and so National STEAM Day is to raise awareness for these subjects and girls' involvement with them.

As part of this day we were very excited to be sent a couple of toys to review from MC2. We love MC2 and have been fans of the dolls for a while. We were really chuffed to take delivery of the MC2 Spy Case and the MC2 H20 car.

Spy Case

The Spy Case is cleverly disguised as a pink handbag and includes over 15 items such as jewellery, nail varnish and perfume. However, all is not what it seems with this vanity case. The items all double up as a secret agent's equipment, so with this bag you can dust your finger prints with shimmery eyeshadow!



You can also send secret messages, inspect clues with a magnifying glass, test evidence with a a small chemistry set and record voices with a secret lip gloss recorder.



Overall the spy case is really fun and might encourage some girls to get involved with this type of activity. Alice really enjoyed playing with the pink coloured nail varnish holders and discovering what secrets the items held. Rosie also got involved and especially liked the voice recorder. However, Emily, who is not a fan of pink was not fussed on the make-up and girly items. I suppose you can't please everyone - we are different no matter what gender we are.

The Spy Case is sold in all good toy shop and prices start from £37.99. I would recommend this toy for someone who is perhaps reluctant to get into science but would like to be inspired. The box recommends that it is suitable for ages 6+ and I would say that this is right. Although our girls did enjoy it, I think optimum age would be a little bit older than this.

H20 Remote Control Car

We absolutely loved the design, style and concept of this car straight away. The car is powered by water! You literally just pop the hood up and insert the water.



The water does two things to this toy. First, adding it turns the car on. The water completes an electrical circuit and allows electricity to flow to power the car. It also creates the mist that looks like the car’s exhaust. 

 


The car also comes with an easy to use remote control and moves backwards as well as forwards. My girls had great fun with this car. They enjoyed putting their MC2 dolls (and their old Queen Elsa dolls, and Peppa Pig and any other toys that would fit!) into the car and driving them around. We don't really have any cars in the house as the girls tend to pick dolls or puzzles so this is a great addition to our toy collection. We also loved the fact that we got to explain some of the science behind using water to power the car. Our girls are only 5 and 3 so they are a bit young for science lessons but this was the opportunity for us to open up the conversation and teach them something new.



The car is available in all good toy shops.  Prices start from £44.99.

Disclosure: We were sent these items for the purpose of this review. All words and views are our own.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Halloween at Lowry Outlet

Our kids love Halloween, to the extent that Rosie can been heard singing Halloween songs all year round.  So we were delighted to be invited to the Lowry Outlet in Salford Quays to take part in their Spooktacular Halloween Trail.

First port of call was the face painter, with both girls choosing to be butterflies; Rosie in pink and Alice in purple.  The face painter was excellent, with custom designs for each girl getting the day off to a fine start.



We collected our trail maps, and set off around the store to find the Halloween markings.  I was quickly tired, as the girls were so excited the kept sprinting off to find the next marker.


After finding all eight markers, we took our completed maps back to claim out prizes - a badge that gave us entry to the Forbidden Forest.

Inside the Forest, the girls had to complete some tasks, helping a Scarecrow with his job of frightening the birds, and finding some rats in a fountain to help Hazel the Witch complete her potion.

After a quick stop for dinner, we went off to carve some pumpkins.  The kids managed to cover themselves (and the floor) in pumpkin flesh and seeds, before drawing on a face, ready for carving.  



Both kids were exhausted by the end, and promptly fell asleep in the car on the way home.  

We had a really lovely day, and will certainly be returning to the Lowry Outlet in the near future.

Disclosure.  We were invited to the Lowry Outlet and were given a voucher for our food.  All views are our own.  

Monday, 24 October 2016

That time I was an unemployed single mother...

Lone parent. I prefer the term lone parent.

I had left my full time job at a grim start-up office in Manchester. They had promised me a different salary and were paying me less than agreed. They liked to ask me to make tea and cash cheques at the bank, using my car, my petrol. They liked to call me in the office and ask me which of the women should be sacked for being lazy. They liked to play games, call people names.

Well, I didn't like to work for them.

So I resigned.

In my naivety I walked out, took my car and drove home. To my home, mortgaged by myself (so proud - look what I had made for myself and my little girl!) Emily, aged 4 - cheeky, funny, clever. Home to a small furry hamster called Lulu, a small two-up-two-down terraced with high ceilings and an awkward rickety staircase. Not much. But everything at the same time.

I picked Emily up from nursery early that day. As she skipped down the path, her blonde hair streaming behind her, care-free,  I explained that I would be home for a few days now so I could take her to nursery and back without rushing. I felt free. I felt like I deserved some time off with my little girl. That sounds stupid now, I know you don't "earn" time off work - but working 60+ hours a week to keep a roof over your head, put food on the table - a successful SINGLE MOTHER. It's tough to keep it all up. I was also doing my undergraduate degree in History via the Open University, trying to improve - always looking for the next thing, always forward thinking.

So for a minute there, I was actually glad I was out of work.

After a week, my house was spotless. I had rested, I had spent some real quality time with my girl. I could breathe. It was just what I needed - a break from the hamster wheel.

Looking back now that was all I needed - I had been pushed to the edge.

OK. I sat at my laptop, coffee in hand. Job applications. School Administrator, School Office Manager, Research Administration, Personal Assistant. I aimed to apply for three jobs a day.

I heard nothing back.

I had some money in the bank that I had saved. It would last us a month. We would be OK.

A month passed. No work.

Then there was no money. I made an appointment at the Job Centre. I thought that I would receive Jobseekers and that would tide me over. With Jobseekers we could buy food and essentials. The mortgage - well, I had no idea about that one. Council tax? Gas? Electric? How would I get money to put on those little pre-pay cards I used? I was starting to panic.

I was at the Job Centre for over an hour. Filling out forms, Emily squirming on my knee desperate to get home after nursery.  The woman behind the counter was shocked when I explained the reason why I left my job. I realised I had made a mistake as she explained just how many people were applying for just one job that was advertised. I knew I would face an uphill struggle and I suddenly felt very silly for not sticking with my old job until I found another.

Once the forms were filled in, I asked her what now - when would I be paid?

What she said did not make any sense to me. I wouldn't be paid. They wouldn't help me with any housing costs and I didn't qualify for Jobseekers. The reasons were explained but all I heard was "nothing." I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach.

The next few days I was in a haze. I had no money. I would wake up just before I had to take Emily to nursery, drag a brush through my hair and plod on. No motivation. A clean house did nothing for me - I was alone with no money and no hope. I had nothing and I had no idea what to do. Most of all I felt stupid, silly and young. So very young. I lay on the couch for days in tears, waiting for a job interview, for that email to ping, the phone to ring.

I called my mortgage company, who were only too happy to tell me that they would give me three months' payment holiday. This meant that I didn't have to pay my mortgage for three months, which was music to my ears, but the catch was they would take an extra £40 per month every month after that for the duration of the mortgage term. What choice did I have?

I called my bank and asked for an overdraft. They were only too happy to give me an overdraft so that myself and my daughter could eat. They would charge me extra every month for the privilege.

I called the council about the council tax. This was the final straw and when they said I had to pay, I cried on the phone. I sobbed to the lady who said I would have to pay as they had sent me a red letter. They sent me a form. I had to fill in each of my outgoings. Everything was accounted for and essential. Gas, electric, food, etc. One item stood out like a sore thumb.

Tuition Fees - Open University - £90 per month.

The letter I received from the council two weeks later explained that I had £90 spare each month for non-essentials so I had to use that money to pay them.

I grew angry. It felt like the whole world was against me - how on earth was I meant to support myself and my child, and improve myself when they were putting me down and putting me down. I was frightened I would lose my house, scared for my baby girl. I felt inadequate, down-trodden. Doing my coursework at night I would wonder why I bothered. I applied for ALL JOBS. Cleaner, Bar Maid, Receptionist, Apprentice....

I was out of work four months in total. As soon as I started my employment at the University of Manchester I felt whole again. I got up and walked with a spring in my step. I paid off what I owed and I vowed never to get out of work ever again. Never to let the bastards grind me down.

And I got my degree. First class, too. Fancy that.

*waves*

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Review: Baby Annabell Bedroom

Our girls absolutely love playing with dolls. They adore creative play and like to play happy families all the time. That's why we were very excited to get the opportunity to review the Baby Annabell Bedroom by Zapf Creation. We love Baby Annabell and are always looking out for new products that we can maybe use as Christmas or birthday treats for the girls.


The bedroom is a lovely playset that has three main areas. There is a little cosy bed for Baby Annabell to sleep in complete with mobile, a little dress-up area with a mirror and an adorable wardrobe to hang baby's clothes and store her shoes. There is also a little storage area for Baby Annabell's accessories.

Both Alice and Rosie absolutely love this play-set. They will literally sit and play for quite a while, taking turns being the parent and passing each other the baby bottle or clothes to dress their baby with. The great thing about the house is that you can pop any doll in there - we often find three or four fashion dolls tucked up in there safe! I don't mind as long as the girls are happy.

Rosie playing with the Annabell Bedroom

Encouraging creative play is something that we are keen on. We often play fun and imaginative games with the girls and this is toy that really facilitates that. I will often talk to the girls about when they were babies and how both myself and Warren looked after them just as they take care of their dolls in their little Annabell Bedroom.

We love this toy. It would make a great Christmas present for any child who likes to play "house." It is recommended for children aged 3 and above. Alice is 5 and Rosie is 3 so it is absolutely perfect for them.

Baby Annabell's Bedroom is priced from £64.99 and is available at all good toy stores.

If you would like to keep up to date with all things Baby Annabell, including sale items or new products do check out their website: http://www.zapfdolls.co.uk/Baby_Annabell.html

You can also follow them on Twitter or catch them on Facebook

Disclosure: We were sent this product free of charge for the purpose of this review. All words and views are our own.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Disney on Ice Presents Frozen - Liverpool

We are so excited to be invited to see Disney on Ice this year in Liverpool. We love looking for new and exciting ways to treat the kids, and spending time together is always great. If you chuck in Disney and especially Frozen then we are on to a winner right away.  Our girls love dressing up as characters from Frozen - in fact, they love Disney dress-up full stop.

Rosie as Elsa
We were set a fun quiz all about Frozen so I sat down with the girls and asked them some of the questions. Their answers were funny - we have seen the film at least around a million times. (!)

1) In Which Kingdom Do Anna and Elsa live?

Arundelle

The real Elsa in Disney on Ice!


2) Who helps the young Anna when she gets hit by Elsa's powers?

Olaf

Olaf singing In Summer


(After some coaxing by her Dad, she said "the trolls")

3) What is Kristoff's profession?

He's a snow man. He collects ice.

4) How many salad plates do Anna and Elsa own?

8

8 thousand

5) Anna and Hans finishes each other's?

Sandwiches


We can't wait for Disney on Ice. I have told the kids that we are going and they keep asking when it is, of course they can hardly contain their excitement.

For a full list of tour dates click here for more information.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Review: Project Mc2 Doll with Experiment - Bryden's Speaker

We were very excited to be given the opportunity to review this new Project Mc2 doll. These dolls are based on the original characters in the Netflix original series. The girls absolutely love dolls and I knew that it would be a hit with them. What I really loved about the concept was that the doll is made to encourage girls to get into science. Anything that might inspire my girls to get involved in science or to look outside of the box is always going to be of interest to me.


The doll we were sent arrived in very fancy packaging. The doll is clearly a very trendy and happy doll, but intelligent also. The package includes a panda speaker that can be activated by using apple slices as a battery. The citric acid in the apple actually makes the speaker work.

Now my younger children are aged 5 and 3, so it would be quite difficult to get them to understand this concept. However, the eldest child was happy to take over the science experiment and help the younger girls. She did make it work and we were very happy with the outcome.

The younger girls were content that this doll was a "fashion" doll with lots of accessories and trendy clothes. I know this can seem quite shallow - but my girls enjoy stripping dolls off and dressing them in new clothes or shoes. It's all about creative play and this encourages them to get involved with dressing the doll but at the same time making them aware that it is not just about looks and fashion - this doll is showing us that "smart is the new cool."


I think that this doll would be best suited to a child a bit older than my girls. It is great for teaching them about rounded individuals and interests. One thing about the doll is that it is very thin. I know that some mums and dads are quite concerned about this. Maybe in the future the dolls could be made in different shapes and sizes, after all there is no one size fits all approach.

Rosie is pictured about with the doll. She particularly loves her thick curly hair, her clothes and the fact that she is "poseable." (Rosie watches a lot of Youtube video toy reviews so she has all of the terminology in her vocabulary!)

The dolls are available from all good toy shops and prices start from around £18.

Disclosure: I was sent this product free of charge for the purpose of this review. All words and views are my own.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

On Being Driven

Lately I have been thinking about being driven and what it means to be truly chasing something. As you know, I don't really stop. I spoke to one of my friends at a blogging conference last week and we chatted about how it was actually quite boring to listen to how busy other people are. "Oooh I'm doing x y z and I've got three kids, and a job, and a blog and I'm a volunteer..." bla bla bla. It does become boring, because we choose to be busy and we all have a certain amount of choice over how much we cram into our lives.

It got me thinking - why am I so driven and what exactly am I being driven for? Or to? From???

The path I have chosen is so complex. I have studied for literally years now. I'm in the second year of a part time Masters in history and I'm writing an application to do a PhD. I've obviously balanced working life and a family too, and yes, I know that it is boring for me to bang on about it. Generally I don't, I just get on with it. Sometimes I stop myself and think "hang on - what is it - why am I doing this?" I don't have a normal life. I don't have lots of friends, I don't read trashy magazines, I don't even really watch television. When I say in bios that I am "a bit weird," then I mean it, and I do alienate people, and I myself am alienated. So why? Why would I do this to myself?  I did come to some conclusions.

I think I am running away. Like literally running away from the past. I feel like I am always trying to shake off this single mother thing, to the point where I want to get as far away as possible from what it is I was. This is ridiculous. There is nothing wrong with being a lone parent at all, but this is where the drive came from initially - to provide for my child. Since I have been married this has changed - I'm no longer financially motivated, it is all about educating myself and pushing myself to the limit, intellectually. What I am trying to do is literally the impossible. For someone like me. The person who I was, or thought I was.

I feel like all of these doors are in front of me since I did my degree, and they are not necessarily wide open and calling to me, but I'm just running through them and saying, in a bad Mancunian accent "Hiyorr it's me - accept me, let me in, this is what I want."

I often feel like I am not good enough and I struggle to express what it is I want to do. Now and again, I explain what I am doing and there are flashes of "YES I GET IT" - in my head, like I know that this is where I am going and it's the right path. Other times I feel like I stumbled into the wrong room, tripped over and fell flat on my face.

But this is just all in my head. It's not about me, and that's what keeps me going. I am truly passionate about what I am studying, and it means the world to me. I want to give everything over to this project that I want to do. I feel like the time is right for me, and throwing myself into a PhD is throwing myself into work, into possible tears, isolation - throwing myself to scrutiny. I think to my mind it is the most difficult thing, for me, for someone of my background - to throw themselves to. To completely give themselves over to. Is it gender? Class? What is it that makes me so driven to actually do this? I suspect it is a combination of a lot of the points I have already mentioned. I am absolutely determined, and frightened that this time next year I actually will not be a student any more - it will all be taken away from me - for whatever reason - lack of funding, time, energy.

Or maybe these are just the fears of a young working class single mum from years ago, frightened to step out, scared of having ideas above her station. And this grown and driven woman needs to grab her and give her a shake - "You can do whatever you put your mind to. So knock on those doors and you do it."


Num Noms Wacky Bakers

At home we love cooking and eating together as a family. We all are so busy individually and one of my house rules is that we all sit and eat together for our evening meal, or tea as we call it in our house! No tablets, no phones, no distractions!

We were excited to be asked to write a post about baking with the Num Noms. Num Noms are collectible little scented characters - we love them and in fact I would go as far as to say that Rosie especially s a little bit obsessed with them. She likes to pick them up and serve them to me as a meal, or just trap them in a small space and watch them motor around endlessly.

For our bakers challenge we decided that we would make a pizza at home from scratch. If you follow this blog you will know that our girls are a little bit obsessed with pizza - if we ever go to a food festival or anything like that we tend to pick them pizza as a treat - we know that they love it and will eat it all. So when I explained to the girls that we could actually bake our own pizza base and create our own toppings they were very excited.


Rosie got stuck in with rolling out the dough
Alice was all in for putting the sauce on and sprinkling cheese afterwards

Rosie opted for a plain cheese pizza and Alice got stuck in with cheese, ham and salami on hers. The eldest (who obviously did not want to be pictured for teen mood swings reasons) rolled out a huge thin base and put on tomato base, tuna, sweetcorn, onion and cheese. She then promptly took it up to bed refusing to tidy anything up.

The end product!
I must say, I hadn't made pizza bases for a while and they turned out great. (Obviously this was more to do with the kids involvement than mine!) 

We loved baking together and we think the end product was fab - not a scrap left in the house!

Disclosure: We were sent some Num Noms as a gift and enjoyed baking our pizza as part of this project.



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