delamere forestLast weekend (when there was still a spot of sunshine around) we went to Delamere Forest in Cheshire for the day.

Delamere is one of our favourite spots and an absolute adventure for children (and adults!).  It’s Cheshire’s largest area of woodland (2,400 acres) and the opportunities for pretend play for my 4 1/2 and 2 1/2 year old are fab, whether it’s spider-hunting or pretending one of the many makeshift dens is the Princess Castle du jour.

The Forest is near Frodsham, not far from the M56.  We usually park up and choose one of the many trails to follow (there are also lots of biking trails if you’re cyclists) and just set off and enjoy the surroundings.  If you’re a keen walker or hiker, you can also follow one of the harder trails as they range from easy to, erm ultra hard? (not for us, just yet!).
delmere forest The Forest is a haven for wildlife, including different butterflies, the greater spotted woodpecker, siskin and southern hawker dragonfly (my 4 1/2 year old thinks she spotted one of these…she was quicker than me!).  But mine love simply pulling up a stone and seeing the many woodlice and worms underneath!

There’s a great visitor centre with a cafe (including obligatory ice cream) and even a BBQ on many weekends.  Our trail this weekend took led us here after just over 1k which was just right for 2 1/2 year old’s little walking legs (no prams here!).  After refueling, we gently made our way back.

There’s still so much we haven’t discovered about Delamere – lots of children’s holiday activities, a Gruffalo Trail (we’ve previously completed this – it was fun!), Go Ape! (scary climbing stuff!), Active Forest Taster days and horse riding activities.  It’s a gem for the north west – I really recommend trying it out (weather permitting!) as part of getting your children active this summer.

*NB I’ve been working on this post for well over a month and appear to have had a mental block about actually finishing off…wonder what that says??

It’s become customary for me to write a few reflections on my birthday these past few years, for example upon turning 37 and 38.  Unfortunately, I keep getting older which is rather alarming.  It’s a peculiar thing that although ageing is a fact of life, it becomes harder to accept as we get older.  Ok, I’m not that old, but sometimes it bloody well feels like it.  At other times, I feel like I’m 15 again (check out my hen party review for examples of sheer abandon and brazen stupidity).

Previously, my reflective birthday posts have been positive.  I’m more mature, experiencing life more fully than ever before as a mother of two, I know myself better than ever and so on.  But this year, I turned 39 and its felt a little different.

Shit!!! I’m 39!!! How did that happen?? I’m now in the last year of my 30s! I am actually middle aged!

We hear a lot about how ’50 is the new 30’; those aged upwards of 40 and beyond seem to live a much more varied and active life than it appeared they did when I was younger (note the ‘younger’ rather than ‘young’!).  People start whole new careers, hobbies, have amazing holiday adventures.  Why wouldn’t they – the average life expectancy of a woman is now 83 years (79 for men) and is expected to climb to 87 by 2030.  In 1976, when I was born, it was 75.9 years.  Whether they live those years in good health is another matter (factors such as smoking, alcohol, eating a healthy diet, exercise all play a part in this – clearly my body is a temple and I practice all forms of health giving behaviours on a regular basis) but essentially – we reach middle age today and realise we have a whole new life to live again.

Facts are facts, however: my body is changing, I have more wrinkles, I’m more prone to annoying little ‘twinges’ here and there and I have to work harder at particular forms of exercise than I did when I was younger. My husband would tell you about my whinging over the past week or so about a sore shoulder and neck – the result of years of carrying small children around and a heavy bag on one shoulder.

Turning 39 has been part of a journey of acceptance, probably over the past year; acceptance of my own mortality.  Ultimately, although this all seems a bit negative, it’s been uplifting. Honest!

birth trees

My two daughters standing near to their birth trees. I wonder what they’ll be doing at age 39?

So, wrinkles and ageing joints aside what are the positives? I think that having been through this period of reflection, I realise that hey – I’m here! I’m healthy and well, as are my family, and it’s time to embrace this and get on with it, day by day. I know what to do, to keep myself in reasonable shape (eat well, stupid! do more exercise, stupid! actually do some of those mindfulness sessions you downloaded, stupid!) and I should get on with this, too rather than sit reading ‘healthy living’ magazines gathering ideas and talking about them.

There are the obvious benefits that come from being more settled. I’m luckily enough to have a husband (no more dating websites!!! woo!) and two gorgeous little girls (no more preggers for me – joy!). I know what I’m good at and what I’m a bit shit at. I can legitimately turn down nights out as I’m ‘too tired’. I actually wanted to do this many times when I was younger – how much more enjoyable is it to languish on the sofa, glass of wine to hand, watching a film than stand in a packed bar making your voice hoarse in an effort to be heard?

I realise I’m less fearful, less uncertain of what the future holds and this is truly empowering.  I’m looking forward to watching my girls develop and grow to achieve their potential – but I’m also looking forward to achieving more of my own.

 

I can’t believe my eldest has finished her preschool year and will start Reception class in September.  Everyone says it…but it has gone so fast! I think it’s only really just sinking in as we begin…the Expression and Confession Summer Holiday Adventures 2015!

I want to make summer holidays as special as I can for my girls, with lots of activities both outdoor and in and some robust recording mechanisms so they’ve got something to look back on in future years.

I’ve bought a simple scrap book with plain paper pages so my eldest (who’s progressed so much in writing and drawing) can draw pictures of what we’ve been doing from week to week, seeing her and her little sister’s summer story developing from week to week.  I’m also adding photographs which I’m determined to diligently print each week (thank goodness for the IOS Freeprints app!).

Last Friday my nearly 5 year old finished preschool at lunchtime, so right away we began our fun stuff, with lunch out at the Home Community Cafe in Didsbury, followed by an afternoon of baking delicious goods (er…no diets here this summer!) and playing in the local park.

dunham massey

My youngest and I at Dunham Massey

This weekend, we took a picnic to Dunham Massey park in Cheshire and spent the afternoon with some good friends.  Dunham Massey is one of my favourite National Trust attractions.  Whether you have children or not, there’s a great deal to do and see in a fantastic environment that seems to enhance your wellbeing as soon as you step out of the car!  The new visitors centre (recently renovated) is great, with a lovely gift shop, restaurant, ice cream parlour and garden shop.

If you do have kids, you can take bikes, scooters or outdoor toys and just let them run wild amidst the huge deer park and check out the resident wildlife.  There’s also a great wooden play area with picnic tables just near to the entrance – my two girls spent hours here with their friends this weekend.

The beautiful flower gardens are also huge and so well cared for.  My two love running around in the gardens and naming the many different plants and blooms.

I’ve yet to brave taking a nearly 5 and nearly  3 year old into the house, but it’s on the agenda for the summer.  Currently, it’s the First World War Stamford Military Hospital, demonstrating what life was like for patients and members of the Grey family who lived on the estate and helped care for them.  I think the girls would enjoy it – we’ve recently been to the Imperial War Museum together and it amazed me how much they engaged with the stories and artifacts.   It’s a great way to involve them in culture and social history, but also to awaken their imaginations.

We’ve recently renewed our National Trust membership so there’ll be more local attractions on the agenda this summer: Lyme ParkTatton Park and Quarry Bank Mill to name a few.  We also have zoos, the Lake District and animal farms lined up so we’ll be busy! Plus, of course, baked goods are always a winner for a rainy afternoon…

rasberry cheesecake jammy buns

Baking wares…rasberry cheesecake and jammy buns

 

 

It’s been a week of firsts this week – my 4 1/2 year old had her first school sports day and also took part in her first drama production that she’s recently been rehearsing for with her Saturday drama group, the Drama Mob, Didsbury, Manchester.

Drama is a great way to build confidence in young people.  Our feisty 4 year old has always been a confident sort but we still want to ensure we build on and maintain this, developing her confidence in different situations. She’s constantly watching Disney princess films and driving me mad by stealing my chairs, placing them in the middle of the living room floor, standing on them and belting out songs and scenes – so we were pretty sure she’d love a bit of drama!

When you think about it, so much in life is based on our ability to present ourselves confidently in front of others.  Whether its a verbal exam, a job interview, presentation at a meeting or asserting your rights in some matter or other (anyone want to have a sharp word with that idiot parking across our driveway??), skills in confidence, public speaking and just general self-belief are the way to go.

These are all things I struggled with for quite a time when I was younger.  The thought of appearing on a stage would be like telling me I was about to die a horrible, painful death or that ten thousand spiders were about to descend on my bed at night and crawl into my ears.  I was just very unconfident and for me, I’ve had to ‘unlearn’ those feelings over time and teach and demonstrate to myself that I can do it.

For our girls, I want this to be a more natural process, for them to feel this confidence from a young age. I think the drama classes are part of suite of parenting tools (like it? ‘suite of parenting tools’ – just call me 3-day nanny) we can use, alongside the more obvious things like reinforcing pride and demonstrating belief in them, choosing a good school that focuses on resilience and confidence, dealing with inevitable issues and crises that will arise throughout childhood and adolescence…yeah just those!

first drama show age 4 years the drama mobAnyway, back to the show! It was a summer production based on Matilda the Musical.  Our 4 year old has been attending classes every Saturday morning that last for 1 hour (more during rehearsals. S’brilliant. I get to go for coffee and read an actual newspaper).  Each Saturday I drop her off and when I pick her up she’s beaming- she loves it.

I admit I was nervous for her on the night of the production.  I knew a little of what she’d be doing as we had snippets of songs, lines and a poem to practice and learn.  But really, it’s her thing. I didn’t know much more than that (although I did manage to look through the keyhole of the door to the group once before pickup and caught a lovely rendition of ‘Miracle’ from Matilda).

She’s so confident at home, but I honestly didn’t know if she’d be struck with stage fright when she walked out to the stage and saw a crowd of 300 people watching her! Luckily, she has friends in the same group which will have helped a lot – but the talent of the group leaders shone here as ALL the kids were completely comfortable.

Being one of the younger group, she was mainly in the chorus singing songs, dancing and with just a couple of lines, which she delivered perfectly (I was on the edge of my seat having kittens- hubs thought I was bonkers), as did her friends.  She sang her songs and did her little routines with the others and enjoyed every minute.

All of the children did well actually and some of the older ones were amazing, delivering long performances on their own and complex lines and role play. I don’t know a great deal about drama but I do know that the audience enjoyed the production a lot and that this must have taken a lot of team work and effort on the part of the children and leaders! There were some comedy moments too, with the littler ones shouting “hello mummy!!!” when they saw their parents in the audience (including mine!).

For me, it was also a realisation that she’s becoming more and more independent and just getting on with it on her own.  I don’t knew why I expected otherwise, but I continue to be amazed that I could just drop her off for rehearsals and pick her up after the show and she didn’t need me at all.

Well done our eldest little girl.  We look forward to many more performances in the future! 

 perfect bacon sandwichFather’s Day is once again upon us and my 4 year old and 2 year old daughters are looking forward to treating their beloved Daddy.  Just earlier today we took a trip to our local shops to buy some pressies (shhhhh we can’t say what they are) and they’ve also made some very creative cards.

However, this is by no means the main event of this coming Sunday.  What they’re really looking forward to is presenting Daddy with breakfast in bed, featuring THE PERFECT BACON SANDWICH.

I’m a vegetarian myself and have never understood bacon-worship. However I understand it’s the best treat ever on a Sunday morning for most meat eaters.  My daughters and husband (actually the rest of our wider family too- so just me, then) love it.

I did a bit of research and here are what I think are the ingredients for the perfect bacon-butty:

  • Two slices of soft and fluffy white bread, such as this delicious specimen from Roberts Bakery.
  • Some unsalted butter, softened 
  • Pack of unsmoked back bacon
  • Smidgen of tomato ketchup 

My husband likes the bacon crispy, but not too crispy, which is quite a difficult feat for a vegetarian who doesn’t really know what she’s doing with bacon. However, I always give it a good go and mainly get it right.

It also important to note that the perfect bacon sandwich is purist- no lettuce, tomato, egg or other nonsense. Pure bacon. 

Let’s hope I get it right this Father’s Day and it starts with the bacon sandwich from heaven! Check out the Roberts Bakery guide to the perfect bacon sandwich

Disclosure: I was sent a breakfast in bed goodie bag in return for this post.  All opinions expressed are my own.

 stick man scamp theatre Yesterday, we went to see Stick Man, by Scamp Theatre productions and based on the Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler favourite.

Stick Man was at The Lowry at Salford Quays, Manchester. I always love taking the kids to The Lowry.  It’s a great place; we take the scooters and they can have a good old scoot around the Quays, stopping at The Blue Peter Garden, various play areas and topped off with a selection of places to eat.  

The shopping outlet is good, too!

The theatre is great for kids.  We’ve been to see several production there previously, including Room on the Broom and Dinosaur Zoo.

The theatre is comfortable and exciting for kids,and Stick Man kept my two girls, aged 4 1/2 and 2 1/2, entertained for just over an hour which is just right for children this age. 

The show is suitable for children aged 3+.  It runs until May 31st at The Lowry and is on tour across the UK until the end of August. 

My children loved the songs and there was lots of audience participation. It’s great for them to see one of their favourite stories come alive onstage.

The actors really held the children’s attention. Stick Man himself was portrayed by an actor with some clever puppetry involving a Stick Man stick.  There are lots of other characters, including a dog and Stick Lady Love.

My children really enjoyed the production – it’s well worth a visit and a great place for a family day out.

Stick Man is on at The Lowry until May 31st, for more information and to buy tickets visit The Lowry website.  The show is then touring across the UK until the end of August. See Scamp Theatre for more info.

Disclosure: we were invited to see Stick Man free of charge in return for this review.  All opinions are our own.

Potty training star!Recently I wrote my Comedy Guide to Potty Training. For those who are also going through the toilet training stage at the moment, I thought I’d provide an update, as I can confirm that my 2 1/2 year old is ON HER 4TH DAY OF PURE KNICKER WEARING!

Plus, she’s even been out of the house in knickers. In the car. To church. To see Stick Man at the Lowry (review pending!). To a busy market. To the childminder.

To be honest, I think I built knicker-wearing-impending-doom up in my head to be a lot worse than it actually turned out to be. I had chosen this half term week as a good time to go nappy-free, thinking I’d be around a lot and we could just potter around the house. Of course then I promptly went to work as usual for a couple of days and planned loads of activities on my days with the girls.

I left the house that first day of knicker-free-ness armed with a big bag full of spare clothes, planning for at least 4 full changes. I even packed spare tops in case any offending escaping wee decided to travel upwards in a gravity-defying move that could surely only happen on my watch.  I also put a towel on the car seat – loving myself for this nifty little move.

I haven’t needed that towel at all. 2 1/2 year old has obviously (almost) got it. She’s had 1 or 2 accidents each day which is just great (expected a lot more than that). Some of these accidents are still comedy, for example ‘leather sofa-gate’ in which she wee-weed a huge puddle on the sofa then pointed at the potty which was just adjacent to it and said ‘it needed to go in there, didnt it?!’

I wish I’d ditched the nappies sooner and now wonder if having the nappy on made her complacent. I think you just know when they’re ready but it can seem like such a daunting prospect. In reality, it hasn’t been (hooray!).

Here’s hoping it continues and we don’t have a sudden deluge of more comedy incidents…

This weekend, we were invited to attend the  Geronimo Festival at Tatton Park.  The festival was held over the Bank Holiday weekend and is the largest children’s festival in the North West.  I was really excited about it as I knew families who had attended last year and absolutely loved the range of activities and entertainment for children of all ages (and adults who admit to liking some of the CBeebies TV programmes!).

Cook and Line, Swashbuckle

My eldest was completely over the moon to meet Cook and Line from Swahsbuckle at one of the Meet and Greets.

There was a long list of activities to choose from, including a zip line, BMX display, petting zoo, bouncy castles, donkey rides, and most importantly for my two (aged 4 1/2 and 2 1/2) the main stage, with performances from some of CBeebies’ most loved characters and presenters, including Alex Winters, Mr Bloom, Katy from I Can Cook and Cook and Line from Swashbuckle. So  that’s where we headed first of course.  There was a lovely grassy areas where we could rest and picnic, just in front of the main stage.  Nearby, there were lots of food stalls (and a bar on a double decker bus!) so we had plenty of choice.

My girls totally loved seeing the CBeebies stars and it was so nice to see them so excited and happy!

CBeebies Alex Winters Geronimo Festival

My 4 year old enthralled by CBeebies Alex Winters on the main stage

Next we had a wander around to see what we could find.  First up – some spinning hammock type things! Despite there being lots to see and do we seemed to spend quite a while here. The girls thought hammocks were the best thing ever (er but we’re not having one or I’ll effectively not see my husband all summer).

The most exciting hammocks in the world?

The most exciting hammocks in the world?

Next we checked out the petting farm and donkey rides.  The petting farm involved a huge tent with iguanas, snails, tarantulas and tortoises which they were allowed to touch and stroke.  They also had a short donkey ride and treated those waiting in the queue to a rendition of “Hey ho, away we go, donkey riding, donkey riding…” about 10 times which I’m sure they loved very much (!).

"Hey, ho! Away we go!..."

“Hey, ho! Away we go!…”

Next we tried out the bouncy castles.  We adults got a nice sit down (it was a lovely, sunny day) whilst the girls bounced away some energy in the ‘inflatable village’.

We also had a look at some of the stalls which were selling handmade gifts and food such as cupcakes and chocolate crafts. The girls tried out chocolate covered strawberries and raspberries which they obviously loved and wanted even more of.

We had a great day out and I would definitely go back next year.  It’s a great family day out over the May bank holiday.  You can easily spend the whole day there and find lots to do.  Under 2s are free and a family tickets (for four) was £86 this year.  All activities are free of charge once you’re inside.

Disclosure: We were official Geronimo Festival Bloggers and were given free entry to the event in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

 home community cafe didsbury  All local parents wondering what on earth they’re going to do with the kids during half-term, may I introduce you to Home Community Cafe, recently opened at the front of Emmanuel Church on Barlow Moor Road, Didsbury.

I was excited to hear about this new venture – an independent, not-for-profit café for all the community in Didsbury, run by volunteer ‘Home Makers’. Crucially for me, with two girls aged 4 and 2, families are not only welcome here but are actively and very warmly provided for. As Hannah, Home’s Creative Director says, “We want children to know that at Home they are not an afterthought, but little stars in our community constellation!”

This café is whole-family-focused: the combination of a great ‘mini café’ children’s section together with a brilliant children’s menu (check out the ‘Little Homies’ collection plate which is served in a bun tray, different items in each section – my two girls love it!) means I can sit ever-so-slightly apart from them, get a massive piece of gorgeous cake and an even larger cup of Tank Coffee and chill out. An event which is often unheard of for busy parents – particularly mums of very inquisitive and lively preschool girls! 

The mini café is one of the best places I’ve encountered – perhaps rather selfishly due to the relaxation effect on myself. There’s a really lovely selection of toys – for example a toy kitchen with pretend food and utensils so young children can indulge their penchant for role play to their heart’s content. They also have their own small tables and chairs to sit and eat their food (it’s really cute to watch them sat here!). The volunteers will happily heat baby food and drink, and the café is breastfeeding-friendly, with cushions and comfy sofas.

Note: for those looking for activities during term-time, too – Home café is currently running a Lego club for all ages on Thursdays from 3pm, with more after-school clubs planned for the future. The café also hosts a free Youth Café on Friday evenings for Years 6-11 and a story time session for preschoolers on Wednesday mornings.

Delicious coffee aside (my regular readers will note that coffee is a big part of my life), I’ve sampled lunch here which is quite different and something special. This is because there’s something new every day. Last week, I sampled an Asparagus, Pea and Mint tart with salad which was amazing. The week before I couldn’t resist the Sicilian Caponata made with aubergine and mozzarella. A quick check of their Facebook page tells me that today’s special is Wild Rice, Pear and Fennel salad (but I’m at work – boo!!). There’s a great selection of home-made cakes, too – check out the Bakewell Tart and you won’t be disappointed! Offerings change daily, but there’s also the regulars – the Collection Plate, for example is like an upcycled Ploughman’s lunch with lots of hummus, cheese, freshly baked bread and salad. Take a look at a sample menu here. home community cafe didsbury

 I know there’ll be many of you wanting to try somewhere new with the kids this coming half-term: give it a try, if only to give yourself a break between activities while your kids are happily at Home.

Home café is open Wednesdays-Fridays 10:30am-6pm, situated at the front of Emmanuel Church on Barlow Moor Road. Keep up-to-date with events and activities on their Facebook page, website or follow them on Twitter.