Girls’ night in (with a 4 and 2 year old)


As I have two daughters, now aged 4 and 2, I’ve often wondered how soon we can do ‘girly stuff’ together and have a ‘girls’ night in’.  I stop short of a girls’ weekend away – that would clearly be a large mistake at this point in my lifespan.  I would be setting myself up for a weekend of tearing my hair out whilst husband put his feet up at home, no doubt watching Jools Holland and eating nuts in bed.  Anyway, to the point.

A girls’ night in is doable even now, I’ve recently discovered.  It can even be of benefit for those who struggle to get their children in bed, even upstairs.

It’s a rudimentary version of the girls’ night of course – and arguably less enjoyable for the grown up due to lack of Prosecco and meaningful gossip.  But it’s good for building relationships with your daughters outside of anything organisational – relating to school, mealtimes, getting them to bed etc.

Ingredients for my girls’ night in:

– one parental bedroom, dimly lit and preferably with a TV in it (provides the ‘illicit’, enticing factor that actually makes them participate)

– something different and a ‘bit grown up’ for the children to watch on the aforementioned TV (I chose a recording of Strictly Come Dancing, or The Voice on another occasion)

– something slightly ‘naughty’ to eat that they wouldn’t usually get at bedtime (I have put together platters of ‘Mummy’s best cheese’, ‘Daddy’s sausage’ and a couple of chocolate fingers, for example).

– Maybe even new pyjamas for an extra treat –  although I haven’t done this one yet (good idea though, if I do say so myself).

I’ve tended to do my girls’ nights on evenings when my husband is away.  This was partly as my eldest is so attached to him and gets a bit off the wall if he’s not there to read her bedtime story. I get them upstairs and have the food ready on our bed, with something nice on the TV so that they can tuck themselves up.  I sit with them and we just chat for a bit – amazingly, so far, they haven’t played up.  Honestly – they’ve sat there the whole time munching their food, watching a bit of TV and actually talking to me rather than pretending  I’m not there or that I’m this talking entity that’s generally to be ignored.

I start the grand event at around 6pm so this means they’re ALREADY UPSTAIRS – an added bonus for me who’s home alone and facing the prospect of getting the potential horrors in bed at a reasonable time.

It’s only lasted for around an hour or so before I do actually put them to bed.  But it’s a start and we all enjoy this little bit of time together.  The start of many girls’ nights to come?



School disco survival guide

school disco survival

“…and why not climb this frame in the school yard in the pitch black, wearing an Elsa dress?”

I have now attended the sum total of two school discos with my two daughters who thought they were the best thing they’ve ever seen or done, so I feel qualified to write a guide about them for all those unsuspecting parents who, like me, may think “Oh, a school disco.  How lovely! I shall take my two children there and watch them happily dance and play while I kick back, chat to other parents and have a sit down” and instead end up pouring themselves a large glass of wine as soon as they get in whilst searching in the freezer with the other hand for a bag of frozen peas to put on their sore head and wondering how soon they can get in the bath to ease their aching muscles.

That was a long sentence.

Here are 6 handy tips to school disco survival:

  1. Manage your expectations.  Expect utter carnage and prepare your body as though you were about to undertake a 10k run.  Eat something for energy – maybe a banana, or a small piece of wholemeal toast with low-fat spread.  Limber up – perhaps perform some light stretches.  I like the classic yoga pose ‘downward facing dog’ for mental clarity, inner strength and general zen.
  2. Consider your children’s disco-wear very strategically.  Always remember that if you arrive at the disco to find that the other children are wearing their Elsa dresses whereas yours are wearing what you thought were perfectly acceptable pink party dresses, then you may as well forget your life as you knew it.
  3. Go to the tuck shop ASAP.  Wow – those tuck shops are like magnets to children.  For some they can’t drag themselves away even if they want to, like there’s some invisible strawberry-flavoured shoelace pulling them back.  Get there early folks before your juice (wine for the parents even in the case of our school hooray!) gets spilled before you’ve even sipped it.
  4. Wear hardy shoes.  Your feet will get trampled on. No matter where you stand. Absolutely guaranteed – you could be stood in a corner on your own (rocking) and there’ll be some small foot that will somehow still tread on yours.
  5. Be prepared for your children to go AWOL.  It’s dark, there are disco lights, lots of children and parents, the school yard may be open to play outdoors and suddenly YOU DO NOT HAVE A CLUE WHERE YOUR CHILDREN ARE.  Stay calm, as they have merely entered ‘disco world’ and shall return to you, which brings me neatly onto…
  6. Use the experience as an exercise in ‘daily mindfulness’.  If you can practice pure calm in school disco world, then your life will be replete with zen satisfaction and transcendental loveliness.

Finally, be prepared for Gangnam Style and various Taylor Swift songs to be in your head for a good 24 hours.  I would also add Let it Go but I think my brain is already permanently wired to play this on loop.

Happy disco!


Half-term activities: Imperial War Museum North

Last week we visited the the Imperial War Museum North – a great, free activity for the family. I’d been meaning to go for a while. I wasn’t sure what was on offer for my girls (who are aged 4 and 2) but they weren’t disappointed and want to go back soon.

The IWM North tells the story of people who have lived, fought and died in conflicts involving Britain and the Commonwealth since the First World War. It’s one of 5 branches – the others being the IWM London, IWM Duxford, the Churchill War Rooms and HMS Belfast. It’s quite an iconic building on the Salford Quays with the design based on the concept of a world shattered by conflict – a fragmented globe reassembled in 3 interlocking shards.
Imperial War Museum North
As it was our first visit, a lovely lady called Lorna showed us around and described the key elements to see. As we entered one of the exhibition rooms (huge!) my 4 year old astonished me by being completely taken by a sculpture called The Crusader by Gerry Judah (pictured above- looks like a big white cross but is a very clever sculpture of conflict with broken up satellites and all sorts). Honestly, she kept wanting to come back to it – she was even, completely unprompted, lying on the floor to get a better look like a seasoned art critic!

Adjacent to this is a 1969 Harrier. Again they both loved staring at this and were so excited. I guess they just loved having lots of new things to look at and ask about, alongside lots of space to run around in. They’re too young to understand much about conflict, but my 4 year old in particular was asking a lot of questions about “people in old times” and what things were for. Plus as Lorna explained, it’s a social history museum with lots to absorb and experience.

Which brings me on neatly to the dressing up, which was in a huge exhibition area dedicated to the WW1 centenary. There were old girls’ school uniforms (which my eldest is pictured wearing), munitions worker uniforms and many others. They were both mesmerised by these (even though they were miles too big!).

Other exhibits they enjoyed: a huge military tank, various clothing from “people in old times” and a piece of the World Trade Centre from 9/11 – the ‘9/11 Steel’ (I told them it was a piece of burned metal from a building that fell down, to general curiosity…they don’t need to know about that just yet…) and JRR Tolkien’s First World War revolver.

The museum has a clever ‘Big Picture Show’ video projection technique whereby every hour they project videos on different issues into the walls, which kind of immerses you in the subject. To 4 and 2 year olds, this is the stuff of pure wonderment.
We visited the cafe for lunch which price wise is what you’d expect (fiver for a children’s lunch box) and had the most amazing views over the quays.

We also took a trip up to the Air Shard viewing platform. Now, I’m not the best with heights but appear to have two youngsters who are. So, with legs shaking, up we went, 100 feet in the air and looking down through a mesh gangway to an anti aircraft searchlight pointing up at us from below. Again, quite incredible views over the Quays, Media City UK and Manchester.

We’ll definitely go back. I don’t know why we don’t go more often, especially as it’s free. It’s also worth mentioning that there are many half-term children’s activities on that week including storytelling and craft activities so get yourselves down there!

This review forms part of the Millennium Hotels Guide to Manchester. Be sure to take a look for some tips on where to go with the family. All opinions expressed are my own.

Ninjas take over Legoland Manchester!

Last Saturday, my two girls and I headed to the Legoland Discovery Centre, Manchester, where we were greeted with a lot of fun and a bunch of Ninjas.

Last weekend, ninjas hosted a takeover of the Legoland Discovery Centre to celebrate the North-West Premiere of ‘LEGO® Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu’. Children dressed as ninjas were able to attend free of charge when accompanied by an adult.
Legoland Manchester
My girls love Legoland at the best of times. My four year old in particular often asks if she can go back to “the karaoke place” – a reference to their karaoke machine amidst copious amounts of pink and purple Lego in a purpose built pink kitchen with a comfy sofa.

Imagine their excitement then when they got to see Eccles based martial arts school ‘The Little Ninjas’ showcase their talents, too. Of course I couldn’t get them to dress as ninjas if I tried (unless someone can point me towards a Princess Ninja consume, preferably with a fishtail plait) but they’ve been practicing some moves ever since (and I appear to be nursing a bruised shin).

Legoland is a great place to visit with the family so it s definitely one to bear in mind for the half-term break. The only thing I’d say is that it’s especially busy at weekends – of course his doesn’t bother the kids in the slightest so it depends on your preference. Personally, I prefer it when it’s slightly quieter.

There’s plenty to do inside and many unique and fun elements such as ‘Professor Brick’ who guides visitors through an interactive introduction to Lego and the process of making it.

There are indoor rides if your children are over 1 metre. There are many amazing displays of Lego buildings that my kids love gazing at and interacting with. In addition to the pink kitchen area, you’ll find huge vats of differently coloured Lego, a dedicated car-building area and soft play areas. The cafe is a nice addition and not too pricey.
Fun at Legoland Manchester
We also saw the new Ninjago Laser Training Camp and my four year old took part in a laser game – stealthily crawling under and over laser beams to gain a certificate at the end. She was made up.

We saw an advanced screening of Ninjago which meant they had to sit down for a while. Luckily it’s still quite a novelty for them to attend the cinema so they were glued to it. It was the first chance to see episodes one to three, weeks before its first TV screening on the Cartoon Network.

An added bonus of Legoland is that there’s so much to do it tires them out! Cue early bedtime (hardly ever happens!) and some me time in the evening!

We’ll be returning to Legoland soon and it’s nearby attraction the Sealife Centre, both handily located inside the Trafford Centre. I am also rather thrilled to discover that my 4 year old can belt out a mean “Baby, Baby” by Justin Bieber on the karaoke.

Disclaimer: I was invited to attend this event free of charge, in return for this review. All opinions expressed however are my own.

A dinner party for grown ups

This post is well overdue, as the dinner party in question took place over the Christmas period. Where has the time gone already? How is it February?

Anyway, to the point. I held a dinner party for grown ups. No kids. No trying to talk over screams of “I want more sausage!” or trying not to look exasperated in front of others when a plastic plate gets pushed onto the floor for the 86th time.

Not an iota of child presence. Or at least this is how I planned it to be. However my eldest, now four, made her presence felt in a most unusual way.

I’d decided a while back that it was high time I held a dinner party. It was getting mildly embarrassing thinking of how many we’d been to without reciprocating. What put me off, then? Tiredness and lack of energy I guess – a dinner party on top of the week’s usual shopping and meal planning?!

Yet things have got a bit more normal of late, so I got out the Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay much-neglected books and started menu planning.

The menu:
– pre-dinner cocktail (Mr EC made these – Cointreau, clementine juice and prosecco). Pleasingly lethal.
– Jamie’s Spiced Parsnip Soup
– Gordon’s Beef Wellington.
– Jamie’s Chocolate Torte.

All preparation and cooking went very well, probably because Mr EC was around to deal with preschooler-interruption tactics.

I was well prepared…and so the evening began.

My guests arrived and amazingly both my girls were in bed. I breathed a sigh of relief, until the eldest appeared at the stair gate.

“Can I just come and say hello, Mummy?”

“Oh, ok then.”

She came to say hello to my guests. She tried it on a little, wanting to stay up, but then went to bed and all was quiet again.

We got started on the cocktails, which were very, very nice. I did think I could hear the flutterings of tiny feet upstairs, but decided ignoring it was the best possible option. I made the final touches to the soup course and invited my guests to kindly exit the lounge and make their way to our candlelit dining room.

To be greeted with this on the stairs:

Toilet roll decor

Attractive toilet roll decor – a little avant le dîner amusement, anyone?

So, not to be content with being sent upstairs to bed, my 4-year-old had been busying herself making us a little decoration. With toilet roll delicately placed on several bannister legs, all topped off with one big, smelly bed sock.

And no sign of her. She was asleep by then.

It was quite sweet, really. I honestly am trying not to don’t think it was a dirty protest. More a little surprise for our guests of her own individual making.

The evening went well and I can recommend ‘proper’ dinner parties for all parents – especially if you’ve got a budding Junior Fritz in your home.

Beef Wellington Gordon Ramsay

Beef Welly. Gordon Ramsay style. Proper food (if you eat meat – otherwise stick to cheese).