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.

Recently, I attended my favourite bloggers’ conference of the year – Blog on Mosi 2015 – with my friend and fellow blogger Hodge Podge Days.

Organised by Laura Seaton of Blogs up North and  Tired Mummy of Two, the event is held at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and is a chance for bloggers to share ideas, network with brands and bloggers alike, learn something new and keep up to date with the ever-changing world of digital and online ‘stuff’.

The event also involves wine, which is quite correctly served well into the afternoon sessions or I wouldn’t have learned a thing.

Here’s a quick run down of events, which tails off as we get into ‘wine territory’…

Keynote with Nickie o’Hara – time management for bloggers

Time management is definitely something I need in my life – especially where blogging is concerned.  I work part-time and have two preschool children aged 4 and 2 – so on the days I’m not working, I’m pretty busy.  I enjoy blogging; for me it’s a hobby and means of letting off steam whilst keeping a diary of sorts of our family life.  I have been finding it difficult to put aside time and space to even think about what I’d like to write about – let alone do the writing!

Nickie’s basic principle was idea-plan-action.  She strongly advocated a ‘bullet journal’ – a space to jot down ideas as they occur, telling us that the act of physically writing things down has arguably a more powerful effect than writing it on your phone (I tend to use the ‘notes’ app on my iPhone.  And then I never look at it).  She also discussed prioritisation and setting goals or deadlines for yourself, alongside lots of free writing, brainstorming and drafting.

It sounds so simple, but I need to mark the times in week when I know I can have the space to write, even if it’s 15 minutes here and there.

Nickie also discussed scheduling tools such as buffer, tweetdeck, sprout, hootesuite and one I hadn’t used previously – IFTTT, which is apparently a great scheduler. I’ve not tried this yet, but as I write this post I’ve just downloaded it to have a go.

You can view all of Nickie’s keynote speech here.

 YouTube and Vlogging

The next session I attended was on YouTube and Vlogging, by bloggers Wit Wit WooHollybobs blog and Nickie o’Hara once more.

I’m not a YouTube person myself so haven’t tried my hand at vlogging.  I’m definitely better at the written word rather than putting my pasty white, freckled face in front of a camera and feeling like a dick.  In fact, there was a lot of discussion about feeling like a dick at first when starting out vlogging and how it’s about building confidence and being more resilient to the negativity that comes with having a public face.

It’s still not for me.

Photography

Jenny Soppet-Smith of cheetahsinmyshoes.com presented an amazing session on photography, with some fantastic shots.  Do have a look at her site if you get the chance as I was in awe and can’t see a time when I can ever get up to that standard!

However, I took away some new things to try with my (mediocre) photography, such as the “look up, look along and look in” rules when you’re photographing a scene, to see what different perspectives you can achieve.

I’ve also been glancing at the #nothingisordinary tag on Instagram since Jenny brought it to my attention – some great shots on here!

Visit Jenny’s presentation here.

Advanced  blogging session by Bring Digital

I think we’re getting to round about the time that the wine was served now, as my notes appear to be a bit thin on the ground.

However I do know that Bring Digital are experts in the field of advanced SEO and generally anything digital related.  Maybe even the world.  A few of my scrawny notes include:

-something about you can teach google ‘bots’ not to look at your login and about pages etc as those won’t help your rankings (what? I don’t even understand that statement but I’m sure someone will so I’ve written it anyway).

– spring cleaning your blog – keep your ‘about me’ pages up to date as these are valuable for readers to understand who you are which in turn influences their appreciation of your content.

– Try and have weekly themes (e.g. my regular theme is my #forgetmenotfriday) as this increases your blog authority.

– Tweet a new piece of content 10 times each week in different ways

– Don’t bother with google+ as this is shortly to be shut down.  Twitter and Facebook are still the best way to promote content.

Lifestyles:

@theladysybil took this session in the afternoon, by which time my note taking had degenerated to drawing pictures of silly things and tweeting my friends and fellow bloggers.  For some reason, I was also drinking prosecco alongside some pink and white sweets which resembled fizzy cola bottles but were the wrong colour.

I do remember some in depth discussion around lifestyles blogging and how to maximise your content by utilising your thoughts and feelings about everyday events, recipes and activities.

I would visit @theladysybil‘s blog for more info.

I had a great day, made some great new contacts.  Each time I attend Blog on Mosi, I feel refreshed and ready to do more blogging.  See you all next year.

Gro-bed bedding review

“Daddy come and see! Mummy bought me a new duvet and it’s absolutely, totally cool!”

This was the fantastically cute reaction from my 4 1/2 year old when she first saw her new zip in bed – the Daisy Dreams Gro to Bed for single beds.

When my children were younger, we used Gro Bags for sleeping which were really lovely, great designs and comfortable.  We also have a Gro Clock which was invaluable when my eldest went to through a stage of getting up in the night.  We still use this now – setting the clock to a designated time (at least 7am please!) when the ‘sun’ appears on the clock face.

I hadn’t heard of the Gro to Bed range until recently when we were given the chance to review the set mentioned above.  

The Gro-to-bed range  is produced with the comfort and safety in mind and features an innovative zip in system to ensure that your child won’t kick free of the bedding during the night or fall out of the bed.  There are lots of designs, including a ‘Jolly Jungle’, ‘All Aboard’, ‘Alfred and the Aliens’ and more.  We chose the Daisy Dreams design as basically we need any purchase to involve pink and girliness or my 4 year old won’t even contemplate it.

Falling out of bed has been an issue for us recently as our 4 year old likes to cuddle up to the very edge of her bed, inevitably toppling out.  We found the zip-in feature really helpful and have had no further falling out events, meaning no get ups for the olds in the middle of the night (yay!).  

The bottom sheet also has an elastic cord that you can place around the mattress, keeping the whole set in place, and an integrated pillow case.  I thought I would find all this unwieldy to wash and dry, but it’s actually been really easy if not easier to manage – I don’t have to mess around with separate bottom sheets, pillow cases and duvet covers, I can just put the whole lot on at once. I also love the quality of the material which is 100% cotton, soft and comfortable.

What’s been really nice to see is my little one’s reaction to it.  She loves it and wants to show her friends when they visit our house for playdates.  My only issue is she won’t have anything else on her bed so I’ve got to get it washed and dried in a day! (maybe we should buy a second set!).

Disclosure:  I was provided with the Daisy Dreams Gro to Bed for single beds set free of charge in return for this review.  All opinions are my own.  The sets range from £49.99 to £59.99 and can be purchased from the Gro Company website or retailers such as John Lewis.

IMG_0307.JPGPotty training is HARD WORK.  The potty training period may only be for a short period of time but places a lot of extra pressure on busy parents, especially when there’s an older sibling to look after (or more? And maybe a younger one, too? Argh! The mind boggles…).

I’m currently in the process of potty training my 2 ½ year old girl, with her 4 ½ year old sister in tow.  I’m not going to blog about the practicalities of potty training as there’s already a wealth of material, for example this handy guide from NHS Choices or this one from NetMums.

What I can do however is lighten the mood for any potty training Mum/Dad/Grandparent/anyone who happens to be in charge at the time by highlighting the sheer comedy of the whole thing.

The one principle of my guide is this: always keep your sense of humour to hand (otherwise you may cry/bang your head against the nearest wall/take solace in wine and cake).

The stage we’re at with the potty training is the ‘not quite out of nappies when outside the house, but doing reasonably well enough to wear knickers in the house’ stage i.e. the littlest one will do something on the toilet or potty if I take her there and sit her on it at relevant intervals, but she hasn’t quite twigged the bit about asking to go, when she needs it.

The other day, I had left her in knickers in the lounge with the potty in sight, saying “remember to sit on the potty when you feel wee wee coming”.  As I was making myself (yet another) coffee, I heard her shout “MUMMY I DONE A WEE WEE ON THE LEGO!!”  And yes indeed, that wasn’t the best place to have an accident as it then took me quite a decent length of time to disinfect every bit of urine-tainted Lego.

It struck me that there are infinite places to have wee accidents.  Here are just a few I’ve so far experienced (and I’m sure there’ll be many more):

  • On the leather sofa
  • Whilst standing up on a high chair, this sending an amazing cascade of wee whooshing down from a great height to the kitchen floor
  • Next to the actual toilet, on the floor
  • Next to the bath, discovered as I was about to step into my evening bath filled with essential oils (“ooh, it smells a bit different tonight, maybe the batch of lavender was a bit off?…oh…)
  • In our bed, amidst a Sunday morning breakfast in bed
  • In a plastic box containing pretend picnic-ware
  • In a play-tent
  • On the decking in the garden
  • At the foot of the stairs

Just yesterday, I counted 4 accidents in just one afternoon.  However on other days my littlest one is soooo good she gets loads of stickers on her reward chart (and a lot of chocolate treats!).

I’d like to hear your comedy experiences of potty training. It’s hard work, but I assure you that a slightly insane laugh here and there lightens the load!