Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The seven ages of the School Nativity

So, it's nearly Christmas Day and as I prepare for the festivities by relaxing with my favourite Christmas film, Nativity (even though I've watched it twice already over the weekend) and a nice big gin, I've been reflecting on my own children's school nativities over the years.  I've been to loads of them now both good and bad and so thought I'd share.

1. The first first nativity

You know then one.  First child, first nativity.  I had to provide a full sheep costume and so as not to be outdone by the other parents I decided that nothing less than a proper costume from a fancy dress outfitters would do.  This had nothing to do with the fact that I had completely underestimated the demand for sheep costumes in the North West of England that year, and having sent DH to two branches of Asda for the £5 version only to discover that they had sold out, realised that my options were somewhat limited.  £20 plus p&p it cost me.  Still, he looked adorable, and being in the Reception class, was of course only on stage for about four minutes of the whole thing.  Money well spent...

£20 for four minutes use - bargain

2. The second first nativity

Being slightly more savvy this time, I decided that I'd make my daughter's nativity costume, I mean, how hard could it be?  Then the slip of paper came home.  She was to be a sparkle (WTF?). So I hit the shops for tinsel, sparkly material, silver tights and a cheap tshirt to embellish (even someone of my limited sewing skills can manage that). With the material I planned to make a simple skirt.  After pondering it for a moment I hastily bundled it up into an envelope and posted it to my mum to do.  Ahem.  Thanks Mum I owe you.  Child one also needed a costume (donkey) and so, because I had yet again left it too late for a supermarket version, I ended up back at the same fancy dress website as the previous year, ordering a ready made donkey tabard for him.  Of course my daughter really did sparkle and was at the front of the stage so all things considered it wasn't a bad effort.  My son ended up somewhere in the shadows at the side of the stage with the rest of the Year One choir. Why did they need costumes?  Why? That was another £20 wasted then.


3. The third first nativity 

I can't remember anything about this one.  Can't even remember what DS2 was supposed to be.  Was it because he is an oft forgotten third child?  Well, not exactly.  Two days before the nativity and after sourcing the black pumps that he needed to wear (costume provided by school - result!) I received a phone call from his teacher asking if I could come and pick him up.  It turned out that some other child in the class had pushed him into the side of a toilet cubicle in the pre-lunch hand washing scuffle and he'd split his head open.  It needed gluing shut (boak) and he had to spend the rest of the week off school, so we never got to see him in his first nativity.  I'm sure it would have been good...

4.  The weird alien nativity

I can't be the only parent that has had to sit through this can I?  For those of you who haven't had the pleasure I'll attempt to explain.  I think that the rough plot had something to do with aliens coming down to Earth to witness the birth of Jesus (again WTF?).  What I actually remember is seeing DS2 shuffling up the central aisle of the school hall, dressed as an alien with some sort of flashing wig on (surplus from school disco I think). Then, well, what happened next was anybody's guess.  I was at the back of the hall balancing two one year olds one on each knee (big knees obvs.).  I'm sure it was delightful, but I did not see.  Really though, aliens?  At Christmas?  What were the teachers thinking?

5. The one I can't remember nativity

So, bad mother of the year award here clearly, because I don't remember this one at all.  I didn't even have the excuse of not being there this time.  I watched the whole thing, start to finish.  I even remember where we sat in the hall.  I just can't remember the plot or what part DS2 played (occasionally I get flashbacks of something to do with the Caribbean but then I wonder if I'm confusing it with the alien one again, or perhaps I spent the whole play just having a really nice daydream about Johnny Depp, I'm not sure). In fairness, I was distracted with a pair of two year olds climbing all over me.  I wonder if DS2 will ever forgive me?

6. The last first nativity

Moving forward to this year.  My last first nativity as a mother.  The last time with Reception aged children.  I wanted to blub my eyes out all the way through, because, that's what you are supposed to do isn't it?  Especially when I have a 10% stake in the cast.  But you know what?  All I could think about was that at last I didn't have to sit through the whole thing with a pair of babies or toddlers on my knee.  It was bloody amazing, just sitting there and not pissing off any of the other nativity watchers.  To spite me, and burst my bubble somewhat, someone with a very vocal one year old positioned themselves next to my left ear for the entire performance, just so I didn't feel too left out.  Which was nice.

Look at my lovely empty knees...

My mum sobbed throughout the whole thing though ;)

7.  The final nativity 

Looking forward, what will my last nativity ever as a parent be like?  Will I cry?  Will I understand the plot?  (Please God, no more aliens)

I do know that I will be sad to see the back of the annual nativity play, for all its faults and the disasterous costumes and plot lines I've had to endure over the past few years, it's been fun.  An essential part of parenthood and a right of passage.

Every year I moan about going, but I'll let you into a little secret, I love it.  Really really love it.  There is no better way to start the festive season when you are a parent, is there?

With that I'd like to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my fellow nativity goers, past, present and future.  Be it aliens, traditional or Caribbean, whatever you watched this year I hope it was wonderful and made you proud.

If you've been reading my blog this year then thank you!  It really means such a lot to me, especially reading all your comments.  I'll be back some time after the Christmas break with more nonsense from inside my head.  See you soon!

Friday, 19 December 2014

Baker Days - Review

This year that we we decided that we wouldn't be buying or making a big Christmas cake.

I'm not sure about you, but ours usually ends up being left until January and then once I'm sick of looking at it, moving the tin around the kitchen and attempting to eat it, I do my best to get rid of it by sending it into school in the children's lunch boxes.

So this year no cake has been made.

When Baker Days recently got in touch to ask if I'd like to review one of their letterbox cakes for Christmas I was in two minds.  What if we couldn't eat it all?  What if it ended up with the same fate as last year's cake?  Wouldn't that be a bit of a waste?

After a quick look as their website, however, I could see that they sold so many different types of cake, different sizes and styles that I was sure that I could find something that would be suitable for us.

The Baker Days website is very easy to navigate.  There are various categories for the different designs of cake.  You can have Christmas cakes, Birthday cakes, personalised cakes, and even cakes with photos.  There are so many different types that I can't write them all down!

In addition to that their cakes come in a range of sizes from the letterbox cake which serves about 4 people to a large cake which serves 40-55.  They even have cupcakes too.

Once you've selected which style and size of cake you want you can also choose from sponge cake, Belgian chocolate chip, fruit, gluten wheat free, and dairy free cake.  There really is something for everyone here.

After a bit of pondering I chose a letterbox cake with a Christmas design and fruit cake inside.  My cake only took a day or two to arrive.  The beauty of the letterbox cake is that, as the name suggests, it fits through the letterbox, so it didn't matter that I was out when the postman called because it was waiting for me on the doormat on my return.

The children were really excited to see the cake.  It was packaged inside a sturdy white box and inside the cake was nestled in a sweet little cake tin.  As it was a Christmas cake we even had a cracker supplied too, which was a really thoughtful touch.

The children had planned on writing their Christmas cards on the day the cake arrived, so we decided to accompany our after school card writing with a slice of cake each.   Perfect!

The cake was delicious and had lovely juicy pieces of dried fruit inside.  The icing was just the right thickness and not sickly like some of the bought cakes I've tried before.  The design we had chosen was really cute and fun.  We managed to divide the cake into more than the advised 4 slices - I think ours made 10 child sized portions in fact.  We had no problem eating it all up either, so no January leftovers ;).

Would I buy a Baker Days cake for myself?

Well, yes.

In fact, I'm really kicking myself that I didn't look them up before now.  With all the 40th birthdays that have passed in the last year or so (and that I've sadly missed due to geography) a Baker Days letterbox cake would have been the perfect gift to send each one of my friends.  Because of the options for dairy free cake they would also be suitable for lactose intolerant family members (who are really difficult to buy for).

Prices start from £14.99 for the letterbox cake, which I think is good value when you consider all the different options you can have to personalise each cake and make it unique to you.

We were sent a Baker Days Letterbox Cake for the purpose of this review. All words and opinions are our own.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Never upgrade your iOS device just before Christmas - a cautionary poem

Never upgrade your iOS device just before Christmas
You'll end up in a tizz just like me
My apps are all blank, can't contact the bank
And I've no idea what we're having for tea 

Never upgrade your iOS device just before Christmas 
I've been left in a bit of a mess
Can't message DH, or Pinterest boards make
And I've got four billion emails unread*

Never upgrade your iOS device just before Christmas 
My calendar used to have appointments galore
I forgot the school Christmas play, a party for a birthday 
Maybe this isn't actually as bad as I thought...

Never upgrade your iOS device just before Christmas 
My ringtone just isn't the same
I should have 4G, I've even said please
I now know everyone at Tesco Mobile's first name**

Never upgrade your iOS device just before Christmas 
My monthly cycle tracker app has gone a bit crap
If I'm up the duff by New Year (probably triplets I fear)
I'm blaming Sir Jony from Apple***

Never upgrade your iOS device just before Christmas 
I hope no one expects Christmas cards from this mother
My address book's been wiped, no one's getting skyped
It'll take me a whole year to recover!

Seriously Apple?  FML.


*  Sadly a totally true fact (see above)

** Not an exaggeration - spoken to seven different people today 

*** Doesn't rhyme but I'm past caring tbh and it almost probably will be his fault. Stupid phone.

Wicked Wednesdays

I'm very fortunate in that our primary school infants team provide all the costumes for the nativity play.  It takes a lot of stress out of the whole thing (for me at least).

I did have to laugh when I saw DS3 in his costume this year, for his role as an Innkeeper.

I knew the results would be a little on the large side when he came home from school and told me that his costume "had pins in it, Mummy!"  

The off the shoulder look suits him, don't you think?

Massive respect and a Merry Christmas to all the people that helped with the costumes.  It was lovely to see Angels with gold tinsel halos and Baby Born in her starring role as the baby Jesus.  We had a great time!


Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Tyre Safety - How much do you know?

What do you know about tyres?

I'll be honest.  I don't know a lot.

I know that they are expensive to buy, that you need the right type for your car and that the pressure has to be checked occasionally.

I also know that it is important to maintain your car tyres properly.

At some point in the next few months we are going to need a couple of new tyres on our family car.  This makes me sad because with the money we've saved for this purpose I'd rather spend it on a meal at a swanky restaurant or a day out at Alton Towers for the family or some sort of equally fun treat.  Family safety comes first though, especially when you bear in mind how many people our car carts around, so tyres are what we're spending the money on.  Sometimes being a sensible grown-up is necessary but a little bit boring.

My husband is the one person in this family who usually checks our car tyres at the start of every autumn/winter (more often than not as part of a general tidy up and polish of the cars), he also checks my mum's tyres too.  I don't think either me or my mum would be confident in checking the tyres ourselves which is bonkers as our names are on the documentation as registered keepers.  We really should know more about doing it ourselves.

I was rather unsurprised when I was recently sent the results of a survey conducted by Michelin and Mumsnet which stated that there was still a discrepancy between genders with more men taking responsibility for tyres than women.

The infographic below shows the main findings from the survey.

I probably am guilty of leaving everything to DH when it comes to car related matters.  As I say, I am not as knowledgable about things like tyres as I perhaps should be.  

Having said that, after DH had our tyres checked recently he did tell me that it isn't just the tread depth that is the one reason for replacing car tyres.  We hardly do any milage at all (less than 2000 miles per year in my car) and yet despite having plenty of tread left on the tyres the two oldest at the rear of the car need to be replaced because they have started to perish.

We have already started looking around for good deals at all the local garages and also with some online retailers.  I am particularly keen on some of the mobile retailers that come out and fit the tyres at home as this would offer us greater convenience.  We are looking at all the major brands too - DH likes a quality brand when buying tyres.  As Michelin themselves say, "not all tyres are the same...".

You can even have a look at the video below to find out how Michelin are improving their products by understanding driving usage and behaviour.

One thing we have not considered is a set of winter tyres.  I was surprised to read that winter tyres can significantly reduce breaking distance compared with regular tyres - even in temperatures of between 4 and 6 degrees centigrade.  That's about the temperature that it is now when I'm driving the children to school in the morning - it isn't even icy!

Until reading the results of this survey I didn't even know that tyre labels include a rating for wet braking stopping distances - did you?

In fact, this survey really opened my eyes to all the different aspects of choosing tyres and tyre maintenance - especially now that we are about to spend some of our cold hard cash on new ones.  

Tyre safety is so very important - I'm going to make it my job at the very least to learn how to check my tyre pressure and tread depth in future.

This post was written in collaboration with Mumsnet and Michelin.  I have not received any payment for this, however by taking part I will be entered into a prize draw, the winner of which will receive new tyres. 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Okido Magazine - Review

We were recently sent a couple of copies of Okido magazine, a children's science and arts magazine aimed at 3-8 year olds, to review.

Now, for as long as my children have been able to point and speak, a trip to the supermarket or newsagents usually coincides in requests for all sorts of revolting looking superhero themed or pink and purple sparkly publications laden with about a million pieces of plastic tat sellotaped to the front of them.  Then they get them home, wrench the free gift off the front and the magazine ends up being ripped to shreds and unreadable.  There is nothing more soul destroying than seeing this having just parted with the best part of a fiver for the privilege.

What I loved about Okido magazine when I first clapped eyes on it was the fact that it has none of this.  Just gorgeous thick beautifully illustrated pages full of stories and activities and pages to colour in.  It just oozes quality.  I may have even wanted to keep it for myself just a little bit.

Gorgeous illustrations

Recipes and other activities

 But, of course I couldn't do that.  The twins (in particular DD2) could not wait to get their hands on it.  In fact we spent a lovely afternoon sitting and reading the stories, playing one of the games that was on a fold out page in one of our copies (played it 8 times in fact), and then colouring in some of the wonderful illustrations (even though I was gritting my teeth - they are just so beautiful, even uncoloured!).

Pictures that I didn't want them to colour in! (they did eventually)

We loved Squirrel Boy

The magazines come with a new theme each issue and we were sent copies of Holidays and Healthy!  I thought that the content was nicely age appropriate and because the twins have just started to learn to read and write, it was nice to be able to help read it with them.  They are like little sponges at the moment and I really did think that they learned something from reading through the magazines.

Learning about Chicken Pox

We played this eight times!

I was so impressed with them that I showed my mother (who used to run a newsagent herself) and she did an audible gasp of delight when she took a look.  She often buys the children a magazine each and the last time was very uninspired at the choices available for the twins - this magazine is the one she should have bought!

Speaking of buying magazines, Okido costs a very reasonable £4 per copy and is published bimonthly.  If you go to their website at www.okido.co.uk you can order it there and if you are looking for an original Christmas gift for a child then they even do a Christmas gift subscription for £24 at the moment.  Perfect!

We were sent two copies of Okido Magazine for the purpose of this review.  All words and opinions are our own.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Wicked Wednesdays

Hello!  I'm back, finally.  Can't quite believe that it's been three weeks since my last Wicked Wednesdays post.  I have been so busy and aside from a small technological breakdown last week am now back on track for more #WickedWednesdays fun.

Last week my eldest daughter invited a friend round after school.  This was a new thing for me because rather unlike when you have primary aged kids round to play, which requires supervision, with preteen girls all that happens is that they disappear upstairs for ages and hang out on kik and Instagram for hours, while listening to One Direction or something like that.

Despite the fact that they hardly spent any time outside my daughter's room I still felt the need to clean the house from top to bottom before DD1's friend arrived (please tell me I'm not the only one who does this).  Anyway, as I was shoving yet more clutter into a cupboard so it didn't look like we live in a total pigsty, I discovered the following which I photographed for your delight.

You know that I have already showcased DD2's beautiful artwork (which continues to appear by the way).  I thought I'd show you what happens when you move on from home drawn pictures to gifts bought by a child with no supervision whatsoever.  

This was a gift bought by DS1 a few years ago. He was on a school trip and for some reason suddenly decided that we needed an anniversary present.  It probably had a lot to do with being faced with a shop full of tat (and that we'd packed him off on his trip with a crisp tenner) and that he felt he had to spend the lot, but I am still to this day aghast at his choice of present.

You also have to imagine that this was presented to me in a crumpled paper bag after having been stuffed into his suitcase next to his dirty socks for a week, for full effect.

Bought with my own money #winning

I have no idea why he chose this.  I do not like dolphins or ornaments.  My house is practically an ornament free zone.

Readers, I had to pretend to be really pleased.  I had to display it on a shelf in the living room for the best part of a year until he forgot about it.

So, parents of small children, cherish the badly drawn pictures, for this is what they turn into eventually.  One day you too can have a home full of tat lovely ornaments.  Although, he's getting better.  For my birthday this year he bought me his favourite chocolates (so that I could share them, of course).

Still, it's the thought that counts, isn't it?


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Out of this world pizza slicing with Chicago Town

Voom, voom, voom...

As a mum of three boys I've become fairly accustomed to light sabre sound effects and indeed a love of all things Star Wars by my boys over the past few years, so when Chicago Town got in touch and asked us if we'd like to test out their special new Slice Sabre I of course had to say yes!  I mean, who wouldn't want to slice their lunch up like a Jedi?

The Slice Sabre is available to all Chicago Town fans who collect the codes on promotional packs of their Deep Dish pizzas.  Collect five codes for a Slice Sabre or nine for the Super Slice Sabre which comes complete with precision cutting beam and awesome sound effects.

We were sent the Super Slice Sabre and had a lunchtime of fun slicing our Chicago Town Deep Dish pizzas with it.  The kids loved the laser that came out of the handle to guide our slicing and we didn't even have to use the force - it is very sharp!  The pizzas themselves are really yummy too.  It's been years since I've had one! (They are totally going on my shopping list in future).

Slicing my lunch like a Jedi - Super Slice Sabre in action!

In addition to this Chicago Town also have a game on their Facebook page - Slice Sabre Pro, where you can put your slicing to the ultimate test.  You can also share with friends and challenge them to beat your top score as well as being in with a chance of winning an selection of cool Chicago Town goodies.  My teen thought that this was epic and immediately vowed to try and win himself some more pizza...

Chicago Town Deep Dish pizzas are available in a variety of flavours, including Four Cheese, Pepperoni, Chicken Melt, Ham and Pineapple, Meat Combo and limited edition Ham and Cheese Topper at all major supermarkets with an RRP of £2.29

You can visit the Chicago Town Facebook page to play Slice Sabre Pro here and follow them on Twitter at @ChicagoTown.

We were sent a Slice Sabre Pro and some vouchers for Chicago Town pizza for the purpose of this post.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

A quiet word with the man in red...


I cannot call you dear, unfortunately you are no longer dear to us.  Yes, that's right, the magic is over.  The illusion of your existence has been shattered in this house.  The pre-teen has seen to that (another post in its own right).

My children are not stupid anyhow.  They have seen me at 9.30 am on a weekday during the recent half term, swearing under my breath at the computer as I try to load the Tesco Direct website.  Yelling in despair as I realise that, despite my best efforts to get in there quick and a copious quantity of vouchers to "double up", I have failed in this year's attempt to secure their heart's desires via the World Wide Web.

In fairness that isn't your fault.

It is Martin Lewis's fault.

Thanks to him giving everyone the "heads up" on GMTV (or whatever they're calling it this week) on that very same day as I was doing my Christmas shopping, there were no actual toys or video games left.

Cheers Martin.  Just so you know, come Christmas morning when my offspring are eagerly opening their gifts hoping to find the latest My Little Pony Castle/Lego Movie Set/Supermario vs Sonic the Hedgehog whateveritis game, they will instead find the sorry remnants of the Tesco toy catalogue and I will be screwed.

Anyway Santa, that aside, you may well ask why I am writing to you via the medium of the internet (you are on the internet aren't you?  I hope so because my printer has run out of ink).  Well, I too was a little girl once.  I used to write you my dreams for a happy toy filled Christmas and leave you a mince pie and a whisky by the tree.

The trouble is that when you are a grown up there is nobody to magically give you gifts anymore.  What's worse is that having blown every penny of cash that we have as well as all the Tesco vouchers on our children, it is highly unlikely that we will be buying ourselves any gifts either.

So Santa, I am writing to you in the hope that a little Christmas magic really does exist and telling you what I, a mother of five, regular gin drinker, and occasional housewife would like.

And I'm not talking about another Cath Kidston flowery handbag (they are actually a shit present), or a large supply of gin.  No.  I have something much more useful in mind.  The ingredients for a Happy Christmas.

1.  An Enthusiasm Bottler

A what?  A device to bottle people's enthusiasm.  Do you remember the time when my first child had his first Christmas play?  Do you remember how enthusiastic we were as parents?  Do you?  Well, that enthusiasm leaves at around child three (and definitely by numbers four and five). What I would like is a device that bottles it up so that I can get it out before each school play and give it back to myself.

This year we have somehow found ourselves in the situation that we have two separate school performances to attend in the same week.  What would be great is if we enjoyed it as much as we did for our first Christmas nativity.  DH has been ducking out of attending them for years (sneaky sod) and so I feel an appropriately large does of enthusiasm might be required there.

2.  An Invisibility Cloak

Specifically I need this in the run up to Christmas, so can this be an early gift?

I want to be able to do the school run without being accosted in the playground by various members of the PTA for raffle tickets or tickets for a fundraiser pamper evening (please, if I want to be pampered for the evening it won't be the PTA I'm calling on to help me).

It would also be handy for hiding the children's presents under.  I never have enough clever hiding places and despite the fact they have seen me order most of the presents online I would still like a little mystery left.

Plus, if it all goes tits up with the Enthusiasm Bottler thingy then DH and I can take it in turns to hide under it with a hip flask during the various school plays...

3.  Neverending batteries (all sizes)

One word.  Furby.

Yes, another of those creepy little gits is on one particular child's list.

The number of batteries they go through is phenomenal, and if I'm honest I'd quite like to enjoy Christmas without having to drunkenly stab a Furby's bottom with a screwdriver after too many glasses of Prosecco, while I attempt to calm a wailing five year old because the batteries inside the godforsaken creature have died yet again.

So, there you have it, Santa.  You may as well forget the garden centre grottos and naughty list.  You are dead to my children now.

I still believe though, and if you grant my wish?  I'll leave you a whisky and a pie.

Lots of love to you and the reindeer

Philippa (age 40 1/4)
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