Saturday, 31 December 2016

Come on 2016, let's be having you

In my annual round up of the year I thought I'd cover the obvious first:

It's been a year of celebrity deaths - some have done the sums on whether more famous people have died or if it just seems that way. Well firstly it's that people we all know and have heard of died this year. Also with instant news reporting and social media we all know about them immediately. I'm not going to lie, the deaths of David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Terry Wogan, Victoria Wood and Caroline Aherne made me feel sad. However, I didn't know any of them in real life, so it is not my grief to feel.

I know, I know Lemmy was last year

With all the attention on entertainers it was overlooked that some eminent scientists also died this year, including the man who found the smallpox vaccine and many female scientists of great standing. The obsession with entertainers over academics was most clearly demonstrated one recently. I was pretty shocked when on a rare foray into watching TV news (we were away and channel options were pretty limited) the lead news item was the death of Carrie Fisher and Richard Adams was 6th. I realise that TV news is a scheduled 'entertainment' programme, but that's still a bit rude isn't it ?

Talking of entertainment news being taken a bit too seriously there was the big break up. Yep Brad and Ange called it a day and apparently no one could believe it. Really ? Does anyone really know the truth about any relationship ? Well it seems not. Oh well, life went on. 

Political shenanigans included the EU referendum and the US election. I don't think I need to elaborate, unless you have been hiding under a huge rock for the last year that is. I do want to mention, however, that I was listening to the radio during the day when I heard that a Labour MP called Jo Cox had been attacked and was in a serious condition. The subsequent details of how she was stabbed, shot and died leaving a husband and two young children was truly shocking. Colleagues on all political sides paid tribute to her and her widower Brendan gave an inspirational alternative Christmas speech.

So, to my own 2016.

Well it started with a pretty spectacular highlight. Blue Bear officially joined our family. In January we attended court and the judge handed us a certificate and gave him an 'adoption bear' and we took some nice photos in the courtroom. It was a wonderful - if belated - celebration. 

Hubbie and I have been making more time for ourselves so we've been to some pretty amazing gigs: we've been to watch the Pixies, Stewart lee (ok we haven't managed to see him together this year, but it's on the cards. Our annual weekend gig to see the Wedding Present in Brighton every August is a fixture now and we also went to see them in early December for a pre-Christmas treat. Thanks to some bizarre event to celebrate the Great Fire we managed to miss almost all of the Jesus and Mary Chain gig - we made it for the encore - so I've booked for us to see them next year instead.

With my love of theatre and live arts I've also managed to drag Hubbie to the theatre to watch the Shawshank Redemption and he enjoyed the Rogue Theatre outdoor event we took the kids to over Christmas too. Earlier this year we took the boys to see Stick Man at the Leicester Square Theatre and Blue Bear sat and watched all the way through - he can concentrate for almost an hour now. I am so excited that he can go to watch children's shows now. Not quite the 2 hour marathon of a panto like his brother, but still this is progress. 

We went for a child-free mini break in Cornwall in October for our anniversary and discovered a new favourite place to eat in Rock at the Mariners Arms - thanks Nathan Outlaw.

I also had an entirely me only break earlier in the year when I went to a retreat - again in Cornwall. I recall school gate mums being appalled when I said I was going to spend Mother's Day on my own, but I can honestly say it was the best decision. I am mum every day of the year so for the day that is designated to me I chose to have it just for me. It also meant I looked forward to seeing the boys when I did see them.

I did also spend some quality time with the boys and on our summer holiday I went surfing with Brown Bear. It was our first time and I can honestly say I'd love to do it again. I hope he does too. 

Seeing Blue Bear flourish and find his voice has been amazing, he speaks so clearly now. I've also noticed his love of animals has really flourished while we stayed on the farm at Coombe Mill and he has become more confident.

A few milestones then.

In 2017 who knows what is going to happen. I guess we will all just have to sing along with Prof Brian Cox:

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Adventures old and new in Cornwall

While we were in Cornwall over Christmas we decided to go on some of our tried and trusted family days out, but we also went to an event we'd never heard of before and it has become a firm favourite.

The Eden Project: 

I've loved the Eden Project since I first visited in the year it opened and try to go there whenever we are in Cornwall. We hadn't planned to go this time as we had missed out on the very popular Christmas Grotto visit bookings - hardly surprising as Father Christmas at Eden is amazing. We thought we'd go anyway as this year there is a sound and light show after dark and we thought that sounded like something the boys would enjoy. 

It wasn't the warmest of days, but that doesn't matter when you have the indoor biomes, soft play and great dining. We always eat at Eden as the food is so great and this time was up to the usual standard with the addition of some seasonal treats too. After a hot lunch we took the boys to listen to a story in the Mediterranean biome. It's a lovely spot and the storytellers at Eden are so talented. We always check the times for live events including Pukka tea tasting (Hubbie's favourite) and live storytelling and this time there was also a history of pirates. Most of these are repeated during the day so you get another chance if you missed it. 

An area that we've not taken the boys to before is the soft play and learning zone. The soft play is for under fives only so Blue Bear got to do this while Brown Bear played with magnets and pumped water. It was a good break actually and meant that when we got back to the outdoor spaces we were all refreshed in preparation for the sound and light show. The boys took the landtrain which is a great option for young children or anyone who doesn't fancy the walk up the long paths or many steps. At the top we had a great view of the lasers although these photos don't really do justice to the show. Even without a visit to see Father Christmas we still had a fantastic day

Winter Wood - Rogue Theatre: 

The new favourite for us was the amazing Rogue Theatre which took place at Tehidy Woods near Portreath. The show we saw was Winter Wood and we were told about it by the lovely Pippa of Story of Mum who suggested it to me when I said we'd be in Cornwall for Christmas. I'm do glad she did as  despite being an hour from where we were staying it was everything we had been promised and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it. 

A theatrical experience that takes place in the woods already sounds magical so when you are greeted by a fairy and walk through trees strewn with baubles and decorations you know it's going to be special. At each point we were met by fairies who sang, juggled with fire or invited us to make a wish  on the trees. By the time we go to Old Man Winter the boys were already convinced of the magic of the woods. 

Old Man Winter and his silver wishing feather 

A brown paper bag of sweets later and we were ready for the next adventure. By the time we reached the heated marquee for hot chocolate and face painting (all included in the ticket price) we were enchanted by it all. I made a special decoration with Blue Bear and Brown Bear tried hot chocolate and liked it (I think it was the marshmallows personally). We also bumped into lovely Hayley of Down Side Up and Brown Bear made friends with Natty. She told me that Rogue Theatre is very popular with locals and it's hardly surprising as the show is fantastic, featuring outdoor activities and indoor performance with hot chocolate, face painting and a craft activity all for only £8.50 for a whole family. We also donated a ticket to the wildcard scheme where they offer a ticket to a family who otherwise cannot afford to go. 

Our lovely handmade natural decoration

I can see Rogue Theatre becoming a fixture of our visits to Cornwall as they do shows during the summer too. Apparently Old Man Winter becomes Old Man Summer, but I'm sure there's more to it than that. The greatest compliment I can give it is that even Hubbie enjoyed the day and it's not often that he is captivated by magic. 

Disclosure: The lovely folks at the Eden Project gave us complimentary entry for our visit. 

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Your festive playlist sorted - you are welcome

Now the kids are off school and nursery it's the bit of Christmas that's the most testing - two boys aged 3 and 6 are enough to test the best of us. We've had days out as a family, time with each of the boys alone and - by far my favourite - singing Christmas songs in the car. We heard possibly the worst one ever yesterday. It was a version of Last Christmas sung as a melancholy ballad. Now let's face it even though it's a classic it's hardly a great song as it is. As I explained to hubbie it's gone from being the campest anthem featuring terrible knitwear and longing looks over baubles to being a sombre lament on lost love. There are, however, some cracking Christmas songs out there and I'm about to share some with you so you have a playlist for the big day and some tunes to prepare turkey to. You are very welcome.

We played this on our radio show His and Hers last year and now it's being played in Sainsburys. I'm not saying it's because of us but... :

If you don't know this Ramones song don't worry- the Asobi Seksu version is so much better:

You already know the song, but maybe not the band - enjoy:

This is my all time favourite classic if only for Chrissy Hynde dressed as one of the Sally Army:

And of course the song that my son now sings in the car - I am beyond proud of this:

And finally the best of all - who knew the Manics did a festive tune ? I did that's who:

Merry Christmas - see you on the other side ! 

Friday, 16 December 2016

Giving, not getting. That's the secret.

This quote from the Grinch may well be familiar to you - not least if you are a fan of Dr Seuss - but I only heard it for the first time this week. It made me stop and think as this is exactly what I want to express, but I didn't want to sound all priggish and judgey. Having spent far too much money over the years and bought - and received - many gifts I've come to the conclusion that I just don't want to do it any more. 

I've decided to scale back on Christmas this year. Partly it's financial reasons - I'm not working (well not paid work anyway) so I don't have money to spend. The other reason is that I have always found it overwhelming how much is expected at Christmas. The food, the gifts, the cards, the driving from place to place to see everyone. I've just realised this year that there is just too much going on for me. I'm keeping things really simple. I have already mooted the idea of an even more basic celebration next year.

There is so much waste and greed that this year I've spent more time and energy on people I don't know. I gave blood a few weeks back as I know stocks run low at Christmas. We have sorted through bags of baby clothes and donated them to a refugee charity local to us that needs them. The boys also helped me to bag up the toys they don't play with any more and we have given some to the same charity and others to the Samaritans. We've given to the food bank and collected hats and gloves as well as warm clothes for homeless charities.

A local cafe collects money to provide meals for homeless people and we have put some money in for that too. I'd rather do that than buy yet more toys or toiletries or mince pies. No really I would. Ok, maybe I'll get some mince pies as Hubbie loves them, but to be honest we don't need to pile up a shopping trolley with food or stock up like armageddon is upon us.

Giving to others is pre-programmed into me. I'm the oldest of 4 kids born into a family where I was expected to do for others as a matter of course. Thinking about others used to take the form of buying gifts for everyone I knew. Now I don't have the money to do that so instead I volunteer, give my time and think about ways to support causes. I still get my children gifts, but they also know that it's not about having piles of presents, but about seeing the people who love them and thinking about children who might not be having such a great time. I'm not going to guilt my kids into doing for other people. I hope that they will choose to do it themselves because of what we do now.

After all, Christmas is only one day of the year. Being caring and kind is something I hope we do every day.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Practically perfect is no way at all.

A while back I went to see Russell Brand's show Messiah Complex in which he compared his life with some famous world leaders for comedic purposes. As we drove back from a visit to family this afternoon and the boys were being insane in the back of the car my mind drifted to how I'd make a similar comparison.

Gandhi - I think we all start out this way. Benign and with a patient and loving attitude. In the early days I also found I was pretty much on hunger strike, not like all the other new mums on a post baby diet, but because I just didn't prioritise feeding myself when I was caring for a tiny baby. Some days I didn't get dressed so my clothing pretty much resembled Gandhi's too. I never took up weaving or surrounded myself with pretty ingenues though.

Malcolm Luther King - once they're on the move we become a bit more "I have a dream" about our children. The aspirations take full flight and we approach parenting from a non-violent, but pragmatic standpoint. As soon as they make sounds that resemble words we begin to teach them songs and spend hours at a time repeating things so they will learn to say, "Mama." It's always, "Dada" frist though isn't it ?

Malcolm X - as my boy developed an attitude I became a lot more, 'by any means necessary' about it all. As he developed into a tantrum prone easy to tears toddler I had to find ways to keep myself sane in the face of a meltdown of epic proportions in the supermarket. If it took bribery (I will take you to the park if you stop screaming) I went with it. If I had to threaten to take stuff away (no bear fruit if you keep shouting) that was what I did. It wasn't pretty. It was, however, for the greater good.

Mugabe - then he went to school and became a know it all and a mini adult. He knows better than me  and argues about everything. I've had to go hardcore and lay down the law with him in no uncertain terms. I've gone from previously heroic to always trying to ruin his life. It isn't about what he wants, it's all about what I need him to do. I even find myself saying, "because I said so." A sure sign that it's not going my way. It's not going well I'll be honest.

So I've decided the only way to go from now on is... 

Trump - yep total batshit crazy. When my child gets up in my grill I'm just going to talk utter crap at him until he's so baffled he will be reduced to thinking I've lost the plot. When he says, "I want cake," I will respond with, "I have all the cake, I have the best cake. No one has better cake than me." He's just going to stare. We've already planned to tell him that we're building a wall (between his room and his brother's) and that we will not accept any judgement of our parenting that isn't in our favour. I draw the line at the orange hair though.

I wish I could go back in time and be all Mary Poppins about it, but I think that ship has pretty much sailed now. I mean a spoonful of sugar ? In this day and age ? We'd get such a hammering on the Mumsnet forums it's not even worth thinking about.

Still I wonder what Russell's take on it is now he's a father to baby Mabel.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Three bird roast and a Bellini - ultimate Christmas snacking

Now that it's December I can officially talk about planning for Christmas. Hubbie gets all squinky when the Christmas TV idents start in early December as he believes they should only run from Christmas Eve. He does get quite curmudgeonly at this time of year to be honest. The only way to cheer him up is to plan our festive feasting.

I realise that there is traditional food and drink you are supposed to buy at this time of year like tangerines, nuts and egg nog. I don't see the appeal of nog, mulled anything or anything scented with cloves so that makes my shopping list a lot shorter to start with. Nuts and fruit we buy all year round anyway so I don't feel the need to stock up on either. Where we do go to town though is on nice cheese and posh crackers. Alcohol, not bothered. Fancy meats, nah. Crunchy snacks, yes please ! If it's a mixed snack pack then Hubbie will go for it. Pretzels, cheese nibbles, bombay mix, you name it and it will make it into the festive basket when he goes shopping.

This year we've been sent what I can only describe as the zenith of celebration snacks. The lovely folks at Tyrells sent us some fancy schmancy crisps and poshcorn. The three bird roast crisps (RRP £2.19) are more of a Hubbie thing - let's face it with the kids we're lucky to get them to eat just one roast never mind a combination of them ! The birds are duck, chicken and turkey and contain actual meat so I will treat myself to some Tyrells veg crisps while Hubbie chomps his way through these. The mixed root vegetable crisps contain carrot, parsnip and beetroot and would make up pretty much a whole meal so treat yourself to both and call it lazy Christmas dinner. I'm only half joking ! Tyrells are so moreish it wouldn't surprise me if he finished the whole bag (it's massive !) in one sitting. Sharing size you say ? Nah.

The Bellini cocktail poshcorn (RRP £1.59) is definitely mine all mine !! I love peach bellinis and these have a slightly fizzy sensation to get the celebrations going. I can see these being a great party snack - strictly for grown ups only though - and I still have some of those popcorn bags left from a kids' birthday party so they will come in handy. Who am I kidding, I'll be chomping through them in front of a cheesy Christmas film with a glass of something equally fizzy. Getting the tikes to keep their paws off the popcorn will be pretty difficult so I might have to hide the bag from them. Alternatively I can get them their own poshcorn. I think they'd enjoy the sweet and salty or even the strawberries and cream. Anything to stop them eating mine !

So that's the snacking sorted. I'll let Hubbie deal with the actual food shopping.

Disclosure: The lovely folks at Tyrells sent us some samples to try their new seasonal flavours.