Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Portable North Pole - Why We Love This Service

For the last few years we have been using Portable North Pole and we love it so much, in the few years we have been using it the service has improved year on year adding new features and little extras. Like, more video styles, reaction cam, an app for your phone, stories and even phone calls from Santa

This year we were invited to review the magic pass again and we were also gifted this amazing Do Good Elf  She is part of a range of toys available from John Lewis 



The idea is that you teach your 'baby elf' to 'do Good' things, and this in turn encourages your children to show kindness and good behaviour. The elf retails at £20 but I have to tell you she is amazing quality, is pose able and every toy includes a special code that will give you access to an exclusive personalised video

Check out our video here..


'Stella' Has been having fun with our other Christmas visitors, and the kids all really love her. The golden child said 'I do love Stella, but we mustn't make more fuss of her than our other elves or that wouldn't teach her very good kindness would it' He is truly the sweetest thing




 We have now watched our first Portable North Pole videos, and recorded our reactions...

The thing I love most is how brilliantly each video is customised, technically they are really simple details like photos or standard questions, but to small people (and even me if I'm honest) it just adds to the magic of Christmas, and its the magic that makes everything feel more special

I love that the app records your kids reaction, but it also includes a kids area and a parents area containing, stories, movies, games

PNP Magic Pass costs  £10.99 and Video Pass is £7.99 The magic pass includes : Unlimited videos, Weekly bedtime stories, HD downloads and Reaction Recorder, The video Pass is Unlimited videos and Reaction Recorder. Every pass that is purchased on the site includes a donation to a children's charity as well. We love this service and we will use it again next year, you can even make more grown up versions of the video with funny messages in like this one .....

Have you used PNP before?
    





Monday, 11 December 2017

Should I Go Back to Work

Many moons ago I had a cool job, in a cool theatre, it was canny hard, long hours, demanding shifts, late finishes early starts and all consuming. And I LOVED IT!!!!!

Anyone who works in Theatre will tell you it takes over, the prickle on your skin when a show starts knowing you were part of that is unbeatable! I was good at it too, organised, efficient good at being nice in the face of stress, tantrums and rudeness!

But with the arrival of 2 children within 18 months (by choice!)  and the sky high cost of childcare (I've moaned about that here)  I found myself in the horrid position of handing over all my salary to a stranger in exchange for leaving my babies in her care and so I gave up my career.

I don't feel resentful for this and I love that I can be there for every small bit of my children's live's, and the big stuff, I don't stress about leaving them when they are sick and of course I get to write this blog in my 'spare time'

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing
What a job in theatre looks like!!! Oh the fun you can have in the name of 'arts'. Yes that is us looking cool in front of rude bunting!


Another child later and I find myself as a mam of 3 who hasn't worked for someone else for 6 and 1/2 years! Its cool, we've had lots on holidays, we aren't tied to 4 weeks leave a year, I can rearrange my self employed work should I need to and because I don't 'have ' to work I feel really lucky.

But......


Just recently I said yes when asked if I could help out at a theatre I know. It fits round school. its interesting, and I find myself feeling really invested in this 'temporary job'. 


OK I'll admit it, I love being back in theatre, I love being in work, I love earning money again (don't get me wrong theatre pay's peanuts, no one does it for the money!) and I won't lie, I feel like I'm winning at parenting on weeks like this one when the husband is away and I still manage to get everyone to work/school clean and fed, keep the house tidy and make sure we do all the other stuff we are committed too. I'm shattered but I'm winning. I also love the feeling of achievement 

I can feel myself plotting long term goals and mentally prepping procedures for the future, which is as mad as toast really because I'm only there for two more weeks. But it has me thinking, should I be looking for work? Do I really want to? I'm rubbish at being my own boss and working from home but amazingly organised and efficient when working for someone else! I'd hate having to leave the kids if they were ill and I'd hate missing assemblies and such, but millions of parents manage the juggle. Should I feel guilty for thinking about a return to work or am I being stupid?

Parenting is so confusing! Do you go out to work?  Do you wish you did/didn't? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, 8 December 2017

The Lambton Worm Panto - Review

On Sunday we headed to The Customs House to review The Lambton Worm

At the risk of sounding like a super fan IT WAS AMAZEBONKS!

I've seen almost every Customs House Panto for the last Two Decades, (the joys of a career in theatre!) and they have always been good, full of laughs and music, songs and dancing but this one was truly the funniest Panto I've ever seen !

Celebrating 150 years of the Lambton Worm folk song  this panto tells a local tale with a panto twist and gives plenty of laughs along the way.

Slipping back into familiar Roles as Arbuthnot and Dame Bella , David Jon Hopper and Ray Spencer are like familiar friends (to the audience, I mean. Obviously they are pals with each other!) with Brilliant comic chemistry which just made the 'he's behind you' and Slapstick routines cheek hurtingly funny. Honestly how they have the energy to come back on stage after the slapstick is beyond me!








Natasha Haws and Georgia Nicholas give equally great performances as Sisters 'Susie Soothsayer' (as if you could say that name fast!) and Poison Pen. Natasha has a great voice and just a hint of Sarah Millican-esque comedy about her to make her a lovable rhyming narrator for the tale and Georgia's Poison Pen was a joy of story book whitchiness! The perfect balance for the audience to love to loathe in equal measure.


As always fantastic enthusiastic and energetic performances from the dancers South Tyneside Dance Workshop to match the brilliant chosen soundtrack of the show, with definite foot tappers and sing a longers!




For me the sets and costumes were joyous to see, The Customs House pride themselves on being 'local', 'the Little Panto with the Big Heart' but hands down the sets and costumes would knock socks of many of the high flying 'store bought' Pantos that cost the earth to see!  Designers Fox and Shriek have done an awesome job of creating a very circus/carnival feel to the sets and incorporating fabulous details to each and every costume, with a nod to some of my favourite awesome kick ass females (Madonna and Wonder Woman) lots of colour and and loads of fun

Loads of audience participation 'I say Ar, You say Butt' , 'She's Behind you' and 'Worm at The Bottom of the garden' will give you plenty to scream and shout about. A true panto for all the family with loads of jokes for the grown ups and lots of fun for the kids.


I can not say how much I want everyone to see this Panto. Its a fun, happy energetic show and you will come out with your sides hurting from so much laughter! Book tickets now online or at the Box Office 0191 4541234

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Santa's Naughty Elf - The Christmas Carol REVIEW

Way back in 2009 a pal and I took or babies to see a new show for under 7's  at The Customs House  called Santa's Naughty Elf, the kids aged only 1 at the time sat enthralled by the bright colours and fun on the stage but as you can see from the images, our post show photo's weren't so successful back then.



poor santa


The show however was a roaring success and fast forward to 2017,  Elfluent is in his 9th year of Naughty 'Elfscapades', team Monkeyfeet are in our 9th year of watching him, and fittingly this years first show was on my eldest baby's 9th birthday so we excitedly went along to see what was on offer this time around.





When panto starts with a fart so loud you'd wake the neighbours and it gets blamed on a poor unfortunately timed passing audience member you know you are in for a laugh.

In the theme of A Christmas Carol, Elfluent is transported to different times in his past to see if he can pin point where it all went wrong and he became so 'Naughty', even though we all know he isn't really naughty right?

Cue much hilarity, school kid style jokes and plenty of slapstick, this show never fails to bring a smile and is full of catchy tunes, audience participation , singing, dancing and of course an appearance from Santa himself!


The set is simple and effective full of primary colours and surprisingly the script even has some early years foundation friendly work in it! Yes teachers and child care pals not only is it fun but you'd definitely match some learning goals by bringing your preschool and reception kids!






We had mentioned that it was Peanut's birthday and she was pleased and nervous in equal measures to be invited onto the set for a happy birthday sing a long, I'm not sure she will be easily convinced next year mind.


Singing happy birthday to a shy birthday peanut

Yes we are the elves and team monkeyfeet both decided upon matching outfits!
Be prepared for many giggles, much singing and your kids endlessly re-telling  the chocolate submarine joke after the show.


There are still some seats left for this show but you will need to be quick as there are loads of sold out shows. Tickets are £10 and that includes a non sweetie gift from Santa and photo op at the end of the show

Book online or call box office on 0191 4541234

We were invited to preview this show as press but all opiniona re our own

Friday, 1 December 2017

Celebrating Diwali - A Tyne and wear Metro Family Adventure

My kids LOVE travelling on the Metro! Its a real adventure for them and they always treat it like one, with 'Metro snacks' and games along the journey. Eye spy is obviously our favourite and so easy to play on a Metro Journey

I didn't realise 2 things

Kids should have Pop Cards because it proves their age and entitlement to concessionary travel

Adults can get pay as you go Pop cards, which are free to get (you need to top up with £10 on first purchase) and super easy to top up online, or in store! Once you have one the system figures out the cheapest fare for your daily use at the end of your day and it works out cheaper than buying tickets

I decide to rectify our lack of Pop card immediately and headed into our local Travel shop with my money, some forms for the kids and their picture and passports. The staff were really helpful and sent off our forms and our return envelopes and we received our Pop cards within a week. (Mine was ready straight away)


Some of my WI were visiting The National Glass Centre for The Diwali Festival and I thought this would be a fabulous day out for all of us. My university was Sunderland, and St Peters Campus is right next door to the glass centre so I know know that its a pleasant walk along the river from St Peter's station to catch some of the sculpture trail and head to the Glass Centre which sits right on the River and from St Peters Metro Station it only tales about 15 minutes.

Disaster struck in the week leading to our trip though in the form of a shoe splitting and so we need to detour first to buy some new ones, luckily there is  a retail park near the station so we quickly nipped there for shopping and sustenance before our journey to the festival



Not wanting to let go of their pop cards during lunch


The Festival


The festival was a feast for eyes, ears and taste buds! There were displays of Indian fashion, turban try outs, Indian dress try ons, a food station which was amazing value for money and super tasty (food went to quick for pictures!)




We watched some amazing drumming and Bollywood style dance displays and I was overwhelmed with the warmth and friendliness of the day, we met some fab people and chatted with artists, dancers, crafters creators and even the police!

Bollywood Makeup Masterclass


Everything was so bright and colourful and interesting to look at and experience, we will definitely return next year and take more people with us.


Diwali Diya's being set up  along the path of The National Glass Centre

Trying our Hand at drumming

Beautiful Bollywood Dancing

We had planned to wander into town afterwards and see Paddinton but we totally lost track of time at The Glass Centre and ended up too late to do anything else
Celebrating Diwali
We had a brilliant family day out, did you visit Diwali Festival? I'd love to hear your thoughts




*This is a collaborative post

How To Stay On Budget At Christmas Plus M & S Hamper GIVEAWAY

For most families Christmas is a really expensive time of year and it takes a lot of planning and budgeting to make sure that you don't get into debt to buy the things that you need

Peanut and the golden child Christmas eve 2011!!!

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing and indoor

Here are our 5 top tips for keeping on top of the Christmas budget

1. Savings
I don't have a great deal to put away every month but try and put £30 a month to spend at Christmas time. There are lots of great savings accounts around you just need to have a little look and shop around a bit to find the best access/interest for you



2. Budget
Everybody wants to be able to buy their kids everything they want, unfortunately it's just not possible you have to have a realistic budget and make sure you stick to it as much as you can. Now every family's budget is different but the important thing is knowing what you can afford and then sticking to it.

3. Planning
It's really easy when your children are little to plan ahead and buy things months in advance it's not quite as easy when your children get older and their Christmas list can change from day today even hour the hour. We try wherever possible to buy things in the sales, we know that we may not know what the big presents will be until close to Christmas time but things like clothes, Christmas pyjamas and stocking fillers generally follow the same pattern every year and so we can buy them in the sales throughout the year or pick them up when we see them on special.

We also know that there are certain things that will always go down a storm currently LEGO Star Wars and anything crafty these things can make it easier to plan in advance and by when shops have special offers on

4 Ask Family

I don't think its rude or unreasonably to have suggestions on hand for family and friend who buy for you children. Now I'm not talking catalogue numbers and unbreakable rules here, bu I know my family will ask what the kids are into right now or if there's anything they need, So broad suggestions like 'She's really into science right ow' Or 'he has seen x, y  and z' are helpful for family members. It also opens a discussion so if you know your child is after a really expensive present people may want to chip in and help them get it. People love buying resents and really love buying the things that they know will be used and lived


Image may contain: christmas tree, tree, plant, indoor and outdoor

5 Talk To Your Kids

Kids hear a lot in the playground about what others are getting for Christmas and its easy for them to start comparing , but I really believe its important for children to understand we are all different, our finances and priorities differ from family to family, for us we place higher importance on travel, experiences and holidays than expensive toys and our kids have all grown up with that ethos so they know our budget may be less than their pals'. We also give pocket money and encourage our kids to sell any toys they no longer play with in order to save for the new and expensive stuff, for example The Golden boy wants a Sound Moov but we've explained that his list has already gone to Santa so he may have to save for it himself. He's now selling his unused Playmobil and making a fair dent in his target!

I think children understand more than we give them credit for and I'd rather be open and honest with our kids to explain we can't afford 3 I pads than try to get into debt and 'keep up with the joneses' so to speak

So with money saving and Christmas in mind, I'm really pleased to be running a giveaway courtesy of Newcastle Building Society for this amazing  Marks and Spencer Hamper


The Hampton Hamper

Simply fill out the form below to be in with a chance of winning Prize drawn on 10th December and winner must accept prize within 5 days of notification or an alternative winner will be drawn 


How do you stay on track at Christmas?
a Rafflecopter giveaway


T and C - UK entrants only , winner must reply by email within 5 days in order to accept prize winner will be disqualified and an alternative re drawn

*This is a collaborative post

Monday, 27 November 2017

An Apology to Mcdonald's

Dear McDonald's,

I’d like to apologise for thinking unkindly of you for quite some time, I fear I judged you harshly in the past. I’m a big enough girl to admit my mistake and so I'm sorry 







I won't lie I've been annoyed with McDonald’s in the past, as have sometimes found they haven’t had my favourite veggie burger available. It all started many moons ago when I was just old enough to go to McDonald's with my mates, I was a veggie, at the time McDonald's offered a veggie choice as a special SOMETIMES!


Imagine my surprise and intrigue when they asked me to come take a look at the ways in which they are working to improve the McDonald's experience for everyone!

Of course I said yes and went along with an open mind.

Man alive I had such a great afternoon! Bill is the Franchisee of Tyneside retail Park  (and 5 other branches) greeted us and shared his journey with us. He was so open and friendly when talking about his decision to become a franchisee (the 4th ever in this country!) He has his family involved in the business (his Daughter Emma is about to become a Franchisee too) and they really believe in the brand, they are passionate and enthusiastic and they really showed us loads about the restaurants and business that I liked A LOT

Order Up!

My finished (and first ever eaten) Bic Mac

Ready for action!





Efficiency

Their food order systems, their stock ordering system, the cookers and heaters and even the layout of the kitchen are all set up to be the most efficient system possible. Orders are fed directly to the kitchen via screen, the food prep line is staffed by people with specific tasks and they know where everything is because ALL of the kitchens in the restaurants are set our the same. That same computer system predicts demand and cooking requirements based on previous sales patterns, so there is almost no food waste which brings me to my next point....

All you need to know to build a burger properly

The 'line' which runs like clockwork

Look at the neat and tidy pure organisation of the prep area, this is reflected everywhere across the restaurants



Waste

I think its easy to think badly of huge corporations and believe they aren't doing all they can for the environment but McDonald's are committed to reducing, in fact eliminating, their landfill contributions. They aim to be a zero waste company by 2020 and THEY ARE ON TRACK! They recycle everything they can  and when they get a delivery that same lorry takes away waste cooking oils to be transformed to bio diesel to power their delivery vans! My inner hippy loves this!

Homegrown Food

All of their food is produced in the UK and Ireland, All of it! Their chips are made by UK company McCain, and everything else comes from British suppliers, meaning they reduce the impact of transport on the environment.


Food Quality

A sentence I really didn't believe until I saw for myself! McDonald's food is made using free range eggs, and only ever breast or flank meat . They only order enough for the coming few days so everything is fresh. All the food prep and storage is changed and cleaned every four hours and burgers are only kept for 20 minutes but they are rarely ever wasted because they hardly ever make too much because of the super duper systems in place

Cleanliness

Cleanliness and hygiene are paramount, the restaurants are continuously checked, employees wash their hands every 30 minutes, protective clothing is worn for the 'dirty jobs'. Hair nets are everywhere so no one has a reason not to be wearing a clean new one.

Family Friendly


So most kids love McDonald's right? But its not exactly a relaxing place... well actually its getting better, there are places to charge your phone, family focused ordering on the new computer ordering self serve screens, (more in a minute) family friendly wifi filters on their free to use tablets to keep the kids entertained and safe. AND table service!!! It's like they started this for me!! Sarah explained 'its not always easy to juggle kids, prams, bags etc while ordering and then carry your food, find a table get settled, so this way we can bring your food to your table'

I mean honestly simultaneously ordering food, checking allergens for Termite, having 'eyes on' 3 kids, and finding a seat in a busy restaurant gives me the heeby jeebies sometimes! No longer shall I fret! Touch screen ordering, select table service, sit down and relax. Its just a thumbs up from me!

Ordering


So a while ago we went to Portugal, it rained, we were stuck miles from the hotel and McDonald's was shining in the gloom. The kids were overjoyed (remember I wasn't a fan) but we were in a really non touristy spot and so English wasn't widely spoken, explaining allergies was starting to make me sweat when I noticed the order screens. Available in many languages and the great thing is you can customise each part of your order. I loved it and I'm so happy these screens are here now.

Basically you just use the touch screen, order what you want, customise it, no pickle (sacrilege), no ice in your drink, no lettuce etc.

Choose your drinks and extras, choose to collect or have table service and you are done. The screens show dietary information and you can adjust display height on  them so the info is at a lower level, so the right height for a wheel chair user or at child height. I loved this next feature, when ordering a happy meal the drinks with least sugar are shown first, so water milk and fruit juice on the first option screen, then you have to click 'more options to see the pops and milkshakes!


Staffing

McDonald's are a huge local employer, a huge global employer in fact but they really are doing something right. the manager of the store we visited has been there more than 20 years, McDonald's put him through university and he seemed genuinely happy in his work. They offer great benefits, free food, loads of incentives and a really good training or graduate programme. With 500 staff in the North East they are contributing massively to our local economy and they have to be doing something right to keep that many people on board for so long. And as if I needed proof of this (I didn't) I made a comment on Facebook about researching McDonald's and discovering their Trainee Manager starting salary was 5 grand higher than my salary in Theatre Management. I was overwhelmed with positive comments from friends who'd done the training programme and felt it set them up with fabulous life skills and transferable professional experience, friends who knew of people who'd worked there over 2 decades and considered them amazing employers

Honestly I can't tell you haw eye opening my visit was and whilst I'm not saying its great to eat there every day, its all about balance isn't it? My kids are overjoyed that Mammy has taken McDonald's off her veto list!




Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Mi-Mic Microphone and Speaker



OH MY DAYS

Mi-Mic Microphone and Speaker could be the most fun £14.99 you spend this Christmas! This awesome toy (its not a toy its a genius piece of entertainment) connects to blue tooth so plays your songs, so you can sing along and it lights up too. Its DISCOTASTIC!




Check out our video



I can't lie, when we unboxed this I was way too excited! The sound quality is canny, the bluetooth capability is awesome and it's just such a lot of fun. I mean I can't sing for toffee but we've had a blast playing with it.

You can use your own music via SD card, its rechargeable and it really is an awesome gift at a fab price. You can get yours from Smyths (also available in black) and you can connect with Mi-Mic (no bluetooth pun intended) on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter



*We were sent this to review and this post contains affiliate links

Singing with Jo Jo Siwa

We were recently sent a Bodalicious Bow and Jo Jo Light Up Microphone






Both are available from most high Street toy shops. The microphone retails at around £14.99 and the the bow retails at £9 99

So what did we think?
Well peanut loves all things JoJo so the bow went down a treat. My personal opinion is that at £9.99 it's a little bit expensive for a hair accessory but she really enjoyed using it. Its like a normal bow but with the addition of a rainbow coloured hair extension attached.




The microphone was really good fun it works exactly as it was supposed to it has a lot of sayings from Jojo it also ticks all the glittery sparkly boxes for peanut. Check out our video here


Overall if you have a Jo Jo fan in your house these will be a welcome addition to your collection. I love that the mic can be used as a mic and a speaker and that it plays the whole of Boomerang so the kids can still listen to a 'proper song' even if they arent connected to a MP3 player

*we were sent these items free of charge, all thought are our own