Young Voices 2018

H took part in Young Voices 2018 recently. It was a wonderful, positive experience for all of us – and I’m also claiming it as H’s first gig that she has performed in!

Young Voices 2018 is the UK’s biggest school choir. With showcase gigs bringing the children together to sing at events around the country, it’s a special day. On our night at the O2 there were 7,800 schoolkids performing from around the South of the UK.

Young Voices 2018

H has never been the most confident child. She has never been comfortable speaking out – she can do it, she has to leave her comfort zone.

When the opportunity came to be a part of Young Voices 2018 I did my best to persuade her. An added bonus was her teachers from last year run it. We decided to give it a couple of weeks, see how it goes. That wasn’t necessary – after one week she loved it!

Delights such as ‘Africa’ by Toto, and choruses to ‘Kyrie’ by Mister Mr. Oh yes, my eighties brain said. Add ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ by Procul Harum – my mum and dad’s song – and there’s quite a cross section of tunes.

There has also been a transformation in H – she doesn’t stop singing at home, at all. She has a new-found confidence in other things too. This is all down to Young Voices.

young voices 2018 main show

With our performance at the O2 we decided to travel on the coach with people from school – it still took a while but we had enough time to grab food (top tip, preorder from one of the places inside the O2 – Five Guys was our expensive choice). The biggest delay we had was the security check at the gate to get into the O2 arena itself.

We missed the very start of Young Voices 2018 but only a couple of minutes thankfully. Armed with our National Trust binoculars we soon found H who looked like she was having the time of her life!

The two hours flew by, and before we knew it things were over.

“The children can’t leave until all the adults have gone” is possibly the best, quickest way to get several thousand families out of the O2 in record time. I say that, as some kids were leaving as we got to the main exit/entrance! It was really well done, and well organised.

Young Voices website can be found here. They’re taking registrations for 2019…

A Hearty Winter Soup

It is officially the coldest week this year. Considering this year is only five weeks old, I’ll take it. I also hope that will be it and things will only get warm from here onwards. Monday means swimming for H, which in turn means soup for tea, usually using up our vegetables and whatever else I can find. This week we’ve made a hearty winter soup.

My hearty winter soup is an easy one. We have our Morphy Richards Soup Maker – our second one which alas, is on its way out. The smooth soup function isn’t going so well, though this doesn’t stop us trying a nice chunky soup.

Hearty Literally Winter Soup

When I got to the cupboards they were looking a bit bare. One carrot, half a butternut squash and five medium sized potatoes were the only fresh vegetables we had. The broccoli had seen better days – and because this was chunky rather than blended ended up in the food waste.

Fortunately I had tinned lentils hidden away in the back of the cupboard for days like this. So here’s my hearty winter soup recipe. So easy with a soup maker.

1 carrot
5 medium sized potatoes
Half a butternut squash
Tinned lentils
Bouillon (low salt)
A pinch of sea salt (this might cancel out the previous entry)
Garam Masala

Well, you know how this goes. Peel and chop the veg- but this time into small cubes. Stick them in the soup maker. Add the whole tin of lentils to the mixture, and top up with water.

Add a tablespoon of the Bouillon to the mixture, and add a sprinkle of Garam Masala (if your child is fussy like H). Finally, a pinch of sea salt because it feels nice.

Stick your soup maker onto the chunky setting, and sit and browse the internet for 28 minutes.

Serve the hearty winter soup with a ciabatta, lightly toasted is good, and complain about how flipping freezing it is out there at the moment.

For all previous soup concoctions, everything is tagged souptastically souper.

a hearty winter soup with ciabatta

That Time We Did Sutton Soup

Sutton Soup is a fantastic community led evening held in Sutton. It’s like Dragons Den without the dragons – indeed, YOU are the dragon. You get some soup and bread too.

Sutton Soup - It's amazing how a bowl of soup can help change our communities logo

Sutton Soup meets every quarter or so, is run by volunteers and is a good fun night out. Four groups pitch on the night and whoever gets the most votes gets to take away all the money. Now, if you do the maths, 200 or so people giving a suggested donation of £5 each works out at… well, a fair bit! At our night the total was just over £950 in the end.

So how does it work? Each group gets four minutes to pitch. After that you are asked up to four questions.

We bravely* stepped up in front of 200 people last week to pitch for some new camping equipment for our Brownie Unit. We also wanted to share with other units in the district, after all money is tight for everyone. In addition, we also wanted to buy a new flag as ours is quite old…. actually, it’s very old. So old that a Conservative councillor in attendance said she had probably carried it when she was a Brownie – and coincidentally she went to our unit!

The four minutes flew by – and what we thought was a carefully timed and rehearsed pitch wasn’t. We didn’t factor in laughter (yay! my joke was laughed at!!) and applause (the song at the start of our pitch) – and went slightly over by a few seconds.

At the end loads of ex-Brownies came up and chatted to us – most glad that Girlguiding still existed. Girlguiding is looking for volunteers so we brought leaflets in case anyone was interested. That’s the other thing – Sutton Soup is good for networking. Not that I’m in any way good at being at all businesslike, mind!

The next Sutton Soup is in April – you can find out more about them over at their website. It’s a great night out, you get soup and a bread roll and a really good feeling inside knowing a local cause has got some well-deserved money.

* I had a tight grip of H’s shoulders I was that nervous. Poor child!!

Vegan Friendly Cosmetics

I’m vegetarian. I have been since around 1983 when I declared to my mum that I would never eat meat again while looking at the turkey on Christmas Day. I can’t go vegan. Mainly as I don’t like the alternatives – and I’ve tried. I’m not at the right place to try.
However, one thing I can do is to look at what I’m putting on my body, and improve that. So I’ve been looking at vegan friendly cosmetics.

Vegan friendly cosmetics are the simplest way of finding what I’m looking for. I want brands that don’t test on animals, a long-standing EU regulation anyway – but there’s a catch.
I’ve spent a lot of time reading on PETA to find brands which are cruelty-free and struggled. A lot of brands sell their cosmetics worldwide – and there are countries who insist on exported cosmetics being tested on animals. They’re off my list – and sadly these include a few brands I’ve always thought were okay – Clarins is one. (sob) Benefit too. The only way they can control this is by not selling their cosmetics in those countries – which of course they’re not going to do as it’s all about the money. So I will no longer be buying any of their products.
Fortunately, some old favourites have brought up favourable results – back in the day I used to buy Eyes Lips Face cosmetics – they make vegan friendly cosmetics. You can buy some of their range in larger Superdrug stores. Superdrug’s own range also carries the PETA bunny – always a good sign.
I’ve recently discovered Fairypants who have a great line in perfume. I bought myself a lipbalm, some dry skin cream and some perfume to see how I got on with it. Already it has made a difference – H had dry skin patches, they always come up each winter. We’d normally rely on Aveeno, but they’re not cruelty free – they sell in China, disappointingly. The Fairypants Vegan Dry Skin Balm has had two applications over two weeks and the dry skin has gone! I’m quite amazed by it. The perfume is lovely too!
Fairypants Vegan cosmetics

I didn’t spent enough time thinking about it before – but this year I’m going to be shopping far more conscientiously. After all, if I haven’t (knowingly) eaten meat for this long, I should be looking at the products I use.

Fortunately Sanex seem to be okay which is good as they have one of the few deodorants that works for me. I am ditching my phosphate-free L’Oreal shampoo and have switched to Kind Natured shampoo – they helpfully have a vegan section on their website too. Boots stock Kind Natured and they’re a reasonable price too. H uses their kids shampoo after she has been swimming – it works a treat.
Finding vegan friendly cosmetics doesn’t seem too difficult, so let’s see how we get on…

Hogwarts in the Snow

It’s New Year’s Eve and what are you going to do? Sit at home, relax, have a lie in, right? Or go to Hogwarts in the Snow at 9am that morning? Well of course we did the latter.

Hogwarts in the Snow

Hogwarts in the Snow is on at the moment at the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in Leavesden. We visited a year and a half ago and I felt like this was a big enough gap between visits. H has now seen all the films, with the Cursed Child play being the thing we haven’t seen.

Hogwarts in the Snow runs until late January and has the set decorated to look festive. There is also a chance to feel the different kinds of snow that was used when it was needed – as well as how fire and ice was made.

Hogwarts in the Snow Fire and Ice stall

This consisted of boxes of the three different types of snow used in the films, the special effects used for ice, and how to recreate fire (which was slightly hot but not fire-hot). One type of snow was like grains of sand, whereas the more gloopy kind was the sort which you could make snowballs from. It’s another one of those things you wouldn’t think about when watching a film. A small part of Diagon Alley also had snow on it, showing some disappearing footprints.

Hogwarts in the Snow, Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Express
Diagon Alley – Gringotts footprints in the snow (which disappear), Shaun and H chatting, and the Hogwarts Express

For the first time, the set of the Main Hall is decorated like the Yule Ball, complete with Professor Flitwick and an orchestra.

The great thing about the Warner Brothers Studio Tour is how things change. The sets have been moved around to accommodate the Forbidden Forest since we last visited. It wouldn’t surprise me if things are changed around regularly, and indeed on chatting with a staffmember at the end, he confirmed that items from the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movies will be joining the Potter Universe. There’s an extension being built which will house it.

Newt & Porpentia costumes - Warner Brothers Studio Tour
In the main ticket area there’s a Fantastic Beasts area – soon to be part of the main studio tour – hurrah! Here’s Newt and Porpentia.

Let’s stop for a minute here. The last film was completed in 2011. Okay, so that’s only seven years ago – but everyone there was enjoying being there. Even Shaun! There is so much to take in that it’s impossible in one visit. There ware different exhibitions and features being added all the time.

The fact that something finished so long ago that still lives on, finding new fans all the time, well, that’s a great achievement.

I noticed changes from the last time we visited – just little tweaks but changes. H read absolutely everything again. Which took a long time – again! I’d love it if there was a guide you could buy at the end with all the information in there.

Hufflepuff in action at Warner Brothers Studio Tour

There were queues, but we were prepared for it after our last visit. I’d say we got through quicker in some areas too. We stopped for lunch at the Backlot Cafe whose only vegetarian burger option was a mushroom one (sob, not all vegetarians like mushrooms!). Fortunately there are sandwiches too.

Warner Brothers Studio Tour Night Bus, JK Rowling Quote and around a table
The Knight Bus, us around a table and a JK Rowling quote.

As before, H got her passport to look for Golden Snitches and stamp each page when she had spotted them, and even though they were in the same places it still took a while to find them (another good reason to leave a gap between visits!).

The Forbidden Forest was great – and a welcome addition to the tour. Inside is a moving Hippogriff (of course) and several moving Acromantula. Not one for arachnophobics – fortunately we’re not!

Forbidden Forest at WB Studios Tour
One of the smaller spiders in the Forbidden Forest and Buckbeak – a brand new model which moves too!

Over in the second part of the studio tour was a section where it showed the different stages where Dobby was animated. I don’t remember from last time – and it was brilliant. Cue loads of happy kids getting Dobby to Dab. Try saying that quickly…

Dabbing with Dobby at the Warner Brothers Studio tour
There was an interactive Dobby section where you could control him. Cue lots of kids making Dobby Dab.

H got Dobby to do the Macarena. Or maybe it’s the locomotion. I have no idea which song was in her head at the time…

We managed to spend six hours at Hogwarts in the Snow in the end. The model of Hogwarts at the end all decorated in one of the types of snow used in the films was as ever, impressive.

Two Dumbledores at the WB Harry Potter Studio Tour. Will there be three soon?
Two Dumbledores at the WB Harry Potter Studio Tour. Will there be three when Fantastic Beasts joins the Harry Potter world?

If you plan to visit and haven’t been for a while, then I think you’ll get a lot from seeing Hogwarts in the Snow. I know we’ll be visiting again once the Fantastic Beasts ephemera has been added, and I can’t wait to see it!

Hogwarts in the Snow Great Hall and Gryffindor common room

Bill and the Little Red Plane by Jonathan Walker and Rosaria Costa

Have you ever wondered where swifts go when the seasons change, and they fly away? In Bill and the Little Red Plane, Bill wonders just that. We have been sent a copy of the book to review.

Bill and the Little Red Plane by Jonathan Walker

Bill and the Little Red Plane tells the story of Bill who is playing outside watching the swifts fly away. He’s wondering where they go, when he sees a little red plane in the sky which does a loop the loop.

He’s taken to an airfield, where he gets to ride the little red plane. The pilot, Edward, wants to know one thing – where would Bill like to go? Bill says he’d like to follow the swifts.

So Bill and Edward keep flying, following the swifts and seeing the different countries they fly over from their plane. Eventually the swifts end their journey in a rainforest in Africa, and it’s time for Bill and Edward to head home.

Bill and the Little Red Plane by Jonathan Walker illustrations

Bill and the Little Red Plane is a lovely book for nature lovers, written by Jonathan Walker and illustrated by Rosaria Costa. This is a great way to introduce children to birds. There are lots of facts about swifts once the story has finished too.

I would put this book at Reception-age children upwards. It’s one which can be read aloud easily but is also good for a first longer reading book as well.

Bill and the Little Red Plane by Jonathan Walker swift facts

Bill and the Little Red Plane also has a Story Monsters Approved patch and a five star badge from Readers Favourites. Both awards are voted for by children.

You can find out more here, Bill and the Little Red Plane is published by Chirpy Stories and is available now!

We were sent a copy of Bill and the Little Red Plane for the purpose of review. All opinions are our own. 

Mazuri Kids Haircare Range

We have been trying some Mazuri Kids Haircare products – a shampoo, conditioner and detangler.

bottles of mazuri kids haircare

Mazuri Kids Haircare products are organic. This is important as I’ve often found that what goes onto H’s head isn’t always the best. Shampoos that contain sulfates make my head itch, so I like to keep things as natural as possible for H too.

We don’t use conditioner as often as we should so were delighted to try the Mazuri Kids Olive Oil Sweetie Pie Detangling Conditioner. I loved the waves that came back to her hair; as a baby she had lovely curly ringlets. While the ringlets didn’t reappear, it definitely helped her hair’s appearance.

Wavy hair using Mazuri Kids Haircare natural products

Mazuri Kids Olive Oil Sweetie Pie Softening Detangling Conditioner, has a blend of olive oil, blueberry extracts and silk protein which forms a softening,
detangling conditioner. Considering H’s hair is pretty tangly every day, this has definitely helped.

The Olive Oil Shampoozie Detangling shampoo is really gentle, has olive oil in it and I feel has really improved her hair. It’s always looking nice and shiny and healthy.  Made from hydrating olive oil, honey and aloe vera extracts, it’s very soft and mild and helps her tangly hair. You only need a small amount too!

mazuri kids haircare curls in hair
One thing we have big issues with is how tangly her hair gets. You can often find her screaming at me in the morning if I brush her hair with all the tangles. Add a bit of the Mazuri Kids Snookums 3 in 1 detangler to her hair and I have a happy girl.

Mazuri Kids haircare products are organic and made by mums for kids. They cost £2.97 each and a bottle lasts for ages. Given H washes her hair three times a week, we still have a lot left in our bottles!

We were sent the Mazuri Kids haircare products for the purpose of review. All opinions are our own. You can buy the products now from Morrisons and Tesco stores.

2017 – Our Year in Review.

2017 hasn’t been our best year. I’ve been the one who has sucked the joy out of the party like a death eater (Harry Potter reference there, folks). I’ve been the one who when asked how I’m doing, has someone close to me who isn’t doing well. It has been one of those years. Something I’m very conscious of. So from now onwards, let’s focus on the good, or at least try to.

hever castle
In 2017 we took out a Historic Houses Association membership and discovered loads of new places. That was a REALLY good move, and one I’d recommend. We still have our Royal Historic Palaces, English Heritage and National Trust memberships too. We’ve been to Hever Castle and rowed on the lake for my birthday, to visiting Alnwick Castle and doing Harry Potter related things.
Alnwick Castle Broomstick training
Australia will have to be mentioned because, well, it’s Australia. We had an unexpected trip after a death in the family. My work were brilliant, and I managed to work remotely from there while doing everything else. We were able to visit places in between working and I found a happy medium without having to dump everything on my workmates while we were out there. I love Australia and still dream of moving out there one day.
cuddling duck at Coombe Mill

The summer holidays felt like they were a long way away, so when they came it was good to stop.

Coombe Mill was our Cornwall base, followed by Woodspring Farm Hut near Weston Super Mare. It was where H grew in confidence – and she wasn’t pushing herself, just following her own instincts.
Woodspring Farm Hut
H started in Year 4 and for a short while I became “that mum” – the one who insists she stepped out of her comfort zone and attend an after school club, doing Young Voices. Up to now she hadn’t had any interest in singing in public so it was quite a jump. The added bonus was her teachers from last year run it.
She came out having had the most wonderful time and is looking forward to joining lots of other schoolkids and singing at the O2 in January. I’m really looking forward to trying to find her! It works out cheaper than a gig too, so I think it’s a win-win situation.

H is still swimming and switched classes again. By the end of 2017 she had gained her Bronze award. I know she’s ready to move onto a bigger pool and depths, though she has swimming with school this year so we’re holding off until September. At the moment she’s working on her 800 metre badge, so we’ll see how that one goes!
H gets her bronze swimming

It goes without saying, football has played a big part of our lives in 2017.

We worked with the FA to help promote women’s football, and H started playing every weekend with Crystal Palace Wildcats.
SSE Wildcats Girls Football Club, FA Girls' Football Week 2017
She’s starting a new term there from January, has made lots of new friends and they all even got to be mascots at a Crystal Palace Ladies game which was great fun (and very cold). While she may never play football competitively, she’s having so much fun. I like that she’s doing an activity where she didn’t know anyone at all and has made new friends.
We’ve watched Tottenham Ladies a couple of times now and our aim for 2018 is to catch a Tottenham game at Wembley just the once.
We bought a new car in 2017. After having had an old Vauxhall Astra, we switched to a Skoda Fabia. I love it! The car suits me and my driving – it’s not too big and not too small. It fits quite a lot in it and has sensors for parking too. My downfall in our last car was when I reversed into a bollard and dented it…
We took out a PCP deal to buy the car, and with Shaun working from home this meant the money we save in him travelling to the office now pays off the car. We’ll do more trips next year as my biggest problem with getting anywhere was whether our old car could do it. Oh, and we had a carbon monoxide problem with the car too.
Gas Safety Week 2017 poster, 2017
Carbon monoxide. That was a busy week. I was one of the case studies for Gas Safety Week 2017 (it doesn’t mention this blog at all so you wouldn’t know), speaking about my experience of Carbon Monoxide poisoning. I intend to work with Project Shout Co in 2018 too. We have to keep shouting.

Our year ends on a quieter note, with a visit to the Roald Dahl Museum and a trip to see Hogwarts in the Snow at the Warner Brother Studios. There will be reviews to follow in the new year, and always photos on my Instagram.

I get the feeling that while I will never stop blogging, this slower pace of updating is where we are. Essentially I am now working four jobs – my dayjob, this blog, my PTA responsibilities and finally of course the work I do with Brownies as a Leader in Training. Oh, and parenting too.
2018 will be about finding a better balance in my work – home life. We’ll get out more and I’ll blog about it more.
We’ve enjoyed staying in a yurt and a shepherds hut this year. I’d love to think we’ll go camping at some point too.
I never do resolutions, mainly as I’d forget them. We can leave 2017 with our heads held high and know that we’re out of it intact and that’s all that counts.
Happy New Year, and all the best for 2018!

Coombe Mill – Our Summer Trip to Cornwall

This summer we went back to Cornwall for a third year, and decided we’d stay at Coombe Mill. We join in with Country Kids as much as we can, and enjoy the outdoors. Just follow Coombe Mill’s Instagram and you’ll see the beautiful scenery and fun on the farm.

Coombe Mill is in St Breward, near Bodmin. It’s a working farm, something I had a lot of questions about, because I’m a curious person who likes to know stuff. I’ve often wondered if owning a farm and rearing your own animals means you could eat them. We soon found out that the animals without names were the ones which went! H was doing her Brownie ‘Friend to Animals’ badge there and learned a lot of facts which helped too.

Coombe Mill Scandinavian Lodges, Coombe Mill at Christmas

We stayed in Trebah, a Scandinavian style lodge which was cosy and comfortable and had everything we needed. You have a washing machine and a dryer which came in handy as we had a lot of rain. We also had a wood burning stove which kept us really toasty on the more chilly nights.

Two doors down was The Boy and Me gang so H had a playmate, and over by the train tracks was Jo from Mummy Needs Wine. It was a proper blogger get-together!

So what does Coombe Mill offer? For H, freedom. We live in London and I get twitchy enough her going to post things at neighbours houses. We joined the feed run every morning, and H got to drive the tractor with Farmer Nick twice which she really enjoyed.

driving the tractor at Coombe Mill

She learned facts about the animals, picked them up and by the end of the week was way more confident with them than at the start.

cuddling hen at Coombe Mill

Bear in mind as we rent we can’t have pets, and she has never spent a chunk of time around animals this was a big deal for her. By the end of the week she was picking up hens and rabbits without a care. At the start of the week there were a few strops when they didn’t just magically come to her!

catching rabbits at coombe mill

Coombe Mill is in a great location with several places close by. As ever we ran out of time to do everything we wanted to. We discovered the fabulous beach at Perranporth and are trying to plan next year’s holiday. That may be a part of it…

Coombe Mill is a great place to stay. It’s somewhere you could stay through the day and still have plenty to do. Aside from the feed run there’s the daily train ride from Coombe Halt which H insisted we HAD to go to. H even got a circuit on her own!

We loved watching the wild deer every morning on the feed run.

I loved opening the doors and listening to it all. The river, the birds, the animals. I started to breathe again, to relax. But then all of a sudden our week was over – it flew by! I wish you could bottle it up so I could have some to remind me of the calm.

The thing I loved the most was meeting parents every morning on the feed run and chatting. Everyone was so friendly – and H made new friends. She’s sending a Christmas card to a girl she met at Coombe Mill as they swapped addresses and write to each other.

Our last night we had an outdoor barbecue with the bloggers, and it was a lovely end to a lovely week. The kids all played around us, their age differences didn’t matter as they all got stuck in and enjoyed each other’s company. You can’t beat that as far as holidays go.

The Coombe Mill website is here.

Obviously we’re linking in to Country Kids again!

Country Kids
 

Lego Star Wars Sustainable Advent Calendar 2017

It has become something of a tradition in this house every December that we buy H a Lego Advent Calendar. This year, however, things have changed for the better. Lego have launched a Lego Star Wars sustainable Advent Calendar!

The Lego Star Wars sustainable Advent Calendar looks exactly the same as previous years. Each container which holds your Lego surprise is made from 100% Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paper which can be recycled along with the box.

Lego Star Wars Sustainable Advent Calendar 2017 - what it looks like

Given previous Lego Advent Calendars have had a plastic tray, this is a big and good move forward as far as reducing waste goes. That will save over a million plastic trays going to landfill sites.

Of course, rather than just recycling the trays, there are several other uses for them.. I’m thinking of a way we could use ours at Brownie meetings – they would make great seed trays to grow something in the new year.

Checking this video, I’m tempted to have a go at a few Stormtroopers too.

Then again… my attempt looks a bit like an ageing Stormtrooper! Still, we have plenty of others to practice on! Have you tried to make any? Share your pictures if so, I’d love to see!

Lego Star Wars Sustainable Advent Calendar 2017 Stormtrooper craft from the tray, easy crafting using Lego Star Wars recyclable trays

What I love the most about the Lego Star Wars Sustainable Advent Calendar is that it reduces landfill. This is such a good thing, and more companies should take this on board – it isn’t difficult to make little changes like this.

H’s Lego Star Wars advent calendar also has her current favourite in there, alas not due until Christmas Eve…Lego Star Wars Sustainable Advent Calendar 2017, Christmas BB-8 from the 24th December

Maybe next year it will be a Lego Porg….

The paper pulp tray is starting to appear this year and is available in approximately 60% of advent calendars. The advent calendar paper trays are one of the product innovations to improve the sustainability of LEGO packaging. The LEGO Group is working on improved product labelling to promote correct recycling, and recycled or bio based plastic packaging, among other initiatives.

Since 2013, the average size of LEGO boxes has been reduced by 14%. Using smaller boxes has so far saved approximately 10.000 truckloads, over 20.000 tonnes of cardboard, and CO2 emissions by 35.000 tonnes.

We received a Lego Star Wars Sustainable Advent Calendar for the purpose of review, all opinions are our own.