Friday, 1 February 2019

Keeping Calm Over the Holidays

Hands holding Heart decoration alongside Santa hat

The holidays are an exciting time, full of wonder and magic, Christmas songs and yuletide spirit. It’s also a time that plenty of people experience stress, whether it’s about money, people, workload or simply how you are planning to get everyone around the dinner table. It can quickly sour the Christmas spirit and put plenty of parents off enjoying this special holiday. Especially when so much effort goes into it and after one day, it’s all over, with what seems like a mountain of rubbish as the only thing left over.

If you are someone that feels your blood-pressure rising, as I regularly do, at simply the mention of Christmas time, consider these tips for keeping calm over the festive holidays.

Avoid the Christmas Crush

Shopping at Christmas time is one of the hardest ways to spend your day, not only are the crowds densely packed in the hope of a festive bargain but lots of people tend to lose their heads while out over the season. Between pushing and shoving and shoppers treating unsuspecting retail workers with a terrible lack of respect, it can put you off ever stepping out of your house in the month of December.

If you enjoy the shopping experience, don’t trust the post or simply need to get out of the house to get the essentials sorted, Google has put together a fantastic tool that lets you see when a specific shop, shopping centre or supermarket is at it’s most busy. If you aren’t able to check the tool, early weekday mornings are always a safe bet before the lunchtime rush or if you are lucky enough to have a 24-hour supermarket or shopping mall near you, very early morning, between 1am – 5am is usually desolate of shoppers. Meaning you can avoid the lines and shop carefree to your hearts content. 

Travel Early or Late After Christmas

If you’ve ever tried to get around anywhere on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day or on the day before or after any special event, you know that travel can be more hassle than it’s worth. Rather than plan to travel on the days either side of Christmas, try to plan your travel further in advance and avoid weekends where possible as these will always be busy, whether using rail, road or air. If you plan and book your travel in advance, you may also be able to save money on your travel tickets by getting advance tickets, this can be a considerable difference and give you a little more to spend in the shops on someone special. 

Your time has value, so avoid getting stuck in the rush hour traffic queues and last-minute cancelled trains and spend less time travelling and more time relaxing this Christmas time.

Move Your Family Christmas

While traditionally Christmas is celebrated on the 25th December, it is up to your family when to gather around, share stories of the year and exchange gifts with each other. If work schedules are not lining up or you know you can’t face the last-minute travel or stressed guests, consider holding your family Christmas on another day between 25th until the 1st January or even before 25th December! The freedom of celebrating a holiday is completely up to you and everyone deserves to enjoy the holiday so consider holding your Christmas day later on and beat the traffic, Christmas crowds and usual stress that goes with the holiday.

Give Back This Christmas

Feeling the stress already? Want to make yourself feel better? Why not use the giving part of Christmas to give something back? Whether it’s to your community or a specific charity, it’s been proven that generosity, volunteering and showing kindness to each other can make us feel happier. Not only our own good moods, we also have the fantastic benefit of showing someone kindness that may have had a hard year and making their Christmas a joyful time. 

Christmas is only one day and while the season is an exciting one, there’s no need to stress year after year over the “perfect Christmas”. Instead, focus on getting together with those you care about, supporting people in need and reaching to others in your community that might not have any one else. You’ll find that your stress levels reduce when you aren’t focused on getting everything “just right” and just place attention on enjoying yourself.

Christmas doesn't have to look like this:
Collaborative post

Monday, 10 December 2018

Spectacle of Light Sudeley Castle 2018 REVIEW

Where What When?

We were invited to Sudeley Castle & Gardens Spectacle of Light situated on the outskirts of Winchcombe in the Cotswolds, between Cheltenham and Broadway - an hour's drive for us from our house in Bristol. Winchcombe is so very pretty this is a Cotswolds' town that hasn't held back on tasteful exquisite Christmas lights displayed beautifully on both commercial high street properties and residential homes alike. So leave for Sudeley Castle in good time (we arrived 20 minutes early) so that you can drive through this village slowly to fully appreciate it. What a lovely build up to the main "spectacle" itself.

We attended on the launch night Saturday 8th December for the 7pm session. I've not been to anything like this before so based my expectations on the YouTube videos I quickly watched. The night of course way surpassed our expectations, as this is a spectacle after all and spectacular things have to be seen with one's own eyes in real life, to be truly believed.

Night Photography

The only problem with magnificent sights is trying to capture what you see with your eyes to match what you see on screen when you take a photograph in limited natural light, night sky conditions.  My Sony Cybershot soon made it known to me that it couldn't cope with the night sky along with the glare of the decorative lights, so I resorted to using my Samsung Galaxy S6 phone camera. I did then capture a couple of pics I was happy with. I will say though that my friend Aleks outdid herself with her photography on the night so the majority of the pics here are hers - I'll let you know when they're not. My favourite postcard style pic of hers is this first one as I love the contrast of the foreground and the background. However when you're a parent of course favourite pics are reserved for the ones that capture magical moments with your kids in so these feature too.

What's a Bouquet?

I think the very first thing we came to on the trail after leaving real life Alice and her little pop up shop, was a wishing tree. You write a wish on a piece of paper which has glass on the back and then knot it on a tree. They all jingle against each other in the wind like wind chimes. I didn't capture a picture here. Whilst I was feeling quite moved by this and found it incredibly touching, Aaron being an 8 year old boy decided to CLIMB THE TREE> yes I moved swiftly on before we were thrown out by security. In some ways I am glad it happened as the speaking to I then gave him, set the tone, and meant his behaviour was better for the remainder of our visit. We only had to speak to them twice *face palms* about staying within the ropes that lay out the official pathway of the trail. Okay I digress....

Back to what is a bouquet which is the question I asked Aleks on the night..... despite being a blogger since 2008 I've never owned a DSLR so was clueless till now. Now I am at a computer and can research, it turns out it is actually what is a BOKEH? Well all I know is that after the Wishing Tree and before the White Rabbit there is a lit up tree with balls that rotate in colour and then go to darkness before the cycle goes on again. Aleks positioned tripod and kids and it seemed everytime a pic was taken it was at the point where the illumination momentarily darkened but somehow she caught this BOKEH magic below.

It was too much to expect so early on in the trail that our boys who could sense an adventure was ahead, would actually pose and stand still for this picture opportunity.

Bokeh for Boys

As if we'd leave them out :-)

Follow the White Rabbit along the new illuminated trail!

There is an Alice in Wonderland theme this year which works really well and literally transported our kids to another world so much so that Aaron made me put the DVD on the minute we got home, so it was a very late night for us but he was still up by 9 am Sunday with Lottie serving as an alarm clock for us all. 

Sudeley Castle themselves say "a wonderful experience for all ages" and that literally couldn't be more accurate. My son at 8 years of age going on 10, along with his very like minded friend loved it as much or more than their two Sisters aged 2 and 4 (who will be 3 and 5 in January). All 4 are very outdoorsie kids so this was a real treat for them. We were blessed that apart from a few sprinkles the rain largely held off and it was quite mild too so I didn't feel the need for gloves scarves and hat at any point despite us being there for over 2 hours.

Early on in the trail there is a bit where Alice is talking to the cat, and it's an illuminated projected slideshow that changes the cat in the tree from having a cheshire smile and only a smile to being a normal curled up cat. You can hear Alice's voice and this mesmerised the kids for quite some time. This is quite true to the story, so well done Sudeley Castle and Spectacle of Light:

The Cheshire Cat appears in a tree, directing her to the March Hare's house. He disappears but his grin remains behind to float on its own in the air prompting Alice to remark that she has often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat. Source: Alice in Wonderland Wikipedia

The kids being engaged means there's plenty of time for adults to take photos and it also means they don't run too far ahead with me worrying they will get lost. They were never more than 10 or 20 metres ahead as they'd always stopped to look at something fascinating up ahead. It also helped that all 4 of them had a light toy each as they quite often got busy with these. I must say I have bought many of these type toys over the years but these were superior quality to anything I've had in the past so I didn't at all resent spending the fiver. Daddy was very impressed too with the quality and commented unprompted.

Neither of our girls had buggies with them but the whole route is buggy friendly and there were just a couple of times throughout with a few steps. There are also circa 15 staff members scattered throughout to answer any questions you may have. They are non intrusive (no tacky high vis here) and just steer you on your way only when needed.

The white rabbit and clocks below are very early on in the trail to set the theme firmly in your mind and even before that there is a cabin with a real human Alice in Wonderland herself selling illuminated light toys. This is simply because you may not enter the shop as you enter the trail. We'd already bought ours in the shop for 5GBP each though as I had to pop in to confirm that I was on the guest list. Alice in Wonderland who is positioned just after the entrance let us into the cabin just behind her to get photos with King Henry the VIII. My photos aren't great but we did have fun there.

If you're anything like me, the minute you hear the Salvation Army playing Christmas music you feel very festive. They were positioned at the very start of the trail and opened our hearts for what was to come.

When you see Alice and Humpty Dumpty below, in front of you, know that you are very near the refreshments. There is a stall on this terrace selling hot drinks and donuts. This is where we grabbed hot chocolates for 3GBP each.

The Moon

Shortly after seeing the White Rabbit and clocks there is a semi circle on the water, which when the reflection is added, looks like a full moon. This had to be my favourite picture on Instagram when I was browsing the Spectacle of Light hashtag. Trying to actually capture it on camera though is another thing but Aleks olczia1 on Instagram managed it in style:


Can someone assist? What are these flowers below? I know they are lights but what flower are they based on? I was fixated by them and took many a picture of them, from both sides (you see them twice in the trail and the second rear view is superior). Once again it is a photo from Aleks which translates the magic to screen. I think she once again set up the tripod for this shot and I know that she had more than 1 lens with her. 


3 minute Light Show with Music and Water

When we arrived at the location of the 3 minute musical light show, the girls shared some chocolate coins, which was very sweet. I videoed the whole of this but haven't had chance to edit ANY of my footage yet but did share some on Instagram stories at the time. This is a very magical part of the trail and is a surprise as it is not mentioned on the website or on any of the literature. It's truly magical.

Mad Hatter: "Have you seen Alice?"

So just after we watched the light display, a staff member very politely approached us to let us know we were only a third of the way round. We then knew we needed to pick up the pace as the website says you can do it in 60-75 minutes and it took us over 2 hours in total. The Mad Hatter was clearly sent back to catch us, but Moa Myerson is SUCH a good actress that she did so IN CHARACTER and such are the confidence levels of our 4 children they responded as such and what unfolded would have made a stage play of its very own. I haven't laughed so much in a long time and the Mad Hatter did justice to the nonsense of the literary talk in the story itself. "That way is nowhere and that way is everywhere" oh it got so very confusing. And EVERYBODY wanted to be Alice. I shared it all in Instagram stories at the time but they've since expired.

“Cat: Where are you going?
Alice: Which way should I go?
Cat: That depends on where you are going.
Alice: I don’t know.
Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

A picture I actually took myself - NewMumOnline

I ACTUALLY took this one with my phone and what with the castle in the background and the spotlight ON The Mad Hatter I am very proud of it - it's on Instagram naturally. Well done Samsung Galaxy S6 phone camera.
 We've sent this one to Moa herself. Well done Aleks she loves this photo:

This is only a pic taken on my phone but had to include it as I love the way Sophie is looking over
 Back to stunning pics from Aleks:

Instagram Worthy

Every venue/event worth its salt has a selfie opportunity available and this is the Spectacle of Light Sudeley Castle one. Getting 4 kids on there was no mean feat and probably isn't allowed. I only took this on my phone so it won't win any photo awards but this pic below and the one I took of the Mad Hatter in the spotlight are my two winners that I will hold onto from the night whilst also enjoying the breath taking memories Aleks has captured for our photo albums. When the memories fade the photos won't. But that aside I don't think the kids will be forgetting this night out anytime soon and the Mad Hatter was certainly a huge highlight. All 4 of the kids just ADORED her. 

Although Aleks didn't take this heart selfie pic below, she totally stage managed getting the kids up there. First of all the boys wouldn't make room for the girls. Then we worked around their feet and then the girls decided they weren't sharing the limited space. It was funny rather than frustrating and this photo is one of my favourites despite its poor quality in terms of sharpness etc....

I'll sign off now but leave you with some more picture postcards below from Aleks.

Our entrance was covered free of charge as we were invited to review the Spectacle of Light. I was gifted the experience in return for social shares but decided it was too good not to blog about and such did we love it I have already done 2 Instagram posts and will do more. I have not at all been told what to say and this whole gushing about how good it was is totally my idea and all my own words except where quotes are clear. Official Spectacle of Light information below, but go to their website for the freshest most up to date info: 

8-9 December, 13-23 December, 27-30 December 2018
Each evening the Spectacle is a continuous experience with five entry time slots from 5:00pm onwards. This is designed to ensure that everyone is able to enjoy the Spectacle in the best possible light.
When you book you can decide your time of entry subject to availability. It should be stressed that you must be at the entrance at the chosen time as tickets are only valid for that time and are not transferable.
A typical walk will take approximately 60 -75 minutes, although if you wish to stay longer you are very welcome.

Advance Tickets*

On The Day Tickets**

Adult 16+ £15.75Adult 16+ £17.50
Child 3-15 £9.90Child 3-15 £11.00
Family 2+2 £44.55Family 2+2 £49.50
Under 3’s FreeUnder 3’s Free
Disability Carer FreeDisability Carer Free

*10% Discounted Advance Tickets are only bookable online, by phone or in person through the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham.
**Full Price ‘On the Day’ Tickets are only bookable in person from Sudeley Castle Visitor Centre from 4.00pm on the day.



Advance Tickets are available to buy online now, by phone on 01242 705555 or in person at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham.
Sudeley Members receive a 30% discount with the appropriate code.
ON THE DAY tickets will be available for shows currently listed as Sold Out

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

The Snowman Sadlers Wells London with Birmingham Repertory Theatre REVIEW

We saw The Snowman at The Peacock Theatre on Saturday 24th November. Lucky enough to attend the Press Show - it was truly magical, but then I knew this as we have been to see The Snowman before, taking 2 of our nieces, the difference being that Lottie was in my tummy at the time - in fact I was 7 months' pregnant and had a very large bump.  Daddy didn't come last time so I was very looking forward to seeing it as a family of four. In the days leading up to the show, I literally couldn't wait to share the magic of The Snowman with Lottie and even as I started this blog post a week ago, she was glued watching The Snowman animation on YouTube as she's a totally signed up The Snowman fan now. There are lots of clips to get you excited: here!

What good timing as this year The Snowman is 40!

There are The Snowman activities happening nationwide but what we saw was:

The Peacock, Sadler's Wells, London 22 Nov-6 Jan 2019
Birmingham Repertory Theatre 16-26 January 2019
Click here to book
You'll recognise the classic The Snowman story from Raymond Briggs' book and the music score by Howard Blake, from the animation!
What you get with the theatre production is the incredible ballet. 
Not only that but show stopping acting, costumes, music and set design. Until Jack Frost came on stage, the boy was by far Aaron's favourite character and I think it's mainly because of the sheer amount of dancing he does and we all know Aaron never ever stops dancing, whether it's Fortnite dances or just moving for the sheer sake of moving. It helped that the boy seems like he's aged 8, 9 or 10 so I think my Aaron could really relate to him. It's a show for all ages as it captivates the audience in a trance and even my hard to impress husband didn't fidget once! In fact I looked around a few times as I was dying to see how RocknRollerBaby's Raffie at only 1 years of age would react to the show but he was totally in the zone with eyes glued on stage. This is proof positive that the show is at a pace that doesn't disappoint.

This is my two, Aaron eight and Lottie two 
They're on the way in below and not nearly as excited and full of fun as they look on the way out after getting The Snowman treatment! There's something magical about live theatre that is hard to beat. Despite us reviewing this as guests of the theatre I would hand on heart say it is worth every penny of the ticket price.

At this point any snow man is exciting. Lottie hasn't yet had any exposure to THE Snowman:

In our seats 20 minutes early...
Some empty seats left and right of us below but only because we are in our stalls seats approximately 20 minutes early how eager are we! But very soon Over 40 and a Mum To One was sitting directly in front of us which was lovely - her review here:

And my friend Ruth and family were to our left. Her review here:

It was very lovely to see Jennie from Edspire on the way out of the theatre and her review in here:

It was a FULL HOUSE daytime show...
we saw which meant the atmosphere was electric or in turn very hushed during emotional scenes like when The Snowman became a puddle. What I will tell you is EVERYONE had children with them and a lot of them very young, so much so that there was a huge buggy park, yet there wasn't once where I felt the show was disturbed by tantrums, yelling or crying. Nope! These were mesmerised captivated happy children who very much enjoyed the show they'd come to see. I'm sure we all left feeling full of festive cheer. I know my heart was full to bursting when I left there and the show officially opened Christmas 2018 for me, well I must say for us as all 4 of us enjoyed it and that's despite Aaron being reluctant and Daddy normally being hard to impress. I was so busy worrying about everyone else that I think they were actually even more absorbed in it than me. And thankfully Aaron had forgotten a lot of what he saw Christmas 2015 so there were many bits he thought he was watching for the 1st time, like the fruit dancing and Jack Frost who he was gripped by! I do think that ballerina Princess has a case for Me Too with all of Jack Frost's unsolicited advances. Thank God The Snowman was there to protect her.

It really is a show of two halves...
as the mood of the show is entirely different before and after the Interval. The 1st half climaxes with the Walking in The Air dance and song we all know and love and is the conclusion to the moving story of how the boy and The Snowman get together. The second half includes lots of high energy dancing and Santa himself and feels like it has more of an upbeat kind of panto atmosphere, so there is certainly something for everyone.

The must have pic outside like we took in 2015...
We waited quite a while to take this pic below, to let the crowds die down, but people were still spilling out on to the pavement in large numbers and Ruth was inside speaking on camera with family to Sadlers Wells on what they thought of the show. We didn't stay much longer after saying hello and grabbing a hug, or 3, as we had a Snap coach to catch for our trip back to Bristol...

A very happy Lottie just look at that smile...
The two of them were on a high after the show and we all felt warm, snuggly, festive and full of heart. Good, fun festive theatre just what you need. I much prefer it to panto if I'm honest.

This is the official trailer for the show:

Production Credits
The stage show based upon the book by Raymond Briggs and the film directed by Dianne Jackson and produced by John Coates
Music and lyrics by Howard Blake
Design by Ruari Murchison  
Lighting design by Tim Mitchell          
Choreography by Robert North
Directed by Bill Alexander
By Arrangement with Snowman Enterprises Limited (A Penguin Company) and Chester Music Limited

The Peacock, Sadler's Wells, London 22 Nov-6 Jan 2019
Birmingham Repertory Theatre 16-26 January 2019
Click here to book

We saw the show as guests of Sadlers Wells.