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Birmingham Sea Life Centre – mini review

Is the sea life centre really a whole day out? According to many TripAdvisor reviews it is not! We put it to the test.

We arrived later knowing it wouldn’t likely be a full day out and I tacked on a behind the scenes tour, which was fine but a bit short. My son seemed to enjoy it. He did get to hold a shark egg, see a giant shark tooth and name a baby sea creature.


We then started our tour around the centre. We played the stamping game on the way round (which gained him a medal at the end).

Our highlights of the centre were the guitar fish, no they don’t actually play guitar (anymore, they are retired)! Touching a star fish and an anemone. I was surprised by how brave Nate was. We found Dory (and Nemo), sharks, stingray, jelly fish, octopus and a large array of aquatic life.


The Octonauts 4D show was definitely a highlight. It was lovely to rest my weary feet for 12 minutes and it was a lot of fun. There were bubbles, movement and we got wet!


My favourite part was watching the giant sea turtle in the tunnel. The sea creatures swim below, above and around, it is so awe-inspiring. We found out in the behind the scenes tour that they rescued the turtle from a woman’s handbag! It was smuggled into the country in a handbag! Nate loved that story and told it to everyone.


After we completed an entire circuit of the centre we left for a late lunch at Eds Diner opposite (yum). Then came back for another go round, we saw things we didn’t see last time, the octopus wasn’t hiding second time around. We saw penguins under the water and Nate stared out a shark!


So we arrived at 11:45 and left at 4pm with a long lunch break in the middle. So technically it is not a day out but it is a wonderful way to spend a few hours and you can leave and return later to extend it further. It is not as good as the Weymouth Sea Life centre. But we did have a fabulous time.

 

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Top Films of 2017…so far!

I really think this is the year of movies. I cannot believe how many amazing movies I have already seen this year and we are only half way through.

First, I just want to mention one that was technically out last year (2016) but deserves an honourable mention, because it was so darn good!

1.Collateral Beauty

will smith image

This was, by far, my favourite movie of last year. It had some real talent too – Will Smith was the stellar performer but there were other stars that can not be ignored: Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Edward Norton oh yeah and Helen Mirren! The subject is actually about Will Smith trying (and failing) to cope with the death of his daughter, and he is failing so bad (can’t blame him) that his friends intervene, and bring in some actors to try and help him deal with his pain. Will Smith sends out letters to the Universe, to Love, Death and Time. In bringing in these actors to help their bereaved friend (acting out the roles of Death, Love and Time), the actors end up helping all of the the friends with their issues too. It was so heart-warming, sad, funny and the acting was superb – except Helen Mirren who was deliberately playing a bad actor – hilarious role reversal. Edward Norton was so warm in the scenes with his daughter, he was so believable I wouldn’t be surprised if I found out the actor was his real daughter. Despite the subject of the movie being about loss it is not actually as sad as you would think. Get this movie, like yesterday!

Moving on now to 2017:

2. Miss Sloane

Check our my in-depth review if you like, but in summary it is about a scarily-driven woman who works towards changing gun laws to ensure that those who want to buy a gun (in America) have to wait a few weeks. Which, if they don’t already, they really should institute that. The movie is exciting and powerful. Jessica Chastain steals the show.

3. Hidden Figures

Three African-American women in the 1960s played instrumental roles in sending man into space and to the moon. Who knew? Certainly it is the untold story of a story told many times. It is always hard for me to watch how black people were treated back then, it is good to be reminded how far we have come, but it still makes me gulp, and tut and sulk when I watch people, with a different skin colour, being treated as lesser human-beings. This is brought home so powerfully with the sound of running heels…the main character running 10 minutes away to use the “Colored” bathrooms, seriously, that actually happened? Who ever thought that up should be ashamed! If you liked this movie, I highly suggest you read Jodie Piccoult’s latest novel “Small Great Things”. It is really hard to read, but again, powerful!

4. Can I be Me?

whitney houston

This is a documentary about the life of Whitney Houston. I love Whitney, doesn’t everyone from my generation? But I really didn’t know that much about her, so I felt like I really got to know here in this movie. They interviewed all of her family, friends and those she worked with and there were many clips, interviews and live footage of the lady herself. I especially loved seeing the more candid videos of her getting ready for a show, or playing around with Bobby, I felt like I got to know her. I also feel sad knowing more now about the drugs and what led to her death. So sad. If you like this movie I suggest you read the Biography (Remembering Whitney) written by her mum (Cissy Houston), for even more insight. It is eye-opening, fascinating and so very touching, her mum loved her so much and was kept so much in the dark!

5. Lion

I would be remiss if I did not mention the multi-award winning movie. I may not have enjoyed it as much as some of the others I have seen this year, I did enjoy it, well as much as you can enjoy watching a lost 5 year old boy try to find his way home. Saroo finds his way on a train late one night (whilst awaiting his brother) and the mammoth train journey takes him to a part of India where they don’t even speak his language, and due to his young age, his pronunciation of his home town means that even the Police cannot help him find home. Eventually he is adopted by a couple in Australia, but can he ever find his way home? Despite the distraction of Nicole Kidman’s hair, it was powerful, sad and heart-warming. I felt more sad having a 5 year old myself. I cannot imagine my little boy being in such a situation, it did form a lump in my throat. Note: The first half of the movie has subtitles.

6. Beauty and the Beast

beauty and the beast film review

Growing up this was always my favourite Disney movie, I know it by heart, I know all the words to the songs, which is why it was so great that they kept the same songs. I love this version because its like Beauty and the Beast for grown-ups. Watching back the animated version, it really is aimed at children, with its sillyness that I now find annoying. The grown up version didn’t have that and I enjoyed it more. The only slight annoyance was Emma Stone’s singing voice. It was very nice, but way to British. Im British and I love to sing, but pronouncing your T’s when you sing just sounds way too posh and stage-schooly! That’s my opinion any way. I really liked Lafoo in this version, and so loved the hint that he might be gay!

7. Gifted

Feel free to check out my in-depth review. This was about a young girl who is being brought up by her uncle, and on starting school they find out that she is a genius, but Uncle and Grandmother fight in a custody battle over whether she should attend a special school to develop her talent or stay in a regular public school. It was a beautiful and charming little movie.

8. Despicable Me 3

minion eating banana

It is hilarious, there are minions, need I say more? Okay then, well actually the minions do not star in this one, like they did in the Minions Movie, so it is hard seeing them take a back seat, and because they leave Gru, they feature even less. But the addition of a clueless I-don’t-know-how-to-be-evil twin brother does make it entertaining, and it is sweet watching Lucy trying to be the mother, oh yeah and Agnes find a unicorn (its so FLUFFY!) and finally the 80s theme is super cool, as is the music, so definitely worth watching even though it is not quite as good as Despicable Me 2 or The Minions Movie.

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Sibling Love – Big Brother

This is something I have wanted to write now for awhile, as I wanted it to be documented somewhere so that I could look back on how amazing my son (my 5 year old) has been as a big brother.

When I found out I was pregnant, as excited as I was, my very first worry was about my son, would he cope? Did he want a sibling? Would he feel left out or pushed out? Would he be jealous? These are all natural worries that many of us feel when we have a second child, but it looks like I need not have worried, he has been amazing.

Mother and son in front of lake

From the day we told him I was pregnant, from the scan when we found out I was having a girl and throughout my entire pregnancy he has been so excited, so involved and so into the idea of a sister. I never thought a boy, particularly a 4 year old boy, could be so excited about a girl coming into the family (even at school he prefers to play with boys).

Also, 6 months (the point at which he found out) is a long time to wait, I thought he would lose interest. Instead he counted down the days. We helped him out by giving him some anchors to help him count down (since he couldn’t understand the months of the year), so all throughout my pregnancy we would all chant “first it’s Easter, then Daddy’s birthday, then family holiday, then Grandad’s birthday and then Sister!” these events helped him to count down so he knew how long he had to wait, it worked really well.

When she arrived, Nana brought him into the hospital to meet his new sister and he was so chuffed when he got to hold her.

4 year old holding baby

When we came home, in those early weeks, he was so fascinated with every little thing about her:

“Look how tiny her fingers are”

“Mum look she is waving at me”

Newborn hand holding finger

and my favourite:

“I love you so much sister, I love you very, very, very, very, very much” (he whispered in her ear), yes that made me melt.

The wonderous aspect that I hadn’t realised is that I actually love my son more because of the way he loves his sister. I didn’t think it was possible to love my son anymore, but there was a secret pocket of love just waiting to be released.

Since he is 5 years old now, which I believe is the perfect age gap, he is also being super helpful, running off to grab a nappy or a bib whenever I need it, trying to entertain her and sing to her when she cries and even feeding me and putting water to my lips when I was breastfeeding.

Of course it is not all sunshine and rainbows, that wouldn’t be realistic, in his eagerness he can definitely be too much sometimes. He doesn’t realise his own strength so I constantly had to say “Be gentle”, also he is so obsessed with her sometimes that it takes him forever to get anything done. Mornings can be tough, when I ask him to get his breakfast, or get dressed (which thankfully he can do himself), he almost always says “I just have to check on sister first”, which is sweet but also frustrating when you are trying to get out of the door to get him to school on time.

The last little amazement to me though is how much he loves her to be girly. When we went shopping the other day he shouted:

“Mummy you have to buy this tutu for sister, she will look like a princess!”


He simply loves her to be dressed in girly dresses and outfits and always calls her a princess, or “look how beautiful she is, let’s show Dad”.

Now that she is almost 1 year old, I am surprised by how fascinated with her, he still is. Not only that but she adores him, when he stays over at Nana’s she says ‘brother’ a lot, and nobody makes her laugh like he does. When he is playing with her she does a full out belly laugh, the kind that when you hear it, you rush towards to watch and cannot help but laugh yourself. She also finds the weirdest things funny, sometimes, all he has to do is throw a ball and she thinks it is funny.


I love watching them play together and how fascinated she is by him. But of course he can also be too rough sometimes, and accidentally hurts her, and she accidentally hurts him too – all part of the brother/sister relationship.

My brother and I were really close when we were kids, I really hope that they will be too.

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14 ways to cool the HECK down in Summer

It’s bloody hot right? 31 degrees in Milton Keynes today, hottest day of the year so far and it is only June. This worries me because (whispers) can I let you in on a little secret? I don’t really like the summer! Please don’t tell anyone – it’s like saying you don’t like puppies or icecream – no-one understands. Okay, maybe today you understand, I don’t like it because its too bloody hot! I cannot bear this kind of heat, it makes me grumpy and I cannot sleep. I rarely sleep through the night in the summer because if its not one of my kids waking up too hot it is me, okay it is mostly me! The bright light, the noise from having to have the window open and the heat, that is why I am not a big fan of very hot weather.


Anyway, I digress, so here is my top points for keeping cool in the summer, starting with the top two that have really helped me this week, one of which I only just read about!

  1. Have a cool shower, bath or just generally get yourself wet. This is thermodynamics 101. As the water on your body heats up it evaporates and takes the heat away from your body, thus cooling you down.
  2. Wear damp clothes – when you put a load of washing on, don’t dry the clothes straight away, keep a few pieces damp and then put them on periodically throughout the day, even wear a damp nightie. It feels amazing, especially if you have to do anything physical, it really cools you down (for the same reason as number 1). I only came across this idea this week and it is one of my faves!
  3. Open the loft/attic door and let the hot air escape – another one we only tried this week, we couldn’t believe how much cooler the upstairs felt after we opened it!
  4. If the air outside is hotter than inside, keep the doors, windows and curtains closed. We have a thermometer to check, but it is pretty clear when you just walk outside in this weather! Today it was 31 degrees outside but inside our lounge, with the windows and curtains closed it stayed at 25 degrees most of the day. Apparently this only works if your home is well insulated.
  5. Hot drinks vs cold drinks? I did some research on this one and though hot tea actually cools you from the exterior, the research shows that internally the only drink that made a difference to the core body temperature was slush puppies – so basically drinking tiny particles of crushed ice. Large ice cubes melt in your mouth, but small ones travel to your stomach and cool you from the inside. So have a slush puppy or a cool drink with crushed ice. 
  6. To cool the kitchen down, mop the floor, again the room will cool as the water evaporates.
  7. Hang wet clothes, towels etc from windows, same reason as above (though this works less if it is very humid).
  8. Sleep with a fan on, not only is the white noise soothing and drowns out street noise (or snoring) but it feels very cooling even on the hottest of days (I cannot sleep without a fan on me).
  9. Hang out in air-conditioned places as much as you can. Well this is slightly easier for me as I am on maternity leave at present, but I have been spending a lot more time shopping and going to the cinema this week. Most shops, supermarkets, cafes and of course cinemas are well air conditioned, and it is a lovely respite from the oppressive heat.
  10. Spend time in the paddling pool – not just for your kids, get in there with them, or at least just your feet.
  11. Sleep under a damp sheet.
  12. Fill up a hot water bottle with cold water, freeze in the freezer, then take to bed.
  13. Put wet wipes in the fridge (with a touch of water) then wipe yourself down as needed. Quick and refreshing.
  14. Buy an air conditioning unit. Okay that’s cheating, and can be quite costly, though we managed to buy one about 10 years ago from ebay at a reasonable cost and it was amazing, it actually lowered the temperature of the room by about 5 degrees or so. It was heavy though.

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Gifted – featuring Chris Evans #MovieReview

This is a mini-review, that will not contain any spoilers.

Firstly, when did Captain America become cute? Tip: Add designer stubble!

gifted movie poster

But I digress, this is a movie about a Frank (Chris Evans) who takes guardianship of his niece Mary (McKenna Grace) when his sister dies. At first they seem happy and a good team, but cracks start to show when you realise that he gave up a career as a Professor, he was perpetually single and Mary only had one friend – a c30 year old neighbour (Octavia Spencer from Hidden Figures). When Mary went to school her teacher quickly noticed that Mary was gifted (can you multiply 127 x 13?). This 7 year old girl could do math that most human beings could not do, so she was not just advanced for “her age” she was a genius! Her mother, too, was a genius, who tried to take on one of the Millennium Problems (unsolvable math problems) but suffered as a result of her genius, something that Frank wanted to avoid with Mary.

But what would you do in this situation? Send your child to a regular school so she can make friends with kids her own age and develop social skills? Or do you send them to a special school for the Gifted where she will be challenged but not necessarily developing relationships with normal kids of the same age? And to make the decision even harder, she appeared to love Maths and read Algebraic Geometry like bedtime stories! As a parent I can tell you that would be no easy decision to make.

The uncle thinks one way and the rich grandmother thinks the other and they go to court to fight for her.

The movie is powerful and sad and effortlessly funny throughout. The acting feels really natural, particularly between Frank and Mary, who steal the show. It was a great movie and had a few twists I didn’t expect. I would definitely recommend this movie for ease of watching and gentle comedy.

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A Beach that is worth paying for… at Frosts

Imagine this…it is the summer holidays, you are sat on a comfortable chair watching your children play nicely, they are playing party games, are listening to the child-care workers read them a story, they are digging, building, panning for gold and writing postcards and you haven’t lifted a finger…no this is not a joke…oh and even more importantly you are gorging on the most succulent brownie you have had in a long time, with cup of…dare I say it…HOT tea.

tea house afternoon tea

Yes I kid you not, hot tea and you get to finish drinking it, without re-heating it in the microwave twice…where is this mythical land of brownie-eating, tea-drinking, child-behaving paradise you opine? Oh it is Frosts of course! So off you go to book a ticket, because this beach is the beach worth paying for.

I love Frosts, but I am afraid to say not (just) because of their superior quality garden-wares, which are fabulous (I’m just not a gardener). It’s because of 2 main reasons:

1. The restaurant, and in particular the cakes, are fabulous, and

2. The kids events that take place through the year. We have been to visit Santa most years, we went to the Circus, had Halloween afternoon tea and made bird boxes.

This summer we will not be visiting the sea-side, because we had our family holiday back in March, and living over 2 hours away from the nearest beach means we will not be going on any day-trips either (as we have a 9 month old who will not cope with the long journey). How lucky we are to be living in the time where beaches are popping up all over, and you will not find a better indoor beach than the one at Frosts.

5 year old playing on beach

We went to the beach (at Frosts) last year, which was really nice, but this year they have outdone themselves. They have a Wild-West theme and because of that the beach is so much more than a beach and that is why it isn’t free and is very much worth paying for. This is what you gain for the £6.99 cost:

– A two hour session in the private wild-west themed beach area (numbers controlled so no over-crowding)
– A large beach
– Plenty of buckets, spades and beach paraphernalia
– Qualified childcare assistants to entertain your children (this is the best and most unique aspect I believe)

children playing games at frosts
– Panning for Gold (Children receive a gold coin on production of gold nuggets)

– Tin-can alley

tin can alley game at frosts
– Story tent (which is a beautiful and comfortable tee-pee)
– Craft area to decorate postcards (with a weekly competition)

post box
– Free juice, water and fruit

The beach is open from now until 3rd September, and they run 3x 2 hourly sessions a day at 9:30am, 12noon and 2:30pm (Sundays 11am and 2pm only). Tickets to be purchased in advance either online, phone: 0800 9549484 or in store.

There are alternative free beaches in the area, and I have been to those too, but what I love about Frosts is that you are given a rare moment of downtime! Since they have childcare workers, reading, playing games etc with the kids, you can actually sit with a cup of tea, a piece of delicious cake and enjoy some peaceful, gluttonous me-time. Let’s be honest, that does not happen often, especially when you have taken the kids for a day out – days out are all go, the last time I took my little one to another indoor beach I was shattered after, and we were only there for 2 hours and we ended up spending money anyway because though the beach is free (in Middleton Hall) they have so many rides and stalls just outside that it is near impossible to ignore your children’s plee’s. So what a lovely retreat Frosts is, and it is beautifully decorated, thus creating a calm atmosphere. I cannot wait to bring my son back there, and no doubt we will be back again at Halloween and to see Santa…

sheriff frostie and children

*My son and I were given free entry to the beach at Frosts, in return for an honest review.