How to find family arts festival events this half term

Family Arts Festival is a UK wide event, lots of venues across the UK will up their family offering over half term, just check out the website to find amazing family arts activities in your area.

The Family Arts Festival is looking amazing in Nottingham this half term. We got a sneak preview when we were asked to appear in a promotional film. In the film we visit eight of the venues in Nottingham participating in Family Arts Festival from 17 October – 2 November 2014. Each venue gave us a sample of what we might expect from Family Arts Festival Nottingham – it really was fantastic. The video was funded by the Arts Council, devised by the venues and produced by Toadstool Media.

I was amazed by how much there is to do for families in Nottingham. Here’s a little sample of our adventures, we filmed over two days, but you have a whole week to make the most of the Family Arts Festival Nottingham events.

First stop was the Theatre Royal and Concert Hall which will have all sorts of foyer fun and great shows over half term.

Then to Nottingham Contemporary to try out the genius art explorer rucksacks, meet the zebra and make some creations linked to the exhibition as a family. Join their family facebook group here.

Next stop the City Library, who will be offering crafts from days gone by and story times…

Then Nottingham Castle, where we found loads of really kid friendly interactive exhibits we had no idea existed, perfect for a rainy day! Check out the video we made there about 3 years ago in the caves!

The to Green’s Windmill where children can learn to bake bread and explore the really hands on Science Centre

Followed by some weaving linked to the amazing hair themed exhibition at New Art Exchange. My kids were really interested in the stunning photographs of hair, head pieces and hairdressers in Nottingham.

At Lakeside Arts Centre we had fun with the kaleidoscopes in the Art Investigator packs, played with Roman tiles in the museum and explored the woods with the Ranger.

We were really lucky to drive up to the doors of Wollaton Hall, Batman like, Wollaton Hall was used as Bruce Wayne’s mansion in The Dark Night Rises. We tried the superhero trail and toured the  house and kitchens and met the amazing collection of stuffed animals.

Unfortunately we couldn’t film at the final stop Nottingham Playhouse, due to exciting renovations, but here’s a backstage tour we did there not so long ago! Do see what they have during family arts festival.

To check out UK wide events near to you visit Family Arts Festival Do check out all the amazing venues we visited as all have superb offerings for families as part of the Family Arts Festival Nottingham this half term. Let any Nottingham friends you have know, whether you live here or not!


How often do you say I Love You?

me mum and dad

Only 30% of us say I love you everyday.

I don’t need a reason to miss my Mum. But normally there is a trigger, a niggle about something I wish I could tell her, share with her, ask her. Today I was niggling, so I wrote this down…

I guess I just want to really know what it was like to be my Mum. To be able to ask your advice as a parent.  To know the advice is tailored to me, and your knowledge of me alone. There are so few people who know you like you know your own child. As I face new things with my children I try to imagine how you felt, facing them myself makes me wish I could thank you for facing them for me, with me. The relationship I have with you now is so different to having a mum who is still here. I have to fill in all the blanks by asking others, guess work and reasoning.

Thanks for all you did, the unravelling I do I know is testament to how well you did it. I love you.

Later I watched this video from French Fashion brand Verdaubet, about their language of love campaign. I fully admit I had a totally different post in my head for this, but it suddenly tied in with all the emotions I felt today. This is from the heart. The video made me want to tell a few people how much I love them.

I think I do say I love you every day, to the dog, to my family as each goes to bed, but I don’t always use it at the times when the recipients really need it. What about you?

Would we all feel happier if we tried on a little more French style and spontaneously told people we loved them?

Earlier today my daughter was screaming up the stairs. ‘Not now!’ I shouted, ‘This is an emergency’. My email had been hacked.

‘I have an emergency,’ she said, and proceeded to tell me my son had fed the dog sweets.

‘That’s not an emergency,’ I bellowed down the stairs.

She started to cry.

So I stopped, held her, and said ‘I love you’. Told her what I was doing and why. And she let me get on with it, even offered to get the naughty hackers for me.

We all just need to know we are loved. Three little words.

I’m off to phone my wonderful Dad. Who have you told you love this week? Today? Or do you have other ways to make people feel loved.

I feel like this and it shows in my photos.


I feel like this!

I’ve found a photography course I love. For the first time, it is a course, that instead of fiddling with knobs and counter intuitive stuff, is focussed on the art of photos, and the soul of them. Although I did some serious knob twiddling in Birmingham recently, and have since been off automatic mode pretty regularly, another achievement, which I documented here.

I am not going to give away all her secrets here, but I love the way Susannah Conway makes me think about my pictures. Two weeks in and I am already thinking differently when I shoot.


I met Susannah when she spoke at Blog Camp a few years ago, and as I was also processing a loss myself at the time, through little legacy writing, I was attracted by the idea that she turned loss into something beautiful and positive. I’ve had it on my list to do her course for some time, I read her book over the summer.


Each week the two lessons by email give me really simple but surprisingly effective things to focus on. Some of it I remember from film theory, but when I taught film and media as a drama teacher, I was learning as fast as my students, skipping just a bit ahead, there was never enough time as a secondary teacher to indulge my own creativity.

The course isn’t time consuming, just an hour at the caravan at the weekend is time enough to read the course info, and then I take pictures through the week when I feel like it and as we walk and talk and unwind at the weekend. Half an hour with a slide show instead of a TV programme and an hour of editing down and selecting my favourites on a Sunday night, to add just 10 to the communal flickr pool for the week.

Diagonals, rule of thirds, negative space…suddenly it all makes sense.


The caravan is a great place to practice, my subjects are always close at hand, and sometimes in constraint I think there is creativity. Windows need a good clean!


I am seeing little details I wouldn’t have previously thought to capture, in new ways. There is more soul in my photos. Even if all caravan interiors are brown…


I think its made me fall even more in love with family,


and with Max.


I’ve realised I’ve been rebelling against white space, against over styled shots, too much colour, although all have their place. It’s just that I really like moody and mysterious and just documenting what actually happens… that’s why I started blogging. But making the ordinary extraordinary is an art.


Susannah sent across an interview with Stephanie Congdon Barnes, which really inspired me, and I am seeing that the ‘heart’ in photos that Stephanie describes, is often there already. Sometimes styling kills that…although I am picking up some subtle ways to gently manipulate what is already there.


Talking a walk with my camera feels soothing, not a chore to complete in order to finish off a blog post.


Can you tell how happy this is making me? The best bit, the course is online and only £80. Highly recommend!

Parenting Must Reads: Taming the Tiger Parent by Tanith Carey


From the moment the umbilical cord is cut, today’s parents feel trapped in a never-ending race to ensure their child is the brightest and the best. But while it’s completely natural for us to want our kids to reach their potential, at what point does too much competition become damaging?

I have been reflecting on what attracted me to Tanith’s book Taming the Tiger Parent. I am certainly not a Tiger Parent. In fact I am the opposite. Until last week my kids didn’t do any organised activities after school or at the weekend. They have dipped in and out of things, but it’s never been a big part of our lives, yet our lives seem rich and full, sometimes too full.

School reading gets forgotten, we buy reading aids and literacy and maths sticker books with good intentions, but they always get buried under craft projects, baking and Lego.

People are always telling me we seem to do lots, one woman asked a friend of mine if I really did all the stuff I blogged about, or did I make it up. I laughed. You couldn’t make this stuff up. But if someone offers us the chance to travel, to see theatre, to go somewhere new, I will take it, and take my kids along too. Am I guilty of dragging them along, of overstuffing their little lives?

On the other hand I feel guilty when other parents start talking about brownies, cubs, tennis, football and piano lessons. I start panicking that my kids aren’t doing what they should be. I ask for details, I mean to call and book in, I really do. But I seldom get that far.

My kids are only 5 and 8, the 5 year old moans that he doesn’t have enough time to play. My 8 year old seems very content with play dates which I am really happy to organise, and making her own fun.

far from making our children more go-getting and successful, it (competition) can backfire with lifelong repercussions, damage their emotional well-being and fracture their relationships with the very people who love them most; their parents.

We’ve tried to commit, but swimming lessons just led to awful arguments and us hating each other. Losing my cool in a swimming cubicle isn’t the way I want to spend precious time with my 5yo, there is always time to revisit swimming, but right now just doesn’t seem like the time. His head is elsewhere.

Weekend activities are started with good intentions only to drift away as we find new places to visit and adventures to have far beyond suburbia. I guess we don’t like to be tied down. But at the same time, I know it can be good to be pushed a little and to make a commitment to stuff. I can be guilty of flitting.

While it’s completely natural for us to want our kids to reach their potential, at what point does too much competition become damaging?

It is only over the last year I have really seen indicators of what makes my 8yo daughter really tick gently emerge, all on their own. I watched and waited for them, like some kind of mad gardener, some were seeds I planted, others I could never have predicted. She loves art. She has asked to learn tennis more than once, despite me detesting it, and shows determination with her swing ball set.  She has also found Science fascinating. We’ve paid here and there for her to have new experiences, but not necessarily ones that mean signing her up every week, or packing her off.

Tanith has simple guidance to help you find the balance between helping children reach their potential and pressurising them too much.

G, my 5yo is still happier playing Lego than tennis, and is still exhausted from a full day of following rules at school. I’m not sure he is ready for after school activity, or even weekend ones. But L did a tennis taster lesson this week, and that hour gave G and I an hour in the cafe next door, just me and him and a box of Lego.

One of my biggest fears is feeling overwhelmed, by everything I am juggling, by tired kids, by the need to get to places for a certain time and arrive without the kids having a fight.

Tanith, a mother-of-two, gathers together the latest evidence to give parents practical, realistic solutions that will give them permission to take their foot off the gas and reclaim a more relaxed family life.

I would still like to know if I am doing it right. There’s always a sneaky feeling that I am not doing enough for them. It’s just parental peer pressure I know, playgrounds are breeding grounds for paranoia. Which is why the subtitle of Tanith’s book: ‘How to put your child’s well-being first in a competitive world’ really appealed.

I’m back from parent’s evening tonight, the words ‘she’s happy and confident’ buzzing round my ears still, because Tanith argues we need to hold those measures above grades and results. I think if you get the former, the latter will follow, so here’s to keeping our eye on the real measure of parenthood, happy kids.

Buy Taming the Tiger Parent at Amazon here.

Have Hotter shoes, will travel!


I went to a lovely #shoesietuesday event at my local Hotter Shoes store in Nottingham recently. It was fab to catch up with some Nottingham bloggers and choose a new pair of shoes. I’ve also managed to wangle a little giveaway too.

I spent a lot of time deliberating but decided I wasn’t choosing another pair of heels I would wear a couple of times. Although perhaps I should, Hotter shoes are all about the comfort concept and I struggled so much with THOSE heels at the MAD blog awards and my brother’s wedding. In reality though, I spend very little time needing to wear posh shoes, and hours mucking about outdoors, but I forget to buy practical ones. Funny that isn’t it ;)

I love that Hotter are a UK company and that their shoes are made in the UK. As soon as Mel from Hotter mentioned that the hiking boots used special technology to make them really light, and that they used Gortex to make them completely waterproof, whilst letting your feet breath, I knew what I wanted.

Shoes for weekends at the park, the caravan, adventures out in the countryside making the most of Autumn. Shoes for the school run when it’s raining and dog walks on dreary days when Max the greyhound quite rightly won’t take no for an answer. I chose Hotter’s Summit Boots.


I have rolled up my jeans in the pic above, so you can see the boot…lightweight yet supportive. I fell sideways (not at all Alice like) into a rabbit hole while walking Max in them, and I really noticed the support they gave to my ankle, it barely registered. Last time I did that I was unable to walk for a few days.

But under a jean they look more like a boot/trainer hybrid.


I drank my cup of tea while the kids made the most of the playground, snapped some shots for the photography workshop I am doing, and I planned our next adventures.


It rained a lot on Saturday, we trudged through wet grass to and from the playground. My feet remained snug, dry and ready for anything.


Here’s to getting fit, getting outdoors and getting the most out of Autumn! What you got planned?

I can’t rate the staff at Hotter enough, they are so attentive, nothing is too much trouble. They made it very clear this is how they treat all customers, not just bloggers coming in for a store visit. This attentiveness is what sets Hotter apart.  The store is really comfy with sofas, it’s light and airy and spacious. You don’t feel rushed to make a choice.

See the full range of Hotter Gortex shoes here.

I will preview some of the gorgeous, and on trend everyday boots I tried over on A Residence very soon!


Meanwhile if you would like to win a Davina bag, perfectly sized for adventurous days out and the school run, just follow the rafflecopter instructions.

Hotter Davina Bag

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5 Reasons to stay with Travelodge in London, Get a Room! #win


Travelodge are currently refurbishing 500 of their hotels across the country, meaning an extra comfy, king-sized Travelodge Dreamer Bed and fresh, new look rooms.  To celebrate I have a Travelodge room for a night to giveaway to a lucky reader.

Each mattress boasts over 900 individual pocket springs designed to follow the natural contour of your body, delivering maximum comfort and support while you sleep. And, with our cosy 10.5 tog duvet and four plump pillows, we’re sure you’ll enjoy curling up for the ultimate night’s sleep.

Family rooms come with a king-size bed and two pull out beds or pull out sofa bed, plus there are Mothercare travel cots available too, if needed. Kids under 16 stay and eat breakfast for free.

A Travelodge in London makes a cheap base in the big smoke. Perfect if you plan to splash out in other ways. The money you save on a hotel could mean, more cocktails, better seats at a show, a swankier restaurant or more toys in Hamleys.

Be closer to the main tourist attractions by staying in a Travelodge in London, without paying a premium. There’s nothing worse either, than a long walk or having to use public transport to get to places. Especially if you have limited time or children with you.

Travelodges make a cheap stopover on route to other places. Why blow your spending money before you even pull out of the Eurostar terminal or fly out of London City airport.

In many of city and airport Travelodges you can use Speedy Check In kiosks, there’s no need for you to wait to check in with the hotel reception desk. Just remember to bring your booking confirmation number and the payment card used to make the booking.

Click to find out more about Travelodge in London


To win a room for one night in a Travelodge of your choice, follow the rafflecopter instructions.

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Today you can witness a miracle!


This is my daughter, just a couple of weeks old, and my Grandmother. An incredible moment. I love this photo, the protective hands, the hold, the juxtaposition of skin that has weathered many a storm and administered so much love already, with fresh baby skin yet to see the world. It was an amazing moment. I remember too, the whole time we were there, my Grandma did not take her eyes off her, she took in every little detail, knowing so well how quickly babies change. She wouldn’t look at us. Her every sense was focussed on the new arrival.

I remember this moment, because this week something absolutely amazing is happening in Malawi, you can witness a miracle with #SeeTheMiracle…

Winesi’s been losing his sight for 12 years and he’s been completely blind for two. He’s never seen his youngest grandson. On 8th October, reporting live over Google+ hangout from Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Malawi, Sightsavers will follow Winesi before, during and after surgery (don’t worry, it won’t be gory!), guided by the incredible surgical team.

And on 9th October Sightsavers join him as the bandages come off and he sees clearly for the first time in years. Sometimes in this situation we see tears, sometimes singing and dancing. Either way it’s always an incredibly special moment.

Here is where it is happening, so whatever time you have available today and tomorrow, do check into one of these sites and see a miracle!

Join us on the Wednesday 8th October at 1.30 UK time as one of the few cataract surgeons in Malawi delivers the 5 minute life-changing operation. Hosted by UK YouTuber star Doug Armstong you’ll meet the Mr Winesi, and all the health worker heros delivering this vital work.

Then join us on Thursday 9th October at 1.30 UK time as the bandages are removed and Mr Winesi can see for the very first time. He will be able to see his wonderful wife, and hold and see his grandson Luca for the very first time.  as we removed the bandages and Mr Winesi can see for the very first time. He will be able to see his wonderful wife, and hold and see his grandson Luca for the very first time.

Twitter (@Sightsavers)


Instagram (@Sightsavers)



How can you make a miracle happen?

Why not donate a miracle by giving £30, or whatever you can afford?

Share whatever you watch over the next two days and beyond, so that others may be moved to make a miracle happen.

2 for 1 on miracles! 

The UK government is supporting A Million Miracles, so until 31st December, all UK donations are being matched. This means a £30 donation to fund a cataract operation actually saves the sight of two people, at no extra cost to the supporter!

Let me know what you managed to see, did you witness a miracle?

Just WOW


We had a wonderful day out with The Macclesfield local RSPB group a few weeks ago at their WOW (Wildlife and Outdoor World Extravaganza) event at Pikelow Farm, Marton, near Macclesfield. My Dad is a committee member and so I hear first hand about all the incredible things the group do to raise money and awareness about birds and nature. I had a real WOW moment myself, but more on that later.

The Macclesfield Wildlife Explorers group has also won awards for its work with children, so we couldn’t wait to get down there and try some of the activities out. First we got our hands on the power tools and made bird boxes. This was only £5 and gave both L and G so much pleasure.


You have to watch G with a drill, he’s fast, but the Wildlife Explorer Leaders were brilliant at letting him experiment safely.


L had a go at making a seed bomb, a brilliant idea for our soil, as wild flowers prefer poor soil. This year not much grew in our veg patch, but the packets of wild flower seed we spread suddenly became a giant riot of colour at the end of the garden. At least I know my soil needs some TLC, or is simply crying out to be a wild flower garden.


Next we helped to make a giant insect house. We made one of these at home over the summer, so this was a great opportunity to pick up some more ideas for it.


Our local scrapstore always has cardboard tubes, so we will be picking up some of them at our next visit. It was really satisfying cramming the tubes with straw and pine cones and corrugated card.


As the event is on a farm, with a fishing lake, they even got to have a Fly Fishing lesson.



We had a lovely time, we were really proud of Dad, and so impressed by the work of all the local committee members, there was so much to do.  Other activities included bird ringing, archery, craft activities, ferret races (they live on the farm) and lots of stalls.

Over lovely tea and cake Dad talked about how so many of the committee are retired and how the event nearly didn’t come off due to ill health and the sheer amount of work. There is always the worry about whether new committee members will emerge. I had a WOW moment, as they all stood up for a press photo, with David and Ann Taylor who own Pikelow farm, and the local MP David Rutley, thinking about the way this local RSPB group encourage children to look after birds and nature. A real legacy for the future.


For more on Macclesfield RSPB and its wildlife explorers groups

For more on RSPB activities for families nationwide.

Three hot films to catch at the end of 2014


Today’s post is by Jennifer Knowles. A Film Studies graduate and self-confessed movie fanatic, Jennifer always has her ear to the ground about new releases. Scouring cinemas for the best deals and the best films, she contributes to numerous blogs with her findings.

2014 has been a great year for film so far, with The Lego Movie, Guardians of the Galaxy and The Fault in Our Stars, but we’ve still got a lot to look forward to. With movie production companies keen to get their best out in time for next year’s Academy Awards, the end of the year is typically a strong time for cinema.

Here, are a few of the films which are expected to take the world by storm between now and the year’s end.

Obvious Child (pictured above)

Unwanted children may seem to be a strange topic around which to base a film, but if successes of recent years are anything to go by (Knocked Up, Juno), it’s certainly possible to do well without breaking into the ground of serious drama.

The directorial debut for Gillian Robespierre promises to deal with issues of womanhood and the realities of life in an entertaining and intelligent manner. An appearance from comedian David Cross is also sure to add cultural vigour to an already exciting proposition.

The Hobbit 3


With a release date of December 12, the third instalment of The Hobbit series (The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies) just manages to make itself available in 2014. Continuing the popular story with Christopher Lee, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom and Benedict Cumberbatch all back behind the camera, this instalment promises to bring everyone’s favourite mythical story to an impressive climax.

With one of the biggest (and best) battles definitely saved for last, fans will no doubt be chomping at the bit to find out whether loveable wizard Gandalf, adventurous hobbit Bilbo and the thirteen dwarves led by Thorin can reclaim Erebor and hold onto the treasure.

If you’re keen to catch this film no matter what then you can sign up for alerts for The Hobbit with Cineworld and be notified of when tickets are available for booking at your preferred venue.


Pride film

Pride was finished just in time to scoop up the Queer Palm award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, putting it immediately on the radar of any credible film critic. The British drama picks up on a story of a group of LGBT activists who joined forces with a group of miners in the mid 1980s.

A political story from start to end, as both groups were going through tough times, the film is sure to hit a powerful note with audiences across the world. The film stars Bill Nighy and Dominic West – both of whom have now got a credible list of veritable successes under their acting belts.

What are your hot films of 2014?

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