How Safe is your child’s device?

Girls watching a film on tablet

*This is a commissioned post for Plusnet*

With Christmas on the horizon, there will be a veritable sack load of new tech devices due to be delivered by Father Christmas.  With that being the case, it’s always worth reminding ourselves of the importance of setting up those new devices to be safe for our children online.  This festive season, Plusnet have partnered with not-for-profit organisation Internet Matters to launch their Nice Device Quiz, aimed at helping parents who want to keep their children safe online but are unsure where to start.

The Nice Device quiz allows parents to test their knowledge about online safety by answering a set of 10 questions about the most popular online devices to make sure the new Christmas gifts they buy  stay on the “nice list”.  I’m not afraid to admit that despite our best efforts, and my thinking that I was pretty confident when it comes to internet safety, I actually got a couple of the questions wrong – so even if you think you’re on top of things, it’s definitely worth working through the quiz just in case!  Once you’ve completed the quiz you will receive a personalised letter from Santa himself with some additional internet safety advice which can be given to your child along with the new device to make sure they are just as aware of staying safe online as you are!

As a parent and a primary school teacher, keeping my children safe online is a top priority.  Years of child protection training at work have made me super cautious about what I allow my children access to and how we set up their devices.  The ultimate aim is not to terrify ourselves or our children, but to educate ourselves on the risks and what we can do about them. Modelling best practice for our children is so important, we want them to understand the threats and eventually manage those risks for themselves.

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Aladdin Circus Pantomime at Blackpool Tower – Guest Review

Team Butler at Blackpool Tower

Regular readers will be familiar with the Butlers – they often feature in my blog posts, videos or on my social media as Mich and I take the kids on regular days out during the school holidays.  When I realised we weren’t going to be able to attend the Aladdin Circus Pantomime at Blackpool Tower last weekend, I offered Mich the opportunity to take the tickets and do the review for me so . . . 

Team Butler at Blackpool Tower

On Sunday we were really pleased to be asked by Colette to go to the Aladdin Circus Pantomime at Blackpool Tower, in place of the Burgess Family.  Being in Blackpool it also meant that we could take Neil’s mum as she lives locally and hadn’t been to a pantomime for years.  Panto is one of our favourite Christmas traditions and the kids were a bit disappointed that we hadn’t managed to book one this year.  So, when they realised that we weren’t going to Blackpool just to visit grandma but to take her to a pantomime too they were excited to say the least.   We have seen the Tower Circus a few years ago and all loved the resident clown, Mookie.  We were therefore intrigued to see how they would incorporate this famous circus character into a more traditional pantomime show.  (I’m quite a traditionalist when it comes to shows like this so I was hoping that it wouldn’t disappoint.)

Blackpool Tower Circus Panto 2018

When we arrived at the venue and collected our tickets we were surprised to see that there were no allocated seat numbers.  When we entered the theatre it was a bit of a free for all and even though we were there more than 30 minutes before the start of the show we couldn’t find 5 seats together.  After a bit of a moan to a member of staff they released 2 more rows which were previously reserved and we got seated ready for the show.  The layout of the seats is great and no matter where you are sat you have a great view of the stage which is set into the floor in the centre.

Before the show there was lots of opportunity to buy flashing lights, flags and posters however we were quite pleased that our two didn’t really ask for anything.

Finley & Erin at Blackpool Tower

The first half of the show was quite traditional with lots of boos, cheers, dancers and the traditional Aladdin story line.  Erin loved the dancers and was impressed with some of the younger members of the troop who were probably not much older than her.  Just before the interval they also made use of the amazing moving floor in the circus which slowly drops and allows the centre circle to fill with water.  Aladdin and Princess Jasmine then floated on the water in a scene which replicated them flying on a magic carpet!

Blackpool Tower Circus Panto 2018

During the interval there were more opportunities to purchase souvenirs, sweets, drinks and ice creams and to also have them signed by Mookie and his best friend Mr Boo.

The second half of the show was much more circus themed and was incorporated into the pantomime by pretending that the acts were there to entertain the Emperor and Princess Jasmine.  These acts were mainly the same as the ones which we saw a few years ago at the circus, but both Finn and Erin were still amazed by the acrobatics, dances and circus skills on show.

Blackpool Tower Circus Panto 2018

At one point Erin did ask when the pantomime was going to carry on so I think the link was a bit lost on her and she would have preferred a heavier weighting on the Aladdin story rather than the circus.  The show ended with a twist on a traditional song, The 12 days of Christmas.  This is always one of my favourite parts of a pantomime and they didn’t disappoint!  There were ‘rude’ lines (which Finley thought were hilarious), water guns and hysteria and the cast fell over trying to get faster with the song and routines.  All in all a perfect way to end the show and send you off with a smile on your face.

After the show I was interested to see what Finn and Erin thought and if they had preferred it to our more usual Christmas pantomime.  They were quite unanimous in their opinion that it was really good and made a nice change to the shows we have seen in recent years.  Finn also commented that he’d love to come back with his cousins who he would usually spend panto day with.

For me I think I’m still more of a traditional pantomime goer but if you have never been to Blackpool Tower Circus then the Circus Pantomime is definitely worth a visit and it means you kind of get 2 shows for the price of one.

*We were invited to attend the Blackpool Tower Circus Pantomime free of charge for the purpose of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own – or those of the Butlers in this case!*

*Read more reviews here*

*Read about more of our adventures here*

Neveo – A monthly family journal – Review

Neveo family newsletter review

Social media has been such a big part of our lives for so long now that I think we forget that someone people just aren’t really online – that they maybe don’t have a facebook account or follow you on instagram and therefore don’t see your updates or the cute family snaps you share.  My Mum is a case in point – she hates facebook with a passion, though we did convince her onto instagram about a year ago so she sees what we’re up to over there a lot of the time now!  Dave’s Mum on the other hand doesn’t have any social media accounts at all so when I heard about Neveo – a monthly family journal which is printed and delivered by post to your nominated recipient, I knew it was perfect for us.  (The Neveo website does suggest this as being ideal for Grandparents – presumably as they are the least likely to be online – however you could send it to whoever you wanted!)

Using the free Neveo app you upload you photos and captions throughout the month – you can do this as you take them or all at once at the end of the month.  I was bothered that I couldn’t change the dates on the images thinking that they would be printed alongside the pictures but that isn’t the case.  I would try to upload them chronologically though.  At the end of the month, Neveo sort out the layout for you and automatically send out a printed copy, keeping your chosen family member up to speed on what you’ve been doing that month!

NEVEO app - how to upload images to NEVEO

For our first month’s pictures I just used images I’d already published on instagram so everything was square.  Some pictures I wrote captions for, others I didn’t really need to say anything as they were just nice pictures in themselves.  You can always go back and add captions later or edit them right up until the end of the month – you can see in the image above where the images say “add comment” to them so it’s quite clear which ones are missing a caption.

At the end of the month you get a reminder that the deadline for adding new photos is approaching just in case you have any last minute images to add.  Once that time has passed, you get regular updates as to the status of your booklet until it is shipped.

Neveo headline - personalised family newsletter

Neveo monthly booklet of photos

Neveo comment space to be filled in with your news

Neveo family newsletter review

Neveo monthly subscription

As you can see, the name of the person who uploaded the photo is printed at the top of each entry – in this case it wasn’t really necessary as there was only me creating the newsletter however you can add other family members so that they can contribute too.  Now that Dave has seen how lovely the booklet is and has commented just how much his mum will appreciate it, I think he will be inclined to help me make it each month.

Do make sure you proof read your work as your comments will be printed exactly as you have typed them – unfortunately I didn’t notice I’d made an error and so my children apparently visited the “I’ve Cream Farm” rather than the “Ice Cream Farm” – whoops!

Although I chose not to include captions for a number of pictures, I do think that in future I will make sure I’ve taken the time to include a comment for each image as it looks a little strange without it as the space is just left blank.  I had just assumed the booklet would be set out in such a way as to fill any gaps rather than leave a space for a comment.  I think, whereas I had just written a little tittle or short comment, the Neveo newsletter is designed to be treated almost as a diary entry.

All in the Neveo family newsletter is a really lovely idea and something which I know Nana will love to receive each month.  The service costs £9.99 for up to 50 photos a month or £14.99 a month for up to 100 photos but can be cancelled at anytime so would make a lovely gift for a family member this Christmas.  (There’s currently a promotion running to get your first month for just 99p and once you’ve signed up, if you choose the annual plan you will get three months out of twelve for free).

*I have been gifted a year’s subscription to Neveo and compensated for my time in writing this post however all thoughts and opinions remain my own*  

*Read more reviews here*

Tried & Tested Tuesday (Week 49 – 2018)

#TriedTested badge

Welcome to another Tuesday – are you feeling Christmassy yet?  It’s all about multiple Nativity performances for me this week!

In case you are new here – let us tell you what Tried & Tested is all about. We all know how useful reviews can be. Most bloggers do them – be it things they have bought themselves or have been asked to review. They are a useful tool for people looking for honest and thorough reviews of products they need, things they are considering buying, or even to introduce people to exciting new products they have never even heard of. You can find out more about how to join in here.

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Visiting Leeds Christmas Markets

Leeds German Market with kids

*This is a commissioned post for Aviva*

It’s many years since my first visit to the Leeds Christmas Markets in Millennium Square Leeds, in fact I’d hazard a guess that it would have been around Christmas 2014 when I was living in a swish city centre apartment with one of my best friends.  I’d never been to a Christmas Market before but the lure of alfresco festive fun with delicious food and mulled wine (or hot chocolate in my case) was enough to tempt me into making a visit.

In recent years I’ve tended to visit the Manchester Christmas Markets – both with friends and with the children – as they’re only just down the road.  However, this year I decided to venture further afield and make a return to the Leeds Christmas Markets, popping down during the day in the hope that it would be a little quieter (though missing out on the cosy twinkly festiveness that comes with it being dark!)

kids at Leeds Christmas Markets

Mother and daughter near carousel at Leeds Christmas Market

Leeds city centre is less than an hour away on a good run, though anyone who traverses the M62 regularly will know that a “good run” is a not exactly the norm and lorries over taking each other going up hills are especially painful.  It has to be said that after many years of daily commuting, the M62 is rarely my favourite place to be – it’s a busy road, prone to serious traffic incidents and bad weather – I’ve spent many a miserable hour at a standstill on the top of that motorway.  It’s certainly the last place you want to break down and be stuck (and let me tell you, I tested that one out at about 30 weeks pregnant and was so grateful for breakdown cover (and if you’re going to be travelling further afield for Christmas Markets this year then European Breakdown Cover and appropriate car insurance for driving abroad is a must).  But really a quick hop across the M62 is nothing compared to what some people do to get to Christmas Markets!

Leeds Christmas Markets 2018

Children on carousel at Christmas Market

There are lots of places to park in Leeds but as I was also planning on fitting in some Christmas shopping, I parked in my usual car park at Leeds Trinity – it’s not the cheapest by any stretch but it’s definitely one of the most convenient for the city centre.  If you’re aiming specifically for the Christmas Markets then I think The Light car park would probably be the closest – again it’s not exactly cheap but city centre parking rarely is these days!

The Leeds Christmas Markets are much smaller than the Manchester ones and don’t seem to have seen much expansion over the last decade – but I love this.  The Manchester Christmas Markets are huge and sprawling but a lot of the product on the stalls seems to be repeated several times over whereas in Leeds, everything is more compact making it easier to visit with children.

Leeds German Market with kids

Little girl at Leeds Christmas Market

Buying Christmas decorations at Leeds German Market

I love to look at all the trinkets and toys on offer, the Christmas decorations and stalls selling beautiful jewellery but I rarely buy anything – it’s more about the experience and topping up the festive feelings!

Tree decorations on Leeds Christmas Markets

Tree decorations on Leeds Christmas Markets

I don’t know about you, but the main focus of visiting the Christmas Markets for me is food and drink – hot chocolate with amaretto and whipped cream, mulled wine, German sausage or hot sandwiches stuffed with pork and apple sauce, and then there’s all the sweet treats – fruit and marshmallow kebabs covered in chocolate, sweets and chocolates galore.

Crepe stall at Leeds Christmas Market

hot chocolate on Leeds Christmas Market

Leeds German Market mugs

Buying sweets at Leeds Christmas Market

Eating sweets at Leeds German Market

Have you visited any Christmas Markets this year?  I’d love to know if you have a favourite – or indeed any recommendations for European Christmas Markets to visit?

Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas at Waterside – Review

Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas Waterside

Raymond Brigg’s Father Christmas is an absolute festive classic and one I have fond memories of from my own childhood so when I saw that the amazing Pins and Needles Productions would be performing their adaption of the story on stage at Waterside this Christmas, I just knew we had to pop along.

We had seen the Pins and Needles Productions performance of The Bear at Waterside last Christmas so we had high hopes for our Thursday evening jaunt to the theatre and I’ll tell you now, we weren’t disappointed!  In fact, at the end of the show Dave said to me “That was just brilliant, I think I could happily come and watch it without the kids!”  There are plenty of times I’ve taken the children on adventures and the majority of the pleasure for us as parents comes from watching them enjoy themselves, but when it comes to watching a Pins and Needles Productions performance, we find ourselves just as enthralled as the children.

Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas Waterside

If you’re not familiar with the story of Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas (have you been living under a rock?) then essentially it tells a tale of a rather grumpy but entirely lovable Father Christmas preparing for the busiest day of his year – from the moment his alarm clock goes off on Christmas Eve morning to him delivering presents around the world and back home again, to his pets Cat and Dog, to enjoy his own Christmas dinner.

The story of Father Christmas has been adapted for stage beautifully with every memorable detail of the book incorporated into the performance so you really do feel as if the book has come to life before your very eyes.  Waterside is a really intimate venue, which allows you to really absorb yourself in a performance – the compact stage focuses your attention.  The performance of Mike Aherne as Father Christmas was spot on, aided and abetted by the incredible puppetry skills of Richard Booth – who made it so easy to watch those puppets and believe they were real and yet it was equally as fascinating to watch him handling them  – I flipped between the two!  An unexpected highlight for us was musician Katy Sobey who really added another layer of magic to the story telling – sitting in full view, and adding every possible sound effect to the performance with incredible skill and precision.  Her performance was captivating – from the vast array of instruments she played, to the clever sound effects made with her voice, and all sorts of objects – she was an absolute joy.

Raymond Brigg's Father Christmas on stage

Father Christmas runs for around 50 minutes with no interval making it an ideal length of first time theatre goers.  Children are welcome to come to evening performances dressed in their pyjamas (and many do).  And just to add to the glorious bedtime story feel, you can pre-book a milk and cookie pack for £2 each (so much better at bedtime than the usual sweets and popcorn my three tend to much during a show!)

Tickets are available now for performances through till New Year’s Eve and can be booked here.

* See what Jenny from The Brick Castle thought of the show here

*We were invited to watch Father Christmas free of charge for the purpose of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own*

*Read more reviews here*

*Read about more of our adventures here*

HoMedics Gel Shiatsu Back & Shoulder Massager – Review

Homedics chair with heat

After a long day on your feet at work or sat at your desk, what could be nicer than a full back and shoulder massage to help you relax and unwind?  Of course it’s not practical to be booking yourself a nightly massage (imagine the expense apart from anything else) but, with the HoMedics Gel Shiatsu Back & Shoulder Massager you can enjoy soothing heat and a relaxing massage across the full length of your back, shoulders and neck!

Being tall, Dave and I both suffer from discomfort in our backs – mine tends to be from doing the same thing for too long – too much sitting / standing / walking – and it will start to ache, especially in my lower back.  I also find I hold a lot of tension in my shoulders.  My parents have recently invested in a small but powerful massage cushion which I use when I visit and whilst it is effective, it has it’s downsides.  The size of the cushion makes it easy to store and convenient to use, but it does mean it can only target small areas at once so it can take a while to massage all the way up your back and the rotating balls are hard, leaving me feeling tender and bruised after use.  The HoMedics Gel Shiatsu Back and Shoulder Massager promises a more gentle massage experience with super soft Gel Massage Technology to mimic a more natural feeling massage.

Homedics back massage chair with gel

The HoMedics Gel Shiatsu Back and Shoulder Massager is designed to fit any seat – we’ve tried it on both our dining chairs and the arm chairs in the living room.  Whilst it does fit the dining chairs, and the straps allow it to be held in place, I found the upright position was less relaxing and also made the massager less effective, I couldn’t really feel it working up my spine in the same way.  (This might just be because the shape of my body means my back isn’t as close to the massager in this position.)  For us, the optimum place to use the massage seat is in the living room on our armchairs as it feels the most comfortable and relaxing position.

HoMedics Gel Shiatsu Back and Shoulder Massager

Once you’ve got the HoMedics massage chair in position it’s really simple to use (there are some bolts to remove before your first use but they come out with the allen key provided and this only takes a minute or two).  The seat is plugged into the wall (it has a nice long cable allowing you to be flexible about where you use it) and a remote control which is attached to the seat and stored in a small pocket on the right hand side.  The first time I used the chair I tried out the demo function which does as it says on the tin and runs through each of the features of the chair.

Homedics remote control

The Gel Massage Technology is definitely more comfortable than the harder massage cushion I’ve used in the past – it’s firm and effective but doesn’t leave my spin feeling tender to touch afterwards.  The HoMedics massage chair offers two different types of massage – shiatsu and rolling – both which work their way up and down your spine evenly unless you choose to stop them in a specific place for targeted spot relief.  This is something I tend to do it if I notice that a particular area of my back is less comfortable – just a press of the remote means the massagers will stay in the same spot until you feel ready to move them on again.  The remote control allows you to customise the intensity, width and height of your massage, so whilst you might just start with the massager running up and down your spine, you can then choose to move it further out for a more thorough experience.  There is also the option to add heat (which I do every time) – the heat is gentle and combined with the massage not always noticeable, but I do often apply heat to my back so I think I’m probably a little desensitised!

Homedics chair with heat

The HoMedics back and shoulder massager features a split zone design which means you can enjoy a shoulder massage or a back massage independently – or you can just enjoy them all at once (frankly why wouldn’t you!)  The shoulder massager moves up and down to allow you to position it perfectly (of course there are limits to how low it can go within it’s zone).

Homedics back and shoulder massage

It’s sorely tempting to just sit on the massage chair all night!  It’s so relaxing and has quickly become part of my daily routine.  If you’d like to try it yourself I’ve got a discount code for you which offers 20% off when purchasing from the gel massage range on the HoMedics website: ADVENTURE20  (the code expires 31st December 2018)

*I was sent the HoMedics Gel Shiatsu Back and Shoulder Massager free of charge for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own.*

*Read more reviews here*

Compulsive Habits and Our Little Girl

This little girl of ours causes me such worry at times.

Little girl with compulsive habits - how do we help her?

Over the last few years she’s had a range of compulsive habits – it started with twirling massive knots in her hair whilst sucking her thumb when she was  two – this escalated into pulling the knots out and causing significant thinning on one side of her head, picking a scab on the end of her nose preventing it from healing for six months (this has happened on two separate occasions), sucking on her coat collar until it makes her face sore and now we’re back with pulling her hair out.

We have tried everything – distracting her, being cross with her, ignoring it, reward charts, covering her hands with welly socks to her arm pits or eczema sleeves (or even both!) at night to stop her from being able to get to her hair / nose / whatever else she can’t leave alone. But every time we think we’ve cracked it and broken the habit, she replaces it with something else.

On their own, each of the habits I suppose could be seen as a fairly normal childlike habit that you’d expect her to grow out of but the fact that we break a habit only to then find her reverting back to the same one months later concerns me. 

Little girl wearing bright orange hat and smiling broadly

Her hair had all but grown back, I was planning on cutting it into a bob this month to even it all out but last night I notice that, out of nowhere, she has created herself a significant thin (borderline bald) patch again. I worry that her hair won’t recover, that this will be a lifelong issue for her, or that if I can actually manage to stop her pulling her hair out, she’ll just start doing something else.  I worry that it will be more serious as she gets older.

I don’t think it’s an anxiety thing, so much as comfort.  She’s such a happy little thing – people are always telling me she’s one of the happiest little girls they’ve ever met.  The habits often seemed to be linked to sucking her thumb – she would twirl her hair whilst sucking her thumb, pick the scab on her nose whilst sucking her thumb – the coat thing I suppose also relates to finding comfort from sucking.  

Dave was fairly determined that we needed to stop her sucking her thumb to break the other habits whereas I felt that stopping everything at once was too stressful for her.  As it is, we have reached a point where she wears her sleeves for bed which means she can’t get to her thumb anyway, but she still sucks it during the day. 

We think the hair pulling is happening in bed in the mornings when she has taken her sleeves off so I’ve asked her to keep them on until we get up with her.  I’ve watched her closely today and have seen her hand rise to her hair once or twice but she has stopped herself, I’ve praised her and given her her favourite cuddly toy to hold to try and keep her hand busy. 

How to help child with compulsive habits

I’m sure you can tell that I’m worried about her.  Dave and I have decided the time has come to seek some advice on this now and are planning on taking her to the GP next week – we’re going to go together so that one of us can wait outside with Amy whilst the other speaks to the Doctor before we take Amy in for them to see her.

Essentially the purpose of this post is that I want to record where things are up to for her, so I can see how things improve (or deteriorate) over the coming months.  And, to ask if you have any experiences or advice to share that can help us to help Amy break these habits. 

#ReadyforChristmas with Halfords

Halfords Bradly Wiggins Bikes

*In collaboration with Halfords*

One of the main Christmas presents I remember from my own childhood was a red bike – I’m not sure if this is because I’ve seen a photograph of myself and Nic stood outside the garage proudly displaying our new bikes or if I actually remember it.  If you’ve ever been for a walk on Christmas Day, you’ll know you are bound to be met by any number of children showing off shiny new wheels!  In this age of screens and tech, a new bike, scooter, skateboard or roller skates still features highly on many Christmas lists and make for the perfect presents for keeping the next generation active and out in the fresh air!

This festive season, Dave and I have been helping out Father Christmas by making a secret trip to Halfords to look at their range of bikes and scooters.  Ben has shot up recently and is definitely in need of a new bike, whereas the girls currently have bikes which suit their needs but are growing out of their scooters – Amy especially.


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Supply Teaching – Six ways to get re-booked

This term marks six consecutive years on supply for me – including a short stint when I was recently qualified, I’ve now spent getting on for half of my 15yr teaching career on supply.  I’ve been working for the same agency for the past six years and I can honestly say I can count on little more than two hands how many schools I’ve been to in that time as I almost always get re-booked.

People often ask me if I struggle for work as a supply teacher, and thankfully thus far that has never really been the case – of course there are times of the year when it’s quieter but for the most part I get as much work as I need.  Maintaining a good relationship with your supply agency and being flexible are key to keeping the work flowing but what you really want is for schools to be asking for you by name and re-booking you.  With that in mind, I wanted to share my top tips for getting re-booked!

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