Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Family Time And Food At The Maxwells

If there's ever a good time to go out for a family dinner, it's just before you go on holiday and your fridge looks like this:

And whilst I'm not averse to having champagne and fruit for dinner, I don't know that it's brilliant parenting.

So it was definitely time for a pub meal. Plus it felt like we were starting our family holiday a little earlier by having a meal together 36 hours before going.

We headed for The Maxwells in Loughborough, Leicestershire - not far from us - and very easy to get to - just off the A6.

It's a Sizzling Pub and anyone who has been to a Sizzling Pub before knows what this means; big portions, lots of freshly cooked meat, served on a still-sizzling hot plate, so much choice and fantastic prices.

As we arrived, my husband and I realised we had been before many moons ago before we had children and back when we slept in beyond 6am every morning. Back then it was a bit dingy, and in need of a lot of tlc to make it more inviting and presentable. Fast forward about seven years and it is hardly recognisable. The interior is bright, clean and decorated with modern furnishings.

Glass of wine optional!

We walked in and the children went straight to the toy boxes and the colouring in sheets. All parents know that the key to happy customers with children is keeping the kids busy so that the parents can actually relax! The Big One was very happy with a selection of colouring in (I never thought we'd reach the stage where colouring in entertained our children for more than seven seconds but hang in there parents of toddlers - there will come a time!) The Little One found a toy digger which he played with for ages, excavating his crayons (provided by The Maxwells) and a sachet of tartare sauce which he found under the table after our main courses!

He's colouring in! For longer than half a minute!

Talking of food - yum! Me and the husband had three starters between us because we just couldn't decide! We went for Crispy Potato Skins with Cheese and Bacon, Glazed Chicken Wings with Peri-Peri and Beer Battered Salt and Pepper Mushrooms. All were really nice but the mushrooms were my favourite! Crispy batter which really did taste of salt and pepper. I'd definitely have these again, although I did like the look of the Nachos and the Grilled Prawn Skewer. They actually do a fantastic deal which we would take advantage of again, especially if we were visiting for lunch; you can use the starters like tapas dishes and mix and match them to share. Based on our starters, I would definitely recommend this!

The children's food came out with our starters and was impressive. The Big One had gone for adult fish and chips because he wanted 'proper' fish. He promptly removed it all from the batter but ate nearly every bit of a large piece of cod which, for a four year old who would survive entirely on popcorn chicken and raspberries if we let him, was pretty amazing. The Little One had chicken nuggets and baby potatoes which went down a storm. Almost as much as the corn on the cob which he smothered in a delightful concoction of butter and ketchup which only a two year old could enjoy. The chicken nuggets looked homemade - irregular chunks of chicken breast in crispy batter. They were almost as popular as the corn on the cob, which is quite an accolade.

Our mains arrived next and, despite me intending to photograph beautiful untouched plates of food, it all looked so good we dived straight in and I forgot! Because I needed to wear a bikini in front of other human beings only a day or so later, I opted for a superfood salad. But then, because I love food too much, I added halloumi and chilli glazed prawn skewers to it. To be honest, I think I needed these additions because, whilst I love salads, I mostly love them when they have big chunks of cheese or avocado or deep fried croutons on them. Without my protein additions I might have wanted a little more. With them however, I couldn't finish the bowl! It was so filling but delicious at the same time; greens, tomatoes, halloumi, chickpeas, sultanas, quinoa, prawns - so good. I remembered half way through about the photo, but I think I'd eaten nearly all the prawns by this point! You still get an idea of how fresh and colourful it was though:

My husband had a steak (he'd eat steak every day if he could). He went for a 'Black and Blue' steak - an 8oz sirloin covered in Stilton cheese and served with a mushroom and brandy sauce. It arrived sizzling and, by the time I remembered to take a picture, there was hardly anything left - so it must've been good!

We were too full for desserts but, of course, the kids were still raring to go once they knew there was ice cream on offer. Children always have room for dessert! The Big One was enticed by/excited about/beside himself with glee with a 'build your own sundae' where they serve your ice cream in a bowl and bring you smaller bowls of marshmallows, chocolate buttons, chocolate sprinkles and chocolate sauce, whilst the Little One went for ice cream with fresh strawberries.

He's not yet perfected the art of 'smile for the camera' but he did donate a few chocolate buttons to his little brother!

It was the perfect way to start our holiday time together. The children were well behaved and entertained (thanks to colouring-in and a plastic digger - we didn't have to use our phones to entertain them once! Imagine that!) and they ate well because the food was good. We were full and had actually managed to relax and drink a glass of wine without having to get up every few seconds to chase the kids around the restaurant. Fantastic value for money - great portions, fresh food and so much to choose from - lots of choice for Vegetarians and even a selection for Vegan customers (a few main dishes to choose from which is very rare on a pub menu!)

You can view the extensive menu here and visit the website for more info here. You can even sign up to their mailing list for fantastic deals and get £5 off your next food bill just by signing up.

You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter for up-to-date menus and deals.

Disclaimer: We were offered a meal at The Maxwells in exchange for this honest and open review. All words, thoughts and opinions are my own.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Why Everyone Should Watch 'Three Girls'

I haven't blogged for a while now. No real reason except that life with two little ones is getting, dare I say it? Easier.

When I started blogging it was often because I wanted to celebrate small victories (baby rolling over, managing to get us all dressed) or share a difficult day or work through something that was troubling me (mostly lack of sleep).

And then the kids started sleeping better, the victories became bigger (potty training, starting school) and the troubling things stopped troubling me.

Then last night I watched Three Girls, the BBC drama about the Rochdale child abuse scandal where a gang of men routinely abused young girls over a period of several years. And where the police failed to safeguard these girls in the most heartbreaking, dispassionate ways.

And last night I didn't sleep well. Things troubled me. Thoughts about what happened to those girls and what is still happening to girls like them every single day.

So I'm writing it down. Because I need to write it down for me. And because I think it needs to be read.

I wasn't going to watch it. I'd read about it on social media. People were saying they had to turn it off. That it was too awful to watch; too 'horrendous', too 'disgusting', 'a hard watch'.

I sat and listened to people talking about it at work, deciding that I wouldn't watch it because it sounded just as those people on social media had described it.

But last night, as I sat comfortably on my sofa, safe in my house with my family all under one roof, I realised that the reasons I had been giving myself for not watching it, were exactly the reasons that I should be watching it. And why you should too. All adults should watch it (and there were calls on Twitter for schools to show it to young people as a warning of the dangers they might face).

If you haven't seen it then you're probably wondering why I'm saying you should watch this 'awful', 'horrendous', 'disgusting' drama. I won't lie: it makes for very uncomfortable viewing. The majority of the scenes, whilst not graphic, are loaded with suggestion and the drip, drip, drip impact of the gang's grooming is difficult to watch without feeling sick, angry and filled with despair for those girls.

But that is EXACTLY why you should watch it. It needs to make people feel uncomfortable. Because the moment you are comfortable watching the manipulation of these girls and the downward spiral of their lives is the moment you are no longer a civilised member of our society.

Unfortunately that society has cultivated and perpetuated a culture of blame. In a world where we can now sue someone for an upset stomach we had in Egypt on a package holiday five years ago, there is this assumption that everyone is to be held accountable for something. That anything can be justified by blaming, and shaming, someone else.

Maybe this is relatively trivial if you're trying to claim a couple of hundred quid because your plane was once delayed on your return from your family holiday to Majorca.

But there is NO justification for a 13 year old being raped by a man twice, three times, even four times her age. Even if she's had sex before. Even if she was wearing a short skirt. Even if she was drunk (because you'd got her addicted to vodka), and she just 'let you do it'. Even if it's part of your culture. Even if you give her money.

As Sara Rowbotham (the sexual health worker instrumental in collecting evidence in the case) said in one episode: "there is no such thing as a child prostitute. Only a child being abused."

Sara, played exceptionally by Maxine Peake, was one of the only people who appportioned zero blame to these girls right from the beginning. She was one of the only people who saw these girls for what they were; victims of a terrifying, despicable gang of men. She was the only one who collected evidence from the beginning. The only one who didn't judge them. The only one who brought evidence before the police, before social workers, only to be asked "what do you want us to do?"

She was pivotal in ensuring the animals who enabled and perpetrated the abuse of not just three girls but nearly fifty (and almost certainly even more) were brought to justice. Without her, there would have been less evidence. Decidedly less. Files upon files upon files less.

Sara Rowbotham was the minority. When these girls first felt brave enough to speak out, she believed them. Unfortunately I worry that there are still too many people in our society who would try and justify the behaviour of the men involved. Not others necessarily involved in child exploitation but people who might work alongside you. People who might live next door to you. People who are somehow able to justify the actions of these men because society has conditioned them to think that, somehow, victims 'bring it on themselves'.  Who don't understand that there is no justification for abusing the basic rights of innocent young people (of people in general), whether they've drunk a bottle of vodka, been promiscuous or worn a short skirt.

And THAT is why everyone should watch it. Because we HAVE to confront this issue. No matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel. No matter how horrendous and terrifying it is to address. We, the people who make no justification for these men. No justification by way of culture, the girls' conduct, the area they lived in. Nothing. We have to bring humanity and compassion like Sara Rowbotham did, whilst others brought only misplaced blame and I'll-informed judgement.

We have to be the majority. A voice for victims like these Three Girls the way Sara was. A collective voice which says "we are listening" and "it's not okay". If a thirteen, fourteen, fifteen year old girl is being given alcohol, takeaways, cigarettes and money by men much older than her, it does not mean she owes someone something in return, as the lawyers in the court case tried to imply. It means she is being groomed for exploitation.

Everyone should watch it. It's uncomfortable and terrifying to watch. But that terror, that discomfort, is nothing compared to the very real living hell those girls had to endure.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Read With Fonics Review

We've just returned from a holiday in Cyprus - I don't know how we'd have survived the flight* without iPads! (*gin)

But I do worry about my children's use of electronics and try to ensure that any games they play have some educational benefit (this is getting more difficult with the Big One who wants to play Thomas the Tank Engine and Paw Patrol).

And now that he's in Reception at school, it is getting harder to find games which are at his level - things either seem too easy or far too complex.

And, as a reception teacher myself, I find it hard to find games which help my kids learn effectively and not confuse them.

So I was really, and I mean really pleasantly surprised by the Read With Phonics game which we downloaded a couple of weeks ago.

There's a cute little alien character who works his way through games across different islands - it's very visually inviting and the Big One was excited to start playing!

The islands each teach progressively more complex sounds as can be seen below:

The last two islands allow children to think about choosing specific graphemes (the letters) to make the phoneme (the sound).

The Big One LOVED it! He started playing at the last island straight away (because that's the one he happened to click on!) Each game is really comprehensive and follows the same activities - identifying the graphemes, selecting the correct phoneme/graphemes, building words, selecting a word to label a picture, reading words and matching to pictures, reading and sorting real and nonsense words and identifying the phonemes again to finish.

The app has been invented by Sophie Cooper who is a teacher. The fact she is a teacher shows because it is so appealing to children and the progression through phonics skills is fantastic. Children gradually build up their phonics skills (with the 'a' game above, there is no real and nonsense word sorting because this idea and skill comes later - it's things like this which really support children in their play and learning).

Children also earn points as they complete games and there is a line on the side of each game which fills up as they are successful. This is really motivating for the children, as is the alien character giggling and eating the words!

I also liked the pronunciation of the sounds - the words are sounded out for children using pure sounds which really helps them to begin blending the sounds and reading the words. The games also offer automatic feedback so if a child places the incorrect word next to a picture, the game will move the word back to its original place, meaning the child knows they need to try another.

I have yet to use this with my class but I definitely will! For a start I know they will love it - they are really excited by games and the immediate feedback means I could leave it on the interactive whiteboard for them to play independently or with each other, after we have used it as a class.

I was given a code to download the entire app in exchange for an honest review. However, you can download the app for free to try it and, if you enjoy it as much as we did, you can unlock the rest of it. The website below gives all the links you need for downloading on different devices:

 I really would encourage you to give it a try. In the Big One's words - "I love this phonics game Mummy!"

All views and opinions expressed are my own.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Relax! Just Do It! With a Donovan Goode Discount Offer

Ask any mother (especially one with two kids under five) what they'd like for Mothers Day and you'll get one of, or multiple, stock answers:

A lie in.
To wee in peace.
'Me' time.

My husband got the top one. I possibly mumbled something about being 'perpetually tired' anyway. I didn't ask for the miracle of an audience-free wee and I don't recall asking for 'me' time.

So imagine my excitement when the day before Mothers Day I was treated to a pamper at a local salon! A whole hour and a half of massage and facial treatments. Bliss!

The salon belongs to Beth and her business partner Tina. Beth has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry (she once massaged Dean Cain - so technically she's massaged Superman!) Beth is the beauty expert whilst Tina and her team can do fantastic things with hair.

The salon is in Blaby, a bustling little town in Leicestershire. The salon itself is bright, spacious and contemporary whilst being welcoming and friendly.

The salon front really does reflect the sleek, modern interior

The beauty salon is situated upstairs which really allows you to feel as if you are escaping the outside world for a little (or a long) time. You first come to the Nail Lounge which is in keeping with the contemporary theme of the rest of the salon but with cushions, soft lighting and drapes which make it feel calming and luxurious.

The Nail Lounge

I was lucky enough to be treated to a 'Back to Life' back massage and a 'First Class' facial, which is personalised to your skin and what you need. The salon uses Spa Find products which are made using combinations of pure Dead Sea minerals, organic plant extracts and de-ionised water. The products contain no genetically modified or animal ingredients and are not tested on animals. The idea behind Spa Find is that many skin complaints and conditions are due to an imbalance of minerals and vitamins in our bodies. By using these products, the aim is that our bodies can re-balance and restore from the inside out.

I was shown to the treatment room which has lovely little touches like heated treatment bed (table/bench - whatever the technical word is!) and a pot of deodorant spray, hair brush and cotton pads for after your treatment.

The back massage was both relaxing and purposeful. Of course, relaxing WAS the purpose, but I also had some real knots in my back from the usual 'Mother of Toddler' stuff like sleeping on his bedroom floor for three hours in the middle of the night, and carrying him round the supermarket whilst also pushing the trolley because he is refusing to sit in said trolley despite me trying to bribe him with crisps. That sort of thing.

Beth worked on certain areas of my back that had taken the strain of the supermarket carrying and the floor sleeping, ensuring that the tension was released and that I wasn't going to leave with muscles just as knotted as when I'd walked in! But it was also bliss to just lie there and feel that tension slip away. No wonder it's called 'Back to Life' (though, ironically, you may also be so relaxed that you nearly fall asleep).

Once my back massage was finished (sob!) I had my facial. However, I enjoyed this just as much, possibly even more so. Beth asked about any problems with my skin (mega hormonal in case you were wondering) and applied products accordingly. Stabilizing cleanser, toning spray, moisturiser and calming serum, as well as a deep peeling cream, a black mud mask and an eye and neck rejuvenator. Whilst the mask was on I also got a scalp massage (divine). I wish I'd taken a before and after picture of my skin because the difference, especially the following day was amazing. It really did look, and feel, as if my skin had stabilised after a couple of weeks of being decidedly unstable.

The whole experience was wonderful. I have visited the salon before but never for such a long indulgent treat! The best thing about this salon is that you really feel listened to. You feel important, never rushed, and that your treatments are individualised and personalised to work for you. The salon has typography behind the reception desk and it sums up their approach perfectly:

I was asked to write up my honest experience and, as a thank you, Donovan Goode is offering my wonderful readers a £10 discount when spending £35 or more on beauty treatments by quoting the blog 'And Then There Were Two'. I am also doing a little competition over on my Facebook page meaning you could also win £20 credit from me just for reading and sharing. So, if you're in Leicester (or anywhere else and you fancy a little jaunt to see where King Richard was buried or you want to visit the home of the reigning Premier League Champions  - might need to hurry up on that one) then pay the salon a visit, say you've read this and pamper yourself (or your mum, auntie, boyfriend, sister etc etc)! You can follow the salon here on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat: donovangoode15. All other salon details (phone number, address, treatments and prices) can be found on the website by clicking the icon below.


Thursday, 26 January 2017

Fab Friday Linky #68

Welcome to the Fab Friday Linky hosted by the fantastic Su at Ethan n Evelyn and co-hosted, this week, by me!

I linked up to one of the first Fab Friday linkys and was a featured blogger so it's lovely to be asked to co-host for the fiftieth Linky!

So come and share your posts with us today!

Please grab the badge code from the sidebar on the Ethan and Evelyn homepage and add it to your post. 


The posts could be about anything relating to parenting, lifestyle, crafts, reviews and related competitions. Either Su or I (if you are lucky you get both of us!) will comment on your link and we will pick two to be featured on next week's #FabFridayPost blog.

#FabFridayPost weekly linky open every Friday – Monday, (11:45pm)

Here are the rules:

  • This week you can link up to 3 posts – old or new.
  • Please add #FabFridayPost Badge – it is only fair that everyone play by the same rule. If not, it will be deleted. Thank you.
  • PLEASE kindly Tweet us with #FabFridayPost @ethannevelyn & @attwtwo to let us know that you have posted and we will RT back. Thank you.
  • Share the love – please do not drop and run away! Comment on all host posts and also comment on at least 2 other posts, including one in front of you.
  • Please also share all posts you have read on Twitter with the #FabFridayPost hashtag. After all this is what it’s all about!
Onto the posts! Can't wait to read them all and thank you for linking up :) 

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

A Love Letter To...Myself

Dear Me

I have something I need to tell you.

I'm not being conceited. I don't think you're perfect and I think there's room for improvement.

But I've come to realise something.

I love you.

For a very long time I felt like I couldn't love you. Like you had to be flawless to be worthy of love.

I saw your Mummy tummy and wobbly thighs as barriers to my love.

I heard you groan at the children or sigh because they wanted your attention and thought that your attitude, your very personality, was unlovable.

But I've recently realised that that simply isn't true.

There are a lot of very special people in my life and I love them all dearly. Some so much that I would die for them.

Yet they are not flawless.

The Mr sighs at the children's demands for attention sometimes. But I love him fiercely. I understand that he's sighing because the kids have uttered his name fourteen times in the same sentence and he was woken up three times last night. So I cut him some slack. He is only human.

Talking of the kids and of loving people fiercely, had someone once told me I would give my life for a person who threw a fruit smoothie at me because there were bubbles in it, I would have been pretty sceptical. But he is only a toddler and he is learning that he wants to control his environment. He doesn't possess the complex language needed to negotiate bubble removal from a smoothie (which is, FYI, impossible) because he is just not developmentally ready. So I give him a cuddle. He is only a tiny human.

I am so busy cutting everyone else some slack that I kinda forgot about you.

I'm sorry.

You are not as skinny as you could be or as patient as possible sometimes.

But you are only human. And you deserve to be loved. Not given a hard time because you haven't conquered flaws and learning curves which I fully accept and quite literally embrace in others.

People have a hard time saying "I love myself" because it suggests something it really shouldn't. It suggests a superficial arrogance.

When actually it should simply mean what it says.

I love you, flaws and all. Sometimes I don't like you a whole lot and sometimes you make a lot of mistakes.

But I do love you. And from now on, whilst I can't promise to put you first too frequently, I can definitely promise to be kinder to you. To cut you some slack.

You are only human.

Love Me x