Friday, 27 February 2015

Photography for Parents Online Photography Course Review

I've always loved photos and keeping a record of the things I do. Not only since having children, I have stacks of photos from my teens and twenties when big nights out were captured from beginning to messy end and holidays and festivals were recorded in technicolour. I always had a camera, or for times when I didn't I'd rely on disposables. I remember loving the anticipation of going to collect my prints from Boots and thinking of the moments I'd captured and hoping they looked as good as I remembered them to be. And then there were always the photos that I couldn't remember taking and being surprised by them as I leafed through the prints.

In recent times I've used my iPhone as my camera, which in the most part is fine because they give ok results and if the phot isn't as good as I'd hoped there's always a photography app like A Beautiful Mess and Instagram where I can fade out imperfections with filters and other gizmos. There is absolutely nothing wrong with photos taken in this way as it's so convenient given that I always have a phone in my pocket, but I decided to delve into the world of DSLR and bought a Nikon d3200. I soon realised that if I was going to have a clue what I was doing with this wonderful technology I'd need to go on a little photography course.

Photography for Parents online photography course is perfect for people who can't make it to face to face lessons and given that the subject of my photos these days is mostly kids it seemed the course was perfectly titled for me. The course comes in 6 modules of learning, running weekly and alongside it there is a forum where you can ask questions and gain support. For every module there is also a homework element and you submit your homework to the forum for the moderator to appraise and give pointers of how you could do things differently and also say "Yes! You really captured that!". Because the course has live support it also means that you get feedback really quickly and in the case of this of this course we were asked if we would like a week midway through to help us process some of the technical information about aperture and depth of field etc.

The idea of the course is to get people off the 'Auto' setting and to get some really great photos of your little ones. It gets you thinking about light, composition, aperture, shutter speeds amongst other things. I have to admit that if I hadn't started this course I think I would have definitely left the camera on Auto and not braved it. There is a lot to take in when you are getting to grips with a DSLR and I won't deny that it didn't frighten me slightly in the same way that my weekly physics lessons in senior school used to terrify me, but the course is so clear and the moderators online really make you feel at ease. There is nothing intimidating about it. I feel that I have a better understanding of the settings on my camera now and like I can navigate my way round without fear. My only wish is that my brain would work quicker and I'd be able to think through best settings for different situations faster. In the time it takes me to remember what ISO I need or whether spot metering would be best I potentially lose the moment. However this is really just me getting to grips with a fairly new camera and with more practice it will come.

During each module there are practical exercises to complete. I liked doing these particularly shooting at different focal lengths and also the exercise on focus and achieving blur in the background of my photos. At the end of each module there are homework tasks for you to complete in your own time and submit to the forum. I have to admit that I haven't been great at that bit and I attribute that to a few reasons. Firstly as it's winter, good enough light to take great photos is limited, and with me working full time these days I can't round up my trusty subjects when I get home and herd them outside like I could in the summer months. And our house is too dingy to get photos I feel happy with. I am also not so good at hooking up my camera to my Macbook and uploading my photos and resizing them so I can upload them to the forum. I am one of those people with a camera full of photos (just like my phone) and they're trapped in there. This is something I need to be better at.
I was given the chance to join the Level 1 online Photography for Parents course for free in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.

At the end of every module you are able to download that weeks course content in pdf form and print it out which I have found to be invaluable for when I'm commuting to work and I want to re-read some of the stuff I've read online. I also highlight some of the things I want to stick out for me. Once you come to the end of the course it doesn't end there, the forums stay moderated for another few weeks to allow for stragglers to post their homework (umm yes that's me!) and you can join a Facebook group to continue sharing your photography practice.

I'm personally really happy that I was given the opportunity ti try this course and I would recommend it. The course is full of information but it's delivered in such a way that makes it easy to understand. It's broken down into easily digestible chunks that allows you to not feel under pressure and for me that is key when I'm learning something new. If there was any pressure then it wouldn't work for me what with all the other stresses I have as a working parent. My aim from taking this course was to understand my camera better and to start getting some great photos of my family and that's already underway.

The Level 1 course costs £65 if you get an earlybird rate and the standard cost is £87. It runs for 6 weeks. The next course starts on Monday 2nd March so..... GET BOOKING!

If you're not quite sure you want to commit to the whole course fee, then Photography for Parents are currently offering a module 1 trial offer for 37 which seems like a bargain to me! It will allow you to get a flavour and see if you think the course is for you. If you like what you see then you can pay the remainder of the course fee and carry on. If you decide it's not for you then you can leave it at that and walk away, you're not obliged to carry on. Go to: Photography Course for your trial offer.

For more details and to sign up to the website go to: Photography for Parents

They can also be found on Facebook: Photography for Parents

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Disney's Big Hero 6 - Review

On Sunday we woke up early (normal) and got ready to leave the house by 9 (not normal on a Sunday!) and made our way to the Odeon Leicester Square for a gala screening of Big Hero 6 in 3D, the latest big release from Disney. I didn't know a whole lot about it but Isla already knew that the main character was called Baymax and both her and Noah were hyped to be going to the cinema. I love going to the Odeon, Leicester Square. The screen is so huge and the sound is brilliant, it's also the type of place where people clap when the film finishes - something that rarely happens these days. 

Prior to the film starting we were treated to some Baymax balloon modelling and face painting which the kids loved and then we took our seats and prepared for 3D fun! As with most Disney films now there was a short film to warm every one up called 'Feast' about a dog, and we all loved it. I won't say anything about the story here, but as I was watching it I felt like it could be a longer film, it was that good....

What's Big Hero 6 about then?

“Big Hero 6” is an action-packed comedy-adventure, about robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada, an orphan living with his Brother and Aunt. Hiro learns to explore his genius—thanks to his brilliant brother Tadashi and their like-minded friends: adrenaline junkie Go Go Tamago, neatnik Wasabi, chemistry whiz Honey Lemon and fanboy Fred. Just as Hiro decides to turn his back on Bot fighting to go to 'Nerd' college and join his brother, a devastating turn of events catapults them into the midst of a dangerous plot unfolding in the streets of San Fransokyo. Hiro turns to his closest companion—a robot named Baymax, created by Tadashi —and transforms the group of friends into a band of high-tech heroes determined to solve the mystery. I'm not going to spoil the film for any of you by revealing too much of what happens, you NEED to see it yourself! 

Big Hero 6 has some brilliant laughs for adults and kids alike. The robot Baymax is the source of most of this comedy genius. He was created by Tadeshi to be a robot nurse, to fix all ailments. He makes it his mission to 'fix' Hiro when his heart is broken after the loss of his brother. The way he takes literal meaning from a lot of the things that Hiro says is hilarious and were the bits that had me chuckling. Isla found the lumbering character of the huge vinyl, Michelin man shaped robot the funniest, laughing every time he was involved in some sort of catastrophe. She also loved the scene where Baymax is running out of charge and Hiro struggles to get him home. I loved that although Baymax is a robot, he learns human emotions and fragility and in his own blustering way he mends Hiro and returns him to being the person his brother would be proud of. For a character with hardly any features he is very loveable and we all felt such immediate affection for him. 

I liked the setting for the film, in fictional San Fransokyo, a cross between San Francisco, with all the hills and golden gate bridge and Tokyo with the snow capped mountains and Cherry Blossom. The film also projects the message that science is cool and since seeing the film, I've heard Isla say a number of times "I'm going to be a scientist". I think this can only be a good thing.

We give Big Hero 6 a big thumbs up and I feel sure that it could spurn a sequel, Baymax is such an enchanting creation that it would be a shame to only see him once. 

Check out the trailer here:

For a little bit of extra Big Hero 6 fun, check out these fun activities for kids:

Spot the Difference
Baymax Origami
Hiro and Baymax Balloon Experiment!

Big Hero 6 is on general release in 3D from 30th January. To get all the latest info about Big Hero 6 and other Disney releases: 

"Like" the official Facebook page:
Subscribe to the YouTube channel:
Follow on Twitter : #BigHero6

Thank you Disney UK for inviting us to the film we had a super time!

Friday, 2 January 2015

New Year - Change

With a little help from a lovely little Facebook group called Embrace Happy I decided to choose a word that I felt would reflect what I want from 2015. I decided upon:

It feels like a bit of an odd one for me because I have encountered a lot of change over 2013 and 2014 but unlike when I first made some changes to my life in 2013 I'm not afraid of making more until I feel like I'm in the best place I can be. My awareness of only having one life and living it to the full has grown since having children, which also coincided with when my Dad was first diagnosed with Myeloma. It really is important to be happy and see the good in life.

The word change will also apply to little changes that I want to make to my lifestyle, including improving my diet and fitness, becoming less of a spendthrift and most important of all putting family time ahead of everything.

If you're feeling like you could do with a little daily boost from a really friendly bunch then look up Embrace Happy on Facebook. The idea of finding some 'happy' in your day even if on first reflection the day may not have been a total funfest is a good one and certainly helps me to put some of my problems into perspective. I have to thank Karin at Cafe Bebe for starting the group and making me try harder to find #3goodthings. There is a whole lot to be thankful for people!

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Santa Claus and the Magical Christmas Journey - Review

Last Thursday we popped along to the Fairfield Halls in Croydon to see a special little Christmas production they have going on in the run up to the big day. It's called Santa Claus and the Magical Christmas Journey and it's a short, sweet festive show that's brilliant for pre-schooler age and upwards. 

When we arrived we were directed to the little studio theatre where a small stage is set up. It's a great intimate space where the kids can get up close to the action and right from the start the actors did come out into the audience, engaged the kids and encouraged them to call out. Mine love a bit of shouting out and joining in! It's also only 50 minutes long and so restlessness doesn't really happen, making it a pleasurable experience for parents too.

Both my kids were enchanted by the play and really warmed to both of the elves, Charlie & Kara who are a bit naughty! There was also Muffin the bear who Isla loved and felt very sorry for him when he lost his job navigating Santa's sleigh. There was also a familiar voice in the show, Russell Grant! He was the voice of the computer on Santa's sleigh. 

The story goes like this: 

It’s Christmas Eve, and Santa Claus is flying high above the clouds delivering presents to all the good boys and girls around the world. Hiding in the back are two naughty elves, Charlie and Kara, who have snuck on board for the ride!

All is well until suddenly, just as Santa Claus flies high above Croydon, the Sat Nav goes haywire and breaks leaving him stranded without his list of postcodes to deliver presents to! With the clock ticking and morning fast approaching it’s down to Charlie, Kara and Muffin the bear to come up with a clever plan to save Christmas!

Our favourite part was when Isla got chosen to go up on the stage to sing Twinkle Twinkle. She was a star! She loved every minute of it and actually may have been slightly put out if she hadn't been picked! And the next best bit in her book was getting to sit in Santa's sleigh and meet the big guy himself and they were both given a colouring book. There was also a lovely moment when snowflakes fell down all around us, Noah loved that bit. 

Check out for information and tickets. It runs until Wednesday 24th December. Tickets are priced at £12.50 & £14.50 for adults and £10 & £12.50 for children. Family tickets are £40 & £49. £1.50 booking fee applies. 

This is one Christmas delight you won’t want to miss!

We were given free tickets to see Santa Claus and the Magical Journey. All opinions are my own. 

Sunday, 30 November 2014

New Digital Screen at Croydon Fairfield Halls

We were lucky enough to be invited to the Fairfield Halls in Croydon recently for a gala screening of Frozen Sing-a-long. I obviously haven’t grown tired of Frozen yet because I was as excited as Isla. I think it was the thought of being able to sing a long without people sshhing me or telling me to stop singing (Noah does this). It was promised to be lots of fun, with Elsa, Anna and Olaf in attendance and it really was. Isla donned her Elsa dress and not one to be left out Noah dressed as Spiderman (you mean you didn’t catch Spidey in Frozen?).

I’ve always loved The Fairfield Halls – it is an institution in my area. As a child I went there fairly often and feel sure that my first cinema experience was there for a showing of Disney’s Fantasia with my parents and for many years all the females in my family would go to The Salvation Army Carol Concert – where I also got to sing my lungs out to all the Christmas Carols. I also got to meet high calibre celebrities, Bob Holness, June Brown (Dot Cotton) etc., I know I’m stretching the celeb factor there….

The event was organised to showcase the new digital cinema screen and sound system. The new set up now means that they can screen live events, such as ballet and opera. Pretty cool and we got to experience it! Prior to the film starting the kids were treated to some face painting and goodie bags and LOADS of sweets. I say loads in bold because it was clearly too many as the kids demonstrated later on that day (I’ll leave you to work out what that means). Then came the sing-a-long and it was great. Isla was in fine voice and we were joined by blogger friend DadblogUK and his family. This was great as the girls know one another but hadn’t been together for a while, so excitement was taken to another level.

We had a great time that morning and it’s definitely reminded me of what a fantastic place Fairfield is and how I’d love my kids to also make some memories of their own there.

 Check up the upcoming programme of events and shows at Fairfield Halls here

We were given free tickets to this screening of the Frozen Sing-a-Long.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Barbie Malibu House - Review

Our house feels like Barbie HQ at the moment! Along with all the other Barbie stuff Isla already owned she was very happy with the addition of a Barbie Malibu House, which is derived from the web programme, Barbie, Life in the Dreamhouse, something Isla has watched on YouTube a fair bit recently. 

Even Thomas and Friends were welcome at Barbie's pad....
As I was on my own with the kids when the house arrived I was charged with putting it all together. I'm not really a natural at doing that kind of thing but with very little stress and maybe only a couple of bad words muttered quietly, I did it in just under an hour - including getting all the stickers on and asking the kids to stop moving the pieces untold number of times..... 

The house has 6 rooms for Barbie and comes with some fixed furniture and other pieces of furniture that can be moved from room to room. The main bedroom also doubles up as a shower room with the clever use of a bed that you can stand up to become a shower and wardrobe. There are lots of small pieces in the set, food, drinks, items for the fridge as well as a tiny iPad and remote control. I would say if you have any really small children in the house, be wary of these pieces. Fortunately this isn't a problem for us. 

The staircase section of the house has an aquarium pillar going through the middle to which you attach your Barbie. Using the pulley system, Barbie can take the staircase to access the upstairs areas. I have found this a bit tricky to use, it needs to be a smoother ride for Barbie and seems to take a bit of effort for Isla to work and she is 5.

(Doll not included)
One of the upstairs rooms is equipped with a holder that you can hang on the wall to put your iPhone in so Barbie can watch herself in episode of Life in the Dreamhouse!

From a parents perspective I like that it folds up quite compactly. We live in a two up two down and with the kids toys gradually taking over the house, it was good to know that we can tidy this away quite easily. 

There has been some great imaginative play going on since the Barbie Malibu house arrived and the Barbie dolls have been played with a lot more than they did before we had it! I have to say I don't know many girls who wouldn't love this for Christmas, just maybe get Father Christmas to deliver it already constructed, otherwise you'll have one impatient recipient on the big day.....

Recommended for children aged 3+
RRP £99.99

We were sent the Barbie Malibu House free of charge for the purposes of this review.

Chelsea Flippin' Pup Pool Playset - Review

For a few months before we were sent this playset Isla had seen it on TV adverts and had mentioned it repeatedly when asked what she'd like for Christmas, so I know that it's something that will appeal to many girls in her age group. What's not to love? Puppies - tick. Waterplay - tick. Barbie related - tick! Look at her face when it arrived....

The set comprises of a pool, diving board, slide, Chelsea doll, 3 puppies, a dog bed and little towel. One of the pups is designed to flick over and do a somersault at the end of the slide. This is so simple but looks effective. The slide has a catch at the bottom and the puppy hits it and flips over, catapulting her into the pool! The other two puppies are squeezy and squirt water from their mouths so they can have a water fight with Chelsea who also has a dolphin water feature to squirt water from!

Isla, Noah and Cousin M all enjoyed some time at my parents last Sunday playing with this toy. Water play in the house can be a bit tricky but with a few towels down there wasn't too much mess and in the summer it will be perfect for the outdoors and will go nicely with the Barbie swimming pool we already own.  

This set really would make a fantastic Christmas present for any fans of Barbie and also any little brothers who particularly like to stick their Disney Cars in the pool for swim too! 

Recommended for Children aged 3+
RRP £22.99

We were sent the Chelsea Flippin' Pup Pool Playset free of charge for the purposes of this review.