Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Holidays with kids? Go self-catering as close to home as possible

We used to love long-haul holidays – before kids that is. Now our idea of a perfect getaway is somewhere close by (three hour maximum car journey), that has a play area, its own kitchen and a living room we can relax in once the children have gone to bed. Holiday cottages – fantastic. Center Parcs – even better.
This year we plumped for a self-catering lodge in nearby Blackwood Forest, Hampshire, courtesy of Forest Holidays. We were drawn to the pretty-looking lodges in picturesque woodland settings, and more specifically to the hot tub positioned invitingly on the terrace. So how did we get on?  
The site itself was easy to find and well sign-posted when we arrived. You can drive right up to your cabin and park by it which we found very handy. The lodge itself was beautiful, all open plan in the living area with modern decor, a comfy corner sofa, a media hub for DVDs and music and Wi-fi was also available. The kitchen had everything we needed – we cooked a full-on roast in ours one day. We were pleased to find a couple of dishwasher tablets, washing-up liquid and a dishcloth so all you have to worry about is bringing the food – although there is a well-stocked shop on-site and you can order takeaways to be delivered to your door or pre-order food parcels like the pizza night pack. They even do freshly baked bread made to order.
Everything had been thought of - two bathrooms with hooks on all the doors to hang robes and a heated towel rail to dry swimming costumes and towels. We hired towels (for both the bathroom and the hot tub), robes and slippers, plus a cot and high chair so we didn’t have to pack them in our already full car. There are plenty of added extras you can order in, such as in-cabin entertainment on the flat screen telly which included Sky TV, and in-cabin spa treatments.
The highlight, as we knew it would be, was the hot tub on the veranda which we splashed about in first thing in the morning and last thing before bed. It was a completely magical experience to be able to do this surrounded by trees and looking up at the sky.
There was plenty to do to keep the children (aged one and four) entertained. We booked on to the nature trail with a friendly ranger called Phil (all the staff were very friendly and welcoming) which my eldest loved. He delighted in hunting for bugs under logs and collecting them in a special beaker with a magnifying glass that Phil had given him. They did tree rubbings with paper and crayons and then followed a trail of arrows made up of branches to find a lost flamingo hiding in one of the trees. Good wholesome fun!
On the other day we hired bikes rather than bring our own (again, hassle-free) with a trailer for our one-year-old and a tag-along for our four-year-old. There was a clear and very beautiful cycle path (plus lots of walking routes) which we easily followed. For older kids (and adults) there is archery, horseriding, tree climbing and in some of the locations, but not ours, Go Ape adventures with zip wires etc. There was a play area with swings and slide.
We also visited Paultons Park which was just a 40-minute drive away.

A thoroughly enjoyable and hassle-free holiday for those with little ones. Visit www.forestholidays.co.uk

Saturday, 21 September 2013

New arrival

Apologies for the silence from Mum Down South - it is all the fault of a certain little lady who entered our lives on July 21st. Meet our beautiful daughter Emily Joan who arrived weighing 7lbs 8oz making us a happy family of four.
Welcome to the world little lady x

Friday, 5 July 2013

Are you a Babe with a Baby?

As a parenting journalist, I am put in touch with various mummy websites and boutiques with the idea that I check them out and see what they are all about. So it was with Babes with Babies, a rather chic and stylish online store offering everything from maternity and nursing clothes to gifts for mummies, daddies and babies. 
Their stuff is rather lovely and I was lucky enough to be sent a couple of tops which I intend to use when breastfeeding (probably rather imminently if the size of my bump is anything to go by!). They arrived beautifully gift wrapped inside a box tied with ribbon, and there were even dried roses scattered across the tissue paper. Very impressed I was.
Anyway, I will review the tops once they come into use but in the meantime Babes with Babies has launched a survey on how to stay sane and stylish during pregnancy and if you fill it in you will receive a £10 shopping voucher to spend with them. Worth a visit if you have the time as I have to say it is all rather lovely and a tenner is a tenner. Click here to enter. To check out Babes with Babies, click here.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Our birthday boy

Three years ago on June 22nd, the little man's daddy and I were sat in our hospital room, shell-shocked, staring down at a sleepy but large-eyed tiny baby, our baby. Wind the clock forward and here we are, running around a church hall, ten other toddlers in tow, throwing our son a party to mark that momentous event that seems such a distant memory now.
There were sandwiches, sausage rolls, crisps, a floor littered with toys, balloons and bubbles, entertainment courtesy of Jo Jingles, piles of presents to open, and a fabulous guitar cake made by my hardworking mum, ever up for a challenge.
Boy, parties are exhausted, particularly when you are carrying around an enormous baby bump. And I certianly couldn't have done it without the help of husband and parents, who worked tirelessly the whole morning to make it perfect for him. By the end, the birthday boy was beside himself and spent his bath and storytime wailing. It was all we could to do just crawl back down the stairs once he was asleep, curl up on the sofa and watch TV munching leftover party food (the best kind of dinner).
But it's pictures like these that make you realise it was all worth it.
The birthday boy is in white - he loves those bubbles

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Watch out - health visitor about

I am not naive. I know that going from one to two children is going to be hard. Hard for the little man, used to my full attention, hard for me splitting myself in two and hard for daddy trying to help but with piles of work to do at the same time. But what I don't want is it to be spelt out to me in hard and scary terms by a health visitor. In my own home.
When you are due to have a baby, a health visitor will pay a house call. This is to give you the little red medical book and to give you the chance to chat through any issues or concerns you might have. I imagine it is also so they can see what sort of a household the new little person will be coming into. I didn't give this visit a second thought - just put it in my diary, made space for it during the busy week which meant delaying our usual visit to the swimming pool and when she came (twenty minutes late) I sat down ready to talk. What I wasn't expecting was a 45 minute lecture on how I MUST prepare the little man for the "horrendous shock" he will have, how difficult life is going to get for me, how I NEED to get him potty trained right now (with four weeks until my due date) and how he is far too old to be having a bottle of milk (okay maybe he is but do I need to worry about that NOW?).
Ever since I have been shrouded in the blues that I just can't shrug off. Instead of looking forward to the arrival of our second child, I am now dreading it. If the little man, who is extremely lively, starts playing up, I am plunged into feelings of inadequacy. How will I cope with two if I can't even control one?
I also feel angry. I didn't ask for her opinions. It certainly wasn't helpful having them thrown at me. In my own home. The withering look of disapproval we got as the little man guzzled away on his full fat milk is one I am finding hard to forget. And worse still, will I have to face her again when the baby has arrived and I am at my most vulnerable?
Friends have told me to call up and request she not visit me again. Others apparently have done the same. In fact, do I really need to see a health visitor at all? Last time around, I tied myself in knots each time they put my tiny boy on the scales and warned me that, while he was putting on the minimum amount of weight required, it could, should, be better. He was fine. All that worry for nothing. And now I might have to go through it all again. In fact, it has already started.
No, not this time. I know better. Pass me the phone.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Warning - baby on the way

Wow this pregnancy is going fast. I now have six weeks to go. Not long but not to worry, I am attempting to be organised. Tiny newborn outfits have been retrieved, washed, gazed at and put away. I have a draw full of tiddly-sized nappies and cotton wool balls (will I really do that whole cotton wool and warm water thing that I did last time around, or will the wipes win out?) The baby car seat is washed and installed - early I know but I'm not going to be caught out and besides, it was in the loft and I don't want to be scrabbling around with two days to go before my due date looking for lost headrests and straps etc. I am yet to cook lots of meals and freeze them but that is on my to-do list for next week, possibly. Unfortunate accessories to this birthing/babies business - breast pumps, breast pads, other sorts of pads (sorry men if you are reading this and getting red faced, it is not pleasant I agree), bras that unhinge for easy access, tops that do likewise are being found or bought in readiness.The moses basket is in position, with new bedding ordered online, delivered and stored away in readiness. The only thing I need to do now is prepare my son for the coming arrival.
Easier said than done. I have talked about it with him but any attempts at discussion are quickly ignored in favour of the more exciting activity he is engrossed in. We have got out all his baby things and explained how he once bounced in that seat or laid on that rug, and that his little brother or sister will soon be doing the same, but he remained unbothered - although he did enjoy using the moses basket as a boat.
We plan to show him his baby photos and talk about the new arrival in that context, and I am going to do a search on Amazon as I know there are plenty of books out there that can help introduce what it is that is about to hit him.
My guess is he won't be too phased by the event. He never takes any notice when I hold other babies and he is not the jealous type (if a toy is taken from him, he mostly just goes off and gets another) but I do wonder how he will be when my attention, which has been his completely for almost three years, is shared with another. At least we have the summer for the four of us to get used to one another and I will do my absolute best to make sure he never feels left out. And I will remind myself that, in the end, even if he isn't too keen on having a sibling about at first, he or she will be a wonderful playmate and companion for him for the rest of his life.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

You can go on holiday with a toddler

Ever since the little man arrived, our criteria for having a nice break away have seriously changed. Flying, for a start, is out. I remember being young, free and single and how my heart would drop as I settled into my seat ready for a seven-hour flight only for a toddler to clamber in next to me. I'm not saying you can't travel with little ones but he is particularly active and I would be stressed. Besides, you can pack so much more into a car and there was a lot I wanted to pack.
Other criteria include:
1, If we're going by car, it can’t be too far away – four hours max if possible. Driving is boring, for everyone.
2, There must be fun things for toddlers to do – the beach, swings, slides etc. Even a pool is out at this stage really - we didn’t want to spend the day taking it in turns chasing our two and a half year old around the pool trying to keep him safe.
3, Self catering accommodation is a must so we can cook what we want when we want with perhaps an occasional visit to a restaurant if we are feeling up to it. He must have his own room too and a living space away from said room so we can relax with a glass of wine (or fruit juice in my pregnant state) after a long day of fun without disturbing him.
In short, what we didn’t want was a holiday that turned out to be more stressful than simply staying at home. So I was delighted when we found Trevorrick farm - a collection of pretty cottages in Cornwall offering an indoor pool, children’s play area, animals to pet and beaches nearby. The owners Melanie and Mike are themselves parents and quite clearly know exactly what every holidaying family requires to make life easy and, therefore, fun. Stairgates, night lights, baby monitors, high chairs, booster seats, socket guards, a pram if needed are all provided for guests. They even promise to fill your cottage with age appropriate toys. We booked on the spot.
So we have now returned from our break away and I am happy to report it was everything we had hoped for. The cottage was indeed pretty and filled with trains, train tracks, building blocks, puzzles and books waiting for him to play with. Every morning, while I got ready, the little man and his daddy would wander about the farm, visiting the turkeys, two Shetland ponies, pigs and chickens. It was idyllic. 
Everyday, we headed out for a day of family fun and there was so much for toddlers to do, not including all the beaches nearby (it was just a bit too cold to venture to the seaside unfortunately). Our favourite was Crealy Great Adventure Park where you pay once and then get a free seven-day pass. We went three times. Bargain. It was there we discovered the little man's love of rollercoasters - at last his daddy has someone to go on with him. We rode the steam trains at Lappa Valley and stared at the animals inside Newquay zoo. We even found time to read our books while our son, exhausted by all the fun he was having, reverted back to his afternoon naps again. One day I ate such an enormous Cornish cream tea I was actually sick but I don't regret it - that Cornish cream is to die for and at one point I did think I was dying. Sometimes in the evenings, we fell asleep not long after putting the little man to bed. It was our first and last holiday just the three of us and it was just what we wanted - fun, stressfree and exhausting with a pile of Cornish cream on the side for good measure.