This month’s Tots 100 Center Parcs Challenge is all about picnics. We had family visiting from New Zealand over the Bank Holiday weekend, so took advantage of a break in the clouds to get out for a picnic at our local park. The thing about picnics is that they can be as simple or as complicated as you want: my Girls often have a carpet picnic for tea during the week- just sandwiches, crisps and fruit, for example, which takes little effort and which they really enjoy.
Or you could take picnics to a whole new level of creativity- which I am far more likely to do if they are on a school trip- and follow the example of Jill at Meet the DuBiens, who has a wealth of Bento-related archives for you to drool over. Or use as inspiration. Likewise Pippa from a Mother’s Ramblings does an amazing job varying the contents of her children’s lunchboxes. There is a host of recipes on the Lunchbox World website, which also sells some fabulous lunchboxes if you are looking.
We kept it simple: DH bought mini-rolls at Waitrose, which we filled with Marmite- both Kiwi and English. Grown-ups got full-sized beef and horseradish, ham and avocado and chicken and chutney rolls. All delicious. There were packets of crisps, slices of melon and pineapple, and mini-cakes and tarts, again courtesy of Waitrose. I am a fan of mini-things where children are concerned. The small size appeals to them. Needless to say that, in the shade of a large tree, it all got eaten pretty swiftly, so that we could get back to the important business of a family game of football.
That’s the thing about picnics- they are a super group activity. We have had so many over the years in all the countries my parents lived in whilst I was growing up and two things are essential: food and ball sports. Actually that should be four things: food, good weather, ball sports and beer. The life of an expat always seems to involve beer at any group activity!
After we had eaten and played and were in need of a new challenge, I unveiled ‘secret spies’. I have been wanting to try Geo-cache for ages, but the final push were a couple of my Facebook friends who posted pictures of their families having so much fun. So I downloaded the app- at £6.99 it isn’t cheap but after only one session I have no doubt that we will get value from it. We used this app to navigate around the park, finding the caches of varying sizes, with some success. Only once was there anything other than a log book in the container though, which saddened me: I can’t help thinking that British people are the worst for just helping themselves to the contents of boxes….
We were by no means stealthy: 4 adults, 4 children, a dog and a pushchair would still look obvious even if we were in camouflage. But we had a super fun time: the children loved searching for the boxes and following the compass on the app on my phone. We loved that they walked miles without complaint as we played ‘secret spies’. And I have to say that we are hooked. Especially when there is an ice-cream van just waiting for us as we finish.
For a chance to become the newest Center Parcs Family Blogger and to win a family break to a Center Parcs village of your choice, simply share pictures of your fun-filled family picnic on your blog and tweet @tots100 a link to it. Be sure to include the Center Parcs and Tots 100 handles in your tweet, as well as the #CPFamilyBreak hashtag before the challenge closes on May 31st.
A long time ago I was selected to be a Center Parcs Blogger. If you follow the blog you will see that we have been taking part in monthly various challenges since last year, from designing a Water Ride to planting some sunflower seeds. As part of the package, I got to take the DG family to Center Parcs Longleat to give the Center Parcs experience our full and considered opinion.
We set off on a beautiful day: the sun shone almost all the way to Wiltshire, although with Stonehenge in sight, we were beset with ‘adverse’ weather. This was the story of our weekend weather-wise: colder than usual for the time of year and a little bit dramatically wet at times. But we are, above all, British, so we just got on with it whilst complaining bitterly about the weather.
Check in- all in-car- was extremely efficient and we were able to drive to our villa to unload. The villa- a 3-bedroom- was well-appointed. Clean, tidy and very well-laid out, what the rooms lacked in space they made up for in thoughtfully-designed storage, and still fitted everything that you would need. Frankly we have stayed in many hotels that are far less well-kitted-out. There were hairdryers in each room- portentious as it turned out. There was a TV in the Master Bed. There was natural light- courtesy of a light-well- in the bathroom. There was a neat little kitchen with cupboard space for the bits we brought with us. There was a fireplace that we could use, and a generous L-shaped sofa to sprawl on whilst we watched DVDs. It was fantastic to have a ‘guest’ loo and good sized boot room in which to store wellies, shoes, bike helmets, scooters and pushchairs. My favourite feature was the giant blackboard, which bore a welcome message, and which got a lot of use during our stay.
Almost immediately I bailed on DH and the children to spend time in the Spa. He likewise abandoned the children to their Godmother- and fellow blogger- Lisa, whose family were with us in a nearby villa as part of the Center Parcs Blogger package, so he could park the car in the vast car-park and collect our reserved bikes. Subsequently mine turned out to be too large, so we returned the following day to the largest store of bikes I have ever seen in my life and mine was exchanged within minutes and without any fuss, for a better size. Both bikes had trailers for The Girls and they saw plenty of mileage across the site over the weekend. Although I had read about the large Center Parks sites online, it’s only when you actually get there that you realise how long it takes to get from A to B. This cannot be underestimated if you are booking activities in advance on the site- I would strongly advise that you don’t book things back-to-back unless you are certain that it is in the same location. Of course at Longleat there is a wonderful Land Train which takes the strain from your legs but still takes time to get around the circuit.
After the Spa, we headed to Huck’s for a family meal at The Plaza- home to most of the restaurants and the pool complex. The food was great- particularly the kids’ all-you-can-eat buffet, which allowed them to eat pasta with chips if they wanted and then dash off and play in the kids area whilst we explored the cocktail menu.
We spent a very comfortable night in soft warm beds, waking to bird song and an unnatural quiet- surrounded by woodland trees, there’s very little noise which is disconcerting to us city folk. We pedaled down to The Plaza with great excitement. As did half the site. The pool was very busy very quickly.And if I am honest, it was a bit of a mix: we loved the outdoor pool, some of the slides and the circular pool that swept us along like fish. I was very disappointed in the design of the children’s pool, some of which we only discovered on day two. It just didn’t seem that it had been properly thought through, and we ended up heading home with several injuries as a result.
That afternoon we had a blast at family bowling: the children managed to outscore the adults in most cases, but we all had such a great time. Even I got over my Bowling PTSD to get involved- the jug of Pina Colada and One Direction on the juke box undoubtedly helped. Then we cycled up to the Pancake House for a magic show and buffet, which totally blew the children away. In fact one of them went up on stage during the magic act, which made it even more unforgettable. It all proved a bit too much for Dimples so she and I bailed early, back to the space and quiet of our villa. The perfect retreat.
On Sunday morning, after a walk during which I realised how vast the site was and how, in all likelihood, there would remain huge portions of the place that I would not get to see on this visit, DH headed off to do some Field Archery. I watched The Girls run riot over one of the outdoor adventure areas- designed for much older children- and took hundreds of pictures. We met DH for lunch at Cafe Rouge before heading back to the pool- the main draw for us as a family, particularly as the children are currently learning to swim. We fitted in some Animal Magic with Lisa and her family. And then DH took the bikes to drop off whilst The Girls and I rode the Land Train back up the hill and home.
Supper and a DVD was perfect for our last evening in the Parc: the Girls were exhausted and we were driving back to Bromley in the morning. In the event our departure was very straightforward. DH took the last bike down to the Bike Centre and picked up our car, parking outside our villa as instructed, so that we could pack our belongings. A quick stop at the exit gates to drop off our keys and we were on the road, and home in 2 and a half hours.
*disclosure: as a Center Parcs Blogger, I received our Friday-to-Monday break for two families, together with welcome pack, meal at Hucks and activities free of charge, for the purposes of this review. For more information about Center Parcs, you can visit their website: www.centerparcs.co.uk*
The thing that I cherish more than anything on Mother’s Day are the cards and handmade gifts that The Girls give me. On the same basis, I work hard with our Girls to make something that DH will cherish for Father’s Day. It’s an important lesson for them to learn: that a gift that is thoughtful, that comes from the heart, that you put yourself into, is far more special and precious than anything you can buy.
A couple of years ago, when they were small, I made DH’s Snake Bookmark from a tie. But since then, there has been much more involvement. Last year we made a DAD photo frame. I also wrote a post on easy Father’s Day crafts that you can make. This year, LBG has come up with a champion idea all by herself. She suggested we make something for Daddy’s Oyster card. So we did.
I found some bright coloured duct tape from my stash and we set to work. Here’s how we made our Father’s Day Duct Tape Oyster Card Holder- though of course you could use it for a credit card, gift card or other card.
First, cut strips of duct tape that were just over twice the length of the card, then stick them together, overlapping for greater strength and to create stripes.
Next, fold over the top edge of the duct tape- our ‘edge’ was about 2cm deep. Then fold in the sides so that the strip of duct tape is the same width as the card. Using another strip of Duct tape, cover the exposed sticky edges- as well as the loose folded top corners- to hold it all in place. This is the ‘inside’ of your card holder.
Place the Oyster card on top of the inside of the card holder, top flush with the top of the duct tape, then fold the remaining length back over the card: it should go about 2/3 to 3/4 way up.
Remove the card then use small strips of co-ordinating duct tape to stick the front edge to the rear edge.
And that’s it: fill with the card of your choice and give to Dad.
For other Father’s Day craft ideas, check out a great Father’s Day Crafts hangout with Red Ted Art and UK Craft Bloggers. Ideas include:
Pencil End keyrings from Kids Chaos
Just because I love you book from Missie Lizzie
Fabulous fabric bowl from Zing Zing Tree
Paper bead bookmark from Crystal
Great hot rock paperweights from Red Ted Art
I often hear people talking about building memories, and I never really understood what they were on about, but used it as a convenient excuse whenever DH complained about the lack of housework that had been done. This is the story of my discovery of memory-building.
We enjoy camping, but The Girls and I are most definitely fair-weather campers, so the camping gear spends about ten months of the year in storage. Recently however, we were talking about camping and- as DH was working one weekend and the weather prevented us from getting out- I came up with the plan for us to spend the night camping indoors.
We rearranged the furniture in the sitting room so that we could string a flat sheet over the back of two sofas. This created our tent. Then I went hunting for some of our camping gear in the attic. I inflated the inflatable double bed and found the double sleeping bag. The Girls and I changed into PJs and sweaters- as we would when out in the wilds!
Daddy built a fire- in the fireplace- and we toasted some marshmallows.
We read books and stayed up very late.
We used torches to navigate around the house in the dark, and cleaned our teeth using a cup of water, albeit in the downstairs WC.
We crept out in the garden in the dark to say goodnight to Daddy.
Then we curled up, all three of us together, and fell asleep.
I left a handful of glowsticks- activated- in a jar at the foot of the ‘tent’ so that we could navigate in the dark.
And we all slept until morning.
The Girls still talk about our indoor camping. I have no idea why I was suddenly so inspired to do it but I will definitely add it to our winter play list. They have asked several times when we can do it again. I hold the memory of the three of us sharing that experience close. I will remember it forever. I hope they do too.
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It feels like a thousand years since my youngest was trained, but she’s only just three. Which means that this time last year, I was ‘in the zone’. She received pants as a birthday present from her Granny and that was it: she insisted she never wear nappies again. I have to say that part of the ease of it is her personality. Once she decided it was time, it was time. Which is my first tip:
1. Listen to your child. You know them best. If they are strong-willed you will have a different training experience to the parent of a chilled-out child. Don’t be badgered by nursery or grandparents. You will know. The children will tell you, either by themselves or with regular dry nappies.
2. Be prepared. Just because you aren’t ready to potty train, it doesn’t mean that you cannot be ready. Have a potty- assuming you want to use one (see tip three)- around the house, read potty books together, take them to the loo with you so they see the process work. That tip’s mainly for the working parent/s: I don’t know a stay-at-home parent who hasn’t had an audience when nature calls. I can also recommend having several potties: one upstairs and one downstairs, so that they are always within easy reach.
3. Think about how you want to train. Some people don’t want to bother with potties, which is fine. Some children are very tall and can go straight to sitting on the loo. If you have a boy you may want to think about whether you teach them to wee standing up. Do you want to use pull-ups or training pants.
4. Go shopping. There’s the aforementioned potty, and pants but there are other things to consider like a family loo seat- which has a fold down seat for smaller bottoms which fits over the top of the adult-sized one. It’s amazing how many children are terrified of falling into the loo. There’s a kiddie step so that they can access the loo easily. You will also need waterproof sheets for night-time training. And lots of pants and pairs of trousers/leggings/shorts- dependent on time of year- that are easy for children to pull up and down by themselves.
5. Bribery. Chocolate, stickers, reward charts, there are lots of ways to reward your child. At first you may need to reward them just for sitting on the potty even if nothing happens. Then once they get used to that, you can move the target by making the treat *ahem* performance-based. One of my children is a chocolate-fiend and would do anything for mini-smarties. She got one for, well, a number one, and two for a number two.
6. Train your brain. Initially you need to ask them every ten minutes if they need a wee. They will say no. Then wee down their legs. Get used to offering up the potty/loo a lot. Always go to the loo before you leave the house and make it your first job when you get somewhere. Stop frequently on long journeys.
7. Be kind to yourself. It will get you down, this training business. I was recently chatting with a friend whose fully-trained five-year-old randomly wet himself. Stick with it.
8. Take a bag. I have a ‘potty bag’ that I always keep fully stocked. It’s ready to grab and go whenever we leave the house.
9. Stick with it. This is generally the advice: once you’ve started, you can’t go back. I confess that this is not my experience. With both my children we have had what-I-call a false start: they both tried potty training, decided they didn’t want to and requested to be put back into nappies. Yet within weeks, they requested pants again and never looked back.
10. Praise. For yourself, for them. Repeatedly. Until you cannot do it anymore. Continue for about 18 months. Reward yourself regularly with Gin.
I bought a jigsaw from a charity shop recently only to find that there was a piece missing. Yes I could have returned it but at 50p it wasn’t worth the effort, so my thoughts turned to crafts suing puzzle pieces and what I could make with them.
If you stare at puzzle pieces for long enough, especially when they are turned over so you cannot see the picture, it’s surprising what you can see: a bit like staring at clouds until you see images in them.
Which is how I came to make Two Little Dickie Birds stick puppets from the puzzle pieces I had. It occurred to me that the two protruding ends looked a little like wings. So I dug out some lolly sticks, ribbons and my trusty glue gun and within a few minutes had a pair of birds: this would be a great prop for singing nursery rhymes with children!
The rear of my pieces were conveniently white, but I found a yellow triangular button for a beak and used a marker for the eyes. The wings and tail were made with ribbon which I folded over three or four times to create plumes, then stick into place. Finally I added further tail feathers from scraps of old fabric.
All of which was perfectly timed for a UK Bloggers hangout talking about crafts you can make using puzzle pieces.
If you look closely, you will see that I also made a crying baby stick puppet, a caterpillar and- not shown- an alien.
Also featured were Red Ted Art with her snowflake ornaments,
Kids Chaos had some fabulous puzzle cards: watch out for a printable soon on the blog!
Zing Zing Tree showed us how to be playful with missing pieces and resin
Crystal made an adorable brooch: something I’d never have thought of,
And I admire Me and My Shadow’s wonderful photo puzzle keyrings: the perfect thoughtful Father’s Day gift.
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Thirty years ago things were very different for me: I was a cute little six year old with blond hair and blue eyes, an annoying younger brother and a mum who made birthday cakes in the shape of fire-engines. Life simply does not get better than that.
And then, after a night away from home, we awoke to the news that we had a younger brother, and were taken to Leicester Royal Infirmary to meet the little bundle of joy.
The six year old me was not at all happy. Firstly, because she had very specifically asked for an older brother. Secondly, her parents had the temerity to name it Daniel (their favoured name for boys that couldn’t be used last time round due to a surplus of Daniels being born at the time.) The Mothership held onto the name for six long years whilst they tried and tried for another baby. And then, 24 hours after “Daniel’s” arrival, she bowed to the whims of her precocious six-year-old daughter and gave up the name Daniel in favour of Adam. As requested by the little girl unhappy about the arrival of the ‘wrong’ brother.
Yes, I’d have called them indulgent too. But I didn’t because I didn’t know what the word meant. But I enjoyed my new plaything very much.
Brother Adam then (1985)
Fast forward thirty years and Brother Adam is mere days away from a significant birthday- it shouldn’t take much for you to deduce which one. He is much taller than he was that day in May 1983. Although he has about the same amount of hair. And he does appear to be fulfilling the role of ‘plaything’ very well these days for his nieces- my children.
They are little with blond hair and blue eyes. They have an annoying dog and a mum that makes birthday cakes in the shape of butterflies and Barbies. They have a very indulgent father. Life simply does not get better than that.
I, on the other hand, haven’t aged as well: I am less blonde, I have green eyes, and my mum refuses to make me cakes any more. Apparently I am “too old”. I get to be bossed around by two precocious little girls and never seem to have a moment to myself. I think The Mothership would call that “Karma”. But she can’t say it out loud because as fast as I am turning into my mother, she is turning into hers!
Brother Adam now (2012)
But whilst The Girls are at school and Brother Adam is at work, whilst The Mothership has the temerity to be in America visiting her other grandchildren leaving me alone and babysitter-less, I shall munch on my bowl of My Special K undisturbed. I shall enjoy the new recipe wholegrain flakes- three to be exact: wheat, rice and barley. I shall feel smug in the knowledge that the British-made cereal is a source of fibre and contains 8 vitamins and iron.
me and my Special K. Maybe I need a flakeover.
And I shall try and imagine what it must feel like to be as timeless, as ageless, as Special K.
This is an entry for the BritMums/Special K “How I’ve changed Linky challenge”. I was sent a packet of the new Special K for the purposes of writing this post.