A Calmer Christmas With Calmer Bannanas At Buckland Park Lake

Christmas is a wonderful time of year, but the hustle and bustle, packed scedules and lack of time can take a toll on us all and the need to switch off from it all can be much needed.

Its not just the adults that need to take a break. I am definitly guily of trying to put too much on the kids at Christmas. I want these few short weeks a year to be crammed with as much magic as possible, but in reality it can all be a bit too much and they need something that give them a more chiiled day out – and this is were I was hoping the ‘Calmer Christmas Experince from Calmer Bananas would be perfect.

On Sunday morning we headed to Buckland Park Lake, Reigate to take part in this event. We parked up on the edge of the lake which was a stuiing sight to see and so surrene – however the boys were a little worried I was going to get them to join in with the wild swimmers!

We headed towards the gingerbread house where we were greeted by a super friendly elf that told us all about what our morning was going to hold. Buckets and scavenger hunt sheets in hand we headed off on our scavenger hunt to find all the pieces we needed to build our own snowman. In my head I had imagined a much lower key hunt, with us literally finding bits and pieces in the wooldna, so I was thrilled to discover a huge trail filled with activites, questions to answer and lots of little elves scattered aroynd to make it a really thetrical dispaly.

At each stop thier was something to keep the boys brains ticking over and thet loved the challange of having to complete a task to gain a piece towards their snowman.

After walking through the beautiful woodland we troated across a liitle bridge over a stream to play a few games of Pooh Sticks and made our final journey toward a pretty shleter nestled betwwen the trres. The numbers are kept low and we didnt bump into anyone the whole way round which made it even more speical and you didnt have the anxiety of having to rush trough tasks to let ohter people in for thier turn.

As a big fan of outdoor fun I actually think I was more excited at the sight of the shelter than the children. I was beatifuult decorated and homed an open fire where we sat down with a hot choclate after building our snowman.

Hot chocolate in hand and toes nicely warming up there was even more fun to come. We each had a gingerbread man to decorate and the boys made thier own christmas decorations. Whislt all these activites were being completed Mother Claus read the children christams stoires and sang a few songs to really get us in the christmas soirit.

There is also an option to have lunch whilst you are there and i was amamzed at the quality of the snack boxes. The boys has christmas tree shapped sandwithes, a candy cane cheese straw and a super cute reinderr brownie. so much thought had gone into it and they gave a big thumbs up for the taste test!

The adult boxes were just as good, and I enjoyed a festive treat with a turkey and cranberry sandwich, homemade sausage roll and a gooey chococlte brownie.

The whole experince was as relazing as i had hoped for. The boys are extremlly boysterous and can sometimes get more than a little over excited, but being ocupied the whole time gave them a mental workout, alonf with a good walk trough the woods, allowing them to really kick back and enjoy the peace and quiet of the calm actitives in the twnt.

This experience far excided my expectations and I would defintly put it top of our activites this year. It was someting differnt ans we will definlty be retrning next year!

Manchester:A Family Day Out

[AD] While international travel is once more a possibility, the lingering spectre of Covid adds extra layers of risk and expense that may mean it remains unattractive for some. That means lots of families are still looking at staycations in 2021 and even into 2022. Today we’re here to convince you that your next family trip – whether it’s a day out or a full blown holiday – should be in Manchester!

History

Manchester has a rich history to discover from its settlement by Roman invaders of Britain as Mamucium to its rapid expansion and economic dominance during the industrial revolution and into the Victorian age. Unfortunately that same rapid growth and success obliterated the ruins of the Roman fort that had stood outside the city for the previous thousand years. If you’ve got history buffs in your family, they might enjoy a visit to a reconstruction of the original city walls, gatehouse and other buildings in Castlefield Urban Heritage Park.

If you’re interested (or want to get your family interested) in the history and heritage of the city, then you might want to try a Manchester treasure hunt, and race through the streets of the city, learning about its buildings, inhabitants and famous happenings to solve the clues and find the answers you’re searching for.

Food

After you’ve built up an appetite exploring, you’re going to need to eat and Manchester offers some world class restaurants.

Mana is the only Michelin starred restaurant in the city and well worth checking out if you’re interested in fine dining. It’s rigorously contemporary restaurant using the very best ingredients from right across the British Isles – and by no means the most obvious ones. Have you ever tried Reindeer Moss from the Isle of Sky?

Kids might enjoy the Cafe Football – the sport soaked casual restaurant overlooking Old Trafford. Specials include the Nicky Butty and the Mara Doner – it’s a must for the hungry football fan.

Football

For many people, Manchester is followed automatically by the word United – and for others of course, by City. Fortunately both groups of fans (be they die hard followers or casual supporters from afar) are catered for in the city, with tours of the teams’ respective stadiums and fullmuseums dedicated to their history. Even non-sports fans will find a lot to reward them, if only in the sheer scale of the enterprise and the clear passion of players and supporters down the years.

A Touch Of Luxury At Andaz London Liverpool Street

Although we are Londoners, being South of the river means going into central London is still always an exciting experience. The hustle and bustle, the towering buildings, the eclectic diversity of everyone there is always food for my sole and something I will never tire of – and it’s something I encourge my children to enjoy too.

What is even better than a day trip is an over night stay, and we were lucky enough to experience a night at Andaz London Liverpool Street. Andaz London Liverpool Street is a short walk from London Bridge station and a stones throw from the Shoreditch District, which is certainly one of my favourite parts of London.

Andaz London dates back to 1884 and was formally known as The Great Eastern. My Dad who is a born and breed East Ender, remembers the hotel from his childhood, and I’m glad to stay the original features have been mixed perfectly with a modern twist, giving it that feel wow factor.

Upon arrival a glass of very welcomed glass of Prosecco was placed in my hand after a slightly fraught journey with two over excited boys! We checked in with ease and made our made upstairs to check out our room. We had an interconecting room which allowed for plenty of space to chill out, infact the rooms were some of the most spacious I have stayed in. The soft, cosy beds were super inviting and the simplistic decor made for a very calming atmosphere.

The little notes back to the hotel’s East London roots with art from a local tattoo artist were the perefct touch, and the boys were even left some tattoos to try on themselves!

The black and white, clean lines of the bathrooms were beautiful and complemented the rest of the room perfectly.

We wanted for nothing inside the room as there was a fully stocked mini bar…much to the boys delight, tea and coffee facilities and of course robes and slippers that we slipped into as soon as we settled in.

The boys unloaded their toys and I sat back and relaxed until it was time to head down to dinner.

Every evening there are complimentary drinks in the lounge between 6 – 8pm. I was a little hesitant about going along with the boys, but they thoroughly enjoyed listening to the music and taking in the atmosphere.

Our room was located directly next to Liverpool Street Station and I was worried about the noise, but we didn’t hear a peep from outside and we all slept really well. The 12oclock check out allowed us to have a lay in and enjoy our room before heading down to breakfast.

Breakfast while we are away is always a highlight for the kids, and if it is a buffet style they are even happier. So their eyes lit up when the saw the plethora of food on offer. There was everything from cereals and fruit, continental style treats to a full english or there was the option to order from the menu with favourites such as pancakes and eggs Benedict – we really were spolit for choice!

Sometimes I find you are ushered out as there is a big turnover of people, but the kids were uncharacteristically relaxed and we sat for a good while, enjoying the delicious food and each others company.

Andaz London is perfect if you want a centeral location, a touch of luxury and good food with a quirky twist. A family friendly hotel with all the little touches to make it a great stay for the adults too!

School Night Dinner Sorted With Richmond

[AD] Who’s in for dinner tonight? What clubs am I picking up from? Who’s house do you need dropping to? These are all of the questions I am shouting as we are leaving the house in the morning. Once these problems are solved I then need to throw in the logistics of work and housework, and somewhere in the middle off all this I need to think about what I’m going to feed everybody for dinner.

Time is always limited during the week, but I always like to make sure the children have a wholesome, hot meal each evening, especially during the colder months which is sometimes easier said than done when you are pushed for time. So I was intrigued when I was asked to try the new Richmond Toad In The Hole Kit. With the promise of only 5mins prep and 40 mins cooking time I wanted to put this to the test as normally for me toad in the hole can be a little faffy and something I save for the weekend.

The compact box comes with 10 sausauges and a packet of batter that you simply put into a bowl and add 200ml of water to. Not an egg or milk in sight, so I was keen to see how this batter was going to turn out. The meal is meant to feed a family of 4, but we easily stretched it to 5.

Sauasages browned, batter mixed and poured on and sides all ready I was super impressed at how quick and mess free it had been to prepare.

Now for the taste test! Sadly my batter took a beating as the kids all gobbled it down, exclaiming it was so much lighter and fluffier than mine. So well done Richmonds, you have made a fuss free, mess free dinner that has pleased the whole family and we will certainly be going back for more.

A Weekend At Robin Hill Country Park

One of my resoultions for 2020 was to travel more with the kids – the Covid pandemic hit and all my plans were put on hold. One thing it did do though is to open my eyes to the amazing places we have here. Somewhere I haven’t been since I was a child is the Isle Of Wight, so when I was asked to visit I jumped at the chance.

I didn’t have any recollection of the Isle Of Wight and certianly didn’t remember visiting Robin Hill.

We got off to an early start and after a couple of hours drive we boarded the ferry and before we knew it we arrived in the Isle Of Wight. It was an easy 15 minute drive to Robin Hill where we were greeted with smiles and shown what was going own. With the map firmly in our grip we headed off to explore.

Robin Hill covers a huge 88 acres of beautiful parkland and woodland that has been transformed into a fabulous adventure area that is more than sympathetic to it’s stunning surroundings.

Frankie has reached that akward age where he thinks he is to grown up for most things I suggest these days. He’s too big for the park, he doesn’t want to go for county walks – the list is pretty endless. So when I saw him leap through the treetop canopy walkways to get to the Jungle Heights my heart was already won over…as was his.

High up aroungst the trees is Jungle Heights which was definitely the highlight of our trip. It is an collection of netted areas set amongst the woodland that you can run, climb and bounce on to your hearts content. As well as this there is a lovely little cafe area nestled away where the adults can grab a drink, sit back and watch the fun. Relaxing music is played through large speakers which made for a really calming atmosphere and I honestly could have sat there for hours.

Around this area is the Squirrel run where the little ones can start from the bottom and weave their way up to the top of the treetop walkway.

From here we headed over to the toboggans. Frankie took to these alone whilst I went on with Oscar. Frankie speed off into the distance while poor Oscar had to creep around the run with his nervous mother!

This was something the boys had never done before and they absolutley loved it. Next to this there were also some huge slides that the boys spent a lot of time working out how to get down them as fast as possible. The addition of sitting of their coat seemed to be the winning combination.

A liitle further along a jouney we stopped off at the huge ponds which were also home to the suspended bridges. It was so tranquil there and whist I enjoyed the beauty of the surrounding the boys weaved their way across the floating bridges.

Dotted around the park there are lots of little extras to keep you entertained, such as falconary exibitions which we sadly missed and a circus play area which was great place to stop and warm up under the shelter of the tent whilst they honed their circus skills.

To end our day we decided to hop on board the tractor ride so we could spot anything we might have missed. It was turing to dusk by now and it was beautiful to see the park as the sun was coming down. It was also an opportunity to see the lights coming on for the evening event that was just going to start. I was gutted the boys were too tired to stay as it looked like such a fun filled evening – it does however give us the excuse to return next year.

All tired out we made on last stop at Colossus, which is a huge ship ride that the boys went on countless times – I honestly don’t know how they weren’t ill.

Robin Hill was more than I had expected it to be. They offer a place were kids can just be kids alongside stunning scenery that the adults can enjoy too. You really can make a whole day of it and we loved it so much we made a return trip the very next day!

Would you like to visit Robin Hill?

Making Reading Fun With The Reading Adventure Club

[GIFTED] None of my children have been avid readers and it has always taken a lot to get them into a book. Most of the time it’s a lot of trial and error and even then it can be a battle to get them to sit down and read. So when I was asked to try out the reading subscription box from The Reading Adventure Club I was eager to see if this would help to build a love of books.

The Reading Adventure Club was set up by nine year old twin brothers who have a love of both reading and opening presents and thought it would be a great idea to combine the two! The idea is that you read the book that is sent and throughout the story at different points you get the opportunity to open a special gift that has been loving wrapped and put inside the box too.

For me the clever part of this though is the gift can only be opened once the child has answered a question on the story. All the questions are listed and tucked away in a envelope that is marked – To be opened by responsible Grown Up only.

The presents are a good mix of useful items, mainly linked to reading as well as fun stuff and if you’re really lucky you might even find some sweets in there!

The books have all been loving selected and road tested by the boys, so you know they are going to be something perfect for the age range selected.

All you need to do to get started is to choose your subscription period and your box will be lovingly packed and sent off for it to arrive on the 15th of each month.

This box would be perfect for avid readers and those less inclined to read alike. The boys loved reading the story; and knowing there was a prize coming after a few pages kepted them engaged and wanting to really take in the story rather than just skimming the pages to get the book finished.

It comes with a big thumbs up from us and I would love to know if you are keen to give it a try.

Abundant As A Mother:Review

[GIFTED] The past couple of years have been such a shake up for us all, and for me going through everything the pandemic has brought us, it has been a time to really reflect on me. As mothers we always leave ourselves at the bottom of the pile and this can often lead to us loosing who we really are and what we really want.

After months of sacrificing myslelf for my families needs – something I dont regret at all as lets face it who would have ever thought we would have been in this situation, I’ve decided it is time to reclaim me and I have been helped on this journey by the amazing Abundant As A Mother by Ashley Butler.

Ashley has created her two-step abundance manifesting program that allows you to live a full and abundant life by switching off to the noise from social media, friends, and the endless juggling.

So much of what Ashley speaks of rings true with me. After twenty plus years of parenting I would like to think that I’ve got things down pretty well when it comes to managing the family. I’m a clean freak and always go with the saying ‘a tidy house is a tidy mind’ but in reality I may seem to have have everything together on the surface but not everything is as it seems.

A lot of my worries are then stored in my head and this is definitely more problematic than having an untidy home and this is one of the sections that Ashley covers.

She teaches you how to let you of all those comparisons we put on ourselves thanks to the constent content being thrown at us through the use of social media. I’m sure I’m not alone in comparing my life to those we are constanly shown on those little squares on our phone!

A big change for me is going to be learning to say no. I’m a people pleaser and always find it hard to say no as I have a fear of letting people down, even if this is detrimental to my own sanity. Ashley teaches us that its ok to say no to anything that doesn’t serve us.

For me the stand out comment was ‘If you aren’t happy with your life right now its kinda on you’.

Stop competing with others, put your own needs first and most importantly go out and get the life you deserve through manifesting a happy and abundant life as you are the only one who can make these changes.

Flipping Out At Flipout

[PRESS TRIP] With over twenty years or parenting I sometimes reach the summer holidays and feel that I have exhausted every single day out there is. Of course we have some firm favourites we never tire of and can happily revisit time and time again, but were always on the hunt for new and exciting places and we definitely came across this the other day at Flipout – Croydon.

Flipout is Croydon’s largest Indoor Super Centre and is home to a whole host of amazing activities from mini golf to laser quest, five a side football to bumper cars, synthetic ice skating to ninja tag as well as the most amazing bounce area…I’m sure there is something I’ve missed!

The centre is based at the bottom of Centrale and Whitgift Shopping Centre and you can get discounted parking upon validating your ticket, which makes it super easy to get too as well as affordable too.

We arrived for the first session of the day and were greeted with smiles and very knowledgeable staff that told us everything we needed before we got on with the play. The sessions last for three hours and from what we saw it is best to book an early slot as it fills up towards the end of the day and it becomes harder to find a base to plot up at.

For the first part of the day I went around with the children, taking part in the fun with them, and I loved that it has all been designed so the adults could have some fun too, but I was also perfectly happy to sit back, relax and enjoy a coffee whilst they had some independent play. Flipout spans two floors and although it is a pretty big space, eveything is easy to navigate and there is always someone on hand to help out.

Some of the areas you needed to queue for but aside from the bumper cars we didn’t wait for more than a few minutes for anything, and we were able to visit our favourite areas time and time again. I loved the fact there were fast pace activities such as the laser tag mixed with calmer pursuits such as mini golf and ice skating so there was something for everyone.

After working up an appetite we headed to the cafe that stocks a small range of hot food and snacks. My pizza loving crew filled themselves up with delicious pizza slices that were at a good price and even had an offer running of ‘buy three get one free’. They washed all this down with a slushie, which again was great valve as you had the option to buy unlimited refills.

The three hours literally flew by and it was announced that they had had, ‘the best day ever’ and I have to admit I had a lot of fun too!

Anyone from aged four right through to adults would love Flipout and it’s one of the only places I visited that would keep my entire gang happy – and that’s no mean feat with a family spanning a range of ages. We had no moaning or groaning and in fact the only words muttered as we left were – ‘when are we coming back’ so you can’t get better than that!

Honolulu With The Family:What To See And Do

Honolulu is the largest city in the state as well as the capital of Hawaii. It is located on the south shore of the Island of Oahu and is considered the gateway to the chain of islands that make up the Hawaiian Islands. With an average high temperature of 85 and an average low of 71, spending time on the beaches is popular in Honolulu.

Taking the family to Honolulu is a fantastic idea whatever time of year it is because the weather is warm and sunny all year. Even in December and January, the average temps are about 75 degrees. Wherever you decide to go with the family, be sure to drop off your backpacks and heavy bags at a luggage storage site in Honolulu first.

Check Out the Fishes at the Waikiki Aquarium

Founded in 1904, the Waikiki Aquarium is one of the most popular attractions on the island. What started with 35 fish tanks and 400 plants and animals has expanded to over 3,500 plants and animals in almost 500 species. In fact, in 1978, it had the first display of Pacific corals in the US.

The aquarium is divided into 15 sections. The Amazing Adaptations exhibit has a collection of pipefishes, sea dragons, and seahorses and is one of the most popular. The Giant Clams and Coral Farm exhibits are also pretty popular. But the 7,500-gallon Edge of the Reef outdoor aquarium is the main attraction.

Visit the Animals at the Zoo

If you want to see some land animals, take the family to the Honolulu Zoo at the 300-acre Kapiolani Park. The zoo boasts more than 1230 animals on the 42 acre s with numerous exhibits to explore. See them all from the huge Asian elephant to the zebras from the African Sahara and everything in between.

The zoo was opened in 1916 with several lion cubs, a sun bear, a monkey, and a handful of exotic birds and today houses a huge variety of creatures in several different sections. The African Savannah is the most popular, featuring lions, baboons, African painted dogs, black rhinos, chimps, and meerkats.

Swim with the Dolphins

At Kahala Resort, their Dolphin Quest program is more than just swimming with a few dolphins. They have their own group of six dolphins that you and the family can meet in person up close. The Dolphin Adventure lets you spend an hour with these beautiful creatures swimming and touching them. The Premier Experience offers a private session for just your family to swim and play with all six of the dolphins. These adventures are only for those five years and older though so if you have a younger child, try the Wee Family Fins and Fun where even the tiny tots get to meet, feed, and play with the dolphins.

Play for the Day at Sea Life Park

Another great place to hang out with the animals, Sea Life Park celebrates the local sea creatures by providing the public the chance to get up close and personal with some of them. First, visit the Hawaiian Reef Aquarium, which is a 300,000-gallon tank with 2,000 marine animals like sharks, turtles, and stingrays. 

They also have the Hawaiian Ocean Theater, where the park staff hosts many shows displaying sea lions, penguins, and dolphins. You will get a chance to feed some of them at the Sea Turtle Pool and Stingray Lagoon. But do not miss the Hawaiian Monk Seal Habitat where you can see these amazing animals.

See the Bottom of the Ocean on the Atlantis Submarine

For those of you who want to go deeper and see more wildlife at the bottom of the ocean, check out the Atlantis Submarine. You and the family will take a shuttle ferry to the submarine location in Waikiki. The Undersea Adventure takes you down in a real submarine in the comfort of AC and cushy seats.

For approximately one hour, you will descend 100 feet where you will all get to see marine life up close in its native habitat. The coral reef was rebuilt in 1988 to revitalize the area and it has become a treasure trove of fishes, turtles, and vibrant corals. See two sunken airplanes and sunken ships teeming with wildlife.

Get Some Sun on Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach is the most well-known and popular beach on the island of Oahu, and you will know why when you see the gorgeous crystal-clear turquoise waters and two miles of white sand. In the 1800s, the beach was a private space for Hawaiian royalty but today it is a public adventureland. 

But Waikiki has several beaches stretched out along a huge section of Waikiki Bay stretching for miles along the southern side of the island. One of the best sections of beach for kids is Prince Kuhio Beach, which is also known as The Ponds because there are two walls that offer calm and shallow water to play in.

Learn More About Hawaii at Bishop Museum

Teach the kids about the history of Hawaii while you are in Honolulu at the Bishop Museum. It’s the biggest museum in Hawaii with the largest collection of Polynesian artifacts in the world. The exhibits of Hawaiian life and culture are thanks to Charles Bishop, who founded it in 1889 to honor his wife, Princess Bernice.
Some of the permanent exhibitions include the Kaimiloa Expedition of 1924, the Falls of Clyde from 1968, and the Jhamandas Watumull Planetarium, the oldest planetarium in Polynesia. With 25 million items, each with its own story, you could spend the whole day there and not see everything there is to see.

While you are in Honolulu, don’t miss out on trying the local foods like Poke bowls, Kalua pig, Lomi salmon, and of course, shaved ice. Some of the best places to eat with kids include Mac 24/7, the Honolulu Burger Company, Hula Grill, and Duke’s Waikiki. And for dessert, try Island Vintage Shaved Ice or Liliha Bakery.

The Pros Of Big Age Gaps

With a fair few years between my older children and under two years between the youngest I often get asked what I think is the perfect age gap – in short I don’t think there is ever a perfect gap or a perfect time to have children, but I must say having a larger gap can come with its perks and here are a few for you:

Time To Get Into Routine – Having a few years gap gives you time to see what works and what doesn’t for your family. Getting yourself into some kind of routine with just one little one running around is mush easier to do then with two or more!

One On One Time – For me the most precious time is those first few years that pass within the blink of an eye. If you have one that is already at school or nursery then you can get to make the most of that time with just you and the baby.

Tricky Stages Are Easier On Their Own – Parenting comes with endless tricky stages, but if you can tackle things such as potty training and weaning one child at a time then the chances of keeping your hair a little longer are greatly improved!

Childcare Costs – For those of you that are returning to work, childcare costs can be a huge worry and by having a bigger age gap you can spread these costs more if you already have children at school.

Getting Out And About – Simply leaving the house with children can be a huge task so if they are a little more independent than this can be easier, as there is not so much need to take everything bar the kitchen sink with you.

Sleeping Through – Sleepless nights and children come hand in hand, and if I’m honest this tip shouldn’t come from me as I still have a nine year old that doesn’t sleep – that said, in theory if you can get a good bedtime routine set before another little ones comes along to turn this upside down again then at least you only have one you need to settle.

Older Ones To Lend A Hand – I have always been very concious that it was never my children’s decision to have a large family and have never agreed with them having to pick up the parenting because of that; but it is certainly handy when you have a little helper to grab the nappies or entertain the baby for you every now and then.

Giving Yourself Some Recovery Time – Having a baby puts a huge pressure on your body and I definitely felt this with my last two being so close. Having a bit of a break between children and having time to recover both physically and mentally is a definate bonus.

Less Rivalry – I’m not sure if it was more to do with the girl, boy, girl mix or the age gap between my first three, but there was definitely a lot less confrontation and fighting then with the last two. I think the fact they were at different stages and into different things helped with them not arguing over every little thing!

Having children is a huge blessing and whenever they happen to come along is a always the most magical but hard journey, so these really are only a few views on how I have perceived things over the years.