5 places we love to stop in The Midlands between North Wales and Cardiff.

My most specific sounding list yet! With our in-laws in North Wales, we have been refining our family friendly pit stops for a while now around the half way point from Cardiff to Wrexham. We generally opt for the motorway because when I was pregnant not being able to find many places for just needing a wee and getting stuck behind just one too many tractor! Here is the list of places we like to use.

1. IKEA- I have overheard a few conversations where basically people think people who take their children to IKEA are a bit bonkers.. well we are said people and I am not ashamed. The restaurant in Wednesbury is a bit touch and go and I have actually complained before which I never normally bother actually doing, I just usually talk about it incessantly! But IKEA anywhere really has to be a good service station stop! Toilets, food, a run around plus a few extra candles you don’t need all make a happy family pit stop. https://www.ikea.com/gb/en/store/birmingham/

2. Gloucester Services- so we love this stop, not many service stations make you Wow! But I think this one does. There is a wooden play area, a proper farm shop and kitchen and a nice little walk around a lake out the back as well. It’s a bit expensive I will admit (tell me a service station that isn’t?!) but when we leave nice and early and head there for our breakfast it’s a lovely treat. The staff are always just so friendly too. Their green ethos is amazing too, with so many clever things that make us smile for the planet!https://www.gloucesterservices.com/

3. Shropshire Hills- This is a visitor centre. It doesn’t look like much from the front I don’t think but you go out the back and it’s beautiful. There are a few little walks and we found a river you can go right down to, as well as a little copse with picnic tables hiding in to have a picnic. There is a little cafe too and a shop. We did go on a sunny day and we were prepared for this stop having driven past it a few times, but it still ticked everything that we needed for an effective family stop en route home. http://www.shropshirehillsdiscoverycentre.co.uk/

4. Worcester Wyevale – the garden centre was looking a bit tired and empty when we were last there but the cafe and soft play here have been our lifesavers multiple times. It’s not far off our route and after the toilet stop, the food has always been good. The soft play is perfect for our little family and mixed with a little walk around the shop wears them out enough to get us home without wriggly bottoms. A great rainy day stop for us! https://www.wyevalegardencentres.co.uk/product/worcester/2226

5. Harvesters- These used to be a great back up for us on bank holidays. I even had the app so it could locate my nearest ones. I could try and book a table although calling was always much more successful! What we liked about these were the salad bar meant we could get some food into my little boy as quickly as possible and hot food could follow at whatever pace the restaurant needed. What these lack is the runaround needed, which is possibly why we haven’t used them as much recently. When our little boy was less than 2 we could get away with a little walk around the restaurant etc. But now we try to wear him out a little bit more over the 4 hours to attempt to squeeze a nap in! https://www.harvester.co.uk

So as you can tell, our scope for stopping is variable. We have done numerous stops with newborns and toddlers in toilet training etc and we just go with the flow as to when we need to stop. What we have learnt is that it’s always worth investing in a good stop, one where you have a run around and something to eat because our kids fall back to sleep after or are just happy to sit in the car for a few more hours. We do feel extremely blessed that both our kids are great at being in the car with so far, no travel sickness to document! That could be an interesting list… I hope not!

Advertisements

5 things that I prefer instead of Easter Eggs!

I am not a huge fan of giving the children chocolate. However, now my son is 4 it is inevitable that Easter will be some chocolate induced frenzy but I guess I need to chill out about that and enjoy it! But I do plan to limit their chocolate consumption as much as I possibly can!  I thought I would share some ideas that we have had instead of Easter eggs in case you were in the same predicament or maybe giving something at Easter to a parent like me!

1. Books. My two love books and stickers and that sort of thing. We have had some lovely books over the years and I am trying to make sure I tuck them away in an Easter box ready to come out each year. We have the full range of the Easter story to egg hunt and bunny related!img_20190406_0937344011016256368081650.jpg

2. Cuddly toys- Yes we all have way too many of these I am sure (although since investing in toy hammocks this worries me alot less!) But a cuddly chick or bunny is such a lovely gift. I particularly loved the Peter Rabbit puppet we were given for our daughter last Easter. Puppets in general are a lovely toy to have, we sing and be silly playing with them particularly when the children are unwell.

3. Crafts. Nothing is more welcome than something that we can do on a rainy morning/afternoon/evening in Wales. We had a lovely sheep money box when my son was small that we could paint. For some reason my son likes painting 3D objects but isn’t fussed by paper!

4. Anything to hide- Last Easter my son was wayyy more fussed about the egg hunting than the chocolate so we ended up hiding little toys around the garden. Any little toys that can be hidden make great fun! We used our Paw Patrol busy book characters. Even just the cardboard egg shapes worked a treat with a small egg at the end!

5. Nothing! But come and spend some time playing with the kids. Let my son talk absolute nonsense about his funny dreams or my daughter will make you tea in the tea-set. Sometimes the gift of time is the best present and if you don’t really celebrate Easter it’s just a few extra days off to spend time with your kids, your neices and nephews or friends children.

I am so excited about the Easter holidays, a break from nursery drop offs and a chance to see people we keep running out of time to see. I look forward to the treasure hunts, the crafty bits and finding stickers on every surface I can find! I hope you find these ideas useful, what else would be good to give at Easter?! What has been a real hit with your children?

My 5 favourite floor cleaning items!

I did warn you this would be a weird eclectic mix of lists and well this one is niche I am aware! So basically to set the scene, we moved into a house where the downstairs are white tiled floors!! It is open plan with no front hall, therefore dirty feet run around the entire downstairs and with two children who eat constantly I am always cleaning the floors. If you feel my pain, you will also understand the excitement I have had refining the gadgets that help me keep my floors bearably clean!

  1. Dyson – I love my V6, which sounds like an antique now as I am aware the V10 has come out. When I first had it my son actually told my husband off for playing with my toy, which we soon realised was not the message we aimed to send out about housework!! My V6 only does about 20-30 minutes of cleaning but that’s perfect for me to do the focussed room or the quick runaround I need. It does the hard floors just as good as the carpets too!
  2. Squirty mop – I love my mop soo much! It is very well loved and we use it all the time for spot cleans or for a good clean of the floor at the end of the day. Nothing beats getting on your hands and knees to clean it but its tricky to do that all day long!! https://www.dunelm.com/category/home-and-furniture/utility-and-laundry/kitchen-cleaning/mops-and-buckets?sku_id=30589741&cm_mmc=pla_google-_-Utility_MopBuckets_[GOO-PLA-UTILITY-MOPS]-_-MopsBuckets-Bestsellers-_-keyword&gclid=Cj0KCQjwnKHlBRDLARIsAMtMHDGKVn1GcJExVXyaW4Otn6ZxD1eAIWwxZ_tlH-16M1DkeJFn391aSBkaArY7EALw_wcB
  3. Dustpan and Brush – This isn’t just a dustpan and brush, this is a long handled dustpan and brush. I seem to break these but my current one seems to be surviving! I use this for sweeping under the highchair or table at the end of meals or for the constant dropping of glasses or jars in our kitchen that we seem to be having. It saves my back and you don’t lose that little brush anywhere like you do with the small dustpans and brush!
All the glamourous photos here on this blog!
  • 4. Hands and knees – I do love it when I have cleaned the floor by hand but to be honest, I definitely don’t do this enough. You actually feel like you have had a workout too when you do it properly!! My favourite hands and knees cleaning is currently cleaning the grout with baking soda and white vinegar.
  • Toothbrush – I am actually laughing as I write this because i think I have only ever done this a) when we first moved into the house b) when I was pregnant and became obsessed with cleaning!! But yes, I have used a toothbrush to clean the floor (edges!) and it looked bloody amazing… until the kids came down and made it dirty again!!

Love a cleaning blog? Then please let me know about them. I get a bit obsessed by youtube cleaning vlogs as I live in the hope of a clean and tidy house one day! It would be nice to know anymore gadgets that might make it easier and whether you think the above are useful too!!

5 Things I am trying to do to keep our son’s enthusiasm for reading and writing.

I can’t believe my son is at this age already and is beginning to read books! He attends a Welsh school so we are learning to read bilingually. Generally I leave the Welsh stuff to his Daddy and the teachers at school and I read with him in English. I am just loving how keen he is. I thought I might write about some of the strategies I use at this stage.

  1. No pressure – the MOST important thing at this stage is that I am not trying to push any of this on my son. If he wants to write then I provide him with what he wants, if he wants to read I am encouraging him but mainly I am just letting him get on with playing and exploring as he should. I am big fan of everything being child focussed and led by play so long may this continue!
  2. Provision – I always make sure we have writing, colouring materials available near the little table in our kitchen. It means that he can write or colour whenever he wants without it being a set activity that we do together. As a bonus it does keep my daughter occupied for a good while when needed too! I also make sure I vary what colouring books or notepads we have available as new always makes it more interesting. I tuck away ones from birthdays and Christmas to get out during the year.
Excuse the PJs!

3. Variety – I try to think beyond paper. Fine motor skills are perfected using lots of lovely play things. From threading, to kinetic sand (I could write a whole blog – good and bad things about this stuff!) I try to make sure there is a lot of variety on offer. Pinterest has been amazing for this in addition to nosing around the wonderful classrooms where I work and stealing play based ideas or adapting for at home. One of my favourites has to be cheerios and playdough with tweezers.

https://myboredtoddler.com/play-dough-spaghetti-and-cheerios-fine-motor-activity/

4. Reading – My husband and I enjoy reading. I definitely don’t read as much as I would like or used to. It is great that our son sees us reading and he loves reading the Geraint Thomas book with his daddy! I love to sit and browse cookery books whenever I get a spare moment (rarely!) too. That variety of reading has to help. Even reading the news on our phone or letting our son type a text message occasionally has to be helping.

5. Books are calming – We always read a bedtime story to the children. One English and One Welsh. I have learnt to read Welsh as its a phonetic language so I at least can read it if I am not always sure what I am reading. We recently have been bought ‘Wwsh are y Brwsh’ which is Room on the Broom in Welsh and I did find it super tricky to read with all the poetic language and rhythm! We also use books to calm the children, we have bookshelves in each of their bedrooms and downstairs so we can grab them and read them anytime we feel we all need a chill out.

I would love to hear some of the tips and tricks you have used to help your children love reading and writing. I am not aiming for our son to have written his first novel by 5, I just want him to enjoy writing. He expresses himself so well with his talking I kind of feel he will be great at expressing himself through writing and reading too and I don’t want to squash that enthusiasm either. Does anyone have anything they are doing with older children that keeps up this enthusiasm? I am so aware that school and homework become much more prominent and I don’t want to make it all a chore!

5 ways I am trying to be more ‘eco-friendly’

First of all, I hate this trendy label thing of saying you are ‘eco’ but essentially it is all a good thing. I am trying to make sure the children are aware of the beauty of our world and do small things that make a big difference. I am definitely a long way off of plastic free living but we are trying!

  1. Low plastic shop – We are super lucky to have the Ripple Shop just opened near us in Cardiff. I try to go in there every few weeks. The herbs are super cheap, the pulses and grains are comparable pricewise and they also have amazing storage solutions and plastic free options for lunches etc. I love the experience of the shop, the kids love it too when I feel brave enough to go in with them!! https://www.rippleliving.co.uk/
  2. Audit – Oh my gosh I sound such a geek right now, but well this is my bare all writing at its best. I decided to look at our rubbish and recycling over the week (i did not put my head into the week old bin, it was just an awareness of what we were throwing away!) I looked at what we were throwing away alot of and then researched ways to use less, recycle more or change that habit. So for us I am still working on glass milk bottles, recycling tetra pak and that horrid scrunchy plastic everything seems to come wrapped in. Our successes have been buying pump action hand soap dispensers that we top up, buying herbs from the plastic free shop and reducing the amount of mouthwash we use!
  3. Coffee cups – this is such an obvious one. We have always used coffee cups for when we walk around the park with the kids or on our way to work. But we were inspired by my parents who have them all the time in their car, so we have loaded them into the conveniently placed cup holders in the boot of the car. Costa Coffee give you 25p off a cup so that adds up too, I expect some other chains do too but this is a new find for me! We actually saved ourselves more money using our reusable cups because we tend to take coffee with us more often now too!
  4. Straws – this is not a ground breaking change because generally our children don’t need straws but I bought some reusable metal straws from the plastic free shop. The children love them when we are out and they do look pretty.
    Here is an alternative use for when you are in the mood for a bit of Prosecco on the move too!

5. Bags – I ever so often go absolutely bonkers with the amount of bags we accumulate in our understairs cupboard so I chuck a load to my mum whose local village use them for the food bank and then distribute in the cars where we need them the most. However, I seriously have the brain of a goldfish as the amount of times I have ended up at the till without a bag is just plain old embarrassing. Definitely needing to work on this!

My handy little bag I try to keep in my handbag!

So these are the broad list of ‘eco’ things I try to do… I could def write some more about different things I do at home to reduce our wastage.

What do you do? Any tips or tricks I need to know about? Anyone got any ways of reducing the amount of scrunchy plastic in their home -it really annoys me! What about celebrations, with the recent birthday parties I have realised how much waste with packaging and wrapping they bring?

The 5 things we do when we are eating out with the children.

Before we had the kids, we ate out a lot. Probably too much! I know we all say silly things when we expect our first child about how life will not change just because we have a baby but I do think we stayed true to our promise that we didn’t want having a child to stop us eating out. We have just had to adapt the way in which we do it!

1. Time of day! We obviously can’t go for the 8pm reservations anymore! Nor the 7 or 6. We do sometimes do early tea but actually our best time of day for a family meal out is lunch. The restaurants are quieter and perhaps more patient with us and our noise, we are all a lot more patient and less tired. As well as lunch we do love a late breakfast too!

2. Entertainment. This is not a judgement just a personal preference that we do not use iPads or phones in restaurants. Ok our children are young so this may change but we generally have found this no problem to adhere to. We take a bag full of entertainment. Stickers, colouring and reading books are all good. My son doesn’t really do long periods of time colouring anymore so actually a few little characters (the busy book characters are great) send him off into his little world quite nicely for a bit. Now he is beginning to read he also likes to look through the menu with us too.

3. Toilet timings. Our strategy tends to be that we order food first. Then we go to the toilet, it takes up some of that food waiting time and gives us a chance to look around the restaurant. Quite often we take a little walk wherever possible in that time. In the same way when we are out with family or friends we often use the toilet as a chance to walk off the excitement or cheekiness that builds!

4. Practise! We have practised eating out since the children were young. We may be quite brave but we took our son at 5 months to a Michelin starred restaurant for lunch and they even heated his lunch for me! The other thing we practise is the sitting at the table at home and expectations of dinner times. It just means the children know to sit there and use a knife and fork etc. As a bonus it is such a valuable time for us all to talk too, especially when you eat out you may have been busy doing exciting things beforehand.

5. Expectations. We don’t expect the children to sit down for the whole duration of the meal out, we don’t expect them to be quiet, we don’t expect them to like all the food, Therefore we aren’t disappointed when that inevitably doesn’t happen. Instead we lay out our expectations before (usually with ice cream promised at the end!) and we try not get embarrassed by their behaviour. Most people totally get it and frankly I am too busy eating or spending time with my family to notice anyone getting snooty about it.

I always try to remind myself that we are paying customers in these places, yes I often do a wet wipe around and I always thank or very britishly over apologise as we leave. But most importantly, we don’t return to anywhere that made us feel uncomfortable and that currently, is a very small list. We still love eating out, obviously it’s not AS relaxing or slow paced as it used to be but we enjoy the food and the kids love it too. What are your tips for eating out with kids? How about older children?

5 best places we went to in Somerset.

I spent the Welsh half term in England because a) I hate the extra children and adults bring to my favourite places at home and b) I love going to my parents house for a bit of home cooked food, washing hung out and ironed and the general happiness of having Nana and Bampa about. So we explored the new part of Somerset my parents have moved to but also ventured to my old stomping ground too!

1. West Lydford Church – we got married here. It’s super close to where I grew up. My relatives are buried there. Child friendly, it is not especially but there is a little walk and a forest garden for a run around.

2. Lytes Cary- it’s a lovely national trust house and gardens. However, we go to the forest and ground walks around the main house so as far as I am aware we don’t have to pay, but we always end up eating ice cream there in summer anyway! We followed the yellow signs (a couple of miles) and through the Explorers trail in the forest. my son absolutely loved the tractors working hard in the field! It was full of lovely physical and mental (not that hard!) challenges for the children and we only left because the 18 deg of February (!) heat was lowering.

3. Burnham on Sea- I was still recovering from a crappy flu bug but I still loved the walk along the promenade. My son scooted and my daughter pushed her baby in the pram or tantrumed and sulked in the pram! We didn’t venture into the town but we went to a lovely cafe on the front for teacake and ice-cream and stopped at the little pier for a go on the ride ons. So much fun for a lovely day out. 4 hrs free parking too!

4. Clarks village- the playpark was great with unusual swings that I got to go on with my little girl. Shops that I wouldn’t normally buy from, all with great discounts. My mum even managed to find out about a ‘secret sale’ which saved us even more!! My son also took my dad out for ice-cream which was just so amazingly cute (giving me a chance to shop!)

5. Playgroups- I never make enough use of these in Cardiff. In Somerset there are alot less soft plays, gyms or play cafes so these playgroups (normally church run) are great and so cheap! I love the children playing with different toys, singing and socialising. My son loved the trains and cars and my daughter spent alot of time dressing up. It is so gender cliche but that’s how it worked this week.

I could make alot more lists of things to do in Somerset that I have found and may well do when we go down again. If anyone has recommendations then please let me know! Equally what do you do when you go to your parents houses? Unfamiliar territory can be daunting and out of routine etc? Any good blogs or websites for getting ideas of places to go?!