Pinewood Pods at Port Lympne Zoo

On the morning of Sunday the 13th October, we headed to Port Lympne where we were going to spend the next couple of days. Port Lympne Hotel & Reserve is about a 25 minute drive from our home, the perfect sort of distance away for a short break! Here is my review of how our stay went!

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The Accommodation- Our Pod at the Pinewood Pods facility was lovely. It had the room to sleep four, although in doing so- leaving the pod is definitely made a little more difficult. The bedding and towels were clean. The beds were comfortable and we had more than enough tea and coffee bits and bobs to get us through our stay. The Pods are located right next to the Lion and Tiger enclosures and hearing the Lions, especially Daddy Lion ‘Milo’ throughout the night was magical. The Lions have three beautiful cubs that were born about five months ago, staying so close to them was definitely very special!

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The facilities- Despite the Pod being well cleaned, the toilet and shower block was pretty dirty, not only did it not look clean, but it didn’t smell clean either. We checked out the facilities right after check in, so they were not dirty from use- if anything they should have been cleaned and ready for new guests. The extractor fan was thick with dust. The floors had a fine layer of watered down mud. The pedals on the sanitary bins did not work. The access to the toilet and shower block had steps, meaning that even if you were to stay at the accessibility friendly pod, you wouldn’t necessarily have an access friendly stay.

The Staff – The staff at Port Lympne generally seemed very helpful and genuinely happy to be there. The Safari drivers were fantastic and very knowledgeable. The restaurant and shop staff doted on my daughter and were full of praise for her manners.

The Pinewood Restaurant – When staying at the Pod we decided to bring our own bits and bobs for breakfast- juice, croissants and long life milk for F. I am very glad we did, because a basic dinner of hot dogs and chips for three of us, set us back over £35. I cannot imagine how much we would have spent if we’d had to buy all of our meals, snacks and refreshments there- but based on the prices for four meals at the Pinewood Café alone, we’d be looking at around £140 alone.

The Animals- I wholeheartedly believe that Port Lympne is one of the greatest zoos in the country for conservation efforts. This can be seen in their successful attempts at breeding endangered animals such as Lions, Gorillas and Rhinos. The work they have done to reintroduce animals that have been on the brink of extinction is nothing short of amazing- especially in regards to Silverback Gorillas, over 50 of these beautiful and endangered animals have been sent to wild Congo over the years where they are safe and thriving, all thanks to Port Lympne’s conservation and breeding success. The animals all appear happy, healthy and well cared for. The keepers and staff clearly adore the animals that they work with and see on a daily basis.

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The Safari- The Safari as an experience was excellent. Being able to see the animals wander free, without bars or the conventional confines of an enclosure was fantastic. F wanted to go on it three times and still didn’t tire of the whole experience! Some facts given to us by the three different safari drivers varied, for example “We only have one male giraffe here, if we have more than one, they may swing their necks to fight and this can cause a massive amount of damage, injury and distress to the animals and their enclosures” compared to “We have 4(?) females and 3 males in the giraffe house and surrounding enclosure” .. and “African hunting dogs have a success rate of up to 90% unlike other comparable but larger carnivores like tigers or lions who have a success rate of 20 to 40%” compared to “African hunting dogs have a success rate of up to 90% unlike other comparable but larger carnivores like tigers or lions who have a success rate of 30 to 50%” Leaving us wondering what exactly was true and accurate and what wasn’t. We were also quizzed by one driver on F’s age, when other drivers let babies less then six months on board- the inconsistency in safety information was definitely confusing! I also feel that maybe, like with rides at a theme park, it could be beneficial to warn people about how bumpy the safari is, so they can make an informed decision to ride- especially in case they are pregnant, suffer from back / neck complaints, arthritis, complex pain syndromes or heart conditions.

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Accessibility- Some types of accommodation include a Golf Buggy to use at your leisure throughout the park along a Buggy route, our accommodation unfortunately did not include this. We enquired to see if we could maybe hire a Buggy for the duration of our stay but sadly the reserve only ever has enough buggies to cater for users of higher end accommodation. I feel that if additional buggies could be made available, it could really benefit Port Lympne’s guests with additional mobility needs- the park is particularly hilly and access to manual wheelchairs is a nice option, but putting their use to practice seems almost impossible in a park where even pushing a three year old in their stroller was a struggle.

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We enjoyed our stay and really recommend going if you can find a similar experience at the off peak reduced rate. For the full £200 to be worth spending, the toilet and shower facilities need to at least be clean. As a whole, I feel that if I had paid the full £200 for a nights stay, I would have been disappointed, solely based on how dirty the toilet and shower facilities were. However, as I paid the off peak price of £100, I was very pleased with the value of money for two days park access for two adults and a child, a nights stay in a lovely little pod and unlimited rides on the safari- Realistically I would have been happy to pay up to £150 without extras for this experience! I have been visiting Port Lympne for just under 25 years and have never been disappointed- visiting the animals makes learning about them and their habitats super fun and interactive. I grew up visiting this zoo and I am pleased to be doing the same with my daughter as she grows!

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Introducing a pet to your family home…

After more than a year of threatening to wait until Daddy is away and bringing home a cat, Olivia and I finally managed to talk Daddy into letting us get one! I think he knew I was starting to get very serious about just moving one in while he was out one day…

So, off we went to our local RSPCA centre and found ourselves a lovely pet cat.

Meet Shadow:

Shadow is a black Domestic Shorthair cat, and she only has 3 legs!

When you adopt from the RSPCA you have to have a home visit from RSPCA staff. Ours came and went quite quickly and gave us a pack of helpful information and advice when introducing a pet to your home. It included tips like:

  • Isolate your cat to one room at first
  • Make a cat friendly room with a scratching post, their food and litter tray, and somewhere they can get up high
  • Keep their diet the same as what they’ve been eating in the RSPCA centre
  • Keep them indoors for 4 weeks

When we went to collect her, she came with her blanket and toys in order to help her settle. We were also given another pack of helpful information, and the RSPCA gave us 4 weeks free pet insurance, which was one less thing to worry about!

We moved her in and she was a bit nervous at first, but she has gotten used to Olivia’s pestering now.

Olivia was so excited to have a pet cat that she would not leave her alone (and she still doesn’t 2 months later). It was important for us to get a cat that was friendly with children, and Shadow was perfect – so chilled out, and a little older as well so she wouldn’t get too excitable around Olivia. She’s 7 in human years, which I think is around 44 in cat years, but she still has a lot of life left in her!

It’s also been really helpful having friends with cats to ask advice about things. For example, did you know that cats eat grass to help their digestion? Well, I didn’t! I am planning on getting her some cat grass that we can have in pots in the house, as Shadow mostly stays indoors.

What else have you found to help your pets settle in the first few months?

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A great day for dinosaur lovers – York Maze review…

Olivia and I have just returned home from a lovely long weekend visiting our family in Yorkshire.

Living in army quarters roughly 200 miles away, and being ridiculously busy with work all the time, means I don’t get to see them as often as I would like, but we did manage a solid 4 days of visiting! As it doesn’t happen very often, we ended up being very, very busy and visiting lots of different places (so expect to see a couple of reviews in the next few weeks!) It became a little mini holiday for us which was really lovely, and I had some precious quality time with Olivia, too.

One of the places we went to was York Maze. We spent about 4 hours there in total as there was so much to do, but some little legs got the better of us. Never have I done so many piggy backs before this weekend! I will probably regret ever demonstrating what a piggy back is, I am sure…

What is York Maze?

It’s a fantastic, fun-filled day out that caters to the entire family. Although I only went with Olivia, who is 3, we could easily have had just as much fun if 9 year old Kiera was with us too.

It isn’t just a maze, but they mazes (plural) are of course the main attractions. Over the years, the maze has been shaped into a number of different characters/features from films/television, including Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Harry Potter. This year, the main maze was Lion King themed. You have 6 checkpoints to get to and answer some themed questions to get the magic word for the end of the maze. Olivia enjoyed shouting the secret word very loudly so that everyone could hear her!

On top of the main maze, there is also a separate Jurassic Park themed maze with 8 dinosaurs inside. Olivia insisted on stroking them all… but on the up side she was also able to name all but one! The spinosaurus evaded us, but there was a helpful list on the way back out naming them all so that you can see if you got them right!

The Jurassic Park maze is much smaller, but the classic theme tune can be heard throughout, and it’s great fun finding the dinosaurs. For my little dino lover, this was perfect!

Is it just a maze?

No, there are so many activities at York Maze aside from just the mazes, which is how we ended up spending so much time there.

As well as the maze, they have a sweetcorn themed obstacle course (which Olivia and I smashed) and meet and greets with the animals. You can hold a snake or a creepy crawly and the owls and reptiles are out for you to meet, too.

Is there much for little ones to do?

Yes! Olivia loved jumping on the popcorn pillow which had split sessions for little ones to jump together without the big kids. That worked really well and was much nicer for the children (and parents) not to worry about any big kids hurting the smaller ones by accident.

What can the big kids do?

There’s a lot of things for the bigger children to get stuck into, too! As well as all of the other activities, there’s a rock climbing wall and an adventure play park that’s suitable for big and little children.

The quiz in the main maze is probably more geared towards older children too, although Olivia still managed to have lots of fun!

Have you ever been to York Maze? Let us know what theme the maze was and whether you enjoyed it!

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10 things to do with the kids in North Hampshire and Surrey

  1. Gruffalo Trail at Alice Holt Forest
  2. Ceramics Cafe Farnham
  3. Gravity Force Trampolining
  4. 360 Play Farnborough
  5. Coral Reef Bracknell
  6. Aldershot Lido
  7. Birdworld
  8. Hampton Court Palace
  9. Chessington World of Adventures
  10. Farnborough Vue

1. Gruffalo Trail at Alice Holt Forest

Alice Holt Forest is situated in the South Downs National Park which spans a vast area covering Hampshire and Surrey. Alice Holt itself is local to Farnham, a mere 15 minute drive from the centre of Aldershot, and is FREE OF CHARGE! That’s right! You can spend the entire day there and the only money you will spend is for parking and petrol.

Alice Holt boasts a fantastic wooden play area, bike hire and trails, walking trails (including the infamous Gruffalo Trail), and GoApe! for the older kids. We have been many times to Alice Holt and never grow tired of it!

2. Ceramics Cafe in Farnham

Whether you have little babies doing handprints on plates or older children, a quiet afternoon of pottery painting is a great way to spend time with the family.

Ceramics Cafe in Farnham is situated less than a 5 minute walk from a large car park (next to Sainsbury’s) and is in the centre of Farnham, which is a beautiful place to visit in itself. There is a £2 session fee on top of anything you paint, and the pottery prices are very reasonable. The staff are always on hand to help, and they will happily cater for parties too!

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting, table and food

3. Gravity Force Trampolining

This fantastic trampoline park in Camberley is where we have spent many a weekend morning!

Gravity Force have a brilliant timetable which caters for all ages, with dedicated sessions for younger jumpers and a family jump session which makes it much easier to have fun with all of the family. We love it there so much that we’ve been annual pass holders since last summer, for the very good price of £8 per month. This park also hosts Gravity Fit sessions and they have a holiday club for older children!

4. 360 Play in Farnborough

This is more than just a soft play… This is an M&S soft play… KIDDING OF COURSE!

But this soft play is really something else. It is absolutely huge for a start, and there are loads of different areas and activities for the children to do. The staff are very safety and security conscious and you have a photo ID card so that they know exactly who is in the building in case of any emergencies or lost kiddies! (Not that we have ever had to seek assistance for this, thank lord!)

360 Play is a hidden gem in Farnborough, just past the Sainsbury’s in the town centre. They have a carousel, a dressing up area, a huge soft play structure for the big kids, and smaller soft plays for toddlers and babies. They have also begun Gymfinity clubs there which are gymnastics and ninja classes for children of all ages – we are trialling those very soon and can’t wait to bring you a review!

5. Coral Reef Waterworld in Bracknell

This one is a bit further afield, but definitely worth the travel! Coral Reef is an amazing indoor water world famous for it’s slides. Again there are lots of different areas in the pool for children of different ages. They often have a professional photographer there too to capture pictures of your babies’ first swims!

Just up the M3 and probably a half an hour / 45 minute drive from Aldershot, this is a brilliant day out for the family. Booking in advance is usually recommended as it can get quite busy, but equally if you arrive for when it opens you won’t end up queuing for too long either.

6. Aldershot Lido

Following on from the swimming theme – Aldershot Lido is a great local day out and a fantastic way to cool off in the summer sun! It’s also relatively close to Aldershot Park so you can combine the fun!

Tickets are half price after 3pm if you don’t get there until later in the day.

7. Birdworld in Farnham

You will drive past Birdworld on the way to Alice Holt Forest – it takes about 10 minutes in the car to get there from Aldershot town centre.

Birdworld often have special exhibits and events on during school holidays, and military families may be able to secure a discount on entry! Speak to your local welfare service if this is you. You also have the opportunity to feed the penguins which is just amazing!

8. Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace is a bit further afield, based in Moseley, but a truly wonderful day out with the family. The Palace itself is magnificent, and the gardens are an extra something special!

Hampton Court Palace’s Magic Garden is a wonderful area for the children, and the Palace itself hosts lots of extra events such as music festivals and outdoor cinemas throughout the summer months!

If you are a member of the Historic Royal Palaces Society you can visit Hampton Court Palace (and the other 5 palaces that are included in that membership) for free, but otherwise tickets are free for under 5s and roughly £10 for children up to 15 and £20 for adults. There is also car parking nearby (just across the road from the main entrance), and the whole palace is quite accessible if you’re having to lug a buggy around with you!

9. Chessington World of Adventures

Again a bit further afield, but where we are we are lucky to be living on the doorstep of this and other incredible theme parks! I would say that without any horrendous traffic we live roughly half an hour away from Chessington, which of course boasts a children’s theme park, a SeaLife centre AND a zoo!

It’s no wonder that many of the families living in Aldershot invest in Merlin passes while we live so close to Chessington and other Merlin attractions. Chessington however is the best one for young families as the rides accommodate a range of age groups. Our tall 9 year old and our only just 3 year old love going to Chessington, and the SeaLife centre and zoo are frequented during the day! The penguins are a particularly great attraction. You can also feed the giraffes and the elephants if you get there at the right time!

10. Farnborough Vue

If the weather isn’t good enough for a full on outdoor day trip, the Vue cinema in Farnborough is a really good way to spend a few hours with the kids without feeling like you’re stuck at home. Farnborough Vue offers any film at any time for £4.99 per person, so even if you’re a big family, you can have a cinema experience without breaking the bank!

This year is set to be a brilliant one for Disney films with Dumbo and Aladdin, Lion King, and Toy Story 4 having already been released, and Frozen 2 due to come out later in the year as well!

Are you local to Aldershot? Would you add any other attractions to the list? Let us know if you have been to any of these listed here!

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Wonderful Women: Mum of three, ASD and Faith

This Wednesday we have a great feature from Caroline. She has three children, and has been a mum for the last 23 years, but has been caring for little people for a lot longer!

  • Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi, I am one of three children. I was born in 1960 – At the time you don’t think you are in an iconic decade! I went to Chichester to do my Teaching Degree. At that time I had no idea I was being equipped to raise my future children. I taught for 13.5 years before this privilege came to pass.

  • One of your sons is diagnosed with ASD. Can you tell us what the process of getting his diagnosis was like? Did you know much about ASD before he was diagnosed?

As a parent, you are very aware if there is anything not quite right with your child’s development. James was a very active child, with little concentration. Although he started to talk, he didn’t start with the classic words; Dad and Mum etc, but stared at bright things. His first word was “star.” He went from eating everything until he turned 2 years old, then became very fussy and certain foods made him hyperactive.

 He went to playgroups and nursery but he played how he wanted to. He found it difficult to do school type activities and wouldn’t draw or write anything until he was 5 years old. He loved energetic play. Once on a trampoline it was difficult to get him off. His fine motor skills were not so good. James didn’t sleep well he didn’t sleep through the night until he was 2 and a half. I asked for James to be seen by a professional on starting school. 

From his medical exam, anomalies were present and he went to the hospital for tests. They thought him too young to be given the label ‘autistic’. He also saw the Nutritionist at the hospital as he ate so little.

 His Special Needs Coordinator who came from London when J. was in Yr 3, verbally spoke of his behaviour being ASD. It was only when he refused to go to school in Yr 5 that the school paid more attention. James did not disrupt the class as his hyperactivity had become anxiety. He couldn’t cope any longer being in a school setting and was referred again to the Child Development Team by the school. Still nothing for another year. Even though we pushed, nothing happened until he was properly assessed before going to Secondary School.

 His test results were classic scores. His language scores were very low. He got a Statement of Education. Very frustrating! Six years waiting, but we were so pleased with his diagnosis. He wouldn’t manage without extra support. He had some specialist language tuition as well to try and catch up. Bullying was ongoing in some form and James was only safe if he didn’t go on the playground. 

From the age of 5 onwards I learnt everything I could about Autism. Watching programmes, You Tube videos, Autism charity pages etc. and being a teacher helped, as you learn a lot about child development.

  • Do you have any advice for families going through the diagnostic process?

Don’t give up! Keep pushing. See your GP. We went along the educational route and it took longer. In many ways you are teaching teachers about Autism because it isn’t always on the Teacher Training Syllabus and unless they have someone they know with it, they don’t know what to do.This May have changed now.

  • How are you helping your son transition from being a teenager to being an adult?

Liaising with the College. Each student is unique with their own needs. James has a Health and Education Plan with set things the College needs to put in place for him. Our role is making sure tutors know these. Exam support is vital as he has his exams in a room by himself or small group, with more time. James uses a computer or laptop. At home we make sure we give opportunities for him to express where he is having difficulty and how we can help with hygiene, eating properly, the importance of sleep, finishing college work on time and not handing it in late, the need for social input and relieving sensory issues. Etc. We also make sure we communicate any issues to the college immediately so J. Doesn’t become stressed.

  • Have you had to face any stigmas since your son was diagnosed with ASD? What were they and how do you respond?

Yes, we have been seen as over protective. People who don’t understand Autism would see you as doing too much for your child.

The alternative is to watch your child vegetate as they don’t want to do anything that they are not comfy with.Fear of going to school, fear of going out, fear of going to a friends party, fear of crowds and being fearful of loud noises – James’s sensory difficulties only exasperated these situations. James’s carefree hyperactivity turned into anxiety from the age of 8 years. Before that he was seen as naughty and unable to access and participate in the more academic areas of school. Only certain members of staff could settle him if he was upset.

I am very sensitive to the comments made by people. Having the diagnosis changed that. I went from a back foot position to making those around us aware of his difficulties and making sure he got what he needed from his teachers and support staff. I have always explained his difficulties but with the diagnosis you speak with more conviction and authority.

  • it can be challenging enough to care for someone with additional needs, but you’ve also spent time caring for your husband at the same time. What motivates you on a difficult day?

My faith motivates me on a challenging day! Love and forgiveness. Only God sees all you do when no one is around. He helps me daily to do what I need to do and gives me the wisdom to do it. This is true today too. This is not easy though, but perseverance and discipline of the mind is important.

Prayer is so important. Philipians 4 v5-7 continue to be with me daily.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:5-7 ESV

I just love being a mum. All aspects. When you do something you love for people you love you go the extra mile.

  • You work with an amazing group called TLG. Can you tell us what they’re all about and why you decided to get involved?

TLG stands for Transforming Lives for Good. It is a Christian Charity. My children are grown up now but the joy of working with children is still just as strong. This is a way to help a child and have the joy of helping them.

As a coach I get to support one child, once a week for one year. The child may have a difficult home situation or a difficulty in school. We come alongside the child and support them through it.

  • What are your favourite pastimes and hobbies?

My hobbies are jewellery making, crochet and various arts and crafts. I also love to sing and dance and do Pilates.

  • If you could give your younger self some advice, what would it be?

Take one day at a time. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Enjoy each day and focus on the good. Put your relationships first.

  • Is there anyone who inspires you that you’d like to nominate for our wonderful women feature?

I’d like to nominate my friend Diane. She is a wonderful mum to 6 children, she runs a children’s group for the church and has lots of students stay with her over the summer!

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30 things I want to do before I’m 30: Mum edition

Consider this my first proper go at a bucket list, having just celebrated my 24th birthday, I’m starting to feel a little more over the hill than I did before!

Can mums really have a bucket list of stuff that’s just for them? Probably not, but I’m willing to give it a go (bonus points for every item on the list that isn’t mum related?)

I plan on updating this list every time I tick an item off! And maybe I’ll review them as I go along too… Starting off with a VERY family friendly one, here it is, my 30 before 30 list:

  1. Go to Disneyworld Orlando, Florida with the kids
  2. Have a mother-daughter photoshoot
  3. Go on a girls’ spa weekend
  4. Do a cocktail making master class
  5. Go to the Gatsby Party event my husband and I planned to go to this year!
  6. See P!nk live in concert
  7. Go to a festival
  8. Visit Cadbury World in Birmingham
  9. FINALLY qualify as a registered barrister (or, failing that, transition to solicitor)
  10. Visit Hever Castle
  11. Write a book
  12. Do an ancestry DNA kit
  13. Go to Butlins
  14. Start doing yoga again
  15. Go to another country in the UK (not England!)
  16. Drive in a foreign country
  17. Go on holiday to the Lake District
  18. See The Lion King in theatre
  19. Take Olivia to see the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House
  20. Try a ‘Family Day Out Jar’ and see it through!
  21. Watch Trooping the Colour in person
  22. Run (or walk) a marathon
  23. Properly try at being vegan (goodbye cheese, I will miss you)
  24. Book a city break for me and the hubby
  25. Go to Alton Towers with the kids
  26. Go GLAMping with the kids
  27. Hike along the Yorkshire moors with Olivia
  28. Force my husband to do a dance class with me
  29. Get a sewing machine
  30. Learn how to crochet (I’m old now, that’s something I should learn to do, right?)

Only 8 kid-orientated items on the list! Not bad going, eh?

Have you done a list like this before? What would you be excited to try?

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What Mums REALLY want for Mother’s Day…

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Mother’s Day – it’s bittersweet for some, and I count myself in that camp. So, if that’s you too, I feel you, mama. Hold it together, you’re doing great, whatever the reason is behind why Mother’s Day kinda sucks for you. 

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day have always been difficult for me, having little to no family support from childhood and into my own journey of parenthood. So I get it, it can be a bunch of crap watching everyone else enjoy their loving family time that you’re missing out on for one reason or another. But now that I have had my own child, my outlook has changed because I’m more than just someone’s daughter now… I am the Mother on Mother’s Day, and my husband is the Father on Father’s Day – OUR little family is now the only thing I want or need to focus on all year round, including these days. Plus, I have an awesome Mother-in-law who is just always incredible and goes above and beyond for me like a mother should, so I love making her feel special, too. 

So, it’s creeping up on us now – just over a week to go! Maybe you’ll be leaving things until the last minute, or maybe you’re already organised… Maybe this post will inspire you, but it’s not the quick fix solution to your question of ‘what do I buy my mum for Mother’s Day?’… SORRY!

Mother’s Day, for me, isn’t about the gifts. Actually, my most treasured Mother’s Day sentiment was from my stepdaughter last year, who went out to the shop with her dad and her sister (my daughter) to find a Mother’s Day card, and SPECIFICALLY ASKED IF SHE COULD BUY ME A STEPMOTHER ONE. AND THEN SHE PICKED IT OUT AND WROTE IT OUT ALL BY HERSELF!!!!!

HOW EFFING CUTE IS THAT?

It brought more than a couple of tears to my eye, and I still have the card now. It made me feel loved and appreciated and acknowledged and, really, that’s all I would ask for.

Mums don’t want a Facebook post showing off in some silly online contest of ‘who has the best mum in 2019’. Yeah, it’s great if you want to brag about your mum, do it whenever you like, but it’s not going to mean as much as something far more thoughtful. Maybe I’m just cynical, but what is the point in putting it on Facebook? There isn’t any, except it’s a bit of a social norm now, almost like you have to prove that you’re a good child with an obligatory message to your Mum to say thanks. Say it in person! It’ll mean more.

Mums also don’t want to be showered in meaningless gifts – gifts are great, but we want something with some thought behind it, not just the first thing you saw on the shelf when you waltzed into Tesco. Something your little one actually picked out for their mummy – those are the sweetest kinds of gifts, though, granted, the presents themselves may be useless!

Mums want cards with nice messages inside, handmade or shop bought, but that you’ve taken the time out of your day to sit down and think about what you want to write, written it, sealed it with love and delivered in time for Mother’s Day so your Mum doesn’t feel forgotten about. Last year Olivia made me a card with handprints on it that made flowers – it was beautiful and that’s the kind of thing us mummies will treasure. Not every one of Olivia’s drawings (mostly of Rapunzel, not gonna lie) will make the cut of things I keep forever, but her little diddy handprints on a Mother’s Day card definitely will.

Mums want to spend Mother’s Day with their kids – it might not always be possible given the diversities of modern families, but a phone call or a video call if you can’t be there in person will go a long way.

And finally, Mums want to CHILL. It’s hard work being a parent; reward us, please. Give us a cup of tea and a chance to sit down somewhere other than the toilet. Dads, we promise we’ll do the same for you when it’s your turn. 

What have you got planned for Mother’s Day?

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Ideas for your Paper Anniversary

Mine and Jamie’s first wedding anniversary has been and gone (I had planned on publishing this on the anniversary but I’ve become a bit unreliable with blog things lately as life is getting in the way!) and so I thought I would share the ideas I had before FINALLY deciding on my first anniversary gift to my darling husband.

I should say, I’m a bit cringy when it comes to these things. My Paper Anniversary means that the gift should be Paper too! But anyway… here are the gift ideas I came across on my search for the perfect present!

1. Tickets

More often than not after having kids, you don’t really get the time to have a good old night out with your significant other. So… the FIRST thing I considered was some kind of event ticket.

BUT I didn’t want to wait absolutely months for the event – Jamie is still not home yet from Afghanistan so we’ve missed our actual anniversary. With a bit more pre-planning I maybe could have found an event for when he came back, but there wasn’t really anything and the things I did find were still a little while away!

The gift(s) I did compile in the end incorporate theatre tickets, concert tickets, and other event tickets, so these have featured in our anniversary celebrations but not as a standalone gift!

2. Scrapbook

I wish I’d had more time to put something like this together, though in all honesty it would be more for me than Jamie! I’ve still yet to finish my bloody wedding scrapbook… that I started while I was planning the wedding!

If your other half would appreciate a scrapbook of memories from your first year, this is the perfect present to reminisce over your honeymoon and beyond.

3. Love letters

Again, I wish I’d had the time! I wanted to write 365 letters to Jamie for our next year together. However, being a military family this again presented issues as the whole one-a-day idea doesn’t work when he misses the first 9 or 10 days of our second year of marriage.

Plus, I’m good at being lovey dovey, but filling 365 letters or notes with lovey dovey stuff? Not sure even I could do that! 

4. Maps

I’ve seen these a lot on Pinterest! Maps pinpointing the place you met, the place you said ‘yes’, and the place you said ‘I do’. 

These are such a cute idea and I may well do this another time for us. You can frame the maps in a aperture photoframe and even decorate the frame yourself if you wanted to. It’s both a cute present and a lovely addition to your home decor!

5. Lyrics

I think Jamie would actually have really liked this one – using your first dance song as the inspiration, you can turn the lyrics into a piece of art for your loved one! Frame the lyrics on their own as a standalone piece, or write the lyrics onto a mount of your first dance photos… which brings me on to the next one!

6. Photos

Again the options are limitless for this – get your wedding photos printed and framed, or get a couples photoshoot of you holding a wedding photo.

Every year, book a photoshoot of you holding the picture from the year before! I would love to do this just to see how many photos of photos of ourselves we can get in the frame! It may take some convincing though to get Jamie to do a photoshoot… tactics, anyone?

7. A Diary Full of Dates

Last but not least, this is the present I’ve put together for my husband!

One event wasn’t enough, and I liked the idea of the love letters in having something to open/do every day. However every day wasn’t feasible, so my idea was to buy Jamie a 2019 diary. In the diary I have planned events for us at least once a month, and they completely range from romantic to trying to kill each other with paintballs.

Here are just a few of the events I’ve planned:

  • Weekend away in Belgium
  • Football match
  • Party Like Gatsby event in London
  • Theatre tickets
  • Cinema date
  • Dinner date
  • Paintballing
  • Day out at Hever Castle
I’ve even pencilled in my birthday, with a note that it’s his turn to plan a date for me!
For me, this was the perfect idea because I got to put a lot of effort into planning so many lovely things for us to do, and equally we will both reap the benefit of having regular date nights together having spent 7 months of our first year apart (not by choice!)
Have you got any other anniversary ideas for your Paper Anniversary? What’s worked well (or not so well) for you?

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Why being a step-parent is harder than being a parent…

When I met my husband, he already had a 3 year old daughter. It was never a problem for me – even though I had only just turned 18, I was possibly more maternal then than I am now after having my own daughter! However, the minute I mentioned our relationship to, well, anyone, I was told not to go near him, he had baggage, blah blah blah! I’m pretty sure my “baggage” is worse, and it doesn’t come in anywhere near as cute packaging as Kiera – how can a child be “baggage”?

I’d always grown up around children (being the eldest of 5); I had an almost maternal bond with my youngest siblings, too. But even that could not have prepared me for the absolute shit storm that came hand in hand with becoming a step-parent.

Kiera was possibly the most adorable little 3 year old I’d ever met – that’s probably why Jamie knew that he could get me to go out with them both if he just sent her my way asking me to take her to the park with her dad. It was pretty impossible to refuse such a cutie!

It’s fair to say, I fell in love with both of them. Jamie wasn’t Jamie without Kiera. Kiera made him an amazing dad and a kind, caring, loving man. Kiera made me a parent – she made me part of a family, even if it was a pot noodle family (just add mum!)

It had been a while since I felt like I was part of a family.

But with all of the amazing parts of becoming a step-parent, there was hell waiting behind it. The manipulation, the alienation, the arguments and the upset were all waiting to come as I got deeper into their lives.

The first hard thing was leaving her and Jamie behind for university. My life carried on – it would be 2 or 3 months at a time between visiting home to see them both, and, even at home, Kiera would be between houses. Those days were probably the best so far – I used to love coming home for uni breaks and being greeted by her at the train station. She would run up to me and jump into my arms for cuddles, much like Olivia does now when I pick her up from the childminder. It makes me so so happy and feel so loved when the kids do that, but, with Kiera, those days are over.

It’s no secret that her mum doesn’t like me – she never has. We’ve tried and tried and tried to be civil but I’m the step-mum, in her eyes, I’m the bitch. Kiera knows that, Kiera picks up on it, and almost every time she’s been at our house for the last 2 or 3 years, she has gone back to her mum, playing on that and banking on the fact that she’ll get sympathy for making up tales about me.

She’s nearly 9, so of course I don’t expect things to be the same as when she was 3, but our relationship is really, really strained. There’s so much parental alienation going on that I don’t know how or even if I should try to solve it. Whatever I do, it gets twisted.

So now, during this 7 month tour that Jamie has been on in Afghanistan, Olivia has seen her sister 4 times.

My heart breaks for her. On top of me missing my stepdaughter, Olivia is missing her sister. She doesn’t understand why her dad and her sister aren’t here anymore. She called our friend’s daughter her sister recently, and although it was the cutest thing ever, it made me realise that she doesn’t even know what a sister is. She hasn’t made the association that it’s ONLY Kiera and not every older girl she spends time with.

Being a step-parent isn’t an easy ride. I’m sure, or at least I hope, it’s not the same for every step-parent, but it’s so tough having to constantly wonder whether this is normal behaviour for a child torn between two families, or if she actually does hate you.

If it’s the latter, what do you do? Has anyone been through similar trouble and able to share some support? One wicked stepmother here who needs to know she’s not the only one!

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Moving in with the in-laws.

This last week has been very busy. Me and my partner decided to leave our first home and move in with his parents. Now, I can already hear many of you shouting WHHHHHY at your screens, but we obviously had our reasons.

We have never been what you call ‘responsible with money’ and unfortunately we found ourselves in a hole that would’ve taken a miracle to get out of whilst renting. So, in order to get our finances sorted, we packed up and moved into the in-law’s house so we can firstly, pay off what we owe and secondly, save up for a deposit for a house that we could really call a home.
It’s only been five days but honestly, I feel happier already. No, our finances aren’t sorted but there is now a chance for them to be in the future. The idea that in a couple of years, we could have no debt and possibly saved enough for a deposit on a house, makes me so excited for the future. I’ve also found that me and my partner are happier together. There isn’t this constant worry hanging over us about whether we could afford to pay a certain bill or tension because one of us bought something we didn’t have the money for. We are enjoying time with each other without nagging or bickering and it feels amazing.
Obviously, living with the in-laws does have it’s disadvantages as well…
(Cynthia and Tony, if you’re reading this, I’d stop now)
We are sharing a bedroom with our 2 year old daughter at the moment, so we don’t really have the space to relax and spend time with each other as a couple. Which was to be expected and will make the time we spend together in our next home even more worthwhile, so it’s not that big of a deal.
The other downside to sharing a room with our daughter (and this is why I asked you to stop reading Cynthia and Tony) is that romance is slightly tricky when you have a toddler sleeping at the end of your bed. So as much as we’re happier as a couple, there is a little less us time than what we are used to.I’m not going to say that this will work for everyone, I’ve been lucky that I get on with my in-laws and we are lucky enough to have this as an option. But as I said, it’s only been five days so it’s still early days. I will be sure to keep you updated on how things are going and how well we are saving.

Have you ever moved in with your in-laws to save money or maybe you couldn’t think of anything worse, let us know in the comments!