Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Ready for Advent with Playmobil

If you are looking for an alternative to the chocolate advent calenders, then check out Playmobil.  They have a choice for older children  (recommended for age 4/5 upwards) as well as one in the '1,2,3' collection which is designed for children 1.5 - 5 years and therefore perfect for my little ones.  Everyday a new piece is uncovered which means by Christmas day you have a whole play set.  

I sneaked open the back of the packaging to take a look at it all, and the boys got to 'test' the toys before they were put away ready for December 1st.  We know already how fantastic the quality of playmobil is, how well it endures, how it encourages imagination and how it is the perfect toy for me to leave Dylan and Archie with if I want to spend some time with Finn as they get lost in their play.

These pictures also contain another Christmas set that features a simple nativity, also from the 1,2,3 range.

Yes, Mary is riding on the reindeer, straight after Father Christmas had brought baby Jesus a dinosaur present.

We were sent these products as part of our role as Playologists.  Be quick if you want to get one before Christmas!
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Sunday, 22 November 2015

What the Boys Wore - Bobux Shoes

Whilst I used to collect high heels as a teenager and display them on bookcases lining my bedroom, I now look for the perfect shoes for three little boys who like to have lots of adventures.  They don't have nearly as many as I had back then and I am far more fussy about how good for their feet they are than I was about looking after my own.

Bobux are a brand known for their barefoot designs.  Their shoes are made so that children walk more naturally, are more aware of what is going on under their feet and with the aim of promoting healthy foot development.  Archie is a runner and a climber and he is also pretty clumsy and after getting used to the new soles, he didn't seem to fall over quite so much.  It did take a couple of wears before he found his balance in them though, as they are different to what he was wearing before.

Bobux boots, bobux eskimo boots,winter boots

I chose him some beautiful blue 'eskimo' boots which are lined with wool on the inside and made from leather on the outside.  They fit well (definitely don't size up with Bobux) and they look great with pretty much everything he owns.  

Bobux boots, Bobux eskimo boots, trendy toddler

Whilst Finn has been happy either barefoot or with some socks, the time has come to think about his little feet over winter, and so his first pair of shoes are these soft sole Bobux boots.  Until he is confidentally walking around outside (which I hope to have at least a few months until this happens), he doesn't need anything solid under his feet and these soft sole 'winter boots' allow his feet to develop naturally whilst keeping them toasty warm with a fleece lining and leather outer.

Bobux baby shoes, Bobux boots

They go perfectly over his leggings or under some of his wider legged clothing and the stretch makes them easy to put on and easy to keep on.

Bobux boots, Bobux shoes, soft sole feet

Bobux shoes are a great investment, in quality shoes and in your child's feet and I love the way their choices are set out in stages so you can buy the ideal support for your child's development.   Archie's shoes are from the 'i-walk' section for confident walkers and retail at £48 and Finn's are from the soft sole collection for developing feet and cost £30.  

Thank you for Bobux for sending us these gorgeous boots that I know will last both boys all winter.

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Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Ski vs Snowboard : Team Ski

I was always told that Skiing was one of those things that you either love or just don't get.  That first trip will either be the first and last time you jet off to the alps, or the reason you go back as often as you can and for us it was definitely a case of Love.

Our first ski trip was last year and we set off having never even been on the dry slopes before.  My Aunty owns a ski and snowboard shop and she had helped kit us out, describing the different layers we may need and showing us those handy sun-cream tubes with a lip-balm attached.  We arrived in France looking the part but with no idea what we were doing.  

I had spoken to family and friends that have skied about whether we should try skiing or snowboarding, and the overwhelming majority suggested skiing was the best way to start out on the snow so we signed up for daily lessons.

I think that the moment you become a parent, a cautiousness appears that may never have existed before.  I have jumped out of planes and gone white water rafting down class 4 drops without a second thought, but stepping onto the snow after leaving my two boys in the creche was terrifying.  Skiing is so different to anything I had done before and I was nervous about how I would manage and made a goal to confidently handle the nursery slopes by the end of the week.

It turns out skiing was hard work physically, but amazing fun.  It only took a couple of days before we attempted the easiest runs and by day 5 the bloke and I were zooming down the green and blue runs without any assistance.  Our tuition was fantastic and with two skis to balance on we felt like we had mastered the slopes.  Being 26 I worried that I was too old to learn, but after our week I don't believe there is a 'too old' to try something new.  We are heading back out to the Alps in January and I can't wait to see my biggest two little ones don some skis and have a go too.

I think there is definitely something appealing about snowboarding.  Much as a teenager on a skateboard looks more cool than one on roller blades, snowboarding seems to be seen as the trendier version of skiing.  Having never been the 'cool kid', I am more than happy to stick to having both feet working independently (so that I can snowplow down anything that scares me).  As a nervous adult learner, I felt secure on skis and I knew how to control my speed.  I can't imagine it being as easy on a snowboard and most of the snowboarders we saw were zooming past us at quite a speed!  

I never had an interest in watching the winter Olympics but after our experiences on the snow, I love watching competitive skiing.  I think because it is something I can relate to (the bloke and I are more than a little competitive too) I would always watch the skiing over the snowboarding.  Being nervous on the snow means I wasn't keen to try anything that meant my feet came off the ground, but the bloke had a couple of rather disastrous attempts at the mini jumps.  Watching the professional skiers zoom through the air is terrifying and exciting in equal measures and I can't look away.

 I would definitely recommend skiing as the best way to start on the slopes.   It was so much easier to learn than I expected and if you have good tuition then it is really easy to pick up.  Most companies offer private lessons and Neilson have Mountain Experts that offer free top up sessions to help you get the most out of your time too.  I can't wait to see my big two little ones try it out and we have started looking for salopettes and goggles that will fit them.  After everything I have heard and seen I think skiing is the better of the two to learn and hopefully easier for children as well as adults.

Skiing holidays for us are about more than just the slopes though.  It is a chance to get away with our family, to enjoy something different - hot chocolate around the fire, beautiful accomodation with breathtaking views out of every window, shared experiences and new skills.  It is watching Archie make snowballs, marvelling at Dylan gaining physical confidence and this coming winter we will be giving Finn his first experience of snow. Neilson offer a great variety of family friendly packages for people of all abilities.

Where do you stand on the Ski vs Snowboard debate?  Has anyone tried both? I stand firmly in the team ski camp.

Disclaimer:  Collaborative Post
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Monday, 16 November 2015

No Big Adventure

After all the fun and change and travel that September and October saw, November is looking a lot less adventurous.  Four trips away, the beginning of school and the change to full time, the leaves falling as Autumn begins, the adventures were then.  November is a month of quiet for us (although life with three children is never all that quiet).  There are more days where we do very little, days where our biggest outing is a walk through the park after the school run.  Noses are running, chests are producing coughs and small people are feeling tired from it all.

We are a family who won't let rain or wind put us off enjoying the outdoors, but we are a family who need some time together after all the changes.  Five days apart feels like a lifetime when you are four and two and my big boys need time to reconnect at the weekend.  They need to be pirates, or ninja turtles, or school teachers or mummys and play the way they love to.  They need to cuddle and fight and wind each other up and forgive the way only siblings can.  This has shaped our month more than anything as we respect the bond they have and what they need for it to continue.

November is the month my little sister and the boys' Aunty Nat Nat is around after a long summer away and an upcoming winter season in France.  They love having her around, even though most of the time we aren't doing anything exciting at all.  She is a different face to play dominos with, or to tell all about their day at school.  She is a different lap for cuddles at the end of a long day when some quiet time and TV are about all they can cope with.

This past weekend, our biggest adventure was washing the car.  We drove over to Nanny's as there is off-road parking, dressed the boys in their rain gear and let them loose with a bucket and some sponges.  It really doesn't sound exciting to me, but when you are four and two, anything can be an adventure and they loved getting stuck in. They were both sent a pair of Goretex boots which were perfect as they are completely waterproof whilst still being breathable and they did the job of wellies without us having to pack extra into the boot.

More adventures are coming and Christmas is next month but for now our week is quiet, full of cuddles on the sofa, connect 4, sharing books and kicking leaves in the park whilst these boys recover.

These viking boots go with most of their wardrobe and are so practical for little boys who love to run and jump and splash and explore.
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Sunday, 15 November 2015

Beaches - Negril

During our recent trip to Jamaica with Beaches we managed to visit both of their family friendly resorts.  I wrote recently about my thoughts on Beaches Ocho Rios - a beautiful private slice of paradise on the North coast and our transfer across to the island took us to the west coast Beaches Negril

Beaches Negril has the same outstanding hospitality that I had already come to expect after our three days in Ocho Rios but it is more spread out and sits along the famous seven mile beach.  The sand is still as bright, the sea still as clear and the atmosphere still as friendly, but the layout was different and much more accessible in my opinion.  Whilst Ocho Rios had lifts meaning nowhere was out of bounds, Negril doesn't need them.  My room had a ramp leading in making it perfect when I had a sleeping little one in the pushchair and the main pool was right outside our door, the beach only a few extra steps away.

Negril seemed much bigger and like its sister site had three pools, a water park, a kids camp and X-box room and a huge variety of places to eat and drink.  My room here was more compact than in the last resort, but it was perfect for the two of us and still had a living space alongside where we would sleep.  The fridge came fully stocked, and whilst there aren't kettles provided as standard in these rooms (there are coffee machines instead), the staff were more than happy to find one for me and it was delivered almost as soon as I had asked for it.  I was delighted to see how imaginative the staff were with their towel art in Negril and we often came back of an evening to find one of Finn's toys had joined in the fun.  I think this would have been a real hit with my big boys, finding out what their belongings had been up to whilst we were out.

Finn and I were still in an early rising, early to bed habit and it was ideal as the sunrises were just as stunning this side of the island.  Whilst there is plenty to do in the evenings, including the Liquid nightclub, bars and restaurants, the resort quietens down quite early, making it perfect for young families.  We went along to the weekly beach party one evening and by 9pm it had moved away from the accomodation so that we could all sleep peacefully.

The beach is stunning and kept mostly private.  Security patrol both ends meaning you still feel relatively secure although you do find people trying to sell you stuff on the odd ocassion.  I loved the private beach of Ocho Rios but it was great to enjoy such a large beach too and have the option for a proper morning walk with your feet in the already warm sea.  Negril had some beautiful Cabana beds that could be hired for an extra cost, but came with towel art and rose petals and a private butler to bring your drinks.  Finn and I used to lay on them first thing in the morning as he drank his milk and we watched the sunrise and they felt so completely luxurious.  

There are three pools around the resort and our favourite was the main pool situated right outside our front door.  There was a bridge to walk over it or swim under and of course a very well stocked swim up bar.   The pool was never too busy that you couldn't grab one of the floating sunbeds and soak up the sun with the water still cooling your back and there was plenty of seating and sunbeds in every direction.  

The water park had a couple of great slides as well as a lazy river which was an ideal way to cool off and relax.  Finn and I made sure to test out the mini toddler pool which was always deserted, possibly because it was situated away from most of the action.  It was really sweet, more like a giant paddling pool than a swimming pool and with little kids sunchairs around the water as well as in it.  For children getting used to water for the first time it was ideal as it was so quiet and shallow that they could splash in peace before joining the bigger pools.

The choice of restaurant was rather similar to Ocho Rios with a few extras.  The main restaurant served a buffet every meal and was open for a continental breakfast from 3am - perfect for those struggling with the jetlag.  I had two favourites that I would highly recommend bringing to the top of your list to try, Kimonos which was Japanese but in the most theatrical manner. The chef stood by a hot table in the middle of the guests and cooked up noodles and a variety of fish, meat and vegetables whilst singing, dancing and juggling utensils and ingredients.  I left Finn sleeping in the kids club when we visited Kimonos as there is more of a party atmosphere, however there were plenty of young children.  The food could be kept plain for the fussy eaters and it tasted even more delicious after you had watched it all cooked freshly in front of you.

Stewfish not only served a great variety of tasty meals, but located right on the sand, the views were spectacular.  Everything on the menu sounded fantastic and the Actually Mummy family ate there most days, persuading us that it was the best lunch venue on the resort.  I didn't make it down there for breakfast, but I can only imagine it to be a stunning way to start the day.

Cafe de Paris was the sweet treat equivelant of the Creperie in Ocho Rios and opened from early in the morning until around 10:30pm.  Serving pastries, proper coffees and a selection of ice creams, for some reason it felt more indulgent visiting here than anywhere else.  I could get used to the all inclusive with my food and drinks but to visit a little boutique coffee shop I felt like I should be paying extra.  As the weather stays warm day and night, an after dinner trip to Cafe de Paris for some ice cream felt indulgent and the perfect way to end a day of sunshine too.

Whilst both resorts are on my list of places I am desperate to get back to, Negril has the edge when I think about visiting with my four and two year olds.  Alongside the sea and pools, Beaches Negril has a playpark and miniature golf which I know they would really enjoy as an alternative.  As part of their commitment to conservation, many of the trees that have died around the resorts have been left where they are and transformed through carving and paint into magnificent statues that add even more colour and fun and spotting them would be a great activity for toddlers.  The parrot one below is one of my favourites.

Whilst luxury is well and truly included on a Beaches resort holiday, there are ways to spend any extra money you may have brought with you and at Negril I tried out three of the options, all of which I would thoroughly recommend.

I don't know how much convincing you need to book a spa treatment, but with the Red Lane Spa being on resort and after having had a taste of their products as they supply the in-room toileteries, it didn't take much for me.  I walked in not really sure what I wanted, but after a warm greeting and a short chat with the friendly guy behind reception I had a deep tissue massage booked in for the next day.  Travelling with children can be stressful but the moment you walk into the spa there is a real sense of calm.  The luxury extends to every area and after spending an hour fighting to stay awake as the massage was so relaxing I left feeling refreshed and pampered.

If you really want to see how crystal clear the water is, then the catamaran trip with Island Routes is a great way to explore.  Our boat came ready to party with its own DJ and the bar was still all inclusive.  I loved lying on the boat soaking up the sun, and Finn took the opportunity to have a super long snooze below deck.  You can't bring a buggy on board but the cruise is completely suitable for children.  The staff were great with Finn and more than happy to keep an eye on him whilst I stood on top and watched the dolphin swimming along side us.

We stopped midway to go snorkelling and the waters are still as clear as near the shore.  The guides found us 'sand dollars' to explore and we saw amazing reef and sea creatures.  

We carried on to Margaritaville, a party place around the coast where we stopped to play in the sea, grab some drinks from the bar and enjoy somewhere a bit different.  the back of the catamaran had a slide into the water and floating in the sea in front of Margaritaville was a giant inflatable that you could climb up and dive into the sea from.  Getting on wasn't easy, but it was certainly a workout and diving into the crystal clear waters from several feet up was exciting.

I would really recommend the catamaran cruise as a great excursion.  Every member of staff was fantastic and we loved seeing a little more of Jamaica.  (I say we, but Finn literally slept the entire morning!) 

One of the most interested parts of our trip was the Reading Road Trip organised by the Sandals Foundation.  Beaches is only one side of Jamaica, and getting out of the tourist area and into the 'real' Jamaica was an eye opener.  Poverty is incredibly real and illiteracy a widespread problem.  We visited Mount Airy Primary School, a school built for just over 200 which currently has well over 500 students.  We saw teachers that were responsible for educating over 60 pupils without help and it made me realise how lucky we are in the UK where Dylan's teacher has two TAs to help out in her class of 29.

The staff and students were making the best of what they had and relying on the kindness of the foundation and visitors to stock their library, provide suitable desks for the children and to offer early reading help.  In such big classes, small groups aren't easy and with many parents unable to read, children are not getting help outside the classroom.  I had a group of three grade 1 pupils who were around 6/7 years old and I read with them and did activities.  They were so eager to learn and I wish I could have done more.  

Sandals and Beaches are one of the biggest employers in Jamaica, but they are making a difference all over with their charity and visiting is a great way to  give back whilst you are there.  I would love to take Dylan on a trip like this, open his eyes to how different children learn and education in other countries.

Our trip to Jamaica with Beaches was simply amazing.  Every single detail was well thought out, every member of staff went above and beyond and every meal was just delicious.  Their motto of 'luxury included' couldn't be more true and I would love to visit with the whole family in the future.

Seven nights staying at Beaches Negril Resort & Spa costs from £1,989 per adult and £899 per child. Price includes Luxury Included® (all-inclusive) accommodation in a Negril Deluxe Room, return economy flights from London and resort transfers. Valid for travel dates 2nd May – 24th June 2016.
Island Routes Reggae Family Catarmaran Cruise is available through Island Routes Caribbean Adventure Tours. Prices from $95 per adult and $66 per child. For more information visit www.islandroutes.co.uk.
Sandals Foundation Reading Road Trip costs $25pp. For more information visit www.sandalsfoundation.org.

We were guests of Beaches for the week to try out their Luxury Included resorts.  
All thoughts and photos are completely my own.
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Thursday, 12 November 2015

Just the Three of Us

Dylan started school in September and we have had to find our new normal.  The half days didn't help as there didn't seem to be long enough either before school or during to get up to much, so we had another couple of weeks until we could create a routine that works for us.

Archie took a while to adjust to this huge change.  His big brother has been part of his life since he was born, and as soon as Dylan started preschool, I looked after a friend's son, so he had a playmate still every day.  He is a middle child, used to constant company and he loves having someone to share his play with.  He is happy to play alone, but he wants conversation as he does it and he would always pick playing together.  

Finn is laid back, and at six months the change didn't bother him so much.  At eight months now he is starting to play, to communicate, to entertain his brother and whilst he is no substitute for an imaginative four year old, Archie loves him.  Whilst Finn is still not particularly interested in moving, he wants to be part of his brother's games and he has the biggest smiles when he thinks he is being included.  He chats in his own language and Archie interprets him in some rather strange ways, but they are happy this way.

Our new routine is set between the hours of nine and three fifteen.  We have to make sure we are back at the schoolgates on time for their all important reunion.  It has been amazing watching the bond between my youngest two develop.  The big two are so close they are the best of friends and I want Archie to continue to have a friend.  Finn has a lot to learn but they are finding ways of playing together and poor Finn is always getting cuddled (unfortunately Archie has a tendency to cuddle with his arms around his neck).

I grew up with a brother and sister close in age and my memories are of the games we played.  I remember the arguments too of course - they are inevitable when any three people spend that much time together but mainly I remember how we played.  Obstacle courses in the gardens that we set up together and raced around competing.  Upturned tables that we hopped between as rabbits with hutches under chairs.  The playing pretend with schools and shops that I see my own children doing when they pack their Trunki and go on 'holiday' to their bedroom.  I still have a close relationship with my brother and sister and I hope that my boys carry on being friends as well as siblings.

Archie and Finn have two years to get used to each other, we have two years of our new routine, of it being the three of us every day.  I hope that they get closer as they spend more time just the three of us and as Finn gets more mobile and able.  I know crawling will change everything all over again, but once they are both walking and running, I imagine there will be no stopping them together.

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Tuesday, 10 November 2015

The Doona - Where we have used it

I was so excited when our Doona arrived just before the birth of Finn and I had no idea how much we would use it.  As a pair of non-drivers it wouldn't be part of our school run or nipping out at the petrol station which I know others find it useful for, but it has been brilliant all the same.

I wasn't expecting to have a poorly baby and after bringing Archie home less than four hours after giving birth I knew the Doona would be coming with us to the hospital.  I wasn't letting anyone else carry my baby out and those car seats are hard to carry even with an 8 pound baby in - especially one you have only just delivered!  The Doona would have given me the opportunity to still be the one carrying him, but without the stress on my body of actually carrying.

As it happened, Finn was 3 weeks old before we could bring him home and our stay in SCBU was mostly in isolation.  As he started doing better I was told that I could take him out in the private garden behind the ward for short periods, so long as I had a pushchair for him as he couldn't be carried out.  My room wasn't big of course and storing a pram would have taken up all the free space, but the Doona slotted perfectly under the table and gave me the freedom to enjoy some fresh air with him in the afternoons.

Taking Finn home from hospital certainly wasn't the end of our time there and we had three other stays before he hit six months as well as too many appointments to count.  Often I would get a lift into the hospital and find my own way home and I knew that taking the Doona meant I could jump in a taxi or use the bus.  I never had to wait in the rain either, as if the two pushchair spaces were full I could fold the Doona and have it on the seat next to me - something I appreciated a lot after a long day on the ward and rubbish weather outside.

The Doona was never going to be our main pushchair as babies shouldn't be in the car seat position for too long, but once Dylan started school and I started having more days out with friends, the Doona was perfect for going in their cars.  Their own buggies in the boot, I didn't need to take up any extra space and I had a pushchair ready to go as soon as we arrived.  I made sure I always took a sling to wear whilst we were out, but when I needed to put Finn down (or when I needed somewhere to store bits), I had the Doona with me.

Now that Finn is a little older and the bloke has a car, we are finding the Doona still makes life so much easier.  Meals out where he has fallen asleep on the way there mean he can finish his snooze whilst we start eating.  At 8 months he still has plenty of growing space and seems very comfy in there too.  We can fit it in the back seat of our Ford Mondeo alongside two other car seats and don't find the Doona takes up any more space than another infant car seat.

 Disclaimer : The Doona was sent to us for the purpose of a review.  Please be aware that whilst the straps may not look safe in all these pictures, they were always tightened, straightened and checked for safety before driving.

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