Monday, 14 October 2019

Our USA Travel with Kids Wishlist


The USA is so full of personality from the small towns to the big and I would love to go exploring across the country, but I have been thinking more about which states look great for travelling to with a young family and I have narrowed it down to my top 5, all for very different reasons.  Flights to the USA aren’t as expensive as they used to be and it is easier than ever to get an ESTA visa with E-visa. 

ESTA

To travel to the USA you must have a visa whether you are travelling for business or pleasure. You can apply directly for your ESTA with E-Visa and it takes only 5 minutes.  The ESTA covers you for up to two years on multiple trips and E-visa take all the hassle out of applying! Everyone needs to have one regardless of age and you must do it before you get to the airport. You can find out more about an ESTA Application here


California

California may be an obvious choice for a family trip but for good reasons.  It hosts its own Disneyland parcs as well as Universal Studios and Legoland. There is so much more than just theme parks though with the beautiful Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, the national parks and of course Hollywood.  The state is huge with so much to explore that I think it would be impossible to do in one visit!  

The Golden Gate bridge looks stunning and we would love to hire a car and road trip around this state.  I think with the sun, theme parks and all the national parks like Redwood and Yosemite this would be the children’s first choice!



Alaska

My children love animals and Alaska has an amazing variety from the bald eagles in the sky to the bright red salmon in the lakes as well as all the reindeer.  Alaska is a state for outdoor adventure, wildlife and scenery on a grand scale. Whilst other states have all the attractions I am attracted to Alaska for the wild beauty of it and I would love to visit in a few years when the children are all big enough to go hiking through the national parks.  There seems to be plenty to do all year round and I would love to visit in the winter where snow is on the ground and you might catch a glimpse of the northern lights.

I love the idea of cruising to Alaska but I have heard that driving around is pretty special and it could be combined with a trip to Canada which is included in your ESTA from E-visa.



Florida

Dylan has been talking of visiting Florida since his visit to the Harry Potter Studios last winter and I would love to take him to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando.  It looks huge, spectacular and the kind of place that would make me want to re-read all the books! There are two parks and you can catch the Hogwarts Express between the two which would be magical!  I visited Florida a few (many) years ago and I would love to take my children back to the Kennedy Space Centre and Busch gardens as well as the obvious Disney parcs.  

I have seen photos of Miami beach though and that is somewhere I have never been and would love to visit as a family.  The white sand, the beautiful blue sea and the atmosphere look so different from our beaches at home (and so much warmer!)

New York

I would love to visit New York with the children (or without them) and I think they would be mesmerized by the skylines, the bustle and the culture.  I want to watch a play on Broadway and see the sets of TV shows I have loved. Central Park is on my bucket list of places I have to visit one day and I think the children would be amazed by the Statue of Liberty.  

Times Square, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller building - there is so much iconic architecture in this state but there are also places to camp, to enjoy a beach cabin or so many other types of holiday.  It is a city of culture, museums and diversity and I think it would make a wonderful place to visit as a family.



Hawaii

The beautiful beaches and the opportunities to surf draw you in but it is the opportunity for island hopping that makes me want to visit. On our recent trip to Croatia we went on a boat tour round some smaller islands and it was one of our highlights.  The Hawaiin islands sound like they are full of culture and exotic cuisine.  



My curious children would love to learn more about the state’s active volcanoes, go whale watching or on the submarine adventures available and I think it would be a truly memorable trip.


I could go on listing the states we would love to visit in the USA and all the places we could travel to and I hope that some of these become a reality for us in the future. If you have any American adventures planned then check out E-Visa for ESTA USA to make sure everything runs smoothly!

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Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Running a Half Marathon

I have to admit, I wasn't convinced I would ever be ready but I turned up early last Sunday morning and registered my name at the Simplyhealth Great Bristol Half Marathon with the hope that my legs wouldn't let me down. I have been training for a few months with the help of my Simplyhealth plan and whilst I hadn't run 13 miles, I had reached 10 on my training and I was told if you can run 10, you can run 13.


The atmosphere was amazing and Millennium square was full of excited looking runners with numbers pinned to their t-shirts as well as partners, parents and families preparing to cheer on their loved ones. I noticed the notes on people's backs that told me a fraction of their story, why they were running or who for. I was confident my body could cope with the grueling two hour run but I was trying to make sure my mind could as well.


The sun was beating down as we lined up, I was in the green wave, and everyone was setting up soundtracks on their phones or making sure watches were ready to track the action. The crowd was full of excitement, the music was playing and it was hard not to feel enthusiastic and positive. We started, slowly at first as we edged towards the start line and then with a bounce in our steps as we crossed and begun the easiest mile of the 13. The streets were lined with people cheering us on, there were smiles everywhere and I set a time in my head of when I wanted to complete the half marathon. I had a few issues with my ankle during my training and I had used my Simplyhealth plan for physio to ensure it was strong enough to make it through. I felt no pain at the beginning which is usually the toughest bit and I was so grateful I had seen to my problem early before it escalated.


It was around mile 4 I started to lose the bounce, the heat was intense and I wasn't used to training in the sun as I tend to run in the evenings. I focused on reading people's shirts and I felt humbled and uplifted by those running in the name of Will, a little boy with a brain tumour. Everyone there had their own story, and we were running not in competition but together. By mile 9 things were getting really hard and my body was running out of energy, my pace had slowed right down but every time I saw children holding out their hands for a high five I found a little more energy, every time someone called out the number on my bib and reminded me I was doing great, I found another bit and the support from strangers, from marshalls and from the other runners kept me going even when everything felt exhausted.


I knew I was getting close to my target time when I saw the 12 mile board and the streets were full again with music and people and cheering and suddenly it said 400 metres, then 200 metres and I dragged the last bit of energy out to get across the finish line. I did it, with over a minute to spare before my aim time. 2 hours and 8 minutes and I could stop and walk, pick up my finishers pack with the medal I had more than earned and find my family to celebrate.



My daughter was so excited to come and tell me that I won and I did, because I wasn't running against the other people, I was running with them, trying to beat myself, to beat my expectations of myself and to prove to me that I could do it. I didn't care about anyone else's time, I was a winner and I was going to celebrate my success!


Back in the running village, I headed straight to the Simplyhealth stretch zone where a trained PT was leading a full stretch which I definitely needed after over 2 hours of running. You could join in halfway through the session or wait for the next one so I jumped in and stretched out my poor muscles. They got a real treat afterwards though in the complimentary massage tent and I could have fallen asleep on the table!



The running village also had a 'Rate my Gait' station where you could run on a treadmill and have it recorded and then speak to a physio or podiatrist about your results and your running style which was really interesting and has definitely given me some pointers to work on! It is such an important thing when running to understand your body and how it moves - this is such a valuable service.



Running the Simplyhealth Great Bristol Half Marathon left me feeling both completely exhausted and utterly invincible. The runners high is like nothing else and I felt so incredibly proud of myself and still do. I worked so hard to get here and I had such an amazing day in Bristol. My Simplyhealth plan has helped keep me on track with my health as I took on the commitment to train for this. It has covered my costs from dental work and optical to physio and I am sure I will be using it plenty as I want to keep up the running (although I think 10k might be my preferred distance for now!). I have definitely caught the running bug and the children really want to take part next time after watching the Simplyhealth Great Bristol half Marathon (and seeing the medal I got!). They helped me throughout my training so I think now I need to help them with theirs!
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Wednesday, 25 September 2019

It's All Change

It is a strange time after having small children at home for eight years to be finding myself with some free time.  Having them so close together meant there was always a new baby before the elder one started nursery but my final baby has just started nursery and a new chapter is unfurling.


Finn is still only part time at school but as of next Monday, he will be doing five school days a week and Cora will be doing two which means for two days between the hours of nine and three I will have no children at home.  It feels odd, but right at the same time.  I feel so ready to have some more time for me, to rediscover what I want to do and how I want to do it and the little taster sessions, those 2 hours when Finn is at school already and Cora at nursery have been wonderful.



I am so excited for this time to rediscover me, but of course it is strange giving away so much of these little people to their schools.  Suddenly there is a whole part of their life that I don't get to see, they make friendships without my influence and when they fall it is someone else offering the magic cuddles that fix it all.  I don't think letting go is ever easy, even if it is just in small doses but it feels like the right time.


Cora has always been clingy, she has always wanted to be close to me and I wondered whether she would ever be ready for this day, but attachment does seem to breed independence and she walked in on her first day without really looking back.  She looks forward to her nursery days and she is so happy and settled which assures me that I have made the right decision. 


Finn is so excited for next week when all his friends will be at school and he can play out on the playground like his brother.  He looks so small and smart in his school uniform and I want to remember this as I know how quickly they grow, how much older the year 2 children look from the reception ones and how much he will change once he is full time in school.


And I have decided for the first week of having all my babies out the house for 2 days that I am going to spend it doing nothing productive at all. There will be plenty of time for all that, but this time has been eight years coming and I deserve to spend a whole day lying in bed watching Netflix and eating chocolate buttons, surely?





These photos are from one of our last mornings with just these little two.  Maxomorra, one of my favourite organic kids brands sent them these outfits and I just love the bright autumnal colours.



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Wednesday, 11 September 2019

A Day out at Chessington

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The summer holidays can get expensive fast, especially if your children are like mine and feel the need to snack every 10 minutes from the moment they get up to the moment they go to sleep, so I am always looking for ways to save money and keep them entertained. I have a tiny thrill seeker and another child who had ‘visit an aquarium’ at the top of his summer holidays wish list, so we had been looking at taking a visit to Chessington World of Adventures Resort when we discovered the Coca-Cola Reverse vending machines.



You can take along an empty 500ml bottle and exchange it onsite for a 50% off voucher for entry into a Merlin Entertainments attraction. Plus, you can rest assured that your bottle will be recycled. Coca-Cola are working hard to make their packaging more sustainable and I usually opt for a glass bottle or can when available, but it is great to know when I do buy a plastic bottle I can make sure it is correctly recycled. They are planning on increasing the amount of recycled plastic used in their packaging by 2020 and are committed to continual improvement.



We visited in the middle of the summer holidays so I was expecting it to be busy (and it was) but we loved the variety there, which meant we could break up rides with the zoo, the SEA
LIFE centre and everything else there was to see and do. We loved the Julia Donaldson attractions which were perfect for mini adventurers like ours and generally found Chessington a great option for younger families. The Gruffalo River Ride Adventure was our favourite and the new Room on the Broom – A Magical Journey was pretty special as well as we walked through the story which is so familiar to us, watching the characters come to life. Even the queue was entertaining with little puzzles and games along the way (and a station to buy coffee!). Finn can’t wait to be big enough for Dragon’s Fury which is a twisty, turning rollercoaster that kept going over our heads – he couldn’t take his eyes off it! (This is definitely one I will be going on with him once he is a little taller!).


The SEA LIFE centre was set right in the middle of the Resort and we got to see stingrays swimming around as well as walking through a tunnel of fish. For all the children, their highlight was definitely being able to stroke a starfish though and they all got stuck in! Next door to SEA LIFE was a walkway with monkeys which Dylan came on with me whilst the other three acted like monkeys running through the playground high above the ground. There was lots of space for the children to run around and they loved being able to see the animals as they did!




Merlin Entertainments have plenty of attractions with reverse vending machines like Thorpe Park Resort, LEGOLAND® Windsor Resort and SEA LIFE Blackpool, so there are plenty of options whether you have little ones or bigger.




Which Merlin Entertainments attraction are you thinking of visiting next and do you have your Coca-Cola bottle ready to recycle?


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Sunday, 8 September 2019

Keeping Fit as a Family

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It is important that I lead by example and as I train for the Simplyhealth Great Bristol Run I am making sure my children learn about how important it is to keep fit, and how necessary it is to look after your body as you are doing it. My plan from Simplyhealth has made sure I have everything I need to look after myself, including physiotherapy and podiatry. We have been getting more creative with the ways we keep active as the summer holidays come to an end, so I wanted to share our five favourite ways to stay active together.




1) The children have had their scooters for ages and I have recently started getting out more on mine as they love it when we make it a family activity. They have so much more stamina on a scooter than they seem to on foot and there are some lovely areas locally where we can take them and race around. I haven’t yet braved the skate park with them but I am not ruling it out!


2) It is so easy to stay out of their games, but actually getting involved can be so much fun and many of their games are super active. We love playing different versions of tag where I am always the one chasing them and garden obstacle courses are another favourite. Both of them allow me to do something the children love whilst also being active together and encouraging each other further. It was actually some of the games that made me want to start running in the first place as I found I got tired so quickly and I wanted to be able to keep up with them!


3) We are lucky to have a park locally with some great activities including a table tennis table. We bought our own paddles and balls and it is a lovely after school activity if we need to get some fresh air and exercise. Many parks now have outdoor gyms or areas for sports so now is the time to go exploring and see what you can find!


4) Swimming is a family favourite for lots of people and we are no different. All four children have separate swimming lessons but they love it when we go for a ‘play swim’ and they still practice everything they have been learning as well as loving games of shark and catch. The water is one of the best places to exercise as it is more gentle on joints than impact sports too.


5) As the boys are getting bigger, I am able to take them out on shorter runs with me and there are lots of races that have children’s categories including the Simplyhealth Great Junior and Mini Runs. Running together is a great way to spend some quality time with them and to push each other and they have a unique way of running at the moment that involves lots of sprints alongside some very slow speeds which is great for preparing me for a sprint finish!



It is lovely to be able to prepare for my big event as a family and I have been making the most of my plan from Simplyhealth to ensure I am ready, from a new optical prescription check to ensure I can see everything clearly as I run around, to physiotherapy to make sure my weaker ankle is up for the challenge of 13.1 miles! You can find out more about my plan from Simplyhealth here and if you need inspiration on how to get your children involved, ask them what they want to play!


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Friday, 30 August 2019

A Family Evening Out at Goodwood

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I had presumed that all the family days at race courses would be afternoon affairs, but we chose to visit Goodwood as part of our collaboration with Great British Racing and the first race started at 5pm. It was lovely to catch the late afternoon sunshine and enjoy an outdoors tea as we watched the fun. 




We arrived just in time for the first race and we loved how easy it was to find our way around at Goodwood.  It didn't take the children long to notice there were fairground rides down one end so we walked straight there! There are 50 family days across the summer with plenty to do for children and we were delighted to see that all the rides were free of charge! There was a fantastic atmosphere as the children rolled down the hills, spun round on the carousel, had their faces painted and devoured the ice creams being sold at the little ice cream van on site.  There were 7 races with the final one being at 8pm and we stopped our play to watch the horses and choose which one we wanted to win each time.




It was pretty much always the pink one they voted for and sadly they didn't win every time, but they loved cheering on the number of their horse and watching them dash by.  At the edge of the family area was an amazing playground that meant even the most energetic children were occupied and the kids thought it was the best evening!  We popped back to find some food and drink but the family area was always calling and it was brilliant having the mix of a funfair and the horse racing.
What we really loved was that the fun didn't stop when the races did and there was music, fire dancers, stilt walkers and fireworks still to come after the last race, meaning we could enjoy our evening as it got darker.  Finn starts moving as soon as he hears music and he loved showing off his dance moves to everyone and anyone!  The children were totally captivated by the bands and dancers and we didn't want to leave.




Under 18s go free to over 200 fixtures across the summer when accompanied by a paying adult and there are still 2 family days left, one at Brighton on September 1st and Fontwell Park on Sunday 8th September where you can dig for fossils and get the chance to meet a newborn baby dinosaur!  You can find out more about this amazing offer and your nearest race course at www.Under18sRaceFree.com.  We had such a lovely evening at Goodwood and were so impressed with how family friendly everything was, from the kids meals to the entertainment.





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Thursday, 29 August 2019

Victorious Festival with Children

Every year we seem to try a new music festival as a family and we all have different criteria.  For me, having plenty for the children to do is a must.  We have four children aged between 3 and 8 and so I know the most enjoyable weekend is one where they are entertained.  Ed on the other hand wants to prioritise good music and make sure there are plenty of bands he wants to see.  He has been going to festivals without children for years and he will spend a long time checking out the lineups.



This year we decided early on that Victorious festival in Southsea fit all the criteria and we were lucky enough to be offered Press Tickets just before we got round to actually purchasing them.  The line up included Two Door Cinema Club, Bloc Party and The Hives that we were keen to see alongside Lewis Capaldi, Rudimental, Professor Green and loads more.  


We arrived late at the camping fields and everything was calm, quiet and well set up.  We were shown a great place to pitch up in the families area and we had so much space around our tent.  Unlike most festivals we have been to, the camping is actually seperate to the festival and we had to get a bus across the city when we wanted to head to the music.  Generally, this worked quite well and we never waited more than about 10 minutes between arriving at the bus stop and leaving in both directions.  The journey was about 20 minutes and on the way home it gave everyone a chance to calm down, meaning the camping fields were always pretty quiet.  My children love a bus, especially a double decker so they had no problems with this! The camping fields had brilliant security but only one coffee van and no other ammenities so we were glad we were prepared!


The festival itself is in Southsea and set along the coast so that within 10 metres of leaving the gates you are on the beach.  It made for a really picturesque festival with the most amazing sunsets over the sea as the artists played. The layout wasn't what we expected but the festival is spread out along the available space and once you get used to it, navigating wasn't hard.  It was huge with the two main stages at different ends and countless small specialist stages all around meaning there was music for everyone.  


The kids arena was obviously a priority and it didn't disappoint.  There was a main stage with its own lineup including Mr Bloom, The Princesses and Peppa Pig but it was everything else that made it special for our children.  There were free fairground rides aimed at the smallest children (perfect for Cora and Finn who are 3 and 4) as well as a selection of bouncy castles that were also free and queues were between about 1 and 15 minutes. (There were also fairground rides for older children and adults at an additional cost of roughly £3 pp)  There were tents full of local businesses offering shows, classes and all sorts and we saw a Jedi training class run by a local dance centre, as well as a drama class aimed at 3-7 year olds that Finn and Cora were completely engaged with, hunting for an invisible 20 headed dragon.  The Lidl Mudder area had obstacle courses for children as well as pedal bikes to make smoothies and free fruit, there were Horrible Histories from the local Docklands teaching kids (rather factually) how to load and clean a cannon and one of our favourite areas was circus skills that was open from 10-6 (the same opening times as the entire kids arena) and had plenty of helpers for the tight rope and all sorts of equipment for the children to practice with.  This is always where they headed first and where they were when everything started packing up.









The music we watched had a great atmosphere and we stayed far enough back that we had space for dancing and running around as well as a blanket to sit on.  There was a huge selection of food vendors offering something for everyone and plenty of shops selling festival essentials like glittery bum bags and more glitter.


Victorious Festival was full of colour, music, smiles and families and whilst you can definitely go child free and have a great time, we thought it was a brilliant family friendly festival.  If we go back again (which we really want to do) then we would break up the crowds of the festival with little escapes to the beach as there is no limit to how much you can go in and out, and it would have been great to cool down in the sea when the temperatures were hovering around 30 all weekend! Southsea pier is also a lovely little area to explore with arcades, a few rides, a soft play (next to Wimpy, which we used for an hour or running free one afternoon) and little cafes.  It would also be great to make an even longer weekend from Victorious and visit the aquarium, Portsmouth city and the local docklands too.  


Obviously my view of the festival is different to that of a child so I have asked the children for their views:


And of course, there are so many more photos of our weekend at Victorious Festival.

















To find out more details on Victorious Festival 2020 check out their website!


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