Friday, 31 August 2012

Mini Memory Game

My four year old daughter is no stranger to memory matching games played on the computer but playing with actual cards presents a different set of challenges. We were sent a Mini Memory Game from Ravensburger to review.

The theme of the game was Minnie Mouse from Disney Junior's Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. This was instantly recognisable and hugely appealing to my daughter.

The game consists of 24 pairs of high quality laminated picture cards of approximately 5cm square.

Our first challenge was to lay out the cards face down. Using all 48 cards covered quite a large area. We took it in turns to turn over two cards and try and find the matching pairs. Obviously, this was an exercise in turn taking and paying attention. I have to confess that my daughter was better at finding the pairs than I was but if she got it wrong, it was difficult to dissuade her from having another try straight away! Some of the cards featured fairly similar images which did cause some confusion.

We did not get to the end of the game when we played with the full set of cards but it was a simple process to scale the game down to a manageable level of difficulty by reducing the number of cards used. Playing with a 3 x 4 grid gave her (and me!) a much greater chance of success and a faster paced game. She was always delighted when she found a pair - especially so when memory rather than luck was involved.

Playing with a simple 4x3 grid

I do like my children to play tradition games like this. I would not want to discourage them from playing memory games on the computer but I think there is a lot of value in escaping the virtual world and using real cards.

I particularly approve of the 'Mini' dimensions of this game. It takes up very little space in the toy cupboard and would be ideal for travelling.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

L is for Leaving the kids at home this time!

Recently, we spent a couple of days in Blackpool with the children, taking advantage of family tickets to the Tower Attractions that I won in a blog competition. We had a fantastic time but my husband and I were disappointed that we did not get to dance in the Tower Ballroom. For our "L" Alphabet Date, we decided to Leave the Kids at Home, return to Blackpool and dance.

One of the advantages of having older children from my first marriage is that there are always willing babysitters for the little ones. They very generously agreed to care for their young siblings for two days to give my husband and I a chance for a night away.

We booked a room in a conveniently located Travelodge, packed our bags and set off.

I always find it hard to leave my little ones but as we began to put some distance between ourselves and home, I started to relax and realised how much I desperately needed this time to recharge my batteries.

As we arrived in Blackpool, it was exactly the sort of day that made you not want to be at the seaside. We struggled to keep our umbrella from turning inside out and a steady stream of rain water collected on said umbrella trickled down my back. Far from being discouraged, I was grateful that such inclement weather would mean that we would not have the sort of bank holiday crowds you might expect to contend with when the sun graces us with its warmth and brightness.

We took cover in a shopping centre, got ourselves a giant cup of coffee and made a plan. It was a good plan. A plan that involved my husband checking into the hotel and braving the weather again to get our luggage from the car whilst I went shopping.

I had a lovely time shopping, unencumbered by my usual buggy and with no one else to worry about other than myself. I bought a few things including a gorgeous new handbag and the time flew by. I was just starting to think about meeting back up with my husband when I spotted him buying shoelaces (for his as yet unworn, very shiny dancing shoes).

We went back to the (somewhat seedy) hotel room and after the sort spontaneous adult time that never happens when you have children with you, we got ready to go dancing.

I love the Tower Ballroom. It is so unnecessarily flamboyant and indulgent. We spent a lot of time watching people dancing (including two marvellously camp men dancing together with massive 'ballroom' smiles) and whenever there was a dance that we could join in with, we danced.

Usually, we dance to contemporary music and a few golden oldie recordings. It was very different dancing to the live music played on the famous Mighty Wurlitzer that rises magnificently from beneath the stage.

When the session ended, we headed back to our room for a lazy read of the newspaper.

My husband has gone a bit crazy recently with his fitness. It started with a bike ride from Chester to London and now he has entered himself for a Triathlon. In order not to interrupt his scientifically devised training schedule, he wanted to go for a run along the seafront. Foolishly I offered to go with him. I think I might have really enjoyed it had it not been for the fact that I had just bashed the bottom of my foot on a protruding corner of the skirting board in the hotel room whilst practising my cha cha cha without shoes on. I hobbled along in quite a bit of discomfort but all things considered, it wasn't too shabby an effort.

Trying to find an elegant, vegetarian eatery within walking (hobbling) distance proved too difficult so we opted for a curry (which was not a patch on our favourite Indian restaurant which happens to be right on our doorstep).

After dinner entertainment included throwing a pounds worth of tuppences each at one of those infuriatingly tantalising coin drop arcade machines on the pier. It was very nostalgic for me of family holidays at Butlins where, as a kid, I'd happily occupy myself for hours with a bag of loose change. We wasted the last of our copper on a machine called The Love Machine (which reminded me that this was our L Alphabet Date!). We both got down to our last 2p at exactly the same moment and ceremoniously dropped our coins into the Love Machine. The sliding platform received our offering, gave us a glimmer of hope that the precariously balanced fortune might cascade noisily as impressive winnings. The platform slid, the prize shifted by a fraction of a millimetre. No jackpot moment!

We returned to our hotel room and let's just say that we danced to the tune of an altogether different Mighty Wurlitzer!

The following day after a big Wetherspoon veggie breakfast (scary how many people were downing pints so early in the day) we headed back to the Ballroom. We stayed right until the very last dance and there were times when our whirling around the beautiful dance floor felt glorious. We made the promise to return every year, with the hope that our repertoire and skill will steadily improve. We cemented the promise by buying a souvenir Ballroom mug (with free cup of coffee!) If I'm honest, it is probably one of the ugliest mugs I've ever seen but it will always remind me of a magical couple of days away with my husband and hopefully inspire me to work hard on my dancing in time for next year's trip.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Tots 100 Film Club - Space Jam

Space Jam has always held a place of affection for my older girls (they even remember collecting free Space Jam toys from boxes of cereal many years ago) and they were quite excited to introduce an old favourite to their younger siblings. The little ones were particularly excited having recently discovered the host of Looney Tunes characters that star in it alongside the human actors, from watching the Big Faces box set. Judging by the amount of times they have already watched it and factoring in the amount of times they have asked to watch it, I have to assume that it was a hit with them.

The plot goes something along the lines of:  downtrodden aliens invade earth to bring Bugs Bunny et al  back to their planet to revive a failing theme park - Bugs challenges aliens to a game of basketball to win their freedom and enlists help of recently retired basketball hero Michael Jordan - lots of action - lots of fun - lots of classic 'cartoon moments'.

I'm sure that back in 1996 when it was first released,  Michael Jordan would have been more of a household name. None of my children had any idea who he was but obviously this did not spoil their viewing pleasure.

Generally, I am not a fan of films that mix real life with cartoon animation, finding it jarring to the senses. However, this was very well done and I was thoroughly amused by it.

tots100 parent bloggers film club

Friday, 24 August 2012

Harvestman Attacks!

I have really been enjoying experimenting with my camera and taking photographs of some of the weird and wonderful visitors to my garden, many of which I'm sure I would have failed to notice had I not been ready with my lens.

Yesterday, my little girl came running in, exploding with excitement, telling me that I had had to "come and see this quick!!" What she had found was a long legged harvestman lying very flat and still against her slide.  I told her we should take a picture of it and went to get my camera.

When I got back, the harvestman (possibly spooked by the close scrutiny) decided to unflattened itself and use those impossibly long legs to make a speedy getaway.

Taylor's boyfriend had other plans.

He scooped it up and allowed it to pass from hand to hand. It did finally stop it's unproductive scuttling and came to rest. As I had my camera with me, I thought I might as well try and get the photograph I'd set out to take.

I used my (newly discovered) macro zoom and placed the lens as close as I dared.

The spider must have seen its own refection in the lens and mistook it for a threat. It launched itself at my camera in full attack mode.

Viewing this through the magnifying lens made for a fairly terrifying experience! I am ashamed to admit that I jumped back squealing, heart beating wildly and desperately trying to dislodge the poor creature before it ran up my arm. Luckily, I had the presence of mind not to just throw the camera! I would have been one very frustrated amateur photographer with a broken camera.

Needless to say, the photograph wasn't exactly what I 'd hoped for!!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012


When I was offered the chance to review one of the range of CuddleUppets from Flair, I thought it would be just the sort of thing my little girl loves.

CuddleUppets are a cross between a snuggly blanket (71cm x 99cm) and a puppet, the idea being that with a little imagination, your blanket can become an interactive toy - or equally validly, your toy doubles up as a blanket to help with the bedtime routine.

I  did like the idea of the CuddleUppet and when I opened the box and saw a friendly bear's face looking out at me I couldn't wait to give it to Addy to see what she would do with it.

I have to admit there were mixed reactions from the family. My 15 year old commented that it was creepy and looked like a bear had been run over by a steamroller. Little Dylan shouted gleefully "MONKEY!!" but he has been known to get his animal names confused so that is not necessarily an indication that the bear was anything less than bear-like! However, everyone agreed that the blanket was very soft and snuggly.

My little girl still hasn't quite got the hang of 'making the bear talk'. Her hands are a little bit small to really get to get to grips with the mouth movement but she did enjoy wrapping herself up and pretending to be bear.

As yet, she hasn't wanted to take it to bed with her so it has not become a part of our bedtime routine but I think it would be brilliant for long car journeys or travelling.

It is machine washable - something I will be testing before too long - amazing how grubby a blanket can get just from being on the sofa with two TV watching under fives!

RRP £19.99

V Festival 2012

I have had a weekend that was even better than it was tiring - and trust me it was VERY tiring.

It has become something of an annual tradition for me to attend the V Music Festival at Stafford with my daughters and Kirk, who is such an incredible friend that I often wonder what I have done to deserve someone like him in my life. I have missed a couple of years previously on account of having given birth to my two little ones but this year saw me once again dressed in my age inappropriate festival clothes and wellies with rucksack containing toilet roll, suntan lotion, raincoat, bin bag, emergency money and snacks.

Setting off for day one of the V Weekend

We had glorious sunshine and we had downpours. It really was the complete festival experience!

Tom Jones was incredible on the Saturday. I particularly loved his performances of Delilah and It's Not Unusual. Scary to think that those songs are nearly as old as me.

My Sunday Highlight was watching the Proclaimers perform their feel good songs whilst it rained so hard that we were soaked through to our skins. Luckily the sun came out and dried us off so we were in good shape to enjoy the rest of the acts.

I was far too excited by the inclusion of Aiden Grimshaw in the line up. You would be forgiven for not recognising that name. Aiden Grimshaw was an X Factor contestant a couple of years ago. I had a special fondness for him because he reminded me so much of my daughter's boyfriend. This was not just me. He was stopped in the street and asked why he wasn't at rehearsals! My daughter absolutely refused to acknowledge any resemblance until she saw him perform. She reluctantly agreed that he had similar ears and side of the head and yes, he could be mistaken for a relative, maybe. I have to admit that the songs he sung weren't that great but he has a fragile kind of beauty and mannerisms that are at odds with his deep, angsty vocal. I find him quite compelling. I wonder if my daughter's boyfriend doing karaoke would have the same effect on me!

One of my the best moments of the weekend was seeing musical comedian Tim Minchin perform. His skill as a pianist was impressive enough on its own but add to that his brilliantly witty lyrics and larger than life eccentricities and he was an absolute joy to watch.

On the down side was the stench of the portaloos, the people who use festivals as an excuse to drink far too much, the litter, the aching body parts from being on your feet too long or trying to find a comfortable position sitting on the ground (thank goodness for the binbag), and call me old fashioned, but I will never get used to the sight of ladies squatting to pee against a tree/perimeter fence in full view of everyone.

I was concerned to hear that there had been a fatality. I was even more concerned to find out that the deceased was from the small town that I call home. As further details emerged, it turned out that a young man that I had known when he was at primary school had been found unresponsive in his tent during the early hours of the morning. I probably would not even have recognised him if he'd been right next to me in the crowd but his name was very familiar and it was sobering to think that he was now dead.

We live close enough to the Festival  that we come home and sleep in our own beds on the Saturday night rather than braving the campsite. For some reason this year, the organisers had decided to not allow us to turn left out of the exit which would have seen us on our way and home in half an hour or so. We were made to turn right and follow an outrageously long detour which more than doubled our journey time. I am not usually one for deviating from the rules but in order to avoid a second night of the seemingly pointless detour, we took a 'forbidden' cross country route. By some coincidence, the random lane we took bore the same name as the surname of the unfortunate young man who I hope is now partying in some great music festival in the sky.

Thursday, 16 August 2012


A Level Results Day had seemed so far off - then all of a sudden, it was here

I was slightly concerned for my daughter, Taylor, because she had set herself a very high standard to achieve for her first choice of University - Warwick. I knew she would do well but with a lot of study days lost to ill health and a  wild card in the form of an essay based subject (Taylor admits she does numbers not words!) there was a question mark over whether she would do well enough.

We had an inkling that things had gone in her favour when the school telephoned to ask that she come in early to collect her results and talk to the local paper. It seemed unlikely that the paper would want to run the headline "Promising student's shocks teachers with 3 fails at A level".

My husband works in education and had an obligation to be at his school for the all important results day. However, he was reluctant to leave just in case our worst fears were realised and Taylor needed help  in terms of going through clearing to find an alternative University that would take her. He decided that the best solution was to check the UCAS website first thing. It wouldn't tell him what her grades were but it would say if she had been offered a place at Warwick.

When my husband brought me up my morning coffee all dressed for work and with the biggest smile on his face I'd ever seen, I knew we had nothing to worry about.

Taylor was still asleep at this point, but not so asleep that she didn't register my involuntary outburst of the chorus of Kool and the Gang's Celebrate Good Times (come on!! its a celebration!!!!)

She was up shortly after, checking UCAS herself and celebrating the confirmation of an offer of a place at Warwick.

Going into school to collect her results was now just a formality. She achieved two A stars in her Maths and Further Maths and an A in her essay based subject.

I am so incredibly proud of her.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

K is for Knighton

My husband confessed to having a crush on Victoria Pendleton.  I know I can never aspire to the levels of fitness and commitment to sporting excellence of the Olympian, but I can get on my bike and show willing! For our 'K' alphabet date, that is exactly what I did.

One of the things I love about where I live in Shropshire is how easy it is to set off down a quiet lane through gorgeous countryside and end up in a little village complete with village pub. For our K date, we headed towards one such village - Knighton.

It was a beautiful evening and I loved the feel of the wind in my hair. I wasn't so keen on the feel of Kamikaze insects dive bombing into my eyes, nose and mouth. I had to stop my bike and get my husband to remove one tenacious little flying creature from my eye. It was quite romantic really - reminiscent of the 1940s black and white classic Brief Encounter where a piece of grit is removed from the eye of a suburban housewife at a train station by a fellow passenger leading to forbidden love and finally, tearful farewells.

We cycled to the White Lion at Knighton. I was slightly alarmed by the long downhill stretch before we got there, realising that this would be a long uphill stretch on the return journey.

The pub did not have Kronenburg so I settled for Carlsberg which seemed the closest thing in terms of phonetics. It was disappointing that the menu, which looked excellent, did not offer a single vegetarian main meal option. We were about to change our plan to include a detour for chips with Ketchup on the way home when the barmaid came over to tell us that the chef had offered to cook us any vegetarian meal we wanted (within reason). We ordered vegetable curry and I was delighted when it was served to us with a neatly moulded dome of pilau rice wrapped in a dark cabbage leaf. The curry itself was a different beast entirely from the sort I enjoy at my favourite Indian Restaurant. It was a lightly spiced medley of vegetables cooked just enough to retain their crunch. And the portion was generous enough to satisfy the appetite I had built up with the 6 mile bike ride so far.

We talked about Knickers!

My husband likes me to wear thongs. So much so that he once raided my underwear drawer and replaced all my Bridget Jones-esque 'dress for comfort' big knickers with sexy little offerings that occupied very little space by comparison. Recently I have taken to wearing panties in the 'shorts' style. When I asked him if my choice of underwear was a disappointment, he answered in his usual considered manner. He surmised that it was a diagonal line across the buttocks that he objected to in ladies undergarment styling. A fully exposed buttock as in a thong or a horizontal line framing the buttock as in shorts were both equally preferable. Had the topic of Knickers not fitted in so well with a K date, we would never had had this conversation!

The ascent I had feared at the start of our journey home was easily accomplished with legs oiled by lager! I had only drank one and a half pints but I did feel myself being a little less cautious and enjoying my cycling with childlike abandon. A dead cat lying on the side of the road, almost certainly hit by a car, was a sobering sight. That was one Kitty that would not be answering the call of it's owners to return home.

As we cycled past the church in the village where my little girl will be starting primary school this September, the bells rang out. The perfect timing of this made it feel as though they were heralding our arrival in the village. A little further on, a huge flock of Canadian Geese took off from a field and flew right over our heads in two slightly messy V formations with a loud cacophony of honking. I actually stopped my bike to fully enjoy the spectacle.

The sun was sinking very low by this time. It had been a long time since I'd cycled anywhere in the dark and I really loved it. We stopped on a humpback bridge going over a canal to finish our date with a Kiss in the eerie stillness of twilight.

Come September, crossing the canal on the humpback bridge will form part of my school run. I hope that it will always remind me of a special evening and bring a little smile to my face.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

A Good Year For the Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas always make me think of my sister - not because she particularly favoured them in any way or was a keen a gardener (she wasn't) - simply because she came back drunk one night as a teenager and chose the hydrangea bush growing in a dark place between our concrete coal bunker and an oversized filbert tree as a suitable location to violently empty her stomach. Dried sick clung to the blooms and foliage of that poor hydrangea for far longer than seemed physically possible.

My mother in law has hydrangeas growing in her front garden. This year they have looked spectacular. I guess the wet July suited them much more than it suited the rest of us trying desperately to believe in the possibility of summer.

My life has seen more than its fair share of metaphorical rain falling in recent months. There are some things that are not how I would like them to be and I can't fix them. However, like the hydrangeas flourishing in adversity, my underlying happiness and contentment continues to deepen. I feel truly blessed.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Photographing Seagulls

I love taking photos and whilst on holiday recently, I really wanted to capture an image of the magnificent seabirds that were soaring overhead against the backdrop of a perfect summer sky. I only had my little Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 with me and in the bright sunlight, all I could see on the screen was a reflection of my own face (crinkled with concentration!)

What I lacked in equipment and expertise, I made up for with enthusiasm and perseverance.

I did manage to get a few results that were close to what I hoped for but for every shot like this or this...

... there were plenty more like these:

As well as the problem of trying to anticipate the flight path of the gulls, I also had to make the adjustment for the slight delay in pressing the button on the camera and the picture actually being taken. I wasn't very good at it! Far from getting frustrated, I actually found it stupidly amusing - almost to the point of mild hysteria.

I had intended to delete all of the failed attempts but looking through them made me laugh again (much to my eldest daughter's bemusement). I decided to keep them as a memento of a wonderful day at the  seaside and a reminder that I will never make a living as a wildlife photographer!

If I were to wonder what my elusive feathered subjects were making of my feeble attempts to photograph them,  the expression on this one's face could just hint at an answer.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Snapfish Canvas Review

We have been in our current house for about 6 years now. We have done a lot of work to it to get it how we want it and still have a few projects yet to do. One of the little things that we have never really got round to is hanging pictures. This is something I want to rectify because it is such an easy way to turn a house into a home - a home that reflects who you are.

When I was offered a canvas to review from the online digital photo printing service Snapfish, I thought it would be an ideal way to get started.

I have thousands of digital photographs stored on my computer, many of which I have used on this blog. There are some that I love and some that even have some technical merit that would have made good candidates for the canvas. However, rather than trawling through the library of images, I decided to create something brand new. We were about to go on holiday which would no doubt present a  photo opportunity or two.

We were so incredibly lucky with the weather. Beautiful clear blue skies against the golden sand dunes at Camber Sands in Sussex made a fantastic background for a photograph. All I had to do was add my subjects - two adventurous little children - point and shoot. Ideally I would have liked a photograph with both my little ones in it but it didn't work out that way. The image that I fell in love with and knew was going to be the one to make into my canvas was this one of my boy.

I love the colours and the way the dried grass seed heads are the same shade as the sand. I love the way the curve of his little body is mirrored by the curve of the grass. Most of all I love how, to me, it captures a truly lovely day at the beach.

The thing to remember about choosing a photograph to be made into a canvas is the the picture needs to be cropped quite generously to allow for the canvas that wraps around the wooden framework. If I could have this moment in the sand again, I would have allowed a little more negative space on the bottom margin so my boy's feet could be included in the finished print. As it was, I had to make a small compromise.

I am always filled with a sense of dread whenever I use online digital printing services. It can be quite a mission to upload the photographs from your computer to their site. In this instance with Snapfish, it was completely painless - very quick and efficient. Maybe that was because I was only uploading one image. Choosing the right sized canvas and cropping the photograph were also very straightforward. There was a very good 3D effect product view feature that gave a sense of how the canvas would look.

I chose a 16x12 inch canvas that would have cost me £34.99 plus £6.99 p&p. As soon as I had sent my order, I received a confirmation email so there was no anxious wait to see if I had done it correctly!

I placed my order on the Saturday before I left for my second holiday and the package had been delivered by the time I returned the following Thursday. It was securely wrapped in protective packaging and strong cardboard  and it did feel a bit like Christmas as I opened it!

The quality of the product is superb - sturdily made with a true colour reproduction.

It is no doubt more expensive than buying off the shelf canvases but this is original and very personal to me which I think makes it excellent value for money.

Now I just need to decide where to hang it!

Monday, 6 August 2012

Getting the Summer Holidays off to a Good Start - Part II

Some time ago I won a Blog Competition - the prize being four tickets for the Tower attractions in Blackpool. As one of those attractions is the Tower Ballroom and my husband and I are keen ballroom dancers, I was really quite stupidly excited about going. My husband also had a plan to meet up with his best friend in the Lake District, where he was taking a walking holiday with his young son. We decided to combine the two trips.

Firstly, we travelled to Blackpool. A couple in our ballroom dance class had recommended a hotel to us. Unfortunately, that hotel was fully booked on the dates we wanted so we opted for a couple of rooms in the Hotel next door. I'm not quite sure what qualified it as a 'Hotel' -  it was a guest house. It wasn't at all what I was expecting but the 'hotelier' was very welcoming and friendly and cooked a very good breakfast!

In contrast to the previous week, there was considerably more need for jumpers than suntan lotion but as most of the things we had planned were indoor, it wasn't a problem.

We got really good use out of our free tickets. The little ones loved the Sea Life centre and my 15 year old daughter gave me the first of many hilarious moments when I paid £1 for a small cup of stinky fish bits that could be fed to the big fish. She pulled on the rubber glove provided with scientific precision then proceeded to dangle the fishy offerings in the tank. The big fish were disappointingly disinterested until out of nowhere came a huge gaping piscean mouth that snatched at the slimy treat and would probably have taken Charis's fingers too had she not jumped with cartoon exaggeration complete with comedy squeal.

Later that day, Dad took the little ones for an ice cream and a play on the beach while Charis and I enjoyed the Tower Dungeons experience. The combination of dark and not knowing quite when the resident actors were going to jump out and shout at you was all quite scary. Charis is a girl of nervous disposition but she held it together well, even when the idea of escaped leeches was suggested and something brushed past your leg in the dark. She held it together well, that is, until the finale of the terror trip which was a ride - Extremis: Drop Ride to Doom. It was a simple row of seats that raised up in the dark then dropped you. At the moment of dropping, bright lights flashed in your face for the obligatory 'ride photo' which added to the shock as the seat fell away from beneath you.

As we were waiting to see our ride photo with the group we had been a part of for the Dungeon tour, there was polite giggling as the unflattering images appeared on the viewing screen. The politeness was forgotten when my poor daughter's face appeared. The room erupted with laughter at the face so contorted with panic and terror as to render it barely human. Charis made it very clear that I was forbidden from purchasing it! Instead, I bought a souvenir mosaic mirror in the shape of a skull from the Gift Shop. It is now hanging in my downstairs loo and has already become something of a talking point.

The next attraction we visited was the Madame Tussauds waxworks. I didn't think the little ones would enjoy it much but Charis really wanted to go and I felt I owed it to her after her humiliation over the ride photo. The little ones did indeed look completely lost and bemused... at first.

The last time I went to Madame Tussauds, the exhibits were behind rope barriers, to be admired from a distance. Not so any more. With the exception of a Brittany Spears doppelganger cavorting on a pole, all the exhibits were interactive. Little Addy soon warmed to the idea of posing with the models, although she had no idea who most of them were. Charis was also very willing to pose for photos, giving me many more of the comedy moments that I love her for.

Addy posing with Hilda Ogden

Charis posing with - "Who are these two?"

Charis just hanging around

We also saw the Tower Circus, played in the Jungle Jim and went to the top of Blackpool Tower. Dylan loved the new glass skywalk at the top of the tower. He lay down on it pointing out all the cars below that looked as tiny as his toy cars.

The one thing that we spectacularly failed to achieve was to dance in the Ballroom. We did make it as far as the balcony to briefly watch the dancers twirling and gliding on the dance floor below us. It has made me even more keen to put on my dancing shoes and join them. My husband and I have a half formed plan to return without the children before our free tickets expire and do exactly that. 

No sooner had my husband got used to ducking to avoid the low ceiling in our 'hotel' bedroom, we were on our way again. Geography has never been one of my strong subjects but I had the idea that Blackpool was not all that far from the Lake District where we had planned to meet up with my husband's best friend. I wasn't entirely wrong. Had we been going to Windermere it would have been a fairly straightforward journey. What I had not been made aware of was the fact that my husband's friend favours a somewhat remote location on the West Coast of Cumbria. The difficult cross country trek and the lack of supermarkets to stock up on essential supplies was all but forgotten as we allowed ourselves to relax and enjoy the spectacular unspoilt scenery.

Our friend was booked into a holiday apartment in Wasdale and our plan was to set up our tent in the small campsite occupied by seasoned walkers and climbers. The weather did not make this easy but we managed. The tent survived the winds and rain thrown at us during the night and provided a cosy, if slightly muddied, shelter.

The following day we were blessed with sunshine. Whilst my husband and his friend satisfied their adventurous natures by climbing one of the peaks that Wasdale is nestled amongst, Charis and I stayed with the kids and played on the lakeside.

The colourful plastic playthings from our  Sussex holiday were replaced here by sticks, stones, pine cones and plant life. The tawdry glitz and glamour of Blackpool was replaced with nature at its most glorious. With the simple addition of the imagination and enthusiasm of children, we had an absolutely wonderful time.

I have loved the hectic start to our summer holidays but I was not at all sad to get back to my own little home and most importantly, my own bed. There certainly is no place like it!

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Dressing Up Box

Getting the Summer Holidays off to a Good Start - Part I

It had always been on the to-do list for the Summer Holidays to spend a week near Brighton where my husband's parents live so that the children could have the chance to see their grandparents and start making the sort of memories that will stay with them for a lifetime. After consulting our diaries it transpired that there was only one week that would actually work for everyone (my in-laws have a fairly hectic social life centred around their shared love of sequence dancing) and that was the first week of the holidays.

My husband booked the accommodation and I hurriedly organised the packing. The weather was abysmal and my mum rolled her eyes heavenwards as she wished me a happy holiday and hoped we might get a little bit of sunshine. Neither she nor I could have imagined what an amazing transformation there would be from grey miserable skies to clear cloudless blue. I have never had a holiday in Britain where the sun shined constantly.

Clambering in the sand dunes at Camber Sands under a beautiful blue sky

I had packed jumpers and raincoats. We had to go shopping once we were there to buy suntan lotion and shorts. I also bought a whole lot of outdoor toys at sale prices that would keep the children amused.

We stayed in a very comfortable holiday cottage on a farm in Herstmonceaux, East Sussex. The children took a liking to the horses in a nearby field ( I had wanted to write 'neighbouring field' there but thinking of it as a neiiigh- bouring field of horses was becoming an obstacle!)

The holiday worked out perfectly. We were able to spend lots of time with the Grandparents as we'd hoped and also managed to visit beaches, take a bike ride along the cool, leafy Cuckoo trail and spend a day at the Bentley's Wildfowl and Motor Museum featuring two things that my little boy loves - duckth and carth (yes, he has developed a very cute little lisp!)

With only a couple of days at home to unpack and pack again for our next week away, I was glad to have done some of the laundry already. As lovely as it was to enjoy the sunshine at the beach, I was especially appreciative of how useful it was in getting the washing dry!

The pebble beach at Eastbourne

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