Friday, 31 October 2014

Happy Halloween!


I'm cheating a little this Halloween. I love this time of year but I've been so busy of late and pretty frazzled so sadly I haven't been able to do anything special - I haven't even carved a pumpkin. 

So, in an effort to get into the spirit (pun intended), I'm sharing this super cute photo of Ethan from this time last year and giving you this link to my list of frighteningly good films to watch tonight, whether you're with your little ones, you're a bit of a scaredy cat or you like a good scare.

Trick or treat...




Wednesday, 29 October 2014

A letter from Lapland

Oh, Christmas. I'm allowed to say that word now, right? It's almost November and the shops do have their Christmas decorations and gifts out on the shelves after all...

In fairness, this isn't my first Christmas related post of 2014 and I dare say it won't be my last either. I've already written about where the man in red will be in the Midlands this festive season - I've done the hard work so you don't have to - and no doubt as my Christmas crafts and preparations get underway (I've already completed my present shopping, #sorrynotsorry), I'll be sharing more ideas and updates with you.

Last year, it was Ethan's first Christmas and I wanted to make it as magical as possible. We have our family traditions that we want to enjoy each year and part of the magic for Ethan that we want to create involves sending a letter to Santa.

He may not be able to write, or even hold a pen for that matter, but Ethan wrote a letter to Santa last year with a little help from me.

And he received a reply.


We were in time for the Post Office service and the card we were sent in return was a nice keepsake but this year, I've found something even better.

For a really personal touch, there's a special place where you can arrange for a customised letter to be sent to your child from Father Christmas in the lead up to December 25th.

The Lapland Mailroom lends Santa a helping hand by sending letters to children all over the world and this year, Ethan is one of them.


On the website, you can choose from four different letter templates - one for baby's first Christmas and three which suit children of all ages - and you can add in your own details to make the letter personal to your child. You can put in the names of special people in their lives, you can mention what your child wants for Christmas and if there's a reason why they deserve to be on Santa's 'good' list, you can put that in as well. Each letter is worded in a different way so you can choose which one you like best, add in your personal additions and then off your letter goes, ready to be sent from the mailroom.

Letters start to leave the Lapland Mailroom on 1st December and you can opt for next day delivery too, with letters due to arrive the next day, if ordered before 2pm.

Run by a husband and wife team, the Lapland Mailroom is easy to use and the letters are a simple but sentimental idea that helps busy mums and dads to add a touch of magic to their children's' Christmas celebrations.

These unique letters look great and for £7.95 they're good value too as they come with an activity pack to keep your little elves busy, including colour-in Christmas cards, 'Santa stop here' poster, door hanger and Christmas tree decoration plus an Elf Yourself activity sheet.

And if you're quick, you can also receive a 'Nice Child certificate' for free (priced at £2.95 usually).

I know Ethan is still a little young to fully appreciate all the little details but I will do them all just the same so we can look back and show him what we did to celebrate at this time of year. Small touches such as these letters can really add to the magic of it all and they're a fun, and affordable, way of recording memories that you and your child will look back on one day with a big smile on your face.


* Thank you to the lovely people at Lapland Mailroom for letting us try their letter service for the purposes of this review. Ethan's letter is tucked away safe until December and you can order yours now before his elves get busy. 

Monday, 27 October 2014

My mini Cath Kidston splurge

There's a few things that I really enjoy above all others. You know, a few shops or places that you always enjoying going to and always find something you want.

For me, those places include Pandora, Paperchase, Next, Starbucks and, perhaps most of all, Cath Kidston.

I love everything about Cath. The bold, fun prints, the modern vintage clothes, the cute kids accessories, the beautiful homewares. I can spend hours wandering around, finding something on every table and every display that I'd like to take away with me.

Ever since I went to the Craft bloggers meet up in Nottingham at the start of the year and had a sneak peek at how Cath chooses new prints, I've regularly kept an eye out for the new designs and products and often posted about what I've found, including her brilliant prints for boys and my pick of the new prints.

This season, there's some fab new prints, naturally, including townhouses - which has also been used within a lot of the Christmas 2014 collection combined with the ever popular stars print - the new mews floral prints in navy and red plus a festive twist on her London and Stanley Dog prints too. The clocks, autumn bloom, London buses and 'stop that thief' prints are still to be found and, in many cases, they're in a sale at the moment too.

So, how could I resist picking up a few things when I went in at the weekend?


When it comes to prints, I don't go for matchy-matchy - I like to try and get a little something from all the prints I like for a more eclectic look.

First of all, I was keen to snap up the mews print jewellery roll, as whenever I go away, I never have anything to pop my jewellery into plus this print is super cute and the fabric has a nice shimmer to it. It's also presented in a beautiful pink box, which will certainly find a use somewhere else.


I also picked up a clocks mirror for just £2 (always handy to have) and decided to swap my current CK purse for a slimmer version which is mainly for cards but has a small change pocket at the back. I chose the ditsy mews print again but in navy and this was also in the sale for just £14.


The main thing however I wanted to get in the sale was a dress. I've always admired them but have never bought a Cath Kidston dress before but having fallen in love with the red clocks print a few months ago, when I saw it had 40% off, I just couldn't think of a reason not to buy it. So I did. And it's beautiful and no doubt it won't be the last I buy (although not for a while!).


To match, I also grabbed the black happy hour clocks purse. It's in a heavier material and I'm planning on using it as a clutch but it would also be great as a make up bag.


Before we left, we also treated our dog to a new bed. His old one had seen better days and now we have removed one of our sofas, which he used to sit on, we felt he needed somewhere comfy to sleep. And the fab comic book style dog print was just perfect and looks great in our dining room - it even got the cat's seal of approval!


Saturday, 25 October 2014

The #RedCups are coming!

Anyone who knows me knows that a) I LOVE this time of year and b) I am a Starbucks gal through and through. As soon as October rolls around, it's all about Pumpkin Spice Lattes and when November begins, I'm rarely seen without a Gingerbread Latte in my hand.

Ok, that's a slight exaggeration but I do have an obsession with Starbucks' red cups.

My Starbucks obsession continues at home where I like to treat myself now and then to one of their syrups to jazz up my cuppa and I have quite an impressive collection of mugs too from places I (and my friends) have visited.

So, when I was given the chance to exclusively sample the all-new flavour for Christmas 2014, along with some of the festive foods that will also be on offer soon, how I couldn't resist?


I popped along to the Starbucks in Selfridges, Bullring, which had been treated to a festive makeover, with garlands, baubles and a touch of gold glimmer too.

The Starbucks team had laid out a selection of their festive fayre for us to try and unveiled the new red cup flavour - honey and almond hot chocolate. Wow.


We tried their signature Christmas Blend coffee whilst nibbling on a delicious ginger loaf and a yummy cranberry, orange and white chocolate cookie before getting our mitts onto the new red cup flavour.


Presented with a sprinkle of special gold sugar on top - a signature addition for Selfridges Starbucks only this season - the honey and almond hot chocolate looked as good as it tasted. Certainly one for those with a sweet tooth, the new red cup puts an extra special twist on hot chocolate and I'll definitely enjoy one or two more of these before the end of the year.


The classic red cup trio of Gingerbread Latte, Toffee Nut Latte and Eggnog Latte will be back in Starbucks nationwide from 4th November - hurray - so make sure you get in on the #redcups action and share your snaps on Instagram and Twitter.


There's also some gold signature mugs and travel mugs available, again exclusively to Selfridges Starbucks, which will add a touch of glamour to your coffee break for sure. You can even get a golden cup holder sleeve for your coffee takeouts - how festive is that?


I like to embrace everything that reminds me of Christmas and I know that when the red cups arrive, the festive season is almost upon us. I'll drink to that.

Friday, 24 October 2014

What are we blogging for?

It's a question that I've asked myself many times and one I know that other bloggers often wrestle with.

Of course, we have an answer - usually the same answer - ready and waiting for when someone inevitably asks us the question.

Because we want to document the life of our family, the growth of our children, and have a record of happy memories to look back on, when our children are grown and we scratch our heads and wonder where the time has gone.

It's an answer I have given, in one form or another, many times and it's one I've heard even more often. It's a given amongst the mummy blogging community - we're doing it to save our memories.

And it's a damn good reason, don't get me wrong - I feel very passionately about being a mummy blogger and defended everything it stands for to great response - but there's a bit more to it really, isn't there?

Source

Blogging is a means of expression, whether you're a natural writer-type or just someone who wants a space on the internet to call their own. It gives you a way to get all your thoughts and feelings out of your head and your heart and onto the screen. The process can be really cathartic, particularly if you're having a tough time and need a bit of support.

And we all do, don't we, from time to time? Whether it's a case of being able to say 'don't worry, me too' or just a chance to vent, being part of the blogging community means you can always find support, wherever you are and whenever you need it. You can always count on another mum to be a) honest and b) up in the wee small hours of the morning!

It's a way of sharing how we feel, what we're doing and the interests we enjoy when often there's no other way to do it. I began my blog as a way of keeping my friends and family up to date on my pregnancy, as I don't really live near any of them and keeping in touch on a regular basis can be hard. But over time, and with a lot of effort, my blog has become somewhere I can share all sorts of things with all sorts of people - many of whom I don't know in 'real life' so to speak.

Real life. It's a funny concept, that you have a 'real' life and an 'online' life. I guess it's true - you can choose who you want to be online. That's the joy, and the worry for some, of being part of the social community. When I went to BritMums and Tots100 Blog Camp, I talked to quite a few people about this and how nice it was to 'really meet them'.

But, if you really think about it, our blogs are one of the places where we are at our most 'real'. For those that share the highs and lows of parenthood, blogging is a way of sharing experiences, good and bad, warts and all, in the hopes of helping other people just like us. From challenging stages with our children to sharing our passion or interest or enjoyment of a place or product or person, our blogs allow us to explore everything that we are and to connect with people in a way that, for many, is just not possible in 'real life'.

It can be silly or serious - anything goes.

And the more you share and the more you connect, the more doors blogging can open. New opportunities come around and it's exciting to see where your humble little blog can go. The blog's the limit!

And it is all very exciting and encouraging and affirming. Because people are listening to you, talking to you, laughing and crying with you. People you would never have had the chance to meet but whom now you can turn to when you want to swap make up tips or practical parenting advice.

With all this great opportunity comes great responsibility, to steal a superhero phrase. (Aren't we all superheroes, us parents, to someone after all?)

The more you do as a blogger, the more you can and want to do. There's just not enough hours in the day and sometimes it can seem like it's all too much, and that's often when we'll ask ourselves the question - what are we blogging for?

Source

I've found that attending events such as BritMums or Blog Camp are an experience that's both inspiring and frightening in equal measure. It can make you feel really proud of what you've accomplished. Big pat on the back for everyone, well done, you're making a valuable contribution to the community, both parents and online, that brands are sitting up and taking real attention of.

Hurray!

But at the same time, you start to question what you're doing as there will always be another blogger - or in real life, another mum - that seems to be doing better. It's very hard not to compare your blog, and yourself, to others. The more you read, the more you want to write. There's so much support and inspiration out there and as much as we all consider our blogs as a way of recording our family's milestones and memories (something that's written in my Twitter profile), we're not just doing it for ourselves.

We're doing it for other people, like us, who are looking for ideas and advice and information and a distraction. I know how much I have gained from blogs during my time as a mummy so far - much more than any other resource at my disposal - and in some way, I want to try and do the same for other people.

Whether I've helped save you time on finding a Santa to visit this Christmas, helped you with my weaning tips, made you think when I've written about a certain Atomic Kitten who just happens to have had lots of children by different dads, or brought a smile to your face with my monthly letters to Ethan, I'm just trying to make a contribution that someone, somewhere will enjoy. Because if I enjoy writing it, hopefully someone else will enjoy reading it.

I guess the point of this post is to celebrate all that it means to be a blogger and to gain a bit of perspective. I often get asked how do I find time to blog and really, if it's something you enjoy, no matter what it is, you find time for it. I do it to keep a record of Ethan as he grows up. I do it to share the different things I'm interested in and the things I have done or tried. And I do it to feel a part of something.

I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunities I have had because I own this little blog - and I've worked hard to make the most of these - and we should all feel proud of what we do. The trouble is, it's all too easy to worry or to want more. Being part of the Tots100 network, for instance, is great but at the same time, it amplifies competitive natures and can make you feel validated in the best case scenario or lost at the other end of the extreme. None of us really understand how the chart ranking is worked out - it's all too complex for me to fathom - but I bet no matter how relaxed you may claim to be about it, you still check your ranking position each month.

Of course you do. It's fun to find out how your blog is doing and there's not a blogger who can honestly say that, on reflection, they only write their blog for themselves and they don't really mind what other people think. If that was the case, you wouldn't publish and promote.

We live in a society where we constantly worry about what people think of us. And it's not just the media that creates this - the pressure is coming from within.

Raise your hand if you're a blogger and you've felt guilty or worried of panicked because you don't have your next few posts drafted and ready to go? How many feel like that right now?

It comes back to 'real life' again, getting in the way and making us get behind in our blogging. I spoke to other bloggers at Blog Camp about this feeling of pressure when it comes to keeping our blogs up to date, linking in with people and making time to connect and to grow what we have built. It seems I'm not alone. But, as much as I love reading other people's blogs and tweets and looking at people's photos every day, I really don't mind if you haven't done anything today. Or yesterday. Who set the rules about blogging? Isn't it supposed to be fun, something we do when we have something to say or share?

I try to publish a post every day but sometimes, real life gets in the way and I would worry about my blog. Like I would get behind, disappoint people or lose the race. But who would really notice, or mind? We all know that we all have real lives to lead and the pressure is probably all in our heads. Things such as the Tots100 rankings add to this feeling that we're in a competition and that we have to do more, share more, link more, sell more in order to be more.

I've taken some time and reflected on my blogging journey so far and I want to make a conscious effort to have more 'control' over what I do. I set the rules of how this blog looks and what it says and it's not the be all and end all whether I post each day or not. The more you put in, the more important it becomes, I get that, but I want to make sure that I'm enjoying the ride and not feeling some kind of pressure to be better.

Trouble is, we all want to be better. Better bloggers, better mums. When really, we're pretty damn great as we are.

That's what we're blogging for.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Where to meet Santa in the Midlands this Christmas

If you're like me - hyper-organised and excited about the countdown to Christmas - you'll already be thinking about the big day. Whether you've started (or finished) your Christmas shopping, gathered gift guides or started your online research, you can never start too early in preparing for Christmas.

It's always funny to me how quickly the weeks fly by at this time of year. One minute, you have all the time in the world to prepare for Christmas and the next, all your weekends have been booked up by trips to see relatives, shopping and, if you're lucky, a few Christmas parties. No doubt you're little one will have an even more crammed diary than you!

So, in my need to be prepared and in a bid to help you tick one thing off your to do list, I've been researching the best places to meet the big fella in the red suit this Christmas in the Midlands.

Last year, Ethan visited Santa during our holiday at Center Parcs and although he won't remember it, it was something we really wanted to do. This year, I'm sure Ethan will be much more intrigued and involved in all the excitement of the season so a visit to Santa is right at the top of my 'must do' things in the lead up to 25th December.

But where will Santa be visiting? Which grottos are the best for a family day out? And which ones offer the best value?

Every year, more and more places get in on the grotto act and it seems that this year, there's a whole host of magical experiences to be had. From the conversations I've seen on Facebook alone, I know that many parents feel the pressure to make this time of year extra special and finding THE Santa experience is of utmost importance and this post is well-timed as many people I know are booking far in advance to make sure they have tickets for their chosen event. 

I'm sure to the children, just going along and meeting the jolly old fella and receiving a gift is all they really want, but as parents, we want to do all we can to bring the magic to life. 

So, here's my round up of the biggest and best Santa-themed events in the region with all the links you need, which I hope will save a lot of searching - and be sure to let me know which Santa you'll be going to see this year!



1. Santa Safari at West Midlands Safari Park
I love the West Midland Safari Park and we will be going to their Fireworks Festival on 8th November for the third time as it's always such a wonderful night and the bonfire and fireworks are truly fantastic. And who knew that Santa could be found on a safari? Well, he can as part of the Santa Safari experience. 

You can make a full day of it as the drive-through safari is open and included in the price of your Santa Safari ticket. You can book to see Santa at a time to suit yourselves whilst also enjoying the walk-through Discovery Trail which has lots of various animal features - including a Sea Lion Show and Penguin Cove - before you leave. 

The Santa Safari opens on 15th November and runs until 24th December on selected dates. Prices are £16.99 adults, £14.99 for children (1-15 years) and £7.50 for babies (up to 12 months). Find out more and buy tickets here.



2. Drayton's Magical Chrismas at Thomas Land
A must for any choo-choo fan! There's the Castle of Dreams, where each child is met by the elves and taken to see Father Christmas in his grotto to receive a gift and a golden ticket to return to the park in the 2015 season.

New for this Christmas, there will also be an outdoor ice rink plus you can enjoy the 21 rides and attractions in Thomas Land within the price of your ticket. Before you leave, you must also visit the 4D cinema to enjoy a 15 minute movie experience of The Polar Express.

Guide prices are £20 for adults (12-59 years), £15 (4-11 years and 60+), £10 (2-3 years) and under 2's go free. Find out about dates and further details here - tickets are available to buy over the phone at present.


3. Merry Fishmas at Sea Life Centre Birmingham
Not somewhere I would have first thought of when thinking of Santa grottos but well worth considering as you can make much more of your visit. The National Sea Life Centre Birmingham will be running their Merry Fishmas event from Saturday 13th ro Wednesday 24th December.

Your children can meet Father Christmas in his grotto located near the Penguin Ice Adventure attraction and they'll receive a present if they've been good. And keep your eyes peeled in the Ocean Tunnel, as it will have a special underwater Christmas tree on display.

There's not much information on the website yet but tickets can start from £12.50 if booked online and in advance - take a look here for more information.
4. The Magical Journey at The Belfry
Taking the simple 'trip to see Father Christmas' to a whole new level, there's a special new event coming to The Belfry this winter. Dubbed as 'the ultimate Christmas experience', this is a premium event which does look magical.

Build across two and a half acres of woodland and designed by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, The Magical Journey (see map above) will take you on a tour to help the reindeer find Father Christmas, meeting Mrs Claus and boarding the Father Christmas Express. You'll finally find the man in red at his lodge to receive a gift and meet his real reindeer plus there's a Christmas Market full of craft and food stalls so you can buy some festive treats.

A very different and very detailed experience, which will take up to 90 minutes. It opens on 22nd November and prices range from £10 to £15 for adults and £17.50 to £22.50 for children, depending on the date you choose. Find out more here.



5. Christmas Celebration Weekends at Cadbury World
Chocoloate and Christmas - two things that go hand in hand, so what better place to find Father Christmas? Children can visit Santa at Cadbury's magical themed grotto, and receive the obligatory gift, before enjoying everything else that's usually on offer.

Also, Cadbury's is launching their 'Snow White and the Chuckle Beans' series of pantomime style performances during their Christmas Celebration Weekends, which run each weekend from 22nd November right up until Christmas.

They say tickets must be pre-booked and prices start from £15.95 for adults, £11.70 for 4-15 year olds and under 4's are free. Visit here for more information.


6. Santa Hunts at Black Country Museum

We went along to one of their Victorian Christmas evenings when we were expecting Ethan and we really enjoyed this unique event. If you're looking to meet Santa, the Santa Hunts, which take place on the 29th and 30th November only, are a fun idea. A seasonal scavenger hunt with a prize at the end, children can explore the museum on their hunt to find Santa.

You have to call to pre-book if you want to attend and prices are £15.95 for adults, £12,75 for concessions, £8.50 for 3-16 year olds and £6.50 for 0-2 year olds.


7. Santa's Winter Wonderland at SnowDome, Tamworth
There's one place that can guarantee a White Christmas - SnowDome Tamworth! I've never been but it looks like a lot of fun and the perfect place to go in the lead up to Christmas.

With real snow and real reindeer, plus a stage show and of course, Santa Claus himself, it's certainly worth checking out. Prices start from £12.50 and the Winter Wonderland opens 21st November and runs until 31st December.

I hope that you find this guide to Santa attractions in the West Midlands for Christmas 2014 useful. I complied this myself as I thought it would be helpful to other parents such as myself. Let me know if you book any of the experiences mentioned or if you have any others to recommend!
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