Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Half term adventures by road and river

Half term is always a bundle of laughs in London with road closures and diversions as standard - I know it's easier to do this work when the kids are off school, but it's still very annoying ! I'm not sure what possessed us when we decided to go into central London for a day out with the boys. It turned out to be the day before the state opening of parliament and also the day of a protest by London taxi drivers. To say it was eventful would not be an overstatement.

As we arrived at Victoria and went to collect our tickets for the Big Bus Tour the boys were very excited about riding an open top bus. Big boy has been on one before, but baby boy hasn't so he loved hanging over the side - which gave my arm muscles a workout holding onto his legs to keep him from falling - I didn't want a Michael Jackson style incident ! There are different tours and you can take a circular tour and you can also hop on and hop off at points of interest. It was a lovely sunny day, but we had already decided we were going to take a boat trip so we got out at the South Bank / London Eye stop. Originally we were going to take the boys to the London Eye and The Aquarium, but I'm glad we didn't as both were heaving with half term kids and tourists.


Instead we boarded a big boat under the London Eye - a city cruise is included in the ticket for Big Bus Tours and as we had a three day ticket we were able to travel all the way to Greenwich. City Cruises aren't guided trips, but you can buy a recorded guide in a range of languages if you want to. We were accompanied by Dean who gave us an amusing commentary on the sights en route.


Greenwich has very special memories for me as I lived there in my early childhood and when I was younger all the museums and sights were free so we used to visit the Observatory and the Naval College during school holidays. I remember rolling down the hills in Greenwich Park with my friend Nichola and riding on the boats in the small boating lake. I hope the boys have lovely recollections of childhood when they grow up. There's a photo of me and my brother standing at the base of the rudder of the Cutty Sark. After a horrific fire a few years ago the tea clipper has been restored to pristine condition and you can visit again. There's even a cafe inside these days.


As we made our way home we decided to walk from Westminster Pier as the taxi protest was well underway and the vehicles on the roads were immoveable. We had clearly made the right choice with our river travel. As we made our way to Victoria Station to take the train home we spotted this bus sculpture. You may recall an earlier adventure featuring these bus sculptures so it was lovely to see another one. 


We're hoping to take a grown up night tour to make the most of the three day ticket. I highly recommend Big Bus Tours as a great way to see London by road and river. The guides are knowledgable and helpful and it's a great way to learn about the city even if you have lived here for years - like me - or if you are visiting from elsewhere. If you would like to book tickets you can find out more and book online here

Disclosure: The lovely folks are Big Bus Tour London gave us a three day ticket for two adults (the children were free)


This post is being shared with the fab Country Kids link hosted by the lovely Fiona of Coombe Mill

 Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 

Monday, 25 May 2015

Keeping up appearances when you have kids running around...

One of the first things that goes to pot when you have kids is all the fancy decor you have as an adult only household. The glass ornaments, the knick knacks from travels and all manner of breakables that have to go into storage - possibly forever - once you have the destructive machines known as toddles in your home. I don't have any expensive housewares on show, but I do like to have pretty things and when I am teaching yoga I like to set the mood by putting away all of the kids' toys and creating a 'yoga space.'
Sitting Buddha £9
I've always used candles and some gentle music, but when the lovely folks at Wilko asked if I'd like to have a look at their Spring Summer 2015 range my eye was immediately drawn to some lovely Eastern inspired pieces. The buddha statues are really lovely and would work inside or outside, but I have them on the window sill so the light catches them. With the garden as background they achieve the 'outside inside' look I've talked about before that epitomises what I want for my home and the spaces where we relax.

Sitting Buddha £9
Another piece I can see being well used is this lamp that takes one tealight and is really pretty with coloured glass panels and ornate metalwork as well as a practical hanging hook at the top so you can use it outside. I love this lantern and it looks like it could have been bought on travels to an exotic location. As we spend so much time outside in the warmer months this would be lovely during the early evenings as the light fades and it gets a little cooler outside. 

Eastern Lantern £18
The Wilko Spring Summer collection is available now in stores nationwide or online here: http://www.wilko.com/home-living/icat/homeliving

Disclosure: The lovely folks at Wilko sent us these time for an honest review

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Don't ask how many candles on the cake :)

My lovely pampered nails :)
This weekend is that start of my birthday celebration extravaganza. I know it's undignified to make a big deal of your birthday when you're older than about ten, but I love it so shush !

My birthday was always at Whitsun half term so I rarely had to go to school on the day itself. One year - in 6th form - I actually did have school on my birthday as Whitsun was later that year and it was a shock to me. For a start I expected everyone to know it was my birthday and to celebrate it. I kept waiting for the big cake or for everyone to leap out from behind the common room easy chairs and shout 'surprise !' 

When I worked in the Civil Service I discovered that the Queen's official birthday falls around my actual birthday so I'd often get a day's leave. It was like having an official day off for my birthday - how cool is that ? 

So, now I'm far too old to have a birthday party with jelly and ice cream (like we did for my 21st - with Vodka jellies of course) and I'm a mum too, so I can't have anything just for me anyway. It's all about the boys saying things like, "Is that for me Mummy ?" "Where is my cake Mummy ?" "Why is everyone singing to me Mummy ?" Not content to accept this fact, however, I have ensured that I have plenty of fuss around the day I was born. The plan is as follows: 

Saturday: pampering day (hair, nails & facial) and date night 
Sunday: socialising with lovely friends 
Monday: moving the baby into his own room (YAY !!)
Tuesday: Big Bus Tour and river cruise
Wednesday: My actual birthday - there will be cake :)

I may be a little absent for few days so bear with me while I make the most of my birthday celebrations. I promise to save you some cake :)

I'm also taking part in #tkam re-read 

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

I think I've got the terrible twos


The day started with me literally crying over spilled milk - it's a boring story so I won't go into it. Most days begin with some minor drama these days and often tears - mine.

The other day I was cried while swimming

Another day I burst into tears parking the car at Waitrose

Then there were tears while I was waiting for Hubbie to get home from work and relieve me from childcare

I've told a few people that I think I'm having a breakdown and they either nod or change the topic. I'm not sure if they think I'm joking or if it is just to difficult to respond to that kind of honesty.

This is not what I expected.

When we spent all those years wishing and wanting to have a child and then he came along and it was just amazing, but hard work. Then we tried for another and the road was longer and even harder than before, but here we are parents to two amazing and beautiful boys. I posted status updates with those sappy comments about how hard it would be, but worth it.


So why doesn't this feel better ? Why does it feel like I'm going into battle every single day ? I love my children and my every waking thought is about keeping them safe and making them happy. Yet, I look forward to packing my older boy off to school and count the minutes until the baby is down for his nap so I can just have some time not being shouted at or having my hair pulled or asking, "what did you do to make your brother cry ?" My normal volume these days is always 'shouty Mummy.'

Frankly I don't think I'm cut out for this. I keep reminding myself what other Mums tell me and hold onto the pearls of wisdom they've gained from being where I am right now.

"There will be shouting, a lot of it." - Yasmin, mum to 2 boys

"You have 2 children under 5, you are doing a great job." - Shirley mum to 2 grown up boys 

"Boys are like dogs, you need to run them around every day or they will tear your house up." - Christine, mother of 2 grown up boys 

"When they grow up they have fewer problems, but the problems are bigger." - Martin, father to 2 grown up boys 

Then tonight before I taught yoga I sat with big boy and we 'played lego' then he asked if we could watch 'the internet is made of cats' - google it, honestly you won't be sorry. We laughed and played together and it made me believe - just for a moment - that I might just be doing something right.

I'm working on having more 'lego and internet cats' moments and fewer of the 'spilled milk' ones.

Wish me luck :) 

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Our adventure on the high seas - part two

I promised when we were on the Anthem of the Seas that I would give you a detailed review of what we saw and did on the ship. It's taken me a while to formulate this and to take in all of the things we did. I was talking to my boy the other day about our 'mini-cruise' and he said, "Can we go on another cruise please Mummy ? On another ship next time ?" Well, I can't promise, but it certainly made an impression on the little chap and you can see why.


We arrived at the Southampton station to take the free transfer to the dock and popped our bags into the luggage hold and settled back. It took only a few minutes and when we arrived it took very little time to go through the airport style security as we had checked in already online. Armed with his Trunki and my wheelie luggage (borrowed from the in-laws) we made our way to board the ship. There was another check point before boarding and as soon as we were on board staff very kindly helped us with bags and directed us to the lifts to find our stateroom. It was ready for us and we had these groovy wristbands to use to unlock the doors and to pay for anything on board as they were registered to my account on board. My boy loved his band so much he wouldn't take it off at all !


We decided to explore the ship and found the Seaplex zone where my boy fell in love with this seat made of skateboards and we admired the bumper cars. He was too young to go on them as he's under 5, but riding in the static ones parked outside the rink still made him happy. We went to check what the age restriction was on the skydiving and he was old enough to take part so we both did it. He told me afterwards that it was quite scary, but I told him how brave he was and that I was very proud of him for trying something new.




We went to sign up for the kids club on board and despite it being partially open my boy still had a great time when I dropped him off there in the evening. If anything he was reluctant to leave ! I wanted him to get to sleep as I knew what adventures we had to come the following day.



I was booked in for a fantastic hot stone massage at 9am so we went for breakfast early and my boy barely touched his food he was so keen to get back to the kids club activities. I dropped him off and went to the salon and had the most relaxing time I think I can remember for a long time. 

I had a lull in the late morning so I decided to give the circus school a go and went on the trapeze - it was exhilarating and I'm so glad I did it, although I'm not a natural acrobat ! With a little bit of time to spare I took another stroll around the ship and found the gym and fitness class area where they have regular classes for all levels. Now that I can see I'd enjoy on a longer trip.

 

When I went to pick my boy up for lunch he wasn't even that bothered as he was having such a good time with his friends. The staff told me that they were taking the children for dinner at 5pm if he wanted to eat with his friends - silly question, of course he did ! We had a lovely lunch at Jamie's Italian and when I asked him if he fancied a swim with me before going back to see his friends at Kids' Club he said he just wanted to go back to Adventure Ocean ! 

After about a moment's hesitation and feeling a bit neglected - so much for bonding with my boy - I decided to go and watch a show and spent 2 hours singing along to We Will Rock You (apparently I know all the words to Queen songs !) I also realised that the guy who had been in front of us in a cafe the day before was the lead in the show. Everyone was amazing and had it not been for the movement of the ship I could have been in the West End. 

Knowing that the boy was eating with his friends I still went to check and see if he missed me - big fat no ! So feeling not at all guilty I put on a pretty frock and some make up and went for dinner. The food was very good and if I ate so well every day I'd need to be in the gym a lot, but it was only for a couple of days so I let myself relax a bit. When I went to pick up the boy he was tired, but very happy and went to sleep almost immediately. Bliss !


I practically had to peel my boy out of bed in the morning and as we had to disembark soon and I wanted to make sure we had something to eat and took one last stroll around the ship. It was much quieter and we enjoyed our breakfast with a view of Southampton and the other ships in dock. With a bit of time to spare he started watching Annie on the TV in our stateroom, but we didn't get to finish watching so I promised to get it for him when we got back. The movies were great and I watched The Imitation Game and he also watched Big Hero 6 while we were on board. It was so handy having access to movies in the room. With so much to do you can still have some time just relaxing and watching the ocean out of the balcony or a movie in the room.


We loved the quirky little touches on the ship - like the funky animal pictures in the lifts and these hands on the bar - is that the literal interpretation of 'all hands on deck ?'  We had a wonderful taste of what a cruise might be like and I can see us enjoying a holiday on a cruise ship as a family. There is so much to do and it just is not possible to get bored. In just a couple of days I was able to relax, learn new things, spend time with my son and we both got to make new friends. I can only imagine how much more we would do in a week or even longer.



Disclosure: The lovely folks at Royal Caribbean invited us to try out their latest ship, Anthem of the Seas on a 'shakedown' cruise. Thanks also to Mumsnet for inviting us. 


Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Skateboarding, sunshine and searching for dinosaurs...

I've mentioned before that big boy really wants a skateboard. Ever since he watched Firehouse Dog the first time and he saw Shane (Josh Hutcherson) riding on one he has asked if he can have one when he's older. When we were staying at Coombe Mill he saw skateboards belonging to the bigger children and desperately wanted to have a go on them. I've always said he has to be at least 8 before we'd consider it, but I may reconsider this previous decision. 

On Saturday there was a skate demo in a local park where children were invited to try out skateboarding and to have a go at doing some tricks. The idea was to introduce them safely to the skills, but also to show them how to use the facilities in the park including ramps and jumps. 

Scooterboy

As our boy is more used to his scooter he tried that first then had a tutorial on the much longed for skateboard. He did really well and continues to amaze me with how incredibly brave and daring he is, trying new things without fear. I think he really looks the part doesn't he ? 

My little skateboarder

What a professional !

Then on Monday I took both boys to Crystal Palace park to see the dinosaur trail. Big boy has been to the park before, but he hasn't seen the dinosaurs so he was quite surprised to see so many of them lurking around the park. Little boy was less impressed, but he still enjoyed being outdoors on a sunny day with his brother. 

Dinosaurs in the water 

Dinosaurs hiding amongst the trees

As you will know from previous outdoor kids posts big boy is really into climbing trees right now so he made an attempt to climb onto this one, but it was too high up for him to reach.  He still enjoyed trying and I suspect it won't be long before he is tall enough to reach. 

Big boy - bigger tree

It's not only the boys who have been enjoying the sunshine this week - Neo has also been making the most of the weather and taken to sunbathing on the front doorstep most of the day. Here is a rare image of him awake and communing with nature.

Nature cat
This post is being shared with the fab #countrykids linky hosted by the lovely Fiona of Coombe Mill

 Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 


Sunday, 10 May 2015

Being savvy now could help you be happy later

This afternoon I was in the garden and I heard our next door neighbour cutting back the high trees in the back garden. I called over to him, "are you practising for your retirement Martin ?" and he said he was getting used to being free and able to spend more time gardening. He is retiring next year and as a company director he has a pension and probably savings too. Our situation is not as fortunate and like many others I do wonder what the prospects are for me and Hubbie compared with our own retired parents and neighbours. I often joke about how I'll spend my retirement years doing all the things I don't have time to now. A bit of gardening, some travel, lots of swimming, yoga and running and plenty of writing and radio shows. In actual fact I have no idea what resources I will have to live on as like a lot of women I've taken time off from my working life to raise children and this has implications for my pension. 


I was asked to check out a new website called  Retire Savvy which was created by Skipton Building society to help people plan for retirement. The website isn't about just promoting their own products or services, it offers advice and answers questions about retirement planning and pensions in general. I did think at first sight that this was only aimed at older people as the only two menu options were 'are you retired ?' or ' are you approaching retirement ?' of which I am neither. On closer inspection it did have some useful information for me though.

I've changed jobs a fair amount in my working life and have paid into a number of pensions including a public sector one. I have never fully understood if this would pay out a reasonable amount in retirement and this site isn't about to answer that question, but it did help me find out how to amalgamate those small sums of money into a more manageable single investment fund. I also read found it interesting to see that range of 'frequently asked questions' asked about pensions aren't that different from mine. I don't feel nearly so silly any more.


Of course being a stay at home parent does impact highly on the potential income you can expect to have in retirement and a bit more around this would have been helpful. It is those of us who don't have a long history of consistent payments into a pension fund who will be most worried about what happens when we get to retire - whenever that will eventually be.

No one knows what will happen in later life. Hubbie has parents who both have a nice retired life with a good income and flashy holidays because father-in-law has always been pretty savvy with his investments and they both had good company pensions. We don't expect anything like as wealthy a retirement, but knowing that we have done our best to plan for it now is reassuring.


If you have questions about retirement planning this is a good place to start. They even have a jargon buster page so you can check out what all those terms in the small (and big) print mean.  It won't necessarily answer all your questions, but it's a good place to get some basics and for me it did spur me into looking at what I have already paid into and ensuring I don't lose it out of sheer incompetence. After all it's my money that I've paid in so I should check where it is and make sure it's working for me.

If I'm savvy about it now then I can spend more time enjoying retirement rather than worrying about it. 

I was asked to review retiresavvy.skipton.co.uk by Skipton and the Mumsnet Bloggers Network. All views are my own. I was entered into a prize draw to win vouchers as a token of thanks for blogging. View other blogs on this topic here: http://www.mumsnet.com/bloggers/retiresavvy-portal-what-our-bloggers-thought-