Holidays with toddlers & babies – top tips from a survivor!

We’re just back from a week away with our little family, our first holiday with both boys, and despite my fears of being cooped up in a mobile home with a rampaging three year old and a teething newborn while it rained apocalyptic rains outside, we had a really fantastic time!


I thought I’d share some top tips for UK based holidays with little ones. These are things we adopted last week and tips that, I think, make holidays more fun for everyone and a whole lot less stressful.

1 – Pack toys that they’re familiar with, and some new ones
We got a new Thomas sticker book which went down well, and filled in the time waiting for everyone to get up in the morning, or when we were packing up the car to go out. We also indulged Elliot with some new books to make bedtimes fun.


2 – Save time by planning dinners before you go
I spent a few minutes photographing recipes on my iPad and packing little pots of any spices etc we needed in little tubs so we didn’t have to spend time and money buying five spice, soy sauce or tomato paste while we were away. I also made a huge shopping list of everything else which meant we just had to do one huge shop on day one and didn’t have the repetitive conversations of “what shall we eat today?” throughout the holiday. We chose recipes that were fairly quick and easy – a Jamie Oliver chicken tray bake, some lamb koftes from the Organix website, a salad, and a speedy chicken noodle recipe (also from Jamie)
These were all things we knew Elliot would eat too, so it made it really easy to have yummy family dinners all cooked from scratch.

3 – Holiday baking
One of Elliot’s favourite thing to do is to make biscuits, and i thought they’d make a great treat addition to the daily picnics we had planned. I found the simplest recipe ever online which basically is a simple shortbread (flour, butter, sugar). We didn’t want to buy bags of flour and only use part of it, so again I got out my trusty Tupperware and weighed out everything we needed before we set off, and packed a couple of cookie cutters from home.


4 – Sandwich cutters make picnics fun!
Daily picnics (or car-nics, in the rain…) can get a bit boring so I tucked out little dinosaur sandwich cutter in when packing and the sandwiches disappeared quicker than quick, accompanied by the occasional “RRRRROAR!”

5 – Plan activities to match child’s age & interests, but don’t be afraid to throw a curveball in there too
We went at Elliot’s pace mostly, and ensured that we spent time driving when the baby didn’t need a feed, which lowered our potential stress levels! We spent time on beaches and in swimming pools (bring a noodle float, baby float/ring thing as appropriate!) and we also spent time chilling out back at the ranch and doing short walks. BUT we weren’t afraid to push boundaries, and it really paid off – Elliot screamed blue murder being strapped into a bike seat, but absolutely LOVED it “Mummy, I love this bike!”


6 – Have “best thing about today” conversations at the end of each day
If your child is anything like mine, if you ask them what they’ve done at the end of the day, or return home from nursery/school, the answer you’ll normally get is “I don’t know” or “nothing”
I read a tip some weeks ago that I’ve been using on and off with Elliot, and we did this each and every day while on holiday, asking him what his best bit of the day was, and then sharing ours. It allows them to search through their day and find a moment that made them happy. We got some surprise answers and it really helped us plan for the next day – for example one day his favourite thing was the short walk in the woods near the mobile home that we did while dinner was cooking. Literally 15 minutes, but that was his best thing, so it helped us decide to do a longer walk later in the week.
Elliot loved these conversations and was very good at reminding us to do it as we tucked him up in bed.

7 – Keep notes of what you do each day
In a similar vein to number 6 above, I think it’s a great idea to keep a little note of what you’ve done each day. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, just notes on your phone or on the back of an envelope will do. Remember holidays with little ones are all about making memories, for you as well as for them!


Sliding doors – a day with a three year old

Sliding doors – a day with a three year old

Does anyone remember the film Sliding Doors where Gwyneth Paltrow runs to catch a train and we follow two 'futures' that are determined on whether she managed to board the train or not? I loved the film back in my teens, and often think of my own “sliding doors” moments. We experienced one of these a week ago.

A bit of background first (think of this as the voice over at the beginning of a film, while on screen you see some beautiful scenes of my family growing and new babies coming along – obviously my character is played by someone really beautiful with no lanky unwashed hair or dark circles under her eyes!)

Chris had two weeks' paternity leave in January (delayed from December) and we really wanted to do some fun things as a family. We planned our Fridays as family days, doing things that the boys like to do (well Elliot mainly, since Alexander is too small to have an opinion and let's face it asleep most of the time!)

For the first Family Friday I thought it would be nice to go to our local wildlife park. Elliot has been there many times before and really likes it. There's a little train to ride on, and a lovely adventure play area. I envisaged a happy family day, followed by snuggles on the sofa, maybe watching a film, with my three boys.

After a restful night with only minimal wake ups from the baby, we all got up, dressed without complaint, and had a lovely breakfast. So far so good. Elliot got excited about our trip and even helped to make his lunch, before we all bundled into the car. We were on our way.

We pulled in to waitrose to pick up extra picnic supplies, and Chris hopped out as both boys were a bit sleepy, so I stayed in the car with them.

Now, in the film, you may recall that Gwyneth gets a very handy hair cut quite early on so that the audience know exactly which 'future' they are watching at any point. For the purposes of today in this next bit, my ideal day is shown in normal font and what actually took place is in italics. Ok?

After picking up everything we needed and a couple of treats, Chris comes back to the car having bought delicious picnic food, and pulls out of the car park.
On pulling out of the car park, a random post appears as if from nowhere – even the man collecting trolleys seems surprised – and before anything can be done a lovely big dent has appeared in the side of our car. We decide to carry on regardless. Elliot wakes up and informs us he now doesn't want to see any animals –

Lunchtime! We arrive at the wildlife park, all very excited. We're given a discount on entry because they're feeling generous! How kind!
After a stressful drive, trying not to panic about the damaged car (and what this means for our current finances!), we arrive at the wildlife park still listening to Elliot saying he doesn't want to see animals, and he doesn't want the picnic he was so excited about only hours earlier. We pull up to buy tickets and learn that as Elliot is now 3 we have to pay an additional £9.50 for him on top of the £15 per adult. Ignoring the imaginary bank manager with rolling eyes in our heads, we hand over the money and find a space to park.

Happily bundled up in coats and scarves, we proceed to find the swings and slides which Elliot loves. This is followed by a lovely picnic lunch, which we are permitted to eat in a quiet corner of the cafe, as it's so cold outside.
Despite moans, Elliot seems excited about going on the swings and slides. “Horray!” we think, before we all realise just how cold it actually is. (It's at this point I start to think this was all a bad idea, yes I'm a bit slow!) A quick look at the swings and slides, we think we can rescue the day with food and start to think about the picnic. Upon investigation however there is nowhere inside to eat – the cafe has a sign forbidding people from eating anything but the chips they serve on the premises – so we perch on a picnic bench and eat as fast as we can to avoid getting frostbite. Alexander wakes up, clearly bemused as to why his family are so peculiar that they think it's appropriate to picnic in such cold conditions, so Chris ends up eating his picnic standing up and rocking the buggy back and forth. Peaceful and relaxing it is not. After eating so fast we all have indigestion we rush to the cafe to warm up.

Despite the cold, we have a fun time checking out the monkeys and the penguins before going on the train to see the bigger animals. Particular favourites are the giraffes and the wolves!
With the exception of the wolves (which despite all being asleep, make Elliot hide behind Chris as he's “scared” – cute!) the remaining hour we spend at the park is a complete nightmare. Elliot doesn't want to walk, and Alexander is occupying the only buggy we have with us, meaning Chris has to carry him, and his muddy shoes, which casually brush against the clean jeans he out on that morning, the rest of the way around the park. Exhausted and drained of all patience, we head back to the car after only a couple of hours, and missing out half the park. Within minutes of leaving, both boys are yet again asleep in the back of the car and our nerves are torn to shreds

Thankfully both my ideal day and the actual day ends well. No italics needed from here on.

Alexander wore his cute zebra socks to the wildlife park.

We get home and, refreshed after a sleep, Elliot is happy and excited again. We make biscuits and curl up on the sofa to watch Tangled. He goes to bed without issue and we flop onto the sofa with wine, plotting to ignore the car that needs fixing and what little remains of our belief in our ability to parent this child.

Having a three year old is exhausting. I'm trying to ignore the fact that in three years time we'll have another one!


What do trains eat for breakfast?

A sleepy Elliot in the car

Just had to note down some of the funny things we’ve had conversations about this week with Elliot:

On seeing me lying down (20 weeks pregnant and a teeny bit tired!): Mummy, have you got head-lake (headache)? How ’bout tummy-lake? Knee-lake? Aah, I make you better

One morning, literally his first words to me:
mummy, do efflants (elephants) wear shoes? That be silly!

Over breakfast:
Elliot: Mummy, what are engines doing?
Me: I think they’re probably sleeping Elliot
Elliot: no mummy, they wake up now!
Me: oh, are they having breakfast? What do you think they like for breakfast?
Elliot: eggs, I think
Me: Yum. Do you like eggs Elliot?
Elliot: no, I like weetabix.


Mummy’s shoes are so much fun!

A day at the farm

What a difference a couple of sunny days makes! So ok it wasn’t exactly warm, but at least there were blue skies and the sun came out for a bit.

In response we’ve had a really active couple of days, cramming lots of family activities in. Today we went to Cogges Farm – literally 2 minutes walk away from our house. Saved from an uncertain future, Cogges was reopened in 2011 handily while I was on maternity leave. I even helped train some of the volunteers. Recently opened for the 2013 season, there has been much changed over the Winter, with an indoor soft play area, plenty of animals to see (and feed carrots to – Elliot’s favourite thing today, I think!) and an adventure playground taking shape in the grounds, delayed by the annoying weather, but not far from completion.

We spent ages there and treated ourselves to coffee and cake in the cafe afterwards – very well recommended!

It was fantastic to be out and about and I can’t wait to take Elliot back again and again over the next few months. Cogges is a brilliant place to take children and staffed by the friendliest group of people – one even took us in to see baby chickens and let us hold and stroke them!

We got season tickets – at £15 each they’re really reasonable!

Elliot loved the wooden tractor and slide outside the cafe too!


N.B. this is not a sponsored post, I just had such a nice time and wanted to recommend it!

The History Race Project

Some time ago I was asked to contribute to a friend’s new website, HistoryRace. The idea behind her site is to record local history in a country-wide map, with posts added by residents who are encouraged to ’embroider’ their patch.

I posted mine about the town I live in and how it is still firmly linked with the Blanket/Wool industry.

It was a brilliant excuse to look again at the place we live in and dig a little under the surface to see that history is actually everywhere you look. As you’ll see from my entry, Elliot loved it too!

I hope you like looking at the site as much as I do. I can’t wait to see where it goes next!Image

You can also follow the HistoryRace on Twitter @historyracer