Posted in Holiday Happiness

Travelling as a Single Parent With One Child

Travelling as a single parent with one child wasn’t something I thought I would ever do. It was a decision I was faced with after I split up with my sons dad when he was just 18 months old. As an Aquarius I’ve always had that needing for adventure and excitement and as daunting as it was I wasn’t about to let the fact I was a single parent stop me.

Single parent  travelling
Paphos when my son was younger

Over the years my son and I have taken many holidays just the two of us and whilst I have a grateful heart and lots of memories it has come with challenges along the way…

Packing…

This has got easier now he’s older but travelling alone with a writhing toddler, full size suitcase and pram is not fun. But you need so much stuff! I will never forget the time I went to Orlando and shopped way too much… I had to wear wedges to the airport as they wouldn’t fit in my case. My son was just 3yrs old, I also had two full size cases on this occasion plus the pram and a wild toddler. This still unsurprisingly wins my most hellish journey to date. I would not recommend wedges and a toddler full stop, let alone in an airport. Packing light is the answer… these days hand luggage only and a small back pack each win the day. It also helps that he can now manoeuvre his own luggage.

You are the only set of eyes

I guess this is not too dissimilar to at home only throw in anything water related and you are on pins… you are the only set of eyes on him. This has got easier as he’s got older and can swim well but none the less I still can’t fully relax without constantly looking up to check on him. When he was little it was even harder. Want a drink? toilet? This involves battling a wet squirming tantruming toddler out the pool to go with you. Aside from this you have the whole leaving your stuff unattended drama or face loosing your sunbed.

Night times are lonely

When he was little I sat in the kiddy disco on my own with a glass of red watching him join in. I always felt really self conscious and definitely lonely. It was hard sitting around the seemingly other perfect happy families and often I would have a little cry back at the room once my son was in bed. Fast forward to him being older and discos are not his thing. We now get to go wander out and choose somewhere to eat but hanging around after food is not his thing either… once the meals done he’s bored. We end up back in the room relatively early whilst he uses the Wi-Fi to watch some crap YouTuber and I read my book.

I am his entertainment

He’s lonely… I watch other siblings play together in the pool. Chasing each other in and out the sea, they will forever have each other. I watch dads energetically entertain their children with slight envy. I’m his only friend… so you know what that means? I don’t get a minute. He needs me to play and entertain him and I do. Whilst he was small and could jump into the pool and into my arms it was fun, I would chase him round being a shark. But it’s not the same now he’s older… try as I might he calls me boring.

He’s desperate to make friends

Okay so maybe is more due to the fact he’s an only child… but he lingers round other kids desperate to make friends. Talk about pulling on my heart strings. Sometimes he does make a friend and my moaning for 10 minutes on the sunbed soon turns into begging him to spend 10 minutes with me. I can’t win. I’m either at his becon call or he would sooner spend time with some kid he has just met.

Hotel is everything

Get the hotel wrong and your in trouble. My days of wanting to go to a resort where kids entertainment are bouncing round the pool like they’ve drank 10 cans of red bull are long gone. I don’t want to be cohurst into doing water aerobics with 15 people I don’t know who probably don’t exercise all year! No offence. I’m all about the joining in and making the most of it… but that’s not my idea of fun so now my sons older I avoid such resorts. But it’s a fine line… finding a hotel that ticks boxes for him and me is tricky.

Excursions

Booking excursions is a great thing to break up your holiday. But not always so simple when you are the loan parent. Take recently on a trip to Italy… we booked an excursion to see Stromboli volcano afternoon into evening as we wanted to see the eruptions at night. But I soon realised this would entail us walking back from the port on our own at 11pm at night in the pitch black. Suffice to say we switched to a day one. These are the kind of things you have to consider when holidaying as a single parent… is what your doing safe?

But let’s look at it another way…

He’s my travel buddy

My son, my friend… maybe not forever but I’m grateful of somebody to go travelling with. Just the two of us get to decide on destinations and that’s exciting, we’ve been to some amazing places.

Mature beyond his years

Travelling just the two of us means he’s had to step up and be there for me. Whilst I try to remain the adult I have to confess I do lean on him at times. My son has an outstanding sense of direction and is very mature beyond his years in navigating us around new places, using public transport and communicating with people with an air of confidence I find inspiring. This comes from travelling so much from a young age, these skills will no doubt aid him later in life. I also won’t be worried when he leaves the country (okay maybe a little bit still!)

I can afford more

The cost of taking only one child is less and this has influenced luxury holiday choices. I also can’t actually remember the last time we went away only once in a year. Yep we share so many magical holiday memories that we will both forever treasure.

Conclusion…

Life may not always be the journey we planned but never let that stop you doing what you want to do. Going away as a single parent was daunting initially, hard work at times but it’s oh so worth it. We’ve made memories that will last a lifetime.

Travelling with my son
More recently in Italy

If your reading this and your yet to make that leap of travelling alone with your child, just go for it. Go explore, discover and try new things. You get 18 years if your lucky before they won’t want to go away with you anymore… make the most of them.

Rachael 🙂 x

Posted in Disney

Top Tips for Disneyland Paris

You’ve saved up, you’ve booked the trip, you’ve bought a Mickey tshirt, your excited! But what more do you need to do? Research! Knowing my top tips for Disneyland Paris will make your trip more enjoyable.

What makes me qualified to advise you… 6 trips in total to the park. On my last trip I spoke to several couples who were relatively bewildered and stressed with their first time Disney experience. Whilst Disney is portrayed to be magical it can also be overwhelming so let me help manage your expectations and give you advice!

15 Top Tips for Disneyland Paris

Top Tips Number 1 – Stay in Disney

First of my top tips -get the most out of your trip and stay in Disney. The magic hours are worth it alone (see below) Disney offer a range of hotels and I’ve stayed in the cheapest Santa Fe most times and Newport Bay once. I keep going back to Santa Fe because, well I’m not in my room… I’m in Disney! If you like me and will spend all your time in the park maybe a higher end hotel is not worth the extra splurge. If your combining a trip to Disney and want to head into Paris no problem you can catch the train right outside the Disney gates anyway!

Top Tip 2 – Two days is not enough

People say you can do Disneyland Paris in two days… I beg to differ. There are two parks – the Magic Kingdoms and Hollywood studios. A day in each in theory would be ideal but honestly to do everything it’s just not possible. The studios is a more manageable size but it has many shows which will see you waiting approximately an hour before they start if it’s busy. The Magic Kingdom definitely requires more than a day to fully absorb all on offer.

In my opinion the perfect time is four days. This will give you time to explore both parks fully and at leisurely pace. You have time to see all the shows, parades and ride your favourites again. Sometimes it’s nice to just be in Disney. We sat off by the castle on our last trip listening to the music playing, people watching and just enjoying the magical feeling of being in there.

Top Tip 3 – Dress comfy!

Okay so I did a whole other blog post about this – what to wear to Disney so it might be worth checking out. But comfy is the name of the game and trainers win the day. I actually wore a long skirt one day as we were going to venture into Paris and I wanted some nice pictures there but we ended up staying in Disney. The skirt was so annoying!! It got caught on a few rides as I exited etc and was so impractical! I went back to the room to change into leggings.

Top tip - wear comfy clothing to Disney

Top Tip 4 – Get the Disneyland Paris app

You can still pick up paper maps at the entrance of the park but Disneyland Paris also has its own app now. It’s definitely worth having as everything you need to know is on there. One of the best things on it is it shows the wait times for rides. We found these to be relatively accurate most the time but there was one time we darted across the park to big thunder mountain as it said 15 minutes only to find in reality it was 50!

Top Tips number 5 – Magic hours are golden, use them!

So your staying in Disney and they tell you about magic hours. This is when all Disney hotel guests are permitted to the park an hour prior to the general public. DO NOT MISS MAGIC HOURS! The trip we’ve just been on we arrived in the park after flying at mid day and it was hell. Over an hour queue for everything!

Head for the popular rides

Fast forward to the second day when we were up and out and in the park for our magic hours and we got on several rides. Do your home work about popular rides and use your magic hours to experience them with little to no queue. Not all rides are open straight away but a good selection are…in Fantasyland Peter Pans flight is a must! Later in the day the queue for that is always in excess of 70 minutes!!

You might be tired come day 2 or 3 and the prospect of hearding your kids to the gate for magic hours might not seem appealing but better this and do several rides then head out later with the crowds and queue endlessly with winging kids anyway. Some days we went back to our hotel for an hour around 2/3pm and had a rest – another bonus of being in Disney accommodation.

Top tip - queue for Buzz Lightyears laser blast early

Top Tip 6 – Single riding saves time

Some of the busier rides have the option of single rider. This is a god send trust me… take Ratatouille for instance… at one point the queue was 140 minutes… single rider 25 minutes. On rides your rarely talking to the person your next to, your enjoying the ride!

By doing single rider you will queue way less and ride much more. You still queue together, ride separate, then you both get off within 5 minutes of each other anyway. Sometimes you end up in the same cart too as one single rider is at the front and one at the back. One thing to mention though I think 7 is the youngest you can do this.

Top Tip 7 – Dining tips for Disneyland Paris

Where to start with top tips for dining… hmmm. Okay food in Disney is often hard work. Firstly plan and book your evening meal or you will end up eating fast food options. Bistro Chez Remi is hugely popular (see photo below) and any character dining too. But you need to book just somewhere if you want to eat something substantial.

Despite several Disney trips we really messed up this last time… on the last day we had no meal booked and put eating off in favour of fun! By 8:45pm we were starving and pretty much all the restaurants in the park shut bar a few dining options on Main Street. Nightmare! We queued 50 minutes for a hotdog and fries at Casey corner. Arrghhhhh

Dining plans… yes or no?

With reference to dining plans I’m very on the fence about these. Often they are added as ‘free’ but I would never pay separately for them. Why? They just aren’t convenient. Your tied into certain restaurants along with certain choices, not good with fussy kids! However dining in Disney does not come cheap so they may be a good option for some.

Breakfast in the hotel is the best choice if you can make it prior to magic hours. Deciding to get breakfast in the parks on a dining plan will see you stood in a huge queue and unless you want a total carb fest, avoid. Buffet restaurants are the best option for evening meal because then you have lots of choice (yep handy for when your kid decides they don’t like something!)

Book Bistro Chez Remi in advance

Dining in the Disney Village

The Disney Village offers lots of dining options too and the food is better than in Disney I would say. The village gets busy at peak dining times. Rainforest cafe remains a firm favourite with families but you can be waiting a while for a table. Bonus is they don’t take bookings so you stand a chance of getting in if you don’t mind the wait. My son has always loved it in there… especially when the pretend storm hits, it’s a cool option for kids and the food is a reasonable standard.

Top Tip 8 – Don’t miss out on character dining

Character dining is a must and you can do it in the Disney village or in the parks. We’ve always chosen to do the breakfast.. I love dining in Plaza Gardens right by the castle in Magic Kingdom. The breakfast is buffet style with plenty on offer for all tastes. Whilst you get your morning fill 5 characters will come around the restaurant to interact with you and pose for pictures.

No trip to Disney is complete without character interaction… it doesn’t matter how old you are despite saying you won’t you inevitably will find yourself hugging a character. Queues in the park to meet characters are long. For Mickey Mouse and the princesses you can expect to queue over an hour. Character dining eliminates this and it’s totally worth the cost and maximising your time.

Top tip - book character dining

Top Tip 9 – When and where to shop

Disney have merchandise nailed and I am a sucker for wanting to buy it! Your kids will want stuff inevitably so maybe set a budget per child. Princess dresses don’t come cheap most are priced over €50. If your savvy buy one at home to bring. Dependent on when you go a coat may be essential therefore covering the expensive dress you just bought! I’ve just been in April and most days were still coat wearing weather.

Mainstreet USA shopping

You will find shops through out Disney but the main place to shop is Main Street USA. I love browsing the stores here but there is so much stuff and it’s easy to loose each other if it’s busy as one store often connects into another. Shops on Main Street are open after the park closes for one hour. If your on a short trip save your shopping until then but be aware it’s VERY busy at this time. Just to mention if you are staying in a Disney and make purchases before 3pm you can send them to be collected at your hotel- perfect!

Disney Village shopping

Aside from in the parks you can also shop outside in the Disney Village. This is open late and most people take advantage of that and shop after park hours so that’s when it is busy. In the day it’s relatively quite and nice for a browse if you can spare the time. Much of what you will see is the same as in the parks though anyway. I LOVE the Disney gallery – be sure to check it out.

Shopping in Disney

Top Tips number 10 – Watch the parade it’s magical!

Nothing will make you feel more Disney like than the parade. But get your spot early! You will see people starting to sit down on the kerbs of the parade route at least an hour before. It’s worth the wait! Choose a spot and rest those feet! It’s advisable to get a drink and snack prior to sitting down away from the parade route… queues get silly long for things like popcorn on Main Street at this time. Just to note, if you have already seen the parade then it is a great time to get on rides as queues can drop down a little whilst it is on.

Where to watch

You will get a great view of the parade from anywhere as long as you get there early. But my advice would be to get on a corner then people don’t crane there necks to see what’s coming. Also be careful where the sun is… you want it behind you so it’s not in your eyes. If you can face the castle too that’s a magical bonus!

Top tip - for a perfect parade view

Top Tips no. 11 – Don’t miss the fireworks!

Nobody does fireworks like Disney… it will forever ruin your firework expectations. I’ve seen them so many times and they still bring tears to my eyes. You can view them from anywhere in front of the castle right down Main Street. They project images on the castle and also on fountains that come up either side. Then of course they have the lasers and fireworks.

The best view

I find the best view to be standing behind a flower bed in front of the castle. You don’t want to be too close but not too far. Further down the street you will struggle to see the fountains. Standing behind a flower bed ensures that if someone puts a kid on there shoulders your view isn’t totally ruined as there is space between you.

Top Tip 12 – Advice on taking the perfect photos

When I come home from Disney I always get asked the same question… “why is it so quiet?” It’s hard to get perfect photos in Disney when it’s busy but not impossible. I would advise on one morning of your trip being there for magic hours and heading straight to the castle to get a picture with less people in. As soon as the gates open to the general public you can kiss goodbye to castle pic you dreams of. But also be clever with your angles too… sometimes you can still get a great photo when it’s busy if you experiment.

Take castle photos first thing

Top Tips no. 13 – Don’t get bored in queues

Queuing is tiring and boring and just because your in Disney that doesn’t change. You need to be prepared for this with kids. In this day and age with smart phones and iPads it’s easier than ever to pass the time. But do you really want your kid absorbed in a screen in Disney? I’m not saying don’t do it but use it sparingly.

Games I love still are rock, paper, scissors I spy, games where you describe a character and the other person guesses who it is. We also played an alphabet game where we had to both think of a Disney character for each letter! That was a good one and really got us racking our brains.

Top Tips no. 14 – You will need a portable charger

One full charge on your phone will no way last you a day in Disney. Between taking pictures, videos and your kids rinsing your battery playing games you will need a portable charger. My portable charger would supply two full charges which was handy. Don’t forget to charge it up in the hotel room though as well as your phone between uses… something I didn’t do one night, doh!

Last Top Tip 15 – Take a refillable water bottle

Drinks are over priced in Disneyland Paris and water is no exception. On our recent trip I had a slight meltdown when I all I wanted was a bottle of water and queues were mega everywhere!! Take a refillable bottle as the water is totally safe to drink in Paris and it will save you a fortune and you won’t get caught short like I did yelling “all I want is a bloody drink!!”

Final words…

So I hope my top tips for Disneyland Paris make your trip more enjoyable. Remember it’s going to be busy so you just need to embrace that, so do what you can and don’t forget to just enjoy being there too. Disney done right is a truly magical experience and you will always look back on it with a smile.

Character photos make the best memories

Do you have another tip or two? Let me know any Disneyland Paris tips you think I’ve missed! Got a blog post about Disney? post the link to yours in the comments as I would love to read it.

Rachael 🙂 x

Book the trip of your dreams right here – www.disneylandparis.com

Posted in Holiday Happiness

Digital Detox Weekend: Time to Unplug!

iPhones and androids… remember the days we didn’t have these? Do you remember a time before mobile phones even? leaving home and not being contactable? I do! Those were the days… ha ha! Having to be on time or literally leaving someone stood waiting for you. None of this last minute changing arrangements or running late texting. Was being uncontactable really such a bad thing? surely we were more efficient and organised?! Now in our fast paced world a digital detox is totally a thing.

Digital Detox… Back to the Days When we Were Unplugged!

I have a love hate relationship with my phone… I can’t imagine trying to live without it now but I look back to the days when I didn’t have one as simpler. Waiting for someone to call the house phone… or calling them hoping you catched them in. Knocking on for your friends… kids these days make all there arrangements via WhatsApp, snapchat or text first.

No Headspace…

I accept technology is a wonderful thing… but when I’m swamped with emails, texts, WhatsApp’s in several groups, even the pressure of social media presence (necessary I think if you have a business) it’s all pretty exhausting. Like most people these days I am never completely uncontactable. If I try to be I suddenly remember something I’ve not replied to or worry I’ve missed something important. Definitely time to unplug.

Digital Detox: Time to unplug

Digital Detox Weekend

Unplugging on a weekend away with my son in a waterfront lodge was the answer… a digital detox weekend. The game Fortnite is life it would seem for a ten year old these days so I knew he wouldn’t be happy . I let him know prior that we would be  ‘unplugging!’ No Nintendo switch for him, no going on the phone for me! He accepted it pretty easily to be fair. If I had taken it off him there we would have had serious issues but because I set my stall prior he knew where he was at.

The Perfect Setting

The Waterfront Lodge in Nuneaton turned out to be a little hidden gem. A newly built luxury Bed and Breakfast, over looking to the lake and countryside at the heart of the Midlands.

Waterside lodge

A warm welcome was granted us on our arrival late in the afternoon. I instantly loved what they had done with the lodge; beautifully finished and equipped with all the mod cons. Lights on sensors, a button to switch to bath or shower and much to my sons delight… Alexa. Neither of us had used one before so our unplugged weekend could be about to go down the plug hole ha ha!

But no… I’m pleased to report I stood my ground (mostly) he talked to Alexa only why I indulged in a bath. He quickly learned he could get on YouTube (this Alexa had a screen!) to watch lasarbeam (I so don’t understand the mentality of watching other people play games… Or watching other people watch funny videos, I must be getting old!) but bath done I told Alexa to shut up and she did!

Wine with a view

Ahhh peace… Almost!

Outside on the veranda it was lovely and tranquil drinking my wine. That was except for his protests that it was boring – another reminder of how technology has ruined kids these days… they crave that constant stimulation.  I’m well aware he’s no different to most kids his age though in this sense. As dusk descended to the song of birds it was pretty peaceful watching the fish jumping out of the water and I eventually distracted him with chat about friends and school.

You Can’t Beat Board Games!

Born in the 80’s I am a lover of board games… I do wonder how many households still indulge in the pleasure of a Saturday night family board game session? Old fashioned my son may call them but once we actually play he is engrossed. The Game Of Life will forever be a favourite of mine.. I find it engaging all the way round and not never ending like monopoly can be. This was the game of choice for our screen free Saturday evening.

Digital Detox playing board games instead

See this is what I wanted… quality time. Yes he won! But not because I let him… we are both very competitive.

After a lovely sleep I woke really early on account of light flooding in the room but as we went to bed at a decent hour I wasn’t too bothered. Confession… I then started writing this blog post your reading right now! Technically not unplugged completely but whilst my son was snoozing away and I was feeling inspired it was a good opportunity to blog – something I love and don’t have enough time for lately.

Finally Feels Like Spring

Although it’s only March the sun was shining… it was not that warm but I quickly regretted not bringing my yoga mat. Yoga on the private veranda overlooking the lake would have been the perfect start to Sunday! At 9:30 breakfast was served and eating outside for the first time this year made it finally feel like spring (except when I was stressing because the napkins blew in the water!)

Waking up fresh

Checking out mid morning we headed to a surprise go karting session I had booked. I actually realised I had never done it before?! How can this be? Super exciting. I will save the details for another blog post as we had so much fun! It was great to find something we both equally loved… go karting is definitely on the future activity list.

To finish the day we went to the skatepark now I have to confess this would usually be somewhere I take the opportunity to sit off and catch up on whatever stuff I think I’m missing on my phone whilst momentarily glancing at my son with a smile. Not today… I had bought him a new scooter (early birthday present) and he proudly showed off his stunts. Then tried to teach me! We had a real good laugh together.

Outdoor fun instead

Digital Detox Accomplished

My digital detox weekend complete, I was feeling revived by Sunday evening. It really got me thinking about how much I feel harassed by my phone and being socially present. It’s no secret but sometimes you are definitely missing the true magic of a moment through trying to share it with the world. Digitally detoxing has really opened my eyes… moving forward I am definitely going to be more conscious of how much I’m using my phone and when.

Have you ever tried a digital detox? I would love to hear how it went… if not you should definitely try unplugging for a while and connect with the real world.

Rachael 🙂 x

If you are liking the sound of the waterfront lodges you can check them out here – https://www.thewaterfrontlodges.co.uk

Posted in Holiday Happiness

Italy Adventuring… Two Days in Rome

Italy has long been on my bucket list… my Grandma was a real lover of Italy and the Italians, when she talked about her eyes would sparkle. With my son getting a little older (he’s now ten) I decided last year it was time to break away from your typical European holiday destinations (we’ve pretty much done them all and more than once) and go and see for ourselves what this wonderful city had to offer.

When you start looking into Italy you realise that it is indeed going to take several trips so we had to choose carefully where to go. Now I have to confess here travelling around Italy via train, boat and taxis was very daunting. I’m the girl who won’t even get the train alone at home. This was a self planned trip, it was all on me. We planned 10 days at the end of May/beginning of June.

No trip to Italy would be complete without Rome I don’t think so that was our starting point. I’m not a great city lover… I can appreciate them but show me the beach or rolling green hills any day over the hum drum of a busy city. But let me tell you there was a lot to love about Rome. Every corner you turned was steeped in amazing architecture.

We stayed in B&B Roman Rooms which was chosen based on location. It’s was only 3 blocks away from the Termini train station and next to the metro. The apartment was good for a budget stay close to everything. Worth a mention here is the manager who met us there was so helpful in advising us about sightseeing. He gave us a map and carefully pointed everything out.

Day One

Our first stop was the Vatican. We had pre booked our tickets through viatour thankfully as the queues outside were huge. We stopped for gelato right outside the Vatican and as expected it was not cheap. I took this photo of my son and right after he realised there was some slight toffee sauce on it and refused to eat it – bloody kids!!

The Vatican felt huge… the museums displays are endless and it was VERY busy. In fact it was a little overwhelming. We wandered around and tried to take it all in. They reckon you can do it in half a day and that is correct, but if you want to absorb every bit of information I guess it would take weeks! Luckily I’m more of a admire it and tick it off kind of girl so I was happy browsing for the afternoon. The Sistine Chapel designed by Michelangelo is absolutely incredible… not to be missed it! That was by far my favourite part. They don’t allow photos or filming but just to give you a slight idea… here’s just one of the ceilings in the corridors leading up to it.

We spent the rest of the day into the evening just wandering about taking Rome in. A bit of shopping, pasta, pizza and of course red wine was consumed. It’s a lovely city to wander around. It felt like every corner we turned there was another amazing building, we stumbled across many.

Day 2

Day two’s adventuring started at the Coliseum. We had pre booked tickets and got there early, it was busy but not as bad as the Vatican. Now the day before we didn’t end up using the audio guides we had booked… so we opted for a tour without them this time. Admiring the coliseum from outside was magical… the sun was shining gloriously through arches. Time for a quick selfie!

From both outside and in it’s easy to understand why it’s considered one of the greatest wonders of the world. It stands 48 meters high and covers a total area of 6 square meters. We wandered round taking in the information boards and just marvelling at the thought of the entertainment that it once housed.

I kept hearing other snippets of information from other people’s private guides. I quickly regretted not getting one myself… as it sounded very interesting. I would advise a private guide so you can ask questions and really take it all in. We stopped at the gift shop and bought a book – which was great as we did learn more from this when we walked around again.

Afterwards we checked out the arch of Constantine, Palatine hill and the Roman forum. All worth a look round and probably better without a bored hot 10 year old… he loved the coliseum but tired soon after. It is a lot to take in and makes you foot weary. I loved just looking around it all but by mid afternoon I was done with looking at ruins too.

We still had a few other sites to catch so after some lunch in a cafe, the Spanish steps was next on the list. I can’t lie we were a bit underwhelmed, but your probably bound to be after seeing the worlds largest amphitheatre! The area was busy, we hung around for a while people watching but being the animal lover I am I enjoyed stroking the horses, ha ha!

Next it was off to Trevi Fountain – one of the oldest water sources in Rome. It is simply stunning but it was absolutely heaving. It was near impossible to get some nice photos. Whilst there we witnessed 2 proposals which would have been so lovely and romantic of it wasn’t for the sheer amount of people!! Still we spent a bit of time around it and threw in a coin each. I would have loved to have gone back at night to see it lit up but we were pretty exhausted by dark.

I think Trevi fountain was my favourite sight I saw in Rome, closely followed by the Coliseum. My advice for the fountain would be to get to and go super early – in the hope everyone’s not had the same thought! We would have done this the next day but it was time to move along in our Italy adventure.

Rome is a fascinating city and it is indeed one of the rare ones that I would definitely revisit. I enjoyed my time there but I definitely need to return to fully absorb the wonders of it. Have you visited Rome? How many days do you think would be perfect?

Keep an eye out for part 2 of my Italy adventure… all about the beautiful Positano.

Rachael 🙂 x

Link to B&B Roman Rooms – http://www.booking.com/Share-JGXGEL

Posted in Christmas Activites

How to Elf on the Shelf like a Master!

When my son was 4 years old I came across this wonderful Christmas idea where in December an elf arrives at your house to watch your children for the month… I don’t need to fully explain elf on the shelf here… if you are reading this post chances are you are looking for inspiration and thinking why the hell did I start this?!!

I consider myself as an elf master. What gives me that right? Well… I was elf on the shelving much before it became a mainstream thing in the UK. When I started nobody on my Facebook knew what it was. Sure enough though people loved the posts about our elf Alfie causing mayhem in the run up to Christmas. My son was literally bursting with excitement every December morning.

Now I can be a bit of perfectionist with things so no half hearted elf effort was going on in my house! In total I completed 5 years of elf magic – that’s some serious planning! However when my son this year uttered the words I know about Santa my heart broke a little as much for the end of Alfie as it did for this. Out the other side of this I thought I would tell you guys some of my favourite ideas and what I consider the best way to elf on the shelf without loosing your mind!!

My son was Five when I first heard about this so we only started it then (silently breathing a sigh of relief). I know many who are starting at three! That’s seven years planning guys… but I get that you want in and are excited! At three your kid has no idea or concept of time. Do yourself a favour and have him arrive on the 15th – that applies to until they start school and of course then you won’t get away with this as others in the class will be chatting about theirs.

Only move him the first year… make it a game of ‘find the elf’. Don’t over complicate things when at such a young age they can’t fully appreciate your efforts.

Year two… have him move but only do good things. This is where my confusion came in with elf on the shelf… this little dude comes to watch your behaviour and report back to Santa yet the little s*** is causing absolute carnage! Ha ha! Talk about double standards!

Year three onwards (age five) I think then is the time to up your game. Your child is older and will appreciate the naughty behaviour and be shocked by it. But again don’t max out your ideas… save the best ones until a few years in.

Now I know some people have like a full on calendar planned but sometimes life gets in the way and the idea you had for a particular night is no longer practical. So I kept a list of ideas in my phone instead. I did ‘elf’ shopping towards the end of November and picked up any bits I then needed along the way.

Now I will share 30 of my favourite elf ideas I did along the way. I also asked my son which he remembers best and of course it’s the ones where he was extra naughty, ha ha!

1. Think about your elf’s arrival! I think the year we did North Pole breakfast was a favourite.

2. Simple ideas like this with photos are great! Also you could use a white board marker or simply turn pictures upside down.

3. Feeding the ducks… definitely one younger children will like.

3. Did you know elves only drink green elf milk?! Food colouring is obviously your friend here. My son looked for ages to find him this morning!

4. I took too long getting the decorations out so Alfie did it for us creating a right mess! (I must be mad!)

5. Have your elf make breakfast… if you don’t mind cleaning the mess ha ha! My son loved this one!

6. When your elf wants to be on top of the tree and takes the fairy hostage!

7. Elf olympics – bringing snow from the North Pole and check out his knitted scarf!

8. Elves only bath in marshmallows ha ha!

9. I’m sure school loved me this day… I swapped my sons whole lunch for chocolate stuff and marshmallows! When I arrived at school to collect him that day practically the whole class ran at me to tell me about this ha ha!

10. I have hair extensions so I cut the old ones and when I heard my son stirring that morning quickly arranged myself like this. Let me tell you he was shocked!! I think he was scared for Alfie but he also found it hilarious… I threatened to send the elf home! Ha ha!

11. With I’m a celeb always on at this time of year and my son liking to watch it I had to take advantage of this!

12. Curtesy of Halloween stuff stored in the loft, Alfie finds himself in a spin!

13. One for every year – something baking related. This was my sons favourite I think, decorating a gingerbread house. But we also did mince pies, cookies etc.

14. When your elf gets into your make up and draws you a picture! (Old make up used of course!)

15. Could this be the ultimate elf trick? Changing the bed to Christmas bedding whilst they are sleeping!

16. My son adored this one! It took him ages to find him hidden in the Christmas tree!

17. Would only recommend if your going to decorate anyway! However I had the intention but it stayed like this almost a year! Ha ha!

18. Caught by the Lego superhero’s one night!

19. Face painting whilst asleep always raised laughs in the morning!

20. Quite a simple one but one he loved non the less! The sign said ‘I flew your mums car to Lapland last night to show all your toys where I live, we didn’t make it back in time before the magic ran out!’ I also parked the car erratically on the drive/half on the grass!

21. Pick and mix shop… luckily he did listen to Alfie and only took a few to school!

22. Banister sledging on candy canes!

23. When your elf doesn’t make it back in time!

24. Elf washing disaster! (I used bubble bath, made them in the sink and then moved to the floor)

25. When your kids not keen on showering your elf comes to the rescue by filling it with balloons (warning – don’t be deceived this took almost 2 hours and approximately 75 balloons)

26. Shrinking the cookies to elf size! Good for younger ones.

27. When your elf cuts up your mums top in the laundry!

28. Alfie plays Star Wars and bring cinema tickets to the movie! Your elf can do good too if your little one is behaving!

29. The year Alfie took Lex home to see Santa! Look at his face! A surprise trip to Santa is always a winner… we were lucky to be able to do Lapland that year.

30. When you want a night off! Ha ha! Seriously though this one is great of behaviour isn’t good. The getting up rule was not before 6am… he got up at 5am!!

So there we have it… I hope this has inspired you! Our elf Alfie had his own page on Facebook too… I will post the link below if you want to check out what else he did. I’m no longer posting to the page as sadly the magic is over for us but the page is live for ideas. I’m going to follow this post up with another one on the perfect end to elf on the shelf.

Now I’m out the other side do I think it was worth it? Absolutely… yes it’s a commitment but your kids faces each morning… well that’s just priceless! These little elves will make the run up to your Christmas so magical, your kids will love you for it. When my son found out one of the first things he said was ‘oh wow mummy, you did all that? I can’t believe it! Thank you!’ I know he will forever remember our Alfie’s antics with a warm heart and a smile.

Happy elfing guys… remember it doesn’t last forever!

Rachael 🙂 x

Link – https://www.facebook.com/alfieselfantics/

Posted in Christmas Activites

Making a Simple Advent Calendar…

A couple of weeks ago I decided to make an advent calendar this year for my son. He’s 10 years old and has just asked the dreaded ‘Santa’ question. Keen to still make the run up to Christmas a special time for him I started thinking of ideas.

I decided to go for a fairly simple design as it’s the first one I have attempted. The thing that appealed most to me was being able to fill it with his favourite treats. I considered little envelopes and then decided pillow boxes would be better to fit stuff in so opted for those. I thought the best way to do it was to fasten them to some kind of board.

Hobby Craft is my first stop when doing a project like this. Whilst in there I decided that a notice board would make a good base. It eliminated the need for decorating as it looked nice as it was. I picked up a glue gun for only £2 – essential for this project. Some little wooden numbers and decided to also add my sons name too. I went to the works (cheaper shop for craft supplies) to get ribbon, washi tape and embellishments.

Most the stuff I used can be seen above but here’s a list of what you need:

  • 40 x 60 cm notice board
  • Glue gun and glue sticks
  • Ribbon – at least 2m to do the edge
  • Wooden numbers
  • Christmas embellishments
  • Washi tape
  • Pillow boxes
  • Scissors
  • Name letters
  • PVA glue
  • Glitter
  • Treats or tiny toys

The glue gun is your friend in this project! I have to laugh because although I have always loved crafting a hot glue gun I was never allowed. Today at 35 years old I am nursing a blister on my finger from using it! Not a bad one but still my mum was right to not give me one ha ha!

Start by edging your advent calendar in ribbon. Use the glue gun to put blobs along the edge and stick the ribbon down and cut to size.

Next make up your pillow boxes by folding in the ends. Arrange them on your board so you can see how they look… you should have five rows of five. Once arranged on the board look at your embellishments. I chose a total of seven different ones. This gave me enough so none were next to each other in any direction.

Use your glue gun to attach your embellishments and ribbon. Make sure you think about where your numbers are going at this point. Then glue the bottom of the boxes too.

Once all your boxes are assembled check your happy with the order on the board. At this point you can switch them round if your not.

Once satisfied it’s time to attach your numbers. Using the glue gun I put mine in the top left corner.

Now you are ready to put in the treats. I thought when I came up with this idea that I would fit little toys in too but it was very difficult to find anything. The beauty of this project is you can fill it with your child’s favourite sweets and chocolate and of course some more Christmas themed treats.

Someone also suggested Lego men so I bought a set of 8 of these for £10 off eBay. I thought it would be nice to mix it up. They fit perfectly and came part unassembled in little packets which I liked.

So now it’s time to fill your boxes. Larger items like the freddo I only put one in but things like the maoms I put in four or five.

Once filled it’s time to attach the boxes. I did worry if they would hold but given the things in them are light they did. Just put a line of glue down the centre of the back of each one and press into place.

I then stuck on the numbers into the corner of each box alternating between red and white for effect.

Finally it was time to do the letters to finish off the top of the board. First I tried painting them but the paint wasn’t strong enough and the card showed through. I decided glitter was the way to go keeping with the sparkly theme of the ribbon. I used PVA glue to coat the letters and then just simply sprinkled the glitter all over.

Finally I attached the letters to the board – again with the glue gun and added some little bells in the top corners to fill the gaps. It’s important to leave your board flat for at least an hour whilst everything dries and sets properly.

So here is the finished product…

The only thing I don’t like is the ‘L’ is larger but I wanted a capital and it just came bigger! I’m made up with it and I’m sure my son will love it too, I can’t wait to give it to him. Start to finish it was probably a 2 hour project. It was easy and enjoyable!

Have you ever made an advent calendar? How did it turn out? Let me know if you give this one a go in the comments 🙂

Rachael x

Posted in Winning at Parenting

Redundant Parenting…

I’m having a real hard time with my son growing up (he’s 10 going on 16!) You obviously know that it’s going to happen but you don’t really notice it happening until one day it hits you. Being a single mum I’ve just been so busy trying to juggle everything alone. But when I do stop and think about our journey together tears come to my eyes. For we have had the most fun times. Some would say he’s been spoilt as I mention in a previous post. Yes he has with days out, experiences and holidays. But amongst all the stress and hard work of being a parent I believe these moments are the little rewards. Quality time together making memories.

I couldn’t wait for the summer holidays… I got my diary and pen and set to making lots of plans for us. I joined the National Trust as well for some outdoor time in some beautiful spots close to us. We were going on holiday to Cyprus too which I couldn’t wait for. Amongst this I planned a trip to the zoo, cinema and other things.

When I excitedly produced my diary and shared my plans they were met with face pulling and ‘I don’t want to do that’. Well ‘what do you want to do son?’ ‘I just want to hang out with my mates’ and just like that I was binned… on the occasions I dragged him out I put up with constant asking ‘what time we going back?’ I felt I had lost my little friend. He even told me I should have another baby!!

On holiday he made new friends (which was lovely to see) but in turn I was left a bit bored and alone. It’s funny because there were days when I prayed to read a book in peace for longer than five minutes on a sun-bed! At meal times he often finished before me and raced back to his new friends excitedly leaving me nursing a glass of red alone, ha ha! He did come and find me to sign for whatever he was ordering for him and sometimes his friends at our hotel of course…

I spent a few days getting all emotional reminiscing about days gone by… asking myself where time had gone? As a parent each stage so far has been different and come with its own challenges but I realise now how special those younger years were. I shouldn’t say it but they were my favourite. The years when you are literally their world, everything is new, magical and exciting to them. Probably from age two to maybe five.

So in my emotional state I wrote a poem for my son… really just to try and express my own feelings at a time when I’m feeling rather redundant. I thought I would share it here too as maybe some others can relate?

It’s back to school soon for you son

I will miss our summer fun

Your growing up so fast

It’s plain to see

That you don’t want to hang out with silly old me

I wish for the days when we played in the sand

When you skipped along holding my hand

The hours in the farm and picnic by the swings

These are now by gone things

For at the time I never knew that one day you would feel too grown up for the zoo

Our adventures have changed and my heart is heavy

As I watch you grow and I don’t feel ready

I try to persuade you to do things with me but you would rather have friends over for tea

But now and then I see a glimpse of that boy, the one who used to play with toys

You think I am boring but I’m doing my best

To be your friend still, you put me to the test

We’ll soon be heading into the teenage years

which no doubt will cause me further tears

I will treasure our memories all the way through

For every stage is a blessing with you. So, don’t push me away, your silly old mum

I only want to have some fun

For one day you will realise that really it’s me.. the best friend you will ever have – you’ll see 💞 x

Rachael x

Posted in Must do days out!

Alpaca Walking in the Lake District

I love a good animal experience… every year I search out how I can get closer to animals. So you can imagine my delight when a friend posted on Instagram about walking alpacas in the Lake District. I immediately went online and booked a private walk for me and my son Lex with the company Alpacaly Ever After – cool name right?!

We headed to the lakes, just on the outskirts of Keswick to meet our new friends. Alpacaly Ever After is located in the Lingholm estate. It is right next to Derwentwater and centres around a large Victorian country house within private woodland and gardens. Before meeting the alpacas we took time to look in the walled garden which we later found out inspired Beatrix Potter when writing Peter Rabbit… it’s easy to see why…

You could also take some of the gardens produce and make a donation if you liked… I thought that was lovely but didn’t take any as I was heading away again the next day.

Soon after we went to meet the alpacas and let me tell you what characters they were! Lex and I were each given an alpaca to take out. Mine was white and called Boo, his was brown and called Dudley. We were so excited!!

Once they were on the leads along with our guide, off we went. You walk through the estate and past the country house. Which of course provided the perfect opportunity for a photo stop.

We walked through a cherry orchard and along through the woods. The alpacas stopped a lot to graze on the lush green grass. They also bizarrely loved to walk over short trees as apparently it tickles and scratches their tummies – so cute. They didn’t pull, sometimes we had to give them a little tug to encourage them to walk! (enough grass already!) but they happily trotted along with us.

All the way along the walk we were stroking down their necks and backs. You can understand why Alpaca wool is expensive… they were so soft. We reached the edge of Derwentwater and apparently sometimes they like to go in the water, but not today (I was slightly relieved given we had forgot our wellies) my son got the coolest photo by the lake with Dudley.

Soon after we walked back through the woods and past the house again, back to the field they call home. I learned that altogether they have around 50 alpacas but not all of them are at the Lingholm estate.

Time to finish the experience with some hand feeding. Lex wasn’t keen but of course I loved it! The only problem was they all wanted some.

Altogether we were with the alpacas about a hour and a half. We loved every minute! I would definitely recommend this experience if you love animals. It was great to get up close and learn more about these funny quirky creatures and the setting was sooo beautiful. I struggled to pick photos for this blog post as we had so many!

Now what animal experience will be next? Any suggestions?

Rachael x

To book an alpaca experience go to… www.alpacalyeverafter.co.uk

Posted in Winning at Parenting

Harry Potter Potion Class!

When my dance school closes for the summer holidays or any other holidays for that matter… what am I to do with my time?! As much as I love the dance and it is nice to have a break the inner child in me just can’t resist putting on school holiday fun as well. So every time school breaks up I run Legends fun days or summer school and I love it!

Constantly racking my brains for new ways to entertain the children (and myself! ha ha!) I first thought of a Harry Potter potion class whilst lying in bed. I mean as a child myself there was something very satisfying about perfuming making… please tell me you can relate?! This was an activity which consisted of getting water, lots of petals off plants in the garden and stirring them in a bowl, swishing them into the sides and then putting them into jam jars to store. This would create hours of fun trying to create different smells.

So when potion making sprang to mind and was a similar concept I knew this would go down a storm at summer school. A quick google told me actually I wasn’t a genius and indeed other people had done similar before which basically made my job easier. I still thought it worth sharing my tips and experience of the doing it with a big group!

Firstly I realised I needed to collect bottles and jars of different shapes and sizes. Now my intention was to do this myself and ask other people but I kinda forgot and a trip to ikea came to my rescue. In there I managed to get all kinds of potion bottles much to my delight and I only spent around fifteen pounds.

I was ready to create labels when I checked on eBay and saw actually I could just buy those ready done too for a couple of pounds. I also came across a few links to print them yourself but as my printer is not great this was the best option for me. Once they arrived I thought carefully about which bottles to stick them on.

The labels gave little explanations under them so I was careful to put some on jars and others on bottles.

How did I decide what to put in each?! Well I just winged it. But the most important ingredients needed is washing up liquid (I used red as unicorn blood), white vinegar (which I added glitter too) and bicarbonate of soda. These three things react and foam when added together.

I added cut up feathers to one jar, lots of little leaves in one and glitter in another. I put water in all the other jars and added food colouring to change it to different colours.

I gathered a group of five children and started potion class by showing them my potion (that was with the three reactive ingredients I mention above) I did this in a jar so I used less ingredients and it would rise fast, I stood the jar in a bowl to save mess. The children were delighted when it bubbles over.

Then they sat at the table with a mini bowl each (sat in a larger one – again to catch the mess) and were left to mix there own potions. Some had obviously listened as they went straight for the same concoction as me. Some of the younger ones (I have children 3-11 years) relished in pouring in lots of glitter. I had given them all a wooden spoon each to mix their potion as well.

Now this activity was loved by all… a lot hadn’t seen Harry Potter but potion making was exciting none the less. Surprisingly this appealed as much to the older kids as it did to the younger ones. The trickiest part was after each group the bottles and jars needed refilling, table wiping etc and bowls washing and resetting up for the next lot. This was difficult to do quick enough with several children bursting with excitement for their turn!! We had other activities going on along side but none quite as exciting as this! We had to do this for five groups in total. That was a lot of cleaning up! But it was totally worth it… the children loved every second. I would do it again but I did think this would be lovely maybe as part of a smaller party.

Have you ever tried a potion making class? How did it go? I would love to hear!

Rachael 🙂 x

Posted in Winning at Parenting

Don’t dash your child’s dreams…

Times have changed… of course they are bound to… the world is evolving. Technology is constantly propelling us forward. People are no longer just happy and accept what they have, everyone is striving for more – me included. The world isn’t such a big place anymore. Opportunities are plentiful. People often say my son Lex doesn’t know he’s born.

Both I and his dad (although not together) have made sure he’s missed out on nothing. The kids well-travelled in general (He’s on a two-week road trip around America with his dad as I type this!) he’s been to Disneyland several times, Lapland, had big birthday parties, fabulous Christmases, days out most weekends. I like to think he’s not spoiled in general but is he spoiled in experiences? – probably. But who wouldn’t do that for their child if they have the means to?

I have come under fire from parents and friends at times for the sheer amount of things I do with him. His expectations are high… I know I’ve created this. But I’ve also created a kid with drive, ambitions and goals. Sometimes I do wonder have I set him up to fail? He thinks he’s going to live in a mansion in Hawaii (inspired by his favourite movie Lilo and Stitch) drive a Lamborghini and be a youTuber. They are pretty big aspirations to have. But who am I to dash his dreams?

I myself am I dreamer, a go getter, however my plans at his age were somewhat smaller. All I wanted to do was teach dance, have a dance school. Did I achieve that? Yes I did and my parents supported me. Had they not supported me would I have achieved my dream? Probably not. I’m grateful to them for this. I am grateful they didn’t undermine my dream and try to pigeon-hole me into another career. As a parent now I want to give my son the same liberty.

I am proud of my son and how he doesn’t see any limitations but I will also do what I can to make sure he passes his exams – the safety net. Do I want him to have a conventional career? If that’s what he wants, absolutely, but so far he doesn’t. I am pleased he wants more for himself.  I am pleased I have created a situation where he believes he can achieve so much. I am his biggest cheerleader and I will support him however I can to achieve his dreams no matter what they are.

Remember children are always watching you. You are their superheroes. Vision, success and wealth anyone can achieve. If a child grows up in a successful family that will become their standard. You are setting the standard. If you bring them up in a love filled, happy, optimistic, positive home that to will be their general outlook. They won’t believe the world is against them. But if you’re all ‘poor me’ with a negative vibe they will pick up on this too. My son (whist he has his moments) is positive and happy because that’s how I believe our home is.

Some would say I’m setting him up to fail by letting him believe there are no limitations… But I believe I’m setting him up to succeed. With my support the world is his oyster. I want him to wake up every day with a smile. I want him to have a zest for life, love the world he’s in and be happy with the choices he’s made. I don’t want him to ever look back and think my mum didn’t believe in me. Cos I do son… I’m not saying it will be easy but I will always be by your side. Go chase your dreams…