Family Sleigh Session at SnoZone, Milton Keynes

On the weekend we made an impromptu booking and travelled to SnoZone in Milton Keynes for a 30 minute Private Family Sledging Session! This session has only just reopened and we were quite eager for some fun.

The SnoZone is situated in Milton Keynes MK9 3XS and was quite easy to find. There is ample parking but you do need to pay – I think we paid around £3 for 2 hours so it was not too much at all.

Ita ready to go!

Inside, it is right by I-Fly (which also looks very cool!) and there are other various shops around too.

5 Minutes before our start time, we headed to the hire desk and handed our passes over. We were asked to walk over to the slope entrance where someone would meet us to talk us through our session. Here we were handed 3 smallish sleighs and shown to our private slope. We had a quick introduction on how to safely sleigh and we were off!

Of course there was time for snow Angels

Ita immediately took to it and was quite a dare devil – no surprise there really! She wants to go right to the top of the slope where as we were quite happy to work our way up! The 30 minutes did seem to go really quickly and I think a 45 minute session would have worked out perfectly to be honest. I had quite a few questions from Instagram on what the sleighs were like. Well… pretty much this! They were more ‘’seats with sticks’’ as Ita called them but they worked really well and were light too so it was easier walking back to the top each time. I know in some places you can hire rings but I don’t think they are an option here.

We were advised to arrive 45 minutes early but really there was no point and I think we would have been better off arriving only 15 minutes before. I think this might be older information relating to if you have to change and get ready there at the centre. However now you have to arrive ready to go!

So child friendly!

You are advised to wear waterproof clothing and snow boots or wellies, otherwise you may find yourself with wet, cold feet.

Due to the necessary precautions, you cannot hire any snow boots, gloves or helmets – all of which are a must to be on the slope. Luckily we had our own from a previous ski lesson but this is something to bare in mind when booking. If you were thinking of doing this session, I would look for sales and special deals in places like Sports Direct. The main thing you will need to focus on is a helmet for safety, but snow boots and gloves can really vary. I for example wore uggs and on their website they do suggest wellies as an alternative too. (Cycle helmets are permitted too!).

The changing area and lockers are also out of use, again, because of covid. Therefore you must leave everything in your car or by the entrance to the slopes. It really is worth baring this in mind if you are not travelling by car. Although I am sure it is safe enough, the centre does not take responsibility for any items that go astray.

This session is for a family/social bubble of up to 6 people. The price is £59.99 per bubble so this works out very well if you are a family of 5 or 6. Otherwise it feels a bit steep. However, with that said, we had a great time and have already made plans to go back!

Please note your group must contain 1 adult aged 16yrs+ (with a maximum of 2 adults per group) and juniors must be aged 3 years and over. 

For further info head to the SnoZone website;

https://www.snozoneuk.com/

Waiting patiently…

Mystical Afternoon Tea at Taj 51 (Review)

Last week we were invited to the beautiful Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residence to enjoy their Mystical Afternoon Tea. The Taj 51 is a beautiful 5 star hotel that sits in Victoria and we had heard so many lovely reviews of their Alice in Wonderland Tea, so we were really looking forward to trying their festive version.

One of the many beautifully decorated trees

The building itself is gorgeous and completed decked out in its festive attire. We entered the lobby area and Ita’s eyes lit up and she almost ran right into this stunningly themed tree! It caught her attention immediately because she absolutely loves Alice in Wonderland. The staff straight away came across as child friendly which is always something I sense instantly and it typically determines whether we have a good time or not. Being a parent, it is really important that you feel valued and that your child is too, rather than being made to feel like a nuisance. The doorman especially engaged in a chat with Ita explaining the theme of the tree and I could have died when she told him in no uncertain terms that she knew exactly that it was based on the Mad Hatter.

Family pic!

The reception staff were also so courteous given that, in typical London fashion, we were late because of the traffic. Again, Ita was welcomed and asked whether she would like to lead the way!

The moment we saw the main Christmas tree in Kona (the restaurant area) it took my breath away! Ita kept going to look at it because the whole design was simply spectacular. The dress actually lit up far more than this photo shows. The room itself is modest in size which we absolutely loved because it felt intimate and there are only a small amount of tables in here.

The decorations were stunning

Our afternoon tea started with a festive spiced hot chocolate and our choice of a large selection of teas. We were then served our sandwiches but I can honestly say they were the best presented sandwiches we have ever encountered. Usually afternoon teas serve simple finger sandwiches but these were so striking and frankly so beautiful. The selection included Rosemary roast beef and English mustard, Yorkshire ham with cheddar and pickle, smoked salmon and orange horseradish stars and egg mayonnaise with a little twist.

Selection of savouries

The sweets treats included spicy gianduja chocolate gateau, pine forest pistachio cremeux cones, Bakewell toadstools, a starry night nougatine snap and a Baileys and cream yule log! Of course we also had scones and ones with cranberries in too!

And the treats…

We do quite a few afternoon teas and for us, this one definitely stands out. The food was plentiful and the designs of the sandwiches were the best we have ever had. Dominic thinks this was his favourite afternoon tea… by far! Ita also commented on how fun the treats looked and especially when you look at it from a child’s perspective, she is right! They were bright and inviting.

We would absolutely recommend this afternoontea! It is very fairly priced for a festive tea in a 5 star hotel and it feels luxurious but also very fun. I cannot stress how lovely the staff were which of course added to our wonderful experience. I was even forced into a photo which I was secretly happy about! I’m usually the photographer! I think this also demonstrates how family orientated it was too though.

Beautifully presented

Afterwards we were actually encouraged to look around. In fact, Ita was told she would love the lights outside and the tree in the joining building. She wanted a photo by every. single. tree. I kid you not! Although I can see why. Taj 51 really is decorated very beautifully. 

This particular afternoon tea is available throughout December and served on Thursdays and Fridays at noon and 2pm, and on weekends at noon, 2pm and 4pm. There are sittings on Christmas Day and on New Years day too.

Price £55pp and children aged between 4-11 years can also have tea for half this price.

For more information on the afternoon teas served at Taj 51, please see the link below.

https://www.taj51buckinghamgate.co.uk/Fine-dining/Afternoon-tea/

Menu

Osmo Review

We have been fans of Osmo now for a little while and have quite an extensive collection. But truth be told I came across Osmo a few years ago and although Ita was too young at the time, I always remembered seeing the different sets and thinking how fun they looked. I had wondered if it was a fad but I really liked the idea that Osmo supported and promoted learning, development and logical thinking. I also really liked that it incorporated IT skills which was something that others did not really do at the time. In fact I can remember very clearly that anything to do with children and iPads was typically frowned upon. When Osmo reached out at the beginning of 2020 I was more than keen to review their packages because I had fully intend to purchase one. We are now fully fledged Osmonaughts!

Before school play

Initially we received the drawing sets called Super Studio – both Disney – so I knew Ita would enjoy them. What I did not expect though was how much Ita would learn from them. Copying and drawing what she saw on the screen has helped improve drawing/listening skills, hand-eye coordination & drawing confidence.

Other sets that Ita now has is the Coding which is for children aged 5-10 years (so quite a bit older than Ita). This set promotes logic, coding fundamentals, basics of programming, solve coding puzzles, teamwork, listening, critical thinking, observation, creative problem solving, music creation & pattern recognition. I was not expecting her to take to it so quickly but within a week she was able to put together simple instructions for Osmo to follow. Really quite impressive!

The Tangram set uses puzzle pieces to match on-screen shapes and complete over 500 designs/puzzles enabling creativity & visual problem solving. I was so surprised to learn this was for 6 years plus! Ita really took to it quickly and really enjoyed the challenge of choosing the right puzzle piece. Much like Coding, this set encourages visual thinking, problem solving, puzzles, creative problem solving and fine motor skills.

With the Creative Set your child travels on an adventures to solve story problems with their drawings brought to life instantly on the iPad.

This set helps develop drawing, listening, speed of drawing, visual thinking, problem solving, physics, creative problem solving & fine motor skills. This is one of our newer sets and although we have not used this as much as the Coding or the Little Genius kit, I think Ita really loves making her stories come to life.

The Words set came as part of the Genius Kit for 5 years +. It is slightly more challenging for Ita so this is  set we will be working on more. You look at the on-screen clue to guess the secret word. As Ita is just learning words now that she is in Reception, I think this will soon become something she will want to do.

We also have the Numbers set but this is also for children aged 5 years – 10 years. This one is slightly more advanced I would say where you arrange physical tiles, including dots and digits, to make numbers and complete levels. The ethos of this game is to experiment with numbers without the fear of getting the answer wrong. I feel like this is quite important because I am quite sure Ita will be that child who has a worry about not being right all the time!

The Little Genius Kit is the set that I believe you should start off with! This package is specifically for 3-5 year olds and comes with a few different games inside. They are ABC’s, Squiggle Magic and Costume Party. (There is also a Genius Kit for children aged 5 – 10 years).

Creative Kit

Here are some details about what is included in the Little Genius Kit..

ABC’s – This helps with letter recognition, phonics, construction and vocabulary. There are over 300 words for preschoolers to learn.

Squiggle Magic – Your child builds and creates anything their mind can come up with and then it come alive on-screen. Using the squishy, colourful sticks and ring pieces specifically designed for little hands, young artists will develop their cognitive, creative, social and emotional skills through this fun-filled exploration.

Costume Party – Experiment with clothes and colours to make party outfits; then watch characters react on-screen! Designed for early learners, this fun imaginative play fosters spatial reasoning, creativity and fine motor skills, plus they’ll have a blast using the cardboards clothing cutouts to dress the characters for the party! This game got her through the initial lockdown!!

One thing I want to reassure parents is of the durability. Considering Ita was only 3 years old when she started using Osmo, I was a bit worried with how heavy handed she appeared with the pieces. So I want to say with complete confidence, Osmo really is very strong! Even the pieces made of card have not been damaged at all and Ita has played with these over and over!

Every morning Ita puts on her Tonie story box and picks and Osmo to do before we get ready for school. It has become a routine that Ita set herself and I am sure it’s because she finds Osmo fun rather than a boring learning activity.

Frozen 2 Super Studio Kit

‘’ Osmo merges tactile exploration with innovative technology, actively engaging children in the learning process’’. This is a statement I fully agree with. I was not obliged to write this blog post. It was not requested by Osmo. I wanted to share my honest opinion and because I believe that there are certain toys that children learn so much from without realising it and those in our opinion are the best kind of toys! Osmo would make a fantastic Christmas present for those as young as 4 years old.

If you are new to Osmo you will need to purchase one of their Starter Kits which includes the base and the Osmo reflector. (You will need your own iPad or Fire Tablet).

How Osmo works

1 – Put your device in a compatible Osmo Base with the red reflector over the device’s camera.

2 – Play with physical game pieces – draw, code, spell and more.

3 – Osmo scans the table and your child’s creations come alive on the screen!

Osmo is compatible with iPad and Fire Tablets.

You can shop Osmo here in the link below.

https://www.playosmo.com/en-gb/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI_P6Fje6p7QIV74FQBh20vQWSEAAYASAAEgLiSfD_BwE

And also in John Lewis, Smyths Toys Super Store and Amazon too.

Currently, as it is Cyber Monday, you can get up to 40% off!!

Osmo is on sale!

Festive Afternoon Tea in London

This was by far one of the most requested blog topics I think I have ever had. Happily, this is a topic I know lots about and really enjoy too! Over the years we have tried lots of different afternoon teas and I honestly believe that if you visit London, then afternoon tea is essential!

Festive Afternoon Tea December 2017

Afternoon Tea is synonymous with London and at Christmas, many restaurants and hotels go that extra mile with a festive version. As a family we go often to various afternoon teas and do themed ones at home for Ita. Each year though, we always take a trip to The Ritz for their famous Festive Afternoon Tea. This one gets booked up way in advance, I’m talking months! I tend to book this one in around June time. With that said, there are so many options!

I have done quite a bit of research and here are my favourites for 2020!

Mad Hatters Tea Party at The Sanderson

The Ritz

Festive Afternoon Tea

3rd December – 4th January 2021

Price: From £55

https://www.theritzlondon.com/dine-with-us/afternoon-tea/

Taj 51

Christmas Afternoon Tea

3rd December – 25th December

Price: £55

https://www.taj51buckinghamgate.co.uk/Fine-dining/Afternoon-tea/

The Dorchester

Festive High Tea

3rd December – 3rd January 2021

Price: £86 | Children (5-12 years) £40 (please note, prices increase for weekend sittings)

Christmas Carols High Tea

Price: £90 | Children (5-12 years) £48

https://www.dorchestercollection.com/en/london/the-dorchester/festive-season-at-the-dorchester/

The Chesterfield, Mayfair 

Winter Wonderland Afternoon Tea

3rd December 2020 – 3rd January 2021

Price: £40 for Traditional | £21.50 for Children’s Afternoon Tea

https://www.chesterfieldmayfair.com/afternoon-tea

Podium at London Hilton Park Lane

Christmas Afternoon Tea 

23rd November – 6th January 2021

Price: From £39

https://www.podiumrestaurant.com/christmas-afternoon-tea.php

Fortnum & Mason

Festive High Tea

2nd December  – 31st December 2020

Price: From £65

https://www.fortnumandmason.com/afternoon-tea?bot=ro&bot=ro&bot=ro

The Savoy

Festive Afternoon Tea

Enquire directly for dates

Price: From £70 (price increases for weekend sittings)

https://www.savoychristmas.com/festive-afternoon-tea

The Milestone Hotel

Festive Afternoon Tea

3rd December – 4th January 2021

Price: From £55

https://www.milestonehotel.com/food-and-drink/afternoon-tea

Peggy Porschen at The Lanesborough

Festive Afternoon Tea 

3rd December – 4th January 2021

Price: From £75

https://www.peggyporschen.com/pages/the-lanesborough-x-peggy-porschen-afternoon-tea

Rubens at The Palace

Winter Wonderland Afternoon Tea

3rd December – 4th January 2021

Price: £49

https://www.rubenshotel.com/food-and-drink/afternoon-tea

Christmas Lights Afternoon Tea Bus Tour

B’s Bakery

Until late January 2021

Price: From £45

https://b-bakery.com/london/blog/christmas-lights-afternoon-tea-bus-tour-london-1

A Christmas Carol Festive Afternoon Tea

Hotel Cafe Royal

17th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd December

Price: £95

https://www.hotelcaferoyal.com/afternoontea

St Pancras by Searcys 

Festive Afternoon Tea

3rd December – 4th January 2021

Price: From £39

https://stpancrasbysearcys.co.uk/staycation-afternoon-tea/

If you still feel a bit anxious about heading out, especially to London, then why not consider some sets to enjoy at home?

Cutter and Squidge’s ‘Afternoon Tea at Home’ is the perfect gift. It is made for 2 people and costs £29.90.

One Tea for Two kit contains:

•2 x Molasses Spiced Loaves (topped with vanilla buttercream and xmas sprinkles!)

•2 x Mince Pies 

•4 x Buttery Scones (please warm them up!)

•2 x Pots of Rodda’s Clotted Cream

•1 x Pot of Fruity Jam

•1 x Cutter & Squidge Fine Loose Leaf Tea

You can purchase it here via their website;

https://cutterandsquidge.com/products/christmas-afternoon-tea-at-home?variant=36541201121432&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI8Omz7ZGZ7QIVVeDtCh3wEgYhEAQYAyABEgKFYPD_BwE

Peter Pan afternoon tea at The Shard

Christmas Photo Spots in London

Yesterday afternoon I posted some pictures to my stories of our walk around London. It prompted quite a few responses and all with the same theme, how beautiful London was looking in its festive attire and how I capture lovely photos of Ita in London.

I certainly do not have the skills to remove people and change settings, so planning photos works best for me (and probably for the other average mums too). So hopefully this blog post will help you plan too!

The truth is photos mean a lot to me. I spend so much time making sure I capture the right image because when all is said and done, all you have left is the photo to remind you. I learnt this regrettably on my wedding day. You cant recapture a moment. Once its gone, its gone. As so because of this I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I could make sure I captured beautiful photos for Ita, to look back on when she is older and maybe even with her own children!

So this leads me here, sharing the most beautiful festive spots in London.

I wrote out a little trail for my friend Jovana on my last Instagram post. It was just a simple response to her comment but I think it captures the most beautiful sights. So I am going to use that little route to provide you with what I believe to be the best photo shots in central London.

New Bond Street:

For us, this will always be the Christmas shot to get. Each year Ita posts her letter to Santa from the post-box just across from the beautifully decorated Cartier store. The lights are undoubtably stunning at night but the truth is this area will almost always be packed… and full of Instagram models. As such, we always visit here on a quiet Sunday morning when you can quite literally park just down the road from this shop.

The post-box is across the road and slightly to the right so the best place to get a photo like this would be standing to the right of the post-box and then taking a few steps back. This means you can capture Cartier in the background too.

To get a nice photo outside of Cartier, I would suggest standing again on the road opposite but more so to the left. There are a load of street signs around here which you will want to avoid – it is this reason that Tiffany’s is so difficult to capture. It is such a shame as the shop is beautiful but there are too many signs and poles that ruin it.

I would say this is best for day time shots. As beautiful as the peacock lights are, it just isn’t worth the crowds of people. Even during lockdown I was receiving messages on Instagram telling me how busy it was.

Ita posting her letter to Santa 🎅🏼

Burlington Arcade:

Right by Cartier and Tiffany’s is the Burlington Arcade that leads you out to Regents Street. I would only suggest visiting here in the day as it becomes very dark inside and also very busy too. The Moet & Chandon swinging chair is probably the most popular photo op but it sits right in the middle of the arcade with nothing pretty behind it. You would really need to wait it out to get a gorgeous photo with no one in the background! (See below).

Definitely better for the day time shots.

Burlington Arcade

Fortnum & Mason:

Once you exit the Burlington Arcade you will see Fortnum and Masons. One of the most stunning shops in London, especially so since their lights are that of an advent calendar. However…. There are loads of road works going on just outside and it is really unappealing to be honest. No matter where you stand across the road, you cant seem to get a photo without these road works being obvious. As much as I love this photo, it doesn’t show off the grand face of Fortnums. (This was taken by the main entrance). However if you walk down Duke Street which is to the right of Fortnums, they have the most beautifully dressed window display.

It definitely looks better at night where it is all lit up and arguably distracts you from the road works.

Fortnum & Masons

The Ritz:

Sadly The Ritz is all boarded up because of lockdown but it is where my mind goes to when I think of Christmas Days Out. They have a huge tree on the foyer by the reception and the décor runs throughout. Outside, they hang their decorated wreaths and garlands and they dress the two trees by the entrance too. Typically I would say you need a photo by their tree inside but that’s not going to happen right now. The outside is photo worthy though! The tree to the right of the entrance has a sign underneath but the tree to the left doesn’t and actually sits back slightly. Therefore it looks nice in photos without taking over.

The Ritz – Christmas Day 2019

I would suggest going during the day although if you are around in the evening it’s definitely worth going to.

Outside the Ritz

St James / Waterloo Place:

My absolute favourite Christmas Tree in London!! There is none that even compare to the tree by the Crimean War Memorial on Waterloo Place (named St James). And this is why! The tree is tall and full but not huge meaning you can get a full length photo of the tree and yourself / child. As it sits on a little square, you can stand across the road and basically capture it from any angel. This means you will be able to get a picture without anyone else in shot.

For this photo I stood in the middle of the road – it was spookily quiet but thinking about it, it very often is quiet around here. There is a small strip of pavement that separates the road and faces the tree and this would be the best place to get a photo. On this night though someone was taking their photo and they seemed unhappy with the outcome so kept asking their partner to take more!

The tree is prettiest at night but I would still say it is daylight happy too.

The tree this year!

Annabels:

Is underway and frankly I could burst! I always get too excited for their decorations as they are so OTT and take up the entire front of this private members club. Last year it was heaving during the day and at night time so I can imagine it will be this year too. It sits in a largish square but although its worth going to see, I wouldn’t have your heart set on getting a good photo!

Regent Street:

London has a theme of flying angels that kinda remind me of Hannibal the TV series. If you have seen it you’ll know exactly what I mean!! These angels have been reused for the last few years and really do not stand out much during the daylight, but at night they are gorgeous. I have seen so many photos in the middle pavement outside of Hamleys in Regents Street and this is where you will get the prettiest shot. And for that reason this is where were heading to next weekend!

Definitely better during the darker hours.

Hamleys!

Covent Garden:

I’m going to be very blunt here – I am SO disappointed this year with the decorations in Covent Garden. I think we were spoilt last year by the absolutely stunning Tiffany & Co set up and remember that Jo Malone one too? This year they have a gigantic tree. It is so difficult to get a photo without anyone else in it and you will need to be about a mile away from the tree to get it in full length and then you in full length too. Ok so not a mile, but very far away!! I am secretly hoping that they will add something else to be honest.

The London Transport Museum has a small themed tree outside and I think this one is really rather cute. Chanel also have a little photo op outside too!

Honestly? Not worth it.

Convent Garden 2020
The London Transport Museum Tree

Elsewhere:

Other areas that have beautiful lights are Carnaby Street and Marble Arch. However I cannot imagine you will be able to find a good spot for a photo, that doesn’t have crowds of people in.

If you love a pink Christmas then of course Peggy Porschens is for you and this year Elan have a huge pink tree and carousel inside Kings Cross station.

Peggys – Christmas 2017!

We always visit The Ivy in Chelsea and each year they do fantastic displays. My favourite was from 2018 when they turned the restaurant into a gingerbread house!

The Ivy Chelsea 2018

With all this said and whilst still being sure that a nice photo is the goal, you do need to simply enjoy and have fun with seeing the Christmas lights and decorations! They are beautiful and have become somewhat of a tradition for us. There is no better place than London in December!

Some tips;

My biggest one. Avoid other people in your photos. Its quite an obvious one but having strangers in your photos not only distracts from how pretty they will turn out, but it also means you will quite literally have photos of random people!

Avoid distractions such as ugly scaffolding and building work. Try and place yourself/ child in front of them if possible to cover them up!

Clean your camera lens each and every single time to take a photo. Honestly, especially when it comes to phone cameras, it makes all the difference.

Take your time. I used to feel so rushed but now I take as much time as I need to get the photo I am happy with!

Natasha from Kiddos Adventures has done a blog post on a Christmas lights tour and I am allowed to share this with you. Here is the link below;

https://kiddoadventures.com/2020/11/22/your-guide-to-christmas-lights-in-london-2020/ and thank you

Ita’s playhouse (The Snug from Waltons)

Over the years, I have had so many lovely and positive comments on Ita’s playhouse, especially on our seasonal makeovers. As such, I thought I would share more info on her playhouse and on how we create the little transformations.

Just before the Halloween transformation

Ita has had this playhouse now for around 3 and ½ years as it was a present for her first birthday. It was from Waltons (links below) and is called the ‘Snug Playhouse’ measuring 4×4 feet. Currently inside there is a wooden kitchen, a box of small toys and a little chair and with this there is still room to move freely. It is a really good size for a small child especially and as it also has shatter proof windows on 3 sides, it is also perfect for parents too.

The playhouse comes unpainted so we used Cuprinol white (called white daisy) and pink (called sweet pea) paint to decorate both the outside and the inside, and bought 6 carpet squares from B&M to cover the flooring. I have seen others use vinyl and I think it looks brilliant. Because the playhouse has a felt roof, it is very waterproof and the carpet is still in good shape! It is also anti rot and has a 10 year guarantee. This is really worth knowing as so many playhouses on the market do not have this guarantee.

Ita on her 1st birthday with her birthday present!

Initially, I wanted something quite simple for Ita so once it was painted, I more or less just added a little fence border, potted plants and fairies to the outside area. Over the years the space around the playhouse has changed somewhat. It is currently in its festive décor as seen below.

Christmas

These items, the Christmas trees, were sourced from Facebook Market place. One was £5 and the other was £10. Out of shot is one that we picked up for FREE! As these items are outdoors, I would not suggest paying a lot as the weather can deteriorate them sharpishly. I bought a can of spray snow for £2.99 from our garden centre and added bows that were years old and heading to the bin this Christmas.

My absolute favourite time of year for the playhouse would be Easter. After the harsh winter this is usually when we give it a little freshen up using the white paint. We only do this once a year.

The photo below was actually taken during lockdown this year and Ita had asked that we turned it into a ‘home for bunnies’. The wisteria was from eBay at around £8 per stem (there are only 2 here). The other artificial flowers are from last year and too were from eBay and also Home Bargains. The little bunnies were from The Range and eBay. We tend to stick to lilacs, yellows and pinks during this period. I absolutely love how bright it looks! As does the Easter bunny aka daddy!

Easter
Easter

Lockdown was a really difficult period for everyone and I felt so relieved that Ita had this little playhouse because it created a separate area of play to keep her occupied. She also enjoyed having her own enclosed area which was safe for her to do so. Now she is a bit older she takes so much pride in organising how it looks and is already talking about whether Santa will know where her own house is!

Halloween 2020!

The playhouse is currently £252.99 but it will also be in the black Friday sale so look out for a bargain! What an amazing Christmas gift it would make!

Specifics

Certified by European Toy Safety Standards EN71 for ages 36 months +

10 Year Anti Rot Guarantee

12mm Interlocking Shiplap Tongue & Groove Cladding

Mineral Felt Included

Planed & Rounded Timbers

Supplied unpainted

100% Shatterproof Styrene Windows

Link to the Snug Playhouse;

https://www.waltons.co.uk/waltons-snug-playhouse-4×4

https://www.waltons.co.uk/playhouses-and-outdoor-toys

Autumn 2019

Giving Back this Christmas, 2020

It would be fair to say that 2020 has been the weirdest year. The covid pandemic was a real shock to the world and most have been affected by it in one way or another. It changed everything we had planned but I am absolutely determined that it won’t affect Christmas. (Even if it seems we’re heading back into a national lockdown…). Our little tradition with Ita of giving back is needed more now than ever. Seeing so many families and businesses affected this year has really put so much into perspective.

Christmas 2019

I personally feel that Christmas is so important. It stays with you into adulthood and it’s when memories are made. For some, it’s an especially hard time though.

There is so much that you can do when it comes to being generous during the festive period. Even buying a bit extra on your food shopping and donating it to your local food bank is incredibly kind and will go to a family who needs a little help.

I did a blog post on ‘Giving Back’ last year which is still pretty relevant so this year I have decided to focus specifically on children (and toy donations).

For many years we have donated new toys and selection boxes to our local hospital because I have always felt especially sad for children who are unwell and who have had to spend the festive period in hospital. The new toys are wrapped by the fundraising department and handed out to the children on Christmas morning as an extra special gift.

Having had a mum who worked every single Christmas day as a nurse for almost 22 years, I also felt rather sorry for the staff too, so we have sent lots of chocolate in the past!

This year, our local hospital is unsure whether they can accept physical gifts/ donations due to the virus and the risks involved. With this in mind, and still wanting Ita to learn how fortunate she is, I have found some amazing charities who we will be donating new toys to. However, it does not need to be a bag of gifts that you donate, one is enough to make a difference to a childs Christmas.

ALDERHEY CHRISTMAS CHARITY APPEAL

Alderhey arrange to accept toys at Christmas time for their Christmas charity appeal. The toys are set aside into ones for children to play with at the hospital and ones to gift children who are very unwell.

For more information about how they manage toy donations at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, then please contact them via the link below. They will arrange a drop off time to ensure everything is safe.

https://www.alderheycharity.org/magic/ways-to-help/donate-toys-games-or-other-gifts/

GREAT ORMOND STREET APPEAL

Much like Alderhey, GOSH accept donations in the form of money and also toys.

Please do contact them before donating toys because their criteria is different to Alderhey. Email is below along with the link to their website.

Where to send your gifts;

Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity

40 Bernard Street

London

WC1N 1LE

Email: giftsinkind@gosh.org

https://www.gosh.org/donate/donating-toys-and-games

SALVATION ARMY

Many Salvation Army churches and centres across the UK will be running a Christmas Present Appeal, collecting donated presents until mid-December.

Please support your local Christmas Present Appeal by finding your nearest appeal and donating new, unwrapped toys and gifts for children who might not otherwise receive a Christmas present.

The gifts will then be wrapped and distributed to those in need.

To find out where to donate your gift or for more information on the Christmas Present Appeal please contact your local Salvation Army church or centre.

https://www.salvationarmy.org.uk/map-page

https://www.salvationarmy.org.uk/christmas-present-appeal

KIDSOUT GIVING TREE

If you are working from an office then KidsOut’s Giving Tree initiative invites firms to ditch the Secret Santa and buy toys for children in local refuge homes instead. Many of the recipients are children who have escaped domestic violence, being forced to flee their homes quickly and leave all possessions behind. Without Giving Tree, these children may not otherwise receive a gift at Christmas.

This year, the Giving Tree is going digital because of the Covid issues!

Donations can be made by texting the code GIVINGTREE followed by a space and the amount as a number to 70085.

** For example, to donate £10 you would text the following to 70085: ‘GIVINGTREE 10’. You can opt to give any whole amount up to £20.

https://www.kidsout.org.uk/how-companies-can-help/giving-tree/

EMBRACE DEAR SANTA APPEAL

This one is particularly close to my heart because of my line of work. Dear Santa is a seasonal appeal to deliver gifts of choice to children and young people harmed by serious crime across the UK, the Channel Islands and Isle of Man.

Children referred for a Dear Santa gift may have suffered trauma as the result of sexual abuse, violence or neglect, or have lost a parent or loved one to homicide.

Dear Santa allows the nominated child to choose their own gift (worth up to £30) which is placed on the Dear Santa Wish List for public donation.

Embrace CVOC will wrap and deliver your gift in time for Christmas Day.

100% of your donation goes to your chosen child.

•           To nominate a child you must be police or work in a statutory role. Parental/ Guardian consent is required.

https://embracecvoc.org.uk/dear-santa/

SHOE BOX APPEAL

And of course, the famous shoe box appeal! Each year thousands of people like you generously pack shoebox gifts to bless children in need around the world. Find out all you need to know about how to pack your shoebox gift below.

https://www.samaritans-purse.org.uk/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child/

https://www.samaritans-purse.org.uk/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child/gifts-in-kind-opportunities/

To find out about other ways to give back, please see last years post in the link below

https://garciafamilyuk.com/2019/11/27/giving-back-this-christmas/

Which one will you donate to?

If you do take part, please don’t forget to tag us on our Instagram account so I can share 💖

The Marriott Regents Park Hotel Staycation (With Elmer the Patchwork Elephant)

Press Visit

It’s no secret that this year has scuppered our travel plans. We were really fortunate to have gone to Dubai in January but our dream holiday to Disneyworld was cancelled and our ‘make up for it’ trip to Disneyland Paris was also vetoed. The thing about holidays and breaks away is that they really are essential for me. I work from home mostly and manage cases of significant child abuse. I don’t really get that feeling of closing the office door and much of my work lingers in my mind. Our trips away really give me the re-set that is absolutely essential when working in this line of work. In fact, holidays provide this for so any people. A re-set. Aside from this, they are often the places where families make the fondest memories that they go on to tell year after year.

Ita with Elmer!

With all this in thought, on the weekend we had a much needed ‘staycation’ in London. Ok so we didn’t exactly travel far, but the night away provided us with the little break we so badly craved! We packed our over night bags and drove to Regents Park where we stayed at The Marriott Hotel.

Currently, Marriott Hotel Regents Park has a special ‘’Celebrate Elmer the Patchwork Elephant’s 30th Anniversary’’ offer for families.

This offer includes:

• An overnight stay in a spacious Deluxe Family Room

• A welcome gift for children (choose from an Elmer themed gift such as a patchwork rucksack, costume, book or comfort blanket alongside some sweet treats)

Our lovely surprise!

Ita loves Elmer and spotted the colourful patchwork elephant as soon as we made our way from the carpark to the hotel reception. I genuinely believe that seeing Elmer subtly let Ita know that this was going to be a fun stay for her. Immediately we got the sense that the hotel was incredibly child friendly and this was confirmed by the lovely host upon check-in. Our room was not quite ready so my number was taken and we decided to venture to Camden Town. We took a black cab which was waiting outside and it cost us £8.

After mooching around Camden for a little while, I received a call to let me known our room was ready and Ita was very keen to head back and check out our room. We were very impressed and even more so when Ben from reception called up to make sure that we had everything we needed.

I have to admit, I was blown away by the size of the family room. There was lots of space and having the Elmer goodies ready and waiting made Ita feel incredibly special. Straight away she wanted to do the activity booklet.

It’s completing her Elmer activity pack

After an hour of Ita jumping on the huge bed, we were ready for our pool booking.

Due to covid and the necessary precautions, you must book the pool and gym amenities and this can be doing via reception. You simply choose a time and you can access the area for an hour. This is to ensure only a limited amount of people are in the pool at any one time. I would suggest booking this asap because the pool and gym is actually part of a leisure centre and not just for the hotels residents.

The pool was clean and warm and an hour was definitely long enough as Ita was visibly shattered afterwards. We had planned to eat at the hotel restaurant but because Ita was so tired we decided to order a pizza to eat in our room! Currently Carluccios, the restaurant attached to the hotel, is closed and so is the hotels main restaurant. Although, you can order and eat in the lobby area. For us, this actually worked in our favour because the simplicity of eating dinner in our room added to feeling comfortable and relaxed. Fortunately the hotel is well placed for lots of local good food too!

Of course there was bed jumping…

After, what felt like the best nights sleep, we got ready for breakfast. We headed down stairs to the ground floor where a buffet style set up was arranged. You can go up to the station and choose your food, but a member of staff puts the food onto your plate for you. The breakfast room was spacious and the food was really good. The selection was well varied for even the fussiest of eater! We were so pleased that we were able to eat breakfast in the dining room. Safety measures were in place with staff wearing PPE. Simply being able to sit down and drink a warm coffee was lovely.

Check out was quick and simple thanks to the quick service check-out. I don’t think we ever used these before having a child but now they are an absolute blessing!

The staff at Marriott’s Regents Park were all so courteous and friendly.

I asked Ita what her favourite part of the stay was and she said ‘’swimming’’. Had we been able to stay longer, I would have booked a pool slot for the Sunday too. Instead, we had just enough time to walk around and see a few of the many animals placed around the hotel. I can honestly say though, Ita loved this break and it was largely down to Elmer and the thoughtful Elmer gifts.

An idea of some of the goodies children get to pick from

I know I have already said this but the hotel really is perfectly situated for seeing London. Although we headed to Camden, the hotel is very close to central London as well as other family friendly places to explore such as;

ZSL London Zoo – 1.6km away 

Camden Market – 1.6km away

Madame Tussauds – 3.1km away

Hyde Park – 4.3km away

Oxford Street – 7.4km away

There is even a Regents Park Mystery Treasure Trail!

We have previously done detailed posts on ZSL London Zoo and Madame Tussauds so do check them out. It is handy to know that Merlin do offers on their attractions and again, booking ahead secures you with really good deals.

We had a thoroughly enjoyable stay. The hotel was large and clean and our room was perfect for a family break. We all felt very safe and the precautions that Marriott Regents Park Hotel have put in place are enough to keep you safe without impeding in your stay. I think staycations are going to be popular because of all of the uncertainty when it comes to travelling. And as such, this is one offer I really recommend booking up. Having had a quick look, there is availability during the Half Term and a few weekends throughout November and December. This hotel would be ideal if you are hoping to visit London over the festive season.

The hotel is so clean and has lots of these hand sanitiser stations

This family offer (with Elmer) is running until 16 January 2021.

For further information or to book your stay, click the link below.

https://www.marriott.co.uk/hotels/hotel-deals/lonrp-london-marriott-hotel-regents-park/

By way of a quick round up;

The collaboration with Elmer is only running until 16 January 2021

The hotel is centrally located to London’s top attractions

The hotel has a car park

The hotel has a pool and gym (remember to book your slots!)

The restaurant is currently closed but there are lots of food outlets locally

Don’t forget to check out our IGTV of our stay!

Thank you so much to Marriott Regents Park for hosting us.

Outside the hotel 🐘

Halloween Festival, Marsh Farm Essex

(Press Trip)

We have just returned home from a brilliant day at Marsh Farm and all I want to do it talk about it! As always, the theme is eccentric and detailed and we had such a ghoulishly fun day.

Ita and Frank

At the moment, you can buy tickets to either the pumpkin patch or the halloween festival (which includes access to the pumpkin patch). From the moment we entered the farm we could see lots of pumpkins and decorations and we even got to meet a character straight away.

I think I have spoken about this a lot, but meeting “characters” is one of the best things you can do from a child’s point of view. It really brings it to life! Ita also met Frankenstein and a fortune teller! There were also other characters including an incredibly tall skeleton, a wizard and a walking pumpkin!

Ita collecting her sweeties from the beautiful fortune teller

To start off with, we played a quick round of crazy golf. I always convince Ita that crazy golf starts at the 8th hole… thank me later parents! The area here is not manned so golf clubs are sorted into ones that are clean and ones that need to be disinfected but the signs are very obvious.

We then headed to the 3D cinema to watch Hansel and Gretal. The show is on quite frequently but remember you need to wear a mask inside unless you’re exempt – they do have ones on the door which I was really impressed with because as good as we are, Dominic forgot his today and we thought it would mean that we had to miss certain things out. Ita loved the show – it wasn’t scary at all so perfect of your child is slightly apprehensive about Halloween. (Just like Ita is!).

Pumpkin picking!

There are 2 small fairground rides situated just by the 3D cinema so Ita went on these and then we decided to collect our Halloween Quiz sheet to hopefully follow the trail and win a sweet treat! To collect your form, you need to head to where the bouncy pillow is. Ita actually got one wrong (LOL to blaming the child) but she was given a riddle and asked to repeat it to the fortune teller. The fortune teller must know all of the riddles off by heart because she knew which question Ita had gotten incorrect. Long story short, Ita got her treats! The story tellers set up is brilliant and is such a gorgeous photo opportunity.

Close by was the pumpkin patch so we headed there. The field was packed with lots of pumpkins and different squash but it was quite busy so we didn’t spend much time here. Again, there are lots of photo set ups. All gorgeous and detailed. When you enter the farm you are given a £3 voucher for a pumpkin and there are actually lots available at decent sizes for this price.

There is also a Halloween funfair here now and it looks really good! It was just a tad too scary for us but what a fab addition to the event!

Yet another photo opportunity

The Halloween Festival includes:

🧟 Spooky Walkaround Entertainment
🎃 Free Pumpkin to the value of £3 per full paying child
🎃 Free entry to our Pumpkin Village
🎥 3D Halloween Cinema
🤪 Adventure Play
⛱️ Sand Pit Fun
⛳ Crazy Golf
🍔 Takeaway Food & Drink
🐷 Adorable Animals
🎠 Carousel and Tea Cup Rides
🤪 Outdoor Play
🏰 Bouncy Pillows
👻 Spooky Fun Fair

The Christmas shop is also open and the ornaments and decorations had me thinking about putting up my tree on 1 Nov… I might still do that!

Anyway back to Halloween… You must book your tickets in advance and the Halloween is only on from 24 – 31 October!

https://ticketing.partyman.co.uk/WebStore/shop/ViewItems.aspx?CG=MF&C=mfhf

Prices are dependent on age but start at £15.99.

We had a brilliant day. I honestly believe that Marsh Farm go to such lengths for their events and it really shows. It is not one to be missed!

Winnifred Sanderson (Hocus Pocus) DIY Costume

After posting this photo of Ita as Winnifred Sanderson from Hocus Pocus, I was blown away by the response. Mostly because we all know Ita isn’t the biggest Halloween fan, so this was the only character she wanted to be… and because buying this costume in the UK is completely unattainable, I put this together myself.

It’s just a bunch of…

I received so many messages asking whether I would consider selling the costume but the truth is, it was a DIY job and is just not good enough to sell on to someone!

Instead, I am going to try and help you to put together this costume, or a very similar and recognisable version anyway.

Firstly, the most recognisable part of Winnie’s outfit is definitely her ginger curly hair and her green cape/dress. These were the first 2 factors that I started looking for. The cape was relatively easy since I had resided myself to the fact that it wouldn’t be the exact same as the one from the movie.

CAPE:

I used this one from Amazon priced at £8.99. You can find similar versions on eBay and Wish for about £5.99 but these could take a long time to arrive and I didn’t think it was worth the risk.

Green velvet hooded cape

https://www.amazon.co.uk/VGLOOKO-Hooded-Halloween-Cosplay-Costumes/dp/B073P6L3WM/ref=sr_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=green+childs+cape&qid=1602693107&sr=8-5

I am sure this is the same cape for slightly cheaper;

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Halloween-Christmas-Hooded-Cloak-Robe-Medieval-Witchcraft-Cape-Robe-Costume/264887939051?_trkparms=aid%3D555018%26algo%3DPL.SIM%26ao%3D2%26asc%3D20160908110712%26meid%3D17e42781c3af4a4c8193790a2a4248be%26pid%3D100677%26rk%3D1%26rkt%3D30%26mehot%3Dnone%26sd%3D273505039761%26itm%3D264887939051%26pmt%3D1%26noa%3D0%26pg%3D2386202%26algv%3DSimplAMLv5PairwiseWeb&_trksid=p2386202.c100677.m4598

You will see that in Winnies costume, she has elongated sleeves but I could not replicate this. Instead I decided to cut the cape so that the bottom curved and then use gold paint to draw on the symbols – again, just like Winnies. I hoped this would distract from the sleeves and I think it did the job!

The paint was Dylon in GOLD 43 and was around £2.50 from ebay. I totally winged the symbols so who knows what they mean!

Gold cloth paint

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/DYLON-3D-FABRIC-CLOTHES-PAINT-GLOSSY-PUFF-PEARL-AVAILABLE-/192364454497?var=&ul_ref=https%253A%252F%252Frover.ebay.com%252Frover%252F1%252F710-53481-19255-0%252F1%253Fff3%253D4%2526pub%253D5574631662%2526toolid%253D10001%2526campid%253D5338624526%2526customid%253D25b3e5d9a6c6650180eab918ae20199c%2526mpre%253Dhttps%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.ebay.co.uk%25252Fitm%25252FDYLON-3D-FABRIC-CLOTHES-PAINT-GLOSSY-PUFF-PEARL-AVAILABLE-%25252F192364454497%25253Fvar%25253D%2526srcrot%253D710-53481-19255-0%2526rvr_id%253D2642855962288%2526rvr_ts%253D27fc590b1750ad3952b51039ff1aa20c

I did also intend to glue gold robe along the edge of the cape but I did not have enough left after creating the bodice on the dress. I don’t think it makes a huge difference but if I had some I would have definitely added it. I think it would have created weight to the cape (which is very light) so it would have flowed better.

I then simply used an old brooch to tie the cape together at the front and used a slight bit of elastic at the back to create the illusion that it was more fitted then it really is.

HAIR:

Winnies red curly hairstyle is really synonymous to Hocus Pocus so I knew I had to get this part right to make the outfit recognisable. Many of the wigs were simply way to expensive. One from America was over $130 so it was totally out of the question. There was one for £40 on eBay but I did think it was slightly too expensive so I decided to make my own. It was actually far easier than I expected.

I cannot find the exact same one that I used but if you search ‘ginger curly wig’ plenty of options will come up and you will be able to choose the best option based on your budget. The one we used was approx. £12.

This one is very similar. One with a long fringe is ideal because it provides you with the ability to make it look a bit messy.

Wig from eBay

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/GINGER-RED-COPPER-Costume-fashion-party-Long-Curly-Straight-Wavy-Women-full-WIG/321842347431?_trkparms=ispr%3D1&hash=item4aef4c7da7:g:DQYAAOSw~gRV2w~k&amdata=enc%3AAQAFAAACcBaobrjLl8XobRIiIML1V4Imu%252Fn%252BzU5L90Z278x5ickk5v8gVt3hEWLVg%252F253w6XCalRzIjGcY45H3ozH%252B1MxBKjy2BUmsgp5MSguqteU6jsSb0BYiDGa4Bdde29vuw%252FgQRnbyBHTgTXx458yDn39Qyq5prbg%252FwxujN%252F%252BG6d8xamGH7uewYcQA%252BHQsEF%252BhBmERxtOn84ZyEayJHeLG3%252BgZu3wL1vYvZHEaWFjU62hRSwwZMX%252FUaWRa91lMJqqHyZEHY5qlEHoQfn%252FDPBjRguzsvnc6c6CCpMCLLoiTPCVra7FLOqZC8Ibl3vivIS%252BeOCGvnzzERfi66KtnZl32CTVd03vGydJIY3yYrB2NZXNooRy05NqTWJu3z7nRVJ4bmLuWfkzxQaX02V9RxLBBxaz76OEmNLE7z5MVKKBppmuwNdurs2EbHkA8E1Pu9LshsecCJZA8EesVXZVLugb0uY2OMg7Jz4JiTqAzQw43%252FO8TEx2EwFvVe2GCx73GBaPc%252BcZ8VykRklK0SOjP9kcmBqd%252BGjT8DEnW5EFdX9RzIfZYLjPxOWwe0thoOMssXKX7JXmhj9VW4EKrseUa1bgBui5vDlekkoEi9DFVS8JzIx5WS%252FNaum7BtNfhSQlpDEs7bi06J9hhqzjBHPGyAHjcW4hY7gM17C2IELDP56iUGXEldw3vOCsiMUQuiI664lWardo9ySukvfQTDnTKYvY4ah6ubMZUPmpfFqPrw3jF9lE%252Bj5AK6F1xsMyDZzoJ9UwMCdPEAEi%252BYEwa4gZtwDYSMPgsiMvi6nwnWlph32QKX6aCOCpHuL02sAozQysrsWDhRpWA%253D%253D%7Ccksum%3A321842347431077c28957d4c4eb880ee17bbca627652%7Campid%3APL_CLK%7Cclp%3A2334524

Ok so making the wig into Winnies hair…

You will need LOTS of hairspray and pins for this. LOTS. I also wish that I had used 2 small doughnuts for this too as I think it would have been far easier to pin into place.

Essentially the goal is to create two space buns and cover them with curls.

Start by separating the hair into pig tails. Tie one section to keep it separate.

Take the first side and (keeping the fringe and some strands separate), tie it into a high pig tail. Once tied up, you can either curl the wig on a lower heat or you can twist strands into a curl and pin this way. I curled much of the wig because I felt it looked better. Then repeat on the other side.

You might find it ends up looking surprisingly neat. So gently pull the hair from the front to create more of a bouffant look.

I know this sounds difficult, but it is easier than you think! You can keep adjusting it until it looks right. Use plenty of hairspray to keep it in place.

I have googled Winnifred Sanderson countless times and in almost every photo her hair looks different. It just has to be recognisable.

DRESS:

Under Winnies green cape is a purple dress with a gold laced bodice. This was so hard to find and the closest I came to it was this below.

Purple witches dress

https://www.partydelights.co.uk/halloween-costumes/childrens-be-witched-costume-11242.aspx?ChosenSize=FANC11243&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIwsOV7ce07AIVB7LtCh1yNw06EAQYASABEgKEWfD_BwE

I removed the silver buckle and using the gold rope that I bought from eBay, hot glued it along the already existing black bodice.

MAKE-UP:

I think it goes without saying that for Winnie, its all about the lips. So I simply used a bit of red lipstick drawn only in the middle of Itas lips to create the look.

So as you can see, it was quite a bit of effort. Ita absolutely loved it though! So much so that I took around 50 photos just trying to capture one of her not smiling!

She just wanted to keep smiling!