Category Archives: family

Why comfort-loving city slickers are hopping on their bikes and heading to Center Parcs…

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Not too shabby!

Center Parcs is the perfect place for middle-class urbanites to go off road and embrace the great outdoors from the comfort of their state of the art, WiFi enabled log cabins. What’s not to love!

It’s our second visit to Woburn Forest since it first opened last Easter and we’ve even ended up booking the same cabin, much to my children’s delight. Having learnt firsthand how important bikes are for getting around the site, we’d invested in some hardcore bike racks for the trip. And by defying the laws of physics, we managed to strap five bikes and a roof box to our trusty Citroen C4 before braving the M25 to get here. I could tell Dave was nervous as he gingerly manoeuvred our beast of a vehicle into the slow lane of the motorway. The boys waited with baited breath, craning their necks to watch out of the window in case disaster struck. Admittedly something small and plastic did detach itself from our heavy load somewhere in Hertfordshire but after a quick inspection on the hard shoulder, it was deemed “unimportant” and we completed the rest of our Center Parcs pilgrimage without incident.

The convenience of advance online check-in means that you can drive onsite and straight to the door of your luxury lodge with the minimal amount of fuss. Once inside, those lovely CP peeps really have thought of everything. Flat screen TVs embedded into walls adorned with woodland murals come as standard. The quality of the accommodation is certainly ‘not too shabby’ and a world away from the Haven hellholes we’ve trudged to in the past. The clue is in the price tag, for sure! But care and cleanliness are evident any which way you look. The no-cars-on-site rule means that you can relax as the kids career about on their bikes and scooters. And the sense of detachment and escapism from the real world is indulgently addictive in the bubble that is Center Parcs World.

A holiday here is not without its challenges though. I’ve learnt that wearing make up at Center Parcs is pointless. We’re in and out of the pool so frequently that no sooner have I applied my mascara, I’m wiping it off again in preparation for another chlorine overload. Repeatedly riding the rapids with a bunch of over-excited thrill seekers means that you will invariably end up bum-bumping a hairy middle-aged man as you coast uncontrollably through the current. You also need to be prepared to suffer finger nail scratching and incessant elbowing when your 8 and 6 year olds realise they can only dunk and breathe, dunk and breathe for so long before needing to claw onto a parent for self-preservation purposes. Add hair straighteners, shoes with heals, jewellery and handbags to the list of ‘things that are surplus to requirement at Center Parcs’. I’ve been hopping on and off a bike and in and out of the pool ever since we got here. As a result, only a rucksack and trainers will do and I’ve been rocking the ‘post-swim, air-dried frizz do’ around the clock. And did I mention saddle soreness?! I’m really not used to pedalling to the supermarket to buy milk but that’s what you do here. Lots of little journeys can feel doable during the daytime but my inner thighs beg to differ after dinner. Waddling John Wayne-style becomes mandatory.

Don’t get me wrong though, I feel lucky to be here. The absolute delight on the faces of my children as the screeching monkey alarm alerts them to the fact that the wave machine is about to start is priceless! And the opportunity to watch them scale climbing walls and high ropes is brilliant, compared to our normal weekends on the monkey bars in the local park. Even going on an organised bear hunt with my 3 year old turned into an adventure of sorts; an expedition to Starbucks in search of Rupert struck me as both hilarious and embarrassingly bourgeoisie! In a place where the standard bar snacks menu includes hummus with crudités and you could easily pinch the communal hair-dryers as they’re not bolted to the wall (we didn’t!), I do feel a little spoilt. But as I hope our bank manager and my inner thighs will agree, you get what you pay for in this uber eco, gloriously green, pedal-pushing paradise. And we think it’s worth every penny.

 

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Once upon a time there lived a stressed-out mummy…

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Has anyone ever checked into the Priory with birthday-planning-induced-stress? No!? Then I’m intrigued to know how other parents juggle everything amidst their other daily responsibilities. And PS, by “other parents” I actually mean mums; dads are far more detached from the whole party-bag organising, pass-the-parcel wrapping, perfect-cake ordering ordeal!

It’s my baby girl’s birthday this Friday and she will be 3. With three other older children who have collectively enjoyed 25 birthdays between them, it’s reasonable to assume that I would have picked up a trick or two when it comes to planning birthdays. But in my case experience counts for nothing. I’ve left things far too late and am now having sleepless nights as to whether or not the much-hoped for Princess Elsa dress will arrive on time.

Feeling smug sometime ago, I extensively researched my options online. I shopped around for the best price, I subtly took measurements from her other prized princess-themed costumes and I preordered the perfect dress from an online fancy dress stockist earlier this month. My order arrived last week and as lovely as the dress turned out to be, it’s about four sizes too big. Damn those confusing European measurements!! I should not be left unsupervised with a tape measure in such detail-dependent circumstances again.

I’ve since contacted the retailer but an exchange for a smaller size would have taken too long to arrange so I’ve had to place a new order for the smaller size (and will return the enormous dress for a refund as soon as I find time in my life to get a post office…how retro!) 

Thinking myself clever, I arranged for the second dress to be delivered to Argos using their free collection service and thereby sidestepping the risk of getting one of those ‘sorry we missed you’ cards through the letterbox. But little did I realise that the Argos delivery service takes longer to process (yadda, yadda) and the expected collection date for my order is now three days after the big day. Cue mild to moderate heart palpitations and a series of frantic emails to the retailer. No my order can’t be fast tracked as its already in the system! 

In desperation I order a third dress to be delivered to my home address using the Express Delivery/expensive delivery courier service. Estimated delivery date…Thursday, t-minus 24 hours to B-Day.

All the while my little lady-in-waiting (literally) keeps chattering excitedly about the prospect of finally getting her very own “dress like Frozen“. This week her conversations have been peppered with affirmations like “if I be a good girl, I will have a frozen dress on my party” and “for my present it will be a princess dress if I be good“.

After relaying my fears and frustrations to my other half, we decided we needed a backup plan/dress in case one of the three dresses I’d already ordered doesn’t arrive in time. My earlier consumer research stood true; Amazon and Toys R Us did not have the right dress in the right size. The Disney Store sees it fit to charge £40 for their ‘official’ version but as my toddler is yet to become label savvy, and because I thoroughly object to spending that kind of money on a dress she will wear for dog walks and Tesco trips, the Disney dress was designated Plan D (to be bought in desperation on Thursday evening if all else fails). Talking of Tesco, they currently only have Elsa-style dresses for 7-8 year olds (God help us if she’s still bonkers about ballgowns at that age!) Our hopes were raised when I rang Matalan and a woman named Mandy went to check stock. I held my breath expectantly, as if I was waiting to secure Glastonbury tickets or hear exam results. “Sorry, we don’t have the Elsie dress at all. Only the Anna one in 5 to 6years“. Aaaaaaaargh!! It’s Elsa! It’s Aah-na! It can’t be this hard!

So although I can congratulate myself on having booked the hall, sent out the invitations, ordered the cake, bought the party bags, haggled with the bouncy castle companies and planned the menu, I may just fall at the final hurdle of giving my daughter the one and only thing she associates with and hopes for on her birthday. First world problems, right!

So it may be time to start seriously considering Plan C – telling our little princess that her birthday isn’t actually until Saturday. This would give us an extra 24 hours to get our act together and to receive one of the many deliveries that should surely arrive by then. After all, she’s only 3. She can’t read the newspaper, she’s not on Facebook, she doesn’t have a calendar, she won’t bloody know! And besides, the date never bothered her anyway….

Now, if only we can convince her three brothers to stick to the story, then everyone will live happily ever after.

 

#100happydays – day 42

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Today was a fairly unremarkable Wednesday until I took the dog for a walk. The kids were at school and nursery so I was looking forward to some ‘chatter-free-no-need-to-referee’ time with just the puppy and my iPod. T’was not to be! We got about 200 yards down the road before Beano made a beeline for the bum of an enormous German Shepherd who appeared to be randomly weaving in and out of parked cars. I then spent the next hour or so doggie stalking (as I tried to work out if he was alone and lost or heading home like Lassie did), sweet talking a van driver to lend me his belt as a makeshift lead to guide the gargantuan beast back to the safety of my garden, googling the RSPCA (and being redirected to the local dog warden service), and trying to prevent my over-excited puppy from potentially pissing off our furry guest. I then had the dilemmas of what to give him to eat (the options were limited to Beano’s Turkey n’ Rice kibble or Lamb n’ Rice kibble…he liked the lamb) and where best to leave him while I dashed to school and back. After a short deliberation I realised the garden was my only option. The boys were just as excited by our garden-guest as Beano and it took all of my patience and powers of persuasion to convince them that no, we should not let him come inside, even just for “a little bit”. By 4pm I was beginning to panic, having not heard back from the RSPCA, Enfield Council or the Dog Wardens. I mentally began planning how to turn the playhouse into a makeshift kennel for the night whilst Reece offered to make flyers to begin mail-shooting the neighbours with. He loves a project! But my ultimate happy-cheesey-Hollywood-style-moment finally came when the dog warden arrived with the fairly distraught owners in tow and my canine squatter was reunited with his family. They were grateful, I was thankful and we all lived happily ever after…for today at least.



#100happydays – day 41

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IMG_7157I’ve really struggled to hone in on my happy moments this week. And after talking to a friend who pointed out how unlikely it would be to have 100 consecutive happy days in a row, I’ve been re-examining my compulsive need to blog about the mundane. Surely the marvellous is more interesting? I reached an editorial low when I realised that Tuesday’s happy moment was having tea and crumpets. And when the delivery of a new filter for my vacuum cleaner was the single most satisfying thing that happened to me on Wednesday, I decided enough was enough. Who reads this shit anyway?!

So, in a bid to reduce my daily to do list and to avoid blogging for the sake of it, my new approach to the happy days project is to only write something when I actually have something to write about.

Today was Mother’s Day and I’m feeling loved. At breakfast-(in bed)-time, Leo announced the day’s itinerary; “We’re having cuddles, lunch and dinner mummy”. I was given 9 cards including 2 laminated ones (apparently Mother’s Day card-making is a competitive sport amongst my lot) as well as the promise of unconditional day-long good behaviour (although her afternoon tantrum in WHSmith suggests that Niamh didn’t fully understand what she was signing up to).

I love the fact that my family are so tactile and so affectionate. Even Seb, my physical-contact-phobic 11 year old, has given me an (albeit fleeting) hug today. And as she cuddled up to me at bedtime, Niamh sweetly explained that she loved me, and daddy, and the boys, and Beano, and Elsa (of the Frozen variety). I asked her what it meant to love someone and she put it plainly…“to be best friends”. So I’m feeling very thankful for all of my best friends today. Happy moments aplenty!IMG_7142

#100happydays – day 36

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Today was World Book Day, an annual event that helps to profile the importance and value literature and the commitment and creativity of mums. Because let’s face it, who actually has an 8 year old bookworm who self-styles themselves into a Dickensian hero? In my experience, most kids just want to be Spider-Man. So since the World Book Day note came home in the school bags, I’ve been batting ideas back and forth in attempts to find literary characters that my children can relate to and I can cobble together a costume for. After last year’s Mr Stink debacle involving a pasta sauce stained shirt and a very unhappy 10 year old, I was determined to send three happily costume-clad kids off to school today. And I think I just about managed to! What’s more, Leo had taken such pride in helping to make his two foot tall Cat-in-the-Hat hat, that my happiest moment came when he ran excitedly out of school waving his certificate for 1st prize in the ‘superb book character costume’ competition. Result! So glad I won…I mean he won! 😜



#100happydays – day 35

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Today has been one of those days when we’ve been late for everything and I’ve exhausted the phrase “Will you please stop arguing!” So after a stressful school run, a long commute to and from work, a hurried dog walk and three separate pickups from school, football practice and nursery, even the children themselves seemed to notice I was running on empty. They still used the sofas as trampolines, had a fist fight over dinner and waterlogged the bathroom but when they collectively clocked my nonchalant, too-tired-to-care attitude (as I collected the soggy towels off their bedroom floors) they ushered me downstairs. There I was instructed to wait in the lounge whilst they disappeared into the kitchen. And when I was eventually allowed to join them, all four proudly presented me with a cup of tea (grey and tepid but I drank every drop), a plate of chocolate biscuits (calories I could really have done without but I ate all three), an episode of Friends ready to play on the telly (one I’d just watched but the only one left on the SkyBox planner) and this sign…

They then took themselves off into the lounge to pacify Niamh with an episode of Peppa Pig and left me alone to enjoy “the peace”. Seb even convinced Niamh to let him brush her teeth and read her bedtime story! My little terrors are in fact little treasures and I’m off to bed feeling very lucky to have them. 

#100happydays – day 29

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IMG_6817The kids got themselves ready for bed tonight because Dave and I were simply too exhausted. We bribed them with the promise of Oreos if they cooperated and no one had a wash. But my grubby little angels were delighted with themselves and we were gleefully gobsmacked. Here’s to detachment parenting!