Winter is well and truly settling in. With the occasional frost in the morning, the autumnal leaves dropping off the trees and the stress excitement of Christmas building it leaves us lusting after a break of some sort but alas, there is so much to do! The idea of going on holiday over the festive period sends chills down my spine! So, I look at going away once the dust has settled.
Personally, we cannot afford to go abroad. Whilst package holidays may appear cheap, the costs soon add up with travel, meals, excursions and any thing else. As a result we tend to stick to breaks at my Auntie's and Uncle's apartment in Hope Cove, Devon.
Naturally I would ask my Auntie and Uncle if the apartment in Hope Cove is available as it is a place where I feel so at peace. It is a place that as soon as I arrive, a weight feels lifted from my shoulders and I can just relax. Plus we usually go with family so we get the added bonus of quality family time (and you all know how happy that makes me!).
That said, one of my favourite holidays, aside from my wedding-come-honeymoon (obviously!), was a trip to Butlins. The husband and I went there with my best friend and her partner to celebrate their daughter's first birthday. Basically it was just an excuse to indulge ourselves in an affordable break and a lot of cheesy entertainment. I have yet (six years later) to laugh as much as I did then!
I always feel that the beginning of the year can be a bit of a let down. We are so used to being full of optimism and excitement on New Years' Eve that a couple of days later it all feels a little like a crash. Personally, I think going on Easter breaks can be the perfect pick me up, something to look forward in those times of gloom and I think everyone needs something to look forward to!
In answer to my own question, it is never too early to plan a holiday or an event to look forward to. My personal countdowns start as soon as they are booked!
I am a HUGE old-school Take That fan. I remember them the first time they were a huge hit in the early 1990s and, sadly, never got to see them live as a five-piece. I did make their reunion tour at Milton Keynes in 2006 which is a fond memory, despite the HOURS it took to get out of the car park, never mind the journey home.
My personal favourite is Robbie Williams from the original five-piece line up with Gary Barlow as a very close second, or my favourite from the four-piece line up. Gary also happens to be my favourite X Factor judge (who would have thought...).
Those of you that know me or follow me on Twitter will also know I am an avid soap watcher and enjoy the meerkats from Compare the Market which sponsor Coronation Street With all that in mind, you can imagine my excitement when I was offered the chance to give away five of his latest album, with a limited edition meerkat sleeve. I say five but as a fan of both the meerkats (always a must-see at the zoo for Harry!) and Mr Barlow,I have kept one for myself, sorry about that but I hope you can forgive me! You can watch Gary Barlow's involvement with the meerkats over at the official website.
Back to the give away, simply fill in the rafflecopter below and good luck!
After the stress of the last year, there is not much more that I would like right now than a winter family get away that captures the mood of the festive season without breaking the bank. It is possible to visit three of Europe’s most beautiful cities in just a week. Prague, Vienna and Budapest are all beautiful, rich in history and culture, with something to please all tastes and ages.
I would begin my trip in Prague to soak up the many museums, galleries and restaurants, in a heavily pedestrianised city that’s easy to get around. With his most recent toy obsession at pre-school being the wooden train track I would keep Harry entertained with a trip to Vytopna Railway Restaurant, situated on Wenceslas Square. Not only do they offer great food at affordable prices, but a 400m miniature railway runs around the whole restaurant, and even delivers drinks to your table. I can just imagine the look of delight on Harry’s face!
A visit to the visually stunning Charles Bridge is essential, or so I have been told by friends who have visited. It is littered with street vendors selling food and trinkets. A top tip if you want to avoid the crowds is to get there for dawn and enjoy an amazing sunrise overlooking the Vlatva River. Petrin Hill is another area on my wish list, with its vast green space, beautiful gardens, the Church of Saint Michael and even a miniature version of the Eiffel Tower.
Although famous for its classical music, ballet and architectural history (and the reasons why it is another city I would love to escape to), Vienna also welcomes children with open arms and most places worth visiting are made to appeal to children as much as adults. You can easily spend an entire day at Schonbrunn Palace, which features a palace tour, the world’s oldest zoo and a children's museum. I can imagine Harry dressing up in the imperial costumes and playing with toys, and then take we would take him outside to explore the Maze and Labyrinth.
Sadly for me (a non-driver), many of Vienna’s greatest experiences are only accessible by car, the majority of roads throughout are well-treated both in urban and rural environments. However, after reading the following from Mike Callaghan a spokesperson and Head of Argus Car Hire I think I would have to persuade the husband to hire a car for this visit!
"It's a fact that driving around Vienna is very popular as many of the roads offer some of the best views in the whole of Europe. It would be wise avoiding using the vehicles horn in Vienna or near hospitals as you may easily receive a fine. It is illegal to overtake school buses when the yellow lights on the vehicle are flashing. Also know a warning triangle, first-aid kit and reflective vest must be kept in the car at all times. They are considered essentials and there are chances to receive a fine"
As I would be visiting Budapest for the first time, I would like to take a cruise down the Danube River to enjoy panoramic views of the city. I would check out the crown jewels at Hungary’s Parliament building and walk across the Chain Bridge, the first to connect Buda to Pest. I think Harry will be spellbound by The Palace of miracles, which is an interactive science museum designed for children, located in the Campona Shopping Mall. Highlights include the simulated, low-gravity ‘moonwalk’ and the ‘miracle bike’.
Czech out your spending
After a busy day sightseeing with a hungry, restless child in tow, it is all too tempting to dive into the nearest restaurant. Sometimes it is worthwhile going off the beaten track a little, and you will often find more authentic food at cheaper prices. Find somewhere with a free Wi-Fi connection and check out the top bars and eateries on Trip Advisor. When driving for extended periods of time, try grab some food from a local mini mart to avoid shelling out at petrol stations.
Avoid child road rage
Having children in a car for an extended period of time can really test your patience, especially on foreign roads. If they don’t have access to a portable games console or tablet, there are other ways to keep them quiet, or at least entertained - we all know a quiet child is usually up to no good!
As kids love to talk about themselves, ask them questions which will open up debate and stimulate their mind at the same time. Also don’t forget to download and print off Argus' very own kids eBook, packed with games and activities to keep them from uttering that famous, and very annoying question ‘Are we nearly there yet?’.
With the cold weather starting to settle in, my body has started to feel more sore than ever despite the pain relief. With our curtains being fitted this week, the husband has been sanding, filling, sanding, filling and finally painting our bedroom at long last, thus Daddy Daycare has taken somewhat of a back seat and it has been left to me to try to entertain Harry when he is not at pre-school.
Saturday was a beautiful sunny day but both my mood and pain got the better of me so we spent a lazy morning and early afternoon reading, playing with puzzles and various activities at home. Spending such a large amount of time with Harry after his two full days at pre-school always seem to be a lot of fun, perhaps I just appreciate it more than the day or two before his pre-school time. When Harry very sweetly, complete with doey eyes, asked if I could take him to the play park, how could I refuse?
This was the first time Harry noticed our shadows and he was trying to catch them. Perhaps the low, late afternoon sunshine played a part, maybe in the mind of a 3.5 year old it is somewhat of a novelty to see the long shadows at the park. Fascination with the shadows didn't last long. Soon Harry made the most of the reason for going to the playground, which is of course to play!
We were only there for a short time, maybe 30 minutes as the sun was setting and just watching him have so much fun brought me a lot of fun too and really made the whole weekend for me in fact. Days like that remind me what it is like to see the excitement of the outdoors world through the eyes of a young, ever-growing child. So ordinary to an adult, so magical to a child.
I am linking this post up to three linkies, Magic Moments, Ordinary Moments and Country Kids. Do go and take a look at what some other people are linking up to this week.
Harry has really enjoyed the Autumn this year. He has been fascinated by all of the different colours that the season brings and enjoyed examining the leaves on our brief strolls through the park.
Late Tuesday afternoon, we decided to head outside for a breath of fresh air and it struck me how rapidly the seemingly brief Autumn turns into the long Winter and I finally managed to get a few snap shots of Harry enjoying it.
Can you caption this one?
You know what to do by now; go forth and spread the caption love with Mammasaurus.
After being told way back at the beginning of this year that actually, it is a good idea for me to have a series of operations in order to prevent my conditions from worsening, I finally have a date for my first operation in order to treat, rather than cure, the hydrocephalus.
All being well, I shall be admitted into Frenchay Hospital to under-go an Endoscopic Third Ventriculostomy on 20th December. A small hole will be drilled into my skull and an endoscopic catheter will be passed through, allowing my surgeon to operate. During the procedure itself a small perforation is made in the thinned floor of the third ventricle of the brain. This will then allow my cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to flow more freely out of the blocked ventricular system and into the interpenducular cistern, the normal place for CSF. The objective is basically to normalize the pressure the fluid is placing on my brain and avoid the need for the more traditional "shunt" method of treating hydrocephalus.
Image courtesy of Boians Cho Joo Young / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Of course, whilst I have this date and I am making the necessary preparations with my family, I am only too aware that neuro beds are in high demand and there is a possibility that the operation could be cancelled at the last minute so I am also trying not to get my hopes up too much. I must admit, that is a little hard after waiting for so long and having two lots of pre-ops due to the various delays!
The husband wants to be with me when I go into hospital and wait whilst I have the surgery. Although this is usually a full pre-school day for Harry, it will be tricky for the husband to take Harry, wait at the hospital and be back for Harry's collection time since we do not have a car. Also, Harry is not allowed to visit for the duration of my stay, so I have family offering to help with watching him so the husband can come and visit me. To make things a little easier for everyone else, we are considering taking Harry out of pre-school for that day.
I am also unsure of the length of time I am likely to stay in. When I called the secretary yesterday, she seemed to think I would be out the following day. Yet I am sure the NS originally said I would be in for three nights and that seems to be the consensus from people I know who have already had this procedure. I just hope and pray that I don't get an infection and there are no complications. If there are any complications, it is unlikely I will be out of hospital before Christmas.
Aside from when I had Harry via emergency c-section I have never stayed in hospital and, quite frankly, I am not looking forward to it and even while I was in with Harry I could not wait to leave. I know Harry will be in good hands, as will I. I just can't shift this nervous feeling although I am not sure what I am nervous about but I am relieved that at last I seem to be on my way to getting better!
So my questions dear readers. What will I need to take into hospital with me to keep me occupied during non-visiting hours? And, perhaps more importantly, has the food improved in the last 3.5 years?!
November has been the month of cold dark mornings and evenings, of getting dark before 4 pm. The beginnings of frost underfoot and the start of the excitement of Christmas to come. It is the month when we were all poorly at the same time, suffering with horrendous colds and coughs, all the while we had a broken boiler and no heating or hot water (which as yet remains broken).
It is also the month that we have been reminded that Harry really is no longer a toddler. That he is growing up to be a bright, intelligent and happy young boy. This month he truly showed us how much he enjoys reading and mark-marking. He regularly requests to be read to while we are at home and now refuses to go to bed unless he is read at least two stories. In his mind almost all of them should be read to him!
With this in mind, the picture below is the one I have chosen to link up to Sticky Fingers The Gallery this week for her theme of November. The two books here are Harry's current favourites. Given how frequently he changes his mind on things I am not sure how long they will remain as his favourites.
Winter is an expensive time of year for all of us. Not only does it herald the festivities of Christmas and New Year (shortly followed by my birthday in mid-January ), it is also when the cost of fuel and our consumption of it increases dramatically thanks to the drop in temperature. With each of the "big" energy suppliers announcing price increases in recent weeks, some of which have come into force already, people up and down the country are looking for ways to save money to see them through.
Personally, we are on pay-as-you go meters for both gas and electricity. Whilst I know this isn't the most economical of tariffs, particularly as they are standardised on Economy 7 tariff here thus meaning the cheap electricity is once we are asleep, the husband and myself are not that great at saving money so are remaining on them for the time being at least. In the past we, like many people take out loans at Christmas.
These days however, we look at tightening our belts in other ways. Now we can see our consumption a lot more, we definitely make a more conscious effort to save electricity by simple things like ensuring we turn lights out in rooms we aren't using (this has taken some getting used to after living in one room for nine months!), unplugging appliances when not in use and only putting in the amount of water into a kettle that we actually need. Whilst these may not make much difference in the short-term, in the longer term and certainly over a year, you would notice the difference, especially if you set aside the savings in cold hard cash with an account from Halifax bank.
We have also recently managed to halve our weekly shopping by switching our supermarket. Although this was primarily for convenience (no loyalty here! Whichever one is easiest to get to and from without a car!) there has been such an impact on our finances that I sing the praises of it to anyone who will listen. The downside to this particular one, is that the choice is more limited than in one of the traditional "big four" supermarkets so the husband often has to think on his feet to amend our planned meals according to what is in store.
How do you manage to fund the extra expense that Winter brings? Do you borrow money or make cut backs throughout the year?
I love spending time with my family. They are the main, if not sole reason, we moved to Bristol from Bournemouth. It took about 18 months to persuade the husband from when I initially realised I wanted to move about half-way through my pregnancy, to him agreeing, then another six months whilst we waited for my redundancy to be finalised following a few delays.
The Bristol contingent of the family generally get together every few weeks but this weekend was a little bit special. My Auntie and Uncle who are now based in Dublin came over and so my cousins who are studying in Loughborough and Manchester made the trip down as did another cousin who is working and studying for a Master's degree in London. My cousin's good friend also joined us for the day bringing the total to 21 (we think!).
After a morning of ice-skating at the local rink that has been set up especially for the festive period, we all went back to my Auntie and Uncle's house for the rest of the day, enjoying catching up, being entertained by the children, getting agitated at the rugby and football scores (Ireland and Manchester United supporters in the family) and enjoying good food.
The children of the family of course ate first and they do enjoy eating together. Harry always requests a little bit of everything, filling his plate and of course rarely eats it all. It's a good job that the older boys men in the family are big, rugby playing lads but even then there always tends to be food left over.
When the children had finished and gone off to play it was time for us adults to warm up with a delicious chilli, rice, jacket potato and salad; it's safe to say that filled a hole!
Next up was the all important rendition of "Happy Birthday" for my cousin as well as a selection of desserts. Our contribution was a home-made banoffee pie, which usually goes down a treat at our family gatherings. I say "our" contribution. Really it was the husband who went to Asda, bought the ingredients and put it all together while I was napping the day before in an effort to finally shift the poorly, run down feeling I'd had all week. Top husband if you ask me and he certainly earned a decent amount of husband points! Desserts always fare well with the family and as ever, there was a variety to choose from! Birthday cake, Pavlova, a sorbet type thing, chocolate cake and of course my the husband's banoffee pie.
I am so very blessed with my family. They are always there for me and we always have a good time whenever we do get together. With busy lives to lead we are doubtful that we will get to see the Bristol based family again before Christmas now and who knows when we will next all get together? Living in all corners of the country it is a struggle to get everyone in one place but the times we do are certainly treasured by us all.
How often do you get to spend time with your family and what do you get up to?