Saturday 31 May 2014

Six great places to visit for a free family day out in London

A day out in London with your children can be so much fun and does not have to cost the earth. Before our move south last summer our family had always lived in Hertfordshire and this meant just a 20 minute train ride into London. We therefore took a lot of trips into the capital for family days out and I thought I’d share with you some of our favourite places to visit for free.  Yes, that’s right, all the ones I am sharing 
here do not have any entrance cost associated with them.

There are lots of super places in London that are completely free and you will have a great time, especially if the weather is good. Now we live a couple of hours away from London it is even more important that we have thrifty days out in London as it means we can spend our money on staying the night in a hotel and making the most of our time in London.

Coram Fields –
This hidden park close to Kings Cross is loads of fun for primary school aged children, there is loads of play equipment including an aerial slide, a grass area, a paddling pool and sandpit and for the adults a super café. Toilets are on site too for your convenience. This seven acre haven can get busy in the very hot months but it is a fabulous few hours fun.

This museum appeals to children of all ages from toddlers to teens as there are so many areas to explore and the hands on exhibits are particularly good. In the basement you have garden for the younger kids and upstairs is the Launchpad where you can educate and laugh all in one go. Don't forget that if you get bored the National History museum is just next door and entry is free there too.

St James Park & Buckingham Palace –
If you want fun on a bigger scale then head to St James Park and let the kids play ball and run around all the green grassland. or why not scoot through the park and follow the Princess Diana memorial walk. We also like to see the Pelicans and go in the children’s play area, it is a lot of fun with play equipment and sand. We then like to take a walk past Buckingham Palace from here too and the kids wave to the queen. If you have a smart phone just use the maps app to plan out your walking routes, no need to spend money on the tube or buses unnecessarily.

Now obviously you can only visit this one on New Year’s Day but I cannot recommend it more highly.  This parade is a wonderful sight and a full day’s entertainment. The American marching bands and super large balloons are a spectacular sight.

Walk along the South Bank –
There are lots of attractions that you can spend money on along here but our family rarely feel the need. The kids like to take their cameras and cross the bridges and see what they can capture. You can view the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, The London Eye, St Pauls Catherdral and so much more. There are always street performers which are fun to watch the many market stalls and street food traders selling fab trinkets and delicious treats. Check out the Royal Festival Hall too as there are often free small concerts and exhibitions.

This is great in the summer when there are 55 dancing fountains in the front courtyard.  The kids love this on a warm day and it is good to explore the free exhibitions/ family workshops and of course you can take the 45 minute free guided tour if your children are older.

I hope you enjoy.....
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A year in photos - Beautiful flowers and Butlins (week 22)

We started off with a quiet weekend knowing that once Monday came and we arrived at Butlins it would be full on. JJ was away at camp and the girls had a late night as there was a nice fireworks display where we live.  I discovered it is pretty hard to catch good firework photos.

Sunday I took a quiet walk by myself to see how things are changing with the season -

I spotted the gorgeous flowers being arranged for a friends wedding in the week.

Then Monday we headed off to Butlins and it was a great week. I have written about our stay a number of times and we met the fab Clare from Seasider in the City there with her family and some friends.

The 2p arcade machines are a big hit with Miss E.

JJ's highlight was meeting Dick and Dom and having his book signed.

I used Pic Monkey to try out a new effect on this photo and I think it works quite well, it has made it fun and you can still see all their expressions. The girls loved spending time with Clare's son.

Big and Little J are the joint winners of the crazy golf.  Looks at their winners stance!

And sharing a few photos from this weeks Instagram feed too -

We have had a super week and now I'm ready for a nice quiet weekend again and getting back to normal life......

Wishing you a blessed week ahead, Mich x

TheBoyandMe's 365 Linky
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Friday 30 May 2014

Review of Deluxe Suite, Butlins Bognor Regis

We have stayed at Butlins loads of times now but the last time we stayed in Deluxe accommodation was when my twins were 6 weeks old, they are now nearly 7.  I can promise you quite a lot has changed in that time but not everything!

Deluxe is the highest (and most expensive) grade of accommodation at Butlins with the exception of the hotels at Bognor Regis and Blue Skies at Minehead.

For our holiday this time we were staying with a premium dining plan so as half-board guests you would normally just book a room (or rooms if there are many of you) but this means that if you want to relax and watch some TV in the evening you have to do it in your bedroom. This is where the Deluxe Suite is fantastic as it has a separate lounge.

I'll walk you through what you get for your money in a Deluxe suite -

These are situated in Atlantic Bay and this basically means they are on the side of the main entrance, sadly they are across the car park away from the rest of the resort. It is not far to walk but this of course does not provide for a good view to the front, which is a shame as you do get a private patio area and some chairs for sitting out.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Butlins through the eyes of a 6 year old

At the moment we are at Butlins Bognor Regis, staying as part of their Butlins Ambassadors scheme, we arrived yesterday, so this has been our first full day and boy am I tired!

I have only just tucked up my 6 year old twins into bed and they were still protesting that they wanted to do more.  I'll show you exactly what they have been up to today and you will see why I need my bed...

Monday 26 May 2014

Netflix for animal lovers

You might have read last month that I'm a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam and each month I'll be bringing you an update on what Netflix has to offer.

First off I'll start by saying that I am still seriously in love with Netflix, which I generally watch on the big screen via my Apple TV but I also stream on my iPad and laptop. I mentioned last time that despite my slow Internet speeds I have not had any issues streaming Netflix and in the main this is still the same. There has not been one occasion when I could not watch a Netflix show, I've probably had it buffer a handful of times but when I watch it every day I am very happy with this and feel it is performing fabulously.

I have to tell you that I am a bit sad at the moment though, over the last month I've become very addicted to the TV show Suits and I have already watched all the episodes in season 1 and 2 that are on Netflix. I'm now wanting to know when season 3 will be on there! I've had to move onto White Collar and Gossip Girl but they are not quite cutting it, I want my fix of Harvey Spector and Mike Ross!

To take my mind off it I am joining Netflix this month by celebrating our animal friends. Miss M is desperate for a pet but we can not have one here and to be frank, I'm not interested in having any pets, so she has to make do with Nanny's dog, our friends guinea pigs and at our house it is about watching them on TV.

When I come down in the morning I often find Miss M and Miss E watching Cliffords Puppy Days and over the last month we have watched a ton of pet inspired films to satisfy Miss M's appetitue for all things canine. Here are three of our favourites so far -

The great thing with Netflix is that there is always something new to discover, so we won't be running out of dog films any time soon and they have suggested a fun activity for us as well. How do you fancy making a dog sandwich to go with your film?

You will need 
2 x slices of wholemeal bread
1 x wholemeal pita or 1 x slice of wholemeal crust
Your favourite sandwich filling
Cucumber Cheese
Cream cheese (optional)

1. Make a sandwich using two slices of wholemeal bread and your favourite filling
 2. Using a sharp knife, cut out a shape that resembles a pear or light bulb (wide and round at one end and narrower and rounded at the other)
 3. Using either pitta bread or the slice of a crust, cut two teardrop shapes and then tuck these inside the sandwich so that the rounded section is at the top and the point is downwards
 4. To make the nose, cut a slice of cucumber skin and then shape it into a round edged triangle and put it in place
 5. For the eyes, take a slice of cheese and using a circular cutter (small cookie cutter), cut two oval eye shapes. Cut some more cucumber skin and using an apple corer or very small circle cutter, make two pupils from the cucumber skin and place on top of the cheese ovals
 6. To finish, cut some small curves of cucumber skin using a round cutter and place above the eyes. To give the eyes and nose a more lifelike appearance, use a tiny dot of cream cheese to highlight these

Disclosure: I have received a years free membership to Netflix and a free device to become part of the #Streamteam. They have not instructed me what to write and I remain honest, as always. 
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Saturday 24 May 2014

A year in photos - week 21

I forgot to share a couple of good photos I took last week when we visited Bodium castle, so here they are, better late than never!

Ohh and a couple from Bexhill too, it makes me want to drive back there right now -

I've been quite content this week and I feel as if I have achieved a lot but I suppose that is the funny thing of doing a weekly post like this, I now realise that not a lot has gone on in the last week but that is OK.  Life is not always about the big stuff.

Dh worked all last weekend, it was a busy one for him and Sunday afternoon we took the opportunity to meet up with a blogger friend and her sons.  It was super to catch up with Older Single Mum and her boys sure hit it off with my kids. Our feisty ones had a few words but in the main it was all good fun.

This week was Sports day at school and none of the kids were looking forward to it but actually it turned out well as it was pretty non-competitive and everyone did activity at the same time so for a shy one like Miss E there was not the unwanted glares of the whole school watching as you take your turn. I was pleased to catch a shot of Miss E and JJ together, sadly I can't share any of Miss M as there was always other kids in the shots.

Butlins - exciting new changes at Bognor Regis

For the last few weeks I've been receiving a steady stream of emails giving me all the information I need to know before we arrive for our Butlins holiday next week. I have to say that I often just gloss past them as I figure I know most things, having been to Butlins well over a dozen times in the last decade but tonight I decided that I'd follow one of the links and take a browse round the website and see what we could look forward to activities and entertainment wise.

Well, what a wake-up call that was, I'd obviously forgotten that nothing stands still with Butlins. Every season there is something new, an area redeveloped, a new taste sensation and the latest shows for both adults and kids. Talking of shows an Ambassador friend of ours went recently and she has recommended the Cirque de Hilarious as something we have to see. This apparently combines daredevil acts with comedy and will have us all busting our guts! JJ can't wait to see it.

Here is what else we are looking forward to; things that will be a new experience for us at Butlins, Bognor Regis -

*  Dick and Dom will be at Butlins. Can I confess that I am almost as excited about this as the kids are. 

*  I let Miss E have a look around the site and see what she fancies and of course her eye was caught by Mister Maker straight away. This is her favourite show as she loves to draw and create. Sadly I now see that it is not on until the summer holiday but great news for those of you going in the summer.

*  We have not visited the Discovery studio yet at Bognor Regis but Miss M has already pointed this out as an experience she wants to be part of.  3D and animals all in one show are a hit for her. There is a cost of 5.00 per person for this but there is so little that you need to pay extra for that I'm happy to make some payments.

*  I've just pointed out to dh that there is a new evening show called Freddie and it is based on the music of Freddie Mercury and Queen, so now I've been informed we will definitely be going to that!

*  On the food front I spot there is a new diner which just opened this month, my friend Jenny has already been along and reviewed it and now I want to go more than ever. I've also nicked this photo from her, check it out!

*  Then for another day we can try out the new ice cream parlour, Scoop. Another friend of mine Laura, has already tried this out and she says it is good! (Thanks also to her for the image)

As you can see there are so many new things for us to see, do and eat and this is only at Bognor, every site changes regularly. When we were at Minehead in April the funfair had been completely refurbished and was looking fabulous.

If you have any out-of-date or preconceived ideas (hi-de-hi) of what Butlins is like nowadays I can bet you have got it wrong. Nowadays it is many things - full-on, exhilarating, glossy, well maintained and fun but there is still the care and traditional charm that Billy Butlin set our to create all those years ago.

Only 3 more sleeps to go!!  Yippee

Disclosure: I am a Butlins Ambassador this year and as such we were provided with a 4 night break for 5 people for the purpose of undertaking a review. I have not been told what to write and I remain honest.
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Thursday 22 May 2014

Family visit to Batemans - National Trust

Back in February, we bought a family membership to the National Trust and we have been enjoying some days out together exploring our local area. This time we headed to Batemans, which was the home of the Jungle Book author Rudyard Kipling. We went there purely on location as it is pretty close to our home and we only had about 3 or 4 hours all in, I have to be honest and say we did not expect it to thrill the children as looking at the National Trust web pages it appeared to have less on offer for children than many of the national trust properties, no child-specific activity/ trail or play area available.

I'm pleased to say though that even on a regular day our 6 and 10-year-old kids had a good time. I really love that all these kind of places we are visiting are not only teaching our kids some valuable history but also giving them precious lessons in making their own fun, finding the beauty in nature and being quiet, calm and respectful in historic places.

I do think that pictures speak a thousand words, so take a look at this stunning property, gardens and mill -

The staff in the mill were really good at chatting to the kids and explaining the processes and how things would have worked in years gone by.

So much space to walk, run and explore. I just loved all the greenery -

I often think it is when you allow children time to just be that they have the most fun, whilst we sat and had coffee and I photographed some birds the kids ran off to play a type of charades games and it was so nice to watch them together giggling.

and also to witness their companionable silence as they watched the fish jumping out the water -

We had a super family day at Batemans and I'm sure we will be back again in the summer to take one of the many country walks.

We also visited Batemans in 2017 for a WWI themed weekend, which was amazing and for a Christmas family visit in 2020.

Check out all our other National Trust reviews over here. 

Sunday 18 May 2014

Scottish Friendly Children's Book Tour

Just one of our bookshelves!

Since a young age I've loved to read, I can recall going with my Mum to our small village library and choosing my books for the week as a young child.  I knew even then that reading and books were something very special. I still remember the thrill of discovering a series of books that really engaged me when I was a teenager, I had a massive thing for the Sweet Valley High series of books and loved to read what Jessica and Elizabeth were up to.

My love of reading has never lapsed and I always have a number of books on the go at once. Generally there is my bible, a non-fiction book, a Christian resource book and a 'for-fun' light fiction book. I can somehow manage to keep up with all of them and grab them and put them down and know what is where. I really do want to pass my love of reading onto my children and so far JJ and Miss M are following in my footsteps. Miss E has recently been assessed for dyslexia and you can therefore understand why she finds reading by herself more of a struggle. She does love to cosy up with me though be read to and that is enough for now.

I think any initiate that helps children to learn to love books and exposes them to the joys of reading when they might not get that opportunity normally is a great thing. That is why I was really pleased to learn about the Scottish Friendly children's book tour. This book tour takes place six times a year and takes the very best UK and international authors directly into schools across Scotland and England to inspire a love of reading, writing and illustration. It reaches on average 6,000 children every year and any school can benefit, from those with 8 children on their pupil roll right up to theatres full of 400 kids.

Marcus Sedgwick on tour

You might wonder who these authors are that go out on tour and I'm sure you would be surprised to hear that it is super popular ones like Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Rosen and Michael Morpego. You can check out which tours are upcoming on the website and I was excited to see that there is a tour down in my neck of the woods in East Sussex in June. Any schools in the Brighton and Hove area can book to have the author come to their school for a free one hour session of reading, singing, drawing, fun and daftness with Chae Strathie, the renowned picture book author. He plays guitar and harmonica and gets all the pupils (and teachers!) involved in his sessions. I think they sound like a lot of fun.

Chae Strathie, best known for Jumblebum and The Loon on the Moon
The Scottish Friendly Children's book tour has now been running for 14 years and that just goes to show what a success it is, add to that the number of awards that have been won over the years and you can tell this is a really worthwhile initiative that is making books accessible to all children, not just the privileged ones.

The book tour is run by the Scottish Book Trust, which is Scotland’s leading agency for the promotion of literature, reading and writing. The organisation works with writers, children, teachers, librarians and readers from all backgrounds to spread a love of books and reading. Despite the 'Scottish' name you'll notice from my mention of East Sussex above that England is also served by the book trust and book tour. The Scottish Book Trust site is worth checking out as there are lots of good recommendations on there for books, I particularity liked the feature about the 5 Young Adult books for Mental Health Awareness Week.

I know that my children have an author coming in to their school in the next couple of weeks and after reading about these books tours I'm sure they will have a fun and educational time with Thomas Taylor who nowadays is a published author in his own right but go back a few years and he was an illustrator and actually he illustrated the cover for the first Harry Potter book. How cool is that?

Have your children had an author come to their school?  If not, perhaps check out the Scottish Friendly Children's book tour site and send the link onto their school.

Disclosure: This is a commissioned post but the content is all true and I'm signing off now to head to bed with a good book!
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Saturday 17 May 2014

A year in photos - week 20

It has been a lovely week as my parents have been here to stay and that has made us all super happy.

Last Sunday we headed out to a National Trust property, Batemans and enjoyed the fresh air as we walked around. I captured some nice pictures and I'll share them all in a Batemans post sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Monday was community day at my home. This is where we shut the conference centre to all guests and all 90 or so of us who live and work onsite came together for a full day to fun, food and fellowship. We had a blast! After school the children joined us and they had great fun playing games and decorating cupcakes!

It was lovely on the weekdays to be able to go out with just my Mum and Dad and enjoy some lunch and good conversation with them, we had a particularly nice visit to Bodiam Castle (yes I know, another National Trust property!)

On the morning of heading to Bodiam, my new macro filter kit arrived for my camera, so I was pleased to give this a try and for under £15 for 4 different filters I'm pretty pleased with my first try.

The end of the week was just about catching up and getting all sorts of bits and pieces done.

I hope you have had a fabulous week, Mich x
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