12 May 2017

How to enjoy Kew Gardens with under 5's

Have you ever wondered if it is worth visiting Kew Gardens with kids - especially little ones? Kew Gardens here in London has been one of those places I have wanted to visit for the whole ten years I have lived in London. I finally decided to visit, and dragged my threenager daughter there too. Here are five of my top tips on how to actually enjoy a visit to Kew Gardens if you have a small child in tow...

Kew Gardens with kids - little girl looking at pink flowers

While Kew Gardens is a gorgeous location, absolutely stunning, it really is much more of an attraction for adults. Now, which self-respecting child actually cares much about flowers they can't pull from the ground? Yep, that's right, no-one. Especially my threenager. There is a reason why the tickets to Kew Gardens are free for under four year olds! There are however some things for very small kids to do, and things that they will really enjoy, and these are the things I found helpful when visiting with my young daughter.
How to enjoy Kew Gardens with under 5's - 5 top tips for the little kids visiting Kew Gardens.

1. Book tickets online. 

You can even book the tickets the same morning. On a beautiful sunny day, especially in the morning time, the queue to the tickets offices is horrendous and you do not want to wait there with your kids. I know mine would be a nightmare. So book those tickets before you get there, and bask in the smugness when you walk past the crowds inside. I bought my tickets from AttractionTix, and while they say you need to print the tickets, they accepted my e-tickets at the gate. You can get tickets online with Kew Gardens as well but they are about a quid more expensive.

2. Get on the Kew Explorer Land Train

This is one of those jeeps with carriages at the back - you know the ones that every single kid wants to go on everytime they see one... Anyway. I found this was a great way to get a small uncooperative child to cooperate enough for mummy me to actually see something and to enjoy the gardens. We sat on the train, it took us around the Kew Gardens, I saw all the main sights, and my daughter mostly sat still waving at people. Result! The tickets were a fiver for an adult and a couple of quid for kids - money well spent. 

On a busy day, do get to the train about 15 minutes before it leaves from Stop 1. No-one left or got on between Stops 2 and 3, and even from Stops 4 onwards it wasn't 100% if you would get on it. The train can be pretty packed on a busy day.

Kew Gardens pink flower cherry tree with child

Pink flower cherry tree and a kid at Kew Gardens

child picking flowers form pink cherry flower tree at kew gardens

3. For outdoor play head to the Natural Area (near stop 4 on the Land Train trail)

There are indoor and outdoor play areas elsewhere, but I found these were really ram-packed with older kids, and I would not have taken a toddler or even my three year old there. Possibly on a quiet day when there aren't too many kids running amok, but on the busy day we were there I just didn't feel comfortable. So I took my three year old daughter to the Natural Area, where there is a little badger cave you can walk into (and some areas you even need to crawl!) and a log-trail to jump around on.

4. Pack a picnic - or get food from the restaurants

If you want to visit with on a budget do pack a picnic with you as it can be quite expensive otherwise, especially for adults. You can grab something to eat on your way if you arrive by train - there is a small Tesco right outside Kew Gardens Station, and some other shops nearby too.

Otherwise, you can get a sandwich and a milk or juice for kids for about £3 from the restaurants, which isn't too bad and was enough for my little one. The quietest restaurant tends to be the  Pavillon Restaurant near Stop 2 if you want to eat in, and White Peaks Cafe near Stop 7 apparently has child friendly menu.

Bring a water bottle too - you can fill them at all the restaurants saving you few bobs!

Mum and daughter on Kew Explorer Land Train

The Hive bee nest structure at Kew Gardens from below

The entrance at Kew Gardens

5. See the geese at the pond outside Palm House (right next to the main entrance)

This was probably one of the highlights for my daughter. You see these massive koi carps circling below the murky surface, and these ducks and geese swimming in the pond, and lots and lots of other kids marvelling at the same sights. It was quite difficult to get her to leave! We got to see a very exciting fight with the geese too, where they had a proper pecking match right in front of us. While obviously not an everyday occurrence, we did feel a bit like having been plonked right in the middle of a nature documentary!

We did enjoy our visit, although I think Kew Gardens really is much more of an adult place to go to. There are still lots of pretty cool things for kids to see. Older, school-age children will of course get much more out of it in an educational way. There are a few more tips on what to do with kids (especially older ones) on AttractionTix blog as well as on Kew Gardens site. We spent the whole day at Kew so there certainly is lots to do over there!

We also filmed a little video of our day - I hope you enjoy.

Have you visited Kew Gardens with little children? What did you do?

8 May 2017

Sleeping better: 5 top tips from a sleep coach to the Olympians

I recently got a bunch of great tips on how to get a better night of sleep and wanted to share them with you too. Sleep isn't always easy for me. I've heard lots of tips and I still have trouble falling asleep and having a proper restful night, but it is getting better.

When I was invited by Clipper Teas to a pyjama party of bedtime stories and sleep talk at the 40 Winks Hotel, I was understandably quite keen. Alongside sipping herbal tea we also got to hear tips from a sleep coach to Olympians on how to improve our sleep cycles and I learned loads of new tips I want to share with you. As always, I also took lots of pictures from the event so you can see what the infamous Bedtime Story Nights at 40 Winks looks like...

girls standing in 40 winks hallway

pillows on the floor for bedtime stories

rolltop bathtub at 40 winks hotel

canapes at 40 winks hotel

canapes on a table

So, sleep. Sometimes I just can't sleep. I get anxious, and I toss and turn for what seems like an eternity. Hearing my other half breathing deeply and calmly next to me serves to make me annoyed on top of feeling anxious, and I'm stewing there thinking "Why is he sleeping! How is it possible for someone to fall asleep so quick?". 

Well, apparently it is quite common for women not to be able to sleep well. 

At the event the sleep coach told us that it is quite common for women to get stuck in this anxious cycle, worrying and planning for the next day. I have also had chats over sleep with the ladies from my office and SO MANY confessed how they just can't sleep properly, and just worry constantly over work and life in general. And speaking from experience, when you have babies, this just gets worse and worse... The tiniest little squeak in the night and you are right up, ready to save your baby. 

We got chatting about how people are really just animals and there are so many physiological things that determine how well we sleep. We, and men especially, sleep better on their non-dominant sides. If you are right-handed, you sleep better on your left side because that leaves your stronger arm open to fend against any attacks. And as humans really are just big hairless apes, we aren't really meant to cuddle or even sleep in same beds, and we usually sleep better with as much possible distance from others. Many of the tips we got followed from similar physiological issues.

steiff teddy bears on a window sill

a single bedroom at 40 winks hotel

dressing up table at 40 winks hotel

beige coloured bed at 40 winks hotel

woman taking a selfie through a mirror

So how can you get a better night of sleep?

1. You should start preparing for bed 90 minutes before you actually go to sleep. We sleep in 90 minute cycles, so it makes sense to prepare in a similar cycle. In this pre-sleep cycle do anything that helps you move from the hyper wake to a sleep mind-set. Take the time out, relax, move away from work and worries and wind down. De-cluttered settings can also raise your chance of getting deep sleep by 50-60%. This is something I have found particularly important and I decorated our bedroom with sleep in mind

2. Move from warm to cool - this recreates the natural cooling down of the day when the sun sets. A bedroom ideal temperature is around 18 Celsius. You can also mimic this cooling down by warming your body temperature by having a warm shower or a bath, or drinking a hot cup of herbal or de-caffeinated tea. 

3. Mimicking the setting sun, you should not be checking your mobile phone (which emit blue daytime type of light) during this 90 minute period. Moving from light to dark can help too, so get those candles out. 

4. Sleep on your non-dominant side, in a foetal position. This is a "sleep secure" mindset, which helps you enter the deeper sleep stages, which help you recover from the day. The idea is, as I explained earlier, to let your animal self feel secure. Your vital organs are protected in this sleeping position and you have your dominant arm ready to fend off attacks. 

5. Avoid rich, fatty and sugary meals in the evening. These take longer to digest, keep your body active and raise your body temperature.

After the event I have tried to create myself a pre-sleep routine. I don't follow this religiously, which perhaps explains why I still have trouble sleeping sometimes... But when I do it does help. I often have a shower in the evening, and I then prepare myself a hot cup of herbal tea. I read a magazine or a book until I start to feel so tired I can't concentrate and then make my way to bed. Usually I try to be in bed by 11PM so I am ready for my 6AM wake-up... Oh, the joys of living with kids.

clipper teas and canapes on a table

From the event I got a bunch of Clipper Teas to take home, and I have incorporated these into my evening routine. I've drank their teas before as well, as I have liked their fair-trade and natural ethos. The teas I got are all from Clipper Teas sleep range - Sleep Easy, Snore & Peace and their new Super Green Sleepy Decaf. Of the three different teas, my favourite has been the Super Green - I learned to love green tea when I lived in Japan and this had a lovely mild aroma to it. Unlike normal green tea it also has a bit of chamomile, lavender and lemon balm, meant to help you in drifting off later. 

The event was organised to promote this new green tea, the Super Green Sleepy Decaf, so we of course got to hear more about it there. Decaffeinated green tea was a new thing for me. Before the event I always thought that green tea is naturally caffeine free, thus I have enjoyed it in the evenings even if I have long deliberately avoided caffeinated drinks after 6PM due to the potential sleep issues. So if you too try and avoid caffeine due to sleep issues, make a note of that - normal green tea could affect your sleep!

a woman drinking tea on a sofa

It is tricky to try and unwind after a long day at work, and the hectic schedule that comes with living as a family in London. It feels like you are always on the go. Ready for action. Always doing something. Life really whizzes past you and I quite often feel just overwhelmed. But hopefully once my new sleep routines will bed in, and I start to be more strict with myself, my life balance will improve. When I sleep well, I feel like I do much better at everything... 
Sleeping better: 5 top tips from a sleep coach to the Olympians. If you have trouble falling asleep this post gives several tips how to get a better sleep routine.

How do you sleep? What kid of tips do you have for sleep?

1 May 2017

Our family in April 2017

I totally forgot my new family portrait photography this month. To be honest, it has been quite a challenging month. Lots of broken nights, early mornings, hard deadlines at work, and just lots and lots of work in every sense and in every aspect of our lives. So I forgot until I saw other bloggers sharing their own family portraits on social media. 

Oh well. As I always say to myself, better done than perfect, so I decided to dig out the ONLY pictures all three of us are in. It is a family selfie taken in our messy house. After a kids birthday party, with my daughter still wearing the face paint. They were taken because I wanted to share something funny on Facebook and needed a picture to go alongside it. "Done is better than perfect" so here it is. Our April family portrait. Done. 

Our family in April 2017 - family portrait project

In April 2017 I have delivered a really important project at work, had good feedback and aced my end of year review. Work-wise, I was feeling pretty good. It is all going rather well, although I still of course have a lot to learn after only five months in. 

Blog-wise, not that great. I have just been exhausted and tired, and really wanting to come and write but not being able to find the time or the energy to come here to share my thoughts. It hasn't been a great month personal life wise. A two-week spell of poor sleep due to a poorly sleeping little girl has made everything other than absolutely necessary a total drag. What I have lacked in writing, I have taken back in watching though and I have become a bit obsessed with Line of Duty. Now on season three! If you haven't seen it, you should. A brilliant UK crime drama series. I've also started going to the gym again. 

mum dad and daughter in a family selfie

My daughter has, I think, been going through a bit of a growth spurt, as she has been waking up at night demanding food. And waking up at 5.30AM demanding food. she is getting bigger and chunkier and it is just lovely to see. 

She has loved the idea of pets and has been asking us why she doesn't have pets. At the nursery they had little chicks, that they hatched and got to hold and play with. They were absolutely gorgeous and we considered for a brief moment whether we would like to rescue them to our backyard once they "will go back to the farm"... Unfortunately, our back garden is paved, not really suitable for chicken, and suburban chicken are probably not the greatest idea anyway. 

In June she will turn four, and I have been asking what kind of a party she wants. First it was Belle (from Beauty and the Beast) but now she told me "I have changed my mind" and it should be Anna from Frozen. I'm going to be honest, I would prefer to do Belle because everyone has already done Anna, but it looks like Frozen it is... I'll give her one more week to change her mind back ha ha just in case. 

Our family in April 2017 - family selfie in our home

Husband on the other hand has been sharing my excitement about Line of Duty - we are both very much into it. The gym and the personal trainer have made it back to our lives again too... 

He has also been busying himself with fixing our kitchen and various other little titbits in our house, left over from our huge renovation job couple of years back. The final little things in the kitchen have finally been finished after a long wait for the kitchen company to deliver us the last bits and bobs... Door furniture attached to our front door. Door frames painted. Sideboards fixed. And so on and so on. Those last little niggling jobs that you never get around to but just bug you. We still have lots to go, but it is a start! 

So there. A busy busy April, and I am sure another busy month ahead! 

How was your April?  

12 April 2017

What to put in a non-chocolate Easter basket for a three year old?

This year I decided to do an Easter basket for my daughter, filled with non-chocolate Easter gifts perfect for a three year old. I figured that since she is bound to get a crazy amount of chocolate from family and friends, a non-chocolate Easter gift basket would be a better bet. I included all sorts of perfect Easter gifts for the little ones here, suitable for toddlers and pre-schoolers, ranging from books to crafts, and wanted to share my ideas with you.

Wicker Easter basket with gifts for kids

Wicker Easter basket with non-chocolate Easter gift ideas for kids

I've never done one of these seasonal baskets before, but I thought it might be a fun tradition to start one. You could do one for Christmas, one for Easter, one for Halloween and what not, depending on what kind of traditions you follow. Maybe even a Hanukkah basket or a Ramadan basket! You could probably also save many of the seasonal items from year to year so it shouldn't break your bank or your environmental credentials too much... Anyway, here are the items I selected for my non-chocolate Easter gift basket for me three year old daughter.

three Easter books

For reading... 

There are a huge amount of Easter books out there, but to be honest, anything with bunnies, chicks or lambs would do perfectly! I find my three year old particularly loves anything to do with bunnies...

As for Easter books, I got a few firm favourites from Usborne Books. That's not my Lamb is one of the classic touchy-feely books, and while this is aimed more at the baby market my three (nearly four) year old daughter still loves reading these to herself and touching the different textures. Easter Bunny Flap Book is another cute book with colourful drawings, Easter eggs hiding under flaps and little peek holes to the next pages. The third Easter book we got was the Easter Fun activity book, which has 12 simple crafts suitable for young kids - and a sheet of stickers inside too.    

paints, felt tip pens, colouring pads and paint brushes and foam stickers

For crafting...  

An Easter egg decorating kit is a perfect addition to the Easter activity pack. I bought paint brushes from my local Flying Tiger, and grabbed Crayola paints and felt pens to make a full kit. Now all that is needed is some hard boiled eggs. And what child wouldn't love stickers? I also got a pack of glittery monstrosities from Flying Tiger, and I am expecting these to be a huge hit. Could even stick these on the eggs.  

Colouring is another surefire activity that keeps my kid entertained. I got the lovely Farmyard Finger Puppets and Little Woodland Animals Frieze from Phoenix Trading, who do lots of paper-based cards, crafts, and games. I am particularly excited to play with the finger puppets and use the frieze as a decoration in my daughter's room.

paper bunny bunting, small bunnies and chicks and bunny stick balloon

For decorating...

I also thought that it would be fun for her to decorate her room, or our living room with some Easter related little things. The little bunnies and chicks are from Sainsbury's, and I have saved them from a previous year. The stick balloon (also fab for using as an Easter egg hunt marker) is probably from Tesco's and is at least a year old. These things last forever if you aren't too rough with them. 

Little Woodland Animal bunting I thought would be perfect for Easter as well, as it has loads and loads of bunnies in. It is from the same designer as the frieze I introduced earlier, so should look nice together.  

bunny ears and a bunny pencil case

For being a bunny...

And of course - you do need to include bunny ears! These are old one's from Sainsbury's, but you can get similar ones just about anywhere around Easter. I also bought a bunny pencil case from Paperchase, because I couldn't resist it for my bunny-mad babe. 

Easter basket filled with Easter gifts

So there, a bunch of non-chocolate Easter gifts for an Easter basket - I would love to know if you have ever made any of these yourselves and what you included in! 

What did you include in Easter baskets? What non-chocolate items would you recommend?

A non-chocolate Easter basket - Easter gift ideas for 3 year olds (also suitable for toddlers and pre-schoolers)

*Contains affiliate links

6 April 2017

Cheddar from Cheddar - our quick trip to the gorges

We recently had a mini day-trip to Cheddar. I admit, my primary aim was to go to Cheddar and buy cheddar, just so I can later say I've bought cheddar from Cheddar. The fact that Cheddar Gorge area is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty came rather secondary, but it did make our quick family trip pretty stunning.

After badgering my husband on three separate times driving on the M5 to follow the signs to Cheddar we finally did. About half an hour later, we drove around the gorges for a while, before stopping over at one of the parking areas to have our supermarket-bought lunch. Chilly wind and the potential rock falls persuaded us to stick to the warm safety of our car for our snacks, but we did stretch our legs too. Four goats, trotting up and down the steep walls were eyeing us suspiciously and at a distance while we took family pictures.

A family day trip to Cheddar Gorges - tips on what to do

Family picture at Cheddar Gorges

cheddar gorges

dad and daughter watching cheddar gorge

mum, dad and daughter at cheddar gorge are of outstanding natural beauty

Unfortunately the impending three to four hour drive back to London was hanging like a dark cloud above us. Due to a cranky toddler and a long journey back home we did not have time to visit the caves, which I hear are quite spectacular.

Instead, we popped by The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company in town - these guys make their cheese locally and mature them in the caves. In fact, they are the only company that makes cheddar in Cheddar. At the shop the "cheese sommelier" introduced us to all the different varieties at the tasting counter. We particularly enjoyed the Cave Matured Cheddar, Natural Blue Cheddar and Truckle, and their Cheddar with a Good Slosh of Port. We ended up buying a silly amount of cheese, and also some chutney - a Harvest Chutney from Rose Farm, by another small local producer.

Girl on daddy's shoulders at Cheddar town

Cheese counter at Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company shop

an antique cheese press

tasting cheeses at a cheese shop

a canister of somerset scrumpy cider

And while in West Country, who could resist some proper Somerset Scrumpy! As soon as I saw a big canister of scrumpy I knew I had to get it. Presentation so far away from the ever-so-slightly-ponsy artisanal drinks we would usually go for, but yet so tasty. 

I wouldn't mind stopping here again and spending a bit more time. The town was rather touristy, but, the scenery was breath-taking, and cheese mighty tasty.

Top tips for Cheddar Gorges:
  • Buy cheddar! Just so you can say that you have bought cheddar in Cheddar ha ha. We enjoyed The Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company who mature their cheeses in the caves, and who are the only company making cheddar in Cheddar. 
  • Reserve enough time. It takes at least 20-30 minutes to get off and then again back on to M5. If you are planning on visiting the caves add several hours more to your trip.
  • Parking in town is difficult. During high season (mid March to end of September) you will need to park in the paid car park area - there really isn't anything else. It is about £5 a day.
  • Parking in the gorges is free - there are parking areas on the side of the road. They are a nice place to stop over, have a packed lunch and watch climbers and mountain goats. You could also hike a bit if you have older kids. 

Have you ever been to Cheddar? And what did you think?

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