Friday, 17 November 2017

Christmas Hygge Clear Out | My Ikea Kallax Toy Solution

  • Disclosure: This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #CollectiveBias
The run up to Christmas is the perfect time to clear out and declutter. Out with the old to make space for the new. It was always traditionally my big annual clear out, like a home reboot as my Mum used to fly over from Ireland every year on Christmas Eve. Her housekeeping standards are way in excess of mine. I worked very long hours pre-kids and it took something like my Mum arriving for me to look to home, rather than office priorities. But it's been several years since she's visited at Christmas and we normally go to my inlaws now for Christmas, so my annnual spruce up sadly hasn't been a priority. I know nationwide though that people are getting sitting rooms, spare/guest room(s) and dining rooms ready for visitors over the festive season. My current Autumn/Winter declutter has come way sooner than December though due to an imminent date in the diary for my Lottie's Christening: 26th November. I can't wait to share photos of that when the time comes. She has 2 dresses and they're both incredible. Thanks Grandma.

So I've wanted Ikea's Kallax as a way of storing and organising toys for 3 years now and I finally bit the bullet and bought a 5 by 5 and wasn't at all disappointed. If you are pregnant and reading this, think toy storage before the little one is even born; I wish I had done. I've been dealing with the mess of toys now for 7 years but no longer. Now all the toys have a home tidying up is so incredibly easy. Even the kids enjoyed putting things back where they belong tonight. When you buy Kallax you have to decide how many cubes you want, baring in mind the space you have available. A lot of people seem to get low wide ones and use them as a kind of sideboard, with toys hidden in pull out fabric drawers on the bottom row and ornamental vases and succulents visible on the top. Lots of rose gold geometry etc... When people do get square Kallax units they tend to go 4 by 4 but I got the beast that is the 182cm square unit, 5 cubes wide and 5 cubes high - I did get the Oak Effect as I've just linked to as I knew it'd be near my dining table which is solid oak and they do indeed look good next to each other. It's certainly a statement piece. I've been reluctant to put CDs/DVDs or books on it purely because each shelf is so very deep (39 cm) you'd almost have to have 2 rows and then you'd not see what's at the back. Instead I've therefore left the books on their existing bookshelves and opted to use the Kallax purely for toys - it's a work in progress currently. My friend was laughing when she saw that I sometimes put just one toy on each cube, but I was just having a play with how it looks. It's all new to me. Oh but you need to know, choosing the size you can accommodate is far from the whole story, you also need to choose the accessories and this is where you need to have a budget in mind as it soon stacks up. Just sticking with pull out fabric containers as I have on my bottom row is the cheapest way to go as these are a very affordable £2.75 each and come in more than one colour. You can even get wicker ones that are £16 each. I was really drawn to what I saw in a display room as pictured above, so decided to invest in the cupboard doors and the double drawers. Show's that aspirational lifestyle showroom that you walk through in Ikea really works. I find it really inspiring. I am very visual and need goals that I can see in my mind. The end result is what motivates me to begin.
The main driver for a big reorganisation was not only the Christening and the thought of guests arriving but also a wish for our sitting room to be relaxed enough to be Winter style cosy. After all we've swapped hours in the park in the sun for hours spent indoors so they may as well be chilled and relaxed. In a calming neutral environment that's pleasing to the eye, that doesn't constantly say "tidy me tidy me tidy me". Also of course putting Christmas decorations on top of what is already a cluttered space is not going to be a good look. Tone it down ready to ramp it right back up. I love Christmas.
It's amazing how differently the kids play when their toys are all away and they have to consciously decide what to play with. I actually cleared the sitting room (into the den/dining room) prior to buying the Kallax and Aaron really enjoyed the additional space so much so he covered the floor in a 20 piece road jigsaw and proceeded to put all his cars all over it. I didn't mind though as the pieces are so large they were away in seconds and one thing he's always had is a dedicated cars box so that was stress free but I loved that he was enjoying the clear floor and knew a spacious sitting room was going to work for kids and adults alike. They love the space to run around too and we're those parents that have the scooters and Lottie's tricycle inside so they sometimes charge around on those given that the whole ground floor is wooden floors. Hubby does such long hours that I need them to be having fun if I am trying to cook or wash up etc...

As you can see above I have left them with a little nook near the TV. The small hamper holds Lottie's toys and the bigger hamper all of Aaron's cars. I found the gap between the TV table and the radiator was too large so I brought Lottie's pink chair back in as she loves sitting on it and we got that pink car toy box in a charity shop recently. She gets the bits that are in there out everyday so I'll always now make sure what is in there is rotated, current and age specific. Current favourite being shape sorter cubes which you can see in front of her feet. aThere is a shape that pulls in and out of each cube and they're stackable (a great car boot sale find). The dolly on top of the toy box was from Santa 2016 (when I asked Daddy to buy her a baby and he bought her a doll as big as herself). The shelves above the TV used to have lots of board games on and it looked truly awful so now it only has very tidy books and DVDs and all the clutter that was popped on the shelves with them has been removed. It's so very tempting when you are hoovering though to pop little bits and pieces on that wood that is in front of the DVDs and books and I do that all the time with it really building up. My friend said I should pull the books and DVDs to the front of the shelves but I am undecided about that as I like how it looks.
All of the primary coloured "plastic-fantastic" toys you see above (some very nicely out of sight in the bottom row) used to be in the sitting room: Playmobil huge Castle, garage, 2 x Fisher Price farms, a whole Spaceship set of Early Learning Centre Happy Land (which takes up a whole fabric box all by itself now), tracks both rail and road, cars, trains and dolls houses. They really detracted from any semblance of calm and at a time where minimalism and hygge are at their peak too. Plus the messy toys are often the cause of hubby's frustration and I don't like the way he puts them away which adds to the disharmony. I am not the sort of parent to say "go and play in your room" so whilst there are some toys in Aaron's room it doesn't compete with the large amount that are downstairs. I couldn't get rid of toys as Aaron grew out of them as I knew Lottie was on the way. Right idea too as she plays with EVERYTHING. My kids only really go upstairs when it's time for bed, or if they are having a little play whilst I put laundry away, or of course before or after bath time. They like to be downstairs with us and we like it that way too, so they'll either play in the sitting room or kitchen diner. We've never bought Aaron a Playstation or X Box so he doesn't go off to his room for that reason either. There'll be enough years where we'll lose him to a room, no doubt when he's a teen, so no reason to start it now, when he's only 7 years of age.


Pronunciation /ˈhʊɡə//ˈh(j)uːɡə/


  • A quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture)

Contentment and well being, definitely wanted me some of that. Plus there's nothing worse than wanting to hoover and mop and not being able to because there's a sea of toys. This clear out was meant-to-be though as we also started to have a problem with moths in the sitting room and so I wanted completely clear floors, with nowhere for them to hide. They like the dark and hiding behind/under things. Notably toys!!! Grrr!
I am very proud to say that I started building the Kallax at 12:10 midday Wednesday within minutes of it being delivered, having chosen it instore the day before, and completed it before the school run. It was so satisfying as I built and unpacked the entire unit myself (I just got the husband to tighten 6 screws when he got back from taking Lottie out of the way for a walk). I didn't install a cupboard till late that night and fitted the remainder Thursday and was amazed that Lottie let me. I am yet to do the drawers as I had displaced so much stuff whilst working on this I had to clear the floor, sofa and dining table so focused on that so that the unit had surroundings which showed it off to its full potential. I can't see me having time to do the drawers today and tomorrow is Thomas Land so I think it'll be a Sunday job or a next week job. It'll be exciting deciding what to put in them. Plus the drawers have runners, which I am finding intimidating but no doubt they'll be just as easy to fit as the hinges of the cupboard doors were. Oh and I didn't use a drill for any of it, so I can say it can all just be done with a screwdriver and allen key. There was just one time the allen key it comes with wasn't appropriate as I was turning it near the floor so no room for rotations, but luckily my screw driver has interchangeable magnetic heads so I just inserted an allen key head so that I didn't have an L shape tool that kept hitting off the floor. You'll see the two for comparison's sake below:
The drawers of the Kallax (I bought one row of their drawers, so that's five cubes but each one has two drawers so that's ten new drawers) once built and inserted will free up kitchen drawers as I'll have one for the cellotape, screwdrivers, lightbulbs etc... Then the deep kitchen drawers can accommodate things from the kitchen worktops so that I can really get that minimalist look with clean lines and clear shiny surfaces that I so desire. I've always wanted my kitchen to look like that but have spent 3 years trying to no avail. The counters always seem to have SO much stuff on them and even worse when we've just done a weekly food shop. You can see the boxes that house the soon to be built flat-packed drawers on the sofa, in the right-hand corner of the pic above. I was amazed at how quickly I fitted the carcass and cupboard doors. The 1st one was hard but then I got into my stride and did the remaining 4 in a couple of minutes each. It was a little daunting at first as you have to screw into your lovely new unit, so unlike fabric pull out drawers the doors and drawers are more of a less flexible, permanent fixture.

Even without the drawers (which I am yet to assemble and fit), because I have already fitted the cupboard cubes I freed up the dining table from things that had accumulated there. The kids found it a huge novelty eating supper at the big wooden clear table when we all too often eat in the sitting room with the TV on. It was a delight to see them tonight sat at the table - the CLEAR table as I hope it will finally stay - with their matching PJs on.
Last night I tried to get some festive pics of my two littlies in their festive matching PJs as above. First time they've had matching clothes and my heart just about melted all over the floor. 

As you can see Lottie was in no mood to smile sadly. She has a rasping chesty cough which is really bothering her. We'd just got back from the shops and just had dinner here. She did get a second wind later, and was full of beans but by then Aaron was fast asleep. She was only up late as she had an evening danger nap instead of her usual afternoon nap which at 21 months is becoming increasingly common even though she gets up for the school run. I couldn't get a pic of them together this morning in natural lighting as she was still asleep when Aaron was up.

They were turning the Christmas lights on at the mall last night about an hour after we bought these PJs but I decided not to wait on for it as Daddy was at work, meaning we'd be getting the bus and I didn't fancy my chances of getting the buggy on the bus if we left at the same time as the huge crowds. Shame though as the atmosphere was electric. Wow the queue at McDonalds alone was eight times the length I have ever seen it. But we picked up on the vibe and I am feeling very festive indeed now. 

As I am a clutter bug and a hoarder my dining table is always covered in paperwork or general "stuff" but it got housed behind the white doors of my Kallax. There's even a cupboard for Aaron's reception, year 1 and year 2 old school exercise books and Daddy has a cube he can empty his pockets into with change, car keys and stuff. Anyway, the main thing is the dining table is clear, which for Christmas is just perfect. My two loved having a pre dinner supper snack at the table last night. Such a novelty when we're so guilty of always eating in the sitting room. The dining room is open plan straight off the kitchen, so to bring meals just over to the table will be bliss. I am looking forward to doing that from now on, now we have a degree of organisation and it's spurred me on to do more. I have Ikea Pax wardrobes in the bedroom, 3 metres worth, that I bought in 2010, so I now want to empty and reorganise those. Feels great. This has more of an exciting feel than Spring cleaning too I guess because we are indoors so so much so get to really appreciate it. My task now is to keep it like this till Spring as I know what I can be like when I take my eye off the ball. 
I think pre-Christmas we will make another trip to Ikea as I am addicted to home improvements now. You'll see in the top right 2 cubes above I have festive ornaments that I just bought in the spur of the moment in the Factory Shop the other day, but the poor quality metal sleigh scratches my Kallax and has poor paintwork and the star, as gorgeous as it is, lights up so poorly you can only see it if it's black dark. Aaron does love turning them on when we get in though and off at bedtime, so I think I'll return them and see what Ikea has to offer in Christmas decorations. We bought all of our window lights in Ikea about 15 years ago and they're still going strong.

So, do you have Kallax? It feels like I am the last parent standing to buy it. I won't look back and wish I'd bought it sooner. I am just going to enjoy it and now get the rest of the house looking as minimalist as this. Although I know some of you would prefer the roof of the Kallax to be bare and you probably think I've ruined it with the Playmobile castle and Peppa Pig kitchen up there, but I couldn't resist it once I could see that the high ceiling above the Kallax would accommodate them. I'm open to feedback though. It's a work in progress. I may even empty my bookcases into it (as it's no where near full) and throw them away as they now look SO cheap and nasty next to the Kallax. Even though the Kallax is only "oak effect" it somehow looks premium. It certainly does next to my 2 bookcases. They're to the right of it and not at all photo worthy, so more to do......... bye for now......

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Mixed Race Couples in Christmas 2017 Adverts | Debenhams John Lewis and Marks and Spencers

I have a history of commenting on mixed race couples in the media. It started with my blog post about the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, in response to a Mail Online article, which thanks to the pressure we applied, got taken down. It was offensive, out of touch, racist and factually incorrect.

Fast forward a few years.

A few days ago I couldn't help but notice that a few of the big players, namely Debenhams, John Lewis and Marks and Spencers have featured mixed race couples in their Christmas 2017 TV adverts. I was going to blog about it but thought better of it, until tonight the hubby said perhaps I should. Despite it being after midnight I couldn't get my laptop out quick enough.
Debenhams was the 1st one to come to my attention as part 1 was televised early doors with a cliffhanger and the promise of part 2 midnight Thursday night. To make sure you watched it Friday it was even splashed in print, across the front cover of our free inner city paper The Metro on Friday morning. I love the voice over by the "fairy Godmother" Ewan Mc Gregor and I get the impression that him playing with the street lighting is what gives fate a helping hand to ensure Cinderella meets her Prince.
Ewan McGregor plays a pivotal role in the You Shall film, which takes inspiration from Charles Perrault’s classic 1697 fairytale, Cinderella.
Meanwhile, the limited edition stiletto by Jenny Packham is available for £99 and comes complete with a signed card by the designer.
Source: Express.
What I love about the Express article I've linked to above is the fact that the couple being mixed race isn't even note worthy or commented upon. Maybe diversity is now normal and not remarkable. Even the tweets they've quoted just comment that the advert beats John Lewis and the only remarkable thing seems to be the inclusion of Ewan McGregor. His voice is as smooth as caramel though! But inclusion and being inclusive yay! Ticks all the boxes. Both of the actors seem to have quite a small following on Twitter, so give them some love. CJ Beckford plays the Prince and Steph Tat plays Cinderella.

There's EVEN a real life couple who look just like the Debenhams couple and they are getting MARRIED, so that's part 3 of the romance right there.

Watch the Debenhams full Christmas advert here:

The John Lewis advert is beautiful as usual. Stunningly shot and the right amount of emotion to make you go ahhhhh. I've watched it a few times and Lottie adores the monster who makes her laugh more than I have ever actually seen her laugh. A right hearty belly chuckle. I clicked on the section for shop the advert and 100% I am getting those PJs for my 2, just not sure whether to get them matching ones or red for one and navy for the other. I love that the advert includes a boy and a girl which is very relatable for me with my Lottie and Aaron. I also love that the kids are dark and not that stereotypical light skinned caramel that's become so tokenist and commonplace in the media. Yes we all know that mixed race babies are beautiful but let's not perpetuate the stigma that lighter is better, there are far far too many people in the world using skin lightening products harmfully on their faces and it absolutely breaks my heart. Let's inclusively celebrate every colour - we're all humans after all.
Watch the John Lewis Christmas 2017 Moz Monster advert here:
We didn't get to see Paddington at the cinema but a few years ago the very day it came out on DVD I bought it. We watched it once and due to the "scary lady" Aaron never let me watch it ever again. But the second they started showing trailers of Paddington 2 Aaron dug out the DVD and we've already watched it twice and I do plan this time to take my 2 to the cinema to see the second film. We were going to go yesterday but had a PJ day instead. So when I first watched this Marks and Spencers advert all I noticed was Paddington and I thought how clever of the store to collaborate with him. I was colour blind to the mixed race family (it being so normal for me, having been with my husband for 29 years since 1988) but upon watching the advert a 2nd or 3rd time I noticed. Again I was delighted to see (as you can see above) that the little girl is darker. It's neither here nor there really. Even in my own nuclear family I have Aaron who is so pale he actually only goes brown in the sun and was snow white at birth and then my Lottie who was already brown in the hospital. Despite having identical parents they have such different colouring. Aaron takes after me, Lottie takes after her Dad. It seems to feed through to their personalities too and even their bone structure. I love everything about my Lottie. I see so much of her Dad in her and she's an embodiment of our love. So paler, browner, whatever. I just can't help but notice the colour of the actors/actresses used as it's been commonplace to include mixed race kids in marketing for quite a few years now but they're always pale or so it seems to me. But with all of these adverts maybe we're making some headway into normalising the fact that couples can come from differing backgrounds. Despite my husband's parents being Nigerian and mine Irish we actually have way more in common than we have differences. We were both raised in North London, both as Catholics, same school, same University and a lot of the same family values.

Watch the Marks and Spencers' Christmas 2017 advert here:

Sorry I am not saying more, or getting a bit academic in this post but it is now 1:48 a.m. and I have church early in the morning. I've spent so long editing and sizing the screenshots and including the videos that I've not spent much time on the text of the blog post itself but perhaps I can edit and update it a little tomorrow evening. I'm calling tomorrow Sunday despite it technically being Sunday morning NOW.......... yikes! Sleep beckons.

But back to the case in point, it seems like we HAVE come a long way given how recent (1950s) the first ever mixed race marriage in the States was. How lovely that their surname was Loving:

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Half Term Fun at The Shops | Cabot Circus Bristol

Turns out the antidote to cabin fever during half term doesn't have to be a theme park or a holiday. We had a very busy Saturday (Pumpkin Patch) and Sunday (Wild Place) so we had PJ days Monday and Tuesday. Come Wednesday and the need to escape - the multiple boxes of four walls humans call rooms - was strong. The kids were feral and I was drooling so off we trotted. Except I wasn't wholly generous in my quest to take them out of the house. A whole host of reasons aligned like planets do on a day of astrological significance. The signposts to get out were abundantly clear. Firstly Tuesday night I saw on BBC weather that Wednesday was to be sunny all day. Secondly, the postman in his infinite wisdom delivered a jiffy envelope to us Monday - right door number, wrong name AND road. I wasn't about to forego my PJ day to drop it round (sorry I am a Christian but I too have my limits). Turns out I couldn't be persuaded to do that Monday OR Tuesday but by yesterday my conscience was SCREAMING at me. Thirdly, like a bunch of people who'd been snowed in (we hadn't but I wish as Aaron hasn't seen snow in years and is desperate too given that he doesn't remember it) we'd run out of bread AND milk. Finally, Aaron's wellies are too small AND his trainers (for PE and football) are too small AND his casual shoes are too small scruffy. It was getting to the stage where he'd have to leave the house in barefoot or slippers. He even went to the farm Saturday in his garden shoes (looky likey Crocs).
So it was set, we were to leave the house. Except I had no bus fare (and in Bristol they even charge kids bus fare so odd after London where it was free) so we'd have to walk passed several bus stops for me to go to the cash point and I had MBT Gotis on, and boy were they working my calf muscles - uphill!!! Anyway, this was just simply too exciting as they haven't zipped up on me in years. Even as a slim teenager I couldn't wear knee high boots as I have always been blessed cursed with my Mum's huge calves (despite her being a size 12 all her life - we used to *sniff* share clothes before I piled on the pounds).
So off we trotted except being an Instagrammer and a Blogger (when did the former overtake the latter?!?!?!?) I had to get an Autumnal pic of the two of them. Funnily enough my spell check recognises Blogger yet not Instagrammer, but boy is it a thing. Thanks to breastfeeding it's also become MY thing. The above is a recreation of a pic I took of Aaron sans Charlotte a few years ago on the way to meet blogger friend Carolin and funnily enough we are meeting her tomorrow.

Anyway, on to the bus. Except while I was at the cash point I decided to buy us each a bag of crisps as I knew it would occupy some of the journey and shorten the length of time I'd have to restrain Lottie on my knee as she no longer stays in the buggy on buses. In all my life a driver has never ever enforced the no food and drinking thing and given I don't drive I've been on a lot of buses. He said they'd end up on the floor, he didn't have a dustpan and brush and therefore we were prohibited from eating them. Ggggggrr I was cross, so I let Aaron eat his out of sight and had to spoon feed them to Lottie as she has indeed developed a very recent penchant for throwing the second half of the bag on the floor, as she did Sunday at Wild Place much to Daddy's dismay.

Thankfully town was a whole lot more fun, starting with getting GORGEOUS boots in Deichmann. Lottie's above, Aaron's below. You'll see they are a big improvement on the battered shoes in the Autumn pic above that he's been wearing since Christmas Eve. They've lasted well - they were Clarks' after all.

Deichmann was a shop I had never frequented or heard of before but came highly recommended by people I know from church. Aaron's boots were £14.99 and Lottie's £17.99. I then had the cost of a McDonalds in addition to the bus fare as by this point we were starving and had rushed out without eating lunch. They are very well behaved in Mc Donalds so this wasn't at all a chore, only we were disappointed that none of the tablets worked.
After Maccy Ds we had to shoot to a black hair care store as Lottie is always losing her bobbles and I prefer it styled than out loose. I've got NOTHING against an afro except when hers is out loose she looks like a lil Grandma rather than a lil girl. The bunches, for some reason, take decades off her LOL.

It's funny, despite not owning a weighing scales I KNOW I have lost a lot of weight and fitting into my boots confirms it, yet I don't at all look slim in this pic below that Aaron took for me. I think this jumper is just Mumsy and not very flattering. I'll have to just wear it round the house from now on although that leaves me very short for clothing options as since becoming a stay at home Mum all my pennies are spent on the kids. I'd like to get a bit more frequent and professional with my blogging as maybe, just maybe that could be a source of income. After all, had I stayed at it, it should be by now. I did get my highest ever paid campaign recently so I just need to up the frequency of that and get my blogging and youtube game as good as my Instagram which is coming along nicely. But it is my go-to breastfeeding happy place so no wonder. As we always said in yoga "where your attention goes your energy flows"!
After that the only reason we went into Cabot Circus was to use the loos as I had no way of getting the buggy upstairs in McDonalds. So in we went except there are great interactive screens to play with directly outside the loos - you'll remember them from my Mark Warner competition entry youtube video. Anyway once Lottie was bored of those - which trust me took quite some time - she RAN into Smiggle. I ended up seeing their Advent Calendar and despite its cost couldn't go home without it. I had visions of doing a YouTube unboxing spoiler video except I put a poll on Instagram stories late last night (meaning it should still be there just about) and everyone (more or less 78%) voted that Aaron should open it as normal in December so now, decisions decisions decisions...... He does after all have a Lego one already that I bought weeks ago in Costco as I was worried they would sell out and that they did. Anyway loo or not, thank God we popped into Cabot Circus as we got to experience the AMAZING new seating in there:

In the pic above Lottie is playing with the character we got in Smiggle free of charge. Basically you get one if you spend £15 or more and the calendar was *coughs* £25 BUT there is £40 worth of product in there yay! And who doesn't love stationery.

The journey home was tough as Lottie had to be entertained the whole time. Actually strictly speaking that is not true as the buggy next to her had a little girl in it so they played together for the 1st half of the journey meaning I only had to bounce her on my knee for the second half. Only trouble was she had her nap after she got in and got breastfed meaning it was an evening danger nap, which meant my girl who is normally asleep by 2000 hrs every night went to sleep at 23:30 last night by which time I was spent. Before she was asleep I was exhausted and ready to sleep myself but the adrenaline required to try to get her to sleep woke me right up so after I finally got them both off I ended up watching Walk to Mickey on Netflix on my phone in the bedroom. I could have used that time to blog what I am blogging now except I wanted to Netflix and Chill in the true sense of the word. That movie was tender but quite light watching. Just perfect really and this is a blog post I wasn't obliged to do, so I wasn't exactly going to stay up late to do it. I am going back to old school blogging where you just blog what you get up to, like I did for years and years before it all got too serious and zoned me out. So despite name dropping some brands they were all things we bought, paid for and enjoyed yesterday. Look I've even blogged quickly and am blogging in real time not playing catch up for once. Blogging about Wild Place on Monday, when we'd only just been the day before, seemed to wake up my blogging muscle. I have to have an instinct and inclination to blog as I am not one of those who fake it till they make it, or God forbid do a media planner or schedule. No, I blog when I blog, unless you cross my palm with silver then schedule me as much as you like LOL. This is me. Bye for now.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Wild Place Project for Halloween Half Term | REVIEW

Yesterday we were a little tired from Pumpkin Patch hunting the day before but we headed off to Wild Place as they were expecting* us! 
*More on that later.
That little kiosk you see behind us above is the ticket desk - I don't know was it closed because we arrived at 13:45 or because it was quiet but either way we headed for the souvenir shop which you have to go through to enter. I cheerily said "I am on the guest list for today" as I was there in a blogging capacity to review Wild Place and it's half-term SPOOKTACULAR Halloween activities. I kept my greeting that brief as I was conscious there was a queue behind me. Seems we weren't the only ones who wanted a lazy Sunday morning. Or perhaps they were annual pass holders who pop in for half day visits each time.
As we left the souvenir shop the first thing we saw was Leap of Faith (which was busy) and the climbing wall, but we looked around 360 and happened to spot an indoor play area (the Fun Fort) in a shed, tucked behind the shop, so decided we'd head for that in case we didn't pass it again on the way out. You'll see it properly when I edit and upload my youtube video but it's basically like an adventure playground, with one climbing frame for 0-5 years (perfect for Lottie) and another perfect for Aaron, although Aaron kindly stayed on the little one. In there there is lots of seating for parents so it's perfect. Perfect place to hide from the rain till it clears off.

Upon exiting the Fun Fort I asked Aaron would he like to do the climbing wall now, to which he said "no I want to see the animals first". He's a huge animal lover which is becoming more evident the more zoos and farms we go to. He has a bravery, affinity and confidence with animals that he doesn't get from me or Daddy.
The path we walked along next, had several of these scarecrow pumpkin heads on it, up on the grassy bank. They were all pointing in the same direction which made all of us giggle and made a straight stretch of nothing quite fun. PURE genius whoever came up with it. Full brownie points for them. Lottie kept pointing and saying her baby version of "look look look!". At the end of this path is the giraffe enclosure which was very welcome as we haven't seen any since we visited Folly Farm when we stayed at Bluestone over 2 years ago.

The first entrance you come to takes you in at ground level, as per this pic above. You're greeted with 3 amazing chalk drawings showing the anatomy of giraffes. 

We could see people on a balcony above us, literally at eye level with the giraffes, but had no idea how to get there. Upon exiting the building you see a staircase to a door, so Daddy offered to stay with the buggy whilst us 3 went up. It was only once we were on the mezzanine floor that we realised there was another entrance (on a different face of the building) accessible via a long wooden ramp, so we phoned Daddy to come join us. There needs to be signage making it known that this access point is available. As it is another 50-100 metres walk before you naturally stumble across it. Someone with limited mobility could do with knowing about it before having gone through the challenge of the staircase. I've triple checked the map and there's no mention of it.
After exiting the giraffe enclosure we were in in Central Africa Benoue National Park. I don't know whether to say the Land Rover or the guinea fowl were Aaron's favourite as he enjoyed them both equally simultaneously as they were together. I thought they were pheasants and Daddy thought they were turkeys so we were both wrong LOL! Sometimes he was chasing them but other times they were chasing him bit always as a gaggle of birds, with one body but multiple heads. I don't know what a gaggle of guinea fowl is called but God they were cute. The only issue here was Aaron and Lottie both wanted the steering wheel but luckily we (and the guinea fowl) distracted Aaron often enough that Lottie did indeed get a look in. We passed this area again a couple of hours later as we looped back out home and we couldn't get Lottie off it, till we said Goodbye and pretended to leave without her (as if we would LOL)!

Just look at the 3 very different facial expressions here - says it all really LOL.

They really make an effort with the authenticity of your surroundings at Wild Place so there are lots of photo opportunities with backdrops like this, if you want to imagine you are in far flung places.
The minute we went through these gates below, I should have known animals would be roaming free. The presence of two gates with an almost airlock in between is a right giveaway. But I wasn't prepared so just needed to tour the place quickly and get out of dodge as soon as possible. Although a lemur did brush passed my leg while I was filming at one point and one hopped on Aaron's foot. If you like getting up close and personal with furry creatures then this is quite literally the Wild Place for you:
There are actually THREE types of lemurs in this enclosure. The ones that ran around visibly the most were the Ring Tailed, as pictured below, but the fluffy brown teddy bear type were cute too, but apparently you don't let them scent you my rubbing their bum on you or your belongings. They had their beady eye on a little girl's teddy but luckily one of the two zookeepers present warned her. We were told that the lemurs weren't normally as active as they were when we were there. But yesterday they were very excited and very playful. Perfect as Aaron adored the spectacle they created. I did manage to film some of it. Which was brave of me as I'm normally quite on edge when furry creatures are near me.

To recover from all that activity with the busy playful lemurs Aaron had a wee lie down bless him. Very brave considering the Halloween witch could have been anywhere nearby.

Next we found the Witch and the Barefoot Trail simultaneously. She explained to us that we COULD leave our shoes on PHEW, as it was quite muddy. I did video her but forgot to get a photo so leave you with this:

Another chance for a photo opportunity, below. We did complete the Barefoot Trail. It's just a chance to walk on different surfaces like sand, bark chips etc... Our favourite by far was walking on the sawdust but all three of us kept our shoes/boots on. Daddy then even used an outdoor tap to rinse off his boots from the muddy bits near the barefoot trail.
Near here was a Tower in a field and this would be a perfect fair weather spot for a picnic. Daddy wandered over as he loved the architecture of the tower. I wasn't fussed as it didn't look like you could enter or go up in it. It's clearly a very picturesque spot on a sunny day though and it has featured in the pictures of friends who have visited Wild Place.

Next we went to a small Walled Garden area which I found quite underwhelming but thankfully soon after there was a wee playground with 2 slides and a spider climbing frame which the kids loved. What am I talking about?! I've just looked at the map and the meerkats were in the walled garden! They are like MY favourite animals, EVER! I do apologise.

From the playground above you can see through to the climbing wall. I still had it at the forefront of my mind that Aaron very much wanted to do this which is why we went around the whole Wild Place so very fast. I saw an instructor putting several helmets away (and mumbling something) so I rushed over leaving Aaron Lottie and Daddy on the slides. It was about 3:55. I chatted with the instructors and they explained that they only accept climbers on the hour so the last climb was at 3pm. I explained that one of the reasons we'd agreed the review was that Aaron was very excited to climb the wall. I explained that if the place closes at 5pm the last climb would be at 4pm. I looked at the time on my phone ready to explain that it was now 3:55pm and was shocked to see it was now 3:59pm. Upon telling him this he said "no it's 5 seconds to 4pm" bit of an argumentative position to take but hey ho! He then explained as it wasn't busy they made the last climb 3 pm. I begged him to let Aaron do it at 4 and said we even came round at 4, rather than 4:30 as despite not knowing it was on the hour we weren't taking ANY chances with coming over so close to closing time but he remained unsympathetic. SO this is as much as we saw of it :-(

This next pic really makes me laugh. We are, by now, in the area called The Secret Congo (which we'd whizzed passed in favour of the climbing wall but went back to after that disappointment above) and we stumbled upon an enclosure of three different types of Okapi. Aaron whose favourite humour is toilet humour, with all of the wee, poo and bums, was a little confused at the 3 pics of the three different types of Okapis. I had to capture his little perplexed face. Too funny! He was like "so I am supposed to identify them.... from their.... bums!!!!" Cue shocked face below:

We had a good look around here and really enjoyed looking at these graceful and calm Okapi. We found all 3 of them and each of them had a wooden plaque detailing their date of birth. It was very sweet that they all seemed to be approximately a year old like my little Lottie.

As we followed the path onwards we came to this viewing area, where you can see the zebras and giraffes but by now from the far side of the park. There are only 2 telescopes but it was heading for evening so we had them to ourselves and they're not coin operated so that was super. We spent quite some time here:

From this vantage point you can see that long wooden ramp, below, that leads to the giraffe enclosure. Perfect for wheelchair and buggy access. Don't attempt the stairs with a buggy, in order to get to the Giraffe mezzanine floor.
Then it was time to get some photos as we departed. As I had hogged my camera all day I needed to pass it to Daddy so I could actually be in some family pics myself. I love the ones he took with more authentic backdrops.
I've noticed that I haven't at all mentioned the Wolves, the Cheetahs or the Reindeer or the Baboons. I think with the wolves and the cheetahs it is mainly video coverage that I have, rather than photos. We really enjoyed both though. The reindeer were adjacent to the carpark so we spent lots of time admiring and talking to them before we got in the car to leave. I am ashamed to say that we didn't at all see the Baboons as I didn't once look at the map whilst we were there as I was too upset from what happened on our arrival, so when she gave it to me I just shoved it in my bag.

It's only looking at the Guide Map now that I see where we'd have needed to have gone to see the Baboons. I've also obviously read reviews before writing mine and discovered they even have a glamping area near the baboons. It's even called Camp Baboon and you can book to go glamping there. Wow! I only discovered Camp Baboon as I read this: Hello Magazine Camp Baboon Wild Place review when I was looking at Twitter for tweets about Wild Place late last night.

I won't go into the why and the where fors. But basically what happened was the assistant on the desk in the souvenir shop, taking care of admission, said I was not on the guest list, even though I was down to review Wild Place yesterday. When she begrudgingly went to write my name in the diary, my name was actually already there, so the whole thing could have been avoided had she done the professional thing of consulting the diary immediately upon my arrival. I was not the only guest detailed there. It seemed she would only do so if "somebody had told her about it". What happened to using your initiative and remaining professional. What helps you do that in the absence of training to that effect is a philosophy of "the customer is always right" something my Mum taught me when I was very little. Had she just assumed that I was right in my assertion that I was on the guest list she would have gone into investigative mode and would have either consulted the diary or a colleague. Instead her first reaction was to say I wasn't on any guest list and that she knew nothing about it. Not great in a customer facing role. Yes, it did tarnish our visit, but only from my perspective as I held it all in and let Daddy and the kids enjoy themselves, which as you can see from the pics they very much did. Even more so, once you see the video of the day. I stayed up till 1 a.m. to edit it, but was only half way through and needed some sleep. Even writing this (and editing the photos) has taken 5 hours without a break (we've not had lunch yet) so it may be a few days before the video.

What with the greeting person's disposition and that of the guy on Leap of Faith it seems all personnel we encountered yesterday were having a funny five minutes. Luckily ALL of the zookeepers without exception were ACE!

SPOOKTACULAR is currently on at The Wild Place for Halloween Half Term and the admission is very affordable for what you get in return. Kids' admission is only £5 each if booked online each with a full paying adult and it's on from 21st to 29th October. The Witch is fabulous and is there all week. I didn't get a photo of her but did manage to video her :-)

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

NETFLIX Now Says Happy Birthday

We signed up to Netflix (initially just for a trial - a successful one at that) at New Year during the Christmas vacation. Yes only this year 2017. I know where have we been!?!?! All of the #NetflixAndChill that we have sorely missed out on.

We've had a Smart TV since 2012 but when we moved house I didn't keep the bag of cables to make it go online in a safe place but that all changed at New Year as I bought the hubby a DVD player as a late Christmas present and it just so happened it was WiFi enabled. Somehow through it we could watch YouTube on the big TV and Netflix. This was life changing for us all and has lead to many happy hours on the sofa. Aaron no longer grabs my phone to watch YouTube, so I can play work on Instagram as long as I like whilst he catches up with his favourite YouTubers on the telly. It also means I get to really appreciate Stef's editing over at the Michalaks as it really does their videos justice. Having Netflix has meant we've even been able to have a smaller cheaper TV package as Aaron's more often than not on Netflix or Youtube now rather than traditional telly although he does adore Cartoon Network due to The Amazing World of Gumball. As for Lottie, she's now watching whatever we put on for her as she doesn't know any different although I did discover yesterday that Paw Patrol gets me some Mamma Me Time as she sat transfixed by 2 whole episodes.

I am online right now blogging 
to tell you about a new feature: 
drop the party poppers and cancel the princess, 
Netflix has an easier way to 
make kids’ birthday dreams 
come true, 
courtesy of Barbie, King Julien, My Little Pony and More.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals that Britain’s most popular birthday over the last 20 years falls on 26th September, that's today, with eight of the top 10 birth dates being towards the end of September. After investigating the celebrations, Netflix reveals that two thirds (64%) of children’s parties are themed after their favourite TV shows or movies. In order to add that extra magic to the festivities Netflix is releasing 15 Birthdays On-Demand, where characters, from:
  • DreamWorks All Hail King Julien
  • Beat Bugs 
  • DreamWorks Dinotrux 
  • Las Leyendas
  • LEGO Friends
  • LEGO Ninjago
  • Luna Petuni
  • Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
  • Pokémon 
  • Project Mc2
  • Skylanders Academy 
  • DreamWorks Trollhunters 
  • Word Party
  • Barbie 

join the birthday celebrations to make kids' birthdays unforgettable!

Here's a video to show the new Netflix Birthday Feature.

Kids may be the ones wearing the crown on their birthdays, but Netflix knows that it’s parents who are the real heroes on the big day. We know that parents often pull their hair out trying to think of new, innovative ways to beat last year’s party, in fact 70% of parents recently admitted to finding their kids’ birthday parties stressful... 

Well, Happy Birthday to you, mum and dad.

With this new feature, you Mums and Dads can simply press play anytime and anywhere, and your little one's favourite characters will sing them a special birthday greeting - made just for them (or so they’ll think). Launching in the world’s most common birth month of September.

Simply search “birthday” on Netflix to unlock 
a special performance from 
kids’ favourite characters, 
including DreamWorks All Hail King Julien, 
Barbie, Beat Bugs, DreamWorks
Dinotrux, Las Leyendas, LEGO Friends, 
LEGO Ninjago, Luna Petunia, 
Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug* 
and Cat Noir, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Pokemon, Project Mc 2 , Skylanders Academy, DreamWorks Trollhunters and Word Party.

The best Netflix hacks that every parent needs to know:
1. Get to Know the Kids Profile: The Netflix kids profile gives parents peace of mind that their child is watching age appropriate content. Added bonus? The background of the kids’ Netflix profile is white vs. the typical black - this way parents can easily spot their kids straying from one profile to another.
2. Be the TV Boss: We know that when mum and dad aren’t in the room, kids may try to bend the rules for more TV time. By disabling auto-play, parents can make sure their kids don’t sneak in that extra episode without asking.
3. Creating Family Time: Parents can create a “Family Night” profile to discover content that everyone can agree on. Create a rotating schedule of which family member is choosing the movie or TV show that night and start a new and fun family tradition.
4. The Secret to Kids’ Birthdays: With 15 new Birthdays On-Demand, parents can take the celebrations to the next level by simply pressing play and having their kids’ favorite characters sing a special birthday greeting just for them - no cake baking all-nighter required.
5. Master of Thumbs: Did your kid watch All Hail King Julien on your profile and now it’s
flooded with kids content? On Netflix, removing those shows from your recommendations is as easy as pressing the thumbs down button.

My favourite things to do with Netflix are twofold. One, I love watching a soppy movie by myself when nobody else is around (I've enjoyed A Family Man, Me Before You and another that was amazing but the name escapes me right now). Two, I love watching a family movie, all 4 of us on the sofa (most recents being "Are We There Yet?" and "Baby's Day Out") and it's great as you can watch a movie as and when, which is novel for us as we've never ever had Sky Movies so we normally relied on DVDs and a movie being on the telly (at a time you can't control). But actually I have a third one which is that I love binge watching a series (think Prison Break - yes I was years late to the party). I viewed all of these episodes within a silly amount of days, like 48 episodes in 4 days or something like that. VERY soon after getting Netflix Aaron discovered a show called Little Lunch and watched Season 1 real fast and has watched every episode lots of times. I can't wait for season 2 to come to Netflix as it will make his day.

If you don't have Netflix why not?