Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Christmas at Noah's Ark Bristol

We recently received an invite to review Noah's Ark Farm Zoo, visiting on Saturday 25th November and I jumped at the chance. A sane woman would say "no I have a Christening tomorrow that I have been planning for months" but no, this was too good an opportunity to turn down and I have wanted to visit the place for 3 years. The fact that the kids would enjoy it was a bonus. The fact that Daddy and Grandma could do all the last minute shopping and errands for the party and buffet in peace... well that was the icing on the cake. So plans were made, cousin invited, alarm set and off we trekked. Oh and the usual prep for any event, Aaron was tasked with watching You Tube videos to get suitably excited and that he did in bucket loads as he was beyond thrilled with the selection of animals he was about to meet. Way more than we've seen in other places recently.... errrm... moving swiftly on.... oh but just look at that tractor above. They loved posing for a pic there and that's right before the entrance so they were delighted with the place before we even dived in or met our blogger group in the Food Barn. Even before that after getting out of the car in the car-park we were greeted with this scene of reindeer. They look quite mature don't they.
But that was not all. Whilst we gathered round chatting, having by now gone through the ticket barrier, the kids ran off to climb on this boat. Before I knew it Lottie was with them, safely climbing up, between cousin and brother and I was greeted with this scene. My 22 month old, gulps, up in the sky, having only turned 22 months that very day:
Clearly instead of telling them to get down I got my camera out and then greeted them (getting video footage too naturally) at the bottom of that yellow slide you see in the pic. To be honest I am a HUGE fan of silhouette photography so when I saw the scene above I couldn't get my camera ready quick enough. Well... clearly I did LOL! They look like they're going on a bear hunt don't they. And funnily enough there are bears in Noah's Ark. That's Lottie in front, cousin behind. then a stranger followed by Aaron taking up the rear. I was so glad that they had this to play on whilst us adults got reacquainted. It's been too long since I'd last seen Jane and Heather. With both ladies I have linked to their Christmas in Bristol posts so do have a looksie if you're local or nosey :-) There are bears at Noah's Ark but we didn't see them, mainly because the soft play area and not so soft (wooden) play areas are exceptional, so we kind of got holed up in there for hours but more on that later. It was now time to go in and meet everyone, so the kids were beckoned into the Food Barn so we could congregate for a tour. I'm actually impressed now with hindsight that they agreed to stop playing and came in. Once in the Food Barn I ordered some drinks and food and chatted with Jane and Heather. I suddenly thought "how come I am not being asked questions by the kids?".... a quick scan of the room and this is what I was greeted with. It was such a serene scene and too good to be true so I doubled up laughing at how very sensible, surprisingly so, they were being. However short-lived...... Again a moment for the camera
We then discovered that our blogger welcome pack had 4 vouchers for Hot Chocolate in it so I think I then got one for me and one for my niece (later giving the remaining 2 to 2 of Jane's ever so lovely boys). The Marketing lady who was our tour guide for the morning arranged with the catering department that we'd have pizza at 12:30 so off we trotted knowing we were building up a healthy appetite. At this point I had no idea just how very delicious that pizza was going to be. Aaron was pretty much on the go all day, whereas my niece was happy to help with Lottie and stay by my side a little more. Of course they were both free range in the soft play but this was Aaron pretty much the whole time we were outdoors. For an outdoorsie boy such as him Noah's Ark is a dream come true. It is LARGE - set in over 100 acres of beautiful countryside. Aaron having met the Emus:
If you're reading this as a blogger who was there that day, 25th November, this moment pictured below was the moment when I got cross. Lottie wouldn't let Aaron move her over at the glass and instead of being the "bigger" person and brother he kept trying to muscle in, on the same centimetres of glass that she was viewing the Leopard Tortoise through. I shouted out for him to stop as she was starting to press her head against his, like a rhino, and had he listened to me that would have been the end of it, but no he dug his heels in and tried to squash in front of the glass even more. I took this photo before what happened next. But he pushed so much that Lottie pushed back and ended up banging her head on the window frame. I was LIVID so if you heard me frustrated and telling him off just after this, then now you know why. I was too embarrassed to make eye contact with anyone after that. But if you are the parent of siblings you probably have the attitude "these things happen". I just get annoyed because he can be so so so very very good with Lottie. A complete Saint. So then I am not prepared for it when he acts SO stubborn and out of character. She's old enough now that she doesn't just back down either. Oh dear. You'd NEVER guess all of this from this pic would you (I think my niece is just looking at them in disbelief considering there is lots of glass to choose from):
Because she had a wee bump on her forehead after this I stayed cross at Aaron for a couple of hours. I can't bear it when she's hurt as a result of his behaviour and I was even more cross knowing it'd happened after I said something rather than before which meant Aaron was really disobedient. Looking back on it I wish it hadn't happened as it is SUCH a beautiful place but luckily the pizza and the soft play solved all problems and we were in very good spirits for meeting Saint Nicholas straight after food. But before food we went on a whistle stop tour of the whole zoo. So we met a donkeygoats and camels to name but a few:
Noah's Ark has artfully told the Christmas story through signage, which is very touching. This rather apt sign was next to the donkey. Visiting this signage is part of the History and Mystery Tour which is an illuminated walk culminating with a visit to Saint Nicholas. It is quite literally Christmas at the Ark. The day we were there he was available from 1-2, so it may be that you don't complete the tour completely prior to meeting him unless you whizz round as fast as we did, leaving soft play (and tractor ride) till later, as we did.
When we went to visit the Elephant Christmas Tree Forest the kids had to first stop to have a go on this. A slide in the shape of an elephant - FANTASTIC. It was cold but as you can see the sky was spectacular. One of those chilly sunny days. Aaron briefly posed and smiled for me below before whizzing down the slide. I guess I was lucky he did as this is sill before the pizza lunch. We must have made up by this point except shortly after this I remember we couldn't get him to join us. Can't remember what he was climbing on or doing by then. SO SO SO much to do there at Noah's Ark, but when he wasn't keeping up that time before lunch, Heather held back to take up the rear and walk with him. Thank you if you're reading this. What a great day out and such good value for what they charge.
I love this pic of my daughter and my niece in the Elephant Eden House. Jesus is safe. Again part of the Christmas story. Noah's Ark is Christian run. It has a magical vibe about it and Jane was lucky enough to meet the owner.
So not long after this we went to the Food Barn for lunch. It was packed despite it being out of season. There was a cheery hustle and bustle atmosphere and we headed for the reserved tables for our pizzas. They were handmade and utterly delicious. I must have had about 5 large slices and the kids had loads too. I didn't do that Instagrammer thing of taking pics before eating as the fresh air had made us too hungry for all of that. Shame though as the catering team deserves me to sing their praises with some beautiful foodie pics. If you go though do try the pizza as even the bases are made on site and they are goooooood. This is Pizza like Mamma used to make.... 
But then with full tummies we were off to meet St. Nic and his trusty Elf.
The kids LOVED the animals but they were laying an egg to get to the soft play and it didn't at all disappoint. I thought Lottie would be frightened being deep in a ball pit but she wasn't phased at all. Even copying her elders and sinking right down into it.
I have BRILLIANT footage of them in the play areas both wooden and soft but not really any photos as they were moving so fast any I did take were blurred. Plus in the wooden play area, while Aaron and his cousin ran ahead I was often with Lottie, so didn't get chance to stop for pics. Can't wait to edit it all into a vlog when I get chance. We did stop for a break though to do the tractor trailer ride which I can highly recommend. I must advise though that it is £2 per person and not included in your admission. The driver did a guided tour of Noah's Ark and it was very entertaining and original. It took us so long to convince Lottie to leave and put socks and shoes off that we missed one ride and met some animals while we waited for the next which would be the final one of the day. Aaron and his cousin were delighted to be able to have animals on their knees and to stroke them. I think they handled 3 different animals in total each.
We had such a good time at Noah's Ark and I wouldn't hesitate if I had the opportunity to go again. Although we were there as bloggers to review it, I do think it's well worth the admission fee. I had 3 children with me of such different ages: 1. 7 and 9 and they'd all give it a huge thumbs up. 

We were there till closing, such a good time we were having. Being 25th November it was dark when we left. Good night Noah's Ark.
Definitely add Noah's Ark to your list of things to do in Bristol. It's well worth a visit, such a large and beautiful place. This Christmas they have various things happening. The below is from Noah's Ark website, see www.noahsarkzoofarm.co.uk/events/christmas-at-the-ark:


Saturday 9th December: Ark Angel choir performance at 2pm in the Ark Arena. Come along and join in with some festive favourites as our Zoo Keepers sing some tunes to fundraise for the Crisis Centre.
Saturday 16th December: Come and watch a festive perfomance of the Christmas story with real animals. The Portishead Brownie group is kindly putting on a Christams Nativity for you all at 2pm in the Ark Arena. The nativity showing is included in the entry price.
Saturday 23rd December: Come along and get involved with your very own Christmas Nativity with real live animals. At 2pm in the Ark Arena we're inviting you to get involved and tell the Christmas Story. All props and script will be provided just turn up on the day and get involved.
 Do you belong to a local school or community group? This year our traditional Christmas Nativities featuring real animals are returning and we would love for you to get invloved. Please note booking is essential to take part and performance dates run from 4th - 22nd December 2017.

Disclosure: I visited Noah's Ark as part of a bloggers' experience arranged by Bristol Bloggers, therefore our admission was complimentary. I do however remain honest and haven't been told what to say. We truly LOVED our day at the zoo farm and can't wait to visit again. You'll see truly how much fun we had when I publish a video, as soon as I get time to edit it that is.

Bye for now, Liska xxx

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Drayton's Magical Christmas at Drayton Manor's Thomas Land | REVIEW 2017

Drayton's Magical Christmas (formerly known as Thomas's Magical Christmas) is SO MAGICAL that a spell was cast over us for weeks before we arrived. Aaron so excited to head off, already, at 40 days prior to going, started a daily countdown. Yes it felt and was LONGER than ADVENT and now I have that to look forward to too, ha ha ha... or rather ho ho ho! He'd say things like "I can't wait till it gets to 30 days!". To put this in context Aaron's been to Thomas Land about 7 times, 2 of those having stayed the night at Drayton Manor Hotel. I said "I thought you'd have grown out of it by now!", to which he'd sternly reply "I won't grow out of Thomas Land till I am 10". He's currently aged 7 and not 8 till June 2018.  Oooh that's the first time I've typed 2018. The ONE fly in the ointment is that Lottie doesn't do rides (past tense) and even cries cried when you'd put a pound in a vehicle in a mall. But thankfully on Bonfire Night there was a Fun Fare and she wanted to be the same as everyone else so went on all the rides. This being 5th November and our Thomas Land visit planned for 18th November meant Aaron had lots of time to be excited now knowing they could go on rides TOGETHER. So there was lots of planning: "I'll go on Troublesome Trucks with you or Daddy while you or Daddy stays with Lottie and I'll go on X and Y and Z with Lottie". It was incredibly cute being that the last time we visited Lottie was a 4 week old newborn and very much remained in the buggy under about 20 blankets given that it was February and freezing.
Once you go over the foot-bridge from the car-park the excitement really builds when you see the ticket booths and entrance gates. What's truly brilliant though is once you are outside that Thomas Land brick archway we know all too well. Except it was even better this time as we've never before been at Christmas. Aaron therefore of course utterly loved climbing into the photo opps available and didn't need to be asked to smile. Spot the photo that really makes me chuckle though as Daddy's legs can be seen where he's trying to stay out of shot whilst making sure Lottie is safe. I'm keeping his legs visible as I want to remember that he was fully on team day out that day. Was so lovely to have Daddy not only off work but fully with us both mentally and physically. It was incredibly special as not only did we do many things together as a family of four but we also split up many times when they'd go off to do older rides and I'd do something different with Lottie. It was the first time I noticed we can be split into a girls and a boys team. We've not really ever done that in Lottie's nearly 2 years on the planet but at Thomas Land it really worked ESPECIALLY when Aaron wanted to go on the Drayton Manor roller coaster: Accelerator (which WAS/IS OPEN at Magical Christmas). It's the one that used to be called Ben 10. Wow Aaron's really grown up as he could never do roller coasters aged 5 and 6 but he's watched so so many on You Tube he was just laying an egg to go on one. You'll see his reactions both before and after once I edit my video of our day out. I did about a week ago spend 12 hours on it but then I lost it all and then this weekend just gone we were very busy and tied up with Lottie's Christening.


Our very first ride upon arrival was Jeremy Jet's Flying Academy Planes. I sat in the back with my 2 young and capable pilots in the front as you see above. I was beyond thrilled that Lottie stayed in and happy despite the planes flying fast, high and low. She, being new to rides, hasn't mastered the art of concentrating whilst simultaneously smiling LOL. At this point it was time to go to Eat Drink Enjoy for our complimentary spread of sandwiches that were laid on for us bloggers to enjoy. It was perfect as the location was directly opposite the Accelerator roller coaster I referred to above so that was what Daddy and Aaron did next whilst I watched Lottie run round and round her buggy and the large Christmas Tree that routinely breaks into music and lights all day. This footage of her totting around is my favourite out of everything I filmed all day. Accelerator (when Drayton Manor is open in full, in season), normally has an hour long queue, so Christmas really is magical because you get to go straight on. I thought this would mean Aaron would go on the ride more than once, but it being his first time on an older child roller-coaster he was a bit overwhelmed and didn't dare do so again bless him. While having lunch I got to finally meet Donna and family
https://whattheredheadsaid.com/getting-festive-spirit-drayton-manor/ 
for the very first time 
and the lovely Laura 
http://www.mylifeunexpected.co.uk/
who apparently goes to Thomas Land for Xmas every year the lucky devil. 
I did also see Mrs Shilts 
https://www.mrsshilts.co.uk/2017/11/draytons-magical-christmas/
but was too shy to tap her on the shoulder.


The next thing we spied and rode on was the: Vintage Carousel, which technically just like Accelerator is a Drayton Manor Ride and outside the scope and border wall of Thomas Land. It feels very Christmassy and nostalgic so I am glad it was indeed open. Definitely one of the highlights of the day. Aaron started off by mounting a horse adjacent to mine on my left and then decided that he'd prefer the rooster to my right. Sitting high up on one of those wasn't ideal for what was then a 21 months old Lottie so I was pleased there were those seats you see photographed above for Lottie and Daddy to sit in. Lottie constantly wants to copy Aaron but I was relieved to see she knew her limits and happily stayed sitting for the duration of the ride - no stress. Just so you know the Jolly Buccaneer is actually open too, but we decided that was a little too fast for Lottie and we didn't even get chance to go on it with Aaron.
Next up was Diesel's Locomotive Mayhem. Given this has a height cap of 1.2 metres it's the perfect ride for Lottie. With it spinning even more than teacups I was worried if she'd like it but my little lady seems to be a theme park rider rather than a novice at her first attempt and was more than fine. She didn't put up much protest getting off rides as she quickly seemed to realise that there was always something bigger and better yet to come. So nice at theme parks when you don't pay per ride and even better out of season like this as the queues are at a length even a wee toddler can cope with, although she didn't understand why we weren't yet at the front for Sodor Classic Cars so Daddy gave her back to us (me and Aaron) once we were at the front.
Aaron himself (so proud I was) then calculated it was now the best time to queue at Knapford Station to travel down to the other end of Thomas Land in order to be back in time for Santa. Was a good move as some of the rides down that end of the park end at dusk so there's no way we could have gone after Santa. Good one Aaron. Upon entering the train station, I felt as if I had been romantically and ever so nostalgically transported back in time when I saw how quintessentially British the decoration of the train station was. Pure class. Simple yet stunning I am sure you'll agree. Something about the luggage just adds to it. Makes me think of lovers saying goodbye at a steam train station with me snuggling up to watch them in a black and white movie whilst young myself. Anyway there's no better time than Christmas to feel dreamy and reminiscent about years gone by.
Nothing out of the ordinary happens on this train ride, but at 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and now 7 years of age Aaron never fails to LOVE it. I mean really LOVE it. But then he's been a fan of trains since 18 months and Thomas since 2 years. No surprise there then.
It was absolutely wonderful when our train carriages and engine finally pulled into the station because it was THOMAS himself pulling the train (his engine is not on every train, you can get Thomas Rosie or Percy) and we were thrilled to see his festive antlers and twinkly fairy lights. He goes to the very end of the platform, disengages to do a 180 degree turn and then overtakes your carriages so as to be back at the front again and all of this is part of the excitement and wonder. What's fab when you have babies and toddlers with you is there is a lot of space for buggies on board. Only trouble being they are not kept with you. Although this was ideal with toddler Lottie now, as of course she's more than happy to be separated from her buggy being a very able walker, toddler and runner, when we came last February, she was a newborn in a pram and I therefore had to walk to the end of the park and meet Aaron and my friends there as they disembarked. Given the queuing that is sometimes involved to board I actually got there before them and it's not that long a walk. Getting on at Thomas Land's Knapford Station at Christmas and off-season poses no problem with queueing at all but having been to Thomas Land in August 2012 I can honestly say it is better in peak months to walk down to Tidmouth Hault and train ride BACK, as the queues are more manageable down that end.
It's a single ride from Knapford Station to Tidmouth Hault where you are then able to leave the train and do an immediate right to Spencer's outdoor activity park (an AWESOME playground), to the zoo, to the Dinosaur Park and Farmer McColl's Farm. There's also an ace cafe (tea rooms) opposite the station with picnic outdoor seating and toilets. As we left the train I tried my hardest for a pic of my 2 with Thomas but we didn't quite pull it off LOL:
What we always do first  upon arrival at this end of the park is loop over to the left passed the large Thomas train set exhibition (miniature moving trains like a traditional attic train-set in a HUGE display well worth a look) and over to do Terrence's Driving School. After many visits years ago where Aaron's feet could NOT reach the pedals we were so excited finally when they COULD. I knew this would be Aaron's very last time on it (given his above average height - he's in aged 9-10 clothes at 7) so I am not ashamed to say I cajoled him to go on it against Daddy's adamant statement that he was too old. I kept saying I bet the man has a wooden measure to check if you are too tall in addition to the one that checks if you are too small and sure enough he DID! Aaron was holding my hand and happy to get to the top of the queue and let the measure decide till Daddy tried to encourage him not to go on it. We nearly had the family version of World War 3, with Daddy wanting to pull him away from the ride and me wanting him to stay in the queue, but luckily Aaron did let himself be measured and was secretly pleased that he COULD indeed go on it one last time. I later got it out of him that he enjoyed it even though he felt disloyal to Daddy who was encouraging him not to drive. Luckily I can feel his vibes as Aaron and I have always been telepathic so I knew well that he enjoyed it even though he pretended not to once he spied Daddy watching.
So after Terrence's driving school off we headed to the playground and then Dino Trail, which Aaron loved showing to Lottie. I was surprised we got her away from the playground actually considering how much she was enjoying the ladders and slides.








Of course a huge highlight of visiting at this time of year is that you get to meet Father Christmas and that we did. But once we walked back from the zoo we were a little bit too early for Father Christmas so Aaron and Daddy whizzed off to the Troublesome Trucks.  Aaron was laying an egg to go on as he'd watched the video where he screamed all the way round aged 2. Lottie and I took the opportunity to get some retail therapy and bought this wee sign for only £1.50. Splitting into 2 teams several times throughout the day really worked for us. It's not something we've ever done before but the 1 to 1 time with each child was invaluable and we all got so much quality time out of it.
Once we met up with the boys it was off to The Castle of Dreams for our 3:30 p.m. slot with Father Christmas. I got a pic of Aaron in the queue. 

The suspense as we walked up was palpable as this was such a fitting glitzy building to host the main man in. We've only seen the big man in red in grottos before even if some of them have been fairly grand. 

There was something MORE MAGICAL about seeing him in a castle. I loved the Elf who bantered with us on the door and I loved him even more when he said we ARE allowed to take pics and video as so so so many Father Christmasses don't allow you to do so. He even told us that Daddy is on the naughty list which really tickled me as it's probably true ha ha ha ha ha.

Father Christmas was superb, taking our pic again and again (with a remote) till it was perfect. Allowing us to view it on the wall each time until we were satisfied. 

He was alone in the room, no elf to help and made lots of time for us. He was fascinated that Aaron only wants a watch for Christmas and then gave both children a lovely branded goodie bag which contained a chocolate lolly, a golden ticket (free child entrance in 2018) and a gorgeous book (which actually we are yet to read). As you can see Lottie is still at that "scaredy cat" stage. I remember Aaron going through this. So if you have a very little one be prepared for this. I however at that age was straight up in Santa's arms back when they were allowed to carry kids.
The above picture was taken on my phone and the below is the official one from Father Christmas's camera which he operates on a timer and lets you view before leaving. For love nor money we couldn't get Lottie to smile so we just focused on making sure we were all in shot all with our eyes open LOL! 
Normally when your time with Santa is finished at other places it's a HUGE anti-climax as you depart but not so here in the magical place that is Drayton Manor. You are then out into a castle that feels beautifully medieval and authentic. I felt slightly tearful as again it was magical and that's the effect magic has on me. Cue opening of the heart, a lump in my throat and tears pricking my eyes as I get in touch with MY inner child. There was free face painting, an opp to have a photo on a sleigh with reindeer, thrones to pretend to be King and Queen on and plenty to look at. I could have stayed in there ages but Daddy was wanting to crack on and neither of the kids wanted their faces painted which is highly unusual for them both. Aaron was anxious to finish his time at the park on rides.
This Father Christmas is definitely up there with the best we've seen even though we have discerning taste having met Santa at Westfield London and Stratford, at Hamley's Regent Street AND several times at Harrods. I say it again, I loved that we were allowed to video and take our own photos. 
The boys now dashed off to get some rides in before the parade and fireworks. I just knew I didn't want to miss the parade. After exiting The Castle of Dreams I was near the donuts and nibbly, a dangerous combination. Also really in need of my daily caffeine fix and couldn't resist warm donuts. I got enough for us all, but personally ate most of them. OOoooops. But the coffee went down so very well.
We then found our boys at Cranky's Drop Tower and they did the ride twice so that on the second go Lottie could get a better view of them. A better "vantage point" as Daddy called it!
Rocking Bulstrode is very nearby so of course they then had to do that too and Lottie was very patient watching them.
I think it was at this point I said it is too long since she herself has been on a ride so all 4 of us then queued for Harold the Helicopter because luckily with those you CAN have 2 adults in the back and 2 kids in the front. Perfect. The view from up there is great too. Just what the Doctor ordered and the dusky sunset - as by now it was late - was looking stunning and added to the other worldly atmosphere that had weaved its way through the day. I don't think I have photos of us on Harold the Helicopter but I do have footage once I do my video. Another ride we did with us 2 adults in the back and the 2 kids in the front was Winston's Whistle Stop Tours, our favourite ride as it tours above the park and with all the twinkly lights at this time of night it was just pure bliss and to use that word yet again, magical. There was a long queue for it and as we looked down through the windows into the soft play area (Emily's [indoor] Play Adventure) we didn't have time for, Lottie and Aaron ate their chocolate lollies from Father Christmas. Just look at the size of them:
When we got off Winston we weren't at the same place as where we boarded. In fact we were at a green screen where I purchased a brilliant snow globe style block framed photo of us all with Thomas. No opportunity to collect the buggy we'd left at the entrance then but it did mean the boys were nearer to rush off and board Toby's Tram Express which Aaron was excited about. This meant Lottie and I could have a slow meander back to get the buggy and ended up we did a ride whilst there that would have been too babyish for Aaron. He was still disappointed later to hear we'd done it without him as he loves seeing Lottie happy.  So we had a ride of Lady's Carousel by ourselves. Aaron decided NOT to go on Flynn's Fire Rescue as he hated that in winter the water isn't on as he loves spraying it. We did instead as a whole family go on Captain's Sea Adventure, after a nearby loo break, which is in real water. Lottie AND Aaron adored playing with the spot lights and pointing them around. It was a slow chilled out ride and by now people were getting in place for the parade so we were one of only 2 families on there. The staff member knew this but after letting the adjacent family out she still went clockwise instead of anti-clockwise to come and let us out. For a few seconds I thought we were there for the night LOL!!!!

I'd had a tip off on where to stand for the parade so off we went. Basically right under the balcony (above Knapford Station) so once they walk down to there you're in the front row to see their performance. It was THE best place to stand to get good video footage. Despite being by the balcony, somehow, when they then left Thomas Land to go onto the main concourse for the parade down to the lake, we managed to catch up with the buggy and all so I was more or less in the front row for each performance they did. Yes it meant I then wasn't close to the fireworks but I preferred looking at them in the sky anyway. I was sad to hear that some people thought the fireworks weren't extensive. It's not billed as a Fireworks Show (that'd cost a fortune considering they're doing it every night that Thomas Land is open for Christmas) it's simply a FINALE to the Parade and to celebrate the fact that the Magical Christmas is in its TENTH YEAR.

Happy Anniversary Drayton Manor.

Oh and just to warn you, in the minutes before the parade the world and his wife pop into the shops near Sodor Airport to buy light sabers. Daddy bought one for Aaron and Lottie cried so I had to get another. They were £7 each so factor this into your budget for the day. They're good quality and they've played with them every day since. Way way better than the one we bought for a fiver at a circus last year. They change colour and everything. Whilst your walking following the parade, playing with them takes their mind off being cold and the lights add to the glow of the overall evening.
For a few years I thought Christmas wasn't Christmas unless we saw Santa at Harrods. Then when I was pregnant with Lottie it was actually seeing The Snowman in theatre that actually set up my Christmas. Then last year it was reviewing Santas for Channel 4. A couple of months ago I wondered WHAT will make THIS Christmas 2017 and it was definitely Drayton Manor's Magical Christmas. The parade was so beautifully narrated I actually got all emotional and cried not long after it finished. The actors who took part were all so talented and really in the moment and in character. Very impressed. I know some people at the back didn't get the moving experience that I did so I recommend to Drayton Manor to either (a) do all of the performances on high stages like the first one where you have the benefit of Knapford Station's balcony (I know this means the cost of erecting stages but there may be a way to do so economically) or (b) have large screens near each performance so that people at the back (adults and children alike) can feel the magic too. Such a shame for only people at the front to benefit from seeing the fab show that is laid on. The narrative and the voice over were both superb though - I truly loved it.

Aaron is already asking when we can go back and I'd love to tell him "Darling until we're old and grey we'll be there every year". Daddy is a bit of a grinch and even he enjoyed it which certainly means it's 5 star for sure... 

Review: our visit to Drayton Manor, Father Christmas, lunch and our family photo were all complimentary for our family of four. We were not told what to say and all views remain my own. Apart from the photo of us all with Father Christmas all photography is mine.

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.


hygge

Pronunciation /ˈhʊɡə//ˈh(j)uːɡə/


NOUN

  • 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......