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Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Family travel review: Abama, Tenerife

Ritz Carlton Abama Tenerife
In holiday-planning, picking Tenerife was the easy part: if you want some winter sun, a not-too-long flight (it's around four hours), budget airlines, all-year sunshine and no risk of Zika virus, then the Canary Islands are the best (only?) option - and Tenerife is one of the most family-friendly around. 

But which hotel/resort/villa to pick? We spent so long trawling websites and Tripadvisor that I thought a full review of the Moorish-style Ritz Carlton Abama, from where we've just returned from a week's break, and its family-friendly credentials would be useful for those looking too. So, here goes:

The Location

The Abama is about a 30-minute drive from South Tenerife airport, and we then prebooked a transfer with Kiwi taxi. The company was cheaper than a hailed one or a hotel transfer, at €47 for a mini van; you can also pre-order a free car seat which normal taxis don't offer. (Although it wasn't the newest/cleanest car seat around, it worked!)

The Abama is quite isolated - there are no villages or shops that you can walk to - but there's a shuttle to a big international mall, and a local village about a five-minute drive away. We, however, (and I'm a bit embarrassed about this) didn't end up leaving the resort - for the first time ever..!

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Luxury London family hotel review: The Berkeley

 Lie ins, unmarked cream carpet, and luxury hotels: three things I was pretty sure we'd have to give up when we became parents. And the first two, pretty much - bar those amazing mornings when Mr ROOW does the early shift. But the latter? No way. 

Hotels have got savvy and know that families aren't all looking for Crayola-coloured furniture and a children's menu when they book a holiday. I was a total luxury-lover who'd save for a splurge-hotel before I became a mama... And I still am now. 

Which is why we just had the best weekend at The Berkeley, in Knightsbridge, a super-lovely hotel which you might think is too designer/relaxing/foodie for families - but which doubles over backwards to make you feel welcome.

It started at check-in: my shoe-less toddler (long story..) was greeted like a celebrity, not with the snooty look some hotels hand out. Three Golden Key-totting concierges were competing to get a smile or a wave out of tiny man, whilst someone else dug through a toy box to hand him a fab musical paintbrush gift. 
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Thursday, 3 August 2017

Two under two? This is the hideous advice from strangers that you won't be able to avoid...

 
Something I learnt on the first day I stepped onto the Tube wearing a 'Baby on Board' sign: if you're pregnant, you're the *top* story on the rolling news channel of Joe Public. 

You'll be judged, discussed, interrogated, poked and reprimanded. Previously you could walk down a street and exchange nothing more than a nod with a passer-by or two; as a parent-to-be, you suddenly become public property.  

And never is that more true than when you become pregnant to a second babe, after just a small gap. 

Not just those parenting Irish twins - a pair of siblings born less than 12 months apart, but "anyone with kids who doesn't look like they waited a decade or so before having sex for a second time," according to one mum of two-under-two.

I just escaped that bracket - my toddler was two years and one month when he walked into the hospital to see my newborn - but still, if I had a nappy for everytime Mr. R. Random had quizzed me, "so, it can't have been planned?" then I'd never need buy any Pampers for no. 2. 

Here, some epic mamas of two under two reveal the batshit crazy/downright rude/plain unhelpful things total strangers have said to them...

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Tuesday, 1 August 2017

WIN! Hotel Chocolat goodies worth almost £350.. and the chance to be in a book

'Scuse the small interruption to normal Run Out of Womb services, but who DOESN'T want to finish off a hard day's parenting with an amazing box of Hotel Chocolat Summer Sleekster desserts (36 chocolate petits fours, from patisserie to sorbet via cheesecakes and more...)? 

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The 10 Signs You're Turning Into Your Parents

For me, it was when I looked at my car radio and realised the 'Classic FM' preset was getting more use than my old faves Radio X, Absolute, etc. Sure, it's because I hope those instrumental dulcet tones will soothe tiny man and tiniest man to sleep... but it still reminds me of long car journeys as a kid, begging my parents to switch to Capital but being stuck with Beethoven... Yup, I realised, two years a mama and I'm turning into my parents.

Here are some other classic signs that you're mama or papa-ing just like the ones who made you...

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Thursday, 27 July 2017

Review: Redwood Lodge toddler garden playhouse

We spent two years Zoopla-ing and Rightmove-ing and trying to find and buy our family house. Luckily, sourcing and building a playhouse for the back garden was a lot simpler. The lack of lawyers' fees was an especially nice contrast...

But, because I overthink things, it still took a while. There are loads of places to buy playhouses online - some are simple, cheap shells a bit like a shed; others are more luxurious than the average London home.

In the end I picked the Redwood Lodge Playhouse. I didn't want one that overtook our garden - and this one has a small footprint of one metre squared, but since its topsy turvy design means it expands as it rises, there's plenty of playing room inside.
 

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Sunday, 16 July 2017

Best at-home beauty services for mamas

The old days: you had a big party/wedding/work do coming up and you wanted to treat yourself, so you popped out for a mani/blow dry/make-up. On the day, you had a long bath, did a face pack, slathered on the fake tan.. and felt fab.

Nowadays: you're a mama, 'me time' is no one pulling your hand/yelling questions at you whilst you do a wee. Pampering has got to be a bit different..

Which is why the blast of new at-home beauty apps and services are the answer. I've tested out a handful now; the gist is the same - call or download an app, book a service (hair, make-up, nails, massage, waxing, tanning: all covered) and the therapist turns up at your home, with towels, all the equipment (and even atmospheric candles at the top end of the market..!), do their magic, clear up, and leave.

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Saturday, 8 July 2017

Baby books and scrapbooks - the easy way..

"Everything you do for your first, you'll have to do for your next kids..." was the stark warning delivered when I showed off my latest creative effort for my firstborn. He'd snooze all day long in those early days, and I'd be sweating over baby scrapbooks, editing his 1 Second Everyday video, printing photos...

And yup, it's definitely not been as easy second time around. On the crazy rare occasions we hit Nap Jackpot (tiniest man and his toddler brother snoozing At The Same Time), I'm trying to sleep myself, or shoving a wash on, or making a meal..


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Monday, 3 July 2017

Prep for another baby - and the best presents for a second-time mama

When you're on baby number two (or three, or four, or..) and you've been there, done that, got the kiddo (and the stretch marks) and forgotten allllllllll about birth, you've got almost everything you need in the loft/squashed under the sofa/in carefully labelled moth-proof bags, depending on your levels of organisation. But what do you need this time around? And if you're thinking up present ideas for another-child parents, what should you buy? Here's your list...


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Friday, 9 June 2017

Luxury family travel: Lime Wood in the New Forest

 Lime Wood is the kind of place you go on a babymoon or minimoon (it has the most amazing food, a beautiful spa and a lovely New Forest setting), laze happily by the pool, fall in love, and fear you'll never be able to return to once you Become A Parent.

Luckily, having just returned from a brilliant two-night stay at the 32-room hotel just outside Lyndhurst, we can report it's a brilliant place to go as a family too. In fact, it might just be one of Britain's nicest luxury mini-breaks: fancy but not fussy; interior design that makes you wander if they'll notice if you fork-lift, say, the entire bathroom home with you, and food so good you're uber-grateful the New Forest is a (free-to-borrow) Hunter wellies waddle away, because you need those good long walks. 


We checked into Crescent Three, the ideal stay for families because it's probably more spacious than your home, if you live in London. The master bedroom is upstairs with a big private balcony gazing out over the forest, a king-sized bed with soft-cotton sheets, a roaring fire (with safety guard), beautiful decor touches (I loved the vanity table..) 

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Wednesday, 7 June 2017

About to become a mum of two (or more)? You need to read this.

I've been a bit blog-silent for a few weeks because our family of three has just become four: tiniest man was born two weeks ago.
He arrived two hours after I strolled (ha! huffed, puffed and almost rolled) into the (amazing) Whittington birthing centre. 
The second-time-around birth was definitely a whole lot easier. But whilst I spent huge chunks of pregnant time musing about birth and sleepless nights all over again, I hadn't really planned or thought much about the difference between looking after one toddler, and two children.
And now I'm a veteran mama of two (hey, got a fortnight's experience), I've realised it's really different. Maternity leave with one? It was all fab baby cinema trips, relaxing Brent Cross visits, culture days in town. I even wrote a smug post about it here...
Maternity leave with two? Desperately hoping a howling babe doesn't wake the toddler next-door; getting naps to coincide being the highlight of your month, that first Brent Cross visit requiring parental assistance and a stream of toddler food bribes and getting both into their car seats at the same time, without any sobbing, seeming tougher than organising a jail-break.   

So I asked the wise, experiences mamas of Facebook, what are your tips for life with two or more babes? And these are their brilliant answers. If you're pregnant with a second/third/fourth/seventeenth (and if the latter, Channel 4 wants to make a documentary about you)... read on. And get shopping..

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Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Which holiday-packing parent are you?

The Facebook parenting group posts start around May. "I'm planning my August holiday packing-list (first time abroad with the babe) and I'm on my fourth sheet of A4. Has anyone ever travelled easyJet and taken over the plane's entire luggage hold with their kit? Is that doable?" 

Or something like that.

Because parenting out of our comfort zone (basically the four walls of your home, in the early days) can be scary. Those adventurous sorts who use a year's maternity leave to visit 792 countries of the world, with only one rucksack between the three of them: HOW? 

So I thought I'd put together a tongue-in-cheek guide to the simplest way to pack for a holiday. Just match your personality to your trip, and start that pile of gear..

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Monday, 10 April 2017

The #parentspact and my husband the octopus

 Two years ago, when my tiny man really was living up to his moniker, I was doing my 91st lap of the bedroom at 3am, trying to rock him to sleep. He was full, burped and ready to go back to bed - ‘pleeease, I begged him in my head, won’t you just go to sleep?’
I remember dreaming of being a millionaire with a maternity nurse, who’d swoop in, bring the babe into the bedroom to have milk, then let me doze straight back to sleep… So I didn’t have eye-bags the size of Ikea’s blue plastic ones. 

But last week, I actually interviewed a maternity nurse - not for my own use, but in my job as a journalist. She works solely for the super-rich, royalty, and celebrities, and told me stories of regularly being handed over an hours-old newborn, fresh out of hospital, by parents who then wouldn’t even visit their tiny one for whole fortnight.  
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Monday, 27 March 2017

Review: City Tour buggy for travel (and the space-squeezed)

It's taken two years but we've now become that family with the buggy assault-course to get in/out of the house. First up there's the Cosatto, our first and main buggy that's comfy for tiny man and great for long walks, but heavy for schlepping up and down stairs / the Tube / town etc. There's the Mothercare XSS, which I initially raved about but doesn't lie flat, doesn't have a sun shield and is a bit tinny when pushing around... And now, a newcomer amongst the midst. One that threatens the other two's existence.. Step (wheel?) forward the City Tour.

Its older sibling the City Mini is one of the most popular buggies around: it's the one that in-the-know parents usually opt for, for it's one-handed easy fold action and nice steering. In fact, as I wrote in a piece featured in the Daily Mail, it's even the buggy with best eBay value (vital if you're Definitely Not Having Any More). 
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Saturday, 25 March 2017

Legoland for toddlers: a review

Theme parks are generally aimed at big kids - kids bigger than this 30-year-old blogger, actually, since scary rides terrify me.. Some are aimed at tots but not so great for older kids, but a couple stand out for being great for little 'uns and having plenty for siblings (and parents) too - and Legoland is one of them. I love seeing the amazing Lego builds, especially Miniland, so couldn't wait to take tiny man - now approaching two, and decidedly less tiny - and his nine-year-old cousin to the Windsor world of bricks and rides. And it's free for under 3s, yet there's loads for them to do. 


Here's our lowdown on what Legoland is like for toddlers - plus lots of practical top tips.


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Monday, 20 March 2017

11 hilarious tweets that reveal what it's REALLY like to parent a toddler

Screw those perfect Insta-shots. This is reality, toddler parents-to-be. Get ready.... 

1) When you lick just to check and...  



2) When your phone's memory is suddenly full and you're sure you didn't take 34,000 photos overnight, and then you check your camera roll....



3) When blindly inserting a hand into any cavity in your home is actually kinda dangerous...

 (via @marketingelise)

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Friday, 17 March 2017

Review: baby-friendly stay in London - the Sofitel St James

"Bonjour" is the greeting from all the smiling staff as you arrive at Sofitel St James. So however far you've travelled - and for us, it was just across London via the Tube - you immediately feel like you're on holiday. In a glistening, deluxe hotel in the middle of France. 

And when you also turn up with an overloaded-buggy containing a bewildered tiny man, that 'bonjour' is followed up with, 'un bébé! Fantastique! How can we help you to check in?' 


The staff at the French group Sofitel's Piccadilly hotel almost all hail from across the Channel. And whilst the old stereotype might be that the French like their children to be seen but not heard, our weekend at this grand Gallic hotel - a former bank and grade II listed building slap back in the middle of anywhere you'd want to be in central London - couldn't have been more baby-friendly.. 

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Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Mothers' day gift edit

Mothers' day gift edit





This is the post you want to leave lingering on a tablet/phone/laptop for your other half to "accidentally" spot and buy you something amazing from your tinies. Because let's not pretend otherwise - you love being a mama but it's seriously hard work and why not have a little gift reward once a year..? Sure, once they're older you'll treasure their homemade gifts - and there's a brilliant idea for one below so lets hope the other half keeps scrolling - but for now, a little bit of luxury would be lovely, right?

Here's our edit of SEVEN amazing Mothers' Day presents - and the first one is that home-made cracker:


* I'm in-love with this family fingerprint heart art idea by a fellow blogger - it's not too much work and will look lovely on the wall. There are canvases at Hobbycraft for as little as £2 and fingerprint paint there too, then it's just a question of making a stensil and getting the kiddo(s) to do their very best fingerprints. The end result looks wall-good and is such a nice present for mamas/grandmas/etc.

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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Nursery Crimes - or, making it up as we go along..

* Guest post from Giles - first-time dad, PR supremo and creator of London dad blog YOU THE DADDY) * 

Even at just five months' old, our little boy Teddy loves the classic nursery rhymes and vintage lullabies of yesteryear. But - if you're anything like me - remembering the words to said nursery rhymes (and definitely anything more advanced than the first verse), is a feat well beyond the new parent skillset. 

So, to ensure our new babe still gets the benefit of these dulcet tunes, even when his baby-brained dad can't recall the actual words, I've come up with a simple solution. Engaging my mad riffing skills (Vanilla Ice, watch your back), while avoiding the temptation to just read the lyrics verbatim from my phone, I've taken instead to making them up. 
 
Of all the classic, difficult-to-remember nursery rhymes, I find 'Hush little baby' to be the easiest to bastardise, thanks to its slow ambling melody and simple rhyming structure...
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Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Monochrome Spring Shopping

Monochrome Mothercare 2
You know those chilly/rainy toddler days when it's too cold for the playground and you've done the library, you've no play dates and the thought of soft play makes you wanna explode? On those days, we hit a shopping centre. Tiny man loves the toy shops and people-watching and the inevitable apple that keeps him busy for ooooh 20 minutes - and I ... love shopping. 

The shops are full of Spring right now, but buying something light and bright and totally unsuitable until, well, who knows but probably May is just too frustrating. So monochrome is the best way forward - and Mothercare was so chocka with lovely bits for Tiny Man (and his tiny girl-friends' upcoming second birthdays) plus I spotted some black-and-white maternity bits in-store that were far nicer than anything I saw when pregnant with Tiny Man.. And here are some of our faves all together. 

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Sunday, 29 January 2017

Easy, freezable, make-ahead toddler meals

I love cooking, but coming up with endless ideas plus juggling busy-at-work weeks with tiny man's voracious appetite means I've come to be one of those freezer-obsessives. We don't have a big one - but it's Jenga-style filled with ickle tupperwares that I can pull out in the morning and be 40-heat-up-seconds ready for supper that evening.

I'm freezer-lazy: where's the benefit of bulk-cooking bolognese/tomato/cheese sauce etc, if you've still got to boil up some pasta that's another 15 minutes.. So I prefer stews, pies, bakes: I like all-in-ones. Luckily, so does tiny man.

So here are 10 of our favourite easy, big-batchable recipes for toddler meals - and how to freeze them. Enjoy!

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Thursday, 5 January 2017

#thatswhatquietlookslike

“After hearing nothing from our youngest for too long, I discovered a kitchen covered in turmeric..” A friend’s Facebook admission inspired me to ask mamas and papas of babies, toddlers and kids about their #thatswhatquietlookslike experiences. Do they sound familiar...?!

“I was stuck on the phone fielding three emergencies related to work and our house - and my 18-month-year-old was happily playing on his own. He had disappeared into the kitchen. So after dealing with all the hassle I became suspicious and checked on him. He had gotten hold of the dishwashing liquid, and poured it over four baskets of freshly washed and folded summer laundry ready to be put away for winter. He even made sure that every single piece of clothing had some on it… #thatswhatquietlookslike 

“Quiet looks like a little boy eating coal from the fireplace! He won't eat what I cook him, but he will eat coal..” #thatswhatquietlookslike 

“Once found the boy at 20 months, licking wrappers. He had found the stash of chocolate in the kitchen and eaten it. All of it.” #thatswhatquietlookslike 

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Monday, 2 January 2017

Christmas at Kew: top tips for family visits

Christmas at Kew has become an annual highlight for many families - one of those rare London festive events that is great for all ages, not super-commercialised, and makes you go 'wow'. 

It's not cheap - £16 per adult, £10 for kids, under 4s are free, or a family of four costs £52 (these are advanced prices) - but having just unwrapped our scarves, hats and gloves from our New Year's Eve trip to Christmas at Kew, we can definitely say it's worth it.

So here's our top tips and FAQs for anyone planning a trip.

What is it?

Without wanting to give away the magic - plus the actual attractions change every year - it's a lit-up trail with attractions (some set to music) ranging from multicoloured lights in trees, to the 12 days of Christmas in models and fire rings, to giant candles and light tunnels. There are lit-up sculptures too, a Santa, elves and a short show, plus - my personal favourite - marshmallow toasting fire pits. You can buy marshmallows (£1.50) which seemed miraculous types - always caramalisingly toasting and never burning. We bought one each and kept having to restock... The finale is a laser light show outside the lake outside the Palm House.
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Tuesday, 13 December 2016

TOP TIPS FOR BABES - if babies did Facebook groups...

They're the most useful parenting innovation of the last few decades ever, but do you ever wonder what our babes would say if they got their hands on our Facebook parenting forums..? We found out...

1) the gift crowd-sourcing
2) the buying and selling
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Monday, 28 November 2016

Review: Enchanted Christmas House, Islington

So, *that* time of the year is approaching... and there are so many fun festive days out for the kids. There are grottos, but visits don't last long, and there are Christmas shows, but my toddler wouldn't sit still for a whole one. Then I heard about Enchanted House, Islington - an "interactive show" with lots of activities and characters, music and noise. This weekend, we (tiny man, his parents, and his eight-year-old niece) headed over to the Sunday afternoon session to check it out.

My main question was: is it worth the money? Because the Enchanted Christmas House an expensive place - from £129 for an adult and one child, up to £195 for two adults and two kids, or if you've five kids it's a whopping £270! 

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Sunday, 27 November 2016

Toddlers and kids' days out in London: Greenwich

 
We're always looking for new places to visit around London, and Greenwich struck gold: it's kid-friendly (there's loads to do) and parent-perfect (there are almost no chain stores, great markets, food, and shopping). It's also really busy - packed with tourists and Londoners alike - but plan ahead with these tips and you'll have the best family day out.

First up, what to do? Obviously there's a lot of water- and maritime-based history in the home of world time - so if you've got the time, and the weather, a fun way to arrive is by water taxi, or via the Thames cable car. We were more boring (it was cold!) and drove all the way, but parked the other side of the water and walked under the huge Greenwich foot tunnel, which tiny man enjoyed so much we could have just gone home then....

Instead, though, we hit the National Maritime Museum. It's free (horray!) and a really interesting museum of the history of the seas, including shipwrecks, maps, pirates and more. But if you've a tot, the best place to be is the Ahoy Gallery  - it's 0-7s, and there's so much to do: a pretend shop, boats, shovel coal into 'fires', sensory area with bubbles and water, build freight trains, try out a ship's cabin, get dressed up, cook a 'meal' on a ship... You can easily spend over an hour here with a toddler never getting bored. 
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Friday, 11 November 2016

WIN! The ultimate pregnancy and newborn bundle worth £400

As soon as you announce you're pregnant, Facebook starts flogging you a gazillion baby-related "essentials." But ask anyone who's grown a human before, and they'll likely say the only thing you *really* need whilst pregnant is a massive chocolate supply.. And some bump jeans (which you'll want to wear every Christmas for years after.. expandable wasteband: amazing.) 

There are, though, a bunch of hero products that'll make the nine months a whole bunch easier. So we had companies send in their very best pregnant products - and a couple for new babes too so you feel organised - and mamas at various stages of pregnancy tested them out. 

These are the stand-out items that they fell in love with - their verdicts, and, the best thing of all? You can win the whole lot, worth more than £400. Just enter the competition at the bottom of this post. Good luck!

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