Big Decisions, Crufts and Ruff Guides!

Irony of Making Decisions

It’s one of those funny things isn’t it – make a big decision and then irony of ironies, something challenges it.

A few weeks ago I was so up to my eyeballs that I turned off all notifications on Facebook groups.  Every now and again I check them all at the same time, and it has saved me loads of time.

But I then had to face facts that where I thought I was just going to take a few months off paid blogging work, I needed much longer.  So one day I took the big step of removing myself from the PR lists that I’d signed up to, and making an automatic reply that I could send back on any offers.  Such a shame, as I don’t choose many, and the few I do have been fun.  But the stress of then trying to fit in the review just isn’t worth it, unless I write a pants one on the way home in the car!

But then what happened.  FIVE minutes later!

I got invited to something I’d ALWAYS wanted to go to.

Crufts!

Crufts 2014

It might sound daft to a non-dog lover, but I’ve always wanted to go and I knew that the kids would get really inspired by seeing the shows, agility and obedience.

Plus I was invited by the one organisation that I will still be working for this year as an ambassador – the Forestry Commission.

Paws Outdoors

So the point to the trip was that the Kennel Club and the Forestry Commission signed a new agreement at Crufts.  The Club will encourage/remind it’s owners to be thoughtful when walking their dogs.  The commission is encouraging families to include their doggie friends with them on their walks.  (It’s more complicated than that, but I thought you might like the simple version!).

The Forestry Commission have created a ‘Ruff Guide‘ with tips on the best forests to go to with dogs, special activities being put on for dog owners, and tips on how to take care of our dogs whilst we are out.  I love taking the whole family to Wendover Woods, our local FC forest, so I think it is great to encourage more people to go walking with their dogs.

There is something special about a walk when we all go together – maybe because dogs remind us of the simple enjoyment of being in the woods, smelling the fresh air and running around.

The Problem

BUT.

There we were at Crufts at their wonderful ‘Discover Dogs’ section, surrounded by every make of dog.

And then the kids found the Lowchen pen ….

Kids and Lowchens

Look at the happy smile on Curly Headed Boy’s face, and the tiny little thing that Little Dimples has found quietly sitting in the corner …

Lowchens and children

 

And then they put the little one in my lap …… the poor Northern Hairy One was doomed.

Family dogs

So Dudley the labradoodle (the best, but most moulting dog in the world) has now got a little sister; which he is secretly quite chuffed about.

The two Norwegian Forest Cats, who are twice the size of her, have got their heads around it.

Lowchen and young children

And now the kids have someone to cuddle when they need a bit of chill time or are sick.

 

Lowchens and kids

Just look at those two!

I can’t wait to take her to Wendover with Dudley and let her experience the excitement of the woods.  Her little tail is wagging now when we walk her, although she can be a bit scared.  But soon she is going to become a brave adventurer like the translation of her name suggests; ‘Lion Dog’! (Yes, I know this is a crazy name for the smallest dog known to mankind!).

Many thanks to the Forestry Commission for sending us to Crufts.  I hope that any of you who have been nervous of taking your dogs out with you, will check out the Ruff Guide and take them with you next time!

By the way, if you think that your dog could be a star, there is a competition to put them forward as the face of the new 2014 Walkies campaign with the FC.

 

Sticks and magic

Things to do with sticksIt’s been tough, at times over the past few months.  I’ve been so busy that I was surprised and really chuffed to be asked to remain as an ambassador for the Forestry Commission (which means I get a membership to Wendover woods).

They sent us a lovely pack with a Stick Man book and a few other goodies, which as the kids already love that book, has gone to my salon for the kids there to enjoy on Mummy Mondays.  Julia Donaldson has teamed up with the FC to produce a range of events and activities to tie in with the character and encourage more families to explore the woods.

Do we need ideas and promotions like that?  Ideally no.  But in reality, yes we do.  Life gets busy, we lose our connections, and things like this help us to reconnect to ourselves, our kids and nature.

Check out this amazing post my Mammasaurus about a stick man hide and seek game that she made with the kids; pure magic!  My kids will love this.  Or this one from RedTedArt’s archives on making stickmen; so easy!

In fact my kids LOVE sticks!  Do you have a collection of sticks at your front and back door too (not allowed in the house)?

Nature is a wonderful support to me.  Going for a ‘family walk’ on sunday is one of my favourite things; even when it gets chaotic as often happens with a dog, 2 kids and the ‘do we take scooters, push chairs or bikes – and which one will create less hassle on the way’ decision

Does it work for you too?

Get out there this weekend and have some fun with sticks!

 

For more information and activity sheets, as well as dates of trails at specific locations please visit www.forestry.gov.uk/stickman.

For a chance to win one of 5 Forestry Commission Stick Man goody bags, simply sign up to receive the Forestry Commission e-newsletter at www.forestry.gov.uk/moreinfo quoting the code STICKMAN.

Stick Man trails are running at the places / dates below, encouraging children to find out more about forests and the importance of wood and trees to their daily lives.:
Bedgebury Pinetum, Kent
23rd November to 30th January
Birches Valley at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire
26th October to 5th January
Dalby Forest, Yorkshire
30th November to 31st January
Delamere Forest, Cheshire
2nd November to 26th January
Grizedale forest, Cumbria
30th November to 31 January
Haldon Forest Park, Exeter
30th November to 31 January
High Lodge, Suffolk
4th November to 31st January
Sherwood Pines, Nottingham
7-8th, 14-15th, 21-22th December and 1st-31st January
Wendover woods, Buckinghamshire
18th November to 29th January
Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire
1st December to 31st January
Whinlatter Forest, Cumbria
30th November to 31 January
Wyre Forest, Worcestershire
1st November to 31st January

 

*Disclosure I’ve been given a membership to Wendover woods and am an Ambassador for the Forestry Commission, but I’m basically too busy to do a post unless I really care about something, so you can be sure that I’ve not been influenced by that!

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8 Top Tips For Having Wonderful Summer Holidays With The Kids On A Budget

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Here are my Top Tips for finding things to do in the holidays to keep those kids of yours busy without breaking the bank!

 

1) The Library

There is a summer challenge every year.  This year is the ‘Creepy House Challenge‘ where the kids read 6 books by the end of the summer holidays and they get loads of encouragment from the librarians with stickers and the chance to tell them about each book.

This is a great activity.  It’s Free.  It takes time going to the library.  You can do it when it rains!  Plus it’s a gentle way of keeping them going on reading.

 

2) Forests

I’m an ambassador for The Forestry Commission and love Wendover Forest.  They have a Forest Fairy Tale activity going on at the moment, which is a great way of getting our kids involved in being outside.

Take a picnic, make dens, let their imagination run free!

 

3) Festivals

I LOVE going to small or family festivals.  I’m off to Folk by the oak this weekend and Folk Stock in September.  Check out my top tips for first timers.

Take your own food and drink to keep the cost down and give the kids a purse with their money in it so that they understand there is a limit and can choose what they would like to do, but that it’s not an endless supply.

 

4) Simple Things are good for the kids

Don’t worry about a lack of money, it’s good for the kids to enjoy the simple things in life.

Don’t try to fill all their time, it’s good for them to get a little bored, or to learn to occupy themselves (although you may need to give them a bit of direction or make it easy for them to think about it).

 

5) How to keep the house together and yourself from going crazy

Check out my Top 7 Tips For the Summer Holidays , with ideas on how to keep the kids occupied and help the house to survive!

 

6) When You Are Exhausted

Read these top tips for cheap games to play when you are tired:  so that when you are exhausted, or if you get sick, you have some simple things that take little energy for you to do, or that they will be happy doing over and over.

Take some time out.  Swap with another mum.  Ask relatives to give you a day off.  Or pop the kids into a day’s camp if you can afford it.  You’ll come back revitalised and fun to be with, so it’s a win-win for the whole family!

 

7) Don’t Do Things You Can’t Afford

Don’t put yourself in debt in order to survive the holidays.  Your kids don’t need that.  A simple rule of thumb is that if it’s going to take you more than 3 months to pay off (i.e. a season), then you can’t afford it.

They won’t be ruined forever if they don’t get to go to Disney World or an adventure park.  Look at the free things available instead like museums or community events.

 

8) Don’t Feel Guilty About Working

It’s a fact of life, some of us have to work full or part-time during the holidays.  I’m particularly aware of this as things are going to be really busy this summer with the preparations for my new Salon and Spa as it opens in October.

With the time that you have, be present with them.  Create Memories.  Have fun.

 

What are your top tips?  (Feel free to add your blog post if you have written one, I don’t mind people adding links).

 

 

Toddler in den

Adventure comes in surprising places

Mum and child in the woods
Not so warm!

 

Brrrrrrrrrrr!

It was freezing (0 degrees!), but the kids didn’t seem to notice at all.

I was wishing I’d put my thermals on, and was eternally grateful for choosing woolly socks and snow boots over wellies.

But the cheerful ‘Ooooh Mummy look at this’ coming from one direction versus ‘No Mummy come look at this first’ from the opposite direction cheered me up.

Curly Headed Boy was chuffed that he could easily pretend he was in an ancient forest with bears and wolves around every corner.  He was off climbing through brambles and goodness knows what else.

Toddler in den
My secret den!

Little Dimples was enchanted with a little partially constructed den that she had found and I was instructed to find more sticks to add to it.

The Hairy northern one meantime was taking photos left right and center, so he too was in his element.

Next time we are definitely bringing the big black monster (it would be easy to put the dog back in the car at the end of a walk, while you get a cuppa, or drink it outside).

 

Where were we?

A well kept secret that when I mentioned it loads of people seemed to know about, but no one had told us; Wendover Woods.  (We live just outside St Albans, and it’s about 34-45mins away).

We’d brought the radio flyer just incase the kids got tired, but I was amazed that Little Dimples (3 in a month) was able to keep walking the whole distance, even when we were climbing back up the hill, it must have been all the ‘Ho Hos’ that we sang.

Children investigating
Climbing an imaginary mountain!

I’d still recommend bringing something though if you have a toddler, or be prepared to carry them.  In fact I was amazed how many young families there were and especially how many with little babies, either with industrial strength push chairs or slings.

We tried out the Cafe in the Woods, which I thought was great.  Simple stuff for grown ups and kids that hits the spot and at a good price (menus are online).  It got really busy though (at 11.30), and it’s winter.  So I’m pretty sure that you wouldn’t get any where near it in the summer.

Next time we are going to go as soon as we get up and have bacon butties before we go for our walk; yum!

Plus we’ll remember to try the free iPhone app which has a map of the area and a tree finder, which I think is a great idea.

Once the family gets a little older, there were people cycling, running, and there is a Go Ape as well.  I talked to a local mum who says that in the summer locals walk up rather than drive so it doesn’t get as busy car parking wise as you’d expect, and that it’s great for parties.

I also saw someone in a wheelchair, so when it says that it is accessible, it obviously is.  I was a bit worried with my fibromyalgia that it might be too much for me, but I needn’t have worried (don’t worry fitness types; it could be a lot more physical than we tried).

I was worried that Go Ape would be too obvious and we’d get nagged to go, but it wasn’t too in your face at all, and the play park is great, so I’m sure the kids will be happy there.

Muddy Puddle At Wendover
A HUGE Muddy Puddle!

Of course of all the potential things to play on the boys were much more interested in the huge great big muddy swamp that was all iced over and covered in big sticks, and eventually we did have a catastrophe.

Luckily it was time to go home, so we wrapped Curly Headed Boy in a blanket and popped in the car.  I’d recommend a spare pair of trousers for each child just incase.  (And a hot toddy for you, when you get home).

 

The Numbers

A discovery pass for a year is £37, which gives you free parking.

Parking would cost you: £1.50 for 2 hours, £3 for 4 hours or £5.50 for an all day stay.

So if you went all day 3 times in the summer, and then for 4 hours more than 4 times a year, it would have paid for itself.

There are also a pile of other freebies or discounts listed here on the page about Discovery Passes, the most significant being 15% off forest holidays or  10% off trailbase holidays and the most useful being free refills on cups of tea or 15% off Go Ape (see details for exclusions).  So you could save lots more than the pass cost you.

You also get a few bits and pieces to start the kids off with ideas of things to collect and enjoy while they are there, which I think would be a great idea if you were the type of family who thought it would be a good idea to get out and about, but weren’t sure how to get the kids interested.

 

Overall

Boy covered in mud
I fell in!

 

Curly Headed boy said that ‘it was the best holiday he’d had’; he’s not always that easy to please!  Later that day he said he was really lucky to have me as a Mummy; now we know that’s true, but it’s not often that he remembers, so that was a lovely thing for him to say.

Little Dimples said ‘Forest was good. I loved the play ground’.

The Big Hairy Northerner thought ‘the woods were magical’.

I loved it, and really loved my hot toddy when I got home!

For me buying a pass would feel like a commitment and a reminder, and I think it would be well worth it.  I suspect very strongly that we will be renewing next year when our pass runs out.

We are bound to go back lots, so I’ll do another review in the summer and let you know what the BBQ sites are like and whether it gets too busy or not.

 

Disclosure: I was given a years Discovery Pass in return for doing a review, but my opinions are my own.  I’d like to thank the Forestry Commission for being so patient with me, as soon after they offered for me to get the pass I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and have been nervous of going and busy with sorting it out.