**If you’re looking to have a more eco Christmas this year, you’ve come to the right place. This is not a sponsored post, but does contain links to other blogs I have written and sites you might find useful.

Calling time on pointless gifts to create a more eco Christmas

eco ChristmasI have always been a thoughtful gift giver. Plus I’m thrifty beyond belief, with a brilliant eye for bargains. I can walk out of a charity shop with a carrier bag chock full (of often brand new goodies!) for a tenner. It drives my husband mad, because on the rare occasion he ventures into one, he doesn’t find a thing.

I also love to make edible and drinkable gifts as well as natural toiletries. Over the years I’ve been known to dedicate entire weeks to the gift making cause.

These days, I don’t get nearly as much opportunity to source or make presents. Unless my heart has gone into it, giving gifts for the sake of it just feels meh. Don’t get me wrong, I still really enjoy putting together packages to send in the post. Spoiling friends, who are busy taking care of their own kids and are often forgotten about, is one of my favourite things to do. Obligation giving just does not sit right with me anymore though. Especially for children (more on that later).

Think of other ways to celebrate the countdown to Christmas 

Call me jaded, but this will be my tenth Christmas as a parent. My views have changed somewhat over the years, and I have come to absolutely abhor kids advent calendars. Along with elf on the shelf, Christmas Eve boxes and everything else that leads to over excitement central.

They caused my children nothing but abject misery, so we stopped trying to keep up with what everyone else was doing two years ago. Instead we did a kindness challenge countdown, which was hugely successful. Each day between the first and twenty fourth of December, my kids were given a task to promote kindness within the home. You can read about it here if you like.

Last year we had our biggest sort through of clothes and toys ever, and donated everything to a local centre who provide for women and children in refuges. This year we shall be putting together bags of hygiene products, for our local hygiene bank. Take a look at their campaign on Instagram for all the details.

Becoming more eco-minded isn’t just about Christmas

Eco ChristmasAs my kids get older, I want to steer them away from mountains of stuff twice a year. I want them to have memorable experiences, and fun days they can look back on. Also, I don’t want them to have unrealistic expectations. The idea that people automatically give us things, simply because it’s our birthday or Christmas is a concept mine find hard to understand. If someone isn’t in our lives on a day to day basis, they are in danger of being known as “such and such who sends us stuff.” Which is not good for anyone concerned.

The solution, and quickest way to be more eco (especially at Christmas time) is to opt out of consuming cheap products. Fast food, fast fashion, plastic crap the children get bored of after five minutes. Don’t even get me started on the disgustingly toxic paraben-loaded toiletry sets that are in every supermarket from the beginning of October. It’s all such bad news for the environment, and who really enjoys receiving these types of gifts? So let’s break this wasteful cycle. Giving pointless and unnecessary presents, purely because the calendar tells us to, has to stop.

Of course, there are some very lovely companies out there. Ones who consider the environment at every angle, and donate to many charities. Here are some of my faves: Librio, who make beautiful personalised kids books. Figtree Clothing, who promote a zero waste lifestyle, as well as selling stunning organic clothing and well sourced natural toiletries. Savon Stories, who hand make organic beauty products.

Try making your own gifts for a more eco Christmas  

Home made gifts really are the best. I get such pleasure from giving things I’ve created myself, and they are always appreciated and gratefully received. Over the years my nearest and dearest have been treated to delicious sweet treats such as truffles, brownies, energy balls and biscuits. Savoury delights including pickles, chutneys and infused oils. Face masks, body scrubs and lots of random bits and bobs I can’t even remember.

If you’re in the market for making, check out this Pinterest board, which is chock full of gift making inspiration.

You might also like my epic (or so I am told) choco-coffee liqueur…

Will you be trying to have a more eco Christmas this year? Remember small steps lead to big changes!  

Hands up who loves pancakes? Trust me they don’t get much better than these, made using self-raising Free From Fairy Flour, which is rice free as well as gluten free. Take a look at the Free From Fairy blog to learn more. The lady behind the blog, Vicki, is a friend of mine. She created this fabulous flour blend so her coeliac daughter could eat plenty of nutrient dense home cooked food. Check out her blog, and be truly inspired by her gorgeous recipes.

Free From Fairy Flour is available in plain and self-raising, and contains three ancient grains (sorghum, buckwheat and teff). Although we mostly eat paleo here, we do occasionally have healthy resistant starches. Grains like this are much easier to digest than gluten containing grains, especially for those with allergies.

free from fairy flour

Kids in the kitchen

My children absolutely love cooking, and really enjoy being given the autonomy to do everything themselves. Pancakes made with free from fairy flour are super easy to make. As you can see in the video below, the girls had an absolute blast making our breakfast.

What you’ll need to make 10-12 pancakes 

  • 1 cup of self-raising free from fairy flour
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla powder (or one tsp of vanilla extract)

Method

  • crack your eggs into a large bowl and give them a whisk
  • add the rest of your ingredients, and mix well with your whisk
  • heat your pan until it’s med-hot, and grease with oil or melted butter
  • cook as you would any other pancakes
  • serve immediately

paradise wildlife parkIf you’re in the market to see animals of all shapes and sizes, I’m pretty sure you’ll love Paradise Wildlife Park.

I can see why it’s Europe’s leading zoo, because I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen so much variation under one roof. From reptiles to big cats, penguins to zebras and a life size dinosaur exhibition thrown in for good measure, you’d be hard pressed to not find something for everyone. All three of my children (aged 4-9) were suitably impressed, which is saying something in itself.

The park is huge and it was amazing to see how much space the animals have to roam around. My memories of the zoo from when I was a kid always include sad animals pacing their tiny cages. The animals at Paradise Wildlife Park are clearly being cared for well, and they certainly seemed to be content within their surroundings.

paradise wildlife parkThroughout the day there are feeds and talks you can participate in, to hear the keepers talk about specific animals. They also have daily shows in the jungle theatre. I really enjoyed hearing all about the cheetahs, although it’s sad to think that in this day and age people still kill big cats for their fur.

Did you know that there were over 100,000 cheetahs in 1900, compared to less than 10,000 now?

Did you know that unlike other big cats, cheetahs do not roar, they purr like house cats?

Did you know that cheetahs are the worlds fastest land animals? They can achieve their top speed in just three seconds!

paradise wildlife park

 

Our favourite bits 

There are over 800 exotic wild animals at Paradise Wildlife Park, including five species of big cats. We wanted to try and see everything, and arrived nice and early so we could fit loads in.

The big cats have such a presence, but they were also really chilled out, just loafing around. It’s like they’re looking directing at you, and I find it rather exhilarating being that close to nature. The white tiger was particularly awesome and so beautiful.

paradise wildlife park

The reptile house was fascinating, and I sat watching the alligator for about ten minutes – his graceful moves were so mesmerising. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the cockroaches, because I have a strange and unfounded phobia of them, which my kids all thought was hilarious. Clara was in awe of them because she thought they looked like giant woodlouse, one of her faves.

We love dinosaurs in my house, so the mini train taking us through the World of Dinosaurs was a real treat. There are thirty life size, moving and roaring dinos in the exhibition, which opened recently. They are incredibly well made and a few are a tad scary because of how huge they are, we really enjoyed it.

paradise wildlife park

It’s always a pleasure to see penguins strolling around, who can fail to smile at these little guys? The camels were intriguing creatures, although hold your nose because they’re rather pungent. The zebra was meandering freely in his stable, and we are still trying to work out whether they are white animals with black stripes or black animals with white stripes. Have you ever pondered this?

paradise wildlife park

 

After the children had exhausted themselves inside the park, we went to the outdoor playground for them to tackle the obstacle course. They then had about ten minutes at the soft play area before it was time to start heading off. They would have happily stayed for longer had we not been watching the time so we didn’t caught in rush hour. It was a truly fantastic day out, and I’d love to go back again sometime soon.

Facilities

There are tons of picnic benches dotted around, and lots of clean toilets (including plenty of baby changes and disabled loos). We took a picnic with us, but the food looked decent, and the cafes serve a wide variety of hot and cold drinks, snacks and meals. The park is buggy/wheelchair friendly, and all enclosures have viewing windows suitable for small children and those in wheelchairs.

We had a glorious day in the middle of summer, but there is also a huge indoor play area for not so great weather. They also have several other play areas, a giant paddling pool and adventure golf course to ensure everyone is kept busy.

You can book events and experiences, such as feeding big cats and shadowing the keepers. You can have champagne breakfasts at the park, barbecues, sleepovers and team building days with your colleagues. They also run volunteering days, and are a fully registered charity (see the video below for more details).

How to get to Paradise Wildlife Park 

Drivers will need to make their way to White Stubbs Lane, Broxbourne, EN10 7QA. There are several car parks, with capacity into the thousands, and apparently even on the busiest days there will always be room to park your car.

For the non-drivers among us (like my family), you’ll need to make your way to Broxbourne train station from London Liverpool Street, Hertford East or Cambridge or Tottenham Hale tube. Outside the station there is a phone number to call to request the Paradise Wildlife Park minibus collects you, to take you to the park. The journey time is around ten minutes and costs £3 an adult and £1 a child for a return ticket.

paradise wildlife park

I was so impressed by how quickly the driver arrived and the cost too, as it would have been three or four times the amount if we’d have taken taxis. The journey by public transport often puts me off going to places like this, as they can be monumentally difficult to get to unless you’re in a car. It’s nice to see non-drivers being so well catered for.

You will receive a small discount for buying your tickets in advance online, otherwise you can buy them on the day at the gate. Under two’s go free and other tickets range from £15.68 to £21. Annual passes start from just £5 a month.

For news and updates follow Paradise Wildlife Park across social media

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | Blog

paradise wildlife park

**Disclaimer: we were given our entry in exchange for this honest review – all thoughts and photos are my own. For my full disclosure policy, please click here.**

 

 

It’s not often that you get to bounce on a giant trampoline disguised as a bed outside an iconic London train station. When Virgin TV Kids invited us to do so, we erm, jumped at the chance. My three relished their time on the bed, and were all smiles throughout. It’s just a shame this isn’t an every day occurrence!

Virgin were outside Kings Cross station on Thursday to celebrate the launch of their brand new children’s channel and app. Virgin TV Kids provides a safe and fun way for children aged 3-7 to watch their favourite shows, and is completely free of in-app purchases and advertising (always a win as far as I’m concerned).

Giant bed at Kings Cross Station, London, UK, 24th August 2017

Key features

There are thousands of shows for your little ones to watch, including Peppa Pig and PAW Patrol. If you’re already a Virgin TV customer on the fun or full house package it’ll cost you nothing extra.

As well as all the programmes, the app also has interactive games and books which is fab from an educational perspective. The children can create their own personalised profiles, which my three love doing.

For me, the best feature is the 30 day download. As a non driving family, we take public transport almost every day, and screen based entertainment is vital on return journeys when everyone is exhausted and in need of quiet time. Having shows downloaded on the children’s tablets is essential, as even when there is WiFi available, it’s rarely strong enough to be able to stream television.

The app also has a repeat feature, whereby the kids can press a button and watch the same show up to five times. Hopefully they’ll have their headphones on while they’re doing that!

As I’m sure you’ll agree, the app provides a whole load of fun to keep the little ones entertained. The app can be downloaded now from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

For more information please visit the Virgin Media website. You can also follow their news on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

virgin1

**Disclaimer: Virgin Media paid our expenses so we could attend the launch, all words are my own. For my full disclosure policy, please click here.**

 

A story of mental health #mhaw17When I found myself pregnant with Polly in 2008, the state of my mental health had never been better. At the ripe old age of 29 I’d already been on a remarkable journey.

Extraordinary even

I had survived a dysfunctional childhood, and self-destructive young adulthood. I’d dragged myself through two mental breakdowns, and experienced the highest highs and lowest lows.

I had travelled the world, and met my awesome husband along the way. I’d made the most wonderful friends a person could wish for. Which is just as well, because at 25 I estranged myself from every single member of my family. 

I’d also learnt (the hard way) that the answers to life’s problems could not be found at the bottom of a bottle.

Believe me, I’d searched every external crevice for happiness, and realised that it comes from within.

I learnt that to be happy, I would need to look in the mirror and like what I saw

I had to distinguish between my wants and my needs, and get to know who I really was. I’d need to forgive myself for the things that I wasn’t proud of. I’d need to truly let go of the past so I could make peace with it.

I was in such a good place when Polly came along. Even a traumatic birth didn’t stop me from loving her fiercely from the second she came out. To be honest I didn’t properly recognise it as traumatic until I was giving birth to Clara two and a half years later. That’s a whole blog in itself though.  

I walked everywhere that summer, staring at my beautiful baby in wonder. Had I really made her? Could I really be that lucky?

By the time I became a mum I had overcome so much, that I honestly thought the hardest bits were over.

Surviving: A Story of Mental Health #MHAW17Oh how naive I was

I never, in my wildest dreams, imagined that my own children could push me to the edge of my sanity. That I would watch my mental health deteriorate and feel powerless to do anything about it.  

Friends with kids had somberly warned me about newborn sleep deprivation. They’d said to watch out for pesky teeth, and strange changes that occur when babies are going through growth spurts.

A good friend, who’d had two kids very close together, had said to expect one seriously tough day a week. A day so bad I’d be reaching for the gin before the witching hour was over. One that I’d want to completely forget about as soon as the kids were asleep.

That’s not going to happen to me, I thought, no way. I’d leave a sensible age gap between my kids, having them super close sounds like a nightmare.

My girls are 2y 7m apart, and take it from me, the age gap is the least of our troubles

At seven months pregnant with Clara I found myself sobbing to my ex boss.

“I’m so exhausted, I don’t think I can last another three weeks until my maternity leave is due to start.”

Fortunately he’s a family man himself, and one of life’s good eggs. He let me tie up my loose ends and finish that day. If only all work managers were like him.

Back then I had a toddler who would get up ten times a night as standard, have huge meltdowns at 3am, and refuse to go to her daddy. As well as that we had a very noisy neighbour on our hands, who would be up all hours. 

We managed to muddle through though, and cope. Somehow.

Surviving: A Story of Mental Health #MHAW17When Clara was born I did everything I could to enjoy her baby days. Knowing how fast they’d go, I drunk up every delicious drop of that gorgeous girl. 

Polly was jealous of her sister, beyond what felt normal, and it was heartbreaking watching her regress. Nursery was more of a hindrance than a help, but we thought we were doing her good by letting her socialise. She was diagnosed with an allergy list as long as my arm, and so began years of exclusion diets. More frustration. More difficulty. 

Fast forward fifteen months, and a prosecco fuelled evening lead to Freddy being conceived. (Hubby has never touched the stuff since!)

By then I was back to work, and the girls were both at nursery. Clara slept through from ten weeks old, which was just as well, because Polly was still up all night. Challenging behaviour was the order of the day.

I found myself wondering on an hourly basis how I’d cope with three children when two already seemed like too many

Freddy’s pregnancy was the toughest, but with two kids to keep me busy it went fast. Two maternity leaves in three years.

Polly started school and struggled massively from day one. 

“She’s fine when she’s here.”

Oh how I loathed those words, and the patronising delivery of them. The inference being that we must be doing something wrong at home. Clearly the meltdowns and night time antics were either exaggerated or our fault.

Polly’s allergies weren’t getting better, so we had her tested for every gastrointestinal disease under the sun. Nothing. When a leading gastro paediatrician told me the tests had come back in normal range I knew what was coming next.

Autism. Diagnosed a year later

Surviving: A Story of Mental Health #MHAW17By then it felt like we were a broken family, and we desperately needed help being put back together. No such luck. When you live in London under the Tories, you’re on your own. 

Polly was on a clear cycle by then. Sleep and post-school meltdowns would get worse as we neared the end of term. Then we’d plough all our energy into making her happier over the holidays only to watch our hard work unravel when she went back.

My poor baby girl was severely overwhelmed by school, and they were doing precisely nothing to help her.

Home education wasn’t a last resort, but I wasn’t going to sit back and let it get that bad. Eighteen months later, and here we are.

Yes we’ve made progress, but the set backs can send us to square one in a heartbeat

We’re now the noisy neighbours. Our kids are loud. They have meltdowns and tantrums multiple times a day. Individually they’re awesome, collectively they make me want to cry.

I have good days and bad, but just lately there haven’t been many good ones. The challenges have been never ending, and keep on coming.

My previously rock solid marriage can feel as shaky as a dingy in the middle of the ocean on a stormy night. Most days I want to punch my husband in the face when he leaves the house to go to work, because he gets a break from it all.

Sleep is better than it’s ever been, but it’s still rubbish. Freddy’s in our bed every night. Polly’s often up. And although Clara sleeps, getting her to bed can be a tiresome task. She’s not getting enough Zzzzz’s and unlike her brother and sister, who are used to running on empty, she can’t handle it.

Home education often means being a prisoner in my own home. If Polly is anxious and exhausted and I can’t convince her to leave the house. Most days I have fun things planned for us to do, but usually we do none of them because we get caught up in Polly’s rage. She’s taken to using me as her punching bag. At least she isn’t being so violent with the younger two.

Surviving: A Story of Mental Health #MHAW17Eight years ago, when I was nearing the end of Polly’s pregnancy, I thought I had it all sussed out

Surely motherhood was like everything else? The harder you worked, the more rewards you would reap? I’d just work my butt off, and give my absolute all to my kids. Surely that would equate to happiness?

To be completely honest, even if it was possible to go back in time and tell my thirty year old self how it would actually be, I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway.

My plan was fail safe. I’d just love my kids more than everyone else loved theirs, and not make ridiculously stupid decisions that would mess them up in later life.

Once again, I’m learning the hardest way that it’s not that simple though. So here I am, eight years later, feeling more clueless now than ever before. The game is constantly changing, and I have no frigging idea what the rules are.

People warn you about maternal and post-natal depression. Nobody tells you about surviving chronic stress due to challenging children. 

The emptiness you can feel when you give everything to your kids and get treated like the enemy

The cycle of self-loathing that’s created from having toxic thoughts about the little people you created. 

The loneliness you can feel, even though you can’t take a pee in private. 

All any of us can do is try our best, and hope that when all is said and done, it was enough

**sharing for world mental health awareness week**