Sunday, 27 January 2013

Paradise Wildlife Park - is it in #BritainsBestDaysOut ?

It was a little bit cold. It was a little bit damp. It didn't stop us from having some quality family time together.

We visited Paradise Wildlife Park - Apparently it is 'the leading animal experience attraction in Europe'.

We were lucky enough to receive a family ticket to visit the park, on the condition that we review and linked back to the MoneySupermarket vouchers site.
Missed a chance to get Daddy's head in here...
Both girls love a map, and Paradise Park's map is lovely and colourful!

Paradise Park is a place I've wanted to visit for a while, but haven't got around to yet. We do have a fab family farm park right on our doorstep, and Paradise Park is around 25 minutes drive away along the dreaded M25 for us, so due to a poor car-sickly traveller I've put it off until now.

However we finally decided to give it a go, having heard some good things about it from friends who have been before. The sky was blue when we left home today, and we were all in good spirits - Sasha was particularly excited at the thought of a mini zoo. I'm sure most people tend to go in summer time, and it's fair to say everything probably seems much rosier then....

I wanted to love this place, I really did, but I'm afraid I have to be honest and just give it a 'like'. It's a small zoo, and they do have a huge variety of animals there - lions, tigers, snow leopards, penguins, camels, wolves, tapirs... and the list goes on. In fact, for such a small area, they do have an amazing amount of animals.

I loved the reptile house, which was full of HUGE snakes, an alligator, chameleon and the fattest toad I have ever seen. The meerkats were great fun to watch, and the zebras very impressive. We were lucky enough to catch a talk by the penguins at feeding time, and the staff member was very informative, clear to hear and kept it short and sweet which is important for young children - but with the opportunity to ask questions, which is great for older children. I was amazed to be able to walk into the bat house, and to find hundreds of bats hanging above my head; I was just glad they were all asleep!

The girls loved the giant bunny rabbits, and the penguins. We were particularly lucky that the school topic right now is big cats, so it was brilliant to be able to see some of those in action and read the fact boards about them. There are treetop walks around most of the enclosures, so you are pretty much always guaranteed a good view, which is a definite plus point.

The girls wanted to whizz through the animal park as they had spotted the playground as we drove up. This covers quite a large area, and has plenty of unusual slides (the Old Lady's Shoe, for example!) and a few swings. There is also an area with 3 swings for disabled visitors, but this is closed off to everyone else (although in full view) which I'm not sure is the best way to go about it. The two old fire engines which children can climb on and pretend to drive were a big hit, and the pirate ship was enjoyed too. There's also an adventure type trail and a woodland walk, although it was too muddy for us to check them out.

We took a ride on the miniature railway there, which lasts for about 10 minutes through a wood with various models of dinosaurs (and a very funny, obviously sponsored, Kung Fu Panda!). The girls loved that, but I did think the extra £4 to pay (£1 per person) was a bit steep. Still, Mr C insisted.... must get him over that train addiction....

Enjoying the mini train - whose smile is biggest?!
Finally, as it started to spit with rain, we headed indoors to the indoor soft play area. This was not as big as I was expecting, but in a way compact is nicer as you feel less worried about 'losing' the children. They enjoyed it for around 20 minutes which is quite good for them - I think the novelty factor helped though and I'm not sure they'd be asking to go back another time.

The park was easy to get to (well signposted from the M25), lots of animals to see, an impressive amount of slides and very friendly staff. Plenty to do for younger children but at £13 per adult (if you buy online in advance) and £8 per child (2-15yrs) at this time of year (low season), I'm sorry to say that I'm not sure it was the best value day out.

Disclaimer: we were sent a family ticket for the purposes of this review, thanks to @tots100 and

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Sunday, 20 January 2013

Too old for Social Media and technology?

How old is too old? When you can no longer see to type, or when you have been out of school for more than 5 minutes?

I'm talking social media and technology. Or rather, attempting to. I'm not really sure I know what to say or how to say it. I consider myself fairly well-educated, but have now somehow become a doofus at the same time.

Twitter. Facebook. Pinterest. Google+. Instagram. Reddit. StumbleUpon. Flickr. Bolt. Tumblr.
Then there's communities and groups - YouTube, Blogger, Wordpress, Facebook Groups, Google+ Pages, Yahoo, Mumsnet, Netmums, Tots100, Britmums, Cybher.... the names just go on and on. 

My head spins. I have no idea who I'm following on what anymore. I could seriously do with hiring someone to come round and sort my computer life out into categories. First step would be to match all the personal names to the blog names and other 'handles' (anyone remember CB radios?!). 

Steph Curtis = Steph's Two Girls = @stephc007. 

Google+ is the place to be, so I've been told. My 5 year old daughter could probably find her way around it quicker than I can. Baffled is an understatement. Yet still I persevere, adding names willy-nilly and hoping someday all will become clear. 

I love this world but I feel like I'm drowning. Is it because I'm too old? Or is it because I'm a mother? Or maybe it's that my brain actually is tiny. Bring back my old ZX Spectrum and JetPack, please!

I just don't think I have that same brain capacity as back in the good old days any more. All available space is taken up with things like 'must remember to put homework back in bags'. 'Must find missing library book'. 'Must iron name tag onto new school tights' (for the girls, not me). 'Must text old friend about to give birth and check she's OK'. 'Must remember to buy, wrap and post birthday present for 9 year old later this week'. 'Must check website to see if snow is so bad that school will be closed in the morning'. 'Must remember to call parents' (oops, sorry mum....).

I'm well aware that I'm complicating my life unnecessarily, that most of my friends feel no pressure to join in 'online'. As much as it drives me insane, I also love the support I've found through various social media sites and I just don't feel I can turn my back on them all now. Nor do I want to. I just want to understand a little bit more and feel a little less like an ancient dinosaur. Is that too much to ask?!

Tomorrow I start my first job in 5 years (snow permitting). Lucky me - having a 5 year break AND finding a new job. That I wasn't actually looking for. How will I find the time for work (out of the house, as opposed to the 'stuff' I manage at home), and what vital information will drop out of my head first? I'm not scared. Much.

*Edited as someone has just mentioned 'sverve' to me. Seriously. Another one?! I'm off to check it out. Someone let me know what hashtag I should be using nowadays too, please...
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Chocolate Microwave Cake recipe - really yummy!

OK, so this post really is what it says on the label. Normally I steer well clear of doing all things foodie, but as I have admitted in the past, I do enjoy a spot of baking. If I had all the time in the world and could always find someone who wanted to eat it, I'd bake every day. Sadly my two girls are unbelievably not in love with cake. One of them will eat the icing, but that's as good as it gets. Luckily for my waistline, I'm not too fussed about eating cake myself generally, but I do enjoy making and decorating it.

So anyhow, I've been asked to post this recipe. It was something I did at Christmas (hence the design!) but I'm sure you could use it for any occasion.

Chocolate Microwave Cake

Microwave Chocolate Cake. The yummiest cake I've eaten in a long while. REALLY? I can hear you cry incredulously? Well, yes. A few other people said so too. So here is the recipe which I am so kindly sharing with you all. Special thoughts go to those who are always short of time. As I start my new job tomorrow and become one of those people, I'll be happy to have this recipe to fall back on and cheer me up from time to time.

  • 175g caster sugar
  • 175g margarine (or soft unsalted butter)
  • 40g cocoa 
  • 150g self raising flour
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Simple. Put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix together - either by hand or with an electric hand mixer.
Grease a microwave safe dish or bowl with butter (I used a Pyrex bowl but you could also use a casserole dish) and then spoon the mixture into it.
Microwave on full power for 7 minutes (about right for an 850W microwave, just add or take away 20 or 30 seconds for less or more powerful models).
Allow to stand for 1 minute.
Carefully turn bowl and tip out - as I hadn't quite greased enough, mine came out in 2 parts and the second part had to be eased out with a pallette knife. Of course you can't tell once the decorations are on and it still tastes the same!

That's it. See, easy peasy! Enjoy. 

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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Notes from a seven year old....

I did get a bit of a chuckle recently. 

As I lay in bed on my assigned 'lie-in' weekend morning (until 8am sometimes if I'm lucky...), Tamsin entered the room and passed me 5 little notes. She was upset with Daddy and was hoping Mummy would come to her rescue.

Transcript with amended spellings:

'Daddy is crazy' said Tamsin. 'He made me eat ketchup sandwiches'.
'I hate ketchup sandwiches' said Tamsin. 'I love you' said Tamsin. (i.e. she loves mummy).
'Come downstairs' said Tamsin. 'Now!'
'He even made me swear' said Tamsin.
'No sweets now' said daddy.

I have to admit I wasn't very good at backing Daddy up on this particular occasion, even though Tamsin's story wasn't exactly the whole truth.... it was just the way she had turned it into a little play which made me laugh!

Linking back to Actually Mummy's Wot So Funee?
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Thursday, 3 January 2013

Blogging, competitions, voting and Special Needs Awareness.

Last year (such a long time ago already!!), thanks to lots of lovely people voting for me, I made it to number 20 in the Circle of Moms Top 25 European Moms 2012 list.

For me, this was quite an achievement. To see my name alongside some other amazing blogs was uplifting but also bittersweet. In the 3 years since I've been blogging, I've not actually made it to any heady heights in any sort of list, or received any great recognition. That's fine, really it is, I haven't expected it and I haven't stressed about it. I just accept that my writing is maybe not as good as others' (it wasn't an English degree I did, after all!), and I just don't hit the popular vote.

Of course it would be nice to be 'popular', but not everyone can be. As I often say, the world would be a boring place if we were all the same. Certainly life is never dull around here with my two girls, and I'm definitely happy with what I've got. My one motto that I really want to drill into my girls is that the only person who can make you happy in life is you. 

I haven't actually tried to make it to the top of a list before to be fair; I seriously can't find the time. I suspect if I had more time I may 'promote' it more, but I'd never let that overtake why I'm here. I blog for me. I started it to document what living with autism was like for us, and it's actually turned into therapy for me. I've found a lot of great advice and support from other bloggers, and I can't put a price on how much that has helped. More than 'real' therapy, that's for sure!

Anyhow I digress. I know that my name being in the top list was slightly contentious, and there were some snide comments made about others being more worthy and this list being pointless. I'm not a 'big name' blog, and it's true that this type of competition is based on how many people you can persuade to vote for you. I did vote for my other favourite blogs too, and some of them joined me in the Top 25. Some that I love weren't there at all, which was a shame.

Well I'm proud of the fact that it was all my lovely friends and family, and other bloggers who do read who voted for me, and several of them went back every day to vote. I didn't send the link round my husband's workplace to get hundreds more votes, I just asked quietly on Facebook and amongst friends. I really wanted to make the list, as in my head I was aiming for more Autism Awareness by reaching a wider audience. More awareness = more understanding, and that is the one main thing that will help Sasha's passage through life to be easier.

I now know that actually I have achieved that awareness - every one person more reading the blog is another person who may (if they read more than one post!) just understand Sasha a little better. To be honest, it's the people closest to us who will be able to help Sasha the most, so you could say I hit exactly the right target audience. I'm happy with that. Thank you all lovely family and friends for being so supportive and understanding, you are helping more than you'll ever know.

A new list has come out from Tots 100 of the Top 20 UK Special Needs Parenting Blogs. I'd far rather be in that list if I'm honest, so maybe I'll find the time to try harder this year. This list contains so many blogs that I read regularly that I really could highlight them all. Some are new to me but I've had a look and they're all amazing. Honest and open about the good and difficult sides of life, as I hope I have been.

In particular I do want to thank Soft Thistle , Looking for Blue Sky , Jonty Babe , Just Bring the Chocolate , Cheetahs in my Shoes , Downs Side Up , Scottish Mum , A Boy with Aspergers  , Crystal Jigsaw and A Tricky Customer for their brilliant words and comments which have kept me reading over the past year. Please do take the time to click on each link and check out their lives, it may just bring some more insight into different lives.

  1. Crystal Jigsaw
  2. A Boy with Aspergers 
  3. Pink Oddy 
  4. Looking for Blue Sky 
  5. Soft Thistle 
  6. Scottish Mum 
  7. Downs Side Up 
  8. Mum of 4, Wife of 1 
  9. Jonty Babe 
  10. Savette Gazette
  11. Walking with Angels
  12. Flight Platform Living 
  13. A Tricky Customer
  14. Mummy 2 Five 
  15. Just Bring the Chocolate 
  16. A Life Unlimited 
  17. Cheetahs in my Shoes 
  18. Let’s Talk Olly 
  19. A World of Spinning 
  20. Autism Mumma
The two names that spring to mind that are missing from this list in my opinion, are Deb from Aspie In The Family, and Steph from Was This In The Plan? (who I was lucky enough to have as a Britmums buddie this year). They both write intelligently and passionately about their Special Needs lives, and have both been a great source of inspiration for me. *Edited to add just one more, Life With An Autistic Son - how could I have forgotten this fab blog that makes me laugh every time I read it?!

Maybe this year I will have more time to focus on the awareness and raise some serious aspects (watch out for my one about Mr C running the London Marathon for the National Autistic Society), but I doubt my whole blog will change substantially. It's me, warts and all, and for now that's just how it is. So Happy 2013 everyone, and hang on to your hats (which Sasha funnily tried to do when I used that expression in the car a few days ago) as we carry on the wonderful rollercoaster!

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Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Wow. What a year. 366 pictures, one mega collage.

My first post of 2013 is actually all about the year 2012.

It was a busy old year, possibly even more so than usual; we definitely packed a lot in! 
All along I have been posting on my other blog - Stephs 366 Pics - a photo for every day of the year. That took some doing, I can tell you. I am somewhat relieved but also sad that I won't be repeating it this year.

Below is my final update, a collage showing my favourite picture from each month in 2012. Of course I can't really guarantee they're my favourites; there were so many special moments with family and friends, and that's what I like to capture in my photos the best.

I've always loved photos, all my friends will tell you. Memories, that's what they all are to me, all very precious.

So what did we do?! 

As the pictures show, January was ice-skating at Willows farm, followed by bringing the school hamster home in February, then a very special trip for Tamsin (and mummy) to see JLS in concert in March. April saw us visit my parents and play on the beach in Blackpool. May was a lovely warm month and the girls got lots of bouncing on the trampoline in. 

June was a big birthday for me (can you guess which one?!) and lots of lovely ladies came out to help me celebrate it. That was followed by a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Number 10 Downing Street in July, to raise awareness of the amazing specialist pre-school that Sasha used to attend (TRACKS). In August we were extremely lucky to have some tickets for the Olympics - Tamsin managed to attend Gymnastics, Diving, Athletics and Sitting Volleyball at the Paralympics, all of which were truly amazing. 

September saw our big girl Tamsin start at the Junior School, and in October we went on a lovely family trip with dear friends to the fab Center Parcs in Sherwood. The girls were really lucky in November to be able to visit Moshi Monsters HQ, and throughout December our Elf, Pepper, delighted the girls with his antics (there's my next blog post right there). 

Phew. What a year. There was so much more! We kicked off the year by playing mini Golf in the sun, followed by many achievements and progress for the girls in and out of school, an amazing 'mini-break' to New York where we met some firemen close up, the usual birthdays, a gorgeously warm summer holiday in Menorca, a visit to Great Grandma in Wales, trip to see my parents on their canal boat, a blogging conference, the Jubilee, Peppa Pig World, Sasha in hospital, Tamsin in a summer drama show, our very own mini-Olympics with best friends in the back garden, erm, deep breath.... for Chris, a break to celebrate a friend's 40th in Italy for me, snow in February, a lot of cake making, the London Marathon for my younger brother, Tamsin taking her Brownie promise, my eldest niece having her First Holy Communion, a PTA Ball, a big birthday for Pops, the sisters having sleepovers with each other for the first time, a couple more special 40th parties and last but not least, 5 amazing concerts (not including JLS!!) for me - NKOTBSB, Steps, Bryan Adams, Gary Barlow (who I touched, squeal!!!) and SAW (Kylie and Jason reunited)......

So 2013, how do you follow THAT??!

Here is our first family photo this year, taken today, 1st January 2013. Happy New Year everyone!

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