The Jurassic Coast

Jurassic Coast

Excited by the prospect of fossils and rock formations our Easter road trip took us in our shiny Campervan “Ruby” to the Jurassic Coast – which spans Dorset and Devon in the South of England.

VW Camper-tastic

Now that we have Ruby we weren’t afraid of camping so early in the season and booked into the fantastic Hook Farm camp site in Uplyme, near Lyme Regis. Despite the slightly soggy ground (we had to be pulled out of the mud by the tractor) the site was quite busy with campervans, tourers and a few hardy canvas campers. It’s a lovely quiet small site, suitable for young families and adults and I would definitely recommend it.

Fossil hunting

I’m disappointed that neither of my children are the type to spend hours beach-combing as once they had found their first fossils they thought that was ‘job done’ and time to get an ice cream! There were fossil hunters everywhere, but plenty for everyone to find as the photo below shows.

Ammonite Fossil
An Ammonite Fossil I found

Branscombe Beach

Branscombe hit the headlines a few years ago when a cargo ship lost some containers which were washed up on Branscombe Beach and looted by the public. The beach was idyllic on sunny Easter Monday with the kids diverting a stream or relaxing on the pebbles. A short walk away in Branscombe village is the National Trust Old Bakery tea room which served the perfect cream tea!

Cream Tea!
Cream Tea!

Seafood

So food features quite highly in my list of holiday essentials and we weren’t disappointed at the Good Food Store or the Harbour Inn where the kids put away an adult meal each! The mussels were the largest I have ever seen and the choice of seafood was fantastic.

Scenery

The South West Coast Path runs the length of the Jurassic Coast. We walked sections of it most days, and whilst hilly it provides ever-changing scenery and breathtaking views of the coastline. From Charmouth you can walk up to Golden Cap, which is the highest point in Southern England.

South West coast path
South West coast path

Happy travels!

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The Black Forest with kids

February in the black forest

It’s probably been about 15 years (or more!) since I holidayed in the Black Forest in Southern Germany as it was a firm family favourite whilst I was growing up. This year we decided to revisit the Baden-Wurttemberg area as parents with our two kids in tow.

Here’s my top 5 great things about holidaying in the Black Forest:

1. Karneval or Fashing (not ‘fishing’!!)

Fashing is the German version of carnival, but it is a week-long series of festivities during February, culminating in Rosenmontag, where a traditional parade takes over the streets of every village, town and city. The parade is made up of every local club and association, each having their own theme, float and characters. Sweets are thrown at the children and confetti thrown at the crowds. It’s great fun and a great taste of local tradition.

The Fashing Parade
The Fashing Parade

2. Pine forests and snow

Winter in the forest is beautiful, and we got a couple of day’s skiing in as well as sledging and some awesome tabogganing. The area is really well equipped and you can also hire snow shoes or cross country ski gear, or simply go hiking along the trails (which are really well marked).

You can hire sturdy sledges at the Rodelbahn to sledge a 3km long taboggan route through the forest. Take the chair lift up and slide back down!

Ski goggles
Goggle girls hit the slopes!

3. Food

If you’re willing to try something different then you are sure to find it in the Black Forest! Game is a favourite, so be open to trying Wild Boar or Deer. Fish is more popular here than in the rest of Germany as they have access to River Trout, and the traditional egg noodle ‘spaetzle’ is delicious. You’ll get some juicy Wiener Schnitzel and of course a great range in Bratwurst sausage.

BUT (* here’s the reason for the asterisk above) there is very little in the way of variety for vegans, vegetarians or anyone with a diet that doesn’t involve meat.  Meals are rarely served with vegetables, so you will need to order a salad as a side dish to make sure that you get your 5-a-day!

4. Great adventures

There’s loads to do beside winter sports or rambling, for instance:

  • The Rodelbahn in Todnau is (perhaps) the longest mountain rollercoaster in Germany. It winds its way along a 2.9km track down the side of the hill. It was closed when we went due to the huge amount of snow, so a return trip is called for to experience it!
  • The city of Freiburg which lists the minster amongst its many historic buildings – and is great for a day out.
  • Indoor and outdoor spas such as this one in Titisee-Neustadt which boasts 18 slides and a wave pool. We ran out of time to go there, but are planning a visit on our next trip!
The Rodelbahn
The Rodelbahn out of action due to heavy snowfall

5. Hospitality

A warm welcome is pretty much guaranteed to people travelling with children as the folk in this area of Germany are very family focussed. If you make a little effort to speak some German – even if it is rudimentary – then your efforts will be appreciated by the locals.  We stayed at the excellent Haus Erika guesthouse, which is run by ex-pat Lesley and her German husband, which is perfect for British families trying the Black Forest for the first time.

If you’re visiting the Baden-Wurttemburg area of the black forest then flights to Basel-Mullhouse-Freiburg are your best bet. Happy travels!

Easter Egg Treasure Hunt

Easter Egg Treasure Hunt

I love the idea of the traditional Easter Egg hunt for kids, but somehow it always seemed to rain when we wanted to do it outside, and in any case the idea of putting chocolate eggs near mud and slugs makes me shiver.

Instead I devised two variations of Easter Egg treasure hunts that can be played inside or out, depending on the weather and the amount of space you have available! The second one comes with a free clue sheet ready for you to use.

1. Plastic Egg hunt

For the first version of this game I used plastic eggs hidden around the home and garden. They come in lots of bright colours and can be bought cheaply in kits from pound shops. Sometimes they come apart to hide things in, but other versions are just solid plastic. Either works well, but egg shapes cut out of card work too if you don’t want to go to the expense of buying a load of plastic eggs.

Preparation: Get the children otherwise occupied (eg in decorating their Easter bonnets or some other Easter themed activity) whilst you scatter the eggs around. I hide them in plant pots, behind leaves and up in trees, all within easy reach of little ones. Just remember how many you have hidden or you won’t know when the game is over!

How to play: The idea of the game is to collect as many eggs as you can until they are all gone. The children can race off into the hunt area and collect eggs into their baskets. Ours tend to get quite competitive but love discovering eggs hidden behind pots or garden gnomes! This game avoids having chocolate sitting in soil or being accidentally left out in the garden!

And the winner is: The person with the most eggs when no more can be found. The reward can be whatever you like – everyone gets the same goody-bag; winner gets a bigger prize, or they can trade in their plastic eggs for the same number of mini eggs – it’s up to you!

Easter Egg Treasure Hunt
And the winner is…

2. Easter Egg Treasure Hunt

This is my favourite, but it takes a bit more preparation. This is a treasure hunt with written clues hidden around the house and garden, leading them from one clue to the next. You can hide the clues inside plastic egg shapes or print them onto the back of egg-shaped cards.

Preparation: Use my template document below to create your clues. I’ve given you 30+ clues to get you started, but you will need to adapt these to suit your home and garden.  The final clue will bring them to the hoard of eggs, or whatever you determine your big prize to be!  Once you are happy with your clues print them off twice and cut up one sheet into separate clues.

The most important thing to remember is that when you are laying your clues out that you need to do the treasure hunt BACKWARDS! So, in my example from the clue sheet, you would start at the toy box, where you would hide your big prize, then put the toybox clue at the pink chair, the pink chair clue under the child’s pillow etc.

You can hide the clues inside plastic eggs if you want to keep the Easter theme going strong!

How to play: Start the children off by giving them the first clue and ask them to solve it together. When they have guessed the answer they go there together to find the next clue. Our children took it in turns to read out and try to solve the clue regardless of who found the egg.

And the winner is: Everyone wins as they should get to the final location at the same time. If you use a toybox or cupboard as the last place then you can create a buzz by hiding balloons or confetti there, that will fall out when they open the door and find their Easter goodies waiting for them!

You can download my Easter Egg Treasure Hunt clues here.

 

Easter chick
Happy Easter!

What is your hidden vegetable masterpiece?

The Art of Hiding Vegetables

I was chuckling to myself today as I blended up some celery to hide in the chilli I was making, that hiding vegetables is a becoming an art form. It’s the most cunning way to get fussy eaters to get their 5-a-day without the tantrums. Parents up and down the country are chopping, slicing, dicing and blending to disguise healthy ingredients in children’s dinners. The hidden vegetable secret is shared in whispers at the school gate lest the kids cotton on.

I’m sure the Earth Mother fraternity will have something to say about this. It is perhaps not ethical to trick your children into eating things that they don’t know about, or want to eat? Is it an infringement on their human rights to tell then that a bit of swede is a carrot, just to get them to eat it? Perhaps so, but for me, and lots of others, hiding healthy stuff in our kids’ dinners is a way to ensure that your child is eating well, and lets you feel like you are being a good parent.

I have overstepped the mark a few times when the offending vegetable ingredient wasn’t chopped small enough to disappear from sight, or had a distinctive taste that I couldn’t mask with the sauce. Fennel, for instance is not going to be able to don any sort of disguise and get away with it. Over the years my son has finely honed his radar for things he doesn’t like, and can now identify a hidden mushroom from the other side of the kitchen, no matter how small it is.

Aubergine or Eggplant?
Aubergine… mysterious Mediterranean ingredient to some… alien eggplant to others.

Yet, I can still get away with hiding vegetables so long as I act smart and know my limitations. Onions, celery, anything that can pass for carrot, cauliflower, courgette and so on are all staples in my book. Chopped to oblivion in the food processor I challenge anyone to pick them out of a shepherd’s pie.

My finest moment in the Hidden Veg Oscars was when I added Aubergine to a lasagne.  Despite its distinctive dark colour it got with the joke and snuck into the shadows of the lasagne, never to be found by the hungry children. I could barely contain my glee, sitting eating my veg-packed layered baked dish with the rest of the family, knowing what only I knew… ha ha ha.

So, what is your finest moment in vegetable hide and seek? Broccoli anyone?

Working Parents Unite!

I remember when I first went back to work after having a baby. Most of my colleagues were unmarried, child-free and unable to relate to the difficulties of working parents trying to juggle work with children. “The times they are a changing”, I think as I saw this wonderful poster at a large London agency yesterday.

Parents forum poster
Parents unite to support each other

It’s great that an employer recognises that there are particular challenges to balancing family and work, which can be solved with the right level of support and understanding. At the same time acknowledging that parents are valued employees who haven’t suddenly gone to seed, just because they arrive at work with yoghurt smeared across their shoulder.

Snot and Weetabix

It seems like a long time ago for us now, but I remember those trying years like they were yesterday! Trying to function in meetings on little sleep, the coughs and colds and sudden temperatures that necessitate a day off at short notice, trying to keep your work clothes free of snot and Weetabix every morning, and the urgent phone calls from nursery or school because little one has bumped their head. Not forgetting the need to leave on the dot to get home before chucking out time, and arriving at nursery to find that your little darling has a bump note, not eaten at all or has bitten 5 children during the course of the day (true story!).

Bad makeup
Not a good idea to put your makeup on whilst half asleep

At work there were raised eyebrows because of repeated days off ill or to look after a sick child, lack of understanding about arrival and departure time, and social invitations dried up because they assumed you had no life outside of Pampers-land.

Work life balance

Not all employers are the same, and I was lucky enough to have a more understanding employer and boss when number 2 child arrived. For my part I always tried to give my team the understanding and flexibility they needed to care for family (whether children or older relatives) and accommodate part-time working or job-shares as well as supporting people through those blips that happen as part of our lives. I believe that with the right support employees will repay that understanding many times over. And importantly, dads are parents too – not just mums.

I like to hope that employers and colleagues are more aware of the challenges of balancing professional and home life now, which is why I was so chuffed to see this Parents Forum poster yesterday. Power to the parents!