Thursday 20 March 2014

We Love to Read: But Martin by June Counsel

Books we love - But Martin by June Counsel - feat by Alexis from

Loveable Martin the martian decides to visit from Mars and go to school with Lee, Lloyd, Billy and Angela. There's no explanation of why... so you just have to accept that.
Like Big Bad Bun which I wrote about last time we also discovered this book at the library and then later added to our own collection.
We started reading it pre Coco starting school and she went through a phrase of loving it and reading reciting it herself.

Books we love - But Martin by June Counsel - feat by Alexis from

The illustrations and really simple and appealing - the story is comical and sharp with a positive message about it being ok to be different.

Books we love - But Martin by June Counsel - feat by Alexis from

It's also a good 'starting school' book - I didn't actually actively seek out books about school but when the time came it was nice to find that I had a few around, this being the best of the bunch.

Books we love - But Martin by June Counsel - feat by Alexis from

Books we love - But Martin by June Counsel - feat by Alexis from

It also just reminded me of this article that I read a while ago about a school in north London who staged an alien spaceship crash in their playground - amazing idea for fueling children's creativity.

Linking up with Tigerlily Quinn

Other posts in this mini-series...
Big Bad Bun by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross
One Night Far from Here by Julie Wauters
Clara Button and the Magical Hat Day
Mythological Montsers 
There are Cats in this Book & Where is the Cake

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Prussia Cove & Coco's First Holiday

Over a year ago I promised to document some of our holidays with children... I didn't quite get around to it (story of my life) but after some really lovely feedback from my Moroccan holiday posts I've decided to have a go at writing up our holidays after all... So I might as well start at the beginning. Coco's first holiday.

Prussia Cove - holidays with children by Alexis at

Prussia Cove is a pretty special place.
It's a cluster of houses on the south coast of Cornwall, not far from Penzance. The main house is huge and split into three apartments that can be rented together or separately, other properties of varying size are dotted around cove, some overlooking the private beach and most with dramatic views of the windswept coastline.

Prussia Cove - holidays with children by Alexis at

This is what I would call a quirky place; it's romantic and rustic. The houses have slightly rudimentary heating and very basic kitchens and in some cases outside loos (like the coastguards cottages shown above). A holiday at Prussia Cove in winter (or occasionally even in Summer) is not for the faint hearted. It's not the location of a luxury holiday, but it is special.

A friend of ours who has a flair for organising a good party hired the whole place for his 30th birthday back in 2007 where 70 or more of us descended on Prussia Cove for an amazing weekend - like a proper old-school house party. So our first experience of Prussia Cove was in a blissful pre-parenthood state... but I'll gloss over that as it all soon changed (as you of course know already...)

The next year when a repeat party was proposed (this February pilgrimage to Cornwall has now become an annual event ... although no longer at Prussia Cove itself) we thought we'd staying home, holed up with our new born baby - but Coco had other ideas and arrived early so that she could come along too. So began Coco's first holiday. What a baptism of fire.

Prussia Cove - Coco asleep, holidays with children by Alexis at

Holidays before kids: sleep, eat, drink, do whatever you want, a total break from your 'normal' life.
Holiday after kids: same s**t, different place.

It was great, yes, but it was also quite a shock to the system. Of course it's obvious that just because I was on holiday I would still have to breastfeed, get up in the night, change the nappies and, well, be a Mummy, but for some reason that really took me by surprise. I stayed up till gone midnight with my friends, but then was still up in the night feeding and waking at the crack of dawn with a little person who wanted attention. So although it was a 'change' it was definitely not relaxing... in fact it was exhausting, such is life with a two month old baby.

Alfresco breastfeeding at Kynance Cove by Alexis at

Considering it was February we were lucky to have amazing weather... warm enough for a bit of alfresco breast-feeding!

Hugh sleeping with baby Coco  at Kynance Cove by Alexis at

Hugh trying to catch up on sleep...(sleep seemed to be the main theme of the holiday looking at the photos now).

Each of the following four Prussia Cove holidays featured an increasing amount of children.

Prussia Cove - holidays with children by Alexis at

2009 - Coco staying up way past her bedtime...

Coco in her bowler hat by Alexis at

2010 - Prussia Cove holidays normally feature some fancy dress action and much of our dressing up box originates from our Cornish holidays... including the popular bowler hats.

Coastguard cottages, Prussia Cove by Alexis at

Another unseasonably sunny February when we stayed in the coast guards cottages; a row of eight tiny cottages where the children could run in and out of each others houses. If only life could always be like this...but I guess that is what a holiday is sometimes; a taste of another kind of life.

We love holidays with other parents. You can share the work around a little - you're all in the same boat. Giving your partner a lie in in the morning is fine as you have other adults to hang out with at 7am. Also, it's a chance to feel like you have a bit of a social life again. Our Cornish holidays generally also have a healthy mix of people without children too, it is always nice to see friends without children - they tend to be good for making you stay up late, drink more and generally remember what it's like to be just you. 

Prussia Cove by Alexis at

One of our favourite nooks, with a bench overlooking the beach and a flask of tea... yep, holidays are very different once you add children into the mix.

Monday 17 March 2014

11/52 A Portrait a Week

I am still ill. It's soooo boring and I feel like I've got a lot of catching up to do. I'm missing a few weeks of portraits... I'll just have to edit them in later, or maybe not. I might just let them go and move on forwards.

Coco 11 of 52

Yesterday we went to Hugh's sisters house. The children were in the garden the whole day, Henry in his element with a trug of water a variety of watering cans and an occasional visits to the outdoor tap. I took it very easy and the boys went on a big cycle. 

Coco loved a whole day of her aunties attention and when Hugh and Lee got back she went indoors to chat to Lee and practice using her yoyo.

In the last of the sunshine Mel helped us plant out the first of our seeds in pots to bring home and Henry was a very diligent helper (photo by Hugh).

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Things done & not done in the past week

For the last ten days I've been mainly cancelling plans. I've got a virus that makes normal activities feel like insurmountable tasks (but also a wonderful husband who has been picking up the slack, for which I'm VERY grateful).

So I haven't taken many photos or got on with all the life 'admin' that was piling up over half term.
I didn't have my normal opportunity to gossip with Nisia while the boys did gym last week, I didn't see my friends for lunch on Friday, I missed tea for Angela's birthday and I didn't get to catch up with neighbours over dinner on Saturday. I've missed tap dancing twice (yep, tap - don't judge!) and I guess I'm going to have to bail on the meet-up that Lynne organised for this evening... and tomorrow I won't be meeting Hattie to go to the RA and hand over some of Coco's old clothes for Frida.

I really never normally would have so much to cancel but I guess that is what is called sods law.

I have been spending a lot of time on instagram and have found lots more people to follow (I'm @somethingimade on there in case you recognise me as one of your stalkers) and I've found a few new blogs (or in some cases old ones that I haven't read in a while) which I've been binge reading: has been making me weep making me weep some more (I'm not sure how come I'd never stumbled on either of the above before...)
Me and Orla has made me want to start my blog all over again and make it just like hers!
Mini Eats another blog with a wonderfully gentle vibe and lots of mouth watering recipe ideas. 
A Quiet Corner somewhere I hadn't been for a while, it felt like catching up with a friend... a friend who was making me wonder what on earth my children will be like as teenagers (and hoping we get there...)

And I've watched a fair few Ted talks - including this one about dieting...which makes me scared to have a teenage daughter who thinks she needs to diet...

*Our kitchen mantlepiece - the only possible illustration for this post - still with remnants from Christmas and Henry's birthday plus Valentines and world book day and also my first (and possibly last) paper flower experiments. Time for a clear up, but not now, now I'm going to crawl back into bed while I can.

Friday 7 March 2014

A Week in Morocco with Children (Part 2)

For part one of our holiday click here... 

After a few days of relaxing and taking it easy in Essauira it was time to explore Marrakech so on day five after a final breakfast at Le Jardin de Douars we headed back to Marrakech via another pre booked transfer - which meant we didn't have to negotiate the tiny streets of the medina to locate Riad Hikaya where we were staying for the next three nights. On arrival the owner John (an Arabic speaking Englishman) was there to greet us to his small Riad which he spent four years renovating. This place was great, really small with a lovely team of Moroccan staff, a nice little heated pool in one of the courtyards and a relaxing roof terrace. We only had one room for all of us so it was a bit of a squeeze at times but it worked fine - next time I might just book two rooms next to each other.

Exploring Marrakech with children - by Alexis of

In the afternoon we hired a guide to give us a tour of the medina, having been to Morocco before I thought it would be good to have a guide for our first day to help us get our bearings and also stop us from getting too hassled by anyone else wanting to be our guide... however Marrakech has become a much more chilled out place since my last visit - although you still do get a lot of people talking to you it's not nearly as aggressive as I remember it being from my first visit.
The guide was recommended by our new friends back at the Jardin de Douers and he was a good knowledgeable fellow... I wonder if we could have found a more child friendly guide as we did end up walking a loooong way and it may have been better for us to do a couple of more manageable chunks. Henry was fine in the backpack but Coco got a bit whiny until we bought her a chupa-chup type lolly. Wish we'd got that at the beginning! She did however count over 60 animals and this time branched out to include not only cats but also dogs, donkeys, horses, monkeys and snakes. At least I think she counted the snakes.

Our stay at Riad Hikaya Marrakech by Alexis @

In the evening we all ate together on the roof terrace with a couple of patio heaters to keep us warm. Day time temperatures were lovely but it did get pretty cool as soon as the sun went down. )*(See notes below for weather info!)

Day six -

Exploring Marrakech with children - by Alexis of

The riad was very close to the Saadian Tombs so we paid them a visit on Saturday morning. I'd explained what they were to Coco and about the tiles there being 1000's of years old and she decided she was going to draw some. So even though the complex is pretty tiny we actually spent quite a bit of time there pottering around (and trying to stop Henry treating all the fences/barriers as climbing frames). Then we slowly headed back to the Riad for lunch and a relaxing afternoon of kids in the pool and us reading etc before going back out to the souks and Jemaa al Fnaa in the early evening.

Exploring Marrakech with children - by Alexis of

Day seven -
When we were doing our internet research back home Hugh stumbled across the company Fleewinter, the owner Alisdair was really helpful with tips and he recommended a trip to the foothills of the Atlas Mountains so we booked a daytrip via Fleewinter (we also booked Riad Hikaya through Fleewinter). So on Sunday morning we were picked up direct from the hotel for an hour an a half drive out of Marrakech and up into the mountains.  

our day trip to the Atlas Mountains, Morocco 2014 - by Alexis of

It was an absolutely gorgeous day, not a cloud in the sky and the air was so crisp and fresh. Once we got to the village of Imil we met our local guide and Catrina the mule who was going to be giving the children a lift. Then we did a pretty gentle walk up the mountains and around through walnut tree groves and small clusters of houses and eventually to another guesthouse for lunch. Our guide Driss was lovely and really helped to look after Henry who was on and off the mule like a yoyo and was insisting on jumping rather than walking... Henry quite took to him and I heard him telling him about what he did at nursery... at least I think that's what he was saying, something about play dough and books. It was so nice for me and Hugh to be able to look around, chat and take photos and not be on constant Henry watch.
It's funny to go to these tiny villages and see people with all the same wants and needs that we have and yet such different surroundings in their everyday life. It always makes me ponder about the choices I've made (and been able to make).

On the way back to Marrakech, while I was thinking about life the universe and everything Coco and Henry fell fast asleep... ready for some last minute pool time before our final supper - the only evening we actually had cous cous. 

Day eight -
Home time. We left pretty much straight after breakfast and had a smooth journey home arriving back just in time for dinner.

Holiday Notes - Packing, Weather & Food:

As previously mentioned we used two companies to book our holiday in the UK - both of them by chance are actually located here in Chiswick... totally random. Smith & Family are often associated with higher end boutique hotels but I would say that Le Jardin de Douars was actually excellent value for money coming in at only just over £100 a night for all of us for bed and breakfast - plus the food was delicious and good value. One of the main reasons we booked there was for the heated pool - at this time of year in Morocco you wouldn't be swimming in an unheated pool.
Fleewinter as mentioned above were also really helpful and are definitely worth talking to (as in pick up the phone and chat...) mainly as they have LOTS of properties but in our experience they were excellent at recommending things based on our needs and Riad Hikaya was a great find.
Our mountain guide Driss also has his own company and having done our little trek with him I would wholeheartedly recommend him - his site is called All Treks Morocco but of course Fleewinter also helped us book this day and have a variety of tours they can organise.

Packing: By accident we actually discovered quite a good way little loop hole which allowed us to fly with just cabin baggage on Easyjet. I think we are pretty good at traveling light, so three good sized cabin bags between us gave us enough room for all our clothes/shoes for a week. Also we decided to not worry too much about taking masses but instead planned on getting laundry done there if we needed to. The fourth cabin bag was for toys, books, ipad, camera etc and all the stuff we would potentially need to entertain the children inflight.

On easyjet you are allowed to take two pieces of baby equipment for free if you are traveling with an infant or young child so we could take our back-pack carrier for free and check it into the hold - this also meant that we could put all our wash bags into the ruck-sack bit of the carrier and check them in so we didn't have the faff of the less than 100ml of shampoo etc at security.
Traveling like this saved us quite a bit of money as obviously we didn't need to pay to put any bags in the hold. On the way home we actually offered to check bags so we didn't have so much to haul around in the airport... although the children loved pulling along the cases (and in Henry's case sometimes riding on them) it was much easier not to have to wheel the cases around/through security.

Weather & Packing: Before we went I was finding it really hard to imagine what on earth 20 degrees felt like and think of what to pack. The weather we had when we were there was lovely - somewhere between 18-22 each day I think, which basically meant it was cool in the mornings and evenings but lovely and warm in the sunshine during the day, kind of like a nice, average summer day in the UK.

So my packing was basically based around layering, most days I wore sandals, a light pair of trousers and t-shirt or long sleeved top and I pretty much took a light jumper out with me most days too (but I like to be warm). Hugh on the other hand was in shorts and a t-shirt everyday.
For Coco; who still refuses to wear trousers, we took a couple of skirts, a couple of dresses, 2 t-shirts, 2 long sleeve tops one jumper and her hoody plus tights and socks... she did end up wearing the tights some days along with her sandals (she loves the socks and sandals look, but then so does Hermes for AW14 apparently). Henry wore pretty much the same as me and ran around in his crocs most days.

Toys & Books We didn't take much in the way of toys and books as in my experience we've always slightly over packed in this area. Coco had a couple of chapter books and actually happily read one to herself on the plane home. We took a few books for Henry, favourites with lots of look at and talk about like Stick Man and The Little Red Train. Then we had our cappi felt tips and a stash of paper the mini automoblox for Henry and Rush Hour for Coco both of which made excellent travel toys. Rush hour was especially good, Coco was given it for her birthday, it's a problem solving game and we actually all enjoy having a turn.
One of our must-have travel accessories to go with the ipad is a head phone splitter - that way both children can watch something with headphones together. We put a couple of films on the ipad; Jungle Book and Kung-fu Panda I meant to find some new apps before we left but didn't get around to it and we didn't miss them. Ones that we have which are always popular with my kids are Brushes & Endless Alphabet. I'm quite tight when it comes to apps!

Food Due to my food poisoning paranoia we basically pretty much only ate in our hotels... but both provided really good food and especially in the evenings it was much more relaxing for us to be able to all eat together as a family but be near to our room so the children could go to bed when they wanted to. A couple of evenings Henry ate earlier and went to bed and Coco stayed up with us. Les Jardin de Douars had a set menu every night which was really good and included a 'menu enfant' too which was normally much more European in style. A very crowd pleasing lasagne one night for our two.
In the Riad all the food was made to order so we ordered our evening meal at breakfast and had two delicious tagines and I think we managed to order lamb pastry parcels every single day. Fresh from the oven these things were devine.
One thing I'd love to do next time is to book a Moroccan cooking lesson.

That's about it folks.
I don't know why I suddenly decided to go into so much detail - but it's sometimes quite useful to see what works for other people so I thought it was about time I shared a few of our tips. 

Thursday 6 March 2014

A Week in Morocco with Children (Part 1)

Last winter was hard and by Easter we (like everyone else in the UK) were feeling fed up and in need of some vitamin D so we looked into going to Morocco for a holiday - we browsed the web looking at gorgeous hotels and photos that where soaked in sunshine but the flight prices were mentally high so we decided that we'd go this year instead and we'd book our flights early (for once)... and we did. We booked our flights way back in October and so it was that we found ourselves about three weeks ago with four cheap seats but of course (as we can never be that organised) nowhere to stay. But after a few evening of intense internet research... we had a two hotels booked and a lovely Pinterest board of Moroccan inspiration - can you guess which bit I was responsible for!?

Here is a run down of what we did - feel free to entirely steal our itinerary, it worked really well and I think it was pretty good value for some winter sunshine.

Day one -
Packing and travelling... we arrived in Morocco at 7.30pm, we'd eaten a picnic supper in the air so when we got off the plane we then headed straight to our hotel in Essaouira a two and a half hour drive away. We booked the transfer with the hotel so a driver picked us up at the airport. With two sleepy children this was brilliant and definitely worth it, and oh-my did it feel quite civilised. I've never been collected by a someone holding up a name card before.
Once we arrived at the hotel we lifted the sleeping children into bed, put the monitor on and went to the hotel bar for a glass of wine.

Our trip to Morocco 2014, we stayed at Le Jardin des Douars. By Alexis At

Day two -
I love arriving at new places in the dark; you have an impression of how things look but you are always surprised in the morning light... and Le Jardin des Douars was a very good surprise. We had a great breakfast with a lovely view and then we set to exploring the gardens... Coco was desperate to get outside from the moment she spotted a shepherd with a flock of sheep just outside the garden walls.

Our trip to Morocco 2014, Essaouira. By Alexis At

Once Coco had tried out the heated pool we set off into Essaouira for some lunch and a look around. The town is about 20 minutes from the hotel and they do runs up and down pretty much whenever you want them too (although there is a charge for the service).
We then spent a good few hours gently exploring Essaouira, we travelled without a buggy but did take our back-pack carrier for Henry so we took it easy going at the children's pace and letting them look at what interested them... the sea, the boats and harbour, some acrobats performing for people on the terrace of a cafe.

Coco was also kept quite busy on a cat count. I think she got to 36 that day (although frankly her cat spotting skills left a lot to be desired, I spotted waaaay more than she did)!

Our trip to Morocco 2014, we stayed at Le Jardin des Douars. By Alexis At

Day three & four -
We opted for relaxation for a couple of days, by the pool, delicious lunches on the terrace and happy children busying themselves with swimming and exploring. There was another family with two children who we befriended and Coco really enjoyed having some other children to play with.

On the second evening we had a hilarious time playing charades with them by the fire in the hotel. Children + high drama; very funny. Hugh tried out the onsite Haman too for which we had a complimentery half hour when we booked the hotel.

Part Two - Marrakech and our day in the mountains.

This is not a sponsored post - we just had a brilliant time. We booked this first part of our holiday through Smith & Family and we flew with EasyJet.

Monday 3 March 2014

Sunday Guests

After writing messages in a load of Christmas cards that went something along the lines of "we must catch up soon in 2014" I made a silent resolution to spend more time with friends this year. So far we haven't done badly at all and this Sunday was no exception...

Hugh and I did loads of cooking on Saturday evening after the children were in bed when we could listen to our music and press the buttons on the food processor ourselves. Such luxuries.
Then on Sunday morning I pottered around finishing my Bakewell tart (I made a plum Bakewell tart from Jamie Oliver's 'Jamie at Home' book) and tidying up while the children played with a neighbour, first at our house and then at theirs. The house was filled with cooking smells, Desert Island Discs was on the radio and the spring sunshine was dancing on the walls.
The whole scenario was overwhelmingly comforting and felt just plain homely. Reminiscent of my own childhood when my parents would have friends or family over for Sunday lunch (and there was something a little like the calm before the storm about the whole situation too).

We even managed to harvest enough purple sprouting broccoli from the garden to go with the lamb stew Hugh made. So smug!

The after lunch debris, empty wine glasses, black coffee and left over pudding and cream. Plus a nice shot of one of Coco's Moroccan souvenirs.
The lunch was delicious and seeing our friends was long overdue and lovely.
I'd be happy to have Sunday guests every weekend. Well, maybe almost every weekend.

This week I'm promising myself I WILL blog about our Morocco holiday and I'll catch up on the 52 project... I'm also really looking forward to pancake day tomorrow. Warburtons kindly sent us an amazing pancake discovery box so we've been gearing up to the big day by experimented with some flavour combinations and having their scotch pancakes for breakfast.
I think tomorrow I'll be having a salmon, leek and creme fraiche savoury pancake (with lots of black pepper) followed by a classic lemon and sugar one.
Have a lovely week.