Summer Reads

After hardly getting a chance to read at all in June, the past few weeks have seen me get through quite a few books to my ‘to be read’ pile.  And with the holidays almost over up here in Scotland, I thought I would share with you what I’ve been reading this summer.

Fly Away Home – Jennifer Weiner

Sylvie Woodruff is married to senator Richard, and has spent most of her adult life being the perfect senator’s wife.  When Richard makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons, Sylvie takes herself off to her family’s beach house in Connecticut to consider her future.  The book also follows the stories of Sylvie and Richard’s daughters Diana (an ER doctor with her own family problems) and Lizzie (a recovering addict), and looks at their relationship as sisters and their relationship with their mother.  I really enjoyed the way the story was told from the perspective of the different characters, and I thought the characters themselves were believable, particularly Sylvie who doesn’t really remember who she is apart from a politician’s wife.  Chick lit with a twist, would recommend!

The Girl Under The Olive Tree – Leah Fleming

My mum gave me this book and I have to say it didn’t immediately jump off the shelf at me – historical fiction is not something I read very often.  However, once I started reading I could not put it down.  Set mostly in Crete during the Second World War, it tells the story of Penelope, a British woman who, against her family’s wishes, becomes a Red Cross nurse and remains in Greece under the occupation of the Nazis.  She then returns to Crete 60 years later, and has to face her past and some of the secrets she thought she had left behind.  It is clearly a very well researched book, with lots of historical detail, and very descriptive.  It is such a compelling story, and you not only get a feel for the atrocities that went on in Greece during that time, but also the sense of friendship and kindness found among strangers.  The only criticism I had was at the start I felt it was a bit jumpy between the past and the present day, but it didn’t really affect my enjoyment at all.  Definitely a five star read!

House Rules – Jodi Picoult

I know Jodi Picoult is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I really enjoy her books.  They always leave you with a lot to think about and House Rules is no different.  Jacob Hunt is an 18yo boy with Asperger’s Syndrome.  Although he has a higher than average IQ, he struggles to relate to human emotion, and if his daily routine is thrown off kilter he is prone to (sometimes violent) outbursts.  When his social skills tutor goes missing and is then found dead, Jacob finds himself accused of her murder.  The story is told from the perspective of various different characters, including Jacob, his mum Emma, brother Theo and Jacob’s lawyer, and it is interesting to see all these characters developing.  A lot of research clearly went in to not just the character of Jacob as the person with AS, but also how it affects those closest to him.  I have to say though, I was fairly sure I knew “whodunnit” very early on, although this didn’t spoil the story at all as I wanted to make sure I was right! 

The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

I received this as part of a #BringBackPaper book swap run by Jocelyn over the The Reading Residence.  I’d heard all about it and have seen the film trailer but had never bought myself a copy.  For anyone who doesn’t know the storyline, it’s about terminally ill Hazel, whose life changes dramatically when she meets the gorgeous Augustus at a teenage cancer support group.  I know, cheery stuff, right?  I think the subject matter and the hype around it were what put me off actually going out and getting it for myself.  It is a beautifully written book, of that there is no question, although some of the dialogue I found a bit unlikely for two 17yo kids.  Having said that, they are not “normal” teenagers – Hazel has known she is going to die for quite some time, and Augustus lost a leg to cancer, so maybe they would speak in that way.  Did I cry?  Honestly?  Not as much as I thought I would.  There is lots of humour to break up the sadness/melancholy, and there are definitely some touching moments between the two main characters, but I wasn’t the blubbering wreck I thought I would be.  Overall, I thought it was a good book, a 3 and a half out of 5, and I want to see the movie, but for me it didn’t quite live up to its hype. (*runs off and hides from all the John Green fans*)

The Honey Trap – Thea Wolff

This has been sitting on my shelf for ages, and I picked it up because I wanted something light hearted after House Rules and The Fault in Our Stars.  Issy is a single mum making ends meet by working at The Honey Trap – an agency that tests men’s fidelity for suspicious wives and girlfriends.  Her life starts getting complicated when her son finds a severed finger in their back garden, and then she breaks the golden rule of the agency by sleeping with one of the clients.  I couldn’t get into this at all unfortunately – the story was very odd and I wasn’t keen on the writing style.  Give it a miss!!

Would love to know what others have been reading over the summer.  Any recommendations?!

Advertisements

We heart Center Parcs!

Last month we went on our first holiday since A was born, to Center Parcs at Whinfell Forest, near Penrith.  We first went to Whinfell last September, when I was pregnant with A, and I have to admit I was a little sceptical beforehand, because organised holiday activities are not my thing. However, I was won round very quickly – I think we’d been there less than two hours when I was trying to work out when we could go back!!  It is so family friendly, it seemed like an obvious choice for our first trip away as a foursome.

In the end, we were a seven-some, as we were joined by our friends L and S and their little girl K. It’s the first time we’ve holidayed with another family (although we have been away with L&S minus children before!), but we were fairly confident we would get on well, as me and L have pretty similar parenting styles (although you’re never really sure until you’re living in close proximity to someone for a few days!!).  K is 2 years younger than B and absolutely adores her, so she was very excited, and I hoped B wouldn’t think it was “babyish” (a new favourite word) to play with her.  We booked up some activities before we went and reckoned we had a good mix of things the girls could do together and things we could do separately, so we wouldn’t be completely in each other’s pockets.

Here’s a wee diary of our trip!

Monday

We left Aberdeen just after 9am.  The journey down went surprisingly smoothly – less than 6 hours including two stops (including one for lunch which saw B have her first ever McDonalds!!), which with three kids in tow is not bad going!

There was a bit of a queue to get our lodge keys, but it moved very quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to unload the cars.  We had a four bedroom lodge, and we had decided in advance that our friends would take the downstairs bedrooms as K is an early riser, so it made sense for them to have access to the morning essentials (coffee and TV!!) without worrying about disturbing us. Needless to say the girls weren’t particularly interested in unpacking, and were also in need of some fresh air after being cooped up in the car, so the dads took them out on their bikes while me and L emptied the suitcases and sorted out the kitchen.

We had a table booked for dinner at 5.45pm, so we headed over to the Village Centre where the girls ran around the soft play area for a while before tea.  We had A in the buggy in the hope he would have a nap, but there were far too many new things to look at!  Dinner was at Café Rouge – one of the things I love about Center Parcs is that you know wherever you eat will have a great kids’ menu, and I especially like the options at Café Rouge.  It also has a little soft play area that the girls pottered about in for a little while, but then some colouring sheets appeared and that diverted their attention until the food arrived.  By the time we’d eaten, K was starting to flag and A hadn’t napped since before we’d arrived, so me and L headed back to the lodge, leaving B with hubby and S so she could have a pudding!

Despite the excitement and the new surroundings, all three kids settled reasonably quickly at bedtime, but the grown ups sensibly decided an early-ish night would be a wise idea all round!

 

Tuesday

One of the things B had wanted to do on our last trip to Whinfell that we couldn’t fit in was horse riding, so we’d booked for both girls to go on a pony trek on the Tuesday morning.  When hubby was checking our itinerary when we arrived, he’d discovered that we had to be there half an hour before it started, and it was a half hour walk away!!!  So we got everyone breakfasted and dressed, and set off just after 9am – hubby carrying A in the sling and the rest of us walking, although L&S took their buggy in case K got tired. Well, it was a walk and a half!!  The riding centre is right on the edge of the site (and I believe in fact is an independently owned business) and to be honest meant the girls were tired before we even got there!  K went on her dad’s shoulders for some of the way, and I ended up carrying B for a bit, but with hindsight we should have taken A in the buggy so hubby could take B on his shoulders.  Thank goodness we hadn’t let the girls take their bikes as it was pretty hilly and would have been a nightmare!  It was also FAR warmer than any of us had been expecting – I had no sunhat for A, no suncream or anything.

Anyhow, once we (eventually) got there, the girls were fitted with helmets then taken along to meet their ponies – Dinky and Harry!  There was one other wee girl and her dad, but I can imagine during peak season the groups are a bit bigger.  I had half thought B might not be so keen once it came to actually getting on the pony, but she was fine.  She had a little handle on the front of the saddle to hold on to, and I just had to walk beside her – L had to actually hold on to the back of K’s jacket because she is younger. The trek itself was half an hour, just along the same paths that we’d walked half an hour earlier…..!!  It was very gentle, but B really enjoyed it, although she was disgusted when Dinky stopped for a poo!!  Half an hour was definitely enough though, especially on top of the long walk the girls had already had.  Once we got back there were cuddles for the ponies, then we sat at the picnic benches and had a cold drink and a snack before starting the walk back to the lodge!  So a great activity, but the distance and time to get there meant a half hour activity took up more than 2 and a half hours which would put me off doing it again.

B was desperate to go swimming in the afternoon, but she’d been complaining of a sore ear during the night so I said no pool (mean Mummy!).  Instead we settled for face painting and an hour or so in a fab play park (kitted out completely differently since our last visit), followed by ten pin bowling over at the Village Centre, which was lots of fun. We’d decided just to eat at home that night, so we headed back to the lodge to let the girls have a wee bit of downtime while hubby cooked.  Both girls were in bed early and even A settled reasonably quickly, so the grown ups got the Uno cards out – rock ‘n’ roll!!!

 

Wednesday

Lucky L was booked into the spa on Wednesday morning (she highly recommends the hot stone massage!), but that was the only planned activity, so we decided it was time for one of the highlights of any Center Parcs stay – the pool!  B loved the pool the last time, especially the rapids and the kiddy slides (not so keen on the waves though!), and her swimming has really come on in the last six months, so she couldn’t wait to get going.  A was due a nap, so the girls headed to the pool with the dads, and I followed once A had woken up.

The swimming pool is, well for starters it’s more than just a pool!  Tropical swimming paradise is its official title I think!  There’s slides (for the big kids as well as the wee ones!), wave machine, rapids, baby and toddler pools, outdoor pool, lots of seating, a poolside café….  You could easily spend several hours there, particularly if your kids are a bit older.

After getting A changed (another plus point with wee ones – the changing rooms always seem very clean and amazingly dry underfoot!), I caught up with hubby and B at the kids’ slides.  We watched B come down a couple of times, then I took A into the baby section of the pool.  The water is so warm it is like sitting in a bath!  A had a happy time splashing in there, by which time the girls had had enough, so we all headed back to get changed.  The one thing at the pool that doesn’t work for me is the showers – there is nowhere to hang towels, bags and other paraphernalia required when swimming with small children, so you either have to put them on the (wet) ground, or you have to leave everything through in the pool area, get showered then go back and get it, at which point said small children make a break for the pool again….!!

When everyone was organised, we headed to meet L at probably my favourite eatery at Whinfell – The Pancake House!!!  Yum.  The guys made this their lunch and went for savoury options, while me and L chose full on sweet pancake stacks – mine with bananas and cream (one of my five a day, and I did share with B!).  Delicious.

B really wanted to get her hair braided, so on the way back to our lodge we stopped at one of the booking stations to see when we could fit that in.  The machines are a bit clunky to use, but the system works very well and showed a slot for hair braiding in ten minutes.  B was very pleased with the result, and I could already forsee a tantrum when the thing had to be taken out in a few days!

Our afternoon activity was something for all of us to do together – pottery painting!  When we’d pre booked this a few weeks before, hubby and S had mocked and rolled their eyes; however I have some great pics of hubby, deep in concentration helping B paint a pink unicorn!!  The price that we’d paid upfront only included the studio time and use of the paints, so depending on which items (ranging from egg cups, mugs and plates to unicorns and other ‘ornaments’) you select to paint, it could end up being quite expensive.  You can choose as many items as you like during your 90min session, and they are then glazed and fired (or fired and glazed?!!?) and ready for collection the next day.  B did the unicorn and a tile, and I did a ‘Family’ ornament that I painted in different colours then wrote our names on (here in progress!):

DSCF8327

It was actually a great way to spend an hour and a half – both girls enjoyed it, and B amazed me once more with her attention to detail when doing something like that, and it was nice to do something creative as a break from the more physical activities!

At B’s request we’d booked another game of bowling, so we headed across to do that straight from the pottery studio.  Being beaten at bowling by a 2 year old and a 4 year old – mildly embarrassing!!!

Our dinner plans involved takeaway – you can order takeaway food and either collect it or have it delivered to the lodge.  The best part about the takeaway service is you can mix and match from Chinese, Indian and pizza, so there’s bound to be something to please everyone, and it also lets kids try something they maybe wouldn’t normally, with a pizza to fall back on if it all goes wrong!  The quality of the food is great, and fair to say we could hardly move afterwards!!

 

Thursday

Thursday morning saw us all head off in different directions for a couple of hours.  L had booked a messy play session for K, so they left fairly early for that, with L hoping that the recommendation to bring a swimsuit to wear was only directed at the children….!!  Hubby and S did an aerial assault course (or “swinging in the trees like monkeys” as B called it!!), and B was booked for a Tots Tennis lesson.  She had done Tots Golf on our previous trip, so I knew parental participation would be required, but I was fairly sure A would fall asleep in the buggy on our way across….

Well, the best laid plans….  We arrived at the Sports Plaza, A was still wide awake, but by now tired and grumpy.  Just as I was wondering how I was going to manage to help B with tennis while dealing with a grouchy baby, hubby appeared!  Their aerial adventure hadn’t lasted quite as long as they’d expected, so he was able to take A off for a walk, while I attempted the tennis.  Safe to say my hand/eye coordination is not the greatest, but we got on OK and B really enjoyed it.  The instructor was very good with the kids as well.

A was now napping in the buggy, and L&S had taken K back to the lodge for a nap, so we decided to stay in the Sports Plaza for lunch at the Sports Café.  This was definitely the most disappointing meal of the trip – nothing wrong with the food, but £35 for two salads, a kid’s sandwich and three drinks is pretty steep, especially when it comes with a 40 minute wait.  There was a little soft play bit which kept B amused for a while, then she did some colouring, but a wait that long feels like forever to a 4 year old!

After lunch we headed back to the lodge to get organised with swimming stuff for an afternoon at the pool.  A had slept for almost 2 hours, and K had had a good nap too, so everyone was raring to go.  We spent about two hours in the pool area, including a stop for mini doughnuts and mocktails, and a go on the big slides for the dads!

We had an early dinner booked that evening at the Lakeside Inn, which serves pub grub and a carvery – I had a mountainous plate from the carvery which was very tasty, and B had a huge bowl of spag bol from the fairly extensive kids’ menu.  None of the grown ups had room for pudding, but B and K made room for more mini doughnuts and chocolate brownies!

We then headed into the Village Centre for the kids’ disco, which the girls enjoyed (although B did sulk a bit when she didn’t get a prize for being the best dancer!) and was a nice way to round off our last evening.

 

Friday

We had to be out the lodge by 10am, so everyone was up early to get breakfasted and packed.  The girls were getting under everyone’s feet, so L took them across to the soft play, and I followed with A shortly afterwards, leaving hubby and S to pack up the cars and repark them in the car park.

You can actually stay in the Village all day, even once you’ve checked out of your lodge, but with 3 small kids and a long-ish drive ahead, we didn’t hang about for too long – just long enough for B to spend her pennies in the toy shop and me to get some treats for myself from the sweetie shop!

We had a really fantastic holiday and can’t wait to go back.  I think one of the best things about Center Parcs is that it grows with your family, so the next time we go B will be interested in a whole different set of activities, and there will be things that A can do, as well as things we can do as a family.  There is more than enough to keep a family occupied for a full week, but with smaller kids I think the short break is a great option, as B was exhausted after four days of full on fun!!

Bring on our next visit! 🙂

 

 

A big week for my wee man

It’s been a pretty eventful week for us this week.

First off, at the ripe old age of 18 weeks and 6 days, A cut his first teeth.  Not one, or even two, but THREE of the blighters.  He’d been pretty out of sorts at the end of last week and over the weekend – horrible cough and cold, dodgy nappies and just not quite himself.  Well now we know why!  He’s been dribbly and stuffing anything he can get his hands on into his mouth for a good few weeks now, but I didn’t think we would see any teeth for a good couple of months yet.  Wrong!  On Tuesday afternoon, he was chewing on my finger when I felt something sharp in his mouth.  I had a wee look and was momentarily confused because I couldn’t see anything.  Turns out that’s because, not content with getting three teeth in one go, he’s also decided to bypass the normal front teeth first route and go straight for the sharp pointy eye teeth.  So the two bottom eye teeth and one of the next to middle ones.  By yesterday, one of the top eye teeth was through the gum as well, giving him a total of four teeth.  No wonder he’s been grouchy!  Although I can’t help thinking that this perhaps means we get the worst over with now, and the rest should be slightly easier….  A girl can hope, right?!?

Incidentally, if anyone has any advice re relieving the symptoms, please let me know.  B was never really bothered by her teeth coming in, so this is all new to me.

The other major milestone this week was our first night without a night feed!!!  After being a really good sleeper in the first couple of months and some nights going 8 hours without a feed at night, by mid February he was barely going 4 hours.  So at that point I started doing a dream feed at 10.30ish, and that put us back to only one feed during the night.  On Tuesday night, he woke at 1am and just seemed unsettled rather than hungry.  Hubby managed to get him settled back to sleep, and I thought that might be him until half 2 or 3am.  Heard him stirring and looked at the clock – 6.17am!!!  So I took him in beside me and he dozed off until 7am.  Happy days.  Or should I say happy day, because the two nights since have been very disturbed, but I’m putting that down to the teeth.  At least now I know he can manage to go all night – definitely light at the end of the tunnel!

The next step will be moving A through to his own room…  Hubby is keen to do this ASAP, and in some ways I think we probably need to – he definitely keeps me awake with his rumbling around, and there have been several occasions when I’ve ended up feeding him just because we’re both awake and I didn’t think he would last until morning.  He is starting to look a bit cramped in his crib too.  But on the other hand, it seems too soon, and certainly if he’s going to be really unsettled with his teeth, it’s easier to have him in our room rather than to-ing and fro-ing all night.  He’s been having his daytime naps in the big cot to get him used to it, so hopefully when we actually move him it won’t be too traumatic.  Maybe next week….

The final bit of excitement (for me anyway) was my first evening out since before A was born!  I went to the theatre to see one of my friends appearing in an amateur production of Annie, which is one of my favourite musicals.  It was a bit of a rush – I got A ready for bed and fed him early, then as soon as he’d finished feeding I threw him at hubby and dashed out the door.  My dad gave me a lift so I didn’t need to worry about parking the car, and I arrived literally as the lights were going down.  It was lovely to have a bit of ‘me’ time, and needless to say everyone managed fine without me, albeit with Nana (my mum) on hand to do B’s bath while hubby winded A and got him settled!

Phew!  Exciting times.  Who knows what next week will bring!?