Saturday, 30 December 2017

Practically perfect - skiing at Christmas with Mark Warner

The fabulous view from our balcony 

I learned to ski about 15 years ago on a holiday with friends who had been skiing since they were very young. It was while having lessons in Meribel that I made the decision that if I was to have children I'd introduce them to skiing at an early age. I haven't actually been since Brown Bear was born and as Hubbie isn't a skiier I thought it would be unfair to book a holiday that only I would be interested in. Then the lovely chaps at Mark Warner suggested we might like to go away to ski for Christmas. Well, I was very keen to go and looked into how to make it happen for all of us. I wanted it to be a holiday that would be special for everyone and where we would all get to do what we enjoy. 

Is that our plane Mummy ? 

Advance booking: 

You can book pretty much everything before you leave for your holiday so you have nothing to worry about when you arrive. Our holiday included flights, transfers and half board. The flight was mercifully short and at a sensible time of day so we didn't have to get up in the middle of the night to get to the airport. It was also important to me that we have a short transfer time from the airport so we chose Les Deux Alpes which takes around 1 and a half hours from Grenoble. The Hotel Berangere offers interconnecting rooms so we are close to the boys, but not in the same room as them. We have a bathroom in each room too, so they have their own space and have loved sharing with each other. Half board is also a blessing for me as I don't have to prepare any meals and there is plenty to eat for everyone from hearty breakfasts to tempting afternoon tea and delicious dinners. The hotel has a swimming pool, sauna, steam room and a beauty salon. This meant that Hubbie could relax and do nothing if he wanted to or have a soothing massage. Mostly he chose to do nothing, which was the whole point of the holiday really. 

Freshly pisted snow - bliss 

The additional costs were for activities that we chose to do, so we pre-booked kids club for the bears, skiing lessons and ski equipment. This meant that it was all ready for us so we didn't have to leave the hotel for anything on arrival. It was just as well really as the boys were tired and hungry and I wanted to unpack. 

Family friendly: 

Mark Warner are renowned for the family friendly nature of their holidays so I have been keen to travel with them for a long time. It has been all I could have asked for and more. There are plenty of families staying here so the bears have made friends. As we were here on Christmas Day there was a visit from someone special and he brought gifts for all the children. There is provision for children to eat early so Blue Bear has been having high tea at 5pm so we can then put him to bed at close to his usual bedtime at home. There is also a kidz tea around 7pm for children over 6 and Brown Bear has enjoyed eating dinner with his new friends. We can then eat our meal later in the evening with other adults or the children can join us if we prefer. 

Ooh who's been the visit the chalet in the night ?

Child Care: 

This has been the one area I've been most impressed with. All the 'nannies' are brilliant with the children and both bears have been allocated a key worker. Blue Bear has loved playing in the snow with Aimee and made friends in the mini club. Brown Bear has been taking skiing lessons so Izzy takes him down to the ESF meeting point in the mornings and brings him back at lunchtime. The children eat lunch together under adult supervision and spend the afternoon at their respective clubs until we pick them up for tea. 

Blue Bear in the snow

The evening listening service wasn't what I had expected. The children watch a movie from 7.30pm in the childcare area and they are put to bed in sleeping bags by Danni and Danielle ready to be picked up before 10.30pm. We renamed it 'movie club' and Brown Bear loved it so much he went every evening. On the staff night off we also dropped Blue Bear off for a 'sleepover' with his friends. We have never had a holiday where we could eat dinner without the children before and it was so relaxing. You do have to stay in the hotel - except on the staff night off - but it is reassuring knowing the children are happy and being looked after while we eat our three course dinner and converse with other adults. In fact I've even enjoyed the cocktail of the day most evenings knowing that the children are safe and sound in the same building and that we don't have to drive to pick them up. 

Hubbie and me enjoying a much deserved night out


Well, it's fair to say that I love to ski. I had no idea if I would be any good or if years away from the slopes would render me a hazard to everyone on the pistes. As we had pre-booked lessons for Brown Bear I also decided to book some for myself. Mark Warner work with preferred suppliers for ski equipment and lessons and the latter are with ESF (Ecole Ski Francais). I have had lessons with them before and would recommend them. The distinctive red suits can be seen all over the French alps and the instructors are encouraging and knowledgable. Most speak more than one language so you might find yourself in a group with people of other nationalities. I find that my french improves only marginally, but I expect their english fares far better. The skiing conditions have varied enormously this week. From a sunny and bright first day to a rain soaked last day with blizzards and white outs in between. Still I skied every day and enjoyed pretty much all of it. I befriended the drag lift operators who I saw every day and became well acquainted with the contours of the piste outside the window. I've honed my turns and realised that I'm actually not a bad skier at all. Every previous time I've been  skiing with friends who are very skilled. All this week I've remembered the voice of Harriet imploring "bend zee knees," and Adrian patiently demonstrating pole plant turns. They always pushed me to do more than I thought I could and as a result I had a pretty good grounding despite the long break. 

Brown Bear and me on the slopes 

The staff:

I can honestly say that the staff at Mark Warner have worked exceptionally hard to keep guests happy and made the time to get to know us by name. Paul the customer service manager and Amy the hotel manager have been incredible. At one point Hubbie came in and said, "I've just seen Amy outside digging a minibus out of the snow - whatever they pay her it's not enough." If you want to know what customer service is you have to meet a man who doesn't even ski, but works as a manager in a hotel at a ski resort. That man is Paul. For many of the staff this is their first ski season, although you wouldn't know it as they handle whatever happens with patience and speed. When my ski boots were missing from the boot room Ally kindly helped me locate them without any fuss. Bearing in mind that we were here over Christmas every effort was made to give us all the elements of a festive stay. When I booked I asked, "what about the staff do they not get to celebrate Christmas ?" and I was told that they do, but they also want us to have a special holiday. 

Jabba the snowman 
This was our first family holiday abroad and so much was new for us. We haven't put the children into holiday childcare before, it was Blue Bear's first time on a plane, I usually do all the cooking on holiday or we eat out and generally we spend all of the time together. This holiday we've all done our own things and spent time doing things we love. Hubbie has relaxed and rested, Brown Bear has taken to skiing like a natural, Blue Bear has made new friends and loved making snowballs and snow angels. As for me, I've seen my children in a whole new light, from brave and daring to sociable and fun. Their smiles and laughter have warmed my heart and spending time with Hubbie and enjoying each other's company has been wonderful. As I sat on a chair lift on Christmas Day I felt the sun on my face and closed my eyes to appreciate the serenity and fresh air of the mountains. That feeling will stay with me for a long time. 

Disclosure: Mark Warner Holidays offered us a special deal to ski at Christmas. All opinions are honest and my own. 

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

So that was Christmas

And what have you done ? To misquote John Lennon. I only ask because not everyone is all singing and all dancing about Christmas.

It's taken me most of my life to work out how to do Christmas in a way that doesn't make me stressed or upset. Mostly it involves a lot of organisation. It's also about getting myself prepared mentally. Ok, so the present buying and food shopping is pretty arduous, but it's still a fortunate situation to find yourself in. To have the means, the reason and the people to buy for can be wonderful. It can create a mass of expectation though. The need to buy the perfect gifts, to cook the perfect meal, to have the perfect family get together. All the while being aware that this is a privileged position to be in.

The pursuit of perfection is my worst enemy. The desire to do everything just right causes the most anxiety of all. It's why so many people get into debt to fund Christmas. This need to make it special. I didn't even grow up with the traditional notion of Christmas in my family. We weren't encouraged to believe in Father Christmas so that wasn't a thing and apart from having crackers with our meal it was no different to any day that we all ate together. We did have gifts, but it was not the huge deal that I became aware of later on. When people talked about how special Christmas was I just didn't get it at all.

At uni I met a tutor who told me that she and her husband would go on holiday every Christmas to avoid all celebrations. They would lie on the beach and ignore everything to do with the season. That idea appealed to me. Choosing to step away from the whole idea in favour of something relaxing instead. Yes please. Then the guilt kicks in. What will parents think ? Isn't that a bit selfish ?

It's this awareness of unrealistic expectations that means I start to prepare a long time in advance. Getting myself fit and mentally well has been hugely important. In the past I have negelected my wellbeing and it's led to a miserable time. Now I know that I have to manage myself. Whether that is taking some time for myself or sharing the load with others. No one else can know what I'm struggling with if I'm not open about it. Fortunately Hubbie knows me better than I know myself sometimes.

It's not an easy time of year for a lot of people. It's ok if you're not feeling festive. If you do and you need some help these links might be of some help: uk

Sunday, 24 December 2017

I'm out of Whamageddon... no it's ok I'm fine.

I was doing so well until this last week when I took the boys to the barbers for their seasonal haircuts. It was all going swimmingly then the festive music started up on the radio and it happened. The one tune I had managed to avoid all December finally caught up with me. Yes it's true I am out of Whamageddon ! In case this meme has passed you by it's the phenomenon where you try to get through as much of December as possible without hearing Last Christmas by Wham. Cover versions don't count, but I think the cheery and loud rendition by my drunken fellow passengers on the train home on Friday night would have rendered every passenger on the carriage well and truly out of the game too. It's not even like it's my favourite song about Christmas, it's far too schmaltzy and sentimental. However, it does hold a special place in my heart because Hubbie deliberately sings it out of tune which amuses me no end. No it's the video that makes this for me - in hindsight a bizarre scenario, but the hair is just amazing !

I asked my fellow radio presenters to select their favourite songs for Christmas and have discovered some beautiful new songs to add to my playlist. One I've only just remembered recently is by Bruce Springsteen and it just makes me smile. I defy you to listen to this and not enjoy it.

An altogether smoother number is by She and Him featuring the delightful vocals of Zooey Deschanel - a truly renaissance woman - and brings an elegant touch to a familar tune.

For years I favoured a post punk band and their Christmas anthem because it felt a bit more rebellious. Until it occured to me that it was on every compilation album and is hardly alternative. I still love the Waitresses and Christmas Wrapping.

This one isn't strictly speaking a Christmas song, but it's always featured in the seasonal offering and I just love Chrissie Hynde's voice. Also the video that was shown on Top of the Pops featured her dressed as in a Salvation Army uniform so that pretty much settled its place as an annual favourite.

At heart, however, I am an softie and the song that brings most meaning to me at this time of year is this John Lennon number.

However you are spending this day I hope it goes well. At least you've got these great tunes to keep you company.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

I've made my list... I've checked it twice...

Christmas is a busy time. As well as all the things we have to do with school - nativity, school fair, teacher gifts and cards for friends - there is the family stuff to do - buy gifts, wrap gifts, decide what day we're visiting who - and then I throw in the additional stress of a festive holiday and it just makes me operate at a level of intensity that would rival Olivia Pope. Ok I don't have her pristine outfits and designer handbags, but the level of precision required to keep on top of my to do list is pretty phenomenal. Actually I don't have one list I have several.

School jobs: 

  • Working the bar for the inaugural winter ball - Narnia themed naturally 
  • Setting up, holding a stall and clearing up after the Christmas fair 
  • Decorating the hall for the junior school disco. 
  • Writing all cards for boys' teachers, class mates and random mums I talk to
  • Teacher gift from children in Blue Bear's class

Blue Bear birthday jobs: 

  • Plan and deliver birthday party
  • Party Bags, cake, etc.
  • Wrap presents and buy cake for the actual birthday 
  • Thank you cards for all the gifts 

Christmas Donations: 

  • Toys for Met Police Appeal
  • Clothes and toys for Salvation Army
  • Pet food for animal charities 
  • Winter clothes for overseas charities 
  • Trolley of donations for food bank
  • Blood donation (it's a busy time of year) 

Ok before you say, 'hey hey, what's with the gratuitous virtue signalling there woman ?" I can explain. For me this is a difficult time of year as the enforced jollity really grates on me. I prefer to give gifts, donations and be helpful than to receive anything. I find it a bit embarassing really as I have all I need and being asked what I'd like just sends me into a panic. I end up with daft things like an ice cream maker or a teasmade because no one accepts it when I say, "honestly I don't need anything." Years ago when me and Hubbie hadn't been together that long he asked if I wanted an ipod and I said, "not it's far too much, please don't bother." He bought me one about a year later and I loved it so much I couldn't believe I'd ever said no thanks. He's been asking me for about a year if I want an apple watch and I think it's far too much money to spend so I've said no. Nicely, I'm not rude. I honestly would rather the money was spent on the family or to help others. 

I love giving things to other people so that is where my joy comes from. I've taken the boys to breakfast with Father Christmas, we've been to watch festive shows, I've invested in a kickstarter project for something that Hubbie will love (I can't say what it is until he knows - sorry). I bought Neo some new blankets for his beanbag and have treated the boys to new things for holiday - little things like a passport cover for the one who has never flown before and onesies for lounging around the chalet. It's not about big stuff, it's all the little things that make a difference for me. My Dad's birthday is on Christmas Eve so we always visit celebrate with him. It's also a family tradition that I go to my parents for New Year's Day. In the past I've given everyone a calendar and some chocolates to see in the New Year. 

The pressure for everything to be perfect at Christmas is overwhelming. I have struggled for years with managing my expectations and now try to keep things as simple as possible. Thankfully Hubbie understands that I set myself impossible standards and he reminds me how much has gone right rather than allowing me to sink under the weight of my own disappointment. Giving enables me to take focus off myself and to see joy reflected in others. I make time to see people I love and to remind others that they are in my thoughts if not in close proximity. 

For those of us who aren't naturally Christmas people this is a difficult line to tread. Not wanting to be seen as a grinch, but feeling that overeating and overspending is not necessary. 

This is how I've made it work for me. The reality is - though - that I am still struggling. I feel really anxious most days and I am permanently worried that I've forgotten something really important.  

If it's not on the list it can't be important can it ? 

Monday, 18 December 2017

Drumroll please for the big reveal...

So this weekend at least a month after we finalised all the details we finally told the boys about the special holiday we have planned for us all. The ski clothes have been bought, the airport taxi booked, passports checked and a few lightweight items picked to take with us as presents in case they feel they are missing out. My lovely friend sent the boys these colourful sunblock tubes so they can look cool on the slopes and I've kept everything hidden away for the big announcement.

I wanted to ensure that we had made a huge fuss about Blue Bear's birthday before I told them the exciting news. It's already tough having a birthday so close to Christmas, the last thing I wanted was for his day to be upstaged. On the day of his birthday party Blue Bear came running into our bedroom and in a high pitched squeal shouted, "It's snowing outside." I thought he was kidding until I opened the curtains and saw this:

"We can go outside and make snowballs he announced as he rolled imaginary snow between his palms. I reminded him that he had his party and that if it was still snowy he could make snowballs later. Hubbie and I looked at each other and I said, "Well he likes snow so that's a good start."

A week after his party I set up a trail of clues for the boys to help tell them what we had planned.

 We will get up early and get into a taxi...

The taxi will take us to the airport where we will get on a plane...

When we arrive at the place we are going to we will get on a coach that will take us up the mountain...

To a place where there is a lot of snow...

You will need these special clothes for our holiday...

They looked a bit baffled by it all if I'm honest. They tried on the clothes still not entirely sure what was going on. I tried to explain we'd be going skiing and they smiled, but still were none the wiser. I knew it had been a bit of a bust when later that day Blue Bear came home from an activity in town and sullenly told me, " I didn't go in a taxi, or a plane, or a bus up a mountain. I only went on the tram."  With a stamp of his foot and a jutting out lip he sat on the bottom stair staring at his shoes. "No it's not today sweety, we're going on a different day. Sorry I didn't explain that very well did I ?" Clearly not.

He has checked with me every day since then if it's today we are going and I have to explain that we are one day closer, but it's not today. I showed them both photos of our chalet hotel and some photos of the slopes. Blue has now taken to telling people he's going to "Snowland" and Brown Bear is delighted that he's going to get to eat breakfast at the airport. In fact today he asked me, "Who is going to cook our food Mummy ?" I explained that we have chalet hosts who will take care of us and prepare food for us. He wants to know in detail what there will be to eat - these things are important after all - and how close we are to his friend Henry who will be in France at the same time as us. Not close at all as it happens.

The big reveal wasn't quite the movie moment you see on those TV ads where the kids are excited to a degree that suggests they've been consuming industrial quantities of sugar. It was pretty muted and has taken a while to unfold as they have tried to make sense of what it going to happen. Brown Bear has told me he is looking forward to learning to ski, but his questions point to an anxiety about the unfamiliar. Blue Bear is facing all new things. His first ride in a taxi, first time on a plane, first holiday abroad and first time in a kids' club. If we keep him occupied thinking about how snowy it's going to be hopefully he won't worry about all the things he hasn't done before.

Now all I have to do is everything on my to do list. Wish me luck !

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Christmas theatre for children - it's not just panto.

There are a few things that are traditional for us at this time of year. I've always been a fan of Christmas shows and remember taking my very young sisters to see Christmas Cat and the Pudding Pirates - starring Christopher Lillicrap, remember him ? I would often go to watch the seasonal flick with my siblings and we have seen some proper shockers (Jingle All the Way anyone ?) as well as fab pantomimes. I love taking my boys to watch shows at Christmas. Of course seeing Santa in a grotto will always be a firm favourite, but it is something a bit special to go to the theatre too.

The Elves and the Shoemaker: Churchill Theatre Bromley

This week we are going to see the Elves and the Shoemaker at the Churchill Theatre which has been created in conjunction with their creative learning department and Quarter Too Ensemble. The story is one I remember from childhood, but I'm not sure it's performed that often. The poor Shoemakers find they have little left in their cupboard than the leather for one pair of shoes and go to bed tired and hungry. However as they sleep through the night, little do they know that some magical Elves have been watching and want to help. The tale of kindness and charity is brought to life in a show rich in music, song and a touch of silliness that will leave small and large alike, smiling. At around 50mins the show is ideal for a younger audience and the ticket price includes a snack and drink provided for the children. It is suggested that it is suitable for children aged 2 years+.

Tickets: From £10.00 (incl. childrens’ refreshments) For Snow White pantomime bookers, you can get 25% off your The Elves and The Shoemaker tickets. To take advantage of this offer please call box office on 020 3285 6000 or visit in person to book. At the time of writing all performances have sold out, but returns may become available.

Santa's Mixed Up Martian: Wimbledon Theatre 

Wimbledon Theatre will once again be home to Santa, Ellie and Rudolph as they return with the brand new festive show for pre-school children, Santa’s Mixed-up Martian, written and produced by the same team behind the hugely popular hugely popular Santa’s Dizzy Day, Santa’s Polka Dot Pirate and Santa’s Rusty Robot. The Santa shows have become a bit of a Christmas tradition in Wimbledon over the last few years and writer Iain Lauchlan says:
“I think it is really important for children to be introduced to theatre at a young age, and even more important that they have a wonderful experience. Really young children cannot be expected to sit still and quiet to watch a show such as a pantomime – that is why this show is designed to get them involved in the action. Not only that, they get to meet Santa and receive their first Christmas present of the year – what could be better at that age!”

My children are looking forward to seeing a show that incorporates all their favourite things; Father Christmas, space aliens and of course presents !! Wimbledon Theatre is a lovely venue with a rich history and is very accessible by public transport so we will take the tram and relax rather than sitting in traffic and getting Mummy all stressed.

You can book tickets for this fabulous new show which is on from Tuesday 12 until Sunday 24 December 2017 by calling the box office on 0844 871 7646 or visiting the website at:

Disclosure: The lovely folks at the Churchill Theatre and Wimbledon Theatre have offered us complimentary tickets to see these fab shows. 

Monday, 11 December 2017

Christmas books worth going to bed early for

Since I first heard about the idea of having a Christmas Eve box I've done them for the boys. It varies from year to year but there is always a seasonal book inside. It's something they can read in preparation for the big day and gives them a reason to go to bed nice and early. Well that's the theory anyway. Often Brown Bear just stays up reading his book over and over hoping to catch a glimpse of Father Christmas. 

Little Tiger publishing sent us some lovely books to review - just in time for Christmas. They are so beautifully illustrated and would be great as gifts. These are all softback versions of popular Christmas titles that have been reissued for the festive season. 

The nicest thing about reading a book with children is the active participation. We have read to our boys since they were very small so in the early days it was more about using their senses to enjoy the experience.

One Noisy Night is a touch and feel book with pictures that your child can run their fingers over to feel Little Hedgehog's velvety hat. I love stories that have a joining in element and this one is a bit of a mystery featuring animal characters and an adventure.

The Perfect Present is an adorable story of friendship and kindness. Bella and Billy are best friends and they want to give each other a present that will make them happy. It made me sob when I read the lovely ending to the story, but in a good way.

Santa to the rescue is more of a traditional Christmas story with the animals of Holly Tree Forest helping Santa when the bears of Mistletoe Mountain get snowed in. This is the one that Blue Bear would love the most as he is a big fan of Father Christmas stories. It's also a great story to tell the night before Christmas so it's a surefire entry for Christmas Eve boxes.

These illustrated stories are wonderful for reading to children until they can read themselves. I love collecting these stories and sharing them with my children. They have such a magical feel to them and make a nice bedtime treat in the run up to Christmas. I can't wait to give these to the bears (and one for their cousin too).

Disclosure: The lovely folks at Little Tiger sent us these books to review. 

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Brim full of Hygge

At the start of the year Hubbie gave me a book all about Hygge - the Danish concept of relaxation and being happy. A few weeks ago I went to a workshop to find out all about Hygge Box and I loved it. Not least because I found out how you actually pronounce the word - it's not hoo-gah it's hyoo-ger.

During the workshop we heard all about how Hygge has been interpreted as being all about white furnishings and expensive candles, but it's really simpler than that. Spending time with loved ones, sharing a blanket, eating nice food, soft lighting - these are all hygge. We made a lovely heart shaped decoration and tasted some traditional biscuits - no fancy hot choc for me that day. It reminded me of how me and Brown Bear enjoyed candles and cuddles under a fluffy blanket before he went upstairs to bed and it seems to have slipped away from us. Since the workshop I've introduced after school hygge with the boys getting into their onesies, relaxing on beanbags with a snack. It's a lovely time that they can unwind and I can truly appreciate the peace it brings to the house. 

I was fascinated by the idea of Hygge Box which is delivered to your home either as a one off or on a monthly basis. I asked if I could review a Hygge Box and look what arrived in the post this week - a Hygge Box in pretty packaging. the tissue paper inside is festive and luxurious so you feel like you are truly getting a box of treats. It's like the paper you used to get turkish delight wrapped up in and you'd get icing sugar on your fingers when you opened it. This wasn't quite as sweet as that, but it was filled with some lovely things to celebrate Advent. 

Of course there is an advent candle, some marzipan, mulled wine spices, hot chocolate mix and a kit to make crackers - including the jokes to put inside. There is plenty to do, things to eat, some items to help relax and overall it's a nice bit of self care. I can also see how it would work as a gift for someone else. As subscriptions go this is one that really appeals to all the senses. It would also make an ideal gift. 

Hygge Box was founded by Sally and Gabby whose travels have led to the realisation that they wanted to share Hygge with others. Once a month they send out a themed box of lovely things to get your hygge on. You can order a one off box for a friend - if you want to - or for yourself. I love the idea of a box filled with surprises and treats, like a special gift for no reason other than you deserve it. 

To see how I get on with the contents of my box follow me on Twitter for photos of the crafts and maybe even the tasty treats (if I remember to photograph them before scoffing that is !)

If you want to try a box for yourself you can order online here:  

Disclosure: The lovely Sally and Gabby sent me an Advent Hygge Box to review.