Christmas at St Enoch Centre, Glasgow

Christmas is now very much upon us, and the kids and I are having a fantastic time enjoying all the local festive activities.

Last weekend we were invited to visit Santa at his grotto in the St Enoch Centre. I have to admit that the kids weren’t overly excited about seeing Santa…. at ages 8 and 6 years old they are starting to question his existence. We had dug out photographs from other Santa visits whilst putting up the Christmas decorations, and had very cleverly noticed that the Santa’s look different… you can’t get anything by my two! They knew that the Santa we were going to see was a pretend one, acting on behalf of the real Santa, and I suppose knowing this they perhaps weren’t as keen as they have been in previous years.

Going to see a Santa in a shopping centre isn’t going to be as magical as perhaps some of the other opportunities around, but for busy families it’s ideal to get in some Christmas shopping along with a trip to see the big guy. The centre is in full festive swing, and I just love the fairy light reindeer that are dotted about the place. The grotto is up beside Debenhams, and displays a countdown to the day. Not long now!

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After queuing for a few minutes, it was our turn to be escorted into the grotto by Santa’s elf. Santa had been pre-advised of the names and ages of the children, and he welcomed them into his room with his loud, friendly voice. All talk of fake Santa quickly stopped, and the kids were engrossed by the large character in the chair; he was very authentic. Obviously with a queue outside, we couldn’t stay and chat for too long, but we did have a discussion about how well the children had been behaving and what they would like as Christmas gifts this year. Next was the photo, and we did get a couple taken to pick from which was great (especially given that my son has his mouth wide open chatting in one of the frames!). We had chosen to have our photo displayed in a 3D snow frame, and it was promptly prepared and boxed up for us. The kids were given a present (puzzle book and a sequin art pack) and we were off on our way. The kids were delighted with their gifts, and I was happy that it wasn’t more plastic tat.

The St Enoch Centre had challenged us to see what we could find in the centre to make our house more festive this holiday season, and had given us a £50 gift card to make our purchases. The kids loved to work to the budget, and we had already brainstormed the type of things that we could look for before arriving that morning… Christmas candle, baubles and a Christmas tree topper.

We started in Debenhams Christmas department, and chose some stag wrapping paper and a smoke & amber candle. We were off to a flying start. Whilst I was in Debenhams, I tried a massage chair which was on display in the home department… it was super relaxing, and on offer at 50% off. A fantastic start to the day, made even better when one of the staff handed me a empty coffee cup to get a free coffee in the cafe!

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We refuelled in Patisserie  Valerie in Debenhams… yum!

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Other shops that we visited were the Yankee Candle store where we bought a gift pack with a few festive votives and a holder, then we headed to The Works and chose a lot of crafty bits and pieces to make Christmas gift tags and cards. Our final stop was The Body Shop, and with our remaining budget we were able to get a mini soap and hand cream from the festive ranges… Frosted Plum, Frosted Berries and Vanilla Chai. We went for Frosted Plum.

I loved the personalised body butters that are now available in The Body Shop… we got one for my son’s teacher – “You’re on the Naughty List Mrs XXX”. I’m sure she’ll see the funny side of it!!

We didn’t find a Christmas tree topper that we liked, so that remains on the list for now… until next time!

We had complimentary entry to Santa’s grotto, and a £50 voucher for this review. Opinions as always are our own, and are honest.

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Family Day Out at Soar, intu Braehead

The other weekend the kids and I were invited to participate in a family day out at Soar, intu Braehead. The centre has undergone a recent refurbishment, and since I last visited there have been a number of new additions: Cocobean chocolate workshop, Gravity trampoline park and soon there will be a giant slide added to Climbzone (what I didn’t realise was that Climbzone is one of the largest freestanding climbing walls in the UK – pretty impressive! My kids were too young for Climbzone however, so we enjoyed the other activities).

We started our day at Cocobean, and the kids were whisked away to participate in a chocolate workshop whilst I sipped a salted caramel hot chocolate in the cafe (I paid £4.95 for the hot chocolate and I felt this was a bit pricey, and the price didn’t reflect the quality – it was average. Don’t want to dwell on the negatives, but thought I should mention it). Anyway, the staff that hosted the workshop were very engaging and the kids thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Premise was very similar to The Chocolate Factory that used to be at Charing Cross. The kids made a chocolate mould of their choice – teddy bear, rabbits etc, they also made a huge chocolate bar (covered in jelly sweets and more chocolate) and then finally they decorated chocolate dipped marshmallows. As they worked on their creations, they were filling their mouths with chocolate and sweets at every opportunity. I even clocked their teacher squeezing the chocolate from the piping bag straight into their mouths! Needless to say, they felt the first activity was a huge success. The children’s workshop is £16 per child, and workshops are available 7 days a week – there isn’t a requirement to pre-book.

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With tummies full of sweets, our next stop was Gravity. I was just keeping fingers crossed that we had no vomiting incidents… that would have been disastrous. This time I joined the kids, and we did an hour of bouncing. Watching the safety video before we started made me a little nervous – there were little cartoon stick figures breaking bones all over their body, and there was one that died. Really important though to follow the safety guidelines, and this definitely got the message across. I tried to not let this put me off.

There were so many trampolines to jump around on, and there was also air bags, battle beams, slam dunk zone, dodge ball and a interactive climbing wall. The trampolining was great exercise – I was suitably tired afterwards! I wasn’t really able to do any cool moves… I did attempt to bounce off one of the trampoline walls, but failed miserably and landed in a heap laughing out loud (much to the amusement of the staff nearby!). It was a fantastic family activity, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be back. Littlest loved it when they dropped the lights and there was a disco. I’m happy to report that I didn’t wet myself (another fear of mine!), and no-one was sick – hurrah. I spotted whilst I was there that they offer adult exercise classes, Trampolean, which I’m sure would be a laugh – dates/times to be announced. The hour open session, at peak time, is £9.95 and the socks are £2.50.

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Lastly, we headed to Bar Varia Restaurant at Snow Factor, overlooking the ski slope. We really needed some proper food, not chocolate, and a drink to quench our thirst after the jumping. Bar Varia is a family friendly, independent Bavarian themed restaurant and Bier Halle. I can testify to the fact that they are family friendly… we had an excellent time and I found the experience rather relaxing – which doesn’t necessarily always happen when eating out with children.

Adi, and Robyn our waitress, welcomed us and saw to our every need. They even played The Final Countdown over the speakers as my son had mentioned we were going to see Europe at the Hydro that week!

The food was good, although my son did mention that the pizza was too small – but he didn’t manage to eat it all, so on reflection the size was ideal!! I had the foot long hot dog with pulled pork and mustard, and demolished it. The plus points for me were the mini soft play, so the kids could disappear and entertain themselves whilst waiting for dinner, and most definitely the service. Adi made paper aeroplanes with them from their kids menus, and they flew them across the restaurant. The kids were also invited to make their own ice cream dessert, and Adi filled their mouths with squirty cream… they had so much sugar that day, crazy!!

It was fun to watch all the skiers on snowboarders at Snow Factor, and Adi shared some interesting facts with us about the slope. Did you know that the only car that has been able to drive up to the top of the slope was a Bentley (my son was disappointed to hear that the Range Rover failed the test). And the fastest person to make it down the slope was going at 33 mph… and he was 6 years old!!

Overall we had a fantastic day at Soar, intu Braehead and I’m sure we’ll be back. Thumbs up from all of us!

Our day out was complimentary, but as always opinions are honest, and are our own.

How to Host a House Party with Children

I love entertaining and being the hostess. The dynamic has certainly changed now there are children… it’s no longer three course meals with wine, instead it tends to be take away pizza (still with wine though). Anyway, I thought I’d share with you my tips and tricks for entertaining at home with children, without getting stressed.

  1. Limit your guest list –  previously I’d have thrown parties for 40+ adults at my house, whereas when there are families involved the guest list quickly mounts up. For our recent fireworks party we had 15 children, and that was a manageable number.
  2. Ornaments – I didn’t really move ornaments out of reach when my kids were toddlers, instead I trained them not to touch stuff that looked fragile. I do have my mum’s antiques high up on shelves, just in case (when I hosted parties as a teenager, I would always get the ornaments and move them into a bedroom out of the way; these days I can’t be bothered with the hassle!). Amazingly, we’ve never had an accident. Anyway, you can’t be sure that all kids are going to be the same, so if there is anything in your house that you’re precious about, then I’d move it out of the way before the party.
  3. Jobs – assign your own kids tasks to do, in the run up to the party, and on the day of. Get them involved in the choosing of the menu, doing the food shop and helping with any tidying before guests arrive. Little ones are great for greeting visitors, and taking jackets to a bedroom… or handing out drinks to their friends (to save hassle, I tend to buy sports cap bottles of water for the children, and then write their name on the bottle with a Sharpie). My son is into tech, and so he likes to be the DJ and picks the songs on Spotify!
  4. Snacks – before the food is served, it is inevitable that the kids will be hungry. I tend to put out a few bowls of crisps and dip… just avoid any cheesy crisps. I’ve got greasy cheesy Dorito handprints in my hallway now… learn from my mistakes!!
  5. Entertainment – you don’t need any. The kids will make their own entertainment! I have a £10 disco light from Amazon, and throw on a few cheesy tunes (this is one area where cheese is allowed!) and you’re sorted!!
  6. Slow cooker – I’ve got a massive family sized slow cooker, and it means I can cook up a batch of something… lentil soup, chilli… and keep it warm during the party. Last year we hosted a Christmas afternoon tea, and I had mulled wine in my slow cooker – it was delicious!
  7. Paper plates – ok, it’s not environmentally friendly, but it will make your life so much easier if you use disposable plates and bowls. After the food has been served & hopefully demolished, just scoop up everything into a black bag. Easy!
  8. Have fun – relax, encourage your guests to make themselves at home (i.e. get their own drinks from the fridge) and enjoy the socialising.
  9. End of the night – one of the great things about parties with kids is that they tend to not go on late into the night. I don’t think I’d manage an all nighter anymore! I much prefer to be early to bed, and early to rise. Quick tidy up before you go to bed, and then you’ll be rising to a clean house.
  10. I feel I should have 10 tips, but I don’t… let’s just ignore this last one shall we?!?

 

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Interiors: Mustard Love

I am torn… I love minimalist Scandi style, yet I also love colour… especially dark & moody colours. My new extension at the back of the house is more modern than the 1900s front, and it’s still painted white throughout – open plan dining and kitchen, a small utility and a shower room.

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Whereas in the rest of the house I have a navy living room, a snug which has multi-coloured stag wallpaper, my bathroom is painted dark grey, and my master bedroom which has blush walls…

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I really fancy injecting some mustard colour somewhere, and my initial thoughts are that I will paint my shower-room walls in the perfect shade of mustard yellow. However, it was suggested that I could perhaps reupholster my kitchen bar stools in mustard fabric, and maybe even paint one of the doors mustard – just to add a pop of colour and a bit of a quirk…. decisions, decisions.

I did toy with the idea of painting the kitchen walls navy, but my Instagram poll was pretty much split 50/50, and I still can’t make up my mind. I agree that it could end up being too dark… so perhaps adding some colour in the soft furnishings is a better idea.

As always, I’ve been scouring Pinterest for inspiration… here’s what I’ve found that I like the look of –

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So, what do you reckon? Mustard walls in the shower-room? Yay or nay?

 

Life Update.

House. Since my last update, my garden has been re-vamped and some more progress has finally been made with the house renovations – hurrah! I had a weekend blocked out in my diary for my sister and her fiancé to head down from Aberdeen to help me clear and turf my garden… and we nailed it!

I hired a skip (£200), ordered garden edging from Amazon (£100), organised 3 tonnes of topsoil and 70 square metres of turf to be delivered (£300) and borrowed a wheelbarrow and spades from a friend. Ali, Robin & I were joined by my new man (more on this below!) and the four of us managed to turnaround the post-building works mess of a garden into a useable space. I had a few quotes from gardening firms to put down new paving, and turf the lawn and the prices were extortionate. We managed it for like a tenth of the price!! I’m chuffed (as are the kids, who have been waiting patiently for a garden to play in for over a year). Next on the list is the quagmire (mud pit ‘driveway’) that needs rectified.

The only negative was that I somehow managed to wind up with cellulitis in my arm after an insect bite, and was on strong antibiotics for a week. I do seem to be prone to disasters!

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Relationships. Ok, I’m just going to put this out there… I’ve met a fantastic man, who makes me laugh and I am super happy. Eek!

I mentioned in the last update that I had the best first date ever, and my weekends with said man are just getting better and better. This weekend, not only did he bring me another new bottle of gin to try (previously it was The Botanist, this time it was Number 3 London Dry Gin), he cooked Dawn (@thethingaboutchaos) & I Sunday dinner… I mean, how lucky am I! The sous vide beef was seriously amazing and I had leftovers tonight in a sandwich.

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Socialising. The kids and I hosted a brilliant fireworks party on 4th Nov. We had put a lot of effort into the planning… making welcome posters, designing the menu, organising the house etc. During the day, the kids and I headed to BLOW – the littlest had glitter braids put in her hair, whilst my son and I had our hair styled (him, a gelled mohawk and me, beachy curls).

We had 15 children arrive with their parents for sausage buns and lentil soup, followed by ‘Make Your Own Sundaes’, and washed down with some fizz (for the grown-ups of course!). After we ate, we ventured outside for the fireworks.

Dawn & I were sorting the fireworks, and we were fannying around in the dark with our phone torch trying to find a suitable stake for the ground… when Rhubarb (my cat) dashed past us and I got such a fright and jumped (& think I screamed a little too). Oh dear! Eventually we were joined by one of the dads who took over and in no time we were all watching the colourful explosions in awe. I do just love fireworks.

Exercise. I haven’t been exercising (I guess a weekend of hard graft in the garden does count as exercise though), and there is always an excuse… I’ve got plans already, I don’t have time / I’m too busy, I’ve got cellulitis and I am too tired (although I think the cellulitis was a genuine reason to take it easy!). Must. Try. Harder. I will exercise tomorrow, for sure. If I don’t, then you have permission to shout at me.

Travel. The kids and I travelled to Alcudia, Mallorca for the October school holidays. We had a great time; I’ve written a separate post on it here. Time to start planning my next getaway…

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October School Holidays

In lieu of a summer holiday this year, I decided that we would head to sunnier climates in October instead. The kids were off school for a week and so we joined my sister, her fiancé and their brood to fly to Palma, Mallorca for 5 nights. Last year we were in France in a villa, and I had felt that it wasn’t a ‘proper’ holiday (read more on this here). However, I had learnt my lesson and instead for this trip I had booked a hotel with the option of going all inclusive, and there was even a kids club!

The flight over to Palma was straightforward. There are direct flights from Prestwick, and the flight itself is just 3 hours. Ideal! With my kids now 8 and 6 years old, keeping them entertained on a plane is much easier… they are thrilled to get extra time on their tech than what they do usually and a movie/games on the iPad kept them occupied for the journey.

I wasn’t keen to drive on the opposite side of the road, having done this only once before in Portugal and I didn’t like the experience, so thankfully Robin agreed to hire a 9 seater minibus and drive us all to Alcudia where our accommodation was. Ali & Robin were staying in an apartment not far from our hotel, HSM President, which meant that we could get together easily for day trips or hanging out by our respective pools, but equally we could have our own space.

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View from our hotel room balcony

On checking in I was informed that our hotel was closing for the season, and we would need to move hotels for our last night. This was rather annoying, and I was surprised that they hadn’t informed me of this sooner… however, we were upgraded from B&B to all inclusive free of charge to make up for the inconvenience, so I couldn’t really complain… free mojitos? Yes please!

The staff at the hotel were lovely, and we even had a personal invitation from the manager to join them for the kids disco, and champagne for mummy! Turns out the resort was very quiet, and there were only 3 children staying in the hotel at the time, and I had two of them, so we were needed to make up numbers!! My son took a shine to one of the kids club staff, and spent a few sessions with him chatting about Match Attax and playing board games, table tennis and football, whilst the littlest and I lounged by the pool completing sticker books and making sun catchers.

The hotel had a spa, which children were allowed to use for one hour over lunch each day. However, as the resort was so quiet, we were permitted to use the indoor, heated, pool outside of this hour. It was bliss – lots of water jets, jacuzzi beds to lay on plus a sauna and steam room.

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The food wasn’t anything to write home about, but it was okay. The kids had plenty to choose from and relished in the fact that they could help themselves at the buffet. My son took the all inclusive pass as a challenge, and ate far too many cakes and sweet treats for my liking, but hey ho – we were on holiday! On one of the days we ate at the restaurant associated with my sister’s apartment, and the food was noticeably better.

Weather-wise we were really lucky, and had only one rainy day. We ventured into Palma to find something to occupy our time and ended up at the aquarium. It was so busy, and the entry fees were expensive but it was a nice attraction and seemingly was the deepest shark tank in Europe.

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The hotel staff were shocked that we didn’t explore Alcudia during our stay, but I was happy relaxing. Aside from the aquarium, we did venture across the road to the beach that was affiliated with the hotel – the surroundings were stunning. I’m not sure how keen I’d be if the place was mobbed with tourists though. On our last night we stayed in a hotel nearer the promenade in Alcudia and it was much busier, noisier etc. The kids managed to fall asleep quickly despite the loud music from the hotel disco, but I struggled. Thankfully it stopped at 11pm.

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Opposite the hotel, by the sea

 

Anyway, we’re now back home to Glasgow and the kids are already back in school. Time flies when you’re having fun!

ScotRail #GreatCitySwap – Edinburgh Day Trip

Despite being only 50 minutes away on the train, I have to admit that I rarely visit Edinburgh (I did go through recently for a first date, but that’s another story!), so when ScotRail invited us to take part in their #GreatCitySwap we jumped at the chance. I used to visit Edinburgh a lot as a child – my mum would take me & my sister down from Aberdeen regularly for weekends away – so I have lots of happy childhood memories of the city. Typically when I venture through to Edinburgh now, I tend to drive as we’re visiting friends on the outskirts, and I haven’t taken the kids to any of the tourist spots… until now!

The train to Edinburgh was good fun. We grabbed a second breakfast at the station… cinnamon swirls all round! My son loves to engage and chat with people and he had a captive audience on the carriage!! We had a magazine each to keep us occupied, but we didn’t really need them! I had a cup of tea, so I was a happy bunny! Up to two kids can travel free with an adult at off-peak times, any day of the week with a Kids Go Free ticket, and an off-peak day return for an adult costs from £12.70.

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First stop was Edinburgh Zoo. We took a taxi to the zoo from Haymarket station, and I was surprised at how quickly we got there – I hadn’t just realised how close it was to the city! As we entered the zoo, we immediately spotted the bright pink flamingos. They are stunning creatures. What I didn’t expect was the size of the pelicans in the next enclosure – they were massive (about the height of my 6 year old daughter!). My son loved the penguins, and it was mesmerising watching them swim underwater through the glass. My personal favourite was the sun bear, oh and the meerkats.

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Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the pandas. It’s breeding season, so visitors aren’t allowed to go inside to see them in their sleeping quarter… you just have to cross your fingers that they venture out into their gardens, which they didn’t on this occasion. However, I will most definitely go back to the zoo, and next time I’d spend more time exploring. We were only there for a few hours before heading to our next stop on the itinerary.

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After a morning of walking round the zoo, we were very hungry and so we jumped onto a bus to the city for a bite to eat. A day ticket on the bus is £4 for adults, and £2 for kids – perfect for getting around and there were tonnes of buses available… that’s one thing my son commented on about the city (the other was the amount of homeless people that we came across, and we had a few serious conversations about homelessness, why people live on the streets and how you pay for stuff when you’re a grown up).

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We grabbed lunch at Giles Cathedral Cafe. I tried to convince the kids to have the stovies, but they weren’t interested and chose to have sandwiches instead. However after trying my stovies, they both wish they had ordered the same! Anyway, lunch filled a hole and we were then ready to hit the streets again… our afternoon activity was Camera Obscura.

Camera Obscura, on the Royal Mile, is a fantastic place for kids. I used to be taken here frequently as a kid, and had only revisited once as an adult (I lived in Edinburgh for a year when I was in my early twenties). We didn’t enjoy the mirror maze, with the kids freaking out a little that we were lost despite me assuring them it was fine (it totally reminded me of one of the games on the Crystal Maze). However aside from that, Camera Obscura was brilliant. The kids, and I, loved it. Some of the exhibits were the same from the last time I was there… the 3D holographs I remembered well… but there were tonnes of new and exciting things to see, like the crazy vortex tunnel!

The Royal Mile was also buzzing – lots of tourists and street entertainers… the kids watched Jamie and his unicycle with awe and were very keen to give him all of mummy’s money at the end of his performance!

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Our final destination was dinner, at Fishers in the City. The kids love seafood, so this was an ideal restaurant for us. I was a super proud mummy, as the kids were so well behaved in what was ‘a fancy grown-up restaurant’. The children ordered fish & chips, with my son having a couple of battered king prawns too. I didn’t choose a main, but opted for a few different starters so the kids could have a little of each… I had scallops, fishcakes and salt & pepper squid. My son loved it all, littlest less so. The food was beautiful, and as we were visiting on the train I had a cheeky glass of prosecco!

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A taxi took us back to Waverley, where we hopped onto a train back to Glasgow.

It was a fantastic day out, and I’ll certainly take the kids back through to Edinburgh again.

Thank you ScotRail for organising the day out and providing our train tickets, Edinburgh Zoo and Camera Obscura for the complimentary entries. Opinions as always are our own and are honest.