Christmas Cards

Just a short one, probably a depressing one too, sorry for that.

It all started with the Christmas cards arriving.

My first card this year, ironically came from my dad’s wife, it hit hard. 

Suddenly it’s arrival made me realise that is it for the ‘daughter’ cards. Those beautiful, heartfelt, well chosen, well thought out cards that only a parent buys, in fact my mum would buy two (or three some year so). In its place comes a card not in the hand that I see my cards penned. A card from a multi-pack. A card that probably found her facing her own thoughts of Dad on this first Christmas without him. A card that I’m sure she struggled to write and to me was bordering on devoid of all emotion. I’m not blaming her for this.

I hate the fact Cancer has taken both my parents from me, I hate the fact that Christmas is hugely lacking with both of them gone. I haven’t spent a Christmas with my father for quite some years but I always spoke to him on the day and enjoyed buying him gifts (more so after Noah’s arrival, being able to share our love of photography with a beautiful [in my mind] image of my boy). This year his wife requested that presents wouldn’t be sent either way, a request that I’m sure will stand from here on in. I find myself battling with this. I want to send her something because she has been part of our lives for 26 years, she was my dad’s wife, she is family, but I also feel I should respect her wishes. I find myself browsing my Dad’s Amazon wish list and feeling robbed, whilst doing this I found my Mum’s, untouched since 2007 and feel absolutely devastated.

Whilst trying to buy a card for D from Noah I’ve stared at the Mum and Dad cards on the shelves in the card shops and had to hold back the sobs knowing that I’m looking at something that I will never buy for my own parents and that hurts. Hurts beyond belief. I remember now thinking it such a chore finding the ‘right’ card, now I’d find it so easy. I’d buy the fucking lot if it meant that they would read them and realise how much I loved them, how much I respected them, how much I thought of them, how much I miss them.

I’m sat here at home alone listening to the gentle hum of the baby monitor whilst D is on his works do, quietly dreading Christmas this year but also aware that Noah is starting to get excited about it. I want, more than anything, for Noah to be totally unaware of my hang ups and feel the pressure of trying to make it extra special as a way of making up for my feelings of lack of enthusiasm. 

I find myself struggling once more and hate it. I know I have more grief coming, more anniversaries, family events, milestones, all without my parents there.

So as I go through the motions of preparing for a Christmas without the love and thought of a parent I think more deeply of those in a similar situation. I’m not ‘alone’ yet I know (especially in my previous line of work) there are so many out there that are and realise how much that must hurt at this time of year. I just hope they have atleast received one card with a heartfelt thought behind the words written in it.

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14 Months Old

Unfortunately the first half of this month was written off with illness which is such a shame as Daddy always has such a big break from work over Christmas and new year and we were all so ill we couldn’t really make the most of it.

A couple of days before Christmas we made some salt dough decorations, put up the tree and decorations and wrapped some presents. Your fascination with Sellotape and paper is quite remarkable and you managed to unwrap nearly every gift that I wrapped.

Despite everything we tried to enjoy your second Christmas, I wanted it to be so special as you were so tiny for your first Christmas and this year would be so much more enjoyable when you could appreciate your presents, decorations and food. You did enjoy the most part though you didn’t eat a great deal and got grumpy quickly due to your temperature so we spread it over a couple of days. You got the most amazing presents from everyone and got as much enjoyment out of the boxes as you did the gifts.

On the 30th we went to Lyme (with Daddy this time) to see Auntie and had another mini Christmas there where she spoilt you rotten, as usual. You got the most wonderful gifts and loved being able to roam around her house. On the way home we popped into see Uncle Dan, Auntie Sam and your cousins. I wrote a full account of all your Christmases here.

We’ve been having lots of fun indoors with your tent and tunnel and both messy, and non-messy painting.

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All our groups have started again, some have changed times though which means naps may interfere in a couple of them but we’ll try to get to them all. Music Train has started again too which is nice to see the old crowd every Tuesday again.

We’ve been taking you up to the soft play at Brooks a lot recently, with Daddy, which has been lovely and had a lot of play dates with your friends.

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Health
Unfortunately this hasn’t been good, we have pretty much been ill for an entire month. You have been suffering with the worst cold ever which left you with a raging temperature, runny nose and awful, persistent cough which took you nearly a month to shake off.

Teeth
On the 12th January your lower lateral incisors finally broke through which would explain the step up in drool production and grinding of teeth over the last two days.

Firsts
On the 8th you started arm rolling. Not sure why you’ve started doing this, all I can think of is copying the actions in Wind the Bobbin Up. It’s very cute and you love it.

Character
You are becoming such a cheeky little monkey and find the smallest of things hilarious. You’re still quite serious in public though and I’m often told how quiet you are, don’t worry I put them straight and tell them that you’re far from quiet at home, I think you get a bit awestruck in large groups of people and prefer to sit and study what’s going on around you rather than racing in. Your tantrums haven’t lessened any but we’re fast finding new ways to distract you as the ‘old faithfuls’ were failing miserably. You don’t fight quite so hard when getting you in your pram either, well not EVERY time which you were doing before without food bribes.

Muscle Development & Coordination
Mobility: You freestand so well but have become lazy with your lone walking efforts, we have to catch you in the right frame of mind to encourage you to walk free and have managed, up to today, a maximum of 8 unaided steps. You walk beautifully when holding onto a finger of mine or your walker, and with the latter you run up and down the lounge. You continue to cruise the furniture and can move with lightening speed, amazing me at where you can end up if I turn my back for a second. Climbing is fast becoming a bit of a problem. The cat post being your favourite and the times I’ve found you on the top rung isn’t funny. You’ve also mastered clambering onto the sofa which is fine except that you insist on climbing onto the back cushions and onto the arms. I can’t turn my back for five minutes now without finding you on the sofa or standing on the TV unit.

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Communication: You continue to babble but haven’t really said anything other than mama and dada but you are finding new ways to communicate. You have now mastered the makaton symbol for milk which you use when you want a drink. You also thumb through books and point at items that you desire, such as a strawberry, banana or yogurt. You point at things you want and push away things you don’t. When asked whether you want something (yogurt or banana) for dessert you get really excited and nod your head ferociously whilst laughing.

Entertainment
Dancing; whenever you hear music you like you sit and bop and start breaking out some funky arm moves, we’ve decide you’re going to like body popping when you’re older lol.
Singing; you can often be heard having a little hum and sing to yourself whilst playing.
Reading, you just love your books and the cutest thing ever is when you toddle over with a book in hand for me to read to you, or atleast try to while you race ahead and keep turning pages until you get to a favoured page.

Sleep
At the beginning half of this month your sleep was atrocious! Mainly down to your cold and cough. However on the 1st January you seemed to turn a corner and have pretty much slept from 1830-0530 with one wake up at 2200, though on the 3rd you didn’t even need that wake up and slept through which was a blessing for me who’s been really ill myself. I’m hoping this is you turning a corner and not a fluke. By the end of the month and pleased to announce that you are sleeping in stints of, up to, 10 hours, for this I am eternally grateful. I choose not to think that you won’t relapse though, in the hope I won’t be too disappointed

Growth
22Ib 13.5oz
You’ve only put on an ounce and a half this month. You’re still in the 50th centime and the HV aren’t worried as you haven’t dropped a centile. They think it’s due to your increased mobility as I told them how much you’ve been eating at the moment.

Feeding
You eat practically all day at the moment, solids and you’ve stepped up your milk intake recently too, the latter I think is due to the leap you have entered this month. According to the book, breastfed babies want feeding more due to wanting mummy more so I’m expecting this to be a little glitch.
New Tastes: Onion Chutney; Carrot and Almond Soup; Nut Roast; Roast Parsnips; Roast Potatoes; Bread Sauce; Stuffing; Mediterranean Bean Casserole; Quorn Sausages; Quorn Bacon

Christmas(es)

I know that, technically, this is your second Christmas but due to you being so tiny last year I felt like this year was your first and have looked forward to making it so special for us all. Unfortunately this didn’t go to plan due to illnesses but we tried to make the most of it.

We both went to Brooks Garden Centre and chose a small tree to sit on a table. We chose against a big tree, which is normal, due to concerns you may pull it over! You loved the decorations and lights when they were finally put up, with your grandma taking pride of place, forever smiling down on us.

The look of awe on your face when we turned on the lights each morning was magical.

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On Christmas Eve we left out your plate for Santa with a glass of mulled cider, a mincepie and a carrot (for Rudolph).

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You’d been a VERY good boy this year so he cleared the lot and left lots of presents under the tree for you which you raced over to on Christmas morning and stared at them for an age.

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Despite being poorly you enjoyed opening your presents and playing with all your new toys (and their boxes), this took pretty much all day but that’s the best thing about Christmas.

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We had a lovely Christmas dinner with crackers. You had your first roast dinner, consisting of; nut roast, roast parsnips, roast potatoes, mash, broccoli, carrots and bread sauce. You tried a little bit of everything but didn’t eat a lot. I was just thrilled you had what you did considering you hadn’t eaten anything other than milk and porridge for days in the lead up to Christmas.

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I suppose the beauty of living away from family is that you get to have Christmas a few times over. On the 30th December, after you had shaken off the worst of your cold, we went back to Lyme and had another little Christmas with Auntie. You were spoilt rotten with lots of lovely gifts including a big red bus, bath toys and the most fabulous clothes. We did laugh at your dismissal of the ‘soft presents’, hoying them over your shoulder on opening.

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On the way back from Lyme we stopped off at Budleigh to see Uncle Dan and Auntie Sam where we got to have another mini Christmas (well, opening of presents anyway). You loved your mobile Bunny shape sorter and highchair steering wheel. We had a lovely time catching up with everyone and they all enjoyed seeing how much you’ve grown and changed.

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All in all, despite being poorly, we had a good time in the end and just hope that next year goes more according to plan.

Happy Christmas my darling boy, you amaze us daily.

Centre Parcs Winter Wonderland

We have not long come back from our very first family holiday where we spent 5 days (8th-12th December) at Centre Parcs Winter Wonderland, Longleat Forest with our 1 year old son, Noah.

It was truly magical. A friend told me it hurls you into Christmas head first and she was right! From the moment I saw the snow clad entrance signposts I was catapulted into all things Yuletide.

We had to queue a bit from the main road to get checked in but the queue moved quite swiftly until we got to the arrivals lodge where there are about 12 check in ‘windows’. Check-in was quick, friendly and hassle-free, no need to get out the car. We were greeted warmly by the arrivals host and gave our name and lodge number as we’d forgotten our reference number. She toddled off to check us in and returned with our keys and welcome pack, showed us in a map where we needed to go and sent on our way, the whole process took no longer than 10 minutes.

Luckily we arrived a few minutes before 1500hrs so didn’t have to wait to drive to our lodge. Due to the nature of Centre Parcs visitor vehicles are only allowed on site between 1500 and 2300 hrs on the day of arrival (Mondays and Fridays) and only up until 1000hrs on day of departure (Mondays and Fridays). Outside these times it’s only site vehicles and the land train allowed.

Getting to the lodge was a bit of a bun fight. People seem to forget how to drive in there so be careful, cars all over the roads and drivers too concerned with looking at signs to lodges than the road, it was a bit hair raising. We found our lodge fairly easily, we had chosen Woodland Lodge 416 in the Pine Area on booking as it was on the outskirts of the park and in an area fairly close to the main arenas. I would highly recommend these peripheral lodges as we seemed to have more privacy when it came to windows… The main living area windows just looked out onto forest and in a lot of the inner lodges you could see right into the kitchen/living areas from the roads.

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View from lounge window

The Lodge
We pre-booked the Woodland Lodge 416 in the Pine Area and were suitably impressed.

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On arrival we were amazed how big the lodge was. You entered the lodge into a hallway which had a separate toilet and a huge storage room which housed a vacuum cleaner and other cleaning implements, boot rack and a proper drop-side cot. We chose to use the travel cot we brought with us but the instructions on the one provided were easy to follow and it looked spotlessly clean. This was a great room to put the pram in too.
This hallway lead onto the main living area with the kitchen (on the right) and dining area (on the left) at the front of the property and the living area at the back with sliding doors opening onto a patio with chairs and a brick built barbecue area. We didn’t use the barbecue (for obvious reasons) but there were instructions stating to only use the barbecues supplied at the Parc Market. All that could be seen from this patio were pine trees and a small window into next door’s living room. This main area had wooden flooring with a rug in the lounge area.
There was a big chalkboard in the kitchen/diner area with a nice welcome message from housekeeping plus a bowl of chalks which Noah enjoyed (probably less than we did though).

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The kitchen was well equipped with four ring gas hob, gas oven, microwave, dishwasher and plenty of cupboards. 4 dishwasher tablets were provided as was a spare bin bag, a few tea bags, coffee sachets, sugar and UHT milk.
The bin has two compartments and a message asking to recycle. The recycling and general waste bins are located on the road outside the lodges, ours was right outside our lodge which was handy.
The bedrooms were either end of the lodge. The twin room located off the dining area and the main double and bathroom off the kitchen. Both rooms were carpeted and had hair driers as standard at a small vanity area. The bed linen was of good quality and despite the fact there were only two adults all beds were made up and towels provided for four.

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The lodge had gas central heating that was controlled by a thermostat in the main living room. We thought it was on a timer initially until we read the lodge’s ‘instruction’ manual and realised that by upping the temp on the thermostat the heating would kick in, I think it’s set fairly low. There is also an open fire which can only be used with fire logs again bought at the Parc Market. We pre-ordered a pack of three which were there on our arrival and just happened to have a free one so had enough for the week.
The lodge was spotlessly clean and in good working order, no real signs of wear. If I was to find fault I’d say the cushions on the lounge could do with being removed and the sofa hoovered, also underneath the sofa… I only discovered this whilst checking for any toys Noah may have posted somewhere.
The highchair was really good too, though I did have to put a cushion behind Noah so he didn’t slip and slide everywhere but this was no issue.

Bike Hire
We had hired two bikes, a trailer for Noah and helmets prior to arrival and when we parked the car we went to the cycle hire on the way back to our lodge. As we’d pre-booked we headed straight to the front where we were quickly assigned bikes and helmets. Criticisms to be made were that we weren’t given any instructions on how the bike worked and pretty much sent on our merry way with no information or safety talk. Helmets didn’t fit neither my partner nor Noah (too small and too big respectively). It wasn’t until we got back to the lodge we realised we had no bike locks, something we had read were provided. We popped back the next day and told to help ourselves from a big bin at the collection point. It would have been nice if the guy had told us this on collection, but no real harm done.
A nice additional service they could provide would be to deliver (and collect) your bikes to your lodge for you, with a baby it was a bit of a mission and we would have gladly paid a little extra for such a service.

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The Subtropical Pool
Wow… Just wow! What an arena!
Changing areas were spotlessly clean providing individual male and female cubicles. Separate male and female communal changing and family changing cubicles (with pull down changing unit and nappy bin) which all had two doors, one in and one leading to pool. Lockers were huge and plentiful. Take £1 coin for these. There were two giant body driers (like at Alton Towers) which were a novelty. Showers plentiful and powerful and leading into pool through a foot trough.
The pool area itself is really impressive, lots of plant/tree coverage giving it a jungle feel and this main pool has a wave machine, Tarzan would call out five minutes prior to activation. Off the main pool there was a little swim through ginnel which lead to a whirlpool area which Noah loved, this opened into the flume landing pools too.
Next to the main pool is a toddler and separate baby pool area with mini slides and warmer waters… Only criticism is the areas were largely taken up by lounging parents watching their older children meaning us with teeny tinies couldn’t get in until they vacated the area.
Taking a little jaunt upstairs you will discover a café, cabanas which you can hire, flume access and the entrance to the outdoor pool which had a ice plunge pool and entrance to the rapid ‘ride’. This area was truly magical amd I can imagine in the evening even more so. In true Winter Wonderland style it was highly, but tastefully decorated and there’s something decadent about being in the cold outside but in warm steaming waters.

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All the flooring was cleverly cut stone meaning it was totally non-slip. Considering there were a lot of people there the pool never felt crowded and we took Noah into all areas (bar the rapids and slides, of course) in an inflatable seat with no real difficulties.

Also, point for parents, photos are not prohibited in the pool area… Something we missed out on as assumed it would be banned as is the case in so many public swimming areas.

The Parc
The resort is beautifully kept with plenty of staff keeping everything in tip top condition. Included in the price of the holiday are Adventure Playgrounds, Children’s Soft Play Area, Subtropical Pool, Cycle Paths and the Beach (yes, there’s a beach). There are dozens of bookable activities from indoor and bar sports to outdoor and water sports and activities. My only criticism is that there isn’t anything for the really tiny ones to do, everything seems to be geared to the 3 years and up.

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We spent a lot of time walking (for N’s naps) and cycling around the Parc. The cycle paths are very well maintained and where there is a steep road for vehicles there is always a wooden cycle way which either goes into the forest, as the road drops away into a dip, maintaining a flat path or where a hill does need to be climbed they are sloped nicely, obviously at a gradient acceptable for wheelchair users, even I managed to cycle up from the Lake to main area without breaking a sweat.

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There is a land train that runs around the Parc every 20mins to half an hour which is quite sweet, not that we needed to use it. Apparently you can’t take a buggy on board so be wary of this. One day they did have an issue with one where it leaked diesel and obviously hadn’t been discovered until it had driven around the Parc a few times meaning everywhere reeked of diesel and the roads (having just rained) were a tad treacherous under foot/wheel as no one did a clean up operation on it. A little annoying as everything we wore seemed to smell after cycling.

There are a vast array of restaurants to eat at. We only ate out twice and did this at Hawtons as it was close to the pool, open and friendly (despite the bottom of my water glass falling out soaking me in ice cold water). The vegetarian food there was lovely and fairly reasonable.

The Parc Market
In reviews this got quite a lot of negative comments due to price. We didn’t find it that horrific to be fair, living in a seaside town we have local shops that charge more than they do so I think a little unfair to criticise. You can pick pretty much everything you need up here though if you’re in a rush and there’s a queue, don’t expect it to move quickly.

Winter Wonderland
This is set up in the Market Square and is truly magical. There are lights in nearly every tree, snow, real reindeer aswell as 4 singing reindeer, Glühwein, Santa’s Workshop where you get to meet Santa himself and lots more. Noah was totally mesmerised despite being able to really get involved with it all.

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All in all we were blown away by the whole experience and intend to book again for next year. It really does throw you head first into Christmas.

Advent

If you know me you’ll know that we have decided to raise Noah (until he asks otherwise) to not have chocolate, added sugar, sweets or meat. My reasons for this are shared by my partner and remain our own. We feel that he will have most, if not all, of the above for the majority of his life and until he decides otherwise I feel there is no necessity for him to have them now.

I’m not, by doing this, in anyway criticising any parent who has/is giving their child chocolates in anyway shape nor form (just thought I’d get that in there before I get lynched).

So with all the traditional chocolate filled advent calendars filling the shelves, advent in this house consists of a wooden Advent Calender drawer unit which I’ve written little ‘promises’ in (activities for the day etc) although I’m now having to send this back as it’s broken (gah) and a special book I bought Noah for his first birthday.

Reading in my family has always been of utmost importance and as a child we didn’t have a television for a few years so read instead, often taking the time to discuss what we were reading as a family at the dinner table. Books are still a huge passion of mine now and I hope Noah shares this amazing world that only books can open.

I have been reading bedtime stories to Noah since he was 3 months old and I am now reading him one of these stories a night in the lead up to Christmas. I still recall stories that my mother read to me at Christmastime and whenever I come across them they still give me that tingly, excited feeling that Christmas gives to every child and remember those dark nights curled up with my mum on my bed being lulled to sleep by her melodic voice.

‘The Nights Before Christmas’ contains 24 classic stories illustrated by Tony Ross, probably best known for illustrating the Horrid Henry series of books. I spotted this in our local bookshop when the owner was unpacking them and I immediately fell in love with the whole idea of it. It contains 24 Christmas related stories and in buying this book I bought our first family Christmas tradition and I look forward to reading these stories in the run up to Christmas for many, many years to come. I hope Noah recalls such happy memories as I do when I think back to my own childhood.

The stories chosen are classic Christmas stories and poems written by authors including; Clement Clarke Moore, Hans Christian Anderson, Brothers Grimm, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Louisa May Alcott and many more.

We are now on Day 15 and although Noah hasn’t a clue what I’m reading him I’m starting to really get into the spirit of Christmas.

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Happy advent everyone, enjoy the treats you have chosen this year.