tougH Girl

Hyperemesis Gravidarum Pregnancy.

Every blogger out there has nemesis of a story they want to share. I never intended to share this one because it’s not a fun and positive experience – I am known for being optimistic and enthusiastic, full of energy – but in all honesty there’s not much I enjoyed about the experience of pregnancy. I went from posting copious amounts of selfies regularly to hiding myself away – so there’s not many nice pics to fill this blog. This is going to be a long one as I have a lot to tell.

Me climbing a structure in Coba…. it’s even higher than it looks

Being somewhat addicted to social media I often come across posts from pregnant women experiencing the same kind of thing and I can’t scroll past without offering some support or advice and I figured that someone somewhere might find it useful to read about my pregnancy experience and then glimpse at some of the fun things we get up to now and realise that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

The Tulum ruins – we visited on the Autumnal Equinox

So let’s turn the pages right back to September 2016. Arlo was a “happy accident” – Lee and I flew to Mexico for the holiday of a lifetime, and whilst out there we visited lots of “off the beaten track” places, had some Mayan blessings and also happened to be at one of the most auspicious places for the Mayans on the autumnal equinox. It was a magical fortnight, and we came home with lots of tequila, some happy memories and unbeknownst to us a little stowaway.

As soon as we landed back home in England it was back to normality. I went and completed a “mud run” – I’d been hooked on these crazy sport events for a couple of years and made friends with a group called the “mud queens” online – I would head off with my running shoes most weekends and take part in 5-10k obstacle/endurance events for fun – and end up covered in bruises and aching for a few days but hang all my medals up on the curtain poles in the front room.

Business as usual for me, I was a field based sales rep driving all over the south east to visit my accounts – and I remember the sickness feeling took over on a work “team building” trip mid October – We headed up to the Lake District for a 5k, building a raft on a lake and I was busy getting stuck right in…. diving under the cold water to tie ropes around cold barrels and drinking shots of tequila and telling everyone all about my Mexican adventures during a meal.

The hangover the next day – I didn’t think I’d had thaaaat much to drink but I felt shaky, nauseous and the smell of the bacon cooking for breakfast made me heave. The headache stuck and it was debilitating. I couldn’t eat or drink, saliva pooled in my mouth and I couldn’t concentrate on anything.

I tried to shake it off. We were car sharing so I slept most of the way home, and then over the weekend I felt as though cold/flu like symptoms were kicking in. I also used to freelance as a mobile bartender – I loved cocktails / drinking and it was fun to work for a couple of events companies on the odd occasion and earn some extra money. Prior to the HG experience I was literally always busy. I’m not one of those people who can ever sit still for long.

The smell of some of the ingredients I loved suddenly overpowered me, the lychee and passionfruit flavours which were my favourites suddenly were really offputting, and causing me to heave. I hadn’t eaten much that day so there was nothing for me to bring up. I struggled through the shift, I had really low energy and didn’t feel like myself at all – I spent the rest of the weekend resting and told myself I’d been burning the candle at both ends.

I pulled myself together for work on Monday, had a couple of ibuprofen and then whilst chatting to one of my close work friends she said that I really didn’t seem like myself and that I should stop being so independent and go to a doctor …. half joking that I could have contracted that virus from Mexico.

So off I went to the doctor, after googling my symptoms and diagnosing myself with zika my GP suggested that I take a test (a pregnancy test 😱)…… and that was that. A positive result which was a surprise, a pretty cool surprise and one which we were both delighted about…… but then came the dismissive comments almost immediately.

“It’s just morning sickness”

I was about four weeks pregnant when the symptoms started and six weeks when I found out I was pregnant. By eight weeks I had lost half a stone, but I was told to eat ginger biscuits. Mumsnet and google reassured me that the morning sickness fades at the end of the first trimester – little did I know.

By 25th November I was in hospital experiencing my first IV drip. I was so dehydrated my Ketones were +4, and I was unable to drink or eat anything without being violently sick. The only positive is that I had a very early scan to see our little dot flickering away….. although I didn’t realise that I would be getting a scan when I was ushered into a side room so Lee missed out on this experience whilst sat in the waiting room.

They said they always check for twins with extreme sickness cases, but didn’t mention HG at any point. As soon as my ketones were back up to a normal level I was allowed to go home, so this first time it was only one night admission and I left after just some fluids.

No-one understood – at this stage we hadn’t announced the pregnancy but I was avoiding social situations so some people had guessed. My favourite roast dinners with family every Sunday were suddenly something I avoided – having experienced the gagging sensation after bringing up some beautifully cooked meat I spent the rest of my pregnancy avoiding meat. I sat through various family meals feeling miserable, jealous and hungry. I wasn’t very good company at all.

Work was becoming impossible. I was pulling over on the hard shoulder of the M25 to heave up, so I had to tell work I was pregnant and call in sick a lot. Cancelling work appointments and avoiding social events was extremely isolating. People were used to me being the social butterfly, I would travel across the UK to visit fiends and suddenly I was trapped indoors. I couldn’t manage the drive home to Birmingham to visit my family either.

I spoke with my sister and my mum often – they had both experienced HG symptoms, although my mum back in the eighties went undiagnosed – there is some research out there to suggest there is a genetic link so I think she must have had it. Empowered with the knowledge I spent my time researching….. yes I googled and went to chat forums, but I also looked at the NICE guidelines and local prescribing policies. I prepared myself fully expecting the GP to give me the brush off.

These images were taken six weeks apart green pants before Xmas at 10 weeks and white pants the end of Jan 16 weeks.

I went to my doctor armed with a ream of Information and asking for medication to relieve my sickness and I still remember him reaching for the BNF in his office and scratching his head about what to do. He suggested that he refer me and I move to a consultant led pregnancy…. I was not prepared to leave that office without a prescription – he did attempt to fob me off with recommending ginger and holistic therapies….. “try sipping water” is the most frustrating piece of advice to hear repeatedly but I was extremely assertive.

The first solution offered was Cyclizine. These were a game changer for me… these tablets literally knocked me out, so I would take one when I woke up and then sleep through the feeling of sickness… until I woke up. I quickly realised how long the anti nausea effect lasted and would dread the 4 hour post tablet mark as it meant I’d have to wait two hours and feel sick.

I planned my days around these tablets. I learnt that I could handle coca-cola from McDonald’s – the coldness was something I could manage and their fries were also something I could eat without bringing them back up. The sleepy feeling wore off after about two hours so that gave me a safe window of about two hours to get stuff done. I used to choose foods which I knew I could digest quickly, and which wouldn’t hurt if I was sick – cold soup was okay. I couldn’t heat it up as the smell lingered behind.

It had been so long since I’d eaten properly that I had start to become afraid of food. My partner is a chef and we had just moved into a new home and bought a brand new oven. He didn’t use the oven until after my pregnancy. He would eat at work, and only eat cold foods at home because I couldn’t handle the smell of anything indoors. Our life revolves around food, we would eat out often together and all of this stopped. I was a pretty miserable date and he felt uncomfortable eating in front of me, as I refused to order and felt awful being sat at a table alone for half an hour or more if I was being sick in the toilets.

Not many selfies from my pregnancy – I look Exhausted

Most mornings would begin with my head down the toilet. I’d be sick until my chest hurt and then I was worried about my teeth and breath so I’d brush my teeth and then be sick all over again. I’d think I was safe, then try to walk towards the front door to leave the house but feel the urge to vomit again and again. I’m not exaggerating when I say that x20 times was “normal” for me at this point.

I’d be upset because my hair would fall into the sick, or I’d splash vomit onto my clothes and I’d have to get changed – I was lucky to be if I could manage three days out of five at work, it was easier to take the medication and sleep all day.

I would take a tablet at around 5am, wait for it to kick in and for the drowsiness to wear off. Head out, brave the driving and my meetings, take a tablet as soon as I’d finished, sleep in my car for a few hours and then wake up and drive home.

This was not sustainable and I found myself back at the EPU on a drip for rehydration pretty quickly. They would use an IV to give me anti sickness medication, and once I was back to a normal ketone level I would feel amazing, fresh and energized for about 4 days, I bought urine testing kits from amazon to test my ketones at home and quickly learnt to recognise when I was struggling, and the trips to hospital were so frequent it was as if they had a revolving door.

The 12 week scan came and went – we’d told everybody by christmas and I was starting to get excited, but spent most of Christmas Day asleep. It’s all a bit of a blur really. Trying to put on a brave face and be positive about a pregnancy was a challenged especially for me. When people asked how I was feeling I wanted to say “really shit” – but I soon realised that this wasn’t the response people were expecting to hear.

I insisted in January that the doctors give me another option and this is where Ondansetron entered my life. As if everything I was experiencing wasn’t bad enough, the constipation side effects from this were crazy….. suddenly I wasn’t feeling sick at the sight and smell of food and I could eat!! This was amazing and I certainly overindulged….. and then the cruelty of the side effects kicked in. Every 4-5 days I would spend a whole night wide awake in severe pain with stomach cramps.

I can’t even describe this in detail as it’s embarrassing and gross – but the pain and the experience for me was worse than labour. (I’ll share that story another time). I would lie in a bath, I’d try gentle stretches and yoga poses, stomach massage etc. I’d be sweating, tired and felt like I was going crazy.

I remember feeling really excited with this pic as it was a proper “bump pic” but this was mainly me being bloated and constipated.

The psychological impact of feeling like this is something which I didn’t realise at the time, but I’ve no idea how my partner put up with me. I’d been a nightmare to live with. The lack of sleep, the constant hunger and the underlying fear of the medications affecting my pregnancy took over my life. If I forgot to take one of my tablets at the right time the sickness reared it’s head with a vengeance but for a few weeks things started to feel good. One crazy thing was seeing the first visible movements – after being constipated and bloated, when things cleared it was like there was a party going on inside me because of all the extra room the baby had.

We did our gender scan at a private venue for a “Mother’s Day” experience and I managed to get through it without being sick…. we found out we were expecting a boy and suddenly I got some focus. I was starting to shop for the new arrival and focusing on things like booking the NCT course….. And then boom!!

St Patrick’s day weekend I spent the entire time in hospital. Something strange happens in pregnancy, where at around this 26 week mark you suddenly get a baby growth spurt and the symptoms which I thought I’d managed to get under control overwhelmed me….. and then the nightmare was back. There’s not much knows about HG but it seems as though it is related to a reaction to the surge in growth hormones.

Every single morning was like waking up with that hangover feeling, but without the excitement of having had a night out. By this time everyone else was sick of me being sick too…. my partner had run out of sympathy, the doctor had run out of options and I spent most of my time curled up in bed and chatting to other women online experiencing the same thing – moaning about the constant “have a ginger biscuit” comment and sharing tips….. get a cup of ice and just suck the cubes, try salty crisps because they trick you into feeling thirsty….. I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have some of these women to talk to.

We all had the same fears….. and funnily enough it was quite common to hear that the “safe foods” for many included McDonald’s Coca-Cola – which meant that we were all facing the dreaded gestational diabetes glucose tolerance test. (How on earth could we even do the test if we would be sick after drinking?) We were all worried about our babies growth rates and having extra scans booked in.

I tried to tough it out….. the days where the medication worked were “fluffy” so there were some good days but reading back some of my posts in my support group on Facebook are crazy and I barely recognise myself. Towards the final stretch the heartburn was just another symptom made to make my life hell. I was tired, uncomfortable, hungry and angry. Every night I would try and prop myself up with pillows to sleep, and had a bottle of gaviscon next to the tablets at my bedside.

My last proper hospital admission was the end of May for rehydration and IV meds – I was gutted because I was trying to hold on at work, but calling in sick meant that my maternity leave started a bit earlier than I wanted it to – however this was a blessing in disguise because Arlo decided to arrive three weeks early. I spent that entire bank holiday weekend stuck I. Hospital, they didn’t let me go home until the Tuesday and I sat in my bed feeling so bitter that everyone was enjoying the glorious sunshine as a heatwave started.

My waters broke one evening at home – I went into hospital but because labour hadn’t started they decided to send me home with a plan to induce me later on. I was so physically exhausted and weak, feeling the effects of dehydration I went back after a few hours and one of my regular midwives put the IV fluids into me at a faster speed than usual. Some how my body managed to find an extra gear, I got myself through labour / childbirth and despite all of the worry Arlo was absolutely perfect.

Tiny, but perfect.

The amazing thing is that I was able to start eating almost immediately. I’d slightly overdone the gas and air so swallowing was tough at first but the cloud of nausea lifted almost immediately. My post-partum weight was exactly two stones less than my weight pre pregnancy (I’ve had no trouble putting all of that back on).

One thing I will say is that I still get a fear of nausea. I don’t know if this is being a parent or a side effect of the HG but I haven’t wanted to drink alcohol and invoke sickness and a hangover in two years. When my monthly cycles reappeared, I knew they were coming because I was suddenly more sensitive to smell and certain foods would make me feel sick.

Was this really me?!?!

It’s two years since my HG pregnancy experience and I can finally look back at the pictures and be proud of myself. At the time I felt robbed of the “glow” and so angry with everyone and everything looking back at some of the things I wrote I barely recognise myself….. but I got through it… I’m a tougH Girl.

Here I am taking a selfie at go-karting just to show that I’m back!!! 💪🏼

For support if your are suffering right now:

Pregnancy Sickness Support is the only UK charity dedicated to supporting women and their families experiencing Pregnancy Sickness and Hyperemesis Gravidarum. We are also working to train and support Health Care Professionals across the UK and Ireland and research into the cause and treatment of the condition. 

We receive no funding from the government. Most of our funds come from individual supporters.

To find out more info on donating visit www.pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk

Seals in the City

We were invited to a special evening at the Sea Life Centre in Birmingham to celebrate the arrival of Miley and Boo.

Miley and Boo, who each have medical conditions which will prevent them from ever surviving in the wild, have been fostered from Sea Life Centres in Hunstanton and Scarborough respectively in order to make critical space within rehabilitation hospitals for the coastal sites during their heightened “pup season”, when demand for rescues of common seals in Britain is at an all-time high.

Boo is a five year old who was rescued as a pup with lots of health problems, and despite attempts to rehabilitate, it’s best for him to be kept in the safe care of animal handlers. Miley was rescued at two days old as an abandoned pup and has an underlying thyroid condition which requires daily medication.

Together they now live in a purpose built facility in Birmingham where their presence will help educate millions of visitors about conservation of our oceans.

Their new rescue facility is awe inspiring to behold, as a visitor you get a first glimpse from a pathway through a window where you can see Miley and Boo tumbling and spinning around under water.

The sea life centre itself is designed to be a one way walk through, so before you meet the Seals there is plenty of opportunity to meet other wonders of the world beneath the sea. In fact the first animals to greet you on your visit are Pablo and his pals the Gentoo penguins.

En route there are rock pools, cat fish and sharks to meet, and my personal favourite the seahorses. We opted to head for a “behind the scenes” experience where we learnt lots about how all of the fish are fed. Very interesting for the parents and older children.

As you continue on your journey through the centre, you turn a huge corner and are greeted by a panoramic view of the seal facility, where you can really appreciate the size of the enclosure, and there’s a fabulous little tunnel to climb through for a fully submerged viewing experience – and the seals seemed to love all of the attention, interacting with us as we watched.

There’s plenty more to see and do at the Sealife centre, with the underwater shark tunnel and a 4D movie experience too so you can spend a good few hours soaking up the atmosphere and learning along the way.

The centre publishes a full schedule of feeding times to get a close up experience with informative team members happy to share lots of information.

For tickets and to find out what’s on head to the website. There are various offers including reduced price tickets for toddlers with parents, as well as themed events during the school holidays.

If you are visiting the midlands be sure to take advantage of the combination tickets with other local attractions including the Lego Land discovery centre and Warwick Castle.


The Eden Project

What a beautiful place. This is a “must do” if you’re visiting Cornwall.

It’s hard to describe what it’s all about because the experience is so breathtaking, but to put it simply it’s a huge project set up in a reclaimed China clay pit with two huge biomes (large greenhouse type domes) and surrounded by an outdoor garden interspersed with art and informative exhibitions.

This is a huge tourist attraction, with clear road signs and directions as you approach, and plenty of car parking space. Be prepared to walk, the car parks are quite a way from the main entrance and the entire place covers a huge amount of space with uphill walks so strollers are a must for little legs.

Entry fee is quite expensive but have a look on the website in advance. I visited with my partner and my parents back in September so opted for a couples membership at £80 which entitles you to bring an adult guest each. By returning again within the year the visits have cost us £10 per adult each time which is more than reasonable for a full day out.

We arrived shortly after opening at 9.30 and it was fairly quiet, there are toilet facilities at the main entrance, as well as a cafe – and don’t forget to pick up a map and check out the daily schedule – or if you want to be eco friendly then photograph the maps to save paper.

It’s difficult to miss all of the different eco-friendly messages throughout the project, from recycling, to saving water and beyond. I won’t go into detail as all of the things you learn are part of the experience, and some of the fact and figures are quite surprising.

My favourite art installation is the giant bee – bee’s are crucial to the eco system, they pollinate flowers and over a third of our food flowers rely on this process, and our bee’s are under threat for a variety of reasons.

Outdoors, Arlo’s favourite area was the sensory garden. A walkthrough area full of herbs and aromatic plants – we spent a long time walking through, using our senses to explore with delight…. mint, lavender, wild garlic and all sorts is on display.

The clever garden design is split into zones, each reflecting a different part of the world, from allotments, to American prairies, so much thought has gone into this and it’s truly as authentic as you can get, because the team at Eden work with people from across the globe when installing…. which I’ll come onto later.

The main attractions are the biomes. You enter at the centre, between the two, where there is a huge two level atrium, with the ground floor hosting the Eden Kitchen with long wooden tables with benches which means there’s plenty of space for large families, and an amazing menu.

We watched the chef’s from above as they prepared the fresh food from early morning and after our walk through the biomes couldn’t resist the menus… jerk chicken for me (£9.50) and Arlo had marinated chicken wings, cassava fries and corn on the cob.

Kids food is very reasonably priced at £5.50 – our membership earned us a 10% discount. A lovely little touch is the provision of paper rolls at the table for cleaning sticky hands.

We decided to explore the Mediterranean biome first, which transports you right there, with all sorts of little details. The plants are of course the main feature, however the sculptures and installations add to the atmosphere, there’s also a beautiful pizza restaurant here too.

We were invited by a member of staff to join a free of charge toddler activity “music in the med” – led by a charismatic conductor. Arlo really enjoyed singing and dancing along with musical instruments in this beautiful environment, and having checked the website there seem to be frequent activities for all ages so make sure to check before you plan your visit.

The walk through the biome led us toward Australia next, and my mum having recently visited Perth was delighted because it was so similar. After talking to the team, we discovered that indeed the Eden project had worked with a team based at Kings Park, so the plants here were planted with the advice of Australians, and not only that, the art work including the totems have been created by an Aboriginal artist too, so this truly is as close as you can get to Australia without the 24 hour flight!

Before you head into the rainforest biome there’s a cloakroom, toilets and a store on the upper floor. I would advise to rehydrate and remove layers as it gets incredibly humid inside. The biome is full of wildlife, and some of the most amazing rainforest plants. One one side of the pathway you could be looking at African jungle and the other, South American plants will line the route!

The route takes you up a winding path and there are water fountains along the way. You will meet some unusual little birds, discover new fruits and then end up in the clouds, just when you think the heat is too much, there’s a lovely little cold room to pause and rehydrate – ready for the rainforest canopy.

As you climb higher there’s a waterfall, a rope bridge and cloud formations to discover before heading back down through sugar canes to discover the BaoBao shack and grab a tropical smoothie.

In this biome we also discovered how a Nigerian artist created sculptures from reclaimed wood after the fire damage to Falmouth harbour. The wood originated from Africa in the 1930’s and we learnt all about how this particular type of wood from Africa is resistant to water so is used world wide by the shipping trade, and it was lovely to find out just how much thought had gone into this installation, and this delighted my dad to learn about his Nigerian heritage.

We spent all day at the Eden project, there’s plenty more to see and do including an indoor science exhibition and an outdoor amphitheater, and even tea tasting sessions.

Arlo was exhausted by 4pm, we took the land train to the top and spent a long time browsing the gift shop and nursery before heading home. So many unusual items, ethically sourced, eco friendly and locally produced – I ended up buying some succulents and a fab bar of chocolate.

Thank you to the Eden project, we had a wonderful day and we will be back soon 🐝

Seaside town of Padstow

On our first full day in Cornwall we decided to visit Padstow, a lovely town on the North Coast of Cornwall, about ten miles drive from Newquay.

It’s a town renowned for it’s food and also for it’s fishing, and we were delighted to be there early enough to see tradesmen all delivering fresh food to the restaurants, and for bakeries and fish shops to be arranging their window displays.

We had a wander around the shops and it was wonderful to find such an eclectic mixture of stores, from some high end brands, to art studios and everything in-between, this is the place to buy gifts and keepsakes alike.

We paused on the harbour front to gawp at some wonderful cakes, before noticing a sign for sea safari trips which caught our eye, so of course we had to book a little excursion – click here to read more about our trip.

The harbour itself was pretty quiet when we left on our boat, but we arrived back to the hustle and bustle of a busy tourist destination, we ate fish and chips overlooking the boats in the harbour before heading further along the coastline to the beaches to make the most of the glorious sunshine.

If you’re in Cornwall and have the opportunity, it’s well worth a day trip to visit this lovely little town.

Gousto – recipes delivered to your door

I work full time, and my evenings are crazy. It’s usually a mad dash for me to get to the nursery through traffic at rush hour three evenings a week. It’s a big transition going back to work after maternity leave. I’d put so much effort into baby led weaning and making sure that Arlo developed a love of food.

Arlo normally runs right at me chattering about his day with some artwork to bring home, and once we get home it’s past 6pm. He does usually have a meal at nursery around 4pm and then snacks but this little child burns so much energy dashing around that he never stops eating. By the time I’ve usually cooked dinner it’s rapidly approaching bedtime.

Before Gousto I was in a little bit of a rut. I would serve my batch cooked portions of bolognese sauce or chilli, or resort to freezer food because I’m keen to spend as much time as possible in the evenings with Arlo, and it was easy. Everything was a bit “Samey” and I often found myself having to pop into the supermarket last minute because I hadn’t remembered to pick up pasta.

This is where Gousto came in. A friend recommended them and provided me with a Discount code so my first order was £15 for four meals to serve two people. Amazing!! Now it costs me around £35 for four meals which is very reasonable considering the quality of the ingredients.

The app is simple to use, you simply choose the date for delivery and the number of people to feed and then select your meals. The options change weekly – there’s a good selection and they’re split into categories – healthy, ten min meals, classics, meat, vegetarian, gluten free etc.

Each recipe has a prep time, a use by date guide and a list of equipment and basic ingredients you might need – usually things like butter, egg, milk and flour. There’s also a nutritional guideline, if you’re counting calories. You can click to expand the description and read the recipe in more detail before you order.

Then that’s it. Once you’ve placed the order you receive an email in advance of delivery with the recipe reminders and this is when I check to make sure I have everything I might need in the cupboards, but there’s nothing else you need to do.

The time slot on delivery day is broad however this doesn’t matter because the box is well insulated. I usually arrive home to a huge box in my “safe place” – and then get really excited to unpack everything.

The cold items are in a separate bag, with reusable ice packs (I freeze these to save for lunch packs and cold compresses). Meats, cheeses, fresh herbs etc

Then these are surrounded by a layer of insulating material which is Reusable. I’m saving mine up to use in the garden when we plant our sunflower seeds.

All the veggies are loose and then there’s a little paper bag with individually wrapped “dry store” ingredients in perfect portion sizes. This for me often includes spices, marinades, honey, pastas and similar.

I absolutely love this because I used to be terrible with food waste. I would find a jar of something I bought for an experimental dish at the back of the cupboard. I’ll use one or two tea spoons, and then it will never see the light of day again. In the past I’d also mess up the balance of flavours so not bother trying again – especially with Oriental dishes – it used to be easier to order a take away than guesstimate how much a “dash” or a “pinch” is.

The box also comes with recipe cards. These are idiot proof. It’s impossible to mess this up because everything is pre portioned to be the right amount. The little packets are clearly labelled and there’s pictures for each step to show you what things should look like as you prepare and cook.

As a side note in my first box I received a Little folder to keep all of my cards which is really useful – I have actually attempted a couple of the dishes again on my own.

Some foods have longer shelf lives than others so be sure to check these before deciding which meals to cook first, and then read the cards. I’ve made things like the Shepard’s pie in advance the day before so my evenings are even less stressful, just popping the tray in the oven takes a minute.

So here we have it. I try and order things I wouldn’t usually cook at home to introduce variety and learn new techniques. I usually order at least one “ten minute meal” which again gives us extra time together in the evenings without having to sacrifice the quality of our meal.

I order the box for two people and this is usually more than enough to share with Arlo, sometimes I might add in an extra potato or serve with more veggies but the portion sizes are not stingy, and we’ve loved every meal so far, and we’ve been doing this for over a month.

If you would like to try Gousto click Here to receive a 50% discount on your first order.

May Day Mini Break

At the last minute we decided to pack overnight bags into the cars secretly and take the four wildlings on an adventure. It seems like every time we go on a day trip, the kids have so much fun they never want to leave.

Arlo literally sobs when he has to say goodbye, and the older cousins use diversion tactics to try and delay home time. Imagine their delight when we revealed that we were going to stay at a hotel. Together! All night!

I used Booking.com to make a reservation based on proximity to our Sunday trip to Arley Arboretum.

I often use this app to make last minute reservations as it is so simple to use. I used the filter to highlight the hotels with indoor pools and discovered Stourport Manor– a lovely four star hallmark hotel. This is ideally located for people exploring the Severn Valley Railway and other local attractions.

We arrived looking a bit worse for wear having been exploring the arboretum all day with four children in tow however we were greeted at reception warmly. The hadn’t received the details about the children from booking.com , so the additional beds in the family rooms were not made up for our arrival which reception apologised about but rectified swiftly.

Reception also called the leisure reception to ensure that there would be space for us in the pool, as the hotel was busy with it being the bank holiday, and so we ditched our bags, got changed and head straight to the pool.

The kids were delighted to be treated like mini adults and given their own spa towels and greeted warmly by staff, and we had the pool to ourselves for the best part of an hour. With changing facilities clean to the highest standards and a lovely kids splash pool we all had a fabulous time.

With it being so busy we decided not to take the kids to the restaurant downstairs and subject the other guests to our chaos – so we ate in our rooms, the beds had all been prepared whilst we were downstairs, and we gathered together to watch Jurassic a park on the TV screens before getting some sleep.

We all slept soundly, and the children delighted to be next door to each other were ready in their swimming costumes again at 7am. They had another hour in the pool before we went down to breakfast.

What a spread! I often stay away with work, but I can honestly say that the selection available here is one of the best, truly befitting of a four star hotel. With pastries and cereal, yoghurt and toast, all of the full English options, plus juices, coffees and fresh fruit we were spoilt for choice.

The staff and other guests seemed to be amused by how thrilled all of the children were, and the attentive service by the staff members made us feel extremely welcomed. Nothing was too much trouble, with staff happy to help us warm milk and fill our water bottles with cordial before we departed.

Check out was a swift process and we left after a sound night’s sleep ready to take on another outdoor adventure at Rays Farm to complete our Bank Holiday Mini Break. There’s so much to explore nearby we will definitely be back

The Fairy Tale Forest

We decided to conclude our May Day bank holiday mini break with a trip to Rays Farm, set in the Shropshire Countryside. With four children to amuse it’s sometimes difficult to satisfy all of the different age ranges, but here there really is something for everyone.

As we arrived we purchased tickets and animal food and headed to the farmyard to meet the animals. Arlo is now an expert when it comes to naming all of the animals and so he roused us all into a few verses of “Old Mac Donald” as we met rabbits, lambs, goats, chicks and ducks in the small animal shed.

We followed one little escapee goat across the courtyard to visit the llamas and donkey before heading to the open field to play with the goats. This is a truly unique experience, and the playful goats were happy to jump and skip around, and over us – this made our day!

We paused for a snack on the picnic benches before parking up the pushchairs and tying up our shoelaces to hit the forest trails. May is the perfect time to explore the beautiful English countryside and the work done along the trails at Rays Farm is inspired.

Along the entire route are wooden sculptures inspired by classic fairy tales, myths and legends. At the start of the route you can choose to go left or right at the big chair. There’s some giant boots you can try for size here too

We decided to take the woodland walk to the left first and came across Excalibur set in stone – alas none of us were strong enough to remove the sword and claim the English Throne – quite fittingly as we were here a news alert popped up to let us know that a new member of the Royal Family had been born.

We followed the path down alongside the brook, and were surrounded by a sea of the white flowers of wild garlic. All of the children were busy spotting wooden sculptures, and Logan the eldest at six years old pointed out an orienteering clip so we spent time looking for these along the route too.

The woodland walk is approximately 300yards and so if you have little ones with tired legs you can head back to the farm, however we marched on, and I’m so glad we did.

The pathway is a bit of a climb up and down, but there’s so much to see and so many rest stops that it’s a lovely route. Here we were delighted with the swathes of bluebells, and along the route were informative wildlife signs.

I won’t post too many spoilers with the sculptures, there’s plenty of nursery rhyme characters to meet along the way – including Humpty Dumpty.

There’s a fairy ring, a story telling witch and then three men in a boat looking over an assault course style play area.

The kids all had muddy knees, and the little ones were tired so without strollers they had piggy backs for the walk back, and then as we left the woods we stopped at the little crooked house for snacks, next to a field of goats at the far side of the farm.

We’d been exploring the woods for over three hours at this stage, and slowly ambled up the far side of the farm boundary to meet the pigs, Reindeer and the owls which bought us back to the courtyard.

We finished our day with some refreshments from the cafe and a little run around in the indoor and outdoor play areas, being followed by a mother hen with two chicks.

The farmyard is lovely, the animals are well cared for and very friendly but the stand out for us was the fairy tale forest. We will be back to explore again as the seasons change.

To read about our day out at nearby Arley Arboretum during our May mini break click Here

Have you got any suggestions for family days out in the Midlands? Have you been to Rays Farm? Which was your favourite sculpture? We’d love to hear from you

Arley Arboretum

What a beautiful place. It was my sisters idea to take all of the kids for a little mini break, so we booked a hotel, packed up the cars and headed off on an adventure for the bank holiday weekend.

Arley Arboretum is in Worcestershire, not too far from the beautiful banks of the river Severn where there are plenty of beautiful rest stops for scenic picnics.

The entrance to the arboretum in a lovely wisteria covered archway which takes you into the entrance courtyard, with a little cafe, outdoor seating and a hut to buy tickets. For an additional £3.50 we purchased a Peter rabbit trail booklet.

What a fabulous idea – the booklet and enclosed stickers have been designed with much thought, to guide you around the grounds following the story and looking for Peter at some of the most beautiful spots, at each location a picture of Peter was hidden with a little Beatrix Potter themed set up and we had to match stickers to the location.

The story began of course at Mr Macgregors garden. The first Peter was hidden in the beautiful courtyard at the first of the greenhouses, with a watering can and so we found the first sticker with the watering can, added this to our map and read the next bit of the story.

This told us to follow the signs – bright orange carrots painted on to signposts in the shapes of arrows pointed the way clearly, and as a little checkpoint we found Peter’s blue jacket in the gardens. At this point Arlo was fully invested….. he knows what a rabbit is and is familiar with Peter Rabbit so recognised the blue jacket and then began to point out the signs as we spotted them along the route.

We walked through the courtyard and through an arch into the grounds, past Mr MacGregors gate to look for Jeremy Fishers pond. This area was nothing short of stunning.

I won’t share all of the details and ruin the surprises, but along the route we met Jemima Puddle Duck, Mrs Tiggy Winkle and other characters from the books before finally finding Peter Rabbit.

The walk took us over an hour to complete, and we slightly overlapped with another route for older children called “the goblin trail” so even without the guidebook we decided to follow the signs for this trail too, because who can resist a fairy door?

Our route took us to retrace some steps back to the park area, and we spent a while here with a picnic, and being followed by pheasants. Throughout the day we’d heard the far off sound of the Severn Valley Railway steam trains and we were delighted to discover that just behind the park, was the perfect grass bank for train-spotting.

We sat and played tumbling down the hill before picking up the goblin trail clues again which led us along a path to a sensory garden, which is a work in progress but full of herbs which we took some time to investigate before heading along an enchanted pathway to the maze.

I took a picture of the maze map before we entered, and it took us a good 45 mins to find the centre and then find our way back out again. The kids loved running through, chasing dead ends and each other – by the time we’d finished here it was time to start a leisurely stroll back to the main entrance.

We took our time ambling through the woods and into the walled gardens, which are beautifully landscaped and home to chickens and peacocks which were free roaming, and we sat for a while on the tree swing just to soak up the surroundings, before heading past the fountains to the cafe.

We showed our completed Peter Rabbit trail sticker books and all of the kids chose their reward from a basket full of chocolate eggs and bouncy balls and all sorts of fabulous prizes, and then we ordered milkshakes and sat outside to enjoy our drinks and review the days “best bits.”

Living Coasts

We happened to be in Torquay for a long weekend and my partner discovered Living Coasts whilst on an early morning stroll with Arlo, and purchased entrance tickets to go in and see the penguin feed, with no idea what to expect.

I finally managed to catch up with them for lunch a few hours later in Torquay and then we went back to Living Coasts as Arlo spent the entire meal excitedly chatting to me all about penguins.

We went back and because storm Hannah was expected the entire attraction probably had about twenty guests including us, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. It’s hard to describe this experience as around every corner is a new surprise.

As soon as you get past the entrance the route takes you along a winding underground path, past a huge window behind which there are puffins diving which is delightful to watch. It’s quite overwhelming to see this first of all as it’s so unexpected so it’s great to take the time to watch these birds enjoy themselves.

The bulk of the attraction is outdoors, you follow the route up to the coastal surface, and you’re in an environment created to not only protect the animals inside but also give you amazing views across the coastline. This is very exposed to the elements but we were happy wrapped up in layers and obviously the penguins were even happier. We happened to arrive just in time for their feeding time.

The staff arrived with huge buckets of fish and delivered an excellent talk, describing the unique personalities of some of the penguins and pointing out differences between some of the species. We met a penguin as old as me in her thirties – I didn’t know they could live this long!

As the talk drew to a close we walked through to meet the puffins again, this time above the surface and what a contrast to the view we had from underground. Lots of different species of birds live here, all seem to be thriving in this environment. Such a clever way to have built these attractions to showcase these animals, and give them the platform they all deserve to be appreciated.

The winding path took us along to see otters splashing about enjoying the blustery weather, with views again from above and underground and then we spotted a huge furry seal basking and another seal bobbing up and down in the water pool.

As arlo had already been around the venue earlier, he quickly ran around and hurriedly took me back underground to show me one of the best things I’ve seen.

The seal pool underground has a huge viewing bubble so you can sit inside this space and feel as though you’re in the water and watch these beautiful creatures perform a gymnastics display in the water. We sat for half an hour watching and interacting with them as they liked to play. Seals are certainly one of Arlo’s favourite animals after having the opportunity to meet some at the Sea Life Centre in Birmingham recently too.

The aquariums were also in this section, it’s magical watching sea horses and all of the different fish – Arlo’s favourite was a huge tank which you could crawl underneath. Sporadically it released a rush of water which is obviously good for the fish but made him giggle too.

Around another corner we came across an underwater view of the seals diving and zooming around, which again we spent a lot of time watching. In amongst all of the animal displays there’s some fabulous interactive things to play with – sand pits, rock climbing walls and a colouring in station – lots of different things for Arlo to get involved with, and which older kids would also enjoy.

There’s a fabulous art work exhibition made from material found on the beach with a clear focus on the environmental issues facing the planet at the moment – it’s a strong but important message delivered throughout and I feel as though everyone visiting will be impacted by this.

After having the opportunity to encounter animals such as this and interact so closely it’s impossible to leave without thinking about how we can make some changes too. We really enjoyed our time here. If you’re visiting Torquay then you can combine a ticket at Living Coasts with Paignton Zoo and you can also validate your tickets for re-entry for up to seven days.

Click Here to read about our experience at the zoo

Zoo-mazing – Paignton Zoo

Paignton Zoo is without doubt one of the best zoo’s in the UK and I’m not just saying this. We’ve been to many zoos, conservation centres and safari parks and there are several different things which make Paignton Zoo a must visit.

First of all I have to commend the beauty of the grounds. Set in the beautiful county of Devon the expansive grounds took us the best part of a Saturday to explore. We didn’t get to see everything because Arlo at 22m old was insistent on walking and this meant going at his pace and stopping to absorb everything, so we will definitely come back again.

The view from the far end of the zoo, past elephant house and across the camel enclosure gives you an incredible view of the sea and it’s well worth the hilly hike just for this.

En route the grounds are stunning, with botanical landscaping throughout. We visited at just the right time of year to see the bluebells making an appearance, and I was delighted to see wildflowers planted and “bee hotels” throughout – there’s no aspect of conservation untouched.

We always take the time to read the information around the enclosures about all of the animals, and being a passionate animal lover we visit zoos in an attempt to teach Arlo about all of the animals which exist, in the hope that when he is old enough to travel the world there will still be wild Rhino’s and tigers.

Their extinction is a very alarming and real threat and pausing to read about the work the zoo and the trust is involved in is fascinating.

We spent a long time in the giraffe and elephant house, I had read some online reviews about the solitary elephant, however having stayed for the keeper talk and learn about Duchess, and the obvious passion the team have for her, I am entirely satisfied that she is living out her golden years in the best place.

I couldn’t possibly give details about every animal we encountered, but there were many species which we hadn’t come across before. So many varieties of birds, but Arlo spent a while following peacocks around as they roam the grounds freely, and was delighted to be surrounded fed by hens as we stopped at one of the many play parks dotted around grounds.

There were lots of picnic stops, benches and refreshment stores all clearly sign posted for our regular snack stops, even on a busy Saturday during school holidays we never felt crowded.

A couple of stand out experiences include the desert walk through – this vast indoor space was full of birds flying around us, which gave us a chance for some really close encounters, and was a truly unique experience.

My personal favourite was the monkey area – I’m no an expert but the enclosures looked well laid out, lots of enrichment, very clean and the whole area was full of information, educational and interactive displays about issues such as palm oil deforestation, difficult for anyone to miss.

There’s also other environments to explore – we spent a lot of time with the crocodiles, the reptiles, the lemurs and then also wandering through an outdoor wetlands trail/aviary.

It’s certainly worth keeping track of time to follow the animal feeds and talks – the keepers are extremely knowledgable and happy to answer any questions you may have, and all extremely patient with children.

I think aside from meeting all of the new animals – the highlight of Arlo’s day was the little train ride which took us around the lake across to the big cat enclosures for a view you wouldn’t get from the pathways. After a chat with the driver we learned about the local steam railway which we squeezed in time to visit on the last day of our holiday.

We also learned about another site run by the trust in Torquay – “Living Coasts” and manages to visit whilst on this mini break. There are opportunities to receive discounted entry tickets between these attractions if you speak with the teams at reception.

Thank you Paignton Zoo, we will be back again very soon and highly recommend as a must visit to holiday makers in the area.