Party Time!

For Oscar’s birthday last year, you may remember, we eschewed a party in favour of a quiet meal out, inviting only one little friend along. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to throw him a party but after organising such a massive one for his first birthday, it felt like a lot of effort, that would have been wasted on a two year old (who may or may not have fallen asleep or had a melt down in the middle of it!). Whereas his first birthday party was for the adults as much as it was for the children, he now has friends he sees regularly. Little people he enjoys hanging out with. And as there was a time last year where I feared that this would never be the case, I want to encourage this as much as I can.

First Birthday Party

First Birthday Party

That’s why this year, I’m totally eating last year’s words and throwing a party for him. Despite his birthday seeming a long way off (it’s in the first week of April), I knew we’d have to get a wriggle on if we were going to book a venue. Because a venue, we are definitely going to need. I love the thought of having a party at home, with games of pass the parcel and jelly and ice cream however:

  1. my house is tiny. I stopped being able to have more than a couple of children in the house at a time once they started walking! If his birthday was in the summer we could throw them out in the garden, but it’s not so we can’t
  2. my boy isn’t the kind of child who likes to sit in a circle, even if prizes are offered. He’s not a game player (yet) and trying to force him to be one is only setting us all up for a fall
  3. while he does like jelly, he’s not that fussed about ice cream

Seems the party in my head will have to wait (and possibly forever!). My boy needs space to run, lots of things to do and cake (gluten free of course). Simple really 😉

It may sounds restrictive, but having a clear idea of what he needs to have a good time was a great starting point for us when it came to choosing the kind of party he’d most enjoy. We looked at the local provision and while there were several interesting options, we needed one that could tick all his boxes effortlessly. And when it came down to it, choosing his beloved Hen House in Haslemere was a no brainer really.

I’ve written before about his love of the soft play cafe, The Hen House. We haven’t been going as often as we used to recently, for various reasons, one of which being that he’s now busy at preschool, but also we’re more aware of the kind of environment he does best in. A room full to the brim with strangers, particularly younger children, pushes all his buttons and while he still enjoys The Hen House on it’s quieter days, a busy day at the soft play just isn’t for us. So the thought of being able to let him run lose, somewhere he knows and loves, with only his very best friends, makes me supremely happy. And call me selfish, but knowing that I really don’t have to do a thing about the organisation, unless I want to, makes me all the happier!

We’ve decided on an ‘exclusive’ party, for which they close the doors to all but party guests. While you can book for non exclusive use, we chose to restrict it as it allows me to control just how many little bodies there will be flying round at any one time and also gives Oscar the most room to play. They say they can cater for up to 30 children per exclusive party (15 for non exclusive), but I know this would be too many for Oscar. And me to be fair. At this age the parents will be staying with their invited children, which will be great (they’re all friends anyway) but it only adds bodies to the room. All things considered, in that case, we’ll be keeping it to around 10-15 guests. I think that sounds like plenty!

The party package is awesome! For one it’s all bookable on the website meaning a few clicks and it was all done. Every party comes with all party food and a birthday cake included. We could have added extras such as pizzas and burgers, but as Oscar eats neither of these things we decided against it. A quick email to the owner, allowed us to swap some of the standard items for gluten free alternatives and instead of a traditional birthday cake, we’re having a mountain of Hen’s gluten free brownies (the boy would bite your hand off for a brownie any day of the week!). And because they have the facilities we can also provide hot drinks for our adult guests. Or perhaps something colder and fizzier – they do have a licence after all. It would be a shame not to take advantage of this 😉

Any day of the week!

Any day of the week!

The food will all be prepared fresh on the day and catering, music and fun will be organised by The Hen House, meaning all I need to worry about now is the guest list, the invites and the party bags (although if I’d wanted, The Hen House would have done these too!). I did think about having a Thomas the Tank Engine theme, but I’m now thinking more of a Farm theme, for two reasons. Firstly its being held in The Hen House (geddit!) but also Oscar can happily say the names of all the farm animals, so it’s a nod to how far his speech is coming along. I’ve started a birthday theme Pinterest board and I tell you it’s probably a good thing I’m not having a hand in the food or decor. I could go nuts with this stuff!

How gorgeous is this Farm Themed party - gorgeous, but bonkers!

How gorgeous is this Farm Themed party – gorgeous, but bonkers!

I’m so excited. I know I was kind of a downer on parties last year, but seriously. A girl can change her mind can’t she? Actually, I find, that with a child it’s imperative to keep changing your mind. To constantly see things from a new perspective. After all, children do. Every day.

I’ll let you know how it goes!!!

Millie Jones Hair – a review

I’m a really cautious Twitter follower. If someone follows me, I don’t just automatically follow back. I take the time to check out who they are. If they’re not interesting to me (sorry children’s footie clubs in Raynes Park we have nothing in common) I don’t follow back. Controversial maybe, but just the way I am! A few weeks ago I was followed by @milliehair. When I looked I saw they were a new hair salon, Millie Jones Hair, opening in Haslemere. Now this I was interested in. We don’t live in a big place and new local businesses, particularly those of interest to me or my family, are always going to be worth checking out. A new hair salon? It was beyond interesting, I was properly excited.

I don’t know about you, but to me a hairdresser is easy to find but difficult to stay with. When I moved to Swansea it took me a few goes but I eventually stumbled on Paul at Boosh. He listened to me and understood what I was aiming for every time. I was gutted when I had to pack up and come back to England, leaving him and everything else I had come to love in South Wales. I moved to Haslemere four years ago and despite various attempts at various salons I’ve not found someone I liked enough to go back to (except a girl I had in Toni & Guy Guildford. Unfortunately I never seemed to be able to get another appointment with her when I needed it, so I gave up trying the end). For me, its not just about the actual cut (although that is a big part of it). I need to feel comfortable, both with the stylist and in a salon itself. I’ve had terrible experiences where I’ve spent the whole time feeling awkward and uncomfortable, have been made to feel like I was just a number, or worse ignored entirely (when I say NOT a Rachel cut, I mean NOT a Rachel cut). There’s such arrogance in ignoring your client and I can assure you such behaviour has never resulted in repeat business from me.

The Rachel cut. Looked great on her in the mid 90s. Not on me. Ever!

The ‘Rachel’ cut. Looked great on her in the mid 90’s. Not on me. Ever!

Now that I have Oscar, taking time to get my hair cut is more of a luxury than I can explain. So if I get that time and I’m spending what little money I have, I want to enjoy the experience. I want to feel pampered and looked after and I want to be listened to in a comfortable environment. Basically I want the best experience for my time and money. I have tried having my hair cut at home and don’t get me wrong the outcome was great, but it’s just not the same. I love the feeling a great salon visit can give you, so I decided to give Millie Jones a go. Last Saturday.

From the off it was clear this was different to any other salons I’ve visited locally. The decor is cool and relaxing, in shades of monchrome, the waiting armchairs a vibrant pop of red. The bold gold lettering on the wall are minimal and elegant. The salon has around 12 seats, but unlike other salons I couldn’t see any equipment or clutter. I was greeted by Millie herself then shown to my seat and provided with a frothy coffee and magazines. Millie explained to me that her specialism was colour, so Kate would be cutting my hair. We chatted briefly then she left me to my coffee (warm coffee that hasn’t been heated twice in the microwave? What decadence was this??)

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First time I’ve been to a salon and the gown’s fitted me perfectly – happy moment right there!

The salon wasn’t quiet, so much as peaceful, with cool chill out tunes coming through the speakers. This was a far cry from the high energy, non stop noise I’ve experienced in other salons. My hair was washed by a lovely apprentice and we chatted about her career and how glad she was to have found this placement. Then I met Kate, my stylist. I explained that I have been growing my hair for some time now and am happy with the style I have at the moment, having taken forever to grow out layers I was always talked into having. I was concerned that she didn’t take too much off, but enough so that it looked healthy and fresh. Kate is a very experienced stylist (17 years she told me) and was sure to give me the very best of what I’d described, explaining that any new client should stick with a stylist for at least three appointments before changing their style, as it takes that long to get to know both the client and the hair. She used products I’d never come across before – Living Proof from the US. As she rightly noted, my hair doesn’t feel like it looks. People think it’s thick, but it’s actually fine, there’s just a lot of it. So she used their No Frizz Weightless Styling Spray. It not only smelt great, but it also took any frizz out of my fine hair without making it lank (I think I might have to purchase, when I’ve got a bit more money 😉 ) Kate did a fantastic job and I was really pleased with the outcome. Not too much off, and looking really sleek.

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Before I left I chatted with Millie, the owner and colourist. She explained that she’d been in the business for 25 years, working in Mayfair and Knightsbridge and loved what she did, but felt the need for more work life balance (she has two young children). Hence the decision to open her own salon, somewhere where her particularly dedicated clientele could follow her (from all over the South East it would seem!). I guess when you find someone you trust to colour your hair you’ll travel to reach them. Although going back to Swansea might have been a stretch for me!

I left with a great hair cut, feeling relaxed and just a little bit gorgeous. I couldn’t help the odd swish of the hair here and there. I definitely attracted a few glances, although I couldn’t work out if that was because I was looking so good, or because I was swishing my head about!

So big question did I like it there enough to go back? Do you know I think I did. Not only was the cut I got first rate it was the little things I appreciated. Like the mirrors not going from floor to ceiling (I find it really uncomfortable sitting in front of a full length view of myself for an hour!), the chairs that could be raised really high (I’m tall so they normally drop them right down and then sit to cut my hair which is can be quite uncomfortable for me), and the golden coloured spoon that came with the coffee. You know, stuff that has no bearing on the haircut what so ever, but make this an experience you are happy to repeat. And the most important thing for me, was how easily it ‘styled’ when I next washed it (for styled, read blow dried it til dry.) If it looks fab in the salon, but a dogs dinner once you’ve washed it, then really what’s the point? In terms of cost they’re not the cheapest in the area and neither would I expect them to be. You can check out their price lists here. I think they’re on a par with some prices I’ve paid locally and in Guildford and I know I was much happier with the results.

 

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I was given a free haircut in exchange for an honest write up. I was not paid to write this post. All opinions are my own.

 

 

 

Mama and More

The Beni Girl Bash

If you follow me in any shape or form on social media, then you will know that last Wednesday I had the most awesome day out. As so many of you have asked how it went, I thought it’d be fun to cover the best bits of the day in a post!

So yeah last Wednesday Benihana invited a group of us to come and have a little blogger get together while checking out the restaurant as a family destination. I was excited to go for various reasons:

1) I had never been to the Japanese restaurant Benihana, but always wanted to, 2) I hadn’t been to London in an age and certainly not to do anything fun and 3) Ben was looking after the boy for the afternoon, which meant I got to go child free (he was invited too, but if you read my blog you may be aware just how not ready for a trip to London my boy its yet!). Can you think of a reason not to love this?

I caught the train up to Waterloo and and then the tube over to Sloane Sq. It was so much easier than I thought it would be and only a short walk away from the station. I arrived at the a tardis of a building early. The entrance was tiny, but the restaurant itself was huge!

I got here in one piece!

I got here in one piece!

Doesn't look much

Doesn’t look big from the outside!

The only downside I could see was the large staircase we had to descend to reach the part of the restaurant we were in. There might have been a lift I didn’t see, but I think all those stairs might have put me off if I’d needed to take the buggy.

The group of bloggers who had come along were so friendly and all had children of different ages. It was great to get to meet other people doing really inspirational things (seriously I met a woman with 7 children who still has time to blog!) and despite not having Oscar with me I was drawn to those who’d bought toddlers or babies with them! Typical!

We had some amazing nibbles in the large bar area, including a really healthy array of sushi and chicken. They also bought out these crisp things which tasted far too good not to be loaded with syns, so I had a few and moved on. I admit I caved and had one cocktail, but only to be friendly you understand 😉 .

A mango cocktail and nibbles to die for

A mango cocktail and nibbles to die for

No body eats til photos have been taken when bloggers are around

Nobody eats til photos have been taken when bloggers are around

We then got to meet the Beni Girls. 50 years ago, ‘Rocky’ Aoki set up his first Japanese Benihana diner in the US, making this year a very special birthday for the chain. To celebrate, the Beni Girls have been commissioned to choreograph a dance, which they’re touring with across the world, visiting many of the 120 branches.

Rebecca and Megu, bless them, really tried their level best to get us up and dancing, but in the end the children put us all to shame by joining in with gusto!

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Up!

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Down!

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Swing it all around!

Once the ‘lessons’ were over, they showed us their dance.The girls were so good with the children! When a toddler decided to join in they happily incorporated him into their dancing. What great sports!

I don't know! Only I would meet the Beni Girls and pull a stupid face! Sigh!

I don’t know! Only I would meet the Beni Girls and pull a stupid face! Sigh!

After all that exertion it was time for the children to sit down, be entertained and eat from the specially created children’s menu. The teppan chefs truly are as good at theatrics as they are at cooking. You sit round the teppan plate (great if you’re in a group as we were) and just watch the show!

Diners all sit round the teppan plate

Diners all sit round the teppan plate

The children were truly entertained

The children were truly entertained – with menu hats and child friendly chopsticks

Fire! My favourite part!

Fire! My favourite part!

If you want to see them in full flow you can visit the Benihana homepage for an awesome video

Benihana Chef!

I love this style of cooking. It’s really healthy as it uses extreme heat, cooking the food quickly with little oil (great if you’re food optimising) and all the ingredients used are fresh. It looked like great fun! The only drawback I noticed was that all the food is cooked on the same surface. One of the children in our group was allergic to shellfish, meaning she could eat nothing cooked on the plate once prawns had touched it. In this case the staff were incredibly good, rushing to get her something else to eat and I’m sure if you told them in advance something could be arranged, but it’s something to bare in mind.

I came away absolutely convinced it would make a wonderful birthday venue for a child’s party. Sit up to eight of them around the teppan plate and let the chefs keep them entertained and quiet, except for the ooohs and ahhs! Would I take Oscar? No, not yet. Apart from the journey into London, I’m not sure he’s at a place where he would appreciate it. It’s more expensive than the usual suspects of ASK and more local Asian restaurants and you’d want to be sure they’d get as much out of it as possible if you’re going to push the boat out. Would I take him when he’s older? Definitely! I would love to be able to take a bunch of his friends up to town and celebrate with such an exciting experience. Maybe when he turns 10.

Only another 7.5 years to plan that one then!

 

I appreciate my photos are not the best – I so wish I’d taken the big camera. If you search Instagram or Twitter for #BeniGirlsBash you’ll find some awesome pictures taken by the others.

I was given free food, drink and entertainment at Benihana in exchange for an honest write up. I was not paid to write this post.

Toddler on holiday at Moonfleet Manor

I’m sorry for the radio silence over the past week. When we decided to go away for a couple of days, I chose to take a weeks holiday from everything, including blogging and Slimming World. I have to admit I missed writing terribly. The whole time I was away, I was making mental notes on how to describe our trip. I’ll write more about how I found the break from Slimming World on Friday (after I’ve weighed in eeek!), but for now I want to tell you about our trip to Moonfleet Manor.

You may remember, a few weeks ago, I talked about holidays and more specifically holidaying with my toddler. If you missed that one you can read it here. Anywho the crux of the post was that we decided to take a leap of faith and try out a very different holiday for us. One that we hoped to speak to all our needs.

Which is how we found ourselves zooming down the A3, towards Weymouth, last Tuesday morning.

We had chosen (on recommendation of a friend) to try out one of the chain of Luxury Family Hotels. They have eight properties dotted around England, all of which look like grown up country hotels, but which place equal importance on the needs of all their guests, whatever their age. We chose to go to Moonfleet Manor in Weymouth partly because of personal recommendation (thank you again Michelle) and partly because it was no more than 2.5 hours away. We often travel to see family in Devon, which at 4.5/5 hours really is pushing the boy’s (and our) limits of how long he can stay in the car, so 2 hours sounded just right. As it turn out the journey there and back passed without incident and we timed our departure to mean he slept for most of the way for both trips. Bonus!

We arrived before check in, but were made to feel welcome straight away, being shown into the garden and supplied with lunch. And this set the tone for the rest of the stay. The staff couldn’t be more helpful and no request was too much. When we realised we’d left Oscar’s bottles at home for night time milk, we tentatively asked reception if they had any we could borrow. They did and bought him a bottle of warmed milk, up to our room, within minutes. Had we remembered his bottles (and marked them with his name) they would have also taken them away to be cleaned and (if we still needed them to be) sterilised.

Our room was a double, described as a “compact room, with a double bed and room for one cot/single bed”. We were pleasantly surprised with the amount of space this ‘compact’ room came with. We requested a proper wooden cot for Oscar (yup we still have the bars up at home) yet there was plenty of room for all of us. The room was well equipped, with a bath (important if your bedtime routine includes one as Oscar’s does), a TV & DVD player (again great if TV is part of your bedtime routine – we planned to use our iPhones, but the Wi-Fi signal was patchy. I would definitely take DVDs of any faves if we were to visit again) and the most amazing view from the balcony. Which was another little detail we loved. The balcony was a beautiful, and solid, five foot high twisted willow barrier. It meant we could happily leave the patio doors open with no worries of him falling/climbing/flashing the neighbours. Perfect.

Super view from the super safe balcony

Super view from the super safe balcony

The attention to detail continued in the dining room. All the tables were generously spaced apart, with highchairs provided. As soon as we sat down for high tea (Oscar usually eats at 5 so we stuck to this while away, although we could have chosen to eat later at 6) a bowl of carrots, cucumber, pita and humous were bought out to stave off any hunger grumps until dinner arrived. The children’s menu had something for every taste (from baby purees to Naan bread pizzas) and age (with toddler and older child size portions). The boy is a big fan of carbonara, so we thought we’d give the mac’n’cheese a whirl, to much success. We chose to take our own bag of toys and colouring books to every meal time, but we really needn’t have bothered as the dining room had their own supply.

First Mac'n'Cheese

First Mac’n’Cheese

Food for the grown ups was just as well thought out. The menu changed one starter and two main courses every night, meaning you always had the choice of something different. The first night I tried Salt Cod and went completely off plan the second night with delicious Pork Belly. The dining room in the evening was a very different place to the day time, with candles on every table and no young children, largely thanks to the baby listening service available in every room. We (read I) was a little anxious at leaving Oscar the first night. Would he settle? We kept his routine as much the same as possible then put him in the cot. I read him a story, explained I’d just be downstairs and left him, to minimal grumping. I must admit I did jump up like a meerkat every time the receptionist walked through the lounge for the first hour (and actually went to check in with her before we went into dinner. She showed me the bank of phones all plugged into the baby listening service, not one of them making a noise!) but I needn’t have worried. He settled brilliantly and although I did see reception come find a couple once during the evening it wasn’t us!

Time for ourselves was one of the most attractive features of Moonfleet, as not only do they have a baby listening service, they also have a creche, which we booked him into (for two hours a day) when made our reservation. I was so excited to drop Oscar off on the Tuesday afternoon and he ran in without a second glance back. However, I know my son and to be honest should have known that leaving him with strangers for the first time ever, on the day we bought him to a place he’d never been was a BIG ask. He managed an hour before having a complete spontaneous melt down. The staff realised this wasn’t a momentary outburst and, quite rightly, rang reception who came and found us in the lounge. Retrospectively I am really proud he managed that hour at all, but at the time I was convinced that the creche would no longer be an option for us. But we followed his lead and took him again on the Wednesday. We planned to only leave him for an hour, but when Ben went to pick him up, he was so busy having a whale of a time we left him for the full two hours.

I’m so glad we didn’t give up on the creche as it gave us the time to do things just for us. Things like read, sit quietly and avail ourselves of the spa facilities. The spa staff were just as friendly as everyone else ( I spent a very pleasant hour chatting to the lovely Chloe while she did a super French pedicure on me). One of my favourite memories was Wednesday afternoon. Oscar was in the creche, Ben was in the Spa and I was alone. I found a comfy armchair, ordered a cheeky glass of Prosecco and read a paper. It just felt so decadent.

Decadence

Decadence

What else can I say? I could go on for days. I could talk about the indoor playroom, as big as a barn full to the brim with fun. I could mention the swimming pools or the cinema room or Snoopy the hotel dog, but you can read all about those on the website. For me the thing the trip gave us was time. Together and apart. Oscar is by nature a curious chap. He needs to know exactly where he is and what’s going on to feel comfortable. He’s also a runner and constantly tries my blood pressure by running away from me. I knew taking him away could potentially be very stressful. And the first day had it’s moments. But, I don’t know, after his nap on the second day he seemed to wake up with a new attitude. One of ‘OK I’m here and I like it’. He stopped running off, he lead the way to the garden or to our room and held my hand if we needed to walk across the car park. Seriously, it was like watching him grow up before my eyes. He was so much more relaxed. And you and I know that happy bambinos mean happy parents.

Time well spent

Time well spent

Would we go back? Definitely. For longer and out of season. Two nights was great, but we were just getting settled and then had to leave. More nights would also give Oscar the time he needs to adjust. Going out of the school holidays (while we can) would not only make it a cheaper proposition, but would also change the age of the younger guests. More babies and toddlers and less tweens. Not that the age seemed to bother Oscar – he adored the ‘big boys’ and followed them round the garden copying their antics!

Would we try another Luxury Family Hotel? In a heartbeat.

A relaxed, happy heartbeat.

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Cornish Gardens Confetti Company – a review

So I’m off to a wedding at the weekend and I can’t wait. I don’t know about you but one of my favourite parts of the ceremony is actually the bit where the bride and groom leave the church/venue as man and wife, usually to rapturous applause of their nearest and dearest and in a shower of confetti. I love seeing their grinning faces and I know from experience it’s one of the most sublimely happy moments of the day. At my own wedding we had strict instructions that no paper confetti was to be used (as the venue owners found it had a habit of welding itself to the stone). I was so sure people wouldn’t be able to find individual sachets of natural confetti that we provided our own, held in handmade paper cones.

Hydrangea petal confetti in handmade cones, expertly dished out by our usher Pete

Hydrangea petal confetti in handmade cones, expertly dished out by our usher Pete

I could have done away with confetti all together but I’m so glad I didn’t. It made for a beautiful moment I will never forget.

A memory to treasure

A memory to treasure

These days more and more venues are stipulating only natural biodegradable confetti be used and quite rightly so. Why should your beautiful moment be anything other than ecologically sound?

So for this Saturday I ordered two sachets of petals from the brilliant Cornish Gardens Confetti Company. It’s run by my friend, Fiona Purvis and provides individual sachets of natural confetti made from the flowers in her Cornish garden. It’s exactly what I was sure my guests wouldn’t find when I got married six years ago.

The delivery was super fast and the packaging? Wow. Who says confetti has be an afterthought in a boring box? Fiona’s sachets are beautifully printed vellum, which not only look amazing but are also the perfect size to fit in a pocket or clutch bag. After all, who goes to a wedding with their big old handbag?

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The petals inside are a mixture of flowers, but contain mainly rose and hydrangea. Each sachets contains two handfuls of petals, plenty to shower the happy couple. Sachets are 3 each plus p&p and can be ordered through their Facebook page.

If you have a wedding to go to this year, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Cornish Gardens Confetti Company. If you’re like me you probably spent time and energy planning your outfit, don’t let some boring, bulky confetti box ruin the ensemble.

 

 

I paid for this confetti myself and was not asked to write this review. I just think its nice to pass on info about products I love.