Its all in the planning

I can’t believe the end of March is fast rolling round. I’m finally starting to get everything in place for Oscar’s birthday, which is lucky, as its on 2nd April. It might not have been, had the induction worked when it started three days earlier, and I still swear he hung on in there for fear of being born an April Fool, but there you go.

His actual birthday is on the Thursday and Ben has taken the day off work. We like to do something just the three of us on his birthday, only I was struggling to think what to do this year. His birthday falls in the first week of the Easter hols and I knew everywhere, even those places he would enjoy and could probably cope with, would be heaving. So we’re taking a leap and going on our first outing to a SEN play facility, the Thames Valley Adventure Playground. I read about it on someone else’s blog and even though it’s an hour away, I knew immediately that I wanted to take him. I’ll write more about our visit when we’ve been, but I’m super excited for him and it’s an adventure for us as a newly diagnosed SEN family. Fingers crossed!

We booked his party for the following Saturday a while ago now and while he doesn’t really understand what’s going to happen yet, we are so excited that we have the exclusive use of our local soft play cafe The Hen House in Haslemere. My plan is to move as many tables and chairs to the side as possible, giving the children as much floor space to charge around in as I can. Other than that, the wonderful team at The Hen House have the entertainment, the food and the drink covered. Which has kind of left me to enjoy planning the little details. Such as what he’s going to wear. As it’s a soft play party there’s little point him getting dressed up too smartly on the day. However I have bought him this Boden t-shirt, a nod to the farm animal theme. I love it.

15BSPR_21770_GRYOther than that, the guests have been invited and most but not all can make it. But then that’s what happens when you book a party both on Easter weekend AND on the day of another boy’s birthday! I completely forgot about it being Rudy’s birthday until the moment I went to tell his mum about the party. Honestly, how could I forget? We were in beds opposite each other in the hospital! Ahh well it was going to happen sooner or later I guess and hopefully we’ll get to celebrate with them another day.

The invites themselves were something of a mission. Once I decided on a farm theme, I saw some beautiful barn invites on Pinterest and was convinced, for weeks, that I was going to make some just like it. Make. Including cutting stuff out and sticking stuff on. It was a lovely thought and all that but seriously? I barely have the time to blow my nose most days! So not wanting to be defeated entirely, I ordered some personalised printables from Etsy (several invitees told me how much they loved them and I think I could have passed them off as my own creation, but I just cant lie that well!) I also bought card to print them out on, wanting ever so much to have physical printed invites. What a palaver! The card wouldn’t go through the printer and when it did the colour wasn’t as I’d hoped. In the end I emailed the invite round and do you know what? I have no idea why I didn’t just do that in the first place. Physical invites are great for a child to take into school and hand out, but really, when it’s going straight the parent, email invites are the way ahead.

invite

As the party’s taking place in the highly decorated Hen House, decorations weren’t really the necessity they might be if I’d been hosting at home. However, in keeping with the theme, and because I have yet to find a child who doesn’t adore them, I have ordered helium filled balloons, in a black and white cow print. My plan is to have them float around the place with strings long enough to reach up and grab. At the end of the party there’ll be a balloon for every child, and hopefully a few for Oscar to take home too!

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Then there’s the party bags. I’ve had a bit of a downer on party bags in the past, primarily because they always seem to be filled with sugar and plastic. Now I’m not saying the boy doesn’t love sugar and plastic, but I wanted to see if I couldn’t pull together a favour bag that carried on the theme, but also had fun and interest for the children. I think I’m getting there, having managed to source plain brown paper lunch style bags from pipii.co.uk. Everything going in it has a nod to the farming and farm theme. There is some sugar, but also some fun and I hope some interest. I just need to figure out if I’m going to decorate the bags somehow. I want to. I really want to! But chances are I won’t and I’ll call it minimalist instead. Ahh well!

Which just about covers everything a three year old could want for their birthday.

What?

A present?

Ahh jeez!

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!!!

Down on the Farm

If you have or have ever had toddlers in your life, you will know just how important it is to have places to go out and about with them. Staying at home all the time does no one any good and in my experience toddlers have far too much energy than they rightfully know what to do with (lucky things! I wish I could say the same). If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know just how much we love The Hen House, a local soft play cafe, and that hasn’t changed. But as the weather becomes a touch more unpredictable, it’s starting to get busier (quite rightly) and that doesn’t always work for us. Recently we’ve started to frequent (when we can get there and when the weather allows) Applegarth Farm in Grayshott. We’ve been going to Applegarth, since he was a tiny baby in his Maxi Cosi handbag car seat (you know, the kind you carry over your arm like a handbag?). They’ve always had a lovely restaurant and shop there. But recently they had something of a makeover (I say recently, it’s probably a year ago now!). They extended the cafe and really juzzhed (is that how you spell it? Zhuzzed, zhusshed… oh sod it, tarted) up the outdoor play area. Not only does it have swings, play houses and a slide, it also has animals, climb on wooden tractor and best of all space. Oh yes and a secure, high latched gate. I can’t tell you how important a secure environment is for any toddler, but when you’ve got a runner/wannabe Houdini (no one ever believes how quick he is, til they’re running after him) it’s essential. We don’t go to unsecure parks near roads for this reason and it is certainly why I’m mighty cautious of the new set up at The Herons (we’ve yet to try it in person, but no gate and electric doors scare the bejesus out of me). Anyway thats not an issue at Applegarth.

He loves a good swing and all the other wooden equipment they have there. He can have a jolly good run around and a look at the animals when he fancies. But most importantly for Oscar, no matter how busy it gets (which in my experience is never heaving) there is always somewhere for him to take himself off on his own for five minutes, allowing him to come back smiling. Everyone’s got their way of coping and that’s Oscar’s. In The Hen House he does it by sitting and playing on my phone for five minutes, but here he goes under the tree house, or down by the rabbit hutch, returning to join his buddies. It works for him and that keeps us going back.

As long as it’s not raining it’s definitely our choice at the moment (and the wonderful coffee and cake they do is by no way an enticement 😉 ) I just wish we could find somewhere more weatherproof that had the same kind of space. If you’ve got any suggestions then please feel free to let us know.

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Chillaxing in the treehouse

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Americano with skimmed milk. And no cake. Of course.

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Playhouse

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Swing

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Tractor

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Five minutes down time

 

The Hen House

Bit of backstory. Haslemere is a small town, which has expanded over the years to accommodate the growing number of families moving here. Its about an hour from London so still commutable, but far enough away to offer a more rural way of life (or faux rural as my husband likes to call it).

I’ve not lived in Haslemere that long. 3 years actually. But most of that time I have been pregnant or the mother of a small child. Either way I’ve found myself becoming immersed in the parent scene of this small town. I’ve not really had a choice. And I love it. I think I’ve mentioned before how amazing children can be as ice breakers, and how becoming part of this mummy community has been good for me. We share in a way I’ve never experienced before; clothes, advice, experience and information.

So when something new or newsworthy happens to affect our community, well as you can imagine, the jungle drums start to beat. And when I received a shared link on FB a few weeks ago telling me about a new soft play cafe opening in the town I was beside myself and was quick to share the information.

What I saw was this.

henhousefb1

 

And this is what I said about it.


henhousefb2

Soft play. Even the name can conjur up images of dirty, bleak industrial units decked out with ball pits and foam slides, all marinated in the smell of frying chips. I can’t prove it (of course) but I swear Oscar got the sickest he’s ever been after a session at one such soft play venue and after conversations with other parents I’m not alone in this concern. So OK I get that kids, particularly older children, don’t care what a place smells like or how dirty the equipment may be or how crap the coffee is. Sometimes they just want to hurl themselves around for a hour. And that’s grand. But I know my friends and I have all said at one time or another, wouldn’t it be nice to have somewhere, we could take the children, they could have a rare old time of it and we could have a relax, without coming away with the gifts of Rotavirus and Eau de Chipfat.

So when I received the link, telling me a new kind of soft play was coming to my local high street. Well. I’m hoping you can imagine just how excited, but cautious I was. Was this really something I was right to get my hopes up about? I shared it myself and started the discussion. Suddenly the buzz was off the computer screen and in the toddler groups and the parks and literally on the streets. The name was whispered in hushed tones, or shouted from the roof tops, eitherway, the local community seems as excited by the Hen House as I am. I had to know more than the sweet but basic holding page would tell me, so I contacted them.

Enter Henri.

Henrietta Paterson is a local mother of five (yup five children, three under the age of five). As she explained to me she has no background in this sort of thing (in her previous life she was a Venture Capitalist, living in the Far East). When she and her family moved back to the UK and unexpectedly had two more children, she decided not to go back to working in the city. However, as she explained, she wanted to do something. How it came about is as random as all good inspiration should be. On chatting to the staff at Applegarth she discovered that their previous plans to build a soft play had been shelved. “I offered to help them, but it just wasn’t something they were interested anymore” Henri told me “Once I started thinking about it though, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I was sick of having to go all the way to Farnham for soft play. I mean what was there was OK, but I felt it could be so much better”.

And with that particular bee in her bonnet, The Hen House was born. Henri’s real bug bear with traditional soft play is that whilst it might be fun for the children, they really aren’t that much fun for the adults and on this point I have to agree. The vision for The Hen House is to provide somewhere the kids can have a wonderful time, and the parents can relax, knowing the children are in a safe and clean environment.

The idea of safety is really being addressed here. There are two levels of security gate, including an electronic one. All staff are DBS (CRB) checked and those who work with the children are all qualified in childcare in some way or another. The Hen House will also have a rule of washing and sanitizing hands on entry, something you don’t always see at these places.

It’s clear on talking with her that Henri is enthusiastic about the new place and it’s lovely to see someone so fired up about something that will benefit the local community. As she explained to me, when she encountered resistance from the council when applying to change the usage of the building, the local retail community rallied round her. They know that having a facility that encourages people into the town will be good for their businesses too! Add to that the plan to provide a bookable creche facility, leaving parents free to shop in peace for up to TWO hours? Well. How could the council ever refuse?!

Henri very kindly showed me round the building when we met. It’s bigger than it looks from the outside, and although it is still currently full of builders and building equipment, she was able to paint me a really clear picture of what is going to go where. There will be a toddler area for running around and a baby zone as well as the soft play equipment. There is also a separate room to be used for classes such as Toddler Cookery, Little French and the ubiquitous Molly Moo Cow. Henri sees the room as a real resource, as it will also be bookable, along with it’s disco floor for children’s parties.

The bit I liked the sound of best is the cafe. The food provided will all be locally sourced where possible, made fresh on site and be healthy and as tasty as possible. As Henri was at pains to tell me, none of it will be fried! Not only is this music to my ears from a gastronomic point of view, it also means you wont leave stinking of old chip fat. The plan is to provide something for everyone from Paninis to baby purees. And decent coffee! The craziest thing (or the best thing you might argue!), she that is currently in the process of being granted a liquor licence! She plans to sell wine, beer & fizz (no hard stuff), because as she said to me “sometimes you just need a little something” Quite!

So, yes I was as impressed with Henri as I was with the idea of the The Hen House. It was wonderful to meet someone with such drive to make something work. She was also incredibly open to discussion and suggestion, leaving me feeling confident about the ability of the Hen House to become a real community facility, one we can all enjoy and use to it’s full potential. She has asked that anyone with ideas or suggestions email her hen@thehen-house.com. Although please don’t ask about the parking. Yes you will have to pay to use the “Waitrose” carpark and no she wont be refunding parking.

Something else she was at pains to explain is that there isn’t a set opening day yet. They are currently waiting for variable things to happen (such as a the floor to dry and the equipment to arrive). But it’s likely to be May time and announcements will be made on Facebook or you can sign up for notifications on their website.

This isnt a review, it can’t be. I haven’t let my son loose on the equipment and been able to sit back and enjoy or had to run after him. Haven’t seen whether he likes it or finds it claustrophobic (like he does at the Herons). Haven’t left him with the creche and been able to enjoy a quiet lunch with my husband (Ben’s first reaction when he saw the webpage). Haven’t tasted the food and decided whether this is value for my hard earnt buck. I can’t tell you if it’s ever so ever so good yet.

But I can’t wait to find out.

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