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Drusillas Park: Britain’s Best Days Out

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drusillas monkeyWe were given a free family ticket to review Drusillas Park in Alfriston, East Sussex as part of MoneySupermarket’s Britain’s Best Days Out competition. Over the last couple of months, bloggers have been visiting attractions around the country to find the best family days out.

Small one loves a zoo (as do the rest of us), so we jumped at the chance. Rather than going straight away, we thought it would be nice to wait for her big brother to arrive home from university, and of course we wanted Grandma and Grandad to come too. I was going to buy the extra tickets online, but decided to just get them on the door as after the booking fee there was no real price advantage. Despite our best laid plans we ended up going, big-brotherless after all, on the coldest, windiest mid-January day imaginable.

The visit didn’t start well. There are good points and bad points to visiting attractions in mid-winter, the best of which is no queuing – lucky, as the combination of freezing rain and biting winds meant that standing still was extremely unpleasant. It did feel as if a lot of things were unavailable though, and had I paid full price for all of the tickets, which would have been charged as peak-season, I would have been disappointed, especially as the fabulous looking adventure playground was far too slippery for a rainy day.

Arriving at 11:30, we skipped straight to lunch in the cafe, which served pretty uninspiring fast food and had no toilets, meaning that midway through eating I had to get all dressed up in rain gear again to deliver a small child to the loo. Having said that, there is usually an alternative restaurant, which was closed on the day we visited, but may well have been more what I was looking for. The younger members of the family, who are less fussy than me, enjoyed their lunch thoroughly, especially the self-fillable individual tomato ketchup pots.

The zoo itself was deserted, with the exception of a couple of other families who I suspect had also made foolish promises to their small people. Despite the weather, there was lots to see, and I cheered up as we followed the map in the guide book to find monkeys, penguins, bats, and my personal favourite, the binturong.

drusillas penguins binturong drusillas

Cold weather at DrusillasA lot of the animals seemed unimpressed by the rain, and I didn’t blame them. I gave up on any pretence at style early on, when my lizardlike circulation demanded that I borrowed hats and snoods from all my near and dear, layering them attractively over a metallic knitted boob tube, a relic from my mispent youth which has since served as belly band, doll’s blanket and most recently scarf. Curly one advised me I looked like a “ninja nun”, which I chose to take as a compliment…

drusillas ottersThe otters, on the other hand, were completely in their element and we waited with them for their lunch, as they ran up and down like mad things, squeaking aggressively and demanding meals with menaces from anyone who came near. When their keeper eventually arrived to feed them, an adorable baby stole the show, as he tried to get the hang of a boiled egg.

Despite my early misgivings, there were lots of things to keep kids of all ages busy and interested – more than enough to fill a day. Small enjoyed the spotter books and stamper stations where you could keep a record of all the animals you’d seen and we all had fun doing the “Zoolympics”, where you could compare yourself to a variety of animals for speed, strength and volume. The highlight of this was the phonebox where you had to shout as loud as possible, proving beyond doubt that the curly one is the loudest of us all. We all competed, but none could come close (unsurprisingly – she burst her Dad’s eardrum as a baby!).

drusillas spotter book drusillas decibels

We thought the animated displays and talking bins were well thought out, encouraging kids hygiene. Unfortunately, small isn’t fond of ”pretend animals” so we had to move away swiftly whenever one started.

We finished the day with hot ring donuts and an exciting ride on the Thomas the Tank engine train, which took us all around the park.

All in all it was a great day, and would have been even better in the sunshine. Well worth a visit if you’re in the area.

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Book Review & Giveaway: First-time Mum

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For World Breastfeeding Week 2012, I’m hosting a series of giveaways to celebrate. Today, I have 3 copies of Hollie Smith’s latest book, First Time Mum: Surviving and enjoying your baby’s first year to give away.

The book covers the first year of baby’s life, and starts with some great equipment shopping lists which are broken down into essentials, sometimes useful, and completely unnecessary items. I was sold on her criteria when I saw scratch mitts listed in the pointless section – I was given so many and they fell off within seconds!
(Word to the wise: If your child really needs them, and mine didn’t, socks are far more effective)

There are some great practical tips – a lot of those things you spend the first few weeks struggling with are covered here:

Dressing is a skill that can take a bit of practice. The key aim here is to put the garment on your baby, rather than your baby into the garment…

So simple when you know how! It also covers some of the bigger but less talked-about issues for new mums – the mum & baby groups, isolation and adjustment to the new role, baby blues and postnatal depression, and even a potential return to work. These are a bit hidden at the back of the book, but well written and useful.

There are a couple of mentions of Gina Ford schedules (vs demand feeding) and Cry It Out type sleep training, which made me cringe a bit, but I guess if I want to read a balanced, largely unbiased guide to the first year, then I can expect them to be mentioned. To be clear, they were mentioned, explained, but not recommended, and she did make it clear that most health professionals believe demand feeding is important for continued breastfeeding. Having read the recent research on CIO and the effect it has on brain development, it was interesting to know that although she used these sleep training methods with her own children, she would perhaps choose a gentler approach now.

And what of breastfeeding and feeding advice? It’s pretty balanced really. The advice is practical and direct, and I like her honest approach:

…while some women sail through the start of breastfeeding, for many, it’s no picnic. And it’s better to go into it with realistic expectations and then find it’s easier or more enjoyable than you thought, than imagine it will be some kind of rose-tinted rush, only to experience the absolute opposite.

The author has personal experience of feeding both ways and assumes that most mums will try to breastfeed and that some will then move to formula, which is statistically accurate for the UK. It was good to see instructions for making up a bottle safely too – I still don’t know how, and assume other parents are similarly clueless, plenty of whom actually need that information to look after their child.

All in all, a good read and one I would probably have appreciated before small one was born.

Win a copy of First Time Mum:
If you’d like to win a copy to read yourself, tell me what you would like / would have liked to know before your baby was born. For a bonus entry, either share the giveaway on Facebook, or tweet the following:

I’ve entered to win a copy of First Time Mum by Hollie Smith @MilkChic http://milkchic.co.uk/59425 #parenting #pregnancy #baby

Don’t forget to enter the other World Breastfeeding Week 2012 Giveaways too.

First Time Mum by Hollie Smith is available on Amazon for £8.35 (paperback) or £6.00 (Kindle edition). I received a free copy of the book for the purpose of this review.

Giveaway Terms & Conditions: Restricted to UK & Ireland. Closing date: 18th August 2012, 23:59. Winners will be picked at random from entrants. No cash alternative. If the winner cannot be contacted after 7 days, an alternative may be drawn.

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Hand puppets from rubber gloves: Kids craft inspired by Dettol

Making rubber glove puppets
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We had a lovely day yesterday making hand puppets out of rubber gloves, all inspired by the Dettol competition at Mumsnet. You can win a professional puppet show in your own home just by making a puppet out of a rubber glove and sending them a picture.

Continue reading Hand puppets from rubber gloves: Kids craft inspired by Dettol

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Review: Babies & Toddlers For Men

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Mr MilkChic is now an “experienced” Dad (not old, oh no… not old at all!). He has managed to father one child right the way through to adulthood, and we have high hopes for the other two… so I felt he was well-placed to review this book.

Babies & Toddlers For Men is a parenting guide aimed at Dads. It’s a very practical guide and having managed to prise it off Mr, I reckon it’s pretty good for Mums too.

Most books seem to either be very factual (at 5 weeks, your child will weigh xlbs, enjoy high contrast pictures, have mastered 5 types of cry and hold their head up) or be focused on “managing” one aspect of a child’s behaviour (sleep, potty training, learning French…). This one is unusual because it manages to sit somewhere in between – giving the information you need, and telling you what to expect without prescribing solutions for what, in most cases is just normal baby behaviour.

Mark Woods manages to cover some fairly unfunny and sometimes sensitive subjects in a brilliantly witty way. It’s a really honest guide to what being a Dad is really like and we both really enjoyed it, which is something I can’t really say about a lot of the parenting tomes. You know that it’s a good book when you find yourself reading sections out loud to each other:

You can feel intense irritation and impatience before breakfast, frustration and despondency by lunch and an acute sense that you need to earn 37 times more than you do now just after tea.

Oh yeah!

The book is organised in 3 monthly chunks, with sections on key issues for each stage and comments from real Dads, which bring them to life. There is great honesty in covering subjects like lochia and the shock of sex (or lack of it) after childbirth, and he expresses with eloquence that mixture of pride, exhaustion and unbelievable frustration that a young child can bring.

There’s a sense of a chat with mates, which makes it very readable. It’s completely up to the minute, covering the online networks that keep mums going (and why we need them), parenting politics and the way toddlers can work iPhones better than their parents. It references recent research, relates to the real world, and is non-judgmental, which is refreshing.

And the breastfeeding?? There are certainly some bits we felt that could have been better researched (I flinched when I saw that he recommends a certain self-styled “breastfeeding expert”, who has no formal qualification beyond a few years as a midwife in the mid-80s… presumably before on-demand feeding was recommended!). But for the most part, breastfeeding is covered well, with lots of practical information about benefits, the Dad’s role, and the pressures their partner might feel. I particularly liked this comment about dealing with difficulties:

Your support, love and understanding are crucial. The social and moral pressure that some mums feel to succeed as they put themselves through hell can be overwhelming. Knowing that you support her whatever the outcome will go a long way to giving her the belief to either carry on trying or to make the switch to formula.

All in all, a fabulous book that really rings true, and one well worth reading.

I did not get paid for this post but I did receive a sample copy of Babies & Toddlers for Men to read and keep. I follow the Britmums Blogging with Integrity Guidelines – I always write honest and truthful reviews and disclose any perks I receive!

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Book Review: Stuff Every Mom Should Know

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Like most mums-to-be, I read a fair few parenting books in pregnancy. Everyone is different, but on the whole I find I prefer the ones which pass on well-researched facts, tell you how your child develops and give you the information you need to find your own way. Too many authors seem to offer up their own limited experience as a formula for all.

Stuff Every Mom Should Know is a little bit different. It is a (rather lovely looking) book filled with all those little gems of knowledge that you can only get from other mums – practical advice and reassurance that seems to ring true whatever your parenting ethos.

It does have its issues. It could do with being revised for the British market – I personally struggle to identify as a “Mom” rather than a “Mum”. That’s just semantics, but some chapters don’t work as well for UK readers, for instance the large section on stocking your medicine cabinet isn’t a great deal of help, and I took a few pages to figure out what a “boo-boo” (bump) was. References to soccer moms and Halloween costumes also went over my head.

If you can get past that, it’s filled with great ideas for parenting babies right through to teens.

How many parenting books deal with the really big issues?

  • Making a long wait fun
  • How to photograph your child
  • Dates that don’t need a babysitter
  • Ridding a bedroom of monsters
  • How to deal with unsolicited parenting advice

Possibly my favourite bit is the “pick-up lines” for meeting other mums. I felt like a gawky teenager again at the mother and baby groups and would definitely have felt more confident armed with a few opening gambits.

And what mum of a teen wouldn’t like advice on “how to hug your teen without her knowing”?

All in all, it’s a great little book full of common sense, simple tips and practical advice on day-to-day parenting that made me smile. Well worth a look and a nice gift for a new parent. Stuff Every Mom Should Know, by Heather Gibbs Flett and Whitney Moss is out in March 2012 priced at £6.99.

Disclosure: I did not get paid for this post but I did receive a sample copy of Stuff Every Mom Should Know to read and keep. I follow the Britmums Blogging with Integrity Guidelines – I always write honest and truthful reviews and disclose any perks I receive!

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