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Thursday, 27 November 2014

Organising Children's Christmas Wishlists on a Budget

Christmas Mulled Wine and Presents

Well, we're nearing the end of November.  All of your friends seem to have Christmas completely wrapped up.  Literally.   Whilst they sit smuggly with a mince pie and a glass of mulled wine (which you don't even like anyway) you're not sure whether to congratulate  yourself for being at the "having a vague idea what everyone wants for Christmas" stage or panic buy and quickly wrap your stash up too.

Then the money worries hit you, can you even afford Christmas presents this year?  Every year you plan to save but only remember in the last few weeks running up to Christmas.   Calm down and don't panic.  You can still do this!

Five Steps to Organising your Children's Christmas Presents

Christmas Argos Wishlist App

1.  Sit down and write down Christmas list ideas with your children.  Apps like the Argos Christmas Wishlist can help as can looking through toy catalogues.  (A lot of your children's ideas will also come from TV adverts, comics and word of mouth in the playground.)

Christmas Santa's Grotto Folly Farm Pembrokeshire Wales

2.  Choose the "Santa" present, which of these toys is going to be the one that they ask Santa for?  You need to know this, one for the letter, two to make sure Santa knows to get  or make this present for your child and three so there's no awkward moment when you visit Santa's Grotto and said child asks for something completely unexpected and unattainable.

They also get very excited when they realise that Santa already knows what they are hoping for in their free personalised video message from Santa himself (we do this every year- it's great!)

Write Christmas letters to Santa

3.  Have a lovely Christmas afternoon writing  letters to Santa.  If you send the letters to  the Royal Mail by 6th December and enclose a stamped addressed envelope you will get a reply. He's a good 'un that Santa.

Christmas Toy Monitor My Voucher Codes

4.  Shop around.  Use a tool, such as The Christmas Toy Monitor, by My Voucher Codes to find the cheapest price for the toy you require, it is designed to save you money!  Bear in mind the prices change quite a lot in the run up to Christmas so try to buy when the toys they want are at the lowest price and still in stock.

Christmas Present Bike

5.  Get your priorities right:  I prioritise making sure Santa is able to deliver his presents as this is always the one the kids look forward to the most.  Next I choose a good present for us parents to give them off the list.  Then, when family members ask me for present ideas, I give them suggestions within the budget.  Only when I have got the most important presents do I start buying "stocking fillers".  Over the years, we have ended up with far too many presents, it has taken me all year to sort them out and find room for them, so I definitely believe "less is more" nowadays.

Every Christmas the one thing I find that we are "poor" of is time.  The kids have too many presents and games, it's difficult to find the time to play with them.  

So, my biggest tip for Christmas is to plan to be extra generous with your time this year and make sure you all get lots of quality family play time together.

Christmas Day night, it will finally be my turn to sit and relax with a glass of bubbly and some chocolates or nuts from my stocking (if I've been good, of course!).

What tips do you have to share for organising children's christmas wishlists on a budget?

Cardiff Castle - Explore 2000 Years of History in Just One Day

Cardiff Castle Stocks  and Keep

I have no idea why it has taken me so long to visit Cardiff Castle.  I love Castles and regularly explore our local ones in Pembrokeshire.  However, despite travelling to Cardiff often and of course passing the magnificent, Medieval fort I had never before stepped inside.

When I was asked to choose a place in Cardiff to review, although I know the kids love returning to Techniquest and The Doctor Who Experience time and time again, I saw this as the perfect opportunity to put things right and to visit the Castle of our capital city of Wales.

Family walk Bute Park, Cardiff, Wales

We travelled on the M4 from the South West and parked at North Road Car Park (Sat Nav ref:  CF10 3DY.  As we arrived after 12pm it cost us a very reasonable £3.60 to park all day.  Our favourite reason for parking here though is it takes you on a beautiful walk through Bute Park to get to the Castle.

The Secret Garden Cafe Bute Park Cardiff

We stopped at the Secret Garden Cafe, in Bute Park, for a baguette (£2.50 each) before exploring the castle.   Pettigrew Tea Rooms, adjacent to the castle, is also lovely for  an afternoon tea treat.

The Animal Wall Bute Park Cardiff Castle Wales

The Animal Wall

As you approach the castle, look out out for the delightful animal wall.  My kids love to pass this and spot all of the species.  It was originally built in the 1890's, but was moved and rebuilt in 1923 when six more animals were added.  The original animals have glass eyes that really seem to stare at you as you pass by.

Cardiff Castle Free Audio Guide Children Wales

Entrance and Free Audio Guides

At the castle entrance we went through the gates and passed under the Portcullis.  We made our way to reception.  Free audio guides were available.  We picked one up to share as a family, but next time we'll have one each, especially as there is also a children's version.  These are great, just enter the number on the sign and listen to the information. 

2000 Years of History 

We were then in the castle grounds, ready to learn about 2000 years of History.  I admit that I just stood in awe for a while, taking in the glorious surroundings.  Dave then brought me back to my senses and suggested we take a look at the War Tunnels.

The War Shelter Tunnels Cardiff Castle Wales World War 2

The War Tunnels

During History lessons in school, I enjoyed learning about the Home Front, how everyday people at home were affected by the war.  I knew that Londoners used the underground deep level tunnels as air raid shelters when the sirens sounded during World War II.  

What I never realised until recently was that people of Cardiff  were invited to use the Castle Tunnels as Wartime Shelters.  It is estimated that around 1800 people who lived or worked in the city would take shelter here when the sirens sounded.  Today, you can walk along the dark tunnels and see for yourself what the air raid shelters looked and sounded like.  In the Summer Holidays you can even join a free tour, guided by an Air Raid Warden in full costume.  We will definitely return next Summer to do this- without Rebecca who found the experience a little frightening due to her fear of enclosed spaces and the dark!  
There are also many wartime posters and advertisements on display which I always find very interesting.

The Battlement Walk Cardiff Castle Wales

The Battlement Walk

I was pleased that the Battlement Walk was accessible for pushchairs and wheelchairs, unlike in most castles were the walks are only accessible by steps.  We enjoyed a walk across it, looking at the defence features, the stunning view and also enjoying the wildlife.  Birds and squirrels were busy finding food ready for the cold approaching Winter.  They were quite tame and came close to the children.

Trebuchet Cardiff Castle Wales

The Trebuchet

The Trebuchet located on the Castle green, is an accurate, working replica of one of the deadliest military machines of it's time,   It was originally made for the Hollywood movie Ironclad and here in Cardiff, a team of eight members of Cardiff Castle staff, ‘The Trebuchet Team’, have been trained to load and fire this medieval piece of technology.

Danny would love to see this fired one day.  He used to love playing with the trebuchet that came with his play castle when he was younger.

Cardiff Castle and Keep Wales

The Keep

The Norman Keep is only accessible by steep steps, so Dave, Danny and Caitlyn went up to enjoy the panoramic stunning views, whilst Izzy, Rebecca and I looked out for them appearing at the top.  The Keep would literally keep everyone in the Castle safe at times of attack.  This is a fine example of a classic motte and bailey fortification.  Inside the Keep look out for signs of a fireplace, staircase and evidence in the stone work showing where the floors would have been.

The Castle Apartments Cardiff Castle Wales

The Castle Apartments

Aside from the War Shelters, the other "modern" surprise for me were The Castle Apartments, or The House.  Art Architect, William Bruges, created this "Victorian Gothic Fantasy Palace" for the 3rd Marquess of Bute.  

It is surprisingly opulent, especially when compared to the Roman and Norman features.  We looked around The Arab Room, The Dining Room, The Library and Banquet Hall.  More rooms can be viewed (and more lessons learnt) by booking a House Tour at Reception.  I would recommend this.

The Firing Line The Story of the Welsh Soldier Dress Up Military Uniform

The Firing Line

I assumed the museum was going to be about castles, but of course the history you learn from castles comes from the land and buildings itself.

This museum is The Story of the Welsh Soldier.  It is very interesting and also poignant.  It tells the story of the Welsh Soldier over the last 300 years.  Follow the foot prints around the museum and you will be taken chronologically through the history.

The kids loved trying on the authentic uniform from different eras-they were surprised by how heavy the helmets were and how the older uniforms were harder to put on.

Danny also got to hold a rifle and the interactive displays held the children's attention.  I found out why Goats are Welsh military mascots and still take part in ceremonious displays  today and also learnt that all military medals are still made at the Royal Mint in Wales.

The Shop and Roman Wall

The original exposed Roman Wall can be seen in the Interpretation Centre, which houses the Cafe, Film Show and Shop.

The shop had lovely gifts, from swords and dressing, up to books and keepsake ornaments.

I loved these hanging "magic toadstools" and the Roman wall can be seen behind.

We had a lovely fun filled day at Cardiff Castle and there is more to do too- we didn't visit the North Gate and there are also  Film Location  and Clock House Tours which can be booked, so we will definitely  be visiting again!

Cardiff Castle Opening Times are currently 7 days a week, 9am - 5pm
Family Tickets are currently £36 and under 5's are free.

We received tickets for Cardiff Castle for the purpose of this review and as part of the Millennium guide to Cardiff.  All thoughts and opinions are our own.

I have lots of photos and footage so a video is coming soon!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Five Ways to Make Better Life Decisions

Which path to take?  Making decisions.

I seem to have found myself at a point in my life where I know changes have to be made for the better. I know that something needs to be done but I always struggle to ultimately make these all important decisions.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Choosing a New House Phone: Retro Style or Modern Features?

Digital Cordless Home Phone

Well, our house phone is broke.  In fact, it's been broke and unusable for quite a while but I haven't got round to replacing it yet.

This is for a number of reasons.  I quite like not having a housephone. Sometimes it feels like it's just another way for cold callers to pester me (despite having signed up to the Telephone Preference Scheme (TPS) years ago).  

All of our friends, family, work colleagues and even utility companies ring our mobile phones nowadays and we have free outgoing calls on them so our house phone is pretty much redundant.

The only reason I have missed the house phone so far is to ring my mobile phone when I've yet again lost it (and very often my ringer is set to silent anyway!).

However, I do want a house phone again for piece of mind.  If my battery has gone or my mobile stops working, I need a house phone to use for emergencies.

This causes my next dilemma.  Which house phone do I choose?  We have always had digital phones with additional handsets for upstairs.  I love the cordless feature.  When looking after children, it is easier to take a call when you can still move around the house and keep an eye on them.  I also love caller display.  This helps to avoid those  pesky nuisance calls.

Cuckooland Retro Phone Duck Egg Blue

However, I love the design of colourful, retro style phones, such as the Cuckooland Retro Telephone .  They look so stylish and remind me of the time when we did actually have a rotary dial telephone (sadly this one is push button really).  A few years ago, I had a flat tyre and had to use someone's house phone.  They still had one of these original phones and I had to remind myself how to use it again- it took ages to ring out!

Panasonic Premium Design Phone

Realistically, I'm looking at a modern style phone to get all the features that I require.  Maybe I should go the opposite way and look for an ultra modern phone.  I like the sleek look of this premium design phone above.  It is cordless, has Caller ID, conference calls (handy for family calls) and a phonebook but the feature I love is Smartphone Connect-you can use your own smart phone as one of the additional handsets.

There is also a wide selection of new digital home phones on the Panasonic website.

I am wondering if I should pick a modern DECT for downstairs and a cute retro one for our bedroom.  I think it would look just perfect next to a Vintage Teasmade, don't you?

Which home phone would you choose:  retro style or modern features?

This is a collaborated post.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Ten Reasons to Visit Hogwarts in The Snow at Warner Brother Studios

Hogwarts in the Snow at Warner Brother Sturio Tour Watford London

As a huge Harry Potter fan, I love visiting the Warner Bros Studio Tour London during every season and special event.  I have to admit that their Winter Season is pretty special though and may be my new all time favourite!  

Here are my top ten reasons to visit Hogwarts in the Snow, which runs until 1st February 2015.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Coca Cola Christmas Truck, Cardiff Winter Wonderland and Christmas Shopping

Kids at Coca-Cola Christmas Truck

Well, the Coca-Cola Christmas Truck Dates for 2014 have been announced.  Seeing this news brought back memories of our time at the Christmas Truck last year and I searched this blog to read our post... I soon realised that I had never wrote the post up, so only a year later... here it is:

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Why we Loved Kingdom of the Elves at Bluestone Wales

Kingdom of the Elves Bluestone Wales Pembrokeshire

Last year, we had free tickets to Kingdom of the Elves as part of our stay at Bluestone Wales.  It definitely works out good value to enjoy this experience while on a weekend or mid week break, however you can also book limited day tickets from £20 per person.

Kingdom of the Elves Bluestone Wales Pembrokeshire

We arrived and were excited to see that the Adventure Centre had been decorated from inside and out.  We were greeted by friendly elves who welcomed us in and showed us to the waiting area.

Kingdom of the Elves Bluestone Wales Pembrokeshire

The kids played in the indoor play area whilst we enjoyed a coffee in our festive surroundings.  The Christmas Fair is next door if you arrive very early and have more time to spare.

Kingdom of the Elves Bluestone Wales Pembrokeshire

Our group was then called forward for our journey to begin.  We were given our Elf costumes (to keep-very handy for school concerts!) and red, rosy cheeks.  We then went to a secret place for the magic to begin...

 Kingdom of the Elves Bluestone Wales Pembrokeshire

During the experience, you move from room to room, which definitely helps to hold the kids (and the adults) attention.  In the different rooms, you complete different tasks to collect all the different Elf Badges.  I loved seeing how each of the different rooms was decorated.  Danny enjoyed solving problems and the team building tasks.
 Kingdom of the Elves Bluestone Wales Pembrokeshire

The kids got to take a ride on Santa's Sleigh but the grown ups are also included in the experience throughout (sometimes far more than they'd rather be!).

Kingdom of the Elves Bluestone Wales Pembrokeshire

It was wonderful to see the astonishment on my children's faces at the magic all around them.

Kingdom of the Elves Bluestone Wales Pembrokeshire

We had great fun singing and dancing.  I had such a huge smile on my face for the whole of the experience.   It even snowed and I admit that I had goosebumps when we all "believed".

Kingdom of the Elves Bluestone Wales Pembrokeshire

We completed all our tasks successfully and each became a 100% Elite Elf.  This meant we all got to party and also have our photos taken.  I was pleased to be invited to take my own photo as well as the official one being taken.

Kingdom of the Elves Bluestone Wales Pembrokeshire

At the end of the experience you can buy the photograph or photo gifts, but there is no obligation to do so.  I loved the Photo Baubles and Snow Globes so bought these.  

Kingdom of the Elves Bluestone Wales Pembrokeshire

We also booked tickets for "Story time with Santa".  The girls loved making Magic Reindeer Food, hanging their Christmas Wishes on the Magic Tree, listening to the story, and of course meeting Santa, who kindly gave each child a gift.  Some of the things that the children said to Santa had me chuckling, it was all so sweet.

My top tips for Kingdom of the Elves are:

  • Book early-it's very popular.
  • Join in with everything- it makes it more fun and also the Elves are less likely to single you out!
  • Buy a Bauble or Snow Globe Photo so you can treasure this festive, family experience each year when you put your decorations up.
  • If staying at Bluestone, pack a Christmas DVD to watch after the experience as you won't want the Christmas feeling to end!
This account is of The Kingdom of the Elves Experience 2013.  Day tickets can be booked by calling:  01834 887 999

Have you been to the Kingdom of the Elves?  What is your favourite Christmas day out?

Reasons to Book a Winter Break at Bluestone Wales

Kingdom of the Elves Bluestone Wales Pembrokeshire

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