We absolutely love to travel, we love to go away, to spend nights in a different place and experience new things. We are so grateful to be able to do these things and to make these memories together. But I can guarantee that I will always have a excited feeling whenever I pull into our small driveway and turn the key in our front door after a trip away. Someone wise once said 'There's no place like home' and they couldn't have been more right.
You see, our little home, it's my castle. I'm the Queen of it, it's the one place where we all belong, where we all fit together nicely. Where we potter around and exist together. Some days as I potter around the house, wiping down the walls from sticky nutella fingerprints, putting umpteen cheap plastic toys back in the toy box and hoovering for what feels like the twentieth time that week, I will stop and look around and realise that this is all I ever wanted. It's like I am living my dream.
I really do love our little home. When you stand at the tip of our driveway and take a look at it, it's nothing particularly special. A small three bed detached on a rather large, but nice, estate on the outskirts of a slightly dubious town. Our town isn't the nicest, it looks pretty, but it hasn't got the greatest reputation, in fact it's one claim to fame is being on the cover of Britain's Worst Towns in 2010. But instead of going right once you leave our estate and heading towards the town, you can go left. And then you head into beautiful countryside, picture postcard villages and the city of Cambridge is within half an hour away- and well that's just beautiful.
But back to my castle. It's nothing extra ordinary. From the outside there will always certainly be our front garden which is desperately in need of a cut, one of the perils of not having a husband, or indeed myself, who is keen on gardening. But once you step inside, I reckon you can feel it from the second you walk in the door.
Our home is full of love. There's memories everywhere you turn, whether that's a photo on the wall, a quote that means something to us, or a piece of furniture that shares a history. Something that connects us as a family. There's our sofa. I remember like it were yesterday coming back from a business trip to Bournemouth and seeing my husband lying sprawled out on our beige sofa. I sat on top of him and pulled out something from my bag- a pregnancy test. I found out while I was away that I was pregnant with our first little girl and I wanted to wait until I was back to tell him. I still remember him bursting into tears of shock and happiness and holding me while we discussed the future. Or there's our bed. The bed that has seen so many things. (not just those things for the dirty minded!) It's seen arguments, times where I cried into my pillow out of sheer frustration at my husband, happy lazy Sunday mornings with a newborn and a toddler, or breakfasts in bed on special occasions.
I often get asked on social media when I post a photo of our home, or indeed by friends who come to visit, if our home is always that tidy. I would love to say some of it is for show, but to be honest it isn't. I keep our home really tidy, I love interior design- there's been some effort, and it shows. I make my home somewhere I love to come home to at the end of the day, and I love to keep it clean and tidy- not to impress others or to live up to a certain ideal, but because it's my castle and I love to maintain our little nest. Some people thrive in organised (or unorganised) chaos, I am at my most calm if the house is tidy.
It drives my husband mad, I constantly clean and tidy up, and at the end of the day you would be mistaken for thinking that no little people lived there, unless you looked closely at the photos of happy times on the wall, and a tell tale rogue Toy Story character that has escaped the fate of the toy box. Everything has it's place, bar the girls bedroom, and I like to put everything away at the end of the day, only for it to be all brought out again the following morning.
We have lived in our little home for almost six years now. Buying it and having a mortgage felt like the most grown up thing ever at the time, and sometimes it still does, almost like we are playing at being grown ups. For a long time we couldn't afford to put our stamp on it, we painted it neutral and slowly started to make it from a house into a home. It's seen us through tough times, I remember Mr E being made redundant just after Mads was born and we sat at the table and wondered how on earth we were going to pay the mortgage that month. That's why every room we decorate, every time we put more of a stamp on it, makes me feel more and more proud. I have a strange taste in interior design, bright yellow wallpaper, lots of colour and weird little quirky touches aren't for everyone, but luckily Mr E is a fan of it too.
We have worked for this. Worked really rather hard over the years. I remember almost crying when I saw our bathroom done for the first time last year, we lived with a basic, grotty bathroom since we moved in, and I was just so proud that we had worked hard enough to be able to afford to renovate it how we wanted. We have no more rooms we want to decorate now, bar the kitchen, but to be honest we are slowly outgrowing the house and in the next couple of years it's going to be time to start looking for our next step on the ladder. It isn't our forever home but I know that I will be really sad to leave it behind.
So yes from the outside our house really isn't anything spectacular. But the inside tells a very different story. It holds our memories. Our adventures. Our love. Our shared history.
It's our castle.
And I will always be excited to return home to it.
A while ago we were contacted to see if our bathroom renovation could be featured in the new At Home magazine for May. I picked up a copy the other day and it looks great- there's four pages on our little monochrome space.
Pssst. My blog has been shortlisted for an award which is rather exciting- I am definitely not outstanding (talk about bigging yourself up!) but if you like my blog and haven't already voted for one of the others, I would love it if you would vote for me! Thank you. xx
Sitting on my sun lounger, a mojito in one hand and my book in the other, I stared blissfully out at the clear blue of the infinity pool and beyond that to the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean Sea in the background. If I squinted hard enough I could almost imagine my three favourite people there in the pool, splashing around in excitement. Mads would be giggling and squealing, like she always does when she is happy, and LL would be floating around gripping on to her Daddy's shoulders. I know for a fact that my little family would absolutely love it at Ikos Oceania.
But this time it was just me there and although of course I missed them terribly, I was loving having a chance to relax and to think about things. The reason for my short trip was that I was invited away for a lovely few days in Greece with Ikos Resorts and Sovereign Travel. I always feel incredibly lucky to be able to have a chance to do these things and this trip was no exception. We were a small group of seven, made up of travel journalists, bloggers and the PR representives and it was great to have a chance to make new friends and experience such a beautiful resort.
As usual, I took so many photos, and a little video too, so I am going to split my trip into a couple of parts...
A Little Low Down on Ikos Resorts...
Ikos Resorts have two properties, the property that we stayed at Ikos Oceania which has recently undergone a €4 million refurbishment, including new family rooms and a completely renovated kids club. Also in the group, is the brand new Ikos Olivia, which actually only opened this week (May 2015) and which I was honoured to be able to have a sneaky peek at a few days before their launch- it looks absolutely stunning and I am definitely going to try and go back with my little family soon.
The Ikos Resorts mission is to redefine the luxury all-inclusive experience with their statement 'Infinite Lifestyle' and it certainly exceeds the needs of the most discerning global leisure traveller, with bespoke personal touches and understated elegance. For me, as a parent of a young family there are a number of different things I look for in a holiday, but the main thing is that it ticks all the boxes when it comes to having something for all of us- Ikos Resorts had that in abundance and I will talk about it as I go along...
After our super early three hour flight from Gatwick (local airport is Thessaloniki and then it's about a 20 minute transfer to the resort- if you book with Sovereign Travel you get a lovely private transfer) we arrived at Ikos Oceania and were ushered into the beautiful adults bar to check in with a nice cold glass of champagne. This was the view that awaited us. Oceania is nestled into the hilltops, with spectacular views of the Mediterranean. There's a private beach, plus a number of different pools including one especially for little people.
After check in we made our way to our rooms and I certainly wasn't disappointed. My Deluxe Junior Suite was styled beautifully, with a calming blue and green colour scheme and a huge terrace over looking the sea.
There are a number of different room types so there really is something for everyone, but one of the main things I look for in a holiday as our girls are so little, is an area where they can sleep, knowing that even if they go to bed at 8pm there is somewhere we can sit and chill out. Ikos Oceania has a number of different room types depending on your family make up- and all have been refurbished along the same sort of colour scheme and decor style.
The view from my terrace was absolutely stunning. In fact one thing that I really noticed about the resort was the attention to detail when it came to the grounds. There was lush green grass, beautiful colourful flowers, and shrubs everywhere. They really obviously have invested a lot of money in making sure the gardens look perfect.
Before we slept in the beds for the first time, we were laughing with the hotel marketing manager about the fact that the pillows were so comfy people wanted to buy them. We were unconvinced but indeed the pillows are probably the comfiest I have ever slept on- she was definitely right!
The champagne and fruit on arrival were a really nice touch.
The resort is all inclusive but has coined the term 'infinite lifestyle' - it's got those little extras such as four a la carte restaurants, a dine out service, and high end premium drinks brands that make this a cut above the rest. Indeed Trip Advisor voted it the No 1 All Inclusive in Europe and you can certainly see why.
We headed off to the Ouzo Restaurant for lunch on our first day- a gorgeous light and bright restaurant situated by the main pool. Without a shadow of a doubt the food at Ikos Oceania was some of the best I have eaten for a long time, it's hard to believe it's an All Inclusive resort and that it's all included in the price. We were treated to plates upon plates of delicious food, and my jeans were definitely a little tight by the end of the trip. Think warm pitta breads, homemade houmous, and fresh and light salads. Greek food is one of my favourites, but I honestly was in heaven here.
Just a light lunch.
It's a pleasure finding out that one of your great friends is on the same trip. It was fantastic spending time with Alison, my fellow Space In Your Case buddy. Here we are doing what bloggers do best and posing before going out for dinner.
When I got these trousers Mr E said they looked like someone's old curtains that you would have in the 70's! But I love them. ;)
On our first evening before dinner we were joined by the marketing manager and were kindly given a tour of the hotel- it was great to be shown round and see exactly what they had to offer. How beautiful is this pool? It really was stunning. It's the little extras that make a real difference to your holiday, and I absolutely loved the all day waiter service at all of the pools and the beach.
Beautiful palm trees dotted around the resort.
The hotel is on it's own stretch of private beach, perfect for little one's who like to take a bucket and spade. One great little extra is that the resort offers a 30 minute childcare service on the beach- you can drop your child there and let them have fun, while you do important things like get a cocktail or enjoy a spot of sun bathing. It's all included in the price too of course.
We got a chance to check out the Kids club and I was blown away by the facilities they had on offer- it was spotlessly clean, with so many lovely toys. The childcare is included in the price of your stay if you chose to pop your kids in the club for a few hours, and is run by Worldwide Kids Company, a UK based childcare provider. This provides reassurance to parents that your kids are in the best possible hands. Indeed this is just one of the rooms, there are two others depending on the age of your little person and they have a huge program of activities available for them. All these things are so welcome for parents of young children, as we know that sometimes holiday's can be a little bit tiring when you are constantly watching their every move. It's nice to have the option even if you don't end up using it.
How amazing is this soft play? I know my girl's would have loved it and Mads indeed saw my photos the other day and said 'I want to go there to play Mummy'.
For our evening meal on Friday night we again dined at the Ouzo restaurant, where we were served a number of delicious taster dishes. Like this Greek Sausage dish. Michelin Starred chef Lefteris Lazarou's a la carte menu is Greek with a modern twist.
This sesame bread stuffed with cheese was delicious.
Mini lamb kebabs with a lightly spiced yoghurt sauce on Pitta Bread = Best Thing Ever!
I need to take Mads back to Ikos Oceania just so she can have this dessert- no one was 100% sure what it was as they just bought it out for us, but basically it was warm Nutella with something which resembled cornflakes, mixed together with ice cream- it honestly was one of the tastiest puddings I have had in so long. My little Nutella addict would have loved it! Our meal at Ouzo was delicious, topped off with a drink similar to Ouzo (yuck!) and some lovely wine from the resort's extensive wine list.
The sun setting on the main pool and my view from the restaurant.
It definitely was a fantastic first day and I went to bed feeling thoroughly full, with a voice hoarse from chatting and laughing with new found friends.
Here is a little video from my time at Ikos Oceania- next part of our trip coming soon!
Sovereign (01293 731566, www.sovereign.com), the luxury specialist, has a week at Ikos Oceania from £1899 for a family of three on an all-inclusive basis. The price includes return flights from London Gatwick to Thessaloniki with easyjet and private resort transfers. All Sovereign customers also benefit from complimentary lounge access at No 1 Traveller Gatwick and the premium security lane, as well as a private cocktail on the beach and a farewell gift. Price based on departures 25 October 2015 with a saving of £411 per family.
It doesn't take me a lot to get emotional- I am very much a wear my heart on my sleeve type of person. If I am happy, you will know about it, if I am sad or angry you will know about it too. I find it hard to contain my emotions, good or bad. But like many other parents, having children has made me so much more emotional than I ever thought possible. It's such a hard thing to explain to someone who isn't a parent- how you can go from sheer frustration at your child or your parenting that day, to feelings of utter joy at just how proud of them you are. It's a complex web of emotions and love- unconditional love.
I of course have days where I am so tired at the end of it, just from the sheer exhaustion of parenting. Or days where I question my parenting- did I give them enough time? Did I shout unneccessarily? Mads is at a particularly 'needy' stage at the moment, it's a relatively new one- whereas before she was quite happy to have some independent play if I had tidying or jobs to do, she now constantly wants reassurance or for someone to play with her. Which of course I am happy to do the majority of the time, but sometimes I need to get things done. She also doesn't ever stop talking, which again is absolutely delightful, I love to hear her learning about the world and taking everything in, and I am so proud for raising such a chatty and confident little girl with her own opinions, but sometimes after a day of non stop questions, chatting, playing and the odd meltdown or terrible two tantrum thrown in from LL, by 7pm I really am ready for them to go to bed.
The half an hour before bedtime has always been one of my favourite parts of day to day parenting. There's something about hearing them squealing with joy in the bath, splashing each other and giggling away, that almost seems to put my over active mind at ease. It's like bathtime signals wind down mode, for them and for us, that we know that a little bit of quiet time is on the horizon, even if most nights one or both of us is usually working. The latest thing is for Mads to make 'patoonies' - basically she mixes a load of bath foam, shampoo and the like around in a cup and then offers it out to whoever wants to 'try' it. I have no idea what a patoonie actually is, but this made up concoction has fast become our new little tradition of bath time.
And then it's out the bath- LL first because Mads likes to stay in a bit longer. We wrap her up, her hair all wet and her eyelashes rimmed with water droplets after her big sister undoubtedly gave her a bit of a soaking. She always smell so delicious and I love to breathe in her clean, fresh smell- for a long time we have always said LL smells of honey, we have no idea why but we call her our little honey head. We snuggle and put on her pj's, before Mads comes out the bath, usually jumping on the bed and disturbing the few moments of peace. She gets herself dressed, after a few prompts from us, and we laugh and giggle non stop and chat about what we have done that day, or what things we have to look forward to.
And then comes the bedtime story, usually Mads choice, although if we had it her way we would get the same book every evening. We usually take it in turns to read it, sometimes Mads asks for Daddy and sometimes me depending on her mood. It's definitely my favourite part of the day, all snuggling together, Mads usually playing with one of our ears, LL cuddling whoever happens to be nearest to her. And all of a sudden it's just quiet and calm, and sometimes I can almost visibly hear myself relax, that we are on the home stretch. I love sitting there reading with my girls, and all the worries and stresses of the day instantly get forgotten. In that moment, I think shall we just snuggle here for a while longer, do they need to go to bed on time? But of course, I am not daft, and bedtime comes promptly after a minute or two of 'family cuddles', 'mama love' and 'dada love'.
The other day I sat up from our group cuddling session and just spent a few minutes staring at my three. They are both such a mixture of us, in both looks and personality, and these days it's a lot harder to know which parent they are likely to become attached to on any one day. For ages Mads was a Daddy's girl and LL was a Mummy's girl, but recently they seem to give each of us equal 'love' and time. I love to sit back and watch Mr E with them, nothing makes me prouder than watching them all together. I actually put this quote on my instagram account the other day and it sums up how I was feeling when I took this photo. 'Dads are most ordinary men turned on by love into heroes, adventurers, story-tellers, and singers of songs.' Pam Brown. And that totally sums up my husband, he is their playmate, their hero, their friend and above all he loves them unconditionally. It's a pretty special thing to be able to observe on a daily basis.
And then, just like that, it's into their room, Mads taking an age to climb the ladder up to the top bunk as she is a master in delay tactics, and LL looking really small in the bottom bunk as we barricade her with cushions so she can't quite realise that she can get out of her own accord yet. We give them each a kiss, tell them we love them, then the light goes out and it's time for bed. Except not always straight away at the moment as they are too busy chatting and causing mischief. I go and sit downstairs, listen to them clucking away like a pair of old hens, until eventually it goes quiet and they are fast asleep in the land of nod. And then it's time for a few hours of me time, except as any parent will know, it's not always me time, as there are jobs to do, work to be finished or washing to be put away. But still it's a rest. And I know it will all start up again the next morning and the one after that. I enjoy the peace but as I go up to my girl's room to check they are ok and fast asleep, I always, always want to take them out of their bed and into ours for a cuddle, or to wake them up and snuggle with them in their sleepy, half awake state.
Except I never do. As although I am emotional, I'm not totally crazy!
I'm away this week so my lovely friend Donna is very kindly hosting The Ordinary Moments on her blog- head over there to link up! Normal service will resume next week! :)
Also my blog has been shortlisted in the BritMums BIB awards in the 'Outstanding' category which was a massive shock. I am not very good at asking for these things but if you fancy voting for me I would really appreciate it. My category is right at the end and obviously my blog is Mummy Daddy Me! You can vote here.
April has been and gone in a flash as usual, I can't quite believe we are heading into May and into Spring time. Summer is definitely within our grasp now and I can't wait for the weather to be nicer and for us to enjoy lots of lazy days outside in the sunshine. We have even managed to squeeze in a few picnics already, although we have worn jumpers and coats.
It's been a funny old month here. We have mainly been adjusting to working alongside each other, with Mr E having almost completed a month of working for himself. So far it's gone great, I really love the flexibility of having him work for himself, plus on the day's the girls are at nursery and I work from home, it means that I have company. He makes me laugh non stop but we do get work done as well.
The other big news around here was that Mads unfortunately didn't get into her first or second choice school. I, like millions of parents up and down the country sat at midnight and refreshed the application screen hoping that we would have good news. To say I was upset was an understatement, but now I have calmed down, I am managing to see the positive in the situation. We have reapplied for a couple of schools a bit further away that have spaces left, so we are waiting until the end of May to find out whether we have been successful. Even if she does end up in the school that has given her a place, we will make the best of it I am sure.
Other than that, our month has passed us by in a blur of lazy weekends, busy ones and day to day life. I was lucky enough to attend a press trip last week to Greece, it was fantastic to go and meet a new group of people, plus of course sample the beautiful family friendly resort, and I will be writing it up next week. It was really strange to go somewhere like that without Mr E and the girl's, especially as I was away for four nights, I missed them a lot, but they had a great time up in Manchester seeing Mr E's side of the family. May is set to be a reasonably quiet one, bar we are away on a family holiday the first week of it.
For our photo's this month, I yet again left them till the last minute. It is partly because we haven't done anything particularly exciting to warrant getting the tripod out and taking a photo of the four of us, but next month I am hoping we will be able to be a little more organised. Still I didn't want to just take some at home again like last month, so yesterday I made us all traipse to our local country park to take them there. We actually took some pictures there for our Me and Mine photos almost two years ago, and it feels really strange to look back on them. I think we all look so much younger, obviously Mads and LL do but then LL was only five months, but I think Mr E and I do as well. The country park is really beautiful and holds lots of special memories for us as a family as well.
I think this is my new favourite photo of us all- I love how happy we look. Although I think I say that every month!
Mads face. She always crosses her eyes at the moment- thanks to whoever in our family taught her to do that!
Mads is wearing her 'nursery jeans' as we had just picked them up- they are the oldest, most worn things, but she insists on wearing them whenever she goes. Her teachers must think we don't buy them clothes, when that couldn't be further from the truth!
Love this one! :)
I had to include this even though it went 'wrong'. The sun suddenly came out which meant my camera settings were wrong and also LL was trying to escape from my arms. Which was funny enough, but then when I got home and looked at them I realised that Mr E had George Pig down his trousers, presumably looking after him so we didn't lose him. Seriously strange but amusing all the same!
This month I am sending you on over to Jenny's blog Lets Talk Mommy to have a little look. Jenny is one of my closest blog friends and an all round lovely lady. Her blog is full of love and family adventures so head over there to have a nosey!