Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Small acts, big impact.

Tomorrow a lot of children (and adults) will start opening windows on their advent calendars. For a lot of us that means a small chocolate treat and a larger on on the last day. The last few years I've bought Lego advent calenders and in the past I've filled the pockets of a felt christmas tree that proved trickier than I expected. Tiny cars and chocolate coins seemed to fit, but after a few days Brown Bear was onto me and said, "they're all the same thing." Oh well.

As I was sorting through baby clothes and toys today to donate to charity I realised that the run up to Christmas is busy for me, but not because of shopping or baking Christmas cake or puddings. I take this time to think of ways to give and donating clothes, food, toys and time are all part of this for me.

So I was delighted to see a 'kindness advent calendar' doing the rounds on Facebook. It suggests 24 acts of kindness you can do during the period of advent and they are mostly, easy, quick and cheap or free. Check it out - some of the ideas are so simple, yet lovely.

In the same spirit I'm going to share my annual 'do something good' list with you. I feel passionately that we can all do something postive and helpful - however small.

Donate toys: a lot of charities will accept toys at Christmas. Some will specify that they must be new, but others will ask that they are clean and in good condition. What a lovely way to regift loved toys that are no longer played with ? 

Be kind all day: this includes things like holding the door open, letting someone in front of you in traffic, popping your change into a donation box. Smile at people, even if you don't know them. Little things.

Rehome clothes: organisations that work with the homeless often ask for coats, jumpers, blankets at this time of year as the cold makes sleeping rough even harder. Clothing for men is often in demand, but women's clothes can also be taken. Ask if they need other items too such as toiletries or sanitary products. I've given paper cups and teabags to charities that run soup kitchens in the winter in addition to gloves, hats and scarves. 

Give blood: Ok that is a biggie, but it's really important. There is just as much need for blood products over the winter months, but due to holidays fewer people donate. If you can give blood please make an appointment to donate. I always joke that I only do it for the tea and biscuits afterwards - they do nice biscuits :)

Donate to a food bank: If you're doing the shopping can you add a few items to your basket or trolley to pop into the food donation box ? A lot of people rely on food donations to feed their families and anything you can give will make a difference. As well as longlife staple food items I like to pop in some treats like yummy biscuits or chocolate for children. 

Now this one is the hardest to do for a lot of people, but it really is worth it.

Listen to someone: I mean really listen. Put your phone away, sit down and take the time. Maybe have a cup of tea or a meal, but just have an honest conversation in which you give someone your full attention. If you can do this with your child, a parent, a neighbour who lives alone even better.

I hope you try some of these suggestions. Take your pick and if you'd like to share with me what you did I'd love to hear about it.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Winter fun for everyone

I love the winter time. I rock big knitwear, bobble hats, furry lined boots and seek out sparkly Christmas lights. Some of my favourite things to do as a family are during the winter and they're not even that pricey. Here are my top tips for fun stuff to do during the colder months. And no they're not all about Christmas !

Winter Wonderland is ten years old this year

Winter Wonderland has become a bit of a fixture in Hyde Park for years now. We've yet to go, but I've heard good things about it and it's always busy. The event takes over Hyde Park for weeks in the run up to Christmas and offers rides, ice skating and a Christmas market. It's free to go into, but there is a charge for the activities once you're inside and I'm reliably informed that you will have to queue for a while to go on anything so wrap up warm.

One of our new family traditions is a Christmas visit to Birdworld to see Santa. The boys enjoy it and it's really magical walking through the grotto to meet the big man and to check that Percy Penguin isn't napping on the job. We love it because you get to see some animals on the way into the grotto - including reindeer that I am assured are happy and well looked after - and the price includes a present for the children and a mince pie and mulled wine for adults. I know it's not in London, but it's not far so I've included it.

Oxford Street lights 

When I was a kid the big night of our year was when my parents would pile us all into the car to see the Christmas lights in London. This was before every town in the country had it's own big switch on with celebrities. It's still impressive and we take our boys to see all the lights near us and they look forward to seeing them every year.

You can name these lights on Regent's Street 

As a bonus we also used to go and see the seasonal window displays. The highlights for me were Selfridges, Dickens and Jones (remember them ?) and Libertys. We would get out of the car to ooh and aah at the windows of Harrods, Hamleys and occasionally we'd even get out at Trafalgar Square to see the fountains and special Norwegian Christmas tree. It's not an option to get out of a car and stroll any more - sadly. You can still make an evening of it if you are prepared to go on foot and I'd recommend the South Bank with it's winter market stalls and the view of all the lights along the Thames.

Fantasy windows from Oasis 

My personal favourite in the winter is ice skating and the amazing locations with ice rinks seems to increase every year. I've been to the Natural History Museum, Broadgate and Hampton Court Palace to skate and it's great fun. A long established rink at Somerset House is very popular and one of the new kids on the block is a rink next to the London Eye on the South Bank. You can buy packages that include a hot chocolate and skate hire so you can make a night of it ! I took Brown Bear a couple of years back and we booked a penguin to help him skate and had a hot chocolate afterwards, it was great fun. You do have to book a penguin in advance as they are limited in number and they also offer special sessions for toddlers and parents so you don't have to worry about professional show-offs mowing down your children.

Ice Skating in the shadow of dinosaurs 
If you are planning a winter evening out in London there is plenty to do and not all of it will cost money. I think we have some wonderful attractions and family friendly activities that are well worth taking the time to visit. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do. 

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

'tis the season for giving

I've been thinking about the values that we teach our children and one of the main reasons I share ideas for things to do with kids is to encourage others to do the same. A big part of our family life is giving to others. I want to raise my boys to be men who are valued members of society and whose worth is measured in more than monetary terms - not that there's anything wrong with that too of course. So, it's important that I lead by example and show them how being kind is important.

Recently we talked about how many toys they have and how they are so fortunate to get new gifts for birthdays and at Christmas. We agreed that the toys they no longer play with - only if they are in good condition - could be donated to other children who don't have much. The boys were very generous in their decisions to give things away and I almost had to hold them back from giving everything away. I posted on a local freecycle site and was contacted by someone from a local refugee charity that supports families in the local area. Blue Bear and I went on Monday with bags of children's shoes, toys., handbags and some clothes. We get to clear space and someone else gets to play with the toys and wear the shoes. Double bubble.

When we go food shopping we put a few extra things into the shop to donate to the food bank. At Christmas I like to include some treats like mince pies, chocolates, an advent calendar or two and some posh biscuits or crackers for cheese. Our local food bank also collect toys and clothes at Christmas to give to the families who rely on their support.

Every year the Metropolitan Police run a Christmas campaign to give presents to children who might otherwise not get anything. Last year 11,000 presents were given out so it is a big thing and worth taking part in. You can donate to one child or a few - it is entirely up to you how much you spend and last year we were given a lovely Christmas card from a police dog as a thank you. It's the little things that make me happy.

I'm sure I've mentioned before that blood donation is an incredible gift. If you are able to donate it's particularly important at this time of year as stocks run low during the winter months, but the demand for blood products does not. It doesn't take long to donate at all and you can make an appointment in advance. If you're a bit funny about needles just tell them when you arrive - they are really nice and want to make it as easy as possible for you. Once you've donated you get to have a drink and a snack - I love the tea and biscuits afterwards. Honestly if you can give blood I cannot express how important it is that you try.

Lastly, it's getting cold and there are charities that collect coats, blankets and clothing for people who are sleeping rough. If you are in London you can donate a coat at an allocated donation point until this Friday (18th Nov). If you have clothes you no longer wear that are in good condition there will be a charity that can take them. The Salvation Army in Croydon accept clothes for men and women and give them directly to people in need.

These are a few of the ways that we give. I hope that when my boys are all grown up they will still think about others and want to keep this family tradition going. I'd be so proud if they did. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Boxpark Croydon: My new exploration challenge

Look at how beautiful it is !
I took a walk this evening to explore Boxpark - a new venue in Croydon that opened last weekend. It is a phenomenon that started out in Shoreditch and has now come South of the river. I knew something was up when I saw a man with a top knot style hairdo a while back and have watched the rising interest in artisan coffee for years now. We've had our own Cronx brewery too and most recently a project took over all the walls in Croydon with street art that is frankly amazing. Boxpark, however, takes us to a whole new level of cool and I can see why. I mean look at the design of it for a start. How cool is that ?

You can get to Heathrow on that bus - seriously ! 
Unlike our East London counterpart this Boxpark is food, drink and music. There are not fashion outlets - so far. It's right next to East Croydon station and well served by plenty of public transport so if you've planned an after work drink or bite to eat you've got plenty of options for getting home afterwards. 

The perfect lighting for a first date

It was proper parky* tonight so there weren't so many outdoor diners / drinkers, but the outside seating is plentiful and well lit. Probably just right for first dates I reckon. As it is the outdoor spaces are taken up by smokers, but at least the design has incorporated plenty of greenery to counteract the container look. 

I know people who are slavering right now 

There are plenty of food places that already have a great reputation elsewhere and pride of location goes to Meat Liquor which pretty much dominates the upstairs of the Boxpark. Not my scene at all, but it was doing a roaring trade for a Wednesday evening. Mind you maybe Wednesday is the new (insert day of the week most associated with partying nowadays). 

Excellent motto 

I was impressed with how busy it was and yet not at all crowded. I'm sure this will be different at weekends when it's going to be heaving and with so many places to eat and drink it will attract a range of visitors. I've already scoped out all my dining plans for the weekend:

Friday - free Burritos at Chilangos with the kids before we go to watch the fireworks - yes please !!

Saturday - I'm trying to talk my lovely friend into coming with me. I think meat liquor will persuade her though

Sunday - Brunch at the Breakfast Club, by far my favourite venue for a late breakfast / early lunch. The kids have never been before so fingers crossed they enjoy it.

Monday - it's Hubbie's birthday so after parents' evening we're going to take a stroll down to Boxpark and see what takes his fancy.

I haven't seen this many seats since my uni exams ! 
There is so much to try that I've set myself a challenge - I'm dedicating the rest of this year to exploring the eateries and bars and will use it as leverage to get more people to visit Croydon. We are proper trendy now you know !! 

I'm going to be seeing a lot of this sign

* parky is colloquial for very, very cold indeed