Spy style obstacle course

What you get:

What you need:

  • string or wool
  • masking tape
  • a narrow space (the landing or the space down the side of your house are possibilities)

What to do:

Make a spiders web typ arrangement by taping the string onto the wall, wrapping around the banister, making use of pucture hooks…

Where I found this idea:

http://pinterest.com/pin/163114817723567277/

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15 hours in Geneva

Having driven past Geneva on way to the ski resort for may years we decided this year to go and have a look at the city itself.  Our 15 hours included a sleep.  Here’s what we found:

We loosely followed this walking tour.  The jet d’eau impressed and the walk around the English Garden to find the flower clock pleased us all.  We wandered a little further, admired some old buildings and the start of the River Rhone, then plunged into the Parc des Bastions.  It’s fair to say that by this point the children were in need of entertainment.  And we found it!  In the form of numerous over-sized chess boards and pieces.  The next 45 minutes were our most enjoyable in Geneva, passed in pursuit of check mate (and then a review of play options to enable the other player to win.)  The sun shone and we rather reluctantly tore ourselves from further games, had a quick look at the huge Mur des Reformateurs, wandered back into the old town, then went for a quick lunch before leaving for the ski resort.

We are glad we visited Geneva, but, my word, it’s expensive!  We stayed in a simple hotel in the old town, where we were luckily upgraded to a wonderful two bed apartment.  The location was fabulous and for our purposes it was perfect.  We ate simply – pizzas and sandwiches.  We’re still waiting for the credit card bill, but our estimates are for a total cost of about £450.

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Afternoon with friends in Battersea Park

Last time we went to Battersea Park was for the Affordable Art Fair about 10 years ago.  That’s now established in the cultural diary of the city (and is on again from 15-18 March 2012).  The park too is probably established as a weekend jaunt for local families, and for good reason.

But what makes it worth the congested drive up the A3 (which actually wasn’t so bad today!)?  In essence, there are a number of interesting focal points for the adults in the party and a fantastic adventure playground for the children.

But then, most of our afternoon was spent playing football, or with the kids playing hide and seek amongst bushes in the sub-tropical gardens.  There is a little slope by the Tea Terrace Kiosk where the children played with the ball for ages and the parents had hot drinks and a biscuit.

For children aged 5+ the adventure playground is fabulous.  The playground for younger children (right next door) is shiny and new.  The adventure playground is in great condition, but avoids shiny in the quest for adventure.  I’m too old to be sure, but I think it’s probably “cool”.  It’s also safe – one entrance (very high surrounding fences) and a number of stewards dotted around keeping an eye.  There’s another drinks kiosk just outside and picnic benches near the way in, to relax whilst the younger ones burn off what remains of their boundless energy.

Next time we will make it a day trip and visit the children’s zoo and the boating lake.  Our local friends told us the zoo is quite small, but you can spend a long time there.  It has animals like lemurs and meerkats and lots of play areas.

I expect for our day trip we will take a picnic (there are loads of benches in the park, and some are in shelters, should the weather let us down).  If that fails I’m told the cafe near the boating lake serves reasonably-priced basic fodder.

And the focal points if the grown ups need a little culture?  Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth scuptures, a Japanese pagoda and some interesting Festival of Britain architectural elements.

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Moshi Monsters in Bradford

Moshi Monsters are at the National Media Museum in Bradford this half term.  And it seems everyone knows.

We visited today.  The museum looks like it would ordinarily by very interesting and would hold the children’s attention for a few hours.

The Moshi Monsters activities sounded (on the Internet) like they would be great fun.

In reality, today the museum was a victim of its own success.  We arrived late morning.  Some of the activities were already fully booked for the day; others had 40 minute queues.  Normal exhibits were just too busy to enjoy (even compared to the Natural History Museum in London on a Sunday).  We left at midday with the intention of returning to see some of the photography galleries.  The queue to get in was then huge.

So we abandonned our plans and went bowling.  Options for lunch near the museum seemed limited, though we found a Starbucks by a pleasant enough square full of fountains.  I have a feeling (or at least an inexplicable hope) that Bradford has more to offer, but sadly we didn’t find it today.

I suspect the museum and the Moshi Monsters activities are very good.  But you need to plan your day in detail in advance and get there at opening time – 10am.

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Is there life on Mars?

Probably not, but the scientists at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire think there could well be life somewhere out there.

Given my daughter’s growing interest in stars and the solar system we thought we’d pop in to see the massive Lovell telescope up close. The grown-ups in the family had all seen it when taking off from Manchester Airport, but, astoundingly (it is only 6 miles from J18 or the M6!), none of us had ever been.

Never mind the big bang, my mind felt like it might explode within about 10 minutes of arriving.  The magnitude of the stats provided is frequently mind-blowing – how many thousand light years? How can a teaspoon of anything weigh 1,000 billion tonnes? (That’s a teaspoon of a pulsar, apparently.)

But, back to the children. They loved the science show. Essentially about our solar system, each planet was introduced and, in most cases there was a successful experiment to illustrate a particular aspect:

  • Mercury has no atmosphere – so we were shown the effect of a vacuum – which means falling objects hit Mercury with full force and it has lots of craters.
  • Venus has extremely high pressure – so an experiment which involves heating a can and then plunging it into water shows the effect the Venus atmosphere would have on a human body (not pleasant).
  • Some frozen carbon dioxide (dry ice) was shown converting straight into a gas to help us remember that’s what the poles of Mars are covered with.
  • A tornado in a bottle demonstrated the Earth-sized, 400+ year old storm on Jupiter.
  • A tin foil ball demonstrated that Saturn would float (if you could find a bath that was big enough).

The show took place next to a small interactive gallery, which had two highlights for the children:

  • A teepee shaped area where you can experience the sound of the big bang;
  • A ball based display where you can learn how black holes are orbited.

The café provided some refreshing tea and cakes (very nice and a good choice, despite us arriving quite late and it being quite busy). There was a children’s menu and the other food looked good too. There is some outdoor seating and an outdoor picnic area, though I imagine the café could get rather crowded at a busy lunchtime. Despite the good food, the highlight of the cafe was a display of clocks illustrating time in different parts of the universe.  I would say they’re worth a visit in the their own right!

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Paris with children

I was itching to take the children to Paris.  I know the city well; I used to live there.  We’d visited loads of times as a couple.  But children and Paris?  My husband thought my half term plan was madness!  I knew it could be hard work and I knew it risked being unrewarding.  The children were going to be tired after 6 weeks at school.  It had to be a holiday.  So this is what we did (or occasionally, should have done).

The main places we visited could all form a post in their own right.  See the bottom of this blog for a brief child-influenced comment!  Separate posts on some will follow.

For now, I want to focus on how we made Paris a family-friendly destination, whilst keeping the experience authentic.

  1. Most importantly, we stayed in an apartment.  Having agreed to stay in a part of Paris I didn’t know very well and which was a little off the beaten track – but not much – we considered two options – http://www.all-paris-apartments.com/en/paris-apartments/ref_3841/#reviews and http://www.i-escape.com/appartement-blanc/overview.  For no good reason we stayed in the first and it served us well.  Having done a number of city breaks with children in hotels it was nice for all the reasons that self-catering holidays are good for families:  nice to have some space; nice not to have two rooms on opposite sides of a hotel; nice to get up and shower and breakfast and play, all at the same time;  nice to eat in when the kids were too exhausted for a restaurant meal…  Like so many Parisian (/European) apartments the entrance was nerve-rackingly unpromising.   Once through the typically difficult to open front door, the accommodation was well-equipped and modern.  The apartment is within a 15 minute walk of 3 metro lines and right on the bus route for the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and many other top sights.  A couple of doors down was the patisserie/boulangerie, then a bar, across the road was a super-market.  At least 3 decent looking restaurants (we went to none) were close by.  On the Friday night I was kept awake by a neighbours party.  The rest of the family were fine!  On Saturday I feared a repeat, but all was silent.  I suspect we were unlucky and the minor disturbance was a one-off.
  2. We constantly reminded ourselves that this was going to be different from previous visits.  We found out about child-friendly destinations, without giving in to the temptation of the waterpark or the aquarium (although they did look fantastic!)
  3. We didn’t try to do too much.  We identified one key thing to do for each half day, or day, and then went with the flow.  The flow was sometimes supported by having identified a few fun rest points (e.g. Arenes de Lutece or Double Fond).  And going with the flow is pretty easy in Paris where there is always an open cafe nearby and where bistrot food is mostly good and a croque monsieur and chips is pretty much ubiquitous!
  4. We made the daily travel part of the adventure.  Sometimes we walked a little to avoid being underground too long.  That enabled us to use neighbourhood playparks that we would have otherwise missed.  When we walked about a mile underground at Chatelet-Les-Halles we made a game out of how many ticket barriers we went through before getting to the platform.  Taking the bus meant we saw the Louvre, Place de la Concorde and got a ride along the river.  (Most of the bus system uses electronic signs to tell you how long you are going to have to wait and where you are once you’re on the bus, making it easy to use even if you don’t speak the language or know the city.  The best way to pay for Parisian public transport is to buy “un carnet”; or actually one for the grown ups and one for the kids.  Un carnet is a pile of 10 tickets.  The saving isn’t huge, but the convenience is – you can use the tickets on most of the public transport and avoid queuing each time.)
  5. We avoided queuing with a little pre-holiday planning.  Guessing the queues for the Eiffel Tower would probably be enough to dampen anyone’s spirits we booked on-line in advance.  Knowing we wanted to go to a magic show, we reserved seats.  Even though, as it turned out, there was no need, it meant on the day we could turn up just minutes before the show started, safe in the knowledge that the children would not be disappointed.

These are the main places we visited:

  • Pompidou – go for the wonderful views, the enchanting and puzzling Gallerie des Enfants, or just for the intriguing external appearance and the wonderful Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle fountains just round the corner to the south.
  • Musee de la Musique – wonderful museum of musical instruments.  Lots of buttons to press and music to listen to.  Not as interactive and child-friendly as I had expected, but we were surprised to find that our children spent a good 90 minutes there before asking if we could go elsewhere.
  • la Geode – go for the amazing architecture (one of the world’s largest geodesic domes) and film experience, but the film will probably be in French (you are in France afterall!).
  • the Eiffel Tower – yep, fun, not much to add.  But don’t but a ticket to go all the way to the top.  Rumour has it that the lift from the middle to the top is often out of action, but getting a refund on a ticket to the top is squirmed out of on a technicality.  This was our experience.  20 Euros down the drain!
  • magic shows – go to Metamorphosis  for a fabulous show.  It will be mainly in French, but levitating looks the same in any language.  The main man will speak a bit of English (and other languages).  Expect to be teased about your “non-Frenchness”!  Go to Double Fond for a drink and a close up card trick or two.  Be prepared to request a trick at your table!
  • Sacre Coeur – go for the views over the city, the funicular train ride up the hill.  Expect to queue for the funicular longer than it would take to walk!  Be prepared for the over touristy, but (for me) still irresistable Place du Tertre.

And what will we do next time?  Find an apartment to rent in the north as close as possible to Parc de la Villette – an open area full of follies, wonderful playgrounds, gardens – and focus on Cite des Sciences et de L’Industrie and Cite des Enfants .

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Mommy Did It: Hungry Caterpillar Party

Mommy Huh

On Friday the 13th, we happily celebrated my son’s first birthday party. We had a small party to mark the occasion and a couple of super-simple DIY projects for decoration and party theme (Hungry Caterpillar). Remember to pin-it!

Hungry Caterpillar Balloons

Materials:

Balloons, Tape, Construction Paper, scissors

Instructions:

1. Inflate green balloons for the body and a large red one for the head. Also include a few smaller ones for the tip of the tail.

2. Secure to wall with tape and stagger to show a little squirmy movement.

3. Use construction paper for eyes and antennae.

Cost: Balloons $3.00 + Tape $1.00 + Construction Paper $1.00 = $5.00 for a super-cool decoration!

Hungry Caterpillar Cupcakes

Materials:

Cake mix, sugar-free icing, cupcake papers, cupcake pan, spatula, food coloring

Instructions:

1. Follow preparation instructions for cake mix.

2. Add cupcake papers to cupcake pan and add cake batter.

3. Follow baking…

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