Category Archives: days out

Woodland Park Zoo for Under 8’s

zoo offer

When I ask the girls where they would like to go, a popular response is the zoo.  In the UK we were members of Bristol Zoo and visited there regularly.  Having membership made our visits more relaxed, we didn’t have to run around trying to see every animal and if the children wanted to play in the playground all day that was fine too.

Woodland Park Zoo is more spacious than the zoo back home so we are able to see larger animals. Recently, we were invited to Woodland Park to see some of the activities available  in the Zoomazium  – a nature inspired play space for the under 8’s.  To be honest we have always avoided Zoomazium during previous visits, expecting it to be a large, noisy soft play.  I was pleasantly surprised however, to see a mix of play spaces and activities.  There is a designated space for toddlers, fully enclosed and safe, with a library  area to the side.  The children can also explore the cricket exhibit.

toddler play space
toddler play space
library area
library area
cricket exhibit
cricket exhibit

The play area for older children has rope bridges, places to climb and lots of little caves that are perfect for hide and seek.  There are also tables with toys for building, a stage area and a sensory area to explore.



Zoomazium is the perfect place to explore if you want to escape the heat (or cold) for a while but it is also a good starting point for your visit to the zoo.  Creature Feature occurs every morning at 10.30 and encourages children to get close to some of the smaller animals at the zoo and learn about them from zoo staff.  Our visitor was an armadillo.


My favourite Zoomazium offering was activity backpacks that the little ones can take with them around the zoo.  Each one has a different theme and they are packed with activities, toys, books, magnifiers and things to look out for during your visit.  After a lot of deliberation,the girls chose one each; the back yard and big cats.

zoomazium backpack

I love the design of the backpacks, they look so cool and we had lots of comments as we wandered around.  The backyard backpack had a number of activities to complete in the backyard of the Zoomazium or  when exploring the rest of the zoo.

Can you find these things?
Can you find these things?
“This feels smooth”

The big cats backpack was a good starting point for exploring the new Banyan Wilds exhibit.

finding big cat markings

tiger markings
I found a tiger.

Having the backpacks, encouraged us to take it slowly as the girls wanted to stop and take in the contents of their packs.



The squirrel puppet from the Backyard pack was a definite favourite and was a constant companion.

IMG_0802Completed activities can be traded for Nature points at Zoomazium’s Nature Exchange.  The points can be exchanged for interesting, rocks, fossils and natural materials on display.  Nature loving children can also create projects at home to earn additional points. Older children are not left out, there are activity sheets to suit all ages. My eldest chose a worksheet relating to the otter exhibit.

otter exhibit worksheetOur favourite part of the day was having the opportunity to feed animals.  Bird seed on sticks can be purchased for $1 and the birds fly down to feed from your hand.

Feeding the birds

The best experience of all though was getting close to the giraffes and hand feeding them. The keeper was great at encouraging the children to ask questions and it was a truly memorable experience for all that I will definitely do again.  Giraffe feeding is $5 per person and under 5’s go free with a paying adult.

giraffe feeding

A day at the zoo was perfect for my nature explorers.


Membership Offer

Zoo membership is perfect for families with young children. There are a number of membership options to suit different needs and admission is free for children under 3.

Right from the Start readers can benefit from a special offer.

Quote MOM15 at checkout to receive a 10% discount plus entry into a draw to win 2  giraffe feeding tickets and 2 tickets for a carousel ride.

Disclaimer:  Complimentary tickets for 4 people were received.  All opinions are my own and we were under no obligation to write about our visit.

Waiting for the Fish

dads gone fishing‘ Let’s just go camping for our Summer holiday this year’

Hold on a moment, did those words really come from my mouth?  Until my mid twenties I recoiled in horror at the thought of camping. After I left girl guide camp half way through the week because I hated it so much, I convinced myself that camping wasn’t for me. In truth, I didn’t hate it at all. A rumour that newcomers would be pushed in the cesspit if they didn’t pass initiation had worried me so much that I begged to go home.  After a few great camping trips as an adult, my views changed but I’d never have considered a camping trip for my main holiday.

A yearning to explore the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, good weather and the children’s eagerness to go camping, convinced me it was a good idea.  An 8- hour car journey with a canoe on top of the car, 3 young children, a dog and a heatwave; perhaps I had lost my mind?

Amazingly, the car journey was fine.  The first couple of hours were spent playing ‘would you rather….’ and guessing the names of characters from books or screen.  The rest of the journey we listened to cd’s of musicals and admired the view.

Our destination Curlew Lake State Park, chosen for it’s beauty, a place for the children to swim and for my husband and the girls to go fishing.  “Fishing!” I hear my 20- year-old self, with an irrational fear of fish exclaim, ” are you intent on sending me on the holiday from hell?”  Strangely none of those sentiments cross my mind as we set up the tent in a quiet corner of the campsite on the shore of the Lake.

curlew lake

Without a shop or a playground in sight, would the children be happy? For now the excitement of sleeping in a sleeping bag, cooking outside and trying to catch their first fish fuelled their enthusiasm.

They were eager to go to the beach to swim. I was amazed that we were the only people on the beach.  The ground wasn’t soft like the lake at home but filled with slippery algae.  It didn’t put them off.  They used the algae and stones to create patterns on the ground and then set up their own foot spa, spreading the algae over their feet and washing it off.

curlew lake

The Foot Spa
The Foot Spa

I sat and watched from a distance, joining in when they asked me too. At that moment I knew why this holiday was no longer my biggest nightmare. The children were immersed in the moment, playing, discovering and sharing. In the distance, my husband was on the lake in the canoe and I was here in a rare moment of quiet. This wasn’t one of those family holidays where we rushed to cram in every little experience.   I’m sure that these unhurried moments are the ones they will remember most.

There was a child went forth everyday,
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became.
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day, Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.


They found magic in the simple things.

Eeyore's bbq

Look I think Eeyore has been here

Maybe it’s his barbecue?

Really! Do you think so?

musing over a blade of grass
musing over a blade of grass
curlew lake
building sculptures

My eldest had big girl time with dad, paddling the canoe at sunrise. Nights weren’t the most restful we had ever had, with five people and a dog in the same tent but there are few things more peaceful than the middle of a lake in the early morning.

canoe on curlew lake

It didn’t take us long to understand the rhythms of nature; the time of day that the deer would wander down the hill to visit,  geese would fly across the lake, fish would start to bite or that darkness would fall.

Sometimes though, nature takes you by surprise.  One night, as we were snuggled in the porch of the tent telling stories, the poles holding the porch open, fell down. As if from nowhere,  the winds whipped up and tugged at the tent. Before we knew it dad and big sister had us zipped up inside while they battled against the wind and dust to secure the tent. I tried to drown out the rangers talk of trees blowing down, by telling the story of  ‘My Favourite Things’  from the ‘Sound of Music’ and singing.  Enraptured, the little ones soon forgot about the storm. They implored me to tell the story of ‘The Sound of Music’- the whole story, all 3 hours of it complete with every song. Thankfully the storm was short, the tent and trees survived and unlike my 11-year old self, I didn’t get the urge to run home.

One of the reasons for choosing Curlew Lake was the fishing, so in the early evenings we took the canoe out to explore the lake and try to catch fish.  The girls had only ever caught small fish and were eager to catch one they could eat. Our family trips in the canoe lacked the quiet and patience needed to catch anything of note.  However, on the last day their wish came true. Our neighbouring campers, who visit every year to fish, offered to take us out in their boat and help the girls to catch trout.  The fish came one after the other.

Here we go
Here we go
My first fish
My first fish

Then the fish got bigger

They were so proud of their catch.

After the holiday, fishing has become a regular pastime. When dad goes out on his own, the girls greet him eagerly to see if he has caught anything we can eat. Other times, we all go to the lake together and mix up fishing with swimming and playing.  On a recent trip, we explored the river bank , a place we probably would never have visited if it weren’t for fishing .  Watching the girls excitement at their discoveries and creating with sticks and stones was magical. We returned home with a pile of sticks and ideas for making things with them.  Moments like this are important for all of us. Resting our minds through daydreaming and play increases productivity and creativity says Daniel Levitin author of ‘The Organized Mind’. Without time for spontaneity, children lack the mental space to come up with new ideas and ways of doing things.

It makes a big splash. Plop!
It makes a big splash. Plop!
Drawing with sticks on rocks
Drawing with sticks on rocks
building a xylophone
building a xylophone
Let's see how many 'Y' sticks we can find.
Let’s see how many ‘Y’ sticks we can find.
Look what it can do.
Look what it can do.

As I looked out across the river at the jumping fish, the blue skies and the green trees, I could picture an old couple; man fishing, wife painting the landscape or writing in a notebook.  I suppose fishing isn’t so bad after all.  I’m happy to spend many more years waiting for the fish.

Fairy Houses in the Woods.

fairy houseLook I think someone has been building fairy houses in the trees!

Do you believe in fairies? On a quiet walk around Beaver Lake Park, we discovered that they had taken up residence. Had the fairies crafted their own houses or had someone else built them to entice them in? Either option was equally magical to a 3-year-old. Having recently finished our own fairy garden, she was desperate to build a house herself and ran to fetch her sister. We carefully tiptoed around the trees, discovering at least a dozen fairy houses and rooms.

Fairy Hogwarts
Complete with ledges for the fairies to climb on
Complete with ledges for the fairies to climb on
This one had a swing made from blades of grass and a piece of bark.
This was my favourite.
This was my favourite.

fairy bathroom
It took a while to find the perfect tree to build in, untouched but with interesting levels and holes.

This one had a nice hole to make into a cosy home.
This one had a nice hole to make into a cosy home.
fairy steps
Maybe I could build some steps to go up to this room.

Meanwhile on another tree, her sister was building a bridge to reach from one tree stump to the other.  We searched for the right sized piece of wood.

That's perfect.
That’s perfect.

They set to work making tables and benches, carefully scouring the area for the perfect materials.

furniturebuilding a fairy house

fairy house 3

They really wanted to stay but the night was drawing in and mummy was slowly being eaten alive by mosquitos. Every little girl knows that fairies come out at dusk and are afraid of humans. We needed to leave the woods quickly to give the fairies a chance to discover their new home. I wonder what type of fairy will choose to rest there?

Ideas for Learning Environments Inspired by Children’s Museum of Tacoma

I’d never heard of a Children’s Museum before I moved here but as I entered the door I was greeted by a little bit of play heaven. I think I was more excited than the girls.  My 9 -year-old remarked

It’s not really a museum is it?

True not in the traditional sense.

According to Wikipedia, Children’s museums are institutions that provide exhibits and programs to stimulate informal learning experiences for children. In contrast with traditional museums that typically have a hands-off policy regarding exhibits, children’s museums feature interactive exhibits that are designed to be manipulated by children. The theory behind such exhibits is that activity can be as educational as instruction, especially in early childhood.

In essence it’s like walking into a really well- resourced nursery or pre-school.  I loved that many of the exhibits used simple, cheap materials that could be replicated at home, like a blackboard with a pot of water and brushes.  I particularly like these; they would be a great addition to a child’s bedroom wall, garden fence or in a toddler room at nursery.

The water area was a huge hit with my youngest. My favourite was a water bath with a transparent window so that you could see what was happening under water.

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Behind the glass is an area for art based activities – musical instruments, painting, movement with ribbon sticks and scarves and drawing.   The metallic walls made it so easy to dry and display pictures. What a great idea for a messy play room.

There were 2 light tables in the space with very different activities, the girls chose to trace and draw.

light table with maps and plans

My eldest loved  den building best of all.  The smaller structures were not very stable so she negotiated with the other children in the space to create a big den together.

More building – drainpipes and gutters

drainpipes and gutters

I’m so glad we discovered Children’s Museums and I’m looking forward to visiting the others in the area and sharing more ideas.

Mount Ranier National Park and The Santa Express

I love the Winter holidays here.  There are long bank holidays on festivals we either don’t celebrate or have a quiet time at home because there are no family visits to pack in.  This gives us a lot of time to explore the area. The weather isn’t warm but there is so much to see and do here that looks beautiful in any weather.

For Thanksgiving weekend we took the family on a trip to Mount Ranier National Park and for a ride on Mount Ranier Scenic Railway ‘s Santa Express.

We entered the park at Longmire rather than the larger entrance at Paradise.  At Longmire there is a restaurant, a small gift shop and a museum (this wasn’t open).

The girls were very excited to find snow, every few feet my youngest would stoop down to pick it up.

Snow at mount ranier National Park

We then went for a short walk along the trail. My adventurous family hate to stick to the path, so soon we came across a river and we slid down the bank to see if we could get across.

My husband carried the little ones across but it wasn’t long before they were wading through the water themselves, just about managing to keep their clothes dry, even if their feet got a little wet. What a beautiful place it was, the wide expanse is so different from anything you get in the UK.  My husband (followed by the dog) soon practised his balancing act on a tree stump closely followed by my eldest.

mount ranier

The twilight was drawing in so we made our way back across to the path.  We walked back to the car holding hands as we felt it getting darker around us.  The girls were a little scared and a little excited to walk while it was getting dark but were reassured by the road nearby with its comforting lights.

The boots and socks were dried out overnight and we headed to Elbe for our train ride.  We gathered a few provisions in the local store.  I loved the sign explaining the demographics of Elbe  ‘population – not many’.

We soon saw the train arriving.

IMG_1354Mount Ranier Scenic Railway

Once the train departed the guard informed us that we could see Santa, we made our way through the many carriages trying hard not to fall and passing the many Christmas trees. Santa was in his grotto and the girls each had a nice gift and a candy cane.

santa collage

By the time we arrived back from Santa we had almost reached the mid-point of the journey. I have to admit I was a little disappointed by the views. I expected stunning mountain views but instead we saw forest, farms and rivers. The girls watched out for wildlife whilst playing with their new toys.
mount ranier scenic railway

The train ride lasted around 2 hours which seemed to pass very quickly. A lovely start to our Christmas festivities. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Mount Ranier when the weather is warmer.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

8 Things a Toddler Can Learn From Playing Golf.

willows run put put courseToday I met with a group of mums and their toddlers to play golf at the pitch and put, Willows Road Golf Course. All of the children were new to golf and most of the children were below the age of 2.  My girls had a brilliant time – my 4-year-old even asked if she could come back tomorrow.

Before 11am under 12’s can play the 18 hole pitch and put for $5. The beautiful setting meant that my 2-year-old, who lost interest after a few holes had plenty to keep her occupied.

There were lots of opportunities for learning too:

  • Number recognition as we moved around the holes
  • Recognising colours – who has the red ball? What colour flag do we have this time?
  • Reading signs – Please rake your footprints, keep on the path.
  • Gross motor skills – how do you hold the club? You need to hit it hard to get it up hill.  What is the best way to get it in the hole?
  • Counting – how many shots did you take that time?
  • Writing – filling out a score card.
  • Vocabulary – What is the stick called again? I’m in the bunker.
  • Turn- taking and awareness of others.

We’ll definitely be doing it again, a great way to spend a sunny morning.

Turning 40 – Aging Well? Comparing Photoshoots 10 years on.

When I turned 30 a friend bought me a photo shoot as a gift.  The photos were stunning and  I’ve always kept one on my wall as inspiration for how I would like to look when I had finally finished my childbearing days.

When I was 30 I felt pretty good about the way I looked, I had just got engaged, was going to the gym regularly, eating healthily and was happy.  More recently however I have come to the conclusion that I have always been too self critical and never really accepted how amazing I looked.

This year I turned 40.  As clichéd as it is, I see this as a turning point.  I don’t want to have anymore children so I now have the opportunity to get my body back in shape, to build a career and to become me again.  I have just returned from a photo shoot for my 40th birthday. In the past 10 years I’ve had 3 kids and 2 miscarriages, I’ve got more wrinkles and spend a lot less time on looking good.  I rarely get a haircut and lots of my clothes are past their sell by date.  However, I have finally stopped beating myself up for not being as slim as I was in my 20’s. For the first time in a very long time I feel good about the way I look.  I think for a 40 year old with 3 kids, the youngest of whom is only 9 months , I look pretty damn good. 

I kept the cat suit from the first photo shoot – I never really believed I would ever be able to wear it again, but today I proved myself wrong.  Ok, I’m not quite as slim as 10 years ago and I did need a bit of help from some Bridget Jones pants but I did it and I think I look pretty good .

So here are some of the photos from my 30th


And the one’s I had taken today proving we can still look fabulous at 40

For anyone who wants a special gift for a special birthday I can highly recommend New ID Studios for a makeover photo shoot.  The shoot includes a hair wash, cut and style, makeup and the photoshoot. A lovely day out and a great way to boost your self esteem.