Stuck in a Cold, Intermittently Snowy Rut

I know, I know. I restarted my blog with a single post in December, then vanished off the face of the earth.

We travelled to England for our every-other-year (what do we call that? Is it biannual? Biennial? Answers on a postcard/in the comments pretty please) Christmas holiday, and I decided to leave my blog until we returned – hopefully, with a lovely, full list of things to blog about.

Well, things never seem to go how you want them to, do they. Oh, sure, I’ve got a fantastical long list of blog subjects (which I will post in the upcoming weeks, I assure you), but I haven’t been able to sit on my sofa and talk about them, just yet. Why, you may ask?

Well, because we’re still stuck here. Without going into too much detail, we’re playing a waiting game with South African home affairs, and we can’t go home just yet. We don’t even know when we will be able to – nobody can tell us.

My mother in law (retired primary school teacher) is homeschooling Stevie. We are trying to keep them outside, playing, for the rest of the day, but it’s very difficult. They constantly want to return home, as do we. We miss our dogs! Stevie asks at least once a day, when she can go to big school (she’s supposed to have started Crawford 3 weeks ago).

This is not a post to moan or complain – just an information post, for those who may have assumed I’d vanished. We’re still here; we’re still just about hanging on. Our sanity is just about still intact. But, my word, I have never known homesickness like this!

World Cup Fever

We’re a good, old-fashioned English family at heart. I was brought up on weekends in my grandparents’ house, watching football (or cricket, or golf, or snooker – but never rugby. Grandpa didn’t like rugby) on the television, rooting for whoever my dad rooted for, but knowing that, in this South Mancunian family, Manchester United were kings. Unless you’re my grandpa, in which case he supports Liverpool (no idea, either. Some say he did it on purpose to annoy my now-late Dad!)

I went to matches a few times with my dad, and since Old Trafford was a mere 10 minute drive from where I grew up, it was a very large part of my childhood. And, who am I kidding, United are still a big part of my life, now!

Pete grew up in Leeds, watching matches at Elland Road with his dad and Pops. However, when I met him, his love affair with the club was dying. After a horrific first part of the new Millenium, Leeds United’s fortunes have never quite improved, and, since Pete lived in Islington for some years, he became a localised Arsenal fan. When our children were born, I agreed Pete could ‘have’ their football teams, and, since Stevie was born in Islington, they are Arsenal fans, too.

At the end of this week, for anyone with their head underground, the World Cup starts. For the last two world cups, I’ve been extremely excited and buzzing with World Cup fever. Obviously, with 2010 being in South Africa (where just my parents and youngest sister lived, at the time) that was enormous excitement. Then, because the last one was Brazil, home of possibly the best footballing nation ever, that was also reason to celebrate (and get very drunk, as Raheem Sterling’s goal-not-goal in our opening game against Italy was a false starter). England always do terribly, but when you’re from such a big footballing family, it’s fun just to see the spectacle.

This year, I haven’t felt that excitement. Russia does have a terrible reputation for football hooliganism although they have been cracking down on this. But, primarily, having two small children this time (I fell pregnant with Stevie halfway through the World Cup 2014) I haven’t quite felt the same level of glee – I won’t be having spontaneous drinking sessions for the 1 o’clock kick-offs, and my kids have to be in bed at 7pm, which is the KO time for a lot of the matches.

So how to rectify this? Well, thankfully, Sky Sports have an app which updates in real time, which will be wonderful for when I’m in putting the girls to bed – as will the DStv Now app. Thankfully, our local, child-friendly places have televisions to show the daytime matches. And, for a whole 10 days, we will be in the UK on holiday! Which means long, lighter evenings and later bedtimes for the girls, which, in turn, means more football-watching time for Mummy and Daddy!

As for who will win? My money’s on France to sneak up and surprise everyone. Sorry for not being patriotic, but England, I don’t think football is coming home, this year (although we have a lot of future potential)!

The Great Christmas Tree Debate

Today is the 27th November. I know this, because that means, in 3 days’ time, it will officially be DECEMBER.

Obviously December is exciting for us, this year, for more than one reason. And my poor little unborn child is, unfortunately, going to have to live with sharing his/her birthday with Christmas for the rest of his/her life. But, that won’t stop the rest of the family getting excited.

And, yesterday, I caved. I gave in, I succumbed – I let the two over-excitable buggers put up the Christmas tree. A whole month before Christmas. It’s a travesty.

When I was a kid, the rules were that we got my sister’s birthday out of the way (12th December) and then, only then, could we put up the Christmas tree. Which is understandable – and we’ll probably, one day, have to implement a similar rule (unless this baby comes in its 40th week, in which case – sorry for you, kiddo). But the longer time went on, and the older we, the kids, got, the earlier we were allowed to sort the tree. And the tinsel. And the mini decorative trees. And the dangling, icicle lights from the roof (very, very popular in England, I’ll have you know).

So the new rule became the 1st December. And that is a rule I’ve tried to stick by since the ripe old age of 17, when I became a home owner myself. On years when we spent Christmas here in South Africa, my tiny, mini, hot pink and sparkly tree would be our Christmas companion until we flew. I had a couple of real ones, but when Pete and I moved in together, we spent one Christmas with his family in Leeds and went all out. But never, and I mean NEVER, before the 1st December.

This was our amazing, real Christmas tree one year in London.

Cue motherhood. Cue Stevie’s school already hanging all their decorations. Elf on the Shelf started 2 and a half weeks ago. Every shop we go into, she sees “Christmas ‘dations” as soon as we walk in the door. She’s been opening the decoration drawer since Hallowe’en. And yesterday morning, when I woke up, something came over me. And I decided that we could do the Christmas tree.

We popped on Now That’s What I Call Christmas (note to anyone – this edition is the worst Christmas album, ever), painstakingly built the rather enormous, fake tree, and that was that. We’re seriously lacking enough Christmas lights for my liking, and we could do with some more baubles, but all of a sudden, my house looks so festive. And I like it! It twinkled away in the corner while we watched telly after Stevie’s bedtime, and she got so excited to see it again this morning.

I really wanted to watch Love, Actually last night, but our Blu-Ray player decided to break 3 days ago. Now on to that problem…

The Most Magical Place in the World

I’ve been to both DisneyLand and DisneyWorld, but nothing can prepare you to seeing Disney through the eyes of a child.

Disney in Florida is separated into multiple parks, but the ‘main’ park, the one we all think of a DisneyWorld, is the Magic Kingdom. Called ‘the Most Magical Place on Earth,’ it’s where a giant Sleeping Beauty castle sits centre stage, surrounded by leaping water fountains, performing dancers and rides – all the rides, for all ages (but sadly not many for pregnant women).

Yes, they have badges

There was a small faff on entry, so Stevie and I were waved through on our own. She gazed around in wonderment as she took it all in – the music pipes non-stop and there are people everywhere. Then she spotted Pluto. Her little face beamed and we decided to get in line, autograph in hand, to see the ‘Woo Woo,’ as she calls him. My little heart broke – she was so excited. But then she saw the end of the parade while we were waiting in line, and there were Mickey and Minnie Mouse. For two whole weeks leading up to this holiday, all Stevie had wanted to do was see Minnie Mouse. And here she was. Well, my hormonal, pregnant self couldn’t take it. I burst into tears as she shouted ‘MINNIE MOUSE!’ I was finished. Then Pete wandered over and burst out laughing, as I had tears of sheer happiness streaming down my face. I’m not usually one to gush, but it was pretty magical. Disney through the eyes of a child is AMAZING!

We spent the rest of the day running in and out of water displays and going on rides – well I didn’t go on rides, but Stevie certainly did. She definitely takes after Mummy and Daddy, enjoying the Rocky Mountain Railroad (a mini rollercoaster) so much that she asked for a second go. Yes, Disney is expensive and there tend to be massive queues (we were lucky, though, in that we went just out of peak season). Then we actually met Stevie’s idol – Minnie herself. She was made up, and she hasn’t stopped talking about it since. She also got to watch a show with Anna and Elsa, her second favourites, and met Buzz Lightyear.

I trudged around like a good little tourist Mummy, having an absolute ball – BUT I would not recommend doing Disney at 7 months pregnant. There’s a lot of walking around and it’s very hot – I definitely don’t regret it, but I was exhausted for days.

To round off the day, we went for an amazing dinner at the California Grill, an amazing fine dining restaurant at the top of the Contemporary Resort, one of Disney’s flagship hotels. Eating dinner whilst watching the sun set over the lake was lovely! Our meals were beautiful, and my word were we ready for them, but the highlight was the children’s menu. For context, when eating out we usually order Stevie the smallest fillet steak, medium rare, and we finish what she doesn’t. Therefore, no wastage – and there are always doggy bags! But here, Stevie had a wedge salad starter (two lettuce quarters – perfect for our leaf-lover!) and then a kiddy fillet steak which was a perfect, mini version of Daddy’s. The pictures don’t do it justice.

If, unlike us, you don’t have a small child who needs sleep by latest 9 o’clock, then guests are permitted on the balconies to watch the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT fireworks after dark.

Magic Kingdom entry prices are $113 per adult for one day entry into this park only, and $108 for a child. However, for a ‘park hopper’ pass (including all parks in one day) it’s $173 for adults and $167 per child.

A special thank you to our friends at The Crown and Crest in EPCoT, who helped with our entry into Magic Kingdom. They do family crests on a plaque while you wait! Always worth a visit – ask for Pete or Bev and tell them where you heard about them!

Toddler on the Beach

I love the beach. I always have done – I’m not saying for a second that I’ll turn down a day relaxing by the pool, but I will JUMP at the chance to go to the beach.

When we were planning this trip to Florida, Pete and I spoke about trying to cram in a day on Clearwater beach. Stevie could run around and go crazy in the sand, Mummy would get to relax for a bit and Daddy could be ‘cool dad’ in the sea. However, since we’re with family, they decided that the two-hour drive was too long for a day, and FIL very kindly booked us all in for a night at our regular hotel, the Sheraton. Pete and I had our ‘babymoon’ here (when I was pregnant with Monks, funnily enough) and we love it.

So off we trotted. For anyone who doesn’t know, Clearwater is a barrier island with 4km (told you the beach was big) of white, sandy beach. They’ve regularly been voted as one of the top beaches in the US, and with good reason. The waters are warm and clear, and dolphins and stingrays are common (we even saw a couple of fins on our first day – not shark fins, but dolphins coming up for air!).

We unpacked and had the entire afternoon, from 11.30am until about 3pm, relaxing in the sand. The usual Florida wind and rain picked up then, so we retreated to the pool area and spent the next hour and a half there. The Sheraton is amazing for kids – they have private beach rental and wifi on the beach for hotel guests, a golf cart to take people the 300m to and from the sea, and the pool is directly on the beach itself. There is one huge main pool, with pool floats and noodles, a kids pool 30cm deep, and a hot tub. There’s also a naughty little tiki bar – of course this time I only had the mocktails, but I can speak from past experience that the piña coladas are out of this world.

For dinner, we trekked across to the mainland (Clearwater, as opposed to Clearwater Beach) to the Island Way Grill. Pete and I have eaten here every time we’ve visited, and I have never had a bad meal. They have a full kiddies’ menu and bring pencils and colouring paper to the table, which is always a bonus! Stevie had what was probably her fourth fillet steak (medium rare) in a row and was satisfied.

We had a beach morning again the next morning, then headed back to Orlando. I wish our beach trip could’ve been longer – but then I always do! But for anyone wondering or worrying about a decent holiday with a toddler – try not to overthink it, and book a simple room or Airbnb on a nice, wide beach (we have lots in SA) and let the beach entertain the family.

The Clearwater Tourist Board has lots of information about the best places to stay and be entertained in the area.

We always stay at the Sheraton Sand Key on Clearwater Beach, where a standard room is available from $267 per night at current rates.