Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Birthday Parties, some great tips ......

With 6 children I feel I have more than my share of birthday parties to organise. It is wonderful to watch children having a lovely time and enjoying all you have organised for them, however, after many years of different parties and different ages I find one thing in common at the end of them all......I am shattered!

Is this just me or does anyone else feel the same? We have a birthday a month through the summer, all the anticipation, build up and then ensuring everyone is safe and happy on the day really tires me out, I find a 10 mile run much less exhausting! 

There are however a few lessons I have learnt over the years which I can happily pass on to anyone facing the party worries.

Toddler Parties age 1 - 3

Parties in the early years are partly for the children and partly for friends and family! Keep the stress down with these simple pointers:

1. Ensure the parents stay too . At this age the children need heavy supervision and you will find you need the help and support of all the Mums and Dad's to ensure everyone is watched and playing safely.

2. Opt for a maximum of 2 hours, you will find this is long enough of having your Witt's about you and offering teas and wine for adults as well as the children's party food and entertainment. The other adults will help you but you will still feel you are responsible and they will look to you for what to do, which in itself is tiring.

2. Keep it simple, a simple garden party with trikes, picnic rugs and toys is plenty, or if it is winter just toys in the front room and a picnic table for the food.

3. If the thought of home is too scary book a village hall or soft play center, takes away some of the stress of home but does raise the price. If money is not a factor then you can take away more pressure with an entertainer, a good one really will keep a group happily entertained and take so much pressure away from you.
We have been lucky enough to have Coombe Mill for our party venue and fill in at least an hour with tractor rides to see the animals, wellies or sun hats depending on the weather!

All aboard and Mums too!
Parties age 4 - 6

 This can be a tricky age group, generally it is expected that the parents will drop and run and use the time a little like free child care! Children at this age need a bit more structure to a party and have expectations and ideas themselves.
1. I would recommend persuading a couple of Mums to stay and help you
2. Don't be put off the party at home cheap option, the children will have a wonderful time so long as you do a little planning.
3. Organise some games to play, musical statues, parse the parcel, musical bumps, keeping the balloon in the air, hide and seek etc are all old classics which still work well, but my advise (from experience) is don't make the children 'out'. Have a winner but avoid losers, everyone can be winners. Tears and tantrums are to be avoided and the birthday person is usually the worst!
4. Again hire a hall if you feel the house is too small or stressful, go for a garden party last minute if the weather is dry, children don't feel the cold like us adults and run around space is important. A bouncy castle can be fun or a water slide - simple piece of plastic on the end of a slide with water running down - simple, structured and 2 to 3 hours I found to be prefect at this age.

Felix on the water slide on his party in our garden
Again our tractor rides have still been a huge success for this age group, only our own children find it less exciting as it is so home from home for them, but showing off their farm knowledge to friends usually compensates along with a game of 'it' in the indoor play barn!

Parties age 7 - 10

Children age 7 to 10 are becoming more independent and like a party that reflects this. However I find a loose structure or activity keeps everyone focused, allows you to know what they are doing and where, which makes life less stressful. I have had "the mad hour" with this age range, charging round the house not realising they are as big and strong as they are, then discovering afterwards the broken bed slats etc.
1.Keep a rough structure and plan activities, but allow a bit of 'go with the flow' too.
2. Be careful with sleepovers. We have had some wild all in sleeping bags in the living room style parties. This is fine so long as you don't mind loosing a nights sleep, if you mind then keep it to a max of two for the sleepover, more and I guarantee they will be awake all night. Arrange collection from a sleepover by 10am the following morning, they will be tired and grouchy and this is hard enough to manage with your own children without managing others too!
3. For a day time party try an organised activity like swimming, zoo visit etc, less stress but can be pricey.
4. After school is an easy one, just a few hours and all the fun of a party on the actual day.

Painted gnomes and decorated
 biscuits ready to take home

5. Home activities which have worked well for me include, ceramic painting, anything from plates and mugs to fridge magnets, just buy the kits from craft shops or on line, and it is so much cheaper than the same thing at an organised venue. Baking simple large cookies (or buy them) and providing bowls of coloured icing and decorating toppings is another winner. These can then double up inplace of party bags for the children to take home, a great 2in1! If the weather is good then water guns and a sort of home grown lazer game with water guns is great fun, make sure it is in the last half an hour of the party so they don't hang around wet for too long, or pre-warn your guests to bring a water gun and change of clothes with them.

2.5.11 Just had our triplets 7th birthday party - I think this was the best yet with lots of the above activities and more all at Coombe Mill. Pictures and commentry just up on facebook, you can see the fun in the children's faces!!/media/set/fbx/?set=a.10150172544530256.316730.275217960255

Age 10 - 12

At this age we have tended to move from traditional parties to an activity and BBQ. A BBQ can make a good alternative to traditional party food at this age, simple sausages and burgers in buns, some fruit and birthday cake is actually less hastle than all the party food. Activites which have worked include go-carting (pricey) cinema, lazer tag, sport centre activities such as tramplining, football or swimming and beach parties. What ever they do at this age, my children have always ended back at Coombe Mill daring each other to swim in the river! Perhaps this is just a boy thing though, can't imagine my daughter opting for this one.

Age 13 upwards

I am just about to enter my first teenage party and happy to receive feedback and suggestions on this one! Popular parties my eldest has been to are iceskatting, disco, roller disco. Not at all sure what we are going to opt for, but its only a month away! As it is May it might be a beach BBQ and beach games but still to be decided, suggestions please.....!

8.5.11 update........

Thanks for your suggestions Jo, Ally went for paint balling at Big Dunks . All 8 teenagers had a great few hours followed by a BBQ at Coombe Mill, awesome cream cake as requested by Ally and much play (or is it 'hanging out at 13?) finishing with a water fight and soggy happy lads collected by not so impressed parents!
hungry lads!
Bespoke cake as requested!

I would love to have your thoughts and experiences of birthday parties. If you are on holiday with us for your child's birthday then do remember I make bespoke birthday cakes(they don't all ooze with cream - promise!), so just let me know when you book, or when you are here with age, name and flavour and I will make and deliver for your special day. Make sure Farmer Ted and Nick know in the morning too so the birthday king/queen can take advantage of  extra egg collection at the chickens and be our birthday tractor driver for the feed run!

Happy parties



Thursday, 24 March 2011

Dear Dairy 24th March. Children at Play.....

What a stunning week our guests are having at Coombe Mill, with temperatures up to 16 degrees in the middle of the day, March really doesn't get much better than this! What really warms my heart is seeing families out on the farm together and enjoying the grounds and play areas, children find it so easy to make friends, shame we gain inhibitions with age!

The daily tractor rides are such a great way for everyone to meet, children and parents alike, it is then such a simple step to say "hi" later in the day in the play areas. Before you know it the children are like best friends and the adults enjoying a good exchange of ideas and chat too while the children dash around them.

Even my own children, who definitely take Coombe Mill for granted, our enjoying their time out on the farm playing this week. It's great to see them mucking in with the guests and showing them all their secret places!
One of the great features of Coombe Mill is freedom to explore all of our 30 acres and visit the animals at any time of the day. Newly made friends can often be found exploring together and petting the animals. If they time it right they can catch me heading out to feed Domino her lunchtime bottle and help out, or spot a new lamb just born!

We welcome guests all year round come rain or shine, just have a look on our web site at our availability or simply call us and we can help match your family needs to the best property for you. Worth keeping an eye on our special offers too, we have some cracking spring deals up at the moment if you can get away to enjoy this wonderful spring weather.

If you have a child with a birthday while you are here do let us know. Birthday children are always first up to drive the tractor and I can make lovely bespoke cakes to order with candles all in (at £6 they beat the supermarkets and are much more heathy). One of our children, Theo, turned 9 in the week, he is stretching out his birthday as they all do.... a cake on his birthday after his first riding lesson on our new shetland pony to be followed by a party here on Sunday.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Dear Diary Sunday 20th March

Welcome to another wonderful sunny day at Coombe Mill.We have had such an eventful few days since my last post I have hardly had time to sleep!

Firstly our beautiful 3 alpacas arrived on Friday afternoon. They are just gorgeous and make the cutest of cooing noises to you. We are delighted at how friendly they are being led beautifully into the field on arriving and clearly intelligent as for their first feed run this morning they knew just where to congregate for breakfast! They are less shy than the deer and we were able to stroke Coffee this morning which was a real achievement as this was their first time seeing so many faces all fascinated with them. I am convinced that as the summer progresses they will become more and more familair with thier new home and realy enjoy thier morning visit from us all. They love a small piece of carrot too if you are visiting them during the day!

Our bookings are going from strength to strength this spring and we had our first busy changeover of the season yesterday. It felt so refreshing to have such a beautiful sunny day with some real warmth. The sheets dried in no time out on the washing line....
The spring warmth is making the grass shoot away, lovely for the animals to have some fresh grass again, not so good for poor old farmer Nick who is back out with the lawn mower again for the season!
The thing that really makes a Saturday changover all worth while is to see our newly arrived visitors out explorig the farm and discovering all that Coombe has to offer
Fortuately we have loads of daffodils on the farm right now as my children are endlessly bringing me bunches, I was worried they were desimating the farm but there are still plenty for all to enjoy and I hate to discourage their loving gustures, though I am running out of vases!
The children were even inspired to help Dad by washing the car yesterday afternoon, all good stuff except they managed to soak themselves in the process, rather deliberate I feel, and narrowly avoid placing our newly arriving guests in the firing line of the water hose!
Afternoon feed bottle time for Domino the lamb now, I wonder if I will find any helpers on the farm with my chores?

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Dear Diary Wednesday 16th March

The summer weather continues at Coombe Mill with clear blue skies and real warmth to the sun. Nick has chosen just the right day to bring in Ben the digger and begin to clear a path around our top field. The field, stretching from behind the cottages to the rabbits, is the largest we have, however the fencing is just so poor we have never used it for any of our animals which is a crying shame really. I have to confess to climbing to the top today in an endeavour to collect some pics to share and realizing that it is probably the first time in 8 years I have actually been up here! Shame on me, usually I stick to shouting to my children playing there from the confines of the garden that their dinner is on the table. Anyway it was well worth the climb and I shall be doing it more often, the view is amazing, I could see right across the cottages, the river, our animals over the river and up to nearly the top of St Breward, I was looking for the church tower but couldn't quite see that.
With 3 Alpacas arriving on Friday, a new Shetland pony last month and lots of pregnant goats, sheep, chickens and ducks and Dotty the pig, I think Nick is hoping to rotate the fields a bit more with this new one. Goodness knows how much it is going to cost to fence it is so vast, and there is talk of using it as 3 fields, so for that I read more expense - "oh deer, keep the bookings coming in Fiona" I muttered quietly to myself! That and worrying at some points that digger, driver and bank were all going to come tumbling down onto the lane, they seemed to work so close to the edge. In the end I was pleased to report only a few minor landslides which I sent Nick to clear!
Work went on till dusk but only 1/3rd of the field covered so its back to work we go in the morning!
Farmer Ted spend the day with paintbrush in the kitchen in Water Mill again after the feed run and I had a frustrating day sorting marketing changes and washing quick job with 8 of us! I was very glad of the excuse to come out and check up on the boys with my camera!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Dear Diary Tuesday 15th March 2011

The farm today - Tuesday 15th March

Why do I always end up writing this so late at night? I guess I can answer that quite is the only quiet minute of the day! We had another glorious spring day at up to 15% at one point, we are so very sheltered down here in the valley that we really do have our own micro climate. I always warn guests when they go a mile up the hill into the village they will need an extra layer! All this warm sunshine is really showing the farm off at its best with spring growth all around us - animals and plants! Farmer Nick has been busy in the orchard most of the day with stakes, rabbit deterrents and new planting. I think we have apples, pears, plums and cherries now, yet to see any fruit mind you, but you never know, this could be the first year! the daffodils are blooming and even the grass seed is beginning to take down on the recently re landscaped lodge path.

Wondering back from the orchard and looking across the river I could see 3 naughty goats on the loose. We knew Hudini could escape, but it appears she has taught her friends a trick or two! they were all having such a lovely time foraging along the banks of the river I didn't have the heart to try and put them back and left them to their business figuring they would return to the safety of their field and shelter at night.
Poor Farmer Ted drew the short straw on such a beautiful day and was to be found donkey deep (well not literally) in paint inside Water Mill. we are turning the property upside down again repainting and updating furniture and lighting in the rest of the house in the with the lovely modern transformation made to the living room and downstairs bedroom. Now the whole house will be in the same modern style in time for Easter - if I can get the sewing machine to work for my new curtains!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays: Dear Diary Monday 14th March 2011

Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays: Dear Diary Monday 14th March 2011: "Evening to all who choose to follow my chatter. Another action packed day which has disappeared in a blur! Again I am racing the clock....wo..."

Dear Diary Monday 14th March 2011

Evening to all who choose to follow my chatter. Another action packed day which has disappeared in a blur! Again I am racing the clock....would really like to see waking the dead in 15 mins, lamb is bleating in the kitchen for her evening bottle but on the positive side I have 5 out of 6 kids in beds with a night night kiss and a reasonable stab at the evenings homework!
I do so love sunny days. Why is it that when we only have a few properties filled with guests we have the best weather, then when we are at peak prices and full to bursting in August it poors with rain! Anyway I am ever the optimist and determined we are having hot sunshine this August so panic not if you have booked then, Mistic Meg Cambouropoulos has predicted good weather!
Anyway the highlight of my day has to be my afternoon stroll around the farm before the children came homef from school. The animals like me were lapping up the suns warmth in various stages of afternoon nap. I couldn't resist a few pics, they all looked so peaceful!
My excuse for the stroll, yes I need an excuse to drag me away from the computer, the house and daily chores, was to see Domino, our orphan lamb, who was spending her first day out with the other sheep and newborn lambs. She had an hour yesterday, but the children rescued her when the other sheep butted her on coming too close. Today we decided to let her tough it out for a few hours, but I just had to go and see how she was getting on. To my relief she seamed quite happy, a bit distant from the others but keen to become friends with them. She still ran over when I called and welcomed her bottle, only to act like a typical teenager afterwards, edging away from me and skipping back off to explore the field. I felt a little hurt at her lack of need for me but also very happy that she was so keen to intergrate with her own kind.

She is now safely tucked up in the kitchen for the night awaiting her last feed, but I am confident she will be ready to meet her new friends in the field again tomorrow.
Till tomorrow....keep following!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

The merits of children earning their pocket money

Should you give your children money each week, at what age? how much? on what bais? What do they and don't they have to pay for themsleves with it?

This is a a minefield of controversay which every parent will go through with their children at some stage. We all make our decsions based on very little guidance and a lot of peer presure from what others are doing. there is no right and wrong in this, we all just do what we feel is best. Would love to hear your views on the subject.

Just for the record ours get nothing without working for it. This may sound harsh but actually when you run a business like ours there are so many ways in which the children can help it actually makes it easy. Chores range from caring for the rabbits daily to manning reception, making kindling to sell and animal feed and of cause helping with changeover day stripping beds and putting on washing etc. As for how much, kindling starts at 25p per bundle they chop and tape up to £2.50 per week on the rabbits and up to the cleaners rates for cleaning a property to the full standard - only my eldest is up to this one and it takes him all day to clean a property as he is such a prefectionist - no good at all when we are busy! A day stripping the beds in summer and bagging up the laundry is £10. They are about age 10 before they can do this one.
What they are expected to buy with their money is also contentious, our eldest is saving to pay for a school skiing trip next year at £800 for which we have contributed £200. His friends apparently don't need to pay for themselves so it is a bit unfair, but so is life and we feel he is gaining good experience and appreciation of money by working for this goal. He can make the target but will need to work his summer on the farm and cleaning. Om the other hand our 6 year olds are thrilled when they earn a £1 and head straight for the village shop to work out how many sweets they can afford. Fortunatley they are well known there and the staff are very patient when they try to buy too much or claim they thought their 10p was a £1 coin!

Diary on Sunday 13th March

Collected our boys from their scouting adventure after no sleep, soaked from the rain, freezing, get the picture! Still they were high on adrenalin and talked over one another all the way home about the adventures of the night, which team won, who could and couldn't light thier fire, remember their knots etc. Needless to say within an hour of being home both were asleep!
Funniest thing was Felix waking at 4pm while I was cooking dinner and going to claim a bowl of cerial, swearing blind to me it was still the morning!
It was the most beautiful of spring days again. Perfect for the feedrun with our new guests for the week. Domino also made a guest appearance enjoying her first tractor ride!

Sadly I was unable to follow the feed run this morning as our youngest, Clio had her first tap and ballet exams. Gutted to be missing such a beautiful day we set of for the dance studio. It was smiles all round when she came out so hopefully it was all worth it - 2 weeks till we find out.
Chores on the farm in the afternoon and cooking super, clean plates all round and much retelling of scouting adventures and ballet moves!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Diary on Saturday 12th March

Morning to everyone. A diary of life on the farm seams like a good place to start my blog....or it did this morning. Can't tell you how much has happened since I started this first sentence and now it is 11pm. Managing a business, home and family with 6 children, should I really be surprised that all my ambitions to keep our facebook site, twitter and now blog upto date is a challenge? Well it works so long as I don't need too many hours sleep!

Anyway not really knowing the protocol of blogging I am going to throw order out of the window and just pick a few of the days highlights. We had one of those early spring days when you really start to feel some warmth in the sun. Domino, the orphan lamb, joined my husband and 2 of our chldren to feed the animals early doors.

Watching them all enjoing the morning chores I had one of those reflective moments, you know the ones, when you stand back and watch and think how lucky you are. A great sence of pride and thankfulness of our lovely children and souroundings washed over me.

A blur of tasks filled most of the day from cleaning properties, feeding chidren, showing in guests answering the phone, email and such like, however I did have another success moment with our 8 year old Theo who took his shetland pony out on our most successful ride around the farm yet, we managed to trot and walk with no pony naughty moments for the first time, poor Domino (the lamb who insisted on coming with us) was quite exhaused at the end and downed a huge bottle of milk before settling down for a quiet kip in the garden. Not quite sure what the newly arrived guests made of Theo and I with Dinky the pony and Domino the lamb troting past thier properties!

Sitting here now at nearly midnight I can just hear the pitter patter of rain on the roof, not sure if I will sleep tonight,our older 2 boys are out on a 12 mile adventure hike with the scouts. I tell them its all good boy stuff and to have fun, but feel a bit of a hypocrite when I then return home and worry about them! Guess that is just what Mums do.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Not sure what type of family Holiday to take? Read on......

Thinking about where to go on holiday this year with a young family? This is not an easy decision to make but probably the discussion of many a household over dinner. When you give up your precious time and dip into those savings you want to make sure what you come up with is going to be a real break for the whole family. Something for you, plenty for the children, practical with a baby and not too much on the pocket!

If this seams like an impossible task, take heart, the real holiday gems can be found closer than you think, a holiday in the UK could be just the ticket! Here in the UK there are some fantastic holiday spots such as The Lake District, Scotland, Devon and Cornwall to name but a few.

But what type of holiday to book….hotel, B&B, self catering or camping? All have their plus points…. Hotels can be great if you can afford a really good one, which specialises in children’s facilities, entertainment and meal times. Bed and Breakfast is more restricted with children as you loose the flexibility to come and go as you choose, but they are cheaper. Camping can be great fun, but probably best when the children are not too young. Self-catering can be a real winner for families from tiny babies upwards as you have the flexibility of home from home in a holiday location. But do look out for ones specialising in children and baby facilities and activities for maximum enjoyment for all. They really do exist without having to feel like you are in a holiday camp. Why not try a farm holiday or something with a pool, by the beach, play areas or if you are really lucky all of the above!  Another tip on self-catering is to look for accommodation where the owners have small children themselves and live on site, then you know they are going to understand your needs and be best placed to meet them!  Make sure there are plenty of free activities where you stay and that you are not expected to shell out every time you want to borrow a game or ride out on the tractor and check for babysitting, a night out alone can make it a real break at the end of the day for you as well!  

Great accommodation makes a real difference, but location is also important. This can be different for different families so take some time out to think about what really matters to you. Do you want a feeling of peace and countryside, be close to a beach, or river with a good country pub in walking distance or would you rather feel the buss of city life on the doorstep and a plentiful choice of cafes, bars and restaurants? How long a journey are your children (and you!) comfortable with? If a really long journey fills you with dread look at destinations closer to home, or arrange to travel in the evening or very early in the morning when the children are more likely to take a nap and you don’t need to stop so often. This can also avoid the traffic if you are heading to a popular spot in the height of summer.

So where to find these holiday gems, try looking on the web site for child friendly or baby friendly accommodation. You will be surprised at the choice on the web. If you find the list overwhelming try narrowing the list by adding more criteria, for example if you know the area of the country or county you would like put that into your search, or the type of accommodation and the facilities you would like, the more specific you become the more manageable the list becomes. Another good route is via mums chat rooms or facebook, Mums Net and Net Mums are great organisations full of Mums with young children who will happily share thier holiday experiences and recommendations giving a personal recommendation for you. There is a perfect holiday waiting for you, look out for the tips suggested in here! Good luck and happy holidays!!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Our holidays with a large young family.....

Our holiday winners and loosers from a family of 8! Who live in a wonderful holdiay farm already!

Our first holiday: Quack quack – oops!

I had erased this particular early holiday from my memory until Rachael, the TAMBA editor, encouraged me to drag it up for everyone’s benefit. At the time our eldest was just 6 and the triplets a few months old. We were desperate for to find an easy way to have a break from life and the business for a few days at a time and spend some quality family time together. In a moment of madness we decided that a caravan was the answer. The sensible thing would have been to book a few days away in a rented van, but no, we went the whole hog thinking we had holidays sorted and bought a caravan. Storage on the farm was simple enough, but actually getting it ready to go away was no 5 minute exercise and all my visions of happy children playing in a field while I watch sipping my wine all went out the window on our first outing. It drizzled! I was fed up with indoor card games in a confined space, trying to keep the space tidy and dry and carrying children to and from a shower block in the cold and soggy weather. That on top of the logistics of 3 mosses baskets on the floor at night, every one hearing everyone else waking up and precious little sleep causing fraying tempers. 3 nights was all we could take before packing up and returning home. I don’t even have a picture to mark the event! Needless to say 6 months down the line we conceded defeat and sold the van. Funnily enough, looking back I think it really could work for us all now that the children are older (age 6 – 12) but frankly I don’t think we will be attempting it again, one bitten and all that!

The gang playing in our holiday cottage

Looking up......
Apart from our relaxed visits to the grandparents, our only other real early holiday was a few nights just ½ hour from home in a little holiday cottage. We put it down to ‘competition shopping’ as a home from home type of holiday and it did work out for us. With 3 bedrooms, all modern facilities and space inside the cottage everyone was warm and relaxed despite the weather (again a bit mixed). I do have fond memories of silly things like playing peek-a-boo with the triplets from behind the coffee table, playing football in the communal gardens outside with our older children and a basic but adequate indoor play barn which used up those spare ½ an hour slots early evening for my husband while I cooked our dinner. The cottage was well placed for local attractions and we visited Lapper Valley, still a favourite family day out now.
Picnic in the woods while away with the grandparents a relaxing holiday for us!

On the back of this holiday we were determined to create an indoor play barn of our own at Coombe Mill, which is now a very popular feature with all our younger visitors.