A family holiday to Costa Rica

In February we went to Costa Rica for two weeks with our 4 year old son Huxley and our one year old daughter California. Costa Rica had always been on our ‘bucket list’ but it had kind of been pushed to the back of our minds on the assumption that it would always be quite expensive. However, casually surfing Skyscanner one day, I came across an UNREAL deal on direct flights to Liberia with TUI. We managed to get direct flights for all four of us for less than £1,200 return for two weeks. Insane right?!? We figured we’d be completely crazy to let this opportunity slide so we bit the bullet and went for it. (Not to mention, anyone that knows anything about Huxley will know that animals are his absolute top priority in life and so visiting what is basically one giant natural zoo is pretty much a dream come true for him). After studying the map and researching some of the best areas to visit, we decided that a trip around the whole of Costa Rica might prove a bit much with two small children and two short weeks so we decided to stick to the Nicoya Peninsula which is super close to Liberia and where a lot of the best surf is anyway. (The Instagram account Sambatothesea is amazing and is great for providing maximum Costa Rican wanderlust!)

Sunrise in Tamarindo Costa Rica

With only 23 days until we were due to depart we quickly cobbled together some hotel and Airbnb bookings and secured ourselves an epic hire car (which basically HAS to be a 4×4 otherwise you’ll never survive!). We even had an extremely panicky moment a few days before we left with one of our Airbnb bookings cancelling at the last minute but thankfully in the end I think we ended up staying somewhere nicer than we’d originally booked anyway so you know, silver linings!

We started our stay with a two-night stay in Tamarindo, the ‘tourist hub’ of the Nicoya Peninsula. We had been warned that Tamarindo would be brash, noisy and touristy so braced ourselves for the worst, expecting a full-blown tacky Costa Del Sol experience, but it was definitely way more toned down than that and actually, when travelling with kids, it’s quite nice to have a touch of slightly Western familiarity while you get used to your new surroundings. I don’t remember seeing any recognisable chain restaurants (apart from maybe one Subway?) but there were several upmarket pizza restaurants, fancy yoga studios, expansive surf shops, hipster-looking coffee shops, typical touristy trinket shops and plenty of beach bars that charged more than average for drinks.

Downtown Tamarindo, Costa Rica

We stayed at Hotel Nahua which was £148 for 2 nights and we LOVED it. The lady that runs it is super friendly and as it’s a little tucked away from the main drag we didn’t have any trouble with nighttime noise (or maybe we did but the jetlag had just knocked us out!)

Hotel Nahua, Tamarindo, Costa Rica

We spent our (very early!) mornings watching the pelicans diving into the sea for fish while the sun rose before eating plates of gallo pinto (the national dish of rice and beans – sometimes with scrambled egg and avocado) and drinking freshly squeezed juices. It was far too hot to sit on the beach during the day so we’d hide out in the cafe or head back to the hotel for a little siesta. While we were there we caught (a very brief!) sight of our first howler monkey and plenty of black vultures circling the overflowing bins! We’d highly recommend La Bodega for food, which luckily for us was right outside our hotel! We also enjoyed Green Papaya with it’s quirky bar swings (queues can be hefty in the evenings!), The Garden Cafe, La Oveja Negra and Sprout Cafe.

La Bodega, Tamarindo, Costa Rica

After leaving Tamarindo, our next destination was Nosara, a beautiful sleepy community full of laid-back surfers and chilled yoga enthusiasts. While we were still in the UK, we’d discovered a beach bar on Instagram called Lola’s at Playa Avellanas, that looked amazing and even had it’s own enormous pig that they allowed to run free on the beach and swim in the sea so we decided to stop there on the way down. We’d heard people saying before about the condition of the roads in Costa Rica but we naively assumed that they’d been exaggerating. They weren’t. Google reckons Lola’s is a 38 minute drive from Tamarindo, which may be true if you were driving on a paved highway, but this was a truly bone-crunching drive down pot-holed dirt roads in the middle of nowhere. We only passed through one or two sections that could possibly have passed as being described as a ‘town’ but definitely looked deserted and we were starting to get a bit worried about the elaborate route that we had planned for the rest of our trip. (Important life lesson: always make sure you have plenty of water & snacks!). As it turned out, Lola’s wasn’t really our scene but we spent a good hour or so there stretching our legs and mentally preparing ourselves for the rest of the drive down to Nosara (another two hours away!)

We arrived at Nosara to discover that although the entire area is known as ‘Nosara’, we were actually staying in Playa Guiones, which is located directly on the coast. (Side note: as well as dreadful road conditions, the signposting in Costa Rica isn’t brilliant either so it’s not always easy to find where you’re going.) We stopped in Playa Pelada for some ice cream at Sekreet Spot, a much needed treat after that long drive and found shelter from the midday heat in a cool undercover ‘square’ with some shops and a play area so the kids could burn off some energy. Our Airbnb was the last minute one we’d booked after the cancellation we had and it was one room with a tiny bathroom and a lovely outdoor area with hammocks and a huge palapa. Although the accommodation wasn’t ideal – we had to store our milk in the middle of the sink filled with water to stop the ants getting it – it actually ended up being a really amazing stay and at £142 for 3 nights it was hard to be disappointed. The location was fantastic, really close to the shops and restaurants and a short 10-minute walk down to the beach. We really, really loved the vibe in Nosara and we’d definitely love to go back one day. There’s an incredible super swanky hotel there called The Harmony Hotel which is owned by the heir to the Johnson & Johnson empire and it’s a little piece of chilled out paradise. We went for breakfast one day and it was so lovely and nowhere near as expensive as we thought it would be. We’d also recommend the hole-in-the-wall pizza place in Playa Pelada, Beach Dog Cafe (which is also an awesome boutique hostel) and the surf-shop-come-coffee-shop Olo Alaia. Also, the clothing store Love Nosara is basically an Instagrammers dream.

Playa Guiones, Nosara, Costa Rica
Family selfie at Patitos in Nosara, Costa Rica

The only downside of Playa Guiones for us was the limited shade available on the beach. This meant that we kept our beach visits to early morning and late afternoon and spent most of our days mooching around the shops, slurping more freshly squeezed juices and chilling in the hammocks. Lots of chilling in the hammocks. It should be noted that if you are one of those parents who hate their kids getting dirty and messy that the sand at Playa Guiones is black(ish) so your kids get filthy immediately! One evening I spotted a huge whale way off in the distance on the horizon and I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited in my life.

Another weird thing we had noticed was that nearly all the restaurants up our end of town (the Cafe de Paris end) shut extremely early so there was one night where we really struggled to find something to eat without having to get the kids in the car – especially as we had no fridge in our room. Thankfully the Organico Deli Market just up the road was open and I managed to cobble together some random elements (hummus, tortilla chips, empanadas, salad wrap & juice) and had a makeshift picnic under the stars which was actually pretty fun.

Baby at Playa Guiones, Nosara, Costa Rica

Playa Guiones beach, Nosara, Costa Rica

We were a little sad to leave Nosara and wondered if our next destination, Santa Teresa, would meet our expectations in the same way. The drive was a whopping five hour trip which made us a little nervous but thankfully, just before we left, we spoke to an American who had been living in Nosara for many years. We had been planning to take the coastal road down to Nosara as Google reckoned it was an hour faster and we imagined it would be more scenic. However, the guy we spoke to said we could end up driving through the sea, being stranded on the beach and waiting for the tides to change on the coastal road and advised us to drive back inland and take the main highway (21) down to Santa Teresa. Geographically, it’s a pretty massive detour and kind of threw the flow of our road trip out the window as it meant we’d be driving through our final, southern most destination Montezuma in order to get back round up the coast to Santa Teresa but neither of us fancied being washed out to sea in the hire car so we took the guys advice. In all honesty, it was a bit of a relief because the 21 was actually quite highway-like for the large majority of our drive. It was really, really fun to drive through all the towns and see the locals getting on with day to day life. Everything out there seemed so lush and green, even in the depths of the dry season.

Road in Costa Rica

After about 3 hours we stopped in Paquera for some lunch, a nice cold juice and to stretch our legs and then bundled back in the car to continue our drive. There’s not a lot in Paquera itself but it has a ferry terminal which people use to get to and from Puntarenas

Juice in Paquera

The roads definitely went downhill from there and got so ridiculously bumpy on the drive down into Santa Teresa that we couldn’t help but laugh as we all bounced about comically at 10mph. Santa Teresa has a distinctly different vibe to Nosara. I’m pretty sure we were the oldest people there and probably one of the few families with kids. Everyone there is in their early 20s, tall, toned and tanned and probably works as an Instagram influencer or is just bumming around doing a surf season working in bars and partying hard. It’s much bigger and busier than Nosara and the ‘high street’ seems to stretch on for ages – although part of this is probably Mal Pais but I couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began. We had, by a completely happy accident, arrived on a Monday which just so happened to be ‘all you can eat’ pizza night at The Bakery. It was epic. (For some reason, there is A LOT of pizza in Costa Rica.)

The Bakery, Santa Teresa, Mal Pais, Costa Rica

The beach at Santa Teresa was like actual paradise and reminded me a lot of North Shore on Oahu, Hawaii. Nick had a lot of fun surfing in the mornings and the sunsets in the evenings were just incredible. It was definitely the most picturesque place we visited in Costa Rica. Our favourite spot was Rocamar Beach, a super chilled cafe right on the beach serving a really basic but delicious menu with loads of big, comfy beds nestled in the shade. We spent a lot of time here during our stay. On Sunday nights they have a huge community get together with fires on the beach and music and dancing and a BBQ. There was a swing and a trampoline for the kids too. We were sat chilling there one evening when a huge family of howler monkeys made its way through the trees above our heads with several babies clinging on to their mums.

Beach at Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Beach swing at Rocamar, Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Paddling in the sea at Santa Teresa beach, Costa Rica

Howler monkeys in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Sunset at Santa Teresa Beach, Costa Rica

Family selfie in Costa Rica

Beach swing at Rocamar, Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Beach swing at Rocamar in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

We were staying in an awesome little cottage in Santa Teresa called Maoritsio Garden Studios (£310 for 4 nights), which had 5 or 6 bungalows situated around a central swimming pool. The other bungalows were mainly occupied by surfers and it turns out surfer schedules and baby schedules are perfectly aligned – no late nights and lots of early mornings – so it worked out really well!

Maoritsio Garden Studios, Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

While we loved our accommodation, another family we bumped into tipped us off about a slightly swankier hotel down the road called Hotel Tropical Latino which was situated right on the beach with plenty of hammocks and a much nicer pool than ours which you were allowed to use if you bought drinks at the bar. We would highly recommend it along with Earth Cafe and Zwart Art Cafe but to be honest there’s no shortage of places to eat in Santa Teresa.

Hotel Tropico Latino, Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

After four dreamy days in Santa Teresa we headed to our final destination, Montezuma, which was around 40 minutes away. Arriving in Montezuma was a really strange experience because we both knew instantly that we didn’t like it. Considering how much we’d been warned about how touristy Tamarindo was, we found Montezuma to be far more touristy but in a much worse way. We got ripped off at several bars in the town (The Bakery Cafe being the worst) and just weren’t digging the unwashed, drug-addict vibe that the tiny town had, no matter how much they try to cover it up and sell it as ‘artsy’ and ‘boho’.

Our first stop was the brewery, Clandestina, right at the top of the hill and a visit to the attached Butterfly Garden which was really lovely and sold delicious passionfruit sorbet. Although the waterfall is one of the main draws to Montezuma, being the height of dry season it was fairly small so we gave it a miss.

We were staying at a really lovely place called Casa Colores (£177 for 3 nights) which was a secure, enclosed area of jungle a little way out of town full of brightly coloured cabanas with a communal pool area. The owner Catrine and her husband were seriously lovely and went out of their way to come and get us early one morning when a family of howler monkeys and capuchins were hanging out by the pool area because they knew that Huxley loved animals. We were even given a banana to feed the wild capuchin which was definitely a highlight of the trip for me. We also spotted several agoutis roaming the gardens and a huge iguana that lived by the pool.

Casa Colores pool in Montezuma, Costa Rica

There weren’t really any proper beaches to be found in Montezuma as it’s at the end of a rocky peninsula and since we had no interest in the waterfall and didn’t want to spend any time in the town itself we found ourselves at a bit of a loss of what to do. (Thankfully the pool at our accommodation had a covered area with free coffee all day which we had to ourselves most of the time so that was really nice to hang out at). We had already seen a huge range of wildlife without even really trying but after an evening of internet researching I found that we were quite close to a place called the Curu Wildlife Refuge.

There is quite limited information available about the Curu Wildlife Refuge online as it’s not one of the most popular or most visited refuges in Costa Rica by oh my goodness – what a hidden gem! The entry fee turned out to be almost double the figure I had found online but it still wasn’t much. Within literally 30 seconds of entering the gate we spotted a ring-tailed coati, a deer and a raccoon. Our plan was to do one or two of the trails through the jungle before it got too hot and then have lunch on the beach and spend the afternoon paddling around and playing on the beach there. The guy in the visitor centre advised us on the best trails to tackle to see wildlife (I’d recommend asking about this because some of the trails are quite full on and may not be suitable for everyone! One of them is called Killer!) It was a little while ago now but I have a feeling we did the Ceibu and Finca de Monos trails back to back as they kind of link into each other and take you in a loop back to the car park. The park is incredibly well kept and we saw several maintenance guys sweeping the paths. We went over a ridiculously rickety bridge over a river which had loads of warning signs for crocodiles and had a wonderful trek through the jungle spotting more coatis and hundreds of capuchin monkeys. It was fantastic.

There’s also a cafe, a small gift shop and I think you can even stay within the wildlife refuge but we didn’t look into either of these options so I don’t know much about them.

 

Curu Wildlife Refuge Costa Rica

Curu Wildlife Refuge Park Costa Rica

Ring-tailed coati at Curu Wildlife Refuge Costa Rica

Spotting animals at Curu Wildlife Refuge Costa Rica

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Capuchin monkey at curu wildlife refuge costa rica

The picnic didn’t really go to plan as we were hounded rather aggressively by an overly friendly raccoon which frightened the life out of Huxley and the beach didn’t appear to have much shade anyway so we just headed home and sat round the pool instead.

After our time in Montezuma came to an end we drove back up to Tamarindo so we were closer to the airport so there was no panic when we came to leave.

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All in all our holiday was amazing. Weirdly, while we saw loads of wildlife, I didn’t see as many birds as I was expecting – I was thinking I’d spot toucans and macaws but didn’t see any. Also, definitely no sloths in that part of Costa Rica but we knew that before we went.

And don’t forget that you have to pay to leave Costa Rica! We had no idea about this and it held us up at the airport and got us stuck in a massive queue full of package holiday tourists! It’s not much – I think $29 each but it’s cash only and there’s always a hefty queue for the cash machine (which is debit only – no credit cards), a temperamental ATM as well as a queue to pay so it’s worth bearing this in mind!

Here’s a video of our trip:

 

A family holiday to Hawaii

It has been a lifelong dream of mine to visit Hawaii. We’d been talking about it for a little while as I’d always said I wanted to go as a joint celebration for my 30th birthday and our 10-year wedding anniversary, both of which are in 2018. I’d been saving up for about 3 years so had a nice little stash of cash ready to go and as luck would have it, we happened to have the free time and the funds to go in September.

It was INCREDIBLE.

Like, exactly as you’d imagine Hawaii to be.

Also, it’s a LONG way!

We had an 11 hour flight to San Francisco followed by a 4 hour layover, followed by a 5 hour flight to Hawaii (with a wonderful hour and a half delay sitting on the tarmac – joy!) but to be quite honest, it really wasn’t all that bad. Hux is a little pro on aeroplanes now and Cali just took it all in her stride. We built her a little arena out of cushions and set up Moana on the iPad and she was happy as can be.

We were only visiting Oahu on this trip. I had originally had my heart set on Kauai but the more we looked into it, Oahu seemed the more kid-friendly option and the accommodation was slightly cheaper too. We were staying in Waikiki for the first 3 or 4 days and then heading off to stay on the North Shore for 9 days before returning to Waikiki for another 2 days. We were a little bit worried that Waikiki would be one enormous tacky tourist trap but we were pleasantly surprised at how upmarket and lovely it was.

Leonard's Bakery Oahu

We stayed at an AWESOME hotel called The Laylow. I literally cannot express enough how much I love this hotel. I’ve stayed in some pretty swanky digs in my time (Charleston Place in Charleston, the Mark Hopkins in San Francisco, the Waldorf Astoria in New York) and this is definitely my favourite. It was just so cool but with absolutely no air of pretentiousness at all.

The Laylow Waikiki Honolulu

The first couple of mornings we woke up pretty early thanks to jetlag and made our way straight down to the beach to catch the best of the surf and enjoy the quietest time of day in the sea. I haven’t been on a surfboard in about 10 years so I was pretty nervous but it was amazing to be out in the ocean again. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy it.

Obviously we had to visit Honolulu Zoo but I definitely wouldn’t recommend it. It was easily one of the worst zoos I’ve been too. They had an owl in a cage that looked just about big enough for a budgie. Not impressed.

I’m not even entirely sure where to begin describing North Shore. It’s just fantastic. Despite being one of the most popular places for some of the biggest surf comps in the world it has managed to retain that wonderful dusty, sleepy feeling to it. After you’ve passed through the main town of Haleiwa there’s basically nothing there! There’s one supermarket, a bakery and a couple of food trucks and fruit stands. Not a Starbucks in sight. It was fabulous. (I’d highly recommend the Impossibles Pizza truck and Panda’s Thai truck). Another thing I totally loved was the culture of how people live out there. Huge groups of mums with hundreds of kids swarming on the beach having the time of their lives but thinking nothing of it because this was just daily life for them. Watching tiny groms paddle out into huge waves as their dads watched on from the beach with a proud glint in their eyes. Literally the best life imaginable.

North Shore Oahu

Waialua bakery haleiwa

North Shore Oahu Hawaii

Shrimp truck North Shore Oahu

Waialua Bakery Hawaii Oahu

Mastsumoto Rainbow shave ice Haleiwa

Dole Whip Oahu

The whole place is just stunning. We had most of the beaches to ourselves most of the time and there are loads of beautiful overgrown pathways leading you down to the sand with the bright blue crystal sea at the bottom. There’s also the amazing cycle path that runs parallel to the beaches meaning you can safely get between them all without having to drive everywhere.

Oahu North Shore

Sunset Beach Oahu North Shore Hawaii

North Shore cycle path Oahu

Our first 5 nights were spent in this Airbnb in Pupukea. We had no idea when we booked it but it’s really close to an awesome beginners snorkelling spot called Shark’s Cove. Kalani who owns it was so lovely. I’d asked about a cot for Cali before we arrived and when we turned up, he’d ordered one from Amazon for us. It made such a huge difference to our stay. I loved that little cottage. It was the perfect size for us.

Airbnb in Pupukea North Shore Oahu Hawaii

Hux and a snail

Our next 3 nights were spent in this Airbnb which has THE MOST INCREDIBLE views of the sea. It was crazy dreamy. It was awesome being right on the beach and sitting and listening to the waves crashing late at night. It was super basic inside and we ended up having to make a bed for Cali out of the sofa but you really can’t beat it for location – and at such a reasonable price too!

Beach front Airbnb North Shore Oahu Hawaii

The kids really had the most amazing time. Huxley loved playing on the sand and snorkelling and spotting turtles and monk seals and generally just being allowed to be as feral as he liked. He’s very proud of himself for being able to say ‘humuhumunukunukuapua’a’, which is the name of their state fish. Cali is definitely a water baby. Every time we turned up at the beach she’d just start waving and smiling at the sea. The first few days she did just try and eat all the sand she possibly could but she worked it out after a couple of days!

Turtle Bay Beach North Shore Oahu

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Hux snorkelling Oahu

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monk seals at Turtle Bay beach Oahu

sandy baby hawaii

The Sunrise Shack Oahu north shore

Turtle North Shore Oahu Hawaii

Cali Haleiwa Bowls

(Look how dirty she is!!!)

The island of Oahu is so tiny! We had a hire car while we were in the North Shore and one of the days we’d planned to drive all the way down to Kualoa Ranch and check out the crazy beautiful mountains there and we thought it would take us hours when we looked at the map but we were there way before lunchtime! The Nu’uanu Pali lookout was great fun too. The views are breathtaking and the wind is literally breathtaking. Huxley thought it was hilarious. We also really enjoyed our walk around Waimea Valley and swimming in the waterfall there (although it was more like a trickle when we went!). I’d have loved to have attempted a few more adventurous hikes but holidaying with two kids is tiring enough as it is!

Nu'uanu Pali Lookout Oahu

Nu'uanu Pali Lookout best view oahu

Kualoa Ranch Oahu

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Diamond Head Honolulu Hawaii

Now we’re back home and I’m just dreaming of the day we can go back and explore some of the other islands! It was pretty hard to leave paradise and come back to grey, cold, rainy England!

Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park

I was recently contacted by Liz Lean PR to see if I’d like some free tickets to Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park to check out the new Octonauts Octo-Glow Explorers event which is happening during the summer holidays (29th July – 28th August). We hadn’t been since Huxley’s first birthday so were quite keen to go back – little did we know back then how much his love of animals would grow!

Unfortunately for us it was absolutely pouring with rain the day we were going which made the drive there a bit depressing but most of the Sea Life Centre is indoors – albeit with a mad dash in the rain to reach each section! (If you pre-book tickets in advance and you experience persistent heavy rain for more than an hour during your visit then you are able to re-book your ticket and visit another day).

Being the truly British people that we are, we didn’t let the rain dampen our spirits too much and we were shown straight to the new Octonauts Octo-Glow Experience. On arrival you are given an Octonauts hat to make you feel like one of the team and a photo is taken of you pointing ‘at Octonauts’ which is good fun. Then you are left to wander around and have a go on all the interactive exhibits. There were several large floor puzzles and lots of boards on the walls with UV torches which Huxley had loads of fun shining around. At the end, you join a queue and get to meet an Octonaut for a photo and to ask them some questions. We met Quasi but Huxley was very shy (which isn’t like him at all – I think he was too excited about seeing all the sea creatures). At the end, you collect a special Octonauts badge and can take a look at your photo from the beginning.

Octoanuts Octo-Glow Experience at Sea Life Centre Weymouth

Weymouth Sea Life Octonauts OctoGlow

After that, we walked around the Sea Life Centre as normal and Huxley loved looking at all the rays and the giant turtle and the otters and the penguins and the seals. We had a good old giggle touching a starfish and having an anemone tickle our fingers and running over the steps to avoid the wave that comes crashing through. Cali LOVED watching the jellyfish changing colour in the tank. As lunchtime approached, we headed for the new playground. It was pretty awesome. I can imagine spending a lot of time there (except Hux was still too excited to see the animals and so only played for about 5 minutes!)

Touching starfish at Weymouth Sea Life Centre

Watching sharks at Weymouth Sea Life Centre

Jellyfish at Weymouth Sea Life Centre

Otters at Weymouth Sea Life Centre

Seals at Weymouth Sea Life Centre

Giant Turtle at Weymouth Sea Life Centre

The Sea Life Centre is definitely a good day out for families and the rainy day guarantee means that you can book tickets safe in the knowledge that our dreadful summer weather won’t totally spoil your plans! It’s also quite nice that it’s not particularly big so you don’t leave feeling like you’ve walked a marathon and the kids don’t get too tired either. I’d definitely recommend going for a visit – especially if your kid is a big Octonauts fan!

Thanks Liz Lean PR & Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park for a great day out!

Watch my video if you want to see more of what we got up to!

Franco Manca Pizza, Bournemouth

I was recently invited to the opening of the brand new Franco Manca pizza in Bournemouth (thanks W Comms!). I usually take Nick along to these things or just meet up with the Bournemouth blogger girls but this time I thought it would be nice to take my sister along as we only usually get to hang out during the day with the kids.

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We arrived and were seated with my blogger chum Freya and a few of her work mates in an area that had been reserved for the ‘press’. We were offered some drinks and were told that food would just arrive as and when it was ready. (FYI the organic lemonade was lush.) We were then quite literally showered with starters. I’ve never seen so much food! The olives were incredible (coming from someone who isn’t a massive olive lover) and the burrata was truly out of this world. We gorged ourselves on unbelievable rich soft cheeses and cured meats.

burrata at franco manca bournemouth

burrata at franco manca pizza bournemouth

To be honest, by this point, we were all a little worried that we weren’t going to fit any pizza in! But due to the gorgeously chewy sourdough bases I think I managed a good 6 or 7 slices of various flavours! I’m a bit of a sucker for a margherita because I think if you can get the basics right then you’re on to a good thing and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The number 6 pizza with chorizo also stood out as being pretty special. I can’t remember which pizza they were on now but one of them had the most mind-blowing tomatoes I’ve ever had that are grown on the slopes of Mt Vesuvius.

pizza at franco manca bournemouth

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As a special treat, we were invited into the ‘kitchen’ (I use quotation marks as it’s all out in the open in the middle of the restaurant so you can watch your pizza being made) to make our own pizza. Obviously hilarity ensued as we tried to follow instructions from a pretty thick-accented Italian in the searing heat with the noise of the restaurant booming in our ears but we were all pretty successful (even if I did accidentally flip mine mid-cook in the pizza oven!)

freya NorseSouth

making pizza at franco manca

pizza masterclass at franco manca bournemouth

pizza making at franco manca

We were then served a beautiful plate of desserts which we happily scoffed down. The rosemary & olive oil cake was new to me and a perfect choice if you’re not into overly sweet things. As we were rolling out the door we were handed an amazing goody bag filled with foodie treats like chilli oil, roasted artichokes and a copy of the Franco Manca book. Thanks again to Franco Manca & W Comms for having us!

A family holiday to Singapore

A few weeks ago we went on a family holiday to Singapore. Many of our family members thought we were nuts taking a toddler and a baby on a 14-hour flight (and I have to admit I was a little fearful myself) but it literally couldn’t have gone better. The kid’s were like a total dream. The epitomy of perfect children. Seriously. Cali slept nearly the whole time both ways and Hux was either asleep or silently glued to his iPad (so grateful to Steve Jobs right now). We flew with British Airways & the staff were super helpful and lovely at all times and I really can’t fault their service.

So, why Singapore? Well, some of you may know that my husband Nick is a food & travel writer so food has always been a driving force in our decision making about where to travel to and this was no exception. Nick was desperate to go and eat in a Hawker Centre and try chicken & rice and lime juice and all the rest of it. And then we’ve got Huxley. Huxley is OBSESSED with animals. Like really, next level obsessed. He knows all sorts of crazy animals that I’d never heard of before (hello binturong, pangolin, echidna, sengi…), he can tell you what they eat, what part of the world they come from and knows loads of crazy facts and is always glued to David Attenborough or Andy’s Wild Adventures. So, yeah, the amazing world-renowned zoo was also a major factor in going to Singapore, and we were not disappointed.

Singapore with a baby & a toddler

Toddler using chopsticks

Luckily for us, Hux has never been a particularly fussy eater. He’s happy to eat most things and will try everything we put in front of him. The first place we ate had photos of whole cooked chickens on the wall and he kept pointing & saying he wanted that so he was pretty disappointed when it came all chopped up and didn’t have a head with a beak. Also, total shocker to us, he’s a complete pro with chopsticks! They’d done Chinese New Year at nursery the week before and had been practising picking up cotton wool with chopsticks so when we sat down to eat, he just picked his up and tucked right in!

Singapore Aquarium Sentosa Island

Sentosa Aquariam Singapore

Singapore Aquarium Sentosa Island

The first ‘animal’ place we visited was the aquarium on Sentosa Island. This was actually the only time we went to Sentosa Island, despite it being a super popular tourist destination. Hux was still a bit little for Universal Studios and the water park there unfortunately. The aquarium was awesome though. It used to be the biggest in the world until China stole it’s crown and it’s definitely suitably impressive. I could have sat in front of the huge water tank watching the manta rays all day.

Singapore River Safari

Giant Panda at Singapore River Safari

So the zoo in Singapore is actually split into four different zoos and it can be quite confusing! There’s Singapore Zoo, the River Safari & the Night Safari which are all next door to each other on the same site and then there’s the Jurong Bird Park which is in a completely different area of Singapore. You can buy a 4-in-1 pass to all of them for a cheaper rate which is what we did.

The next ‘animal’ thing we did was the River Safari and the Night Safari. When you book your Night Safari tickets, you have to choose a time to visit. As we had kids, we chose the earliest time, which is 7pm or 7.30pm (I can’t remember now!). So, we arrived at the River Safari about 2pm as that only takes a few hours to get around, then we sat in the restaurant area and had some food while we waited for the Night Safari to open. This is a great way to do it as it saves on the cab fare from the city. (I wouldn’t recommend doing the Zoo & Night Safari in one day though as the Zoo is way too big and you’d be too exhausted to enjoy the Night Safari properly I think).

The River Safari takes you on a journey around all the different rivers in the world. The displays are mainly fish and crocodiles but it’s also home to the Giant Panda enclosure & the red panda. I’ve seen Giant Pandas four times now (Beijing Zoo, San Diego Zoo, Edinburgh Zoo & Singapore Zoo) and this enclosure was by far the best. You felt almost close enough to touch the panda! We did see that there could be queues to see the panda but we went mid-week in February and we almost had the whole place to ourselves so no queues for us! There’s also a great monkey bit where you walk around and the monkeys are just roaming free next to you which was quite cool. The only bit we missed out on was the boat ride as Hux was about 1cm too short! This takes you round to see other animals like the jaguar.

The Night Safari was pretty cool. We started off by watching the show where the animals are brought down to the stage through the crowd so you get a nice, good look at them and then we went on the tram ride around the zoo. Hux did start nodding off a little bit on the tram ride but we managed to get him excited enough to keep him awake and then he got a second wind and was chirpy as could be! The tram ride is pretty cool as there aren’t really any fences or glass so it feels like you’re on a real safari almost and being in the dark gives it a real edge! Obviously the downside is that if the animals don’t happen to be out in full view as you drive through then you’ve missed your chance. However, you can go back and walk around some of the route on foot to see any animals you may have missed. A word of warning though, it really is quite dark! Huxley walked into a fence at one point! So if you’re scared of the dark I wouldn’t recommend it! It was a bit unnerving to be walking underneath huge hyenas who were looking out over the path!

Feeding the flamingoes at Jurong Bird Park Singapore

Feeding the ostriches at Jurong Bird Park Singapore

Feeding the penguins at Jurong Bird Park Singapore

The next ‘animal’ place we visited was the Jurong Bird Park. To be honest, we nearly gave this one a miss as we thought it would be a bit dull but then we saw that you could feed some of the birds and we knew we had to go! Huxley LOVED feeding the ostrich and the penguins. I think it was $2 per feed but that’s a total bargain compared to the feeding experiences you have to pay for at zoos in the UK. He enjoyed feeding the flamingoes but he was just chucking bread at them from a distance and he’d fed lorikeets at Longleat Zoo before so he wasn’t too fussed with those but having a fully grown ostrich snatch a banana out of his hand was quite something! There’s also a water park for the kids at the Bird Park which was a welcome respite from the blistering heat.

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

To give ourselves a bit of a break from animals we decided to visit Gardens by the Bay. We didn’t actually go inside the conservatories as there’s loads of free things to do there and we thought the kids might get a bit bored so we wandered over to the Far East Organization Children’s Garden which is a big splash park with a play park hidden in the trees. After that, we hung around to watch the light show in the supertree grove. I think Nick was expecting it to be a bit lame but actually we were both really impressed. There were lots of people laid on the floor staring up at the trees from below which looked really chilled (but obviously impossible with two little ones!).

Family at Singapore Zoo

Feeding the giraffes at Singapore Zoo

Feeding the elephants at Singapore Zoo

Ring-tailed lemurs at Singapore Zoo

Feeding the rhino at Singapore Zoo

Elephant show at Singapore Zoo

One of our last days in Singapore was spent at Singapore Zoo. We really did save the best for last! We got there at opening time as we’d heard the queues to feed the animals can be quite long so we headed straight for the elephants at 9am and it was so worth it! There were only three families there waiting to feed the elephants so we got to spend ages with them and were allowed to buy two baskets of fruit so both Nick & I could have a go with Hux. It really was amazing. After that, we spent most of the day zig-zagging around, running about in the intense heat like crazy people from one end of the zoo to the other trying to make sure we saw all the shows and made all the feeding times! It was pretty full on but worth every second! Huxley felt like a proper zookeeper after feeding elephants, the rhino and the giraffes. It was great to be able to get so close to so many of the animals too. Hux sat right next to a lemur and you could walk right up to a fruit bat feasting on watermelon. The orangutans and other monkeys have trails that go right above your head as you’re walking along the path. It’s so brilliant, I can’t recommend it highly enough. You feel like you’re actually in the jungle with them at times. There’s also a water park at the zoo, and a KFC right next to it which again, was a very welcome break from the heat and a good excuse for us to sit down for a few minutes!

I would recommend a family holiday to Singapore to anybody in a heartbeat. The food is great and really cheap if you eat in the Hawker Centres, the people are incredibly friendly, it’s super easy and not too pricey to get around in cabs or on public transport and there’s so much to do there! I actually wish we’d had an extra couple of days there as I felt like 9 days wasn’t really enough – even though our cab driver from the airport laughed at us & said that was too long when we said how long we were staying! I wouldn’t hesistate to go back either – and no doubt we will as the zoo is extending and opening tons of new stuff in 2020. And when Hux is older we’ll be able to explore Sentosa Island a bit more and visit a few more attractions over there too.

A girl’s night out at Hollywood Bowl

Last week I was invited to enjoy a night of bowling and food courtesy of Hollywood Bowl. To be quite honest with you, I didn’t really think people went bowling anymore. I figured all the millennials and younger generations would find it a bit ‘lame’ so I was pleasantly surprised to find it absolutely heaving.

As you may know, there’s a little group of us blogger girls in Bournemouth so 5 of us went along together. There was Brogan from BroganTateXO, Cheryl from NonStopParis, Georgie from Dreams That Glitter and Freya from NorseSouth (Jess was meant to join us too but she was unwell). We arrived at 6pm and were met by the lovely Harry. He was super helpful and nice and took our food orders for later on. The manager

Bournemouth bloggers BroganTateXo, NorseSouth, NonStopParis, Beauxoxo

(Photo thanks to Brogan – my camera did not love the lighting!)

Bowling at Tower Park Poole

Now I haven’t bowled in years and was sure that I was going to be completely dreadful at it but I did my 12-year-old self proud and won the first game. By this point we were all getting pretty hungry so we decided to head over to the diner to have some dinner. We ate in style sat in a Ford Mustang table. I had a burger and fries and it was super yummy – although Brogan’s halloumi burger did look pretty awesome.

Bowling scores

Ford Mustang diner Hollywood Bowl Poole

Burger & fries at Hollywood Bowl Tower Park Poole

I think the food made me sleepy because my second game was nowhere near as strong as my first. I was coming in last for quite a few goes before a machine malfunction robbed Georgie of her winning title and for some reason awarded me a strike.

Bournemouth Bloggers at Hollywood Bowl

Holywood Bowl Tower Park Poole

We were kindly given our evening free-of-charge but it’s £6.49 per game and burgers are around £8. You should definitely check out their website before going as there are some great deals, for example, you can enjoy 2 games of bowling and a drink for £10.99 during the week.

(You can watch some clips from our evening at the end of Brogan’s weekly vlog)

Our newest addition….

Okay, so it’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to post about this but hey, life with two kids is hard – who knew?! (I have a brand new respect for mummy bloggers with more than one child! Fair play to you guys!)

So, our little girl, California Joan Baines, was born on 31st October 2016 by elective c-section. It’s funny because I never told anybody the date of my c-section because I thought it was pointless as Huxley had been 5 days early and so I was convinced that I would go into labour much earlier than that but nope, she stayed put! To be honest, I’m quite glad as I was so panicky that they would share the same birthday! (Huxley’s birthday is the 21st October). At least this gives them a good week and a half between their birthdays! October is going to be pretty expensive from now on but at least we’ve got a solid excuse for throwing a Halloween party every year now!

Life with two is definitely more challenging. Luckily, thanks to the age-gap and the 15 hours free government funding, Huxley is now at nursery a little bit more often which has helped quite a lot. But yeah, there’s no more of that ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’ malarkey. When the baby sleeps, I’m usually being chased round the house while Hux is being a dinosaur or digging for worms in the garden or making sure everyone has food to eat and cups of tea to drink. I’m sure it will get easier once she starts sleeping through the night (man, that can’t come soon enough!)

To give Hux his due, he has been a total angel. He loves his sister so much. He takes every opportunity he can to give her kisses or hold her hand or make her smile.

Cali on the other hand has been much more difficult than Hux ever was. It’s not really her fault bless her but she basically pooped about 3 times in the first 6 weeks which made her super cranky and us super on-edge and worried. I think her guts have finally sorted themselves out a bit now but she seems to have moved on to teething already – I didn’t really realise this could happen this early but apparently it can! She hasn’t actually got any teeth yet but she’s super dribbly and chompy. Hux never suffered with teething so this is all quite new to us! She also seems to puke quite a lot – again, something Hux never did (seriously, he was an angel baby!). So, we’ve found ourselves whinging about her quite a bit which isn’t really fair on her but she’s had a hard act to follow with Huxley being so easy! But after talking to some other parents, by the sounds of things, I don’t think she’s as bad as we make her sound!

We’re off on our first family holiday as a four next week. We thought we’d pick somewhere easy to get to and quite chilled so we chose Singapore. Yes, that was sarcasm. Hello 14-hour flight, 30 degree heat, constant thunderstorms and mosquito-borne diseases. It’s going to be bags of fun I’m sure. At least Huxley will be happy as we’re visiting Singapore Zoo, the River Safari, the Night Safari & the aquarium while we’re there on top of all the regular wildlife he’ll see around the city.

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5 days old

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Learning to swim with Puddle Ducks Dorset

Huxley has always loved the water. He’s always been more than happy to take a bath, never been scared of swimming and will take every opportunity possible to splash in puddles or run head-first into the sea. I think this was helped a lot by the fact that he spent the first 18 months of his life living with the beach down the end of the road and we would take him into the sea and let him splash around quite often. We’d also take him swimming in a pool whenever we had time and he’d love jumping off the side into our arms.

Unfortunately, with renovating the house over the last year and no fixed weekly timetable for activities, swimming fell by the wayside and we ended up going less and less. We knew Huxley still loved the water because we’d been away to America and Spain and had no trouble getting him in the pool but we could see that he was getting more scared to jump in and would only listen to our swimming instructions for so long before he got bored and just wanted to splash around (as most 2 year olds do!)

So, when I got an email from Puddle Ducks Dorset asking if I’d like to come along to swimming lessons for half a term I jumped at the chance. Knowing that it’s a big weekly activity at a set time, on a set day, has made swimming a super easy commitment to keep as we now have to plan our time around not missing Puddle Ducks.

We started our half term at the swimming pool at St Michaels Middle School in Colehill, Wimborne. The first class was the only one I’ve been able to get in the water with Huxley for as I’ve just been way too pregnant and tired to join in with the rest so Nick has been taking him. (Nick was running a marathon on that first day so a huge thanks to the team at Puddle Ducks for taking some photos of me & Hux in the water for me to use!).

swimming lessons for kids Dorset

toddler swim lessons Dorset

Huxley LOVED the class right from the word go. If you’re a parent, you’ll know that the easiest way to get your child to do something is to do it with other children. Huxley also responded really, really well to having a teacher and definitely listened to the instructions from Jane much more than he ever would from Nick & I.

The best thing about Puddle Ducks is that they ease your child in to doing things in such a fun way that the children don’t even realise that what they’re doing might be considered ‘scary’. For instance, to encourage your child to put their face in the water (something Hux isn’t keen on), they get the kids to blow bubbles in the water, which is obviously really fun! Then they handed out two woggles/noodles to each child to pop under their arms and I was amazed at how quickly Hux took to kicking his legs and swimming without me even holding on using this method. It seems so simple now that I think about it that I can’t believe I hadn’t thought about it before! The classes are filled with toys, singing and games so nothing ever feels like a test or a challenge and Huxley balled his eyes out when we eventually had to get out of the pool.

swimming

Puddle Ducks offer three different swimming programmes, Baby & Pre-school (for 0-4 years), Swim Academy (for 4-10 years) and Aquanatal classes for mums-to-be. The Baby & Pre-school category contains 6 different ability levels so your child will always be progressing. Hux is currently in the Little Dippers class for 2-4 year olds, which is the 4th level, and the two classes above this are less age-specific and are more to do with your child’s confidence and ability.

We’ve recently moved over to the Saturday classes at Portfield School in Christchurch (near Bournemouth airport) and these suit us a little better as they have mixed changing rooms so I’m able to help Nick get Huxley changed and the pool is a little nicer.

Puddle Ducks Portfield School Dorset

Since starting our classes, Puddle Ducks have launched a new online portal which makes managing your swimming lessons super easy. You can login and see the details of your current class, what date you’ve paid up until and when your next payment is due. They’ve also recently changed their payment structure, so instead of paying for set term-time dates, lessons are now paid for in blocks of 8 and can start mid-term. You get email reminders when your payments are due or you can sign up for recurring payments.

Another great feature of the online portal is the ‘My Children’ tab where you can see the criteria that your child needs to meet in order to move up to the next class. This is a really great way of knowing what you need to focus and work on if you take your child swimming on your own. You can also use this section to message the class teacher and book holiday or catch-up sessions for any cancelled lessons.

Okay, so, down to the cost. Each lesson costs £12, but these are booked in blocks of 8, costing £96. For this, you get the use of a private pool (usually a school, fitness centre or hotel) meaning that the facilities are generally nicer and much quieter than a public swim session at a regular pool, the expertise of a specially-trained, dedicated teacher and the confidence that your child is learning to respect the water, as well as learning to swim.

We’ve been to 4 lessons so far and the progression we’ve seen in Huxley has been amazing. He’s now happy to jump into the water without holding Nick’s hand, is much more confident about sticking his face in the water to blow bubbles and can kick to swim when using the woggles/noodles. Puddle Ducks is definitely something I would recommend for any parent as learning how to swim and be safe around water is such a major life skill.

If you fancy giving Puddle Ducks swimming lessons a try then they’ve kindly offered my readers a free trial and 10% off when booking using the code STYLEBOX. Visit the Puddle Ducks website to find your nearest class or give them a call on 01202 674676 or drop them an email at dorset@puddleducks.com

Puddle Ducks swimming

Huxley’s 3rd birthday

Huxley turned 3 on Friday. I’m a little shell-shocked by it all to be honest. I know it’s such a cliche parenting thing to say, but I really don’t know where the time has gone! His birthday was pretty low-key this year due to the fact that I’m huge and can’t go far – can I just say how nervous I was all day about going into labour!? (For Huxley’s first birthday we went to Weymouth Sealife Centre, for his second birthday we went to Marwell Zoo).

This year we decided to take him to the cinema in the morning as Cineworld are currently running a promotion to support Children in Need where every day this half term, the tickets are £2 each and you can see Secret Life of Pets, Finding Dory or Ice Age: Collision Course. Hux has only been to the cinema twice (and not since February) so it was still a really big, exciting novelty for him. I showed him all the trailers for the movies the night before and he chose Ice Age (much to mine & Nick’s despair!). Sadly, we were the only people in the cinema which is a real shame as it was for a good cause but I suppose half-term hadn’t really kicked in on Friday.

After the cinema we went to Toys’R’us as he had a voucher to spend and we got him a Schleich whale, a Schleich Anhanguera (which is a flying dinosaur – I had to Google it!) and an Elsa doll. After that it was definitely time to eat! I was starving!

Harvester had recently contacted me and asked if I’d like to review their newly refurbished branch in Poole. Never one to turn down free food, I jumped at the chance and they kindly sent us £50 to spend on some lunch. It was really smart in Harvester and I was impressed at how modern it looked, while still retaining a cosy, family-friendly pub feel. It was filled with little cosy nooks and inviting looking fireplaces as well as having practical plus-points like a bottle-warming area for parents with babies.

Harvester Parkstone Poole

harvester seahorse refurbishment dorset

family friendly harvester seahorse poole

harvester seahorse alder hills poole dorset

Obviously one of the best things about Harvester is the unlimited salad bar and I wasted no time stocking up on crunchy croutons and creamy potato salad. Nick & I both ordered the same thing, the Harvester ’83 combo which comes with fries, gravy, corn on the cob, half a rotisserie chicken and a half rack of ribs. Deeeeelish. The kids meals are £5.99 for a main with 2 sides, a drink & a dessert. Hux had a swirly sausage with peas and chips but he’d gorged on popcorn at the cinema so didn’t eat all that much of it. He didn’t even seem that excited at the prospect of ice-cream so we could tell he was full and tired!

Harvester seahorse alder hills poole

schleich toys

family-at-harvester

harvester unlimited salad

Nick skipped dessert while I went for coconut panna cotta with mango coulis. I’m usually a chocolate person but there’s just something about coconut that wins every time. Nick was pretty impressed with the beer offering though and opted for a pint of Brewdog in place of dessert. The total bill came to £41.51 for a beer (£4.55), two adult main courses (£25.98), a kids meal (£5.99) and a dessert (£4.99) so it was pretty budget friendly!

harvester 83 chicken ribs combo

harvester 83 combo poole

coconut panna cotta with mango coulis at harvester

After a quick whizz around the toy sale at the huge Sainsburys next door, it was time to head for the beach. Hux was adamant about going in the sea and it didn’t seem to bother him at all that it was freezing cold. He really, really loves the sea and I think he’d have spent all day chasing the waves back and forth but it was already gone 3pm by the time we got there so we only stayed about half an hour.

alum chine beach october

alum chine bournemouth october in the sea

autumn on the beach bournemouth

alum chine beach bournemouth dorset

We finished the day off at Nick’s mum’s house where he played with his cousins – I have no idea how he managed to stay awake the whole time. He didn’t even fall asleep in the car on the way home! Needless to say he was pretty grumpy for the next day or two from being so tired!

Bump update: 37 weeks

I’m writing this in my kitchen at 5am chomping on some Belvita breakfast biscuits having been awake since about 3am. I haven’t slept properly for weeks and I keep having to shuffle around to stop my legs/hips/knees from getting pins and needles.

It’s pretty safe to say that I’m well and truly ready for all of this to be over now! The last 2-3 weeks are always the worst, especially now that my bump has dropped, meaning I need a wee every 5 minutes and being comfortable is a distant memory. I’m actually starting to think I’ll probably get more sleep when the baby arrives!

Saying that, I still consider myself to be pretty fortunate in the pregnancy-symptoms department. My back and hip pain have been relatively minor this time around, I’ve had no swelling of legs or ankles, no heartburn – in fact, other than not really being able to sleep, I think I’m doing pretty well (and not sleeping has it’s perks – such as being able to get ahead with all my work and write blog posts in pure, silent, uninterrupted bliss!)

We’re pretty much ready for baby to turn up any day now. We’ve just bought a new steriliser from Mothercare to replace the old one as it had funny bits of metal floating around in it and luckily it was in the sale for half price. I should probably take another look at my baby bag as I have really only panic-packed it once a few weeks ago after it dawned on me that it was all getting a bit close!

Mentally, I’m still not sure how ready I am, which I know sounds totally nuts because I’ve been pregnant FOREVER now so have had plenty of time to get used to the idea but I think there’s still going to be a wave of shock when she arrives and I’ve got a whole new person to look after. But maybe there won’t. Sometimes I just manage not to stress out about stuff like this and just go with the flow. I think the fact that I know I’m having a c-section is helping a lot. Obviously it’s still worrying and there are still things that could go wrong but I think I’d be a nervous wreck right now if I had to contemplate a natural birth. (Don’t think that I’m by any means suggesting that a c-section is the easy option, because trust me, it’s not, we’re still talking MAJOR surgery that takes weeks to recover from, but for my own personal reasons relating to what happened with Huxley at birth and being in intensive care, it’s definitely the best option for me)

Also, I hope you guys aren’t expecting a dainty little baby girl because at my last scan the lady looked at me in shock and asked if my diabetes test had come back clear and I was told that she looked like she had a ‘chunky tummy’! She was already estimated to be 6lb 14oz at 36 weeks (babies put on 0.5lb a week in the last few weeks) so I’m fully expecting another hefty baby like Huxley!

Wish me luck!

37 weeks pregnant