2016 in Review

What can I say about 2016? It has been a strange year, but one where we got things done. A year when friendships got stronger or just disappeared completely. Where we did things and they actually happened. It has been a good year with plenty of memories, and as a family, one I know we’ll remember. Especially H now she’s at the age where your memories stick with you.

Here’s our 2016 in review.

The 1st January was spent in Brighton. We traditionally go to the seaside at the start of the year to get some cold air and breathe again. We usually alternate between Brighton, Eastbourne and Bognor Regis and it’s usually very closed and quiet apart from the odd Fish & Chips place. I like it because it’s cold, closed, dark and fresh and crisp; nothing like bringing in a new year that way every year.

We took out Historic Royal Palaces membership and headed to Hampton Court early on in the year, showing H somewhere I used to love going when I was her age. My Auntie Florrie lived in Teddington and that whole area was somewhere we spent a lot of time when we visited London back in the seventies.

H had her first horse riding lesson. It’s too expensive to keep up, unfortunately. She loved it though.

Horse Riding at Deen City Farm

I had always wanted to visit Kensington Palace as it intrigues me. You’re visiting somewhere next door to the almost-untouchable current Royals. Anyway, it was an interesting place. HRP membership covered that.

Hampton Court

March and we were back to Hampton Court as my friend got an invite to preview the Magic Garden, so we popped along. It didn’t disappoint!

Hampton Court Magic Garden dragon and water sand play area

March also brought H’s first proper gig – Adele at the O2. It was both of our first time going there. I booked us a hotel nearby so we didn’t have to get all the way home afterwards – and had a brilliant evening. H loved it too! Adele is one of her favourites and I’ve enjoyed working on her records for these last few years.

The following day we took the Thames Ferry to the Tower of London using our HRP membership to get in free. Again, loads of fun and we got our money’s worth.

Easter was an Emmett’s Gardens and Chartwell visit, as our National Trust membership was getting a bit unused, and National Trust always have the best Easter Egg trails. It didn’t disappoint.

Our Merlin Passes were also quite neglected so we made our first trip to Legoland, choosing a rainy day which was a bit cold. It seemed to work, and we got on most rides without a queue. We even managed Mia’s Riding School three or four times in a row before I had to stop.

When your gas boiler is switched off for safety reasons, Leaky Flue Safety Warning Gas Boiler

April brought the weird stuff. We found out we had a carbon monoxide leak at home, which explained a lot of things. Forgetfulness? Tick. Feeling sick a lot? Definitely. Just being sick without any reason? Been there, done that. Our boiler was taken out of action and a plan was set, to get central heating put in when we went on holiday in July. Mainly as it would be so disruptive so we wanted to be away from it all. Every morning I had staggered to work like I was hungover, wondering when the virus would shift. It had never occurred to me it was this. Once the boiler was shut off I never felt like it again. We’ve since bought more carbon monoxide alarms. Too close a call. But why did it affect just H and I? I think because Shaun falls asleep downstairs and would often leave the heating on. I’d go to bed at 11pm and eventually come downstairs to shut off the heating at 2am. Because the leak was in the loft, both H and I were exposed to it more than Shaun as he was downstairs.

That’s my only explanation.

I got out to some gigs in April too – Lush reformed and I had a rare night out. Just getting onto a train and going across London was making me pretty nervous. It was a great night, I had far too much to drink, and the night was to be repeated a month or so later but with Shaun while H went on a sleepover.

Getting to work became an issue. Southern Trains were becoming increasingly rubbish and I was having a lot of palpitations. One day I got into work and burst into tears which isn’t like me at all. One word – perimenopause. I’ve done several things to calm the symptoms, they still happen especially the anxiety, but I’m learning to control it. I had a Mirena fitted which is helping a lot too. I had a journey home with the best train driver ever.

Wembley Stadium players warm up

May also brought our annual trip to Wembley to watch the Women’s FA Cup Final. It’s good fun, cheap and I’ve already bought tickets for next year – they’re on sale now – and kids go free. It’s a great atmosphere!

We also saw Horrible Histories at Hampton Court – a great setting for a great show. H and her friend M really enjoyed it.

We popped to Kew to view Kew Palace on our HRP membership. Don’t forget to print out your 2 for 1 vouchers beforehand like we did… you don’t get in free to Kew with HRP, you get a discount. 2 for 1 works out a bit cheaper too – meant we had more money to spend in the shops there!

June brought our second trip to Wembley. I bought tickets for England’s last friendly before the World Cup. H has finally seen Harry Kane play football (and Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker). Next season we’ll try a Tottenham game. We missed the National Anthem thanks to it taking forever to get into Wembley, but caught the majority of the game.

harry potter tour broom training

June also brought our trip to the WB Studio Tour. H is a fully-fledged Harry Potter convert now – she has seen all the films and knows more about each character than me. She has also read my books more than I have… We all really enjoyed it – even Shaun who tolerates it (and usually falls asleep in the films). We’ll be going back when we can save enough money – maybe for Hogwarts at Christmas in 2017.

June also brought a trip to Southampton to see the touring production of Mary Poppins on stage. The production was nowhere near London so we decided to make a night of it, and booked into the Ibis there (which H loved as it had a bunk bed over our double bed). We had seen it way before H was born, and loved it again. Zizi Strallen is an excellent Mary.

BML with mary drinking fizz

June also brought BritMums which I really enjoyed, hanging out all day with Mary who is excellent company.

July brought the Bottersnikes and Gumbles preview where we interviewed one of the characters and found out the recording didn’t work. My memory was still a bit rubbish so I can’t remember anything he said either. I fail. H was interviewed for CBBC but it wasn’t used (I thought that might happen, she was quiet).

Yurt Life at Kingsdown Centre - wonderful setting!

July was also the start of our holidays, heading to Cornwall again. We stopped in Weston Super Mare on the way down, wandered around there and made the most of late evening beach walks, donkey rides, fish & chips and relaxing.

The following day we arrived at Hallagenna Cottages in St Breward, and had a lovely week there discovering loads of new places. Up the road at Coombe Mill The Boy and Me gang were staying. H and The Boy both got on famously, so next year we’re going back to Coombe Mill to stay!

OMG We're Staying at Coombe Mill next year face

I love Cornwall. Great beaches, great weather and having a proper holiday is always a good thing.

On the way back to London we stayed in a Yurt at the Kingsmead Centre which was loads of fun!

We used our Merlin Passes and visited Weymouth Sea Life on the way back to London.

H in front of the Disneyland Castle

August arrived. We had a short break to Paris planned which didn’t break the bank. We stayed near the Eiffel Tower for a couple of nights. After that we headed to Disneyland Paris and H didn’t have a CLUE! She also got in for free as if you’re six, then that’s what happens. She was seven the following day – and it counts from check-in date. We also managed to do Jedi Training Academy. So that was her surprise 7th birthday treat. We had glorious weather and needed a month to recover afterwards.

In September H moved up to Junior school. She has settled well and is loving it. Her confidence is growing too which is great. She also started Brownies and had moved up a level in swimming at the end of summer to Stage 5.

Because it was a new school we didn’t do a huge amount in September, although made it to Hampton Court again.

H and Milo the Giant African Millipede from Wild Fangs

October was busier though, with H’s birthday party which she really enjoyed.

At the end of October we headed back to York to see my mum, staying there for the first time in a long time. H loved spending time with her nana, and I loved stopping and recharging my batteries. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the whole of half term off, so we took H out of school for two days so she won’t get her 100% attendance this term.

We visited Fountains Abbey with my sister and her boys too.

We also found time to visit Alton Towers which I’d spent plenty of time at in the eighties. I recognised parts, but not that much really, although I’d occasionally have moments where I’d say “Hang on? Wasn’t The Corkscrew there?” and be right.

Fireworks at Carshalton Ponds

November was Bonfire Night which was fun – we stayed by our local ponds and had great views, rather than enter the park and have some views. The end of the year is all about saving money! I booked a ticket for Blogfest earlier in the year and attended but it wasn’t the same. I don’t think I’ll be going next year.

We went to Epsom Downs and saw the supermoon which gave me lots of silhouette photos I do love to take. We planted Miffy Tulips, and got some mesh to put over our plant pot so the foxes won’t dig it up. H did her Brownie promise and remembered it, and I wore my leaders uniform for the first time and felt like I had confidence to do it.

December. We had the school fair (which H helped me on the stall with – see, this is a new confidence she’s found. She used to hide behind me), she has moved up a level at swimming to Stage 6. She has lost two more teeth taking it to 10 total, and is almost there with her handwriting at school, holding out for a pen licence.

Completely unexpected, but H was Star of the Term as voted for by her teachers. She ran up to me incredibly proud in the playground. Their note sums it up. I love that the unexpected things make everything feel even better.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

We went back to York for the York Panto which was Cinderella. H got her name read out in the shoutouts part of the production which she loved – and she got a Wagon Wheel! I am still persuading her not to eat it…

We had two visits to see Father Christmas. One was at Chessington Garden Centre and the other at Tottenham’s ground. Of the two, the Tottenham one was the best – he was really warm, fun and engaging and had H chatting. I asked him if he could make sure Tottenham win the league for my present and we all left feeling cheery (but I don’t think he’ll have much luck with that, another good season would be good).

We’re finishing the year off inviting neighbours around to our house. This is a big one for us – until now I’ve felt like our house is too small, though a friend did it last year and made me realise it could be done. Then we had H’s party which proved over 20 people could be in our house with room to spare. My biggest problem had been our heating. It was fine us living here with the crappy heating which I always hated and felt like it only warmed the landing upstairs and our front room – but now we have proper central heating. This house is welcoming again… though I suspect our 1st January trip to the seaside may need to be postponed by a day… that and I’m sure our car won’t make it there and back!

So what will 2017 bring? I know my aches and pains and anxiety aren’t going to go away, but I’ve found if I keep myself busy it helps it not be at the forefront of my mind. I’m going to progress with my training to be a Guide Leader though I’m still not sure I want to be in charge. But we’ll cross that bridge…

We’ve taken out Historic Houses Association membership so at some point we’ll get to Hever Castle which we’ve wanted to visit for a while. We’ll probably need to buy a new car as ours is on its last legs.

See you, 2016. You’ve been busy.

Jedi Training Academy at Disneyland Paris

Back in August we spent three days at Disneyland Paris. We had clear plans for what we wanted to do every day, and on our last day it was Jedi Training Academy.
Jedi Training Academy Jedi H with lightsaber

Jedi Training Academy is fun – but involves a long wait. Because we were staying at the hotel Santa Fe, I managed to get vouchers to swap for breakfast in the park on our last day. This saved us a lot of time.

H as Rey, Official Disney Rey Costume
We bought H the official Disney Rey Costume – using our discount with DisneyLife. Of all the Rey costumes I liked this one the best – and H really felt the part too. She’s being all moody and thoughtful here. (while waiting to meet Mary Poppins, of all things)

We also had Extra Magic Hours which meant you can enter the park early every day. Between the hours of 8am to 10am you have access to a lot of Disneyland Paris, regular ticket holders are then allowed in from 10am. This meant we could get in line for Jedi Training Academy quite early on which made a big difference.

There is a person who checks you in – and you’re issued with a laminated pass. This means as long as someone stands in line, you have a place. Waiting in line meant Shaun got in place for 9.15 – and Jedi Training Academy booking in starts at 10.45. Be prepared to wait for a long time. H and I went off and did the Buzz Lightyear ride a couple of times while Shaun waited.

Jedi Training Academy Jedi H practicing

Once the doors open, you’re directed to a desk, and your potential Jedi has to answer a few questions. H started well – they asked how old she was, and she replied “fine”. Oops. She had her Rey costume on, so they knew she was a fan. You have to be over 7 to do Jedi Training Academy.

We got a 2pm timeslot which fitted into our plans. You have to turn up 30 minutes before your time to get in some essential pre-show training, as well as get some robes.

Jedi Training Academy H and stage

Then 2pm arrives. Jedi Training Academy begins. A french Obi Wan/Ewan McGregor lookalike Obi Wan introduced proceedings. Sixteen Jedi’s of various ages lined up on stage, including H.

A sidenote; for most of the time with school we’d had tears and worries about speaking out at class assemblies.

Not so with Jedi Training Academy. H strode onto stage with a confidence I had never seen before. She did as she was instructed, coming out on centre stage and had a quick lightsaber battle with Darth Vader. They used the force to make R2D2 rise, and more.

Jedi Training Academy H and certificate

H had the time of her life! Oh, and she got a certificate at the end too. “So now I’m a proper Jedi” she added.

Jedi Training Academy H and Rey

H looked the part, she acted the part, and she had a wonderful time. I would recommend Jedi Training Academy at Disneyland Paris if you have a Star Wars fan. It is available at no extra cost, and the only thing that it costs you is time. Queuing.

Jedi Training Academy info is over here. We bought H the Rey costume, using our DisneyLife discount from the Official Disney Store. If you’ve seen Part 1 of the new Star Wars Go Rogue trailers (which are brilliant), there are more!

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4 – the final part!

Disneyland Paris – Auberge de Cendrillon

We’re back from Disneyland Paris having managed to surprise H. She had no idea she was going either! For H’s birthday we visited Auberge de Cendrillon – a Disney Princess dining experience.
auberge de cendrillon

Auberge de Cendrillon is behind the Disney castle, and is a restaurant where you can meet Disney Princesses. It’s quite pricey, but as a birthday treat it was worth it. Plus we didn’t have to queue to meet the characters.

We booked H in on her birthday, but had one problem – all her Disney Princess dresses were too small for her. Oh, and she had gone off Frozen. Luckily I had a beautiful Elsa dress sent from Disney which was ideal! H saw it and immediately forgot that she had gone off Frozen, and felt like a princess when she wore it. It is an impressive dress too which captures the spirit of Elsa’s dress.

H in front of the Disneyland Castle

There are two problems with the dress – not major ones, but ones to be aware of. The brooch on the front plays ‘Let It Go’ when you press it, though is difficult to remove. You can do it by unscrewing it, which is a bit of a faff but it means the brooch stays on. Then there’s the glitter which features all over the dress. Glitter is the bane of my life when it comes to crafting – you can’t remove the stuff, it gets everywhere. But then when at Disneyland it’s just magic dust, right?

The dress packed down small which was good, so we were able to hide it in our suitcases. Once we had done our big reveal, we told H what we had planned – including Auberge de Cendrillon. “But I don’t have a princess dress to wear!” she said – and we proved her wrong.

On her birthday morning it was hot – in the mid-30s. Maybe not the best day to wear a gorgeous princess dress – but H did. We kept her hydrated, but brought a change of clothes for afterwards which worked.

menus at Auberge de CendrillonThe main test was how princessy she would feel at Auberge de Cendrillon. There’s the menu. It’s pretty special for younger kids, and fine for adults too. You can use hotel meal vouchers to lower the cost as well which helped. Add to that we had ordered her a birthday cake, and we knew we were going to be well fed. The menu changes a lot, so it may be worth checking online beforehand.

H meets the Disney Princesses at Auberge de Cendrillon

We also didn’t know which princesses she would meet! First up was Belle who was friendly and chatty, but H was a bit shy, a bit overwhelmed and hadn’t warmed up. Our meal started with some Amuse-bouche, delicious cheese puffs. Our drink was a juice, the Princes Cocktail.

By the time Cinderella made it to our table H was far more chatty – and felt quite special. I felt pretty full by now, despite not eating that much… and it was going to get worse!

Auberge de Cendrillon dining and cake and dancing

Auberge de Cendrillon is a lovely restaurant, with space for the characters to visit. Every hour or so they also do a little dance on the main floor space. This was just around the corner from our table, but wasn’t a problem.

Aurora and Prince Philip were the last Disney Princess/Prince to visit us, and H was chatty by now! Suzy and Perla, the two mice from Cinderella popped by too. H loved it!

Suzy and Perla at Auberge de Cendrillon

We had a salad before our main course, and finally the dessert. H’s food was served on a Mickey Mouse plate which she thought was pretty cool.

We had ordered a birthday cake for our meal which is suitable for up to 8 people. There was just the three of us… let’s just say we were completely stuffed! Having the desserts in addition to the cake was a bit too much for us – so be prepared to come out of Auberge de Cendrillon extremely full.

I loved H’s dessert, a white chocolate shoe with chocolate cream piped into it, but she had to leave it. We couldn’t take it with us as it would have melted!

Being as stuffed as we were, there was only one way to finish the meal, with a nice peppermint tea. It helped – I didn’t need to eat anything else that day! In all, we spent two hours at Auberge de Cendrillon, and after meal vouchers it cost us around £130. Bear in mind, the Disney birthday cake cost about £30 of that.

H loved the experience too – and it was good to get away from the heat outside when it was at its highest. The food was delicious, the vegetarian option was good, and there was enough to keep H busy. I’d recommend Auberge de Cendrillon to anyone considering it when visiting Disneyland Paris.

The Elsa dress from Disney Stores is this one and it currently retails for £34.99. It made H feel like a princess, and indeed the amount of detail that it has makes it something worth purchasing. It is ideal for a special occasion.