Getting Through Trauma

As an alternative to my usual stories and photos of happiness I’m going to tell a sad story today.  The story of what happened to my lovely little Immie on her 3rd birthday (and the week following it).  The experience has been going round and round in my mind since we left hospital and I thought that writing about it may serve as some kind of therapy for me to get it off my chest, and not only that, it may help anyone else out there who may go through a similar experience.

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Her birthday started as it should with balloons and presents, wearing her lovely new  dress, eagerly awaiting her party that afternoon, until everything came crashing down at about 11am when she fell over and bit through her tongue when her chin landed on a piece of furniture.

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We used an ice lolly at first to try and stop the swelling and bleeding, which worked for a bit, but then n hour or so later it started swelling and bleeding again, pretty profusely, so the nurse on 111 sent us to A and E at the John Radcliffe Hospital.  The doctor’s did not think she would need any intervention as tongues heal very well and quickly by themselves (apparently they’ll only stitch it if the cut in lateral down the tongue rather than across it), however by 7pm that evening Immie was refusing to eat or drink anything so we were admitted for the night as they were worried about dehydration, and wanted to put her on a drip.  The blood was still pouring from her mouth 12 hours after it happened, which was traumatic enough for her in itself, but they now had to attempt to put a cannula in her 5 times before it was successful in order to give her the IV fluids she needed to keep her hydrated.

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The next morning I was full of hope that she would start to eat and drink, but she refused again all day.  We spent the day coaxing her with drinks, yoghurts, sweets, milkshakes, ice creams and jellies.  But by this point her tongue was so swollen, black and covered in blood clots that I’m not surprised she didn’t want to use it.  She was also refusing to talk and even swallow saliva, so we had to manage that by wiping her mouth continuously.  That night we were admitted to the children’s hospital.

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Meanwhile back at home, thankfully my sister and her partner were staying with us that weekend so were able to look after the children while we were in hospital. They brought her brothers and cousins in to see her on Monday morning as I thought that may perk her up.  It did momentarily, and they had a run around in the play area, but she soon found she was too weak to do anything else but lie down in the buggy or the bed and watch the tablet.  Still no eating, drinking, talking or swallowing.

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The next day was Tuesday and was probably one of the hardest.  She woke up just utterly drained and weak.  She hadn’t eaten anything since Saturday and it was all she could do to just sit in the buggy as I walked her around the hospital lobby while she stared into space.  The only time shed really communicate was to point at bottles of drink and food that we went past and I would have to buy them so that she could clutch them to her chest.

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This day, not only did I feel I’d lost part of her as she wasn’t talking, I also watched her spirit get snuffed out as she was slowly starving and that was very hard to watch.  At this point we agreed with the doctors that she really needed a nasal gastric tube to get some nutrition into her.  I knew that the only way she would start swallowing was if she was happy, playing and distracted and this wasn’t going to happen if she was wasting away in bed.  Very aware of the additional trauma this may put her through, and myself feeling very low, I left Lance to go with her for the NG tube fitting.  Apparently it wasn’t as bad as we expected, (maybe she was too weak to put up a fight), and she was in and out in 5 minutes.

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The following day was mostly the same.  We were allowed to take her home on leave in the afternoon to see if home helped to perk her up a bit.  She spent most of the two hours we had there laying on the sofa watching TV.  At one point I took her upstairs to get her changed and to the toilet.  She had so retreated inside herself by this point that she was pretty unrecognisable in her character. As I had been the one there to constantly wipe her mouth of the blood and saliva which pooled there (which she hated) she had come to look at even me with fear and distrust, which was almost unbearable.  Just trying to get her changed was a battle as she was so scared of what I might do to her.  She screamed and screamed and looked at me like a terrified wild animal as I tried to wrestle with her.  Possibly one of the worst experiences of the week, strangely.  I ended up managing to hold her to my chest as we both just sat there on the floor sobbing.

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I came back to hospital feeling pretty desperate and exhausted with the home visit having made no difference.  Luckily we were met by Kate, the clinical psychologist who wanted to meet and get to know Immie, so took me aside to talk to me about her.  It was so therapeutic to sit and pour my heart out to her.  She explained that Immie’s reaction was a typical child reaction to fear, and it was her way of protecting herself.  So much was happening to her that she didn’t understand, and she had retreated inside herself to keep herself safe.

One of the things I found hardest was the fact that Immie no longer seemed to want me anymore.  She didn’t want any affection, would scream at me if I asked her anything and really saw me as one of the ‘bad guys’.  Kate explained that she certainly did want me there and that all I needed to do was to act positive and not seem to worried about what was happening, but most importantly just be there.  Immie would be feeling terrified and seeing Lance and I stressed, worried and upset would only increase that fear.  Easier said than done I know, but I resolved to try and be as happy and positive as I could from then on.  She also advised to relieve any pressure on Immie to eat or drink.  This would come in its own time when she was ready, and putting any kind of pressure on her would be making it a whole lot worse rather than better.

That evening I sat with Immie and opened a milkshake up for her to smell.  She was fascinated by it so I decided to get a tray and to tip it out in there for her to play with.  What happened next was the first breakthrough I’d been praying for, that would start her playing and interacting with me again.  We started picking up any food we could find around her bed space and to pour it and mix it into this tray.  She must have done this for over an hour.  She then leapt out of bed and started to play with the water at the sink – pouring it from bottle to cup and back and forth.  It was like being able to hold and play with the food and water was another way of being closer to it that didn’t involve having to put it in her mouth!  That night I finally went to bed happy and could see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel…

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She awoke the next day a new woman!  Two days and nights on the NG feed was obviously starting to take effect and she leapt out of bed ready to play with everything that had been given to her during her stay.

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We had an appointment with Kate that morning so went down the cafe in the lobby for Immie to do some food play with her.  Immie had lots of fun making marshmallow men out of candy sticks and marshmallows, then they had competitions to see who could stick the marshmallows on their faces.  This was all with the aim of gently encouraging closeness to food and drink.  Also to marshmallows on her face was a good way of her getting used to things near her mouth again.

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After this, we went back up towards the ward.  We stopped at a balcony area outside the lifts and for the first time in 3 days we watched Immie running around, laughing and smiling with her little brother.  I sat on the floor and cried as I watched…

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We still weren’t over the mountain however, as she still wasn’t eating, drinking, swallowing or talking.  I was still having to manually empty her mouth of her saliva, which really upset her, and was making her chin very sore with all the wiping.  She was still clutching food and drinks, and then took to offering me the drinks whenever she was thirsty.

Having a child who won’t swallow (but CAN swallow) was extremely frustrating.  By this point her tongue was looking much better, no longer swollen, just bruised, and she could probably swallow if she wanted to, it was just the psychological fear of using a part of her body again that had caused her pain that was holding her back.  The consultant told us that this isn’t unusual in children, though more often found with limbs than tongues!

We were doing a lot of play with the play therapists on the ward, who were fantastic, but we soon reached Friday, 6 days after it happened and were still in the same place no eating, drinking, swallowing or talking.  On Friday afternoon, after a busy day of playing with her best friend and cousin who visited I was feeling in despair that we still hadn’t made any more progress.  I ended up taking her to the balcony area here we could watch the traffic going past, when she started saying single words to name the colours of cars.  Gradually she started saying more and more, and as she did, it was like she unknowingly was able to move the saliva around as she spoke, rather than pooling it at the front of her mouth as she had been.  Then she swallowed!!!  I told her she’d swallowed and she leapt out of the buggy, grabbed her spoon and pasta (that i’d made her earlier and she’d been clutching to her chest) and started eating it!  I sat on the floor next to her and cried my eyes out.  The joy and relief that I felt at the moment I can only describe as similar to the moment that they hand you your baby after labour.

 

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She then jumped up and said “Mummy! let’s go to the café!”.  Luckily Pret was still open so we flew down and she devoured a banana, a gingerbread man and a cup of milk.  We then went back to the ward and she spent the rest of the evening (until about 10.30pm) chatting non stop, and eating anything she could find.

The boys and Daddy came in the next day as soon as they could and we spent a happy morning buying any snacks and ice cream she wanted, playing and waiting for the NG to be removed so we could be discharged.

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The whole experience taught me a lot of things.  One of the stand out lessons is how resilient children are.  It is so easy in those dark hopeless moments to imagine all the worst case scenarios – her tongue will get infected, she’ll get sepsis and die; she’ll never talk again because she’ll be so traumatised; she’ll be on an NG tube for at least a year; she’ll never sleep soundly again… However, we’ve come home and it’s like NOTHING ever happened.  She has bounced back 100% and has even had that bit more joy in herself and spring in her step!  Also that when you are feeling utterly hopeless that you can’t fix whatever the problem is,  just being there for your child is all they really want and need.  Playing with them, acting normally and trying to reduce the stress they are feeling is what they need more than anything to help them recover.

Being surrounded by so many other children in the hospital with problems far greater than ours was humbling and helped to give me reality checks when I needed them.  Really, deep down, I knew Immie would be fine.  I knew she would be home in a few days, that she would eat, drink talk again.  Sat next to parents whose children had brain tumours, hydrocephalus, congenital disorders, our problems seemed so very little.  After a few days I realised that a lot of the frustration I was feeling about still being in hospital was due to selfish reasons, that this is inconveniencing ME, that MY bank holiday weekend has been ruined, I don’t want to sleep here another night.  Once I put those feelings aside, and really focussed on Immie and her need for me to be patient and let her recover in her own time, I found I could accept the situation much more easily.

Anyway, we are home now, life has resumed its gloriously normal monotony.  We have just redone her birthday party (which she seemingly hadn’t even missed!) and this episode is one for the family history books.

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xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reaching the Top of the Mountain

A friend recently asked me an interesting question: if I had to place myself in my current life situation on a map, where would I describe myself as being? Helplessly drifting down a river?  Trudging across an empty plain with not much happening every day? Maybe stuck in the central reservation of a motorway with traffic rushing past you on both sides, feeling like everyone knows where they’re going and how to get there apart from you?  It’s an interesting thought and after taking a while to think about it and coming back to it at the end of our chat I realised where I would place myself: just about to reach the top of a mountain.

I’d say I started the journey up this mountain around Spring 2015, when we decided to move after discovering I was pregnant, and I think I have been slowly trudging up it for nearly 2 years now: moving and settling into a new house while pregnant, getting through the first year of a new baby with a toddler in tow,  adjusting to being a mother of 4,  and trying to renovate the new house with 4 children to contend with.

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But I’m starting to feel like we might have MADE IT.  After 5 months of living in a building site, the work is finally coming to an end and we now have the space we have dreamed of and craved since we first saw this house in April 2015.

Here’s the view before…

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And this is the after…

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Having this space is like a breath of fresh air.  Suddenly I’m not cooking with children running around my feet, and eating in here is an absolute pleasure sitting around our lovely new table.  Although the garden is north facing, the light that streams in in the morning is glorious, especially on a sunny day, with the bifolding doors open.  The room is still pretty empty but now I get to do the fun part, choosing some bits of furniture to fill it, cushions to go on the new sofa (coming soon!) and pictures to go on the wall. To be honest I wouldn’t care if we never bought a single thing to put in it, I am just so pleased to finally have SPACE!

I had no idea how all consuming having an extension built would be.  Just the endless stream of workmen everyday can be exhausting (saying that, I actually have the best and most considerate builders I could ask for), plus having the whole house turned upside down as you move everything about from room to room.  Every spare moment I have had over the last 4 months has been spent trawling the internet for tiles, taps, lights, flooring and taps, to list but a few, and hence anything else extra curricular, (such as this blog) has been put on the back burner.

Then after Christmas, after a year of giving us hell, my youngest finally turned a corner with his sleeping , which seemed to happen just as he turned 1.  He is walking now and is at that adorable “I could squeeze you and kiss you all day” age, wandering around, getting into everything, babbling away and just being unbelievably cute.  He now feels like he can be one of the gang, running about the house after his siblings and i think is just feeling a lot less frustrated about life.

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And so, with space to breath, more time to sleep and spring around the corner, I feel like I am just about to reach the peak of the mountain.  From there I can look back at what I have achieved with the house and the family and out into the year ahead.  I am well aware however, that this is probably just a dream and I’ll actually discover that it is one of those trick mountain peaks, where you think you’re at the top but you’re actually not – life is never that easy.  I’m sure God has the next mountain ready and waiting around the corner, but however big it may be I am ready and willing to take it on.  For now though I can hope and pray that this is the peak and I can prepare myself for the next one while I take a breather and have a bit of downhill time.

I asked Lance the same map question recently.  He pondered it for a bit and then concluded that yes, he’d agree with the mountain analogy, but maybe he’s been driving alongside me up the mountain and watching me walk! Thanks Lance…

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xxx

 

 

 

Everyday Moments: The School Run

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We are lucky enough to live just a mile walk away from school.  So, nearly every morning and afternoon, come rain or shine, with the buggy piled high with bags and with my youngest snuggled inside for his nap we walk (and scoot) the twenty minute journey there and back …

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Through having days in the school holidays when I don’t have these trips to do, I have come to realise how much I love them.  Walking at a good pace, with purpose and heart pounding, with the children flying ahead on their scooters, it is often two of the only times when the boys have my full attention.  Although it is often frustrating when they are all arguing over who gets to talk to me next, I appreciate this time when they can talk to me without me being distracted –  finally Mummy isn’t washing up, looking after the little ones, making the dinner etc.  Often these walks are the times when they tell me things that have happened at school that they wouldn’t tell me otherwise, which may be missed if we all bundled into the car and were home in 2 minutes.

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The school runs are like the punctuation in my day.  As much as I enjoy having the freedom of not having to do them in the holidays, I really do like the structure they give my day in the term time.  As much as getting out of the house with 4 children by 8.20 nearly kills me on a daily basis, I think I thrive on it really.

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So this week I took my camera along with me and documented one of our school run trips in the afternoon.  This seemingly mundane event suddenly holds so much more joy and beauty than you previously imagined, when you capture it through a lens.

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I hope the children will remember these morning and afternoon walks as fondly as I will.  As much as they complain when I make us walk in the rain or freezing winds, the benefits we get from the 4 miles we walk every day: from the conversations, the exercise, the way it wakes us up in the morning and then teaches us to persevere when we’re tired and hungry at the end of the day, make it all worth it.  Even if the rest of the day has been disastrous and we have achieved nothing else, at least we have done that.

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xxx

 

Great Days Out: Mottisfont House

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Last weekend we visited  Mottisfont House, just on the other side on Stockbridge.  A couple of friends had recommended it recently and so as it promised to be a lovely sunny Autumn afternoon we set off to meet my sister with my nephew and her partner.

Previously an abbey and then later converted into a house, it was bought by a wealthy lady called Nancy Russell in the 1930’s, who used it as her country retreat and used to go there on the weekends to throw parties for the rich and famous.

Set in beautiful gardens surrounded by streams, it is now owned by the National Trust, and is open all year except for Christmas.  The house is open to walk around – it has a very Downton Abbey feel to it I thought, you can imagine glamorous women swanning about in gorgeous 30s dresses, and you also get to go upstairs and see all the maids quarters too.

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The children collected horse chestnuts and swung from the branches of the chestnut trees.  The sun was just starting to come out so it was perfect for taking some lovely pictures and video.

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Then we headed to the Old Coach House to warm up with some soup.  The cafe was busy but really warm and inviting.  They have a few little rooms there with dressing up bits for the children to try…

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One of the loveliest parts of the gardens is around the streams and river than run through the property.  There are two lovely little play areas for children – one is a boggy, muddy area with wooden climbing frames set above it all.  Wellies recommended!..

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The other is a water damming stream where you can pump water and then use wooden dams to stop and start the flow.  The children loved it.

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Have a look at the video I made of our day out…

 

Top tips for the trip:

Journey Time and Parking: About one hour from Abingdon and lots of easy parking just outside.

Entrance fee: £34 for a family, but free for National Trust members.  WE bought our NT membership for the first time this year and are trying to make it worth it by visiting a NT property once a month!

Opening Times: 10am until 5pm but can vary so check the website!

Eating: There are 2 nice cafes here, The Coach House sells more snacks and sandwiches and the cafe in the House sells main meals too.  Both seemed nice.

I can imagine Mottisfont house is a lovely place to visit at all times of the year, though if you have children I really recommend going in milder weather so that they can appreciate playing with the water in the dam stream.  It is mainly outdoors, though you have the chance to warm up in the cafes and house if you are there on a cold day.

Do let me know if you go there on this recommendation and tell me what you think!

Thanks for reading x

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Great Days Out with kids: The Milestones Museum

I’m always on the look out for fun and new places to take the children, and often the only way I hear about them are by word of mouth.  Having had 6 years of experience now of trial and error, working out where is worth going to, and where isn’t, I now have quite a good repertoire of places that we all enjoy visiting in and around Oxfordshire (mainly).  I thought I’d share them with you here when I visit them, and also when I find new ones too.

On a rainy day last weekend, we had to cancel our plans  to got to a National Trust house and find an alternative.  The friends we were meeting suggested going to the Milestones Museum in Basingstoke.  Not having heard of it before, I was surprised to discover that it had rave reviews on TripAdvisor and from the website it actually looked quite good.  We had £40 of Tesco clubcard days out vouchers to use up, so when I realised they accepted those too, it was a done deal.

The museum is about 1 hour drive from Abingdon.  It is based inside a large hanger about the size of a football pitch and is fitted out inside with a nostalgic look at what England would have looked like throughout the last century.

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Real vintage trams, steam trains, cars and fire engines sit outside replica brick-built  shops on real cobbled streets.  You can climb in most of the vehicles, and dress up in different costumes from the ages in the dressing up tent.

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There is a sweet shop where you can spend your old one penny sweet ration that you buy on entry, to buy 2oz of sweets from a selection of old sweet jars (what children during sugar rationing would have been allowed for a whole week).  There is even a real pub in the middle of it all where you can sit and have a drink.

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There is an old camera shop, old toy shop, old record shop, old car show room…

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There are displays of everything you can imagine, from old hoovers and hair dryers, to what a living room would have looked like in the 30s through to the 70s.

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We probably had the most fun  in the Old Penny Arcade at the end.  You change a £1 into 10 old pennies and use them on the impressive collection of old penny arcade machines.

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They have a changing, running theme going on most of the time it seems – the current one is ‘The Vanishing Queen’, where, with the help of a clue book, children must work out who has kidnapped Queen Victoria.  Once you have worked it out, anyone 7 and over (for extra cost) can also go and have a go in ‘The Escape Room’ where you need to solve a number of puzzles in a certain time to escape from a locked room…

We all really enjoyed the museum, and spent a good three hours there, including some time having lunch in the café.  I’d say it would hold interest for all members if the family, from grandparents, teenagers, to little ones.  I’m surprised it has taken us this long to hear about it – hence this blog post is trying to spread the word into Oxfordshire!

Top Tips for the Trip

  • Journey time – One hour drive from Abingdon.  For the amount of time you can spend there I’d say it is definitely worth the drive.
  • Parking – Easy parking right outside the museum.
  • Opening Times – It’s open from 11am-4pm on the weekends.  We went on a rainy Saturday in September and arrived at midday, I thought it might be packed but I was surprised to find it wasn’t.
  • Entrance – We paid £30 for a family (2 adults and up to 3 children), but bought the entry with our Tesco Clubcard Days Out vouchers, so got in for free!
  • Eating –  There’s a nice café there as you go in, that serves hot food and cold sandwiches, cakes, soup, sausage rolls and lunch boxes for children.

I highly recommend this place for a rainy day out!

 

 

 

 

Making Films

As a distraction from endless child rearing, I recently decided to do complete an online film making course with Xanthe Berkeley, on the recommendation of my friend and fellow blogger Katherine Lightner.

The course is aimed at anyone who has any type of film making equipment, from a  snazzy DSLR camera, to your iPhone, and is made to fit around our busy modern lives.  It consists of 10 online tutorials that are posted once a week.  You can watch the weekly tutorial all in one go or just pick it up whenever you get a moment (I would squeeze one in while I was doing the washing up,  and then another in the 10 minutes in bed before I went to sleep and so on).  Then you make films that week based on the topic she sets and post them in a online group at the end of the week.  There is no problem if you don’t manage to share any videos, or if you fall behind in the tutorials – its all done at your own pace.  You learn everything from different types of shooting (e.g. slow motion, time lapse, stop motion), to using music in your films, to how to edit them together.  Watching everyone else’s videos at the end of each week is especially inspiring.

Watching Xanthe’s videos was enough to inspire me to try and film more (you can watch some on her website).   The whole idea of the course is to try to get you to film more of the everyday moments that make up your life and to capture the things that photography can’t.  She teaches you to make films out of everything and anything, and that the length really doesn’t matter – even a 15 second mini movie is something worth making.

Since doing the course I have become somewhat addicted to making these little movies.  And as much as I love making them, the children love helping me – they are much more willing participants than when I ask them to pose for a photo!

It has also served as a big eye opener for me to see how beautiful and idyllic some parts of my life can seem when played back in slow motion with some nice music over the top! From now on I am planning on spending everyday with head phones on playing Einaudi, to drown out the racket around me and hopefully get me to see my life in a more positive way!

I highly recommend doing one of Xanthe’s courses if you have any interest in film making.  It really has opened my eyes to a whole new world of photographic art that I don’t do enough of and that I actually really love.  The memories I’ve captured through these films are irreplaceable and add another dimension to my bank of memories that are more than just taking photos.

I am going to try my best to keep making these for as long as a can!

Thanks Xanthe x

Great Days Out with Kids: Minster Lovell

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I’m always on the look out for fun and new places to take the children, and often the only way I hear about them are by word of mouth.  Having had 6 years of experience now of trial and error, working out where is worth going to, and where isn’t, I now have quite a good repertoire of places that we all enjoy visiting in and around Oxfordshire (mainly), so I thought I’d share them with you here when I visit them, and also when I find new ones too.

Minster Lovell

Last week, on the first day of the holidays, while the weather was warm and my  Mum was staying with us, I took the children to have a paddle and a picnic at the ruins of Minster Lovell hall.  We had been here a few years ago for a picnic with friends, and, although we hadn’t gone in the river that time as the boys were both pretty little, my husband seemed pretty sure that the river was shallow enough to paddle in.  With the weather having been  so warm, I had considered taking them to our local outdoor swimming pool, but as there were 5 of them (ranging in ages from 7 months to 6 years old) vs. two of us, one look from Mum was enough to convince me it was probably a bad idea.

So we packed our buckets and fishing nets, threw a picnic together and headed off.

Minster Lovell is a small, picturesque village in the Cotswolds, north west of Witney.  It has a few lovely thatched cottages, a small pub and hotel, and behind the grounds of the church stand the ruins of an old house, built in the 1500s, set in grounds next to a beautifully peaceful flowing river.

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We all had a go at paddling in the river, which was about knee height at its deepest at the point; where we got in, a helpful tree trunk dips from the bank into the river, which makes a lovely place to climb in and out.  There are also deeper parts to the river, in case you feel brave enough to go for a proper dip.

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After a paddle, as the boys had come armed with swords and guns, they spent much of the time running around the ruins playing ninja warriors on the hunt for dragons.  It was a lovely backdrop for imaginary play.

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Even if the weather isn’t good enough to go paddling and you’re little ones aren’t up for playing ninja warriors, it is a really idyllic place for a picnic.  Bring a ball, or a Frisbee, and just enjoy the peaceful setting.

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Top Tips for the Trip

Journey time – From Abingdon it was 35 min drive.  I was slightly worried that we’d get there and everyone would be bored within 20 minutes , but luckily they weren’t, so driving that far was worth it I’d say.  We ended up staying there a good hour and a half.

Parking – There is a small parking area at the top of the lane that leads down to the church, but once that’s full I think you have to park on the side of the road that goes down into the village.  Get there early for guaranteed parking.

Opening times – “Any reasonable hour” is printed on the board as you arrive!

We arrived at 10.30 and it was pretty quiet when we got there.  As we were leaving at 12ish (on a warm sunny day in the summer holidays), quite a few large groups of people were starting to arrive and it just didn’t feel quite so peaceful anymore, so I’d recommend getting there early if it is peak season.

Eating – There is a pub further down in the village, but I have never been so can’t recommend it.  Bring a picnic!

Toilets – There are no toilets here or anywhere nearby that I could see, so its a case of peeing in the bushes for the children and just going before you leave for anyone else!

Things to bring – Buckets and fishing nets; its pretty pebbly in the river so Crocs/flipflops are a good idea (wellies only OK if they stick to the shallower ends); swimming costumes for the brave and a change of clothes just in case.

If you have enjoyed this post and are looking for more ideas on where to take the children in and around Oxfordshire, have a look at my other great day out at the Living Rainforest.