Today I’m hosting a guest post from mum Lucy Cooper, a well-travelled writer working for Classic Cottages.

Choosing the best accommodation for a first family holiday

This year we’re planning our first family holiday with a one-year-old. We’ve opted for a holiday cottage as the best baby-friendly option that also allows the most scope for freedom and fun.

Comfort factor

I enjoy adventure, but even I have to admit that camping with a one-year-old is not top of my agenda. No hot running water, apart from the shower, which is usually located a distance away from your tent! No microwave to warm bottles/food quickly or to sterilise baby equipment.  For the purposes of the all-important first holiday together, I’m inclined to stick to the comfort of four walls.

Room to sprawl – and crawl

Space is top priority when you have got a little one in tow. A holiday cottage allows you a whole house to spread out. You are the mistress or master of your own domain. And you don’t need to worry about the disgruntled couple in the room next door when baby decides that 3am is wake up time.

"Bucket and spade"

Freedom and flexibility

You’re not dictated to when meal times are, as in a hotel, leaving you the freedom to eat what you want, when you want. There was a time when ‘self catering’ conjured up images of 1950s-style kitchenettes with a clapped out cooker and a dodgy toaster. Thankfully, those days are long gone. Now you can expect the kitchen in a holiday cottage to be just as well equipped as your kitchen back home, if not more so.

Convenience

Staying in a cottage enables you to make up picnics and food suitable for your baby to take out on day trips. Arranging a supermarket delivery on the first day will save you the chore of hunting around for the shops when you arrive. And it can save packing bulky packs of nappies, freeing up precious space in the car.

Choice of locations

Holiday cottages are dotted all over the place, in unusual settings and quirky little places to explore, so you needn’t feel like one of the herd. You can get out and explore new places knowing that you’ve got a comfy house waiting for you at the end of the day.

Finding a baby-friendly holiday cottage

Choosing a baby friendly property that provides some of the essentials for little ones, such as a cot, high chair, stair-gate and baby bath, makes life easier and cuts down on the baby paraphernalia on the list of things to pack. If you find a property you would like to holiday in but are unsure about its suitability for your party, contact the team at Classic, many of us in the Booking Office are mothers ourselves and appreciate how important it is to get the right family holiday location and accommodation.

Planning your first family holiday? Or are you a seasoned mum or dad traveller? What are your experiences of first family holidays and tips on where to stay with the little ones?

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That’s right readers, you heard me, scourers.

I know. Sexy right? Hold onto your hat and prepare for a rollercoaster of a blog post.

"Scourers in the post"

Now obviously I’m not really interested in cleaning things, but boyfriend is always up for a bit of scourer action, so it was with him in mind that I accepted Scotch-Brite‘s challenge to put their cloths and scourers to the test against a couple of other leading brands. In fact, so keen was he to help me out, that he devised a series of tests to give each product a fair trial.*

To keep any personal scourer preferences out of the equation, we weren’t told which other brands we had been sent, products were simply labelled A and B. In each case, the Scotch-Brite products were a bit more expensive, but they believe they are worth paying that little extra for.

Here’s what our tests found:

The product: Heavy duty scourer

What Scotch-Brite say: “this scourer easily shifts grease and burnt food. What’s great about it is it contains natural fibres of cellulose which are super absorbent, which is ideal for mopping up or wiping down surfaces”

"Heavy Duty Scourer"

The test: How clean can you make a baked on casserole dish in 15 seconds? (We deliberately left a casserole dish in the over after dinner to make sure it was good and baked on)

"Dirty dishes"

The results: They say a picture is worth a thousand words…

"Scourers"

OK, so the left hand third was cleaned with scourer A, the middle with scourer B and the right hand third with the Scotch Brite scourer. Scotch Brite was definitely the winner on this one.

The product: Multi-purpose cellulose scourer

What Scotch-Brite say: “This product is non-scratch, super absorbent and it has a unique ‘wave’ shape which makes it much easier to hold and use.”

"Sponge"

The test: Washing a casserole encrusted dinner plate

The results: There wasn’t much in this one, although we found the Scotch-Brite scourer was a bit quicker on the tough bits. Boyfriend questionned a lack of finger grips, but as he said himself ‘who uses them anyway?’ (Not me. I didn’t even know finger grips on scourers were a thing.)

The product: Sponge cloth

What Scotch-Brite say: “Scotch-Brite’s Sponge cloths are ultra-absorbent (they can hold up to ten times their own weight!). It’s also soft and flexible for mopping up all kinds of spills.”

The test: To test absorbency – how much water can you pout onto each cloth before it starts to leak out of the sides?

The results: Well, a bit of an intersting result here. Cloth A came out worst, only being able to hold 100ml. Both the Scotch-Brite cloth and cloth B held 125ml, but when you picked the Scotch-Brite cloth up to take it to the sink loads of water ran out. Cloth B held the liquid much better.

However, wiping round the surfaces with the Scotch-Brite cloth left things looking and feeling generally drier. The cloth moved more smoothly, and wiping with it felt like less effort than with the competing brands.

So there you go, that’s our Scotch-Brite tests. I told you it was going to be exciting didn’t I? I will leave you to judge whether you think Scotch-Brite is worth the extra money.

*It is at moments like these that I come over all funny and love him even more than usual. I’m not even kidding. I find this sort of thing adorable.

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This morning I went to the hospital. Not, as Boyfriend likes to believe, for a psychological assessment, but to see a physiotherapist about this annoying back pain I get at night. It’s very dull, and not mentioned in the rest of the story I promise.

"Hospital curtains"Now I love listening to other people’s conversations, and the hospital is ideal for a spot of eavesdropping, as everyone gets fooled by the fake privacy of having a curtain pulled round them. It’s a bit like when very small children play hide and seek and just stand in the middle of the room with their eyes covered, thinking that no one can see them.

While I was changing into some sexy hospital shorts, ready to be poked and prodded, a man came into the cubical next to mine. He couldn’t see me in my pants but I could certainly hear him. I didn’t see him before or after, so have no idea what he looked like, but within minutes I had painted a wonderful picture of him in my head.

“So,” said the physiotherapist, “what do you do for a living?”

“Well it’s funny,” said the man, in a voice which for some reason immediately made me picture him with a beard, “but I’m actually redundant at the moment.”

(Is that funny? I guess you have to laugh.)

“OK,” she continued, “and how long have you had a problem with your back?”

“Well,” said the bearded, unemployed man, “I’ve had niggles with it for a few years now, but I think it may have been triggered by one particular event.”

“Go on…”

“Well, I was at home, and had just come out of the shower,” beard man began. “My wife and children where downstairs, and I was upstairs getting dry.”

My shorts were on by this stage, so I just perched on the edge of the bed, legs dangling, waiting for my physiotherapist to come back and listening.

“I went to the top of the stairs,” he said, “and did a sort of provocative dance.”

Silence from the other side of the curtain.

“I had pants on and everything,” he added, although I was doubtful.

“I must still have been a bit wet, and my feet sort of slipped from underneath me and I fell down the stairs.”

It was at this point that I laughed a little bit.

Thank goodness he couldn’t hear me though – I was behind the curtain.

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This post is going to be a little bit tricky to write.

It is supposed to be showing off all the bargains I picked up on my latest visit to 99p Stores, but I made a bit of a tactical error in planning my shopping. In fact it would be fair to say I have been a little bit stupid.

Not as stupid as when I left all our passports, my purse and our Eurostar tickets in the bedside table after checking out of our Disneyland hotel last weekend, but still pretty silly.

99p Stores, I thought to myself, would be a brilliant place to pick up some presents for Christmas. Stocking fillers, chocolates, arts and craft things for Belle’s friends, that sort of thing. Seriously, 99p Stores is a virtual Aladdin’s cave of stocking fillers.

So far so good.

Off I went, filling my basket with all manner of toiletries, pen sets and festive sweeties. Father Christmas would have been so proud. We had £50 to spend, which sounds like an awful lot of money when everything is 99p, but when you’re shopping for Christmas it’s easy to get carried away.

There was loads to choose from, and we even picked Belle up a 99p chocolate advent calendar. Bargain.

Still sounds OK doesn’t it?

So then I get everything home, and start arranging it all on the kitchen table to take some photos to show everyone what I bought.

Ah.

Then it dawned on me. All the people I had bought things for read my blog.

D’oh!

I felt rather silly.

So, all you can have I’m afraid is this picture of Belle’s calendar.

"Disney Princess advent calendar"

You’ll just have to use your imagination for the other £49.01…

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Is it OK to have cake for breakfast? I’m not sure, but I just did it anyway, because I’m a grown-up and I can.

"Cake for breakfast"

Ha!

The cake in question was the Whitworths’ ‘Scrummy Ginger and Pear Cake with Toffee Sauce’. I made it last night, so if tomorrow you want to be having cake for breakfast, here’s what you need to do:

Ingredients

  • 150g ready to eat dates
  • 250ml boiling water
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 150g Whitworths for baking fine caster sugar
  • 50g Whitworths for baking dark soft brown sugar
  • 125g butter at room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 1tsp ground ginger
  • 3 ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut into 2cm pieces

For the toffee sauce:

  • 100g Whitworths for baking light soft brown sugar
  • 100g butter
  • 150ml double cream
  • Whitworths for baking twist and sprinkle icing sugar

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Line a round 22cm cake tin with non-stick baking paper. (Or if like me you realise you don’t have any, greasing the pan and then covering it with flour works well.)

Coarsley chop the dates, place in a heatproof bowl and add the boiling water and bicarbonate of soda. Set aside to cool and then coarsley mash with a fork.

Beat the caster sugar and dark soft brown sugar and butter in a large bowl until pale and creamy. NB This takes longer if you can only find one of the whisks:

"Pear and ginger cake"

Add the egg and continue to beat for one minute.

Sift the flour and ground ginger into the bowl with the date mixture and pears. Using a large metal spoon fold until well-combined.

"Pear and ginger cake"

Pour into the tin and bake for one hour ten minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Check the cake after 50 minutes and if the top is browning too quickly cover with a piece of foil and continue to cook.

"Pear and ginger cake"

For the toffee sauce:

Place the cream, light soft brown sugar and butter into a small saucepan over a medium heat. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve the warm cake with a drizzle of toffee sauce and decorate with icing sugar. Or simply on a plate with a cup of tea at 9am.

Delicious!

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