Size15Stylist reads September: Walsh and Cooper

As MiniStylist is still of school age - and we could still be fined if we take her out of school quite as much as I'd like to travel - the majority of our trips are done for the year (although we have a couple of daycations to Bristol and London before Christmas).

However, this means I can indulge in my other favourite past time - reading.  

Yup, Mini is back in the classroom, and I'm back on the Kindle app.  

Please note: I do love a paperback, but I can download ebooks from my sofa. In the warm. Great news for authors in that my friends then have to buy the ebooks, too, instead of us all sharing a paperback, as we did at university. Not so great news for my book-folding friend in that she has no ready supply of books to turn her amazing craft skills to. 


I'd love to share with you the books that have kept me awake until four am, or have helped me to burn dinner, because I've become so involved with the characters and the plots. The books that I shout about on public transport, whenever I spot another reader, or recommend to friends, or can be found yakking about on Twitter. 

I'd love for you to let me know if you've read the books, too, and what you thought of them, ... and I'm always happy to hear new recommendations.  

Here are the reads for Autumn: 

Rosie Walsh and Emma Cooper

First up is Rosie Walsh's The Man Who Didn't Call (also known as Ghosted in other countries). This novel had been on my radar, but it was an enthusiastic tweet from Stephie Chapman (also a  brilliant author) one night, and that elusive few minutes needed to download a sample onto my phone, while I carried on parenting, that brought the book properly to my attention.  

I ended up reading this most of one day, doing to books what I usually do with a box-set binge.

Walsh lures you in to that perfect summer day in the British countryside, when you meet someone who'll change your life forever in less than a week; you've already changed his life. 

And then he disappears......

I had to pop to the shop for dinner, and continued reading the book on my phone as I walked the five minutes.  Then promptly forgot what I went to the shop for, and ended up looking like a befuddled shoplifter.  Finally remembered, brought dinner home, then the plot went a beautiful kind of haywire again, and I nearly burned dinner. 
A week or so later, in love with reading all over again, I happened upon an Emma Cooper 99p sale on Kindle, for The Songs of Us

The Twitterati amongst you will know that I quite like music, so the opening chapter of this book, where the main character, Melody, uncontrollably sings the Arctic Monkey's Bet That You Look Good on the Dance Floor, at her son's assembly, had me hooked. 

And dinner got burned again. 

And then I stayed up until 4 am that Sunday morning, completely ugly-crying along with the humanity this book contains.  

Isn't it time we side-stepped the snacking that is social media occasionally and delved into the world of fine reading? 

As you were...terrorising the tea, maybe?

Disclaimer - I am a nut for Kindle, because I can literally read a novel anywhere, but all books, devices and opinions are my own; I received no money for this post.  You're welcome.

Visiting Disneyland Paris in August is possible on a budget.

Budget Disneyland Paris in August

I recently visited Disneyland Paris (DLP) with Tiny Traveller, and we had a ball worthy of any Princess. 
Me and Tiny Traveller, Disneyland Paris August 2018

We also managed to visit, for four nights in August, for around £1000. 

Yup, including return Eurostar, 4 nights bed and breakfast, 3 day/2 park tickets, a character lunch and meals.  

S15S TRAVEL TIP: Go with a friend who is supremely organised and makes you book at least 5, if not 7 months ahead.  The price is worth it. 

We went with one of my best friends and her two kiddos, aged 6 and 4, and we took advantage of the extortionate school holiday prices to stay a little outside the park. 
Only a five minute ride away on a FREE, and regular shuttle bus, we spent four nights at the 3* Aparthotel Adagio, Marne-la-Vallee Val D’Europe.   All five of us shared a two-room apartment; one bedroom (double bed) and a kitchen/diner/lounge (two sofa-beds and a rollaway).

There is a daily train from London to Marne-la-Vallee (MLV), France, which is the Disneyland stop, so try to book that if possible.  Unless you want to spend a few days/hours in Paris, in which case go for a train direct to Paris.  

Day 1 (Finding the hotel and food)

We arrived at the MLV station, at the north end of the site, just after 1.30pm. 

And spent the next hour walking around the massive Disneyland Village (free entry, lots of security to haul your suitcases through) to locate the bus stop for our hotel, at the south end of the site. 

Then we had a forty-five minute wait for the bus, in 30 degree heat, because the buses aren’t as frequent during the middle of the day. 

But we had snacks and tablets, and hell, we were at Disneyland! 

Me with the Goofy. Not Pluto as kids kept shouting.

Found the hotel no problem, thanks to help from fellow bus passengers, and, after a quick unpack, the three kids and my friend were in the hotel’s indoor pool and I was dispatched to the local supermarket, in the Val d'Europe Mall, to buy dinner. 

S15S TRAVEL TIP: The local supermarket, Auchan, is at the end of a shopping mall to rival the size of Manchester'sTrafford Centre, so about a fifteen minute walk from the Adagio hotel.  Also, don’t try ‘popping to the shop’ in flip-flops; one step forward two steps back on the slippy flooring. 

But, hello!  A huge mall within walking distance?  My very own Disneyland. 

Made it back to the apartment with pasta, but forgot pasta sauce. Also didn’t trust the cork wine wouldn’t just taunt me, unopened, on the table, so I left it on the shelf.  Then realised the apartment had a cork screw, so we bought wine another day. Four euros; lovely grape.

Bought obligatory bread, cheese, ham and butter and a ton of soft drinks (after lugging suitcases around all day I could have cried under the weight).  But three euros for six colas from Auchan Vs almost 4 euros for one in the Disney parks?  Also bought 12 mini fake Magnum ice creams, for 3 euros (it's around 4 euros for one - albeit branded - ice cream in the park).

Even managed a quick splash in the pool, too, then fed and watered everyone and lay down on the couch, dreaming of when I could squeeze in a mall visit.

Day 2

Officially Day 1 of our park visits.  We bought three-day passes from Picniq, which included a few additional discounts, and Fast Pass.  It was our first time using the site and I'd definitely use again for other days out in the UK, as well as for return trips to Disneyland Paris.   The earlier you book the better the price, too.  We payed around £150 each for 3 days/2 parks tickets, booking a month before.

We told the kids to eat up at the well-stocked breakfast as we wouldn’t be eating lunch (then remembered we’d booked a character buffet lunch at Inventions!)  The kids were far too excited to eat; there was a play house in the restaurant. 

The parks open at 10 am, and we arrived just before. If you stay at the on-site Disneyland Hotel your package can include early-bird entrance. #Goals.

I exchanged our Picniq park ticket vouchers for actual tickets at an automated machine, which was very easy to operate. We didn’t need to spend three consecutive days at the parks, as long as we used all three days within a week of the first ticket being used.   

We spent the day at the Disneyland Park – the home of the Disney Castle, the Main Street Parade and the 11pm Illuminations show.

Queues for the rides (most of them are in Fantasyland, the first you visit after the Disney Castle) weren’t too bad to start with, probably about a 15-20 minute wait.

S15S TRAVEL TIP: Use Fast Pass on the rides that offer the facility (they'll be handily marked FP on the park maps, available in several languages, throughout the park). You'll be given a ticket with an allocated time, saving you up to an hour, depending on the busy periods. With three kids, in 30 C heat? So worth it.

We managed a fair few rides before setting off in search of the Inventions restaurant (located inside the Disneyland Hotel), where we had our character lunch booked for 12:45.  Should have set off earlier; the heat and our poor internal GPS systems meant we arrived late, hot and sweaty. 

But the Disney characters cheered us up. As did Tiny Traveller’s photography skills.

Guess who with guess who, Disneyland Paris
Exhausted, we managed to see the Main Street parade at 5.30pm (the characters actually leave the  castle at this time, so we arrived at Main Street about 5.45) then caught the bus back to the hotel for bread and butter dinner. May have thrown cheese and ham on the table and told kids to help themselves.  Downed three colas back at the apartment.

Passed out.

Day 3 

We spent time at the quieter-for-kids Walt Disney Studios park for our second day.  As a TV and film geek (I have a half a BA in the subject).  I absolutely loved the tours and cinematic history, and could easily spend the whole day pottering around learning and signing up for the free Animator classes.

S15S TRAVEL TIP: The Studios tour is great, offering an insight into fire and water special effects, but little ones should be on the right of the carriage; Tiny was first in, so closest to the heat from the flames, and terrified.  She had to have an emergency snack. 

The kids headed straight for the Toy Story section of the park, via a stop at the Cars ride (easily my favourite, possibly because of the country music they play).

There are some great photo opportunities, but the kids were feeling the heat.

Photo opportunity, Walt Disney Studios park

The park has some great rides for under 7s, including the 4D Ratatouile ride experience, which was loved so much by all we queued up again the next day – it was a serious contender with the Peter Pan ride over at Disneyland for the best experience for the kids.

Well, that and the snack bags we’d brought.

We also opted to skip the Main Street Parade in favour of heading back to our apart-hotel for an afternoon nap.

The three-kids-with-Tigger-energy had other ideas; we ended up in the pool.  Which meant dipping all three in the bath tub post-swim.  Some food must have been consumed, but honestly I can’t remember what, and we collapsed for six and a half minutes before we headed out to the shuttle bus. 

Still felt like our skin was burning at 7pm.  But knew shade would be easier to find, so skipped the SPF (did not want to bath kids post-Illuminations show).

We pottered around the Disneyland Park until it closed at 10pm, even sneaking in another Peter Pan ride, and were herded away from the Castle, as (presumably qualified and experienced) staff prepared the pyrotechnical music show, starting at 11pm.

So, sixty minutes to hang around with tetchy kids?

Let’s hear it for the tablets and snacks. 

The show was an amazing twenty minutes,however, and a definite park must-do. 

With our pushchair, intense Nutella-for-breakfast bribery and determined (knackered) parents, we made it onto the first shuttle bus, and were serving bread and butter to the kiddos just after half midnight.

Final day at the park

We had a quick five minutes (okay, a morning) at Walt Disney Studios, including a shop for souvenirs, then we spent the afternoon at the Disneyland Park. 

It was hot, so we paid for ice creams, we flaked on the grass, and we tried to do all the inside rides we could.

In short, a three day park pass to Disneyland Paris offers plenty of time.

I’d forgotten Tiny’s Elsa dress (to be fair, so had she), but she did have a light-up twirly Elsa thing (eighteen euros!) and a front row queue for the Frozen parade. And thankfully Elsa spotted her and waved. 

Awaiting Elsa, with twirly-Elsa, Main Street Parade

Unfortunately Anna didn’t, but I suspect Tiny's tears were mostly from heat and tiredness.   

I know my child isn't the only one to cry her way out of Disney.

The little sausage did cheer up when I suggested that, instead of a party, we return to Disneyland Paris for her birthday in February.

"Can my friends come to Disneyland, too?" she asked, dry-eyed.

What do you think my response was, dear reader? 

Oh, and a massive thanks goes out to the super generosity of my fabulous friend, who volunteered to take the kiddos to the Sealife Aquarium.

Under the mall. 

If I wanted to do a spot of shopping.

Course, I was too busy shopping, with uninterrupted thought, to take any photos, but here's one of the explorers: 

Sealife Aquarium, Val' d'Europe Mall

Rough trip cost (one adult, one child): 
Return Eurostar tickets    200 euros 
Four nights hotel w b/f     500 euros
3 day/ 2 park ticket          270 euros
Character lunch              100 euros
Meals and snacks              25 euros
Total:                             1,095 euros

I'd love to hear all about your Disney experiences! Or if you book a trip on the back of my post! 

Disclaimer: I paid for this trip myself, and these opinions are thoughts are entirely my own.

A to Z of Children's Free-ish Weekend and Holiday Activities

There’s a reason it costs, on average, £230k to raise a child in the UK – weekends and school holidays. 

And I only have one child.

And an NHS. And free education until the age of 18. AND free school meals until Year 3.

Everyone rushes to shower you with gifts in baby’s early days – the outfits really are adorable – but the moment the lively child-ager needs to get out and about, that’s when my pocket is hit the most. A day just popping into town, never mind visiting an attraction, clears my purse of £20-£30, even with a visit to Poundland for the obligatory treat for being good, and not even an actual toy shop.

Plus: 12 weeks’ school holidays per year, AND 52 weekends?!

But it’s okay - I’ve compiled a handy A-Z guide of free-ish (but certainly less than a small mortgage) activities for children of most ages.  As Maui would sing, You’re Welcome. (Sorry, not sorry).

A good few of these activities may come across as creative, and even if you think that you don’t have a creative bone in your body (I’m sure Scientists are working on a discovery any day now) ...creativity only means a willingness to try something.  If you can think, you can create.

Feel free to add your own activities in the comments below!

Abstract Art time – dig out your old wall paper rolls, or even tape newspapers and/or paper together for an arty afternoon.  If it’s a sunny day head outside to draw body outlines and paint outfits on, or just mix up your paints for a quick science lesson on primary and secondary colours.  If it’s dodgy weather (ie, August), make sure you put a blanket/additional newspaper underneath your creation, so that you don’t end up with an abstract carpet.
Cost: Under £3, depending on resources (papers/tape/paint)

Beach craft.  Whether using actual sand, or play sand,or collecting driftwood, pebbles, shells, or even seaweed on your adventures - all be used at the beach, in most weathers (I’d avoid storms).  Build the tallest tower out of pebbles, or longest line of shells, or instead of sand castles, create sand animals? Take photos of your creativity and  upload to an online scrapbook (or a real one!)
Cost: could be around £5-10 for travel, as most places in the UK are either minutes to a couple of hours from a beach. Packed lunches, flasks of tea reduce the costs.

Colours. Whether paint or crayons or chalks, or coloured pencils (felts are a bit naff for this activity) teach/remind your child about the three primary colours (red, blue, yellow) and ask them to guess/remember what three secondary colours can be made (purple, green, orange). 
Cost: whatever colours you have available. Poster paints can be bought for around £1 per bottle and last for ages. A packet of coloured pencils will cost around half a cup of Costa.

Den building.  Chairs, blankets, teddies for inside.  Washing lines, sheets, teddies for outside.  Add books/fairy lights as needed.
Cost: a morning, afternoon or evening.

Elephant noises. Or horse. Or duck. Or giraffe.  Next time you’re stuck on a bus/in traffic/inside because of the rain (why are we not in muddy puddles?!)/bored of the TV play Guess the Animal Noise.
Cost: big fat nowt. Maybe a little embarrassment if you’re on public transport, but I bet someone will join in.

Fly the flag.  Fish out your art materials and the Internet and have a go at creating flags from the countries of the world.  Could use paper, card or bedding, if you’re feeling adventurous. 
Cost: bit of online time.  Remember not to get too distracted by blogs!  

Go to a different park.  Assuming the weather is decent, and/or you have wellies, why not head out a little further and go to a different park to your local one?  Or playground, whatever you call the swings/slides/climbing frames place.  If you are at a park with trees, collect leaves for future art projects.  Stay away from stinging nettles and anything poisonous.
Cost: bit of research (of parks/playgrounds/poisonous leaves)

Hopscotch or hula hoop competition.  You could draw an outline in your garden (or just practice hopping).  If you don’t have the large hula hoop, you could always see how many Hula Hoops you can build onto your fingers.
Cost: minimal. Plus Hula Hoops money.

Inflatadays – each holiday our local community centre will host an Inflatadays event.  Lots of bouncy castles.  Take Mum and Child friends and you’ll easily lose a day.
Cost: around £4-£6 for six hours of bouncing, and or popcorn/cheesy chips. Perfect found-a-fiver-in-your-coat-pocket treat.

Journaling isn’t just mindfulness for adults. Either create an online diary of your rememberies – Google is great software for this – or use A4 paper, polypockets and a ringbinder for physical reminders of what you’ve been up to. 
Cost: whatever stationery you need.

Kite building.  I’ve never successfully flown a kite for more than a few minutes, but there’s great fun to be had from making your own kite.  Use whatever materials you have to hand – twigs or garden bamboo for the structure plus lightweight material - baking paper or tissue paper work.  You could even build tiny kites with straws and paper.
Cost: perhaps tissue paper or baking paper.

Library. If your local library hasn’t closed, this is a great escape – most libraries now open from 8.30-6pm and have a host of free activities for children, from story time, to Lego or Coding or film clubs.  You can also renew books online, to save fines.
Cost: free. Or perhaps bus fare/parking. Or fine money if you forgot to renew.

Make. Absolutely anything. With whatever materials you have at home.  Tip – check your recycling before you throw it away; cereal boxes, egg cartons, toilet roll tubes, bottle tops can all be used for art projects.
Cost: Free.  Bit of imagination or Pinterest searching for art projects. Remember you have a child waiting for you, too.

Nature.  Children are endlessly fascinated by nature, and there are great online resources to help you identify leaves/birds/insects/flowers.  Leaves can be used for leaf-rubbing activities, too. Flowers can be pressed or made into chains. I’d leave the birds and the insects behind.
Cost: fresh air.

Open a shop.  Dig out all that plastic that Santa and Grandparents gleefully buy and create your own shop. Depending on the child’s age, they could write the signs, and labels.
Cost: Nowt. Even if you don’t have a till, you can use buttons/beads/game counters for money, and sell anything, even if it’s pretend.

Penny rubbing. Find any coins – don’t even have to be British coins – and lay a sheet of paper over them.  Rub away with the side of a crayon to reveal a magic picture!  Same principle applies to leave rubbing. 
Cost: Nowt.

Queen (or King)-for-an-hour. First they’re the boss, then you are.  Keep switching roles as needed. 
Cost: they’ll likely prefer being the boss.  You could get the crafts out and make crowns/sceptres, too.

Rice-Crispie cakes. Or Cornflakes. Or any cereal you have in your cupboard.  Lots of recipes and variations online. Great for leftover Christmas or Easter chocolate, too.
Cost: Whatever cereal/chocolate/marshmallows/sprinkles you have in the cupboards.

Send a postcard, or a letter, or a card to a friend.  You could pop it through their letter box if they’re local, or incorporate a Post Office trip (if it isn’t Sunday) and buy a stamp.
Cost: have you seen the price of stamps lately?  There’s a reason we email and WhatsApp.  But, still, great for children to learn about the Post Office, and how important it is to save money.

Take photos of your adventures and head to your nearest Quick Print booth (many supermarkets have these). 
Cost: possibly around 50p a print. Costs less if you order online, but isn’t as spontaneous waiting a week for delivery.

Up and go to a cafe. My daughter loves choosing her own food and many cafes will have deals on during school holidays.  They’re not daft.  Take a magazine and colours/paper for your little one(s) to extend the stay, and enjoy that zone out latte.
Cost: you’ve done so well saving on the other activities that this will be £8 well spent.

Volcano.  Hit the YouTube for instructions and the kitchen cupboard for vinegar and bicarb, and have fun creating your own volcanoes.  Build with newspaper and glue (flour and water if you don’t have glue) and paint.  You could play the Floor is Lava Game whilst waiting for your creations to dry.
Cost: £1-2 if any materials are needed.  Perhaps a sheet to protect surfaces, too.  

Wheels up. Head out for a cycle/scooter/roller blade hour/afternoon.
Cost: whatever wheels you have in your shed.

Cross your feet and try to walk.  Cross your arms and try to eat.  Be silly, but be safe.
Cost: depends what you break. (Hopefully not limbs)

YouTube your day away, with your child. There are endless options, whether learning songs from your favourite Disney films, or watching (and then playing) Toy Reviews.
Cost: depends if you ‘play’ at reviewing toys your child already has, or if you have to head out to Smyths/The Entertainer.

Zone out milkshake. See who can blow the biggest bubbles.  Tip – only pour half the mixture in the glass, to make room for bubbles. 
Cost: you may need to nip out for milkshake mixture, or you may head out to a cafe. 

So, there you go, 26 or so activities to reach for next time your child yells, ‘I’m bored’. You could even ask them to say a number between 1-26 and the activities become random. Until they know which letter of the alphabet they’re dealing with. 

Let me know which of these work best for your family...or if you have your own Go To list of activities to occupy the weekends and the summer.