Family Safari Trip, When to go, Where to go and what to pack!

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When to go: 

The months between May and September are the dry season and the best time for animal viewings as the vegetation is shorter and the animals tend to gather around rivers and watering holes.

In my opinion, and because I am not a huge fan of bugs and such, the best time to go is between June and August when its colder. On these months the temperature starts out quite low in the morning, between 3 and 6 celsius depending on how early you set out, and then progressively gets hotter till it peaks in the afternoon rising to 24 degrees! The in the evening it begins its rapid drop again so there is a lot of layering which is good to keep in mind when packing. More on what to pack at the end of the post. 

Where to go:

When you have young kids with you I suggest only looking at the malaria free areas for a safari vacation. The anti malaria pills are not the best things ever to take and especially not for little kids. Contracting malaria is not something you want to do, ever. So your best bet is to avoid areas of malaria. We have only ever been to South Africa (or Self Africa or Salt Africa depending on which of my children you speak to).

The second criteria for your safari lodge is to find one that is child friendly. If it doesn’t specifically say that on the website then don’t bother. Many lodges won’t allow young children on game drives and many times those same lodges would prefer you don’t bring your children anyway. The flip side of that is a lodge like the one we went to in Tswalu game reserve which is the biggest in South Africa. It was so child friendly, the service was impeccable, the food was delicious and it was massive. They had activities for the children planned for the down time, They are totally ok with a 4 year old shouting “GIRAFFE! I am going to call him Jack!” in the middle of a game drive. The staff were so patient and welcoming. When they said ‘make yourself at home’ they really meant it.

The third is to check what animals you are likely to see at the reserve. Not all of them are the same. Tswalu has two areas. One of them with lions and the other without. This was brilliant because we were able to get out of the cars a few times and track things on foot. Not very well on account of the loud four year old, but it was fun no the less. We also were able to ride horses in the bush. An experience neither I nor the kids will soon forget. They have meerkats which we walked right up to and a slew of endangered animals you won’t get to see very many other places such as the elusive pangolin and the difficult to catch (as in catch a look at) aardvark. We got down and tracked one int he bush till sunset but only managed to make out the shadow of it before it got very dark and I got very nervous of being in the middle of the bush at night.

They didn’t, however. have elephants. I wouldn’t let this be a deterrent to you elephant lovers with kids because it is the most child friendly lodge I have been to and worth not seeing elephants for that. But maybe pair it with another lodge with elephants because I mean… do you even need a because? They’re elephants… in the wild.

Not having elephants there also meant we were able to ride on horse back in the bush. With elephants this is a no no for obvious reasons. The experience of riding beside wildebeest, giraffe and mountain zebra is one I will remember for a life time.

Finally I would suggest also understanding exactly what the accommodation is like. Most lodges have tents for their accommodation. Granted they are well sealed tents with heaters and AC’s but you can still hear the wildlife outside all night. So the frame of the rooms would be a solid frame with the doors and floors but the walls would be canvas. Others may be a fully built structures.

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Always check if they have in indoor or outdoor shower. The outdoor shower means you have to time your showers to mid day when it’s warm, which is a bit annoying since you go out on another game drive after and get dusty. But then again there is usually an indoor bath which you could use any time. All of the lodges I have been to had an outdoor shower so I would have a shower in the afternoon and a bath before bed to get the dust off and refresh before bed.

The other lodges I have been to with the kids and loved were

Typical Day:

This may vary depending on wether you book your own car and guide or you are part of a larger group. The latter means you have very little control over when you leave. The former costs more but with children it is worth it. I also would suggest you make sure you are with an experienced guide. Especially if you plan to do a walking safari.

Morning Drive: Depending on how hard core your safari experience is you could leave as early as 5.30 am or as late as 7.30 am. When we took the kids in 2013 we left around 5.30 am. Literally woke at around 5.10, put all our layers on and got into the car. They had blankets and hot water bottles. We would drive till the sun came up and then stop in the bush to have coffee, hot chocolate, biscuits and other snacks. One thing you never have to worry about in my experience is getting hungry. They don’t give you a chance! We continue driving till around 10 am- 11 am and then head back for a late breakfast. If you don’t think your little ones will last a long drive you need to tell your guide early so they don’t head too far. Although with my little ones they had no trouble napping in the car for an hour sometimes which was perfect. My sons sat for the full game drives at 3 and a half years old and at 4.

On this last trip we didn’t leave before 7.30 am so we would have cereal, yoghurt, pastries and coffee then head out for a shortish drive until around 11 or 11.30 then head back for a brunch.

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Afternoon: Now comes the part I absolutely love, the doing of nothing. We had down time for about 4 hours until we went out again for the evening game drive. during this time there is usually an activity the children can do such as cooking, archery or some arts and crafts depending on the lodge. Otherwise this is the perfect time for a nap for the young ones, and the adults if need be. We read, played games, talked, sat on the deck and watched the animals come up to the watering hole beside the lodge.

I am not sure what we did for 4 hours straight exactly everyday to be honest but we did it and it was blissful and quiet. The lodge we were in had internet and a TV but the kids didn’t switch it on once the whole time we were there. And the iPads were put away as soon as we arrived.

Evening: Before going out again around 4 – 4.30 pm theres more food. Afternoon snack they called it which was anything from sandwiches, chips and dips, small tarts, and always always dessert. Keep in mind we’re not doing any moving at all so this is all just being stored. I asked if I could run when we arrived and the guide said if I drive behind you… cause of the jaguars ad cheetahs … I opted not to.

We get back in the car with all our layers because while the weather is perfect now as soon as the sun sets it gets cold again. We go out for a few hours of evening driving. Of course the car has snacks so we stop at some point before sunset and have a sundowner. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate and again food… dried fruit, biltong (typical south african snack of dried cured meat, absolutely love it), biscuits and small sandwiches (yes more food).

We head back after that and try spotting animals with the big flash light the tracker is holding while he sits on the little seat in on the front of the car just over the bumper. At this point, when it’s dark, look up. it is unreal how many stars there are in the sky. If you have a good guide he can start showing you the different constellations and planets so clearly visible. K my 4 year old was sitting beside the guide up front and I head him saying “You have a lot of stars in Salt Africa (which is what he calls it in spite of the older kids correcting him). In my country, Saudi Arabia, we don’t have a lot like you”. I must take him to the desert more often but in reality you have to drive quite far out of town in Riyadh to see what we saw on those nights.

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Night time: We arrive back to the lodge around 7 pm and all go wash up for dinner. Every meal ends with dessert here so the whole meal takes about a hour. At the end of it the kids are very ready for bed.

The rest of the night after the kids sleep  is spent either wrapped up on the deck, talking and listening to the strange sounds, trying to guess what animal is a few meters away from us, or reading a book and relaxing. We sleep around 11.30-12.

Next day rinse and repeat!

The timings may change form one place to another but the basic plan rarely does.

How long to go for:

We went for 5 nights which I feel is the perfect amount of time. We left wanting more but closer to being satisfied than not. You need to take into account that you will never fly straight into the lodge when you make your travel plans. All the times we went we ended up spending a night in Johannesburg and leaving the morning after to the reserve. So add a night on the way in and possibly a night not the way out.

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Planes cannot fly into the reserves at night so you have to keep that in mind when you are booking your incoming and outgoing flights. We spent 8 hours in Johannesburg on the way out because that is the way our flights worked out but we spent most of it in a mall where the kids watched a movie and we bought books and a few other things we couldn’t resist and had lunch and dinner and coffee in between.

Why, you may be asking, did we spend our whole time in the mall? Well because when in Johannesburg I have been told to stick to certain areas as others are not safe. With the children I found the mall to be the perfect option. Also it there are a couple of hotels directly connected to the mall. We booked a room in the hotel this time for resting, praying, napping etc. I knew my 4 year old wouldn’t do 8 hours in a mall happily.

What to pack: 

It is important to avoid wearing bright colours as it make you more visible and spooks the animals. White is on the list of colours you shouldn’t wear. I read this 3 days before leaving for the trip and realised most of the kids long sleeved t-shirts were white! Avoid red, pink, bright blues, bright greens. Stick to dark green and blues, shades of brown, black an dark greys to be on the safe side.

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Back to packing. Let’s break this down into 3 categories:

What I packed and needed:

-Thermals: Light weight thermals or tights for bottoms. I love the UNIQLO ones and they are light weight and easy to wear under anything.

-Thermal Socks: Because who wants cold feet! Seriously.

-Hiking or Walking shoes (thick soles and high ankles but comfortable!)

-Hiking pants, jeans. But I preffered the light weight, stretchy, picking pants even though they are lighter (Thats where the thermals come in)

-Long sleeved cotton t-shirts

-Hoodies, or fleece… Nothing beats a good fleece.

-Woollen Sweater

-Wind breaker, I love my Just Over The Top jacket that I picked up at an airport somewhere not only for how small it rolls up an stores but for it’s function. It did really well to keep me warm in the car.

-Big long jacket Because night time comes and you want to be extra toasty from top to toes. Not necessary but I was happy to have it.

-Sunscreen: Even though you don’t feel it you are being baked in the son. Always use it.

Buff If you don’t have one get one even if you don’t plan on going on safari. It is a multi functional head wear thingymadoo. I used it to cover my face from the dust, to keep my face warm form the cold wind and to keep my hair out of my face.

-Scarfs Because obviously going through this list I am a person who gets cold and likes to get bundled up. Also Khaled my 4 year old confiscated my scarves and used them as mini blankets.

-Hat = Warm head.

-Camera : Simple point and shoot for me but this is definitely a photographers destination.

-Books : for the blissful down time.

-Walking shoes with thick soles. When walking in the bush sneakers won’t cut it. Thorns are sharp and HUGE. Shoes with thick soles are imperative.

Somethings on this list make others redundant but I am a ‘better safe than sorry ‘person and I did actually use all of this.

What I packed and didn’t need:

-Change of clothes for dinner. Although I did change my shirt once. In general you get back hungry and tired and ready to eat and sleep. No time for changing in between.

-More tops and sweaters that I didn’t use. I stuck to two sweaters over my long sleeved T-shirts. I used one large coat and when it was less cold the wind breaker. I used one scarf of the 4 I packed and one buff. I could have travelled with half the things I ended up travelling with honestly.

-Perfume: Yeah, another no no. So while I did use it at night when we got back it really is a matter of how important it is to you. If you spray some before a drive you can guarantee you will be spotted (or sniffed) by the animals way before you spot them. And they will go far far away.

What I wish I packed:

-Binoculars: I would suggest everyone get some.

-Gloves: My hands were cold… more than was comfortable.

-Safari Hat (you know the kind.. like the guy in curios George wears) It would have helped with the sun… and looked authentic in the pictures.

-Sweats or something comfy for the down time between drives. I always like to take my shoes off and put on some sandals or something but what I really wanted to do is change into comfy trousers. I really wished I had some sweats.

I hope this was helpful! Please comment and tell me if you have been on a safari, where you have been and if I missed anything I need to add to the post! 

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8 Reasons To Take Your Kids On An African Safari! (and how to plan it).

This list for us adults, kids do not need 8 reasons. Just tell them you are going to Africa to see lions, elephants and giraffes in the wild while riding an open top safari car. This list is to convince you parents that this is one of the best vacations you can take with children 3 and older. And if you don’t need any convincing you can wait for the next post where I tell you my ultimate safari packing list, when the best times to go is and how to choose the best lodge for your family!

The 8 Reasons To Go On A Safari:

1- To see African wild life in their natural habitat.

Most of us have been to zoos, and maybe even the ‘safari’ drives just outside of cities where monkeys jump on your cars trying to steal food and your instructed to keep the windows rolled up so the lions don’t try and get it. This is not that. This is a whole other planet.

 


Driving in an open top safari car spotting animals is magical. these drives always include the guide who is driving and the tracker who sits on the left side hood of the car on a chair mounted above the front bumper looking for tracks. So far in my safari experiences the trackers have been mysterious characters who are not very talkative but seem to be the ones running the show silently while the guides have been charismatic, talkative and full of information.

 

Animals in the wild are nothing like the ones in the zoo. Zoo animals look broken, they are trapped in small enclosures and have no choice in being paraded around loud and sometimes obnoxious people. In some places they are chained, in other places they have things thrown at them. Yes some zoo’s treat animals well and in fact work towards conserving species and running beneficial studies but still the animals are no less trapped and no less broken in my opinion. Outsiders, made to live on our spaces the way we decide they should live.

In a safari there is no doubt who the outsider is. When you approach a herd of elephants it’s the elephants who decide if you are staying or going, if they will allow you to be there in their presence. Its our job not to disturb them, to stay out of their way in their home and to stay quiet. We go by their terms. I have seen a heard of elephants playing in water, 2 male cheetahs grooming each other, 2 white rhino’s fighting meters from our car (and let me tell you non of us breathed till they were done and moved away). I rode on horse back beside a journey of giraffes that looked very bewildered by our presence then just and quickly seemed to be bored of us. I stood 2 feet away from a family of meerkats sunning themselves while their little ones played. I even watched as lions ate from the caracas of a giraffe they had killed, so close we could smell the giraffe and heard the lions chewing. So no, this is not like the zoo. Go on a safari.

2-Quiet, mindfulness:

On my first trip to South Africa I was worried about the amount of time we would spend on game drives and decided that when we get bored we would shorten them or even skip them. This never happened.

We spend 3-4 hours in the morning then another 3-4 hours in the evening on these drives. Once with a 3 and a half year old and this time with a 4 and a half year old.

In most places you wouldn’t be surrounded by animals as soon as you leave the lodge (if you want sure fire spotting then look for smaller reserves. The animals here will probably be more used to the vehicles and the space is a smaller one so finding the animals is easier). Most of the time there are long drives in the bush in silence. Or as much silence as you can expect with a 4 and 6 year old. Inevitably they end up having a nap which is another reason this is doable.

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Juji using Khaled as a pillow as they both napped.

Living in cities our eyes very rarely have an unobstructed view. In the bush you can see right to where the world dips. When I have this view I feel like my eyes are thirsty for it. It’s the same feeling I have when we go to the desert. We never get to use our eyes that way anymore.


3-Proper family time:

Most of our vacations are spent in cities. And with kids ranging in age from 4 to 13 they don’t all want to do the same thing. And in all honestly I generally don’t want to do what they are doing. I end up spending at least 40% of my day planning outings, getting people places, making sure they all get back etc. This is the only vacation we have taken where we all spend all of our time, from waking till bed time, together! I spend more time with my family on safari trips than I do at home.

4-Good food:

So far, in all the 4 lodges I have been to, we have 5 meals a day. Yes 5.

These are: 1-Pre breakfast breakfast, 2-then breakfast or brunch, 3-then a snack late afternoon, 4-then a snack on the evening game drive and finally 5-dinner.

If you are not a meat eater I suggest you tell them before you come and most places, if not all, will accommodate. Our nanny is a vegetarian and they always made sure to have something she could eat. They also go to lengths to make kid friendly food.

The first day we arrived they told me they could make pizza and burgers for the kids and I asked them not to. This it’s the perfect time to get the kids to try new things, especially if they don’t realise there is an alternative! We did have burgers on a day they took us out to the bush of brunch tho.

The set up for our bush picnic. How beautiful is this! Seriously.

The meals are cooked by incredibly skilled chefs. Every singe thing we ate was delicious and every meal and snack had something sweet to follow it. Combined with the hours of sitting please be prepared to leave the lodge a little heavier than you arrived.

5-Life skills:

We tend to do a lot for our children here in the Arab world and mostly for the sake of efficiency and time management. This means they miss out on learning important life skills. I find a safari trip is a great place for children to take more responsibility with organising their things, packing, unpacking, keeping everything tidy and making sure they keep track of the things they need on safari outings (more on what to pack for a safari trip at the end of this post).

The kids unpacked when we arrived, kept their rooms tidy, the younger ones dressed themselves and folded their clothes and put them away. So did the older ones obviously but they do that anyway so it didn’t merit a mention… I have mentioned it now so… moving on…

Another thing I love about safaris is the lodges always have books to read and board games to play with the children were expected to use these respectfully and put them back as they found them where they found them. We also sit down for 3 meals a day together which we don’t manage on the best of days back home.

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And these meals are not quick ones. First we all have to be seated, then the chef or the waiter comes and tell us what the meal is, starter, manicures and desert. Then we get asked what we want to drink. Khaled, my 4 year old, always wants sparkling water with ice and lemon. He used to call is spicy water but unfortunately he heard me using the correct word once and it stuck. We then have to wait for the dishes to be served and this is when I realise the younger ones have no concept of waiting for everyone to get their food. We of course have to all finish before the main course is served then dessert. If you ever wanted to work on proper meal etiquette there is no better place. Because while the whole set up is formal everyone is still in their safari clothes and they’re stuck with us for the duration of our stay so we won’t be asked to leave if (and this is just ad example of course… never happened…) your 4 year old decides to pretend he’s a mouse under the table.

6-Electronics fast:

For both adults and children. This is the perfect opportunity to put away the electronics an detox. Why? Because it is a totally new experience so the kids will likely be interested in everything around them. Also helpful that the internet and phone networks are weak. Although my husband was able to get whatsapp messages when we got on the top of hills so airplane mode is a good way to go if you use your phone as a camera.

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On this trip we decided that we would put away all the iPads as soon as we landed and only use phones when needed. I was a bit worried when I realised there was a television in the lodge but the kids didn’t even mention it once. Now this is a bigger challenge than you would imagine, or I thought it would be, because of the long hours of down time between the morning drive and the evening one, sometimes over 4 hours. I did not imagine it would go so smoothly. Although we are a family that does not allow electronics during the week days when summer began we slipped big time so I wanted this fast desperately to reset us. It was effortless. We were so removed form our day to day lives that th norm was how we set it up to begin with. I think if we tried to moderate it would have been a nightmare for abstinence was the best choice!

7-Give yourselves the opportunity to make your own fun:

This goes back to the previous point. Without the iPads we had to fill our time with other things. I don’t even know what exactly we did in this down time. We played a lot of word games and memory games, we read, we lounged around. J spend a large amount of time in the kitchen learning how to cook some things and helping the chef out. K napped. We napped. I read a book for fun, not to learn something. We ate a lot. But not once in those 6 days did the kids pick up their iPads or switch in the TV. Bliss.

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view from our deck at the lodge

The thing that surprised me the most was when my older two, 13 and 10, got into the pretend play with the younger 2 who are 6 and 4. They were chasing monsters on the deck and spotting imaginary animals and most of the time K was the animal.

8-Contribute to conservation

As many of you may know poaching and hunting has lead to the near extinction of many species in Africa. The same has happened in the Arabian peninsula. So much so that some species no longer exist in the wild neither here nor there.

Last year 1175 Rhino’s were killed for their horns and remain to be a target for illegal poaching. According to World Elephant Day website around 100 elephants are killed daily for their ivory, meat and other body parts. In the last decade their numbers have dropped by 63% and they could face extinction in the next decade. You have a chance to help out by funding the reserves that take care of these animals in the ever shrinking natural habitats they have left. I implore you to research the lodges you plan to go to and make sure you are supporting ones that care about and contribute to conservation. There are even some out there where you can get involved in the action and help them in running their day to day which is incredible.

Please ask if any of the profits from the lodges you plan to go to actually go to conservation. Also how they minimise the negative effects of safari travel on the wild life to preserve it. If you do not do this research you can just as easily be funding the destruction of these habitats instead of conservation. Always do your research.

In the next post: When to go on a safari, What to pack and how to choose the right lodge!

 

 

 

An Exploration With Johnson And Johnson (Part Two)

Taste Test

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Since the children were excited about the activities we decided to do a few more that day! The next was the tasting test! B volunteered to be the taster (insisted is more like it) so we went to work setting up the tasting options. Here is what we ended up with…

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It ended up looking a lot like an elegant cheese platter but its the best we could do with the time we had! We had cheese, apples, pears, dried prunes, dried apricots, crackers, syrup, vinegar and what I thought was turmeric (hint, this didn’t end well).

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We used the blindfolds provided in the activity box Johnson and Johnson sent and the white board thing (who’s name still escapes me). B had a tactic (as you can see in the video) of touching all the things all over before with his fingers then shoving it in his mouth.

He sniffed and touched and gulped it down guessing everything correctly except for the prunes which he loved. Those were slipped in by his nanny because he is always adamant he doesn’t like prunes… This may be worth exploring as a tactic to get your kids to try thing they are afraid to (as long as it doesn’t end up like the ‘turmeric’ incident, read on).

He wiped the tray clean so S, his big brother, poured out some olive oil onto a spoon and let him taste and B said “Olive oil!”. Next was the vinegar which he got again then came the turmeric. S put the tip of the spoon in it and looked at me as if asking is this ok. I mouthed “a little less” so he shook some off. B was sitting with his mouth open waiting. S put the spoon in his mouth and said “flour?” then he said “hot”. I looked at S and said “is that chilli powder?!” to which he said “yes… What else would it be?”.

Side note, S is not mean. He’s not even particularly cheeky and certainly doesn’t think other peoples pain or discomfort is funny. He simply thought I knew what it was and that I had agreed it was ok when he brought it in and held it up to me and I nodded… thinking it was TURMERIC!

So I did what ever responsible rational mother would do in situations like that.. I said “WHY WOULD YOU GIVE HIM CHILLI POWDER?!” While stuffing bread and laban into b’s mouth.”I DON’T KNOW… YOU SAID YES!”. He genuinely looked upset that B was upset and obviously that I was freaking out. The next thing that happened was, naturally, S got defensive, B got upset and cried and Me got irrational and immature. If you’re wondering what that looked like:

S: “It’s not that hot anyway… He’s over reacting”

B: It’s Hot! (cries louder)

Me: If its not that hot then you have some!

S: I will.. (dips spoon into chilli powder and put it in his mouth)

Silence

S: it fine… (eyes watering)

Me (thinking this is not one of my shining parenting moments) start stuffing bread and laban down S’s mouth.

B is appeased.

We have since played the taste test game a few times, B still loves it although is not as trusting anymore and takes a taste before putting the whole thing in his mouth. I choose to believe that he learned a life lesson from this and it was worth it.

We’ve been using the Johnson products consistently so far and the kids have not had any reactions to it (when your kids have eczema this is the first point you look for). And it’s good to have something gentle and antibacterial for them to use.

Coming up in the next post, it’s treasure hunt time!

Note: This is NOT a sponsored post. I have not been paid to review the Pure Protect line only asked to try it out and write about it if I liked it, which I do. For more information on the product and more activities check out my last post!

An Exploration with Johnson and Johnson, Part One (Sensory Jar)

Every once in a while I get an email asking me to review or endorse a product. Recently I was even asked to be the brand ambassador for a washing liquid brand! Mr washing liquid company, fire who ever contacted me because they didn’t do their research well enough. If they had they would know that my blog is anything but ‘domestic goddess’.

I have never agreed to any of these emails until I was contacted by Johnson and Johnson. You may think ‘well of course cause it’s Johnson and Johnson’ but in all honestly the name had nothing to do with it (the detergent brand was equally as big). They asked me to be part of their “Say No! to germs and Yes! to exploration” campaign for the launch of their new antibacterial soap specially created for our childrens sensitive skin.

They very correctly made the observation that many mothers from the Arab world are afraid of their children getting dirty, so much so that it hinders their play. When a mother or caregiver is so concerned about the child staying clean and germ free play can become very limited. In fact according to a study Baby centre conducted, on Johnson and Johnson’s behalf, mothers often discourage their children from playing with certain toys or doing certain activities in fear of exposing them to germs. Instead of encouraging their children to play in the garden, make mud pies or explore the insect world for example they would direct them to play with the shiny plastic toys that are disinfectable (new word… I like it).

They suggested that they would send me a box of items that would encourage sensory play  (music to my ears… what beautiful words… they definitely did their research) for me and the kids to try out and a sampling of their products to use as well to review. I absolutely loved the idea of a campaign that encourages mothers to let their children explore as oppose to scaring them away from germs and giving us a gentle alternative to the regular antibacterial soaps.

As we all know toddlers skin is 10% thinner than adults skin (by ‘we all know’ I mean I just found out when the good people at Johnson and Johnson told me) Regardless, even if we don’t know exactly how much thinner their skin is we all do know we have to take extra care with our baby’s skin. We don’t use the same creams or soaps on them when they are infants as we do on ourselves and we really shouldn’t even when they are toddlers. I was looking forward to trying these products out as alternatives to the harsher antibacterial soaps we are use to. Although I am not afraid of getting germs from kids exploring I still know when flu season comes around (and a recent case of hand foot and mouth disease in my kids school, I don’t want to go through that again) that hand washing is the first defence.

I had to wait a couple of weeks for the box to arrive and when it did it had silver streamers coming out the seams! I mean seriously! Any package with silver streamers bursting from the seems must have something good inside.

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Silver streamers out of the seams

The contents of the box didn’t disappoint. Yes it was bit damaged on the outside from the trip (and being opened and closed by customs I imagine a couple of times) but honestly it gave it more character. Once we opened it up I had 6 pairs of little hands and another pair of big hand (mine) trying to pull everything out. I promptly lifted the box out of reach and made everyone step 3 steps back and sit on their hands till I was done unpacking.

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Whats in the box?

I assumed they would send me a couple of things to play with but I didn’t expect them to have sent me a weeks worth of activities! With an adorable booklet (laminated so as to survive the exploration) of brilliant ideas!

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Right off the bat Special K decided to play with the bag of balloons and the plastic tray thing (I am sure it has a proper name but its just not coming to me now) by using the tray as a racket and trying to kit the bag of balloons. He did that for a bit while B made snow angles in the marble waiting patiently for me to take everything out, ooh and aah at it and take a photo of it (really he deserves a prize for his patience). Then we went through the booklet and decided all the things we were going to do NOW.

Over the next few days I will post about the activities we did from the lovely laminated booklet Johnson and Johnson sent us with their Pure Protect products as well as tell you how we got on with the soaps, bath wash and wipes!

Sensory Jar

First we decided to do the sensory jar. The idea was to fill the jar with water and different things that would float and stir as we moved it. B and K ran around the house picking up all the small things that would fit in the jar. Some of which I vetoed, such as the ones that would be damaged beyond repair, short circuit or wouldn’t fit. I suggested we go outside, because of the water, and because we would definitely find more interesting things to mess around with outside.

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Sensory Jar How To

Special K grabbed the garden hose and said “TURN IT ON!”. Since we live n a desert I said “YES! But only a little”. I could see that filling the jar and tipping it would be the exact thing he would love to do all day, give him some water and something to pour it into and you could keep him occupied for hours! I quickly switched off the water when the jar was full and we proceeded to fill it with stuff!

A bouncy ball, toy cars, bits of dried leaves, “fluff plants” as B calls them, sea shells and of course a nice big handful of dirt! After that K decided to blow bubbles on it before we closed the lid.

The way the dirt behaved in the water was mesmerising

After we finished Special K insisted on washing the jar and the toys and his hands which was a great time to try out the new soap!

I must remind you now of K’s obsession with water so after he washed his hands he washed the jar and what was in the jar (dead leaves included) and the lid of the jar then he washed the soap bottle!

A lot of the soap got used in this activity and not necessarily for its intended purpose! But K proclaimed he loved the smell and for a 4 year old thats really all that matters!

What you need to make a sensory jar:

1-A clear jar or bottle of plastic or glass. There is a special feeling to glass that plastic doesn’t have and children tend to feel really grown up handling glass so if you are comfortable letting them knowing that, yes, it may break go for it.

2- Lots of little things, preferably things from nature which we didn’t have at hand, to put into the jar. Give the children some freedom with this but try and encourage them to put something in that will melt or float or change the waters colour as its more interesting.

3-A place you don’t mind getting wet and some water, either from a cup or from a hose.

4-Fill the jar or bottle with water and let them at it. This may evolve to a game of tipping water out and refilling. In this case I would suggest you get a big bucket they can tip the water into in order to minimise waste.

 If your child is anything like mine then this activity is not a particularly calming one. But you can also make a sensory jars to relax your child by using about 20% clear glue, 80% water and as much glitter as you like. The glitter settles on the bottom but when your child shakes it the glitter floats and swirls around  slowly before settling again. 

“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child” Dr. Seuss (Maybe)*

Ah books… The best gift anyone could give or recieve! Recently (a year ago) I gave a small box full of books as a baby present to someone who possibly loves books more than I do. I loved that I contributed to her little girls library! I also figured since this beautiful girl was my namesake and also the daughter of a fellow book worm she would instinctively and genetically love reading.  On this little ones first birthday I also gifted her a book. I didn’t plan to give her another book but I couldn’t resist as the book was a beauty and I knew it would be appreciated. The day after I received this picture from her mama with the caption ‘thanks to our patron of Art Aunty B’. 

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Yes! That is what I want to be knows as! A patron of the arts, specifically the written type.

I have read to my children from the day they were born. I remember growing up, before Amazon and before Jareer had a proper book selection, we would go to Paris every summer. One of the first things we did when we arrived was to go to WH Smith and buy books. I loved walking into that store. It was on a corner on Rue De Rivoli across from Jardin des Tuileries. In fact I think it still was last time I was there. It was a little dark and there was a very distinct smell of books which got us all as excited as walking into a chocolate shop!

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This is the place! I borrowed this image from a blog called Juliet In Paris which by the way looks like an utterly lovely blog I am going back to read once I post this.

I read once in a book by John Holt , an author, educator and strong advocate of unschooling,  that the children who read the most were the ones who’s parents were avid readers and who’s houses were filled with books. If it is the quotient of books that makes avid readers then theres no wonder my kids don’t sleep without reading or being read to. I am an admitted book addict… I go to the book store and buy 5 books, I read two of the 5 books and panic I am running out then go buy another 5. As a result in general if you pick up anything in my house you are likely to find a book under it.

So if you are wondering what to buy for a baby shower or a baby or toddlers birthday you can never go wrong with books!

I’ll share with you my list of must have books for any baby or toddlers first library. I have read these same books for all four of my children and each was obsessed with (at least) one in the list which means I have basically learned them by heart.

  1. The Little Girl (or Boy) Who Lost Her (His) Name. I am totally in love with these books. They are personalized stories about a child who looses his/her name and goes on a quest to find it collecting letters along the way. The letters in the end spell the name of the child you personalised the book for. It’s precious and was a huge hit with my kids, even the 13 year old.
  2. The Tiger Who Came To Tea. This is such a gem of a book because of the absurdity of a tiger coming to tea and eating everything in the house to the point that the family have to go out for dinner because there’s nothing left! If you’re in London look out for the play based on the book which is just as cute.
  3. Dr suess anything. Anything at all! But especially ‘I do not like green eggs and ham’ which is always a major performance at our house with all of us saying in chorus ‘I do not like green eggs and ham! I do not like them Sam I am!’ and ‘oh the places you will go’ which is also a great graduation present.
  4. Goodnight gorilla. One of my all time favorites. B loved this one so much that we had the characters painted on his bedroom wall for a while. Although the book has very few words the words it does have are perfect. It’s fascinating for babies and toddlers alike (and a few grown ups as well).
  5. Guess how much I love you. This book is a great way to start an I Love You ritual between you and your child or to inspire a whole new one that you make up.
  6. Dear zoo is brilliant lift the flap book. It tells the story of a child who wrote to the zoo to send them a pet. On every page it reads ‘they sent me a…’ and your child lifts the flap to find everything from camels to frogs until they finally get it right with a small puppy. I love books that have repeated sentences and a bit of suspense for toddlers and they never get tired of them. The worry is that the adult reading them would! I actually enjoy reading this one.
  7. There was an old lady who swallowed a fly. This rhyme was always one of my favourites because of its obserdity! And this books is a perfect depiction of the rhyme with  big old lady and thick board pages which show you what she swallowed in her tummy building up from the fly to the cow. ‘I don’t know how she swallowed a cow!. Apparently the new version of this story have changed the famous line of “perhaps she’ll die” to “Don’t ask me why” and “she died of course” to “Of course of course she swallowed a horse”.. Yeah, don’t mess with the classics. But I guess if the line bothers you theres an alternative.
  8. Good night moon. I could read this to you from memory. This book has some sort of magic to it. It has a rhythm and seems to breath with a life of its own when you read it. This is one of my all time favorite books for anyone.
  9. We’re going on a bear hunt. This cannot be read sitting down! If you are in any doubt as to how to read this book then look up on YouTube a video of the Michael Rosen, the author, reading it and if you are not willing to do the same don’t bother buying it. A classic!
  10. The Gruffalo. Although not in the picture this book is up there with the classics. There is also a fantastic video of this book being sung by Julia Donaldson and again, like the bear hunt, it would be a shame not to sing it!
  11. (Because I couldn’t stop at 10) any book by Bill Martin Jr. And Eric Carle such as the Hungry Caterpillar or Brown Bear.  

There you have it, the difinitive list of what to get for baby’s first library! Your welcome, get buying!

*The quote hasn’t been definitely linked to Dr. Seuss although it is written in his style.

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What The Mountain Taught Us

*This post was posted last week then seems to have disappeared! I apologise. Cant find it anywhere! Only found the old version of it in drafts.

First off, Oman! You are beautiful. I mean I heard you were before, but I didn’t realize! Your landscape, Your greenery, the wadi’s the peaks, the people! I know I have on barely seen anything yet but thank you for being so gracious and welcoming. Also so clean and organized. I can’t believe you have been here all along, so close, and we don’t visit. We are already planning a week long vacation here.

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Secondly, Husaak. Thank you! I am so proud of this group of young men and women, all from the GCC, who have managed to create something so authentic, genuin and from the heart such as Husaak. They did EVERYHTING from cook the meals to put up the tents to run up and down shams mountain a couple of times before the event and a few times during to set the whole thing up. Every station I would stop at along the way up I would be greeted by a smiling, enthusiastic, helpful man or woman encouraging us, proud of us and standing there for hours on end just to help us. And to every ‘where are you from?’ I would ask I would be answered with ‘Oman’ ‘Bahrain’ ‘Saudi’ ‘UAE’ ‘Qatar’ and my heart would swell. I am so proud of of you!

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The idea for the Jabal Shams Challenge started last month when I received an add about it from two different people. Then started seeing it pop up everywhere. I was fresh off my first 10 K working towards my second and felt this would be a great new experience. I booked it and didn’t give it a lot of thought after that because I hardly had time to process it.

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Things I learned hiking up Jabal Shams

1- There is climbing involved in the hiking. Not the ‘hug the mountain’ kind of climbing but the ‘use your arms and your legs to climb up big boulders’ climbing.

2-Wear the right shoes. Ankle supporting shoes. Ones you have broken in. Preferably ones you have walked uphill and downhill in for a long period of time. Otherwise you will end up with at the least really bad blisters and at worst a broken ankle.  In case you’re wondering, you can find all of your hiking needs at any of the Sun and Sand sports shops in Riyadh. No need to order them online (like I did).

3-4 litres are water are not too much to carry. Yes that is an extra 4 kilos on your back but theres a reason for it. I of course made the brilliant decision to leave 2 litters behind but thats only because I thought J and I would turn back at the 5k. She’s 10… I underestimated my 10 year old.

4- Don’t underestimate your 10 year old. At one point my body just quit. I sat down at the 7.5k and told J I can’t keep going. I tried to tell her she couldn’t keep going either. She looked tired and the hike was definitely trickier than I expected. She conceded. Her face fell. Looking at her made me feel guilty. “J, Why do you want to go all the way up to the 10?”. J: “well… I had my mind set to get to the 10k… and I don’t like giving up.”. Well said J… On we go.

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5-Stop and look around. The scenery is breathtaking! I would honestly recumbent that you don’t do the challenge as we did (20 km, 10 up and 10 down in one day). I would suggest you do it the way the Husaak team usually do it. climb up, spend the night then climb down.

6- The gps functions on phones lie… by about a kilometre. Probably because the network was sketchy. But when it says 7km and you’re only at 6km it lies.

7- Follow the flags and signs. This is mostly for my 10 year old as I was religiously following the flags and signs but J was adamant she knew a better way. (one of the reasons for our two huge fights on that mountain).

8- When you’re not on the side of a mountain and you have the option of giving up because your body just can’t do it anymore. It’s BS. It totally can. It can so much so that it can do double the amount of work it just did and then some. It’s a lying, sneaky little cheek.

9- Hiking doesn’t have the same exhilaration that running does. It’s something appreciated after the fact. While hiking I jumped between being nervous, worried, awestruck and in pain. There was no exhilaration. Even at the peak, which J pushed us to reach, there was more a feeling of relief and exhaustion.

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10- don’t underestimate oranges. Oranges! Where have you been all my adult life! Back at that fateful 7.5 k where I begged J to agree to turn back we had basically ran out of water and were refilling at the check in stations. I had decided to ask for an orange as well, one of the fruits that is generally detested by my mother and husband and are messy and avoided at all cost. It is something eaten by children away from the adults and they are promptly hosed down after to get rid of the stickiness and the smell. At that point I thought an orange would do two things, the first is nourish me and the second is quench my thirst. J bit into the skin and I peeled the orange and took a big bite. Oh My God. Oranges! How could I have forgotten! So gratifying and satisfying and the best thing I could have had at that point.

11- The way down is tougher than the way up. The adrenaline is gone, the drive to reach the summit is gone. All that’s left is the fatigue. This is where your boots get the true test because going downhill for hours on end on uncomfortable or ill fitting boots is torture.

12- if you have the chance to do this alone or as part of a big group you would be missing out big time if you chose the former.

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I had a really well thought out conclusion to this post when I first posted it before it disappeared into thin air! Not sure how to recreate that honestly so won’t try! Needless to say, despite that it was levels harder than I expected, I am beyond proud of my children for completing the challenge. In fact both my husband and myself would tell you that if it weren’t for them we would have turned back before the summit. Love my little super powers!