Tuesday, 23 October 2018

A trip to Whipsnade Zoo

I’ve been digging around in my photo archives again this week and came across another set of photos that I thought would make a nice post on my blog. Sorry for the fact I’ve done two archive posts in a row now – I’m still trying to get myself into a routine of uploading on here and on my YouTube and my health isn’t really playing ball! But I thought you might enjoy hearing about our trip to Whipsnade Zoo, which we went on around this time last year. 

Whipsnade Zoo has always held quite a special place in my heart. From as far back as I can remember, my parents would often take us to this zoo for a day out and I hold very fond memories of slightly windy days romping around the countryside in my wellington boots. With my Dad being a member of ZSL (who run Whipsnade and London Zoos), it was an easy day out for the family, and although it’s not particularly close to home, it has always been well worth the journey. Sitting in the Bedfordshire countryside, there is plenty of space for the animals to roam. It’s one of the things I particularly like about this zoo, and because of the amount of space, they are able to house animals, such as elephants (one of my personal favourites!), that can’t be kept at smaller zoos. 

We drove over to Dunstable on a slightly chilly autumn morning. I’ve been so used to going to the zoo during school holidays and weekends, so was pleasantly surprised to find we could get our tickets and go in without any queuing! With the zoo being set over such a vast area, it’s not like, say, London Zoo, where you would park your car (or arrive by train) and then just wander around. Whipsnade is more of a safari zoo – you can drive your car around between the different animal enclosures and then park up at various car parks, get out and explore those exhibits close by. Don’t get me wrong, if you wanted to leave your car in the main car park and walk around the whole thing I’m sure you could, but we found it easier to drive round to the different areas, get my wheelchair out each time and then spend time looking round before heading back to the car.

Our first stop, after buying our entry tickets and being given maps of the zoo, was to head round to the Lookout Café (which has now been renamed River Cottage Kitchen and Deli) for a warm drink. The views from this café are incredible and on a good day you can see for miles across the English countryside. From the photos on the website, the newly refurbished café looks cosy and inviting, and having partnered with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, I’m sure the food will be delicious. Still, at the time, a hot drink to warm us up was all we needed while we took in the views.

Once we’d finished our drinks, we made our way outside to see which animals we could see close by. Right next to the café was the reindeer enclosure, where they were busy tucking into their lunch. I think they’re beautiful animals with their amazing antlers, but I particularly like their little white fluffy tails! We stayed watching them for quite a while, as it was really interesting to see them munching away at the leaves and interacting with each other.

Across the road from the café was a herd of white rhinos that were either fast asleep or eating (animals after my own heart!) Their space is pretty massive, so it was a bit difficult to see them close up, but to be honest I’d prefer it that way than for them to be cooped up in a tiny enclosure. 

We continued round through the African section of the zoo and came across the Hippo House. I know people have very mixed opinions on whether we should have zoos, but seeing all the amazing work that ZSL do to stop endangered species becoming extinct was pretty humbling. I do often wonder how many of these beautiful animals wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the work that zoos do for them. Some of the hippos were swimming about in the outside area, but we made our way inside after seeing a sign saying there was a new baby with his mother in there. I think we must have stayed in the hippo house for almost an hour, waiting for a glimpse of the baby hippo. Mum was easy to spot – basking on the surface of the water – but for a long time, baby was no-where to be seen. Then, all of a sudden, this little nose poked out of the water just behind the Mum and stayed there for a couple of minutes, taking in the new faces that had come to see him. I managed to get a couple of photos, although it was quite dark in there so they’re not the best unfortunately. And as quickly as he’d appeared, he was gone again, back under the water to the safety of Mum.

Next on our journey, as we headed towards Base Camp, was Flamingo Lake. Flamingos seem to come in so many different shades of pink, so I loved seeing all the different colours and the way they stand on one leg. I was also sporting my flamingo jumper, so, of course, had to ask my Dad to take a photo of me with the flamingos in the background!

We then doubled back on ourselves, and went back into ‘Africa’ to the giraffe enclosure. I always find it difficult when someone asks me what my favourite animal is because I like so many different ones, but I think giraffes are pretty high up my list. You can see the giraffes at Whipsnade from a few different places – we started inside their house, where a couple were tucking into some leaves and hay. You are also able to go up a large wooden slope to a tree house, which overlooks the whole giraffe enclosure. Thankfully this was wheelchair accessible, so my Mum and I made our way up there to get a brilliant view over the top of the giraffes as they ate and played outside. After a while, a couple of giraffes decided to come over to the tree house where we were standing, which was just amazing being so close to them. But if that wasn’t enough, one then seemed to take a liking to me and began licking me with his long black tongue! Although I was a little bit nervous to start with, I quickly began to laugh (along with the other people who were also up in the tree house!) and appreciate being able to get so close to such a beautiful creature. Definitely one of the highlights of my trip!

On our way back to collect the car, we stumbled across the meerkat house, which I was very excited about! Unfortunately most of the meerkat must have been hiding (perhaps it was a bit cold for them?) but we managed to spot two cuddled up together on top of one of the inside rocks. They looked so ridiculously cute – I just wanted to give them a cuddle (although I’m guessing I may have ended up being bitten, as although they look cute and cuddly, I think they can be pretty aggressive!) 

One animal I had really wanted to get a glimpse of was the lions, but I knew from experience that they weren’t always the easiest to spot, especially if they found a nice warm place to fall asleep. But we went to the African Lion section just in case we could see any, and as luck would have it, they were just being fed! I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so close to a group of lions in my life and it was difficult not to feel a bit nervous when they stared at us through the glass. Watching them eating, playing and then falling asleep just reminded me of our cats at home (albeit on a much larger, and scarier, scale!) and I was just in awe of being able to get so close to such magnificent creatures. As they lay down I caught a glimpse of the little ‘beans’ on the underside of one of their paws, and couldn’t help but take a photo – they’re just like Jaffa’s only bigger!

As well as the animal enclosures, there are also quite a few animals that can roam around freely in the park. I’m not even going to begin to guess what these are, but they look a bit like miniature kangaroos! Still, they must feel comfortable with the visitors to the zoo, as they were more than happy for us to walk right past them without even flinching. 

Unfortunately, we ran out of time to see everything we wanted to see – there’s just so much to see and do that I can’t imagine you could possibly run out of things to do on a day trip there! I think my Dad would have quite liked to ride on the train, which takes you round the outskirts of ‘Asia’ to see animals like Sloth Bears, Camels, Asian Rhinos and Amur Tigers. And I would have loved to have had time to see the penguins, European Brown Bears, Red Pandas, Squirrel Monkeys, Sea Lions and the Lemurs. But I guess it’s just an excuse to go back another day!

One last thing we did manage to do before we had to leave was to see the Asian Elephants. Their enclosure is absolutely huge and apparently, before we arrived, the baby elephants had been playing in the water fountains, which I’m gutted I missed. But I was still happy that we managed to see the herd nonetheless. There were a mixture of male, female and baby elephants living across two paddocks and it just made me realise how much I would love to see these animals in the wild one day. I can only imagine how amazing it is to go on safari and see them in their natural habitat. 

The final thing we did before we left to come home was to have a quick mooch around the gift shop (well, my Mum and I did, my Dad went and brought the car round to the exit!) They have so many lovely products on offer – whether it’s a cuddly tiger or a beautifully printed silk scarf - there were so many things I wanted to take home with me, but I managed to be restrained! Overall, we had a lovely trip down to Whipsnade Zoo and it brought back a lot of happy childhood memories. I can’t wait until we can take my nephew there for the first time and hopefully start his love for the zoo as well. And, of course, I’m looking forward to going back again too to see all the animals I didn’t get to see this time round.

Have you been to Whipsnade Zoo before? Or do you have another favourite zoo that you would recommend? 

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Organising a Baby Shower

I’ve been doing a bit of blog admin recently, and realised I have numerous folders full of photos I’ve taken for blog posts, which I’ve never actually got round to writing. Whether it’s been that my health has got in the way or I had too much work on at Uni, they’ve just been left sitting there, which to me feels like a real shame (especially as I put so much time and energy into taking the photos in the first place!) So, as well as my goal to start uploading more new posts to my blog now that I’ve finished university, I also plan to dig some photos out of the archives and finally get my posts written to go alongside them. I’ll only share posts that are still relevant today (I don’t think there’s much point in me writing about a ‘new’ product launch that came out three years ago!) so hopefully you will still find my archive posts useful and interesting. And don’t worry – I also have plenty of new blog post ideas in mind, so I plan to do a nice mixture of old and new.

Today’s post that I want to share with you comes from photos I took about a year ago when my sister-in-law was still pregnant (can you believe ‘little’ Noah is now almost one!) Most of my friends and family know how much I enjoy planning and organising a good party, so when I was given the opportunity to arrange Lisa’s Baby Shower, I was over the moon! Pinterest soon became my best friend – I spent every spare minute I could find browsing pins for all sorts of Baby Shower related things (you can check out my Baby Shower board here) and things gradually started coming together. Obviously everyone’s tastes are different, so what we came up with may not be to everyone’s liking. But I thought I would share some of the things we did to make it a special day in case you’re just starting out with your planning and are feeling a little bit overwhelmed! 

Apart from sorting out the location (we booked a cosy room in a local church) the first thing I had to do was come up with some sort of theme for the party. We didn’t know baby’s gender at the time, so we wanted something neutral yet colourful and fun. Richard and Lisa had just had a beautiful mural of an elephant painted in the nursery, and so the idea of an elephant theme began. We complemented this with pastel rainbow shades to bring some colour to the event. Before we went any further, I wanted to check with Lisa if there was anything she either really wanted us to include or absolutely did not want to happen on the day. Luckily for me, she was fairly happy for us to go ahead with our own ideas, so it was able to be a nice surprise for her when she arrived on the day. The one thing Lisa did have a say over was the invite list – she sent over names and contact details so we could send out the invitations to the right people.

After a lot of planning and one or two minor breakdowns (!) things came together perfectly on the day. I was lucky to have a lot of help from my other sister-in-law, Emma, and my Mum, which made life so much easier. When it came to decorating the venue, there was only so much we could do to transform a slightly dated church hall into a room fit for a baby shower. But I think we did a pretty good job! The main part of the decoration was a range of different balloons. We found some rainbow pastel balloons, which we blew up and hung on the door so that our guests knew where the party was happening. We also found a couple of adorable foil balloons – one with an elephant in a bath and a giant baby, which we took to a local balloon shop to be filled with helium. Lastly, we found some latex rainbow balloons, which matched the elephant on the foil balloon. These were also filled with helium and placed up the length of the hallway entrance to the room. 

Above the door, we hung some beautiful personalised bunting, which we discovered on Amazon at a really reasonable price. Emma and I had also made Lisa a nappy cake (our first attempt at making one – we were really pleased with the result!), which we sat on a table just by the door. When Lisa came into the building, you could tell what a lovely surprise it all was and she seemed really pleased with all the little touches.

We had decided to base the party around an afternoon tea (because everyone loves tea, scones and cakes right?!) so we set out tables and chairs, and then covered the tables with pretty cloths to try and make it feel less like a church hall! We managed to gather together some beautiful tea sets between us, which looked perfect sat on the tables next to the lovely IKEA lanterns. Around the room we also hung lots of vintage-style bunting and fairy lights to try and make it feel as much like a cosy tearoom as possible. 

As well as the tea and cake, we also wanted to include a variety of activities to keep everyone entertained. This is where Pinterest came in very handy – I got so much inspiration browsing through pins from other people’s baby showers! The first game we played was ‘Pin the Dummy on the baby’, which seemed to bring out rather a lot of cheating behaviour! In the end, we concluded that players shouldn’t have the opportunity to feel the board too much before sticking the dummy on, as we ended up with a lot of dummies very close to the baby’s mouth! 

There were also some quieter activities that people could do as and when they fancied it. One of these was called ‘Baby’s First Alphabet Book.’ It was basically a pile of white card, with each piece having “A is for..,” “B is for…” and so on written at the top. The idea being, that each person at the baby shower would draw and colour in a picture (or two!) that matched the letter of the alphabet on the card. Once they were all completed, the pile could be joined together to make an alphabet book for the new baby (and a lovely keepsake for the Mum-to-Be). For another game, we had a couple of baby bottles filled with sweets (counted out by my Mum!) Everyone then had to place their guesses for how many sweets were in each bottle and write them on the chart against their name. The person whose guess was the closest would win the bottle (and the sweets!) to take home.

I always think photos are a brilliant way to create lasting memories, but I know it can sometimes feel a bit awkward when you’re in a larger group and you don’t necessarily know everyone. So we decided to have a photo booth corner with some cute new baby related props to encourage everyone to take some funny photos. These pictures could then be shared with Lisa, meaning she can then print them out and make a keepsake album or add them to her pregnancy/baby book. 

I don’t think you can have a baby shower without asking everyone to dig out a baby photo or two! We decided that, for another game, we would ask people to guess which baby photo matched to each guest. So, before the party, I contacted everyone and asked them to send me over an old photo of themselves. I then arranged these on pieces of card and make some little forms that each guest could fill in. It was so much fun looking through all the photos (some more embarrassing than others!) and trying to guess who was who. It definitely helped to break the ice a bit too. 

Another guessing game was to ask everyone to make their predictions about the new baby – I always think it’s fun to see what sorts of things people go for, and I know it’s quite interesting for the Mum and Dad-to-be to look through once baby has arrived to see if anyone was correct! Again, I just put together some paper forms so guests could record their predictions for date and time of birth, weight, length, hair colour, eye colour, gender and name suggestions. Some of these were easier to guess than others – for example, none of us really knew how long a typical baby was!

I was really conscious of making sure that Lisa had some keepsakes from her special day, and I found these beautiful cloud-shaped advice cards, which I thought would be nice for her to look through after the party. On Pinterest I also came across a lovely ‘Wishes for Baby’ printable and again, thought this would be a nice keepsake for the Mum-to-be. 

Our final two games definitely brought with them the most laughs! Firstly, we did a blindfolded nappy changing game. We split into two teams and the winners were the fastest team to all change a nappy blindfolded. We had some rather interesting nappies, which I'm pretty sure wouldn't have lasted long on a real baby!

For the other game we covered a selection of baby food jars with numbers, and then everyone had to guess what flavour/meal each one was by smelling and tasting each jar in turn. Eating baby food isn’t something any of us had ever really done before, so it was interesting to say the least! All I can say is, some tasted a lot nicer than others did! 

We did a bring and share with the food to take the pressure off us providing everything. We ended up with a yummy selection of sweet and savoury foods, and there was plenty to go around. My sister-in-law, Emma, made some delicious cupcakes and we found these cloud toppers to match the cloud-shaped advice cards. They looked brilliant cascading down the cake stand, popping out against the rainbow sprinkles. We also found some grey and yellow elephant confetti to decorate the table with.

One of my favourite parts of the baby shower décor was the amazing cake my friend Mel, from The Cake Revolution made. She’s made a few cakes for me over the last few years, so I knew I could count on her to do something perfect for such a special occasion. I sent her over a few photos of cakes I’d found online that I quite liked, all including elephants in one way or another, and she worked her magic making this beautiful Mother and Baby elephant cake. It tasted delicious too!

I couldn’t believe how quickly the party went, and it was soon time for everyone to start heading home. Before everybody left, I asked them to leave Lisa (and Richard!) a message in this beautiful guest book so that they had something special to look back on in years to come. We also had a little basket of favours for people to take home. After lots of browsing through favour ideas on Pinterest, I decided to buy a box of fruit teas in individual envelopes and tie a ‘Baby is Brewing’ tag onto each one. They looked great and received a lot of compliments from guests as they took one home with them. 

Despite the organisation being a little stressful at times, I was so pleased with how it all turned out and was happy to see Lisa and her friends enjoying it all. Hopefully it left her with lots of happy memories before the new arrival. And I hope this post might have offered you some ideas and inspiration if you’re planning your own baby shower sometime soon.

What do you think of all the decorations and games that we came up with for Lisa’s baby shower? Are you planning a baby shower soon?