I suspect most of us will be glad to see the back of 2016. Although, with a lunatic in charge of the White House, and no credible plan to implement our departure from the EU, I’m not sure how much calmer 2017 is going to be.
Still, for us, 2016 has delivered a lot of happy memories. I like to think we made the most of it.
And the brilliant thing about blogging is that so many of those memories are captured here, on this blog. For those of you going through the seasonal blog angst, let me say this: when your child is on the verge of leaving childhood behind, you’ll thank your lucky stars for those posts about days out, and holidays, and starting school. So stick with it. The looking back later is pretty special.
Our year kicked off with exam stress – Flea was sitting entrance exams for senior schools. She worked really hard, and was offered places at all the schools we applied to. But it was a stressful wait!
With exams behind us, we took a short trip in February to Copenhagen.
It was cold and snowy, which only added to the charm! Some highlights of the trip were visiting the street food district, and the amazing interactive kids museum on the docks.
For me, March was a month when work got REALLY hectic. Still we managed to squeeze in a short trip to Northumberland with English Country Cottages and stayed in the delightful Falstone Barns.
The rain didn’t let up for three days, but we had a blast, discovering places where Flea could try mountain biking, shooting and archery, as well as taking some long walks along the beautiful river here, and warming up later with long pub lunches. Perfect.
The following month saw a complete change of pace (and climate) as we headed off to Dubai, with Visit Dubai.
Dubai was never a place I imagined going, but it was truly a unique experience. Simply seeing what has been created in the middle of the desert is enough to make your head spin. Add to that some luxury hotels, fab outdoor activities and the chance to explore the desert in a 4×4 and you’ve got an amazing family destination.
During May, Flea moved up into Scouts, which was a big deal in her world – she was so excited to get her Sea Scouts uniform that she wore it for a week, and spent the next term learning the basics of sailing.
Towards the end of the month we took a trip to Go Ape. This one was especially memorable for me because it was the first time Flea was able to take on the adult course – so long as I did it too. Cue me dragging my middle-aged ass around the course and only stopping once for a quick cry because I had lost all sensation in my arms.
The month ended with a trip to Featherdown Farm where Flea loved her first experience of glamping. We built fires and cooked sausages, eating them in fresh rolls baked for us by the farmer’s wife. If only the sheep weren’t so loud, it might have been the most peaceful weekend of our year!
As the summer approached, we headed down to London as guests of Vodafone to attend the Capital FM Summertime Ball for the second year. Flea and her bestie had a complete blast seeing the likes of Ariana Grande, Zoe Larsson and The Vamps.
But we were all sad when Zayn Malik bailed because of anxiety issues.
Towards the end of the month, I was invited to take Flea to Moliets in France for a week of activities with Madame Vacances. We had a fabulous time learning surfing, paddle boarding and golf.
One of my abiding memories of the week is taking a cycle tour of the area – and Flea and I promptly getting completely lost! In true Whittle style, though, we found our way to the beach. It’s like we’ve got sonar…
This was a BIG month for Flea, as she finished primary school, with a big party and day out with all her school friends. The day she finished school there was a barbecue and picnic, followed by a trip to the local water park, and Pizza Hut. I think we both felt a little emotional at the end of it.
That same day, we flew out to Portugal with Eurocamp to explore the resort of Cascais near Lisbon. We spent the most fun week here. Cascais is really low-key, which is exactly what we look for in a holiday.
While the waves here are way too big for kids to surf, we found plenty to entertain us, particularly hiring a little electric car to tour the ancient town and castles at Sintra.
Another highlight was getting our car stuck in sand on a windy headland and spending almost an hour trying to dig ourselves out (being blasted by sand the whole time) before someone kindly stopped to give us a tow.
For our official Summer Break this year, we headed out to Canada.
From Vancouver, we headed up to Whistler, where we took on some of the world’s biggest zip lines, along with sailing, climbing and walking. We then explored British Columbia, and took a week to head south to Washington, staying in Port Angeles in a gorgeous lake-front cabin where Flea learned to dive.
Of all our recent summer trips, I think this one was my favourite – Canada is surely God’s own country, and the scenery is just spectacular, combined with a fabulous outdoors lifestyle. I wholeheartedly recommend you visit if you ever get the chance.
Back from our travels, it was the usual rush getting ready for school.
This term, Flea started her new secondary school. It was a big decision for us to move Flea to a new school when all her friends were staying at her old school, which caters for kids from 3-18. I wanted Flea to be in a slightly less competitive environment (at her old school, the after-school sports clubs were selective, just to give you an idea).
It turned out to be the right decision. Flea seems to be settling in well, and making friends. Her reports are excellent, and she gets along well with the teachers.
This term, I’ve watched as Flea has gained confidence in music, performing in concerts with the guitar ensemble. She joined the hockey team and has even played a few games in the A team. At the end of term, she was even captain for a couple of matches. Actually, Flea has had so much fun that she’s now joined the regional women’s team, and now our lives are basically taken over with hockey clubs, coaching, and matches.
A highlight of October for me was seeing Justin Bieber live in concert. It was really quite an experience. Not least because I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone quite THAT rich and successful looking like they’re quite so unhappy with what they do.
I captured a video of Justin railing against the audience and it went viral, appearing on the E Online website and Perez Hilton! As an added bonus, the earnings from the video offset the stupid amount of money I spent on three last-minute tickets from GetMeIn.
October also saw us heading back to Portugal, this time to review the Martinhal resort in Quinta. It’s an upmarket resort with great shopping, restaurants and facilities – you can check out our review here. The weather wasn’t wonderful, but sometimes having a week to read, and chill by a fire, is just what you need, isn’t it?
Our first highlight in November was being invited to meet Jeff Kinney, author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series. We went off to Blackpool for a live reading and signing, and Q&A. Flea took her cousin Harry with us, and they both had a fantastic time, and received signed copies of the brand new book.
For me, November will be remembered as the month I tried out Suddenlife Gaming in Germany. A sort of combination between historical re-enactment, treasure hunt and guided tour, it was truly a unique experience. I’m not sure I’ll ever forget standing at the top of a tower in a Medieval castle, watching someone below us burning the papers we’d spent three days searching for in various churches, caves, libraries and bridges…
As the end of the year came around, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and frustrated with work. We are coming to the end of a six month project and the final niggle stage is always the worst, isn’t it? Anyway, on a whim, I booked tickets to visit New York, and made it a surprise for Flea. She only realised where we were going when we arrived at the airport!
We had a wonderful five days in the city, shopping and sightseeing. It was also the perfect opportunity to catch up with one of my oldest friends who lives just outside the city with her son and husband. Although one thing I notice now I’m over 40 is the number of conversations I have that are along the lines of, “How long have we known each other? 10 years?” then we do the sums and it’s closer to 20 years and you’re all, “HOW CAN WE BE THAT OLD??”
We came home just a couple of days before Christmas, which meant frantic wrapping while fending off jetlag, but it was all worth it in the end.
So there you have it – our highlights of 2016. On reflection, it’s been a year of working hard, and playing harder. Being a single parent can be hard, but Flea and I are very close, and as she’s got a little older, spending time together and travelling gets easier every time. So I’m happy we’ve had so many new experiences and adventures this year.
I do hope your year was just as successful, although with fewer car mishaps, possibly… I’d love to read your round-up if you create one, so please do let me know in the comments if you’re done your own round-up of the year. Let us all hope and pray and wish really, really hard that 2017 brings peace, and joy, and a little less drama.