Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Getting back into blogging - what I've been up to over the past couple of years.

It's been a while since I've updated this blog.

Sorry.

It's been a manic couple of years and blogging has had to take a back seat while I've focused on myself, my family and my new future as a single mum of four.

So I've laid low, licked my wounds, knuckled down and got on with building a new life.

A few things have happened:

- I took the kids for five days in Barcelona on my own!
- I went to my first music festival with the kids!
- We moved - I bought a bed and breakfast, which I'm running and in the process of doing up!
- We went to Namibia for two weeks to stay with one of my best friends and I managed all four on the epic journey, which involved two flights!
- I finally got the tattoo I've been promising myself!

It's not all been plain sailing, but just to write those few achievements makes me realise that I've got this.

The past couple of years have been hard and I've been too raw to blog. But I'm feeling really positive about the future. So I'm getting back in the blogging saddle.

I am so very grateful for my friends and family for seeing me through the last few years and I'm also very thankful for your patience if you've come across what looks like the Marie Celeste of blogs.

Here's to plenty more content coming soon...

For now, here are a couple of pictures of the highlights of the last couple of years.
















Monday, 16 July 2018

Football and a walk in Mules Park, Teignmouth.


Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, Elliot wanted to go out.

For the past year or so, unless football has been involved, he's been reluctant to leave the house at all, preferring to play on the PlayStation or watch YouTube videos of other people playing on the PlayStation.

So I seized the opportunity and let him guide our excursion.

To be fair, football was still involved. He wanted to go out for a kick around. He said he'd rather play football than watch the World Cup Final on TV. So we headed out. Our usual kick around spot was busy - there was a big motorcycle meet there - so we headed up to Mules Park up on East Cliff.

We spent a while exploring the lower end of Mules Park, where the ponds have been restored, before emerging up the hill a bit, where we found a flat-ish area of grass to play football.

We set up a goal, using the buggy and a bag and enjoyed a kick around. Wilf, went in goal and Elliot and I went head to head. The game ended in a draw, so we went into extra time and eventually he beat me on penalties.

Normally, I would choose to sit out and watch. But because it has been so long since he has been enthused about getting out and about, I opted to get involved in the game and we both had great fun.

As we wandered back down towards the beach, we stopped at a bench to admire the view and I managed to get a half decent photo of all four of them, which will help me remember the afternoon.




It just goes to prove that you don't have to spend a lot of money to go out and have fun.

What a gorgeous view

Although, we did end the day with an ice cream stop at the East Cliff cafe. They do Mr Whippy with flakes and flavoured sauce and they also serve up some delicious scoop ice cream - Wilf, Ossie and Bea had the chocolate, which was delicious.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

#MySundayPhoto - trying the dress


Beatrix is preparing to receive her First Holy Communion next month. And this week she tried on her outfit ahead of the big day. I love the massive grin she has in this photo - you can tell how excited she is about this milestone in her life as a Catholic.

She’s been preparing to receive the Sacrament of her First Holy Communion for several months: learning all about what it means to receive Jesus into her heart; understanding the importance of forgiveness; and finding out about special meals like the Last Supper.

And recently we’ve been preparing what she’ll wear on the big day. Much like baptisms and weddings, white is a key colour as it symbolises purity.

Often people comment that First Communicants (that’s what the group receiving their first Holy Communion is called) look like brides and bridegrooms. This is because these children are giving themselves to Christ through the Sacrament of Holy Communion, much like a bride or groom gives themselves to their partner in the Sacrament of Marriage.

The white dress reminds us of the first Sacrament, Baptism, and the veil is an added symbol of respect and humility.

Beatrix will be wearing the dress I wore for my First Holy Communion (a long time ago!), which was also worn by my sisters and cousin. My mother made it from her wedding dress, so it has a real family heritage and is turning into a bit of an heirloom.

She was also keen to have a veil and tiara, so we spent an evening perusing the internet to find something we both agreed on. I was keen to have a veil with a cross in, but she was more interested in the bling so we compromised on a veil and tiara with tiny crystal droplets from Communion Angels. After all, the dress has a simple ribbon cross sewn into the belt and she will be wearing a simple necklace with a crucifix.

Now I need to work out what the boys and I will be wearing!


Photalife


I have received no compensation from any companies named in this post and all opinions and thoughts expressed are my own.

Monday, 14 May 2018

What is Netta's 'Toy' teaching my sons about feminism?


"Boys aren't stupid."

That was the reaction of my ten year old son on hearing the winning song of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018.

He was less than impressed with Israel's entry "Toy" by Netta. And his comments got me thinking.

On winning Eurovision, Netta, who performed 'Toy' thanked voters for "choosing difference and celebrating diversity".

But really? Is a song that derides males actually celebrating diversity? My ten year old son doesn't think so and I think I agree with him.

I consider myself a feminist. I believe in gender equality. And I think there's still a lot of work to be done to achieve this: there's still a massive pay gap; there are still a lot of stereotypes in the media; there's still a glass ceiling.

As the mother of three boys and a girl, I'm trying to bring my children up to respect others, no matter what their gender/race/religion/orientation/size...

I want my children to treat others with kindness, compassion and fairness.

And I get that Netta does not necessarily fit the mould of your typical female pop star. I also understand that "Toy" is about calling out blokes who treat women badly. But to tar all males with the same brush "you stupid boy" isn't helping teach my son and other young men out there that we should not call insult each other or call each other names. It's not teaching respect. It's not teaching kindness. It's not teaching compassion. And it's not doing much to improve his self-esteem.

While some may believe that "Toy" is all about empowerment, I'm not sure empowerment should be at the expense of disempowering others. Because that's not equality.

What do you think?

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

A weekend of rejuvenation at the Flea Retreat

Do you ever wish that time would stand still just so you can catch up?

For me, the last few years have been a complete blur of just trying to keep on top of everything. Trying to do enough laundry to prevent the dirty clothes spilling out of the washing basket and not panic about whether the kids had clean school uniform on a Monday morning. Struggling to get a handle on everything on my to-do list. Dealing with the never-ending stream of washing-up.

A few months ago I decided I'd had enough. I kept wishing that life had a pause button so I could get everything done and get back on top of things instead of just fire-fighting all the time.

I needed a break. So I started looking for a weekend retreat. Somewhere quiet and away from it all. Somewhere I could push the reset button and start afresh.

I wasn't looking for a hippy, vegan, tantric yoga type thing that cost the earth. I just wanted a basic weekend to myself so I could refill my cup. And then I spotted the Flea Retreat for bloggers, which was organised by Sally Whittle of Who's The Mummy and Tots 100. Not just a weekend of navel-gazing out in the sticks, but somewhere I could take part in workshops, learn something new and just have a bit of time to myself.


A couple of weeks before the event I had a nose at who else might be going. I wondered if I might know anyone. And I panicked. I recognised a lot of the big names in blogging. Award-winning bloggers. Professional bloggers. I'm just a hobbyist (for the moment - who knows what the future might hold). I started to worry that I'd be seen as a fraud. I was gripped by imposter syndrome. Why would any of these people want to talk to me? Would they wonder what the hell I was doing at their blogging retreat?

So it was with some trepidation that I drove up to Croydon Hall in Somerset for the weekend. Put at ease only because I knew one other person - fellow Devon Blogger Claire.

I needn't have worried at all. The weekend was all that I wanted and more. I tried yoga for the first time. Thanks Rachel for popping my yoga cherry!

I took part in creative writing workshops run by Kirstie Pelling from The Family Adventure Project where we were encouraged to stop and notice the minutiae of life, simply letting the words flow onto paper. I remembered the wise words my mother-in-law imparted on the morning of my wedding: "make sure you stop for a few moments to drink in the sights, sounds, smells and atmosphere of the day and commit them to memory because it will pass by in a blur". And that's what the creative writing sessions did; we stopped and noticed what was around us - the sights, sounds and smells of our surroundings. It really was a great way of stopping and allowing our creativity to flow.

I got to grips with my camera as I wandered around the stunning grounds of Croydon Hall during the Golden Hour photography session with Tom Arber. Stopping to notice flowers and really taking the time to experiment with the different settings on my camera - something I've never really had the opportunity to do before.

Here are a couple of the pictures I took. For some reason I was very drawn to the spring flowers!




I learnt about gaining the confidence to really shine on film with Darren and Shaun from Aspire in probably the funniest session of the weekend. Although it was nerve-wracking to stand up and say a piece to the camera in front of everyone else in the workshop. But I've definitely grown in confidence I'm now tempted to revisit my YouTube Channel.

I tried paddle-boarding for the first time and had a really enjoyable kayak session in Porlock Weir with Exmoor Adventures as I got to grips with using a GoPro while trying to keep my balance on the water. Somehow I managed to escape falling in although there were a couple of close calls where I clung precariously to the paddle board. It did turn out to be a lot sunnier than this picture suggests!


But best of all, I met some really inspiring people, who have had the courage and tenacity to grab hold of their dreams and make them a reality. They showed me that it's possible to overcome your fears and take life by the horns to be whoever you want to be. Stories were shared about overcoming crippling shyness, of being unafraid to ask for what you want - because if you don't ask, you don't get. There was a real sense of friendliness. It was a weekend of sharing knowledge. A time to simply enjoy each others' company and the stunning surroundings. We all gained an appetite to learn more - about yourself and others and to develop new skills. There was also a lot of laughter (especially after a few glasses of wine in the evening) and a huge feeling of mutual support.

The final session underlined this spirit of the weekend and we wrote positive words about our fellow blogging retreat friends. Here's what was said about me: cheerful; funny; hysterical.


I was looking for a weekend of rejuvenation and that's what I got as well as the opportunity to learn and make new friends.

I've returned inspired, happier and more self-assured. And even though my week didn't start very well - the car broke down just as I was trying to get the kids to school - it hasn't affected my outlook or mood. I mean, at least it didn't break down on the way to the retreat or on my way to Elliot's cup final football match on Sunday afternoon. The spirit of the Flea Retreat just keeps on giving.

After spending many months struggling to see past the mountain of tasks in front of me and struggling with the massive curveball that ended my marriage, I'm feeling lighter, happier and more confident that I can make the most of whatever life throws at me. Instead of focusing on endings and on what might have been, I'm now focused on the future and fulfilling my potential, seeking new opportunities and embracing them so I really can be the best version of myself.

A massive thanks to Sally and the team for putting together the Flea Retreat and for all who attended for making me feel so welcome and inspired.

I really am very optimistic about the future now.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

A birthday trip to Pennywell Farm



When my 7 year old daughter suggested we take Ossie to Pennywell Farm for his third birthday I knew it would make the perfect day out.


There are animals to cuddle, shows to see and lots of play areas. However, I was a little worried that there might not be much to entertain older children.

Would my 10 year old son and 11 year old nephew seriously be interested in spending a day on the farm?

Well, actually, yes - there was plenty to keep them occupied too and they loved it!


We awoke on the big day to find that, yet again, it was raining. But never one to be defeated at the first hurdle, I bundled everyone into waterproofs and wellies and reassured myself that the weather forecast app on my phone really had forecast that the rain would stop by 10am (it didn't stop until nearer 1pm, but it was drizzle rather than proper rain so our spirits weren't too dampened).


Upon arrival at Pennywell Farm, the children were given name stickers with their ages on as we queued to pay. And because it was Ossie's birthday, he was given a special rosette, which meant that he got to go first on some of the activities. I was slightly saddened that with my baby turning three, I now had to pay for all four children (no more free entry for the youngest). However, for once I had planned ahead and I had cut out tokens from the local newspaper to bag myself one free child entry.


One of my favourite things about a day at Pennywell Farm is that there are plenty of hands-on activities throughout the day. Even if you don't check the activity timetable in the main farmyard, there are announcements to let you know what's happening next. We didn't arrive in time to catch the egg collecting from the hens or the goat milking, but we were able to join in with the bottle-feeding the goat kids and lambs, which the children absolutely loved.


We didn't do the pond dipping; partly because I was convinced one of my four would fall in and partly because the older children wanted to play on the assault course and the younger two were desperate for a snack stop.


Once appetites had been sated, we had a ride on the little Rainbow Railway and managed to get round the Willow Maze without getting lost. Before getting through a bit more of our picnic and heading to the Pennywell Theatre to sing animal songs with Poco Drom - even the adults were encouraged to join in the actions and the older boys definitely got into the spirit of singing and dancing.


At each activity - the children can collect a stamp and if they fill their card, they qualify for a free child return visit (with a paying adult).


In between the planned activities there is plenty of time to cuddle the animals - grandma got particularly attached to a goat kid, ride the Red Rocket, have a go on the ride-on toys, jump on the trampolines, play mini-golf and enjoy the bouncy castle in the indoor play barn.



Despite spending nearly all day at Pennywell Farm, we still didn't manage to fit everything in. So we'll have to revisit to try out the Run Rabbit Ride and the Tractor and Trailer Rides.


Pennywell Farm is big enough for a full day out but small enough to allow older children to play independently on things like the assault course or the trampolines while you stay with smaller children on things like the ride-on tractors. This meant that nobody was bored as there was always something to see and do.


Friday, 6 April 2018

Four birthday present ideas for a three year old


This post contains affiliate links.

Ossie turns three tomorrow!

I used to find three year olds really easy to buy for. It's that magic age where all the toys that are not suitable for children under 36 months suddenly become accessible. But, as the youngest of four with two older brothers, coming up with ideas for birthday presents for this young man is far from easy. His toy box is overflowing, we could probably open a library with the number of children's books we have and his wardrobe is bursting at the seams with perfectly good hand-me-downs.

But I've had my thinking cap on since pretty much Christmas and here are some of the ideas I've come up with.

We're not getting him everything listed below. But I thought I'd include the entire list as you might just be inspired for the nearly-three year old in your life.

1. Paw Patrol Sea Patroller


Ossie loves Paw Patrol and he already has the Lookout Set and the Deluxe Lorry, which he plays with a lot. So when I saw this Sea Patroller, I knew it would be something he is likely to play with. Unlike Fireman Sam and Thomas, Paw Patrol hasn't been around for so long, so these are character toys we didn't already have. The Sea Patroller is probably a bit pricey, but as I'm confident he'll play with it a lot, I'm happy to invest as I know he'll get a lot of pleasure from it.

2. Paw Patrol Aluminium Water Bottle



With four children, buying drinks when we're out and about can be a pretty expensive business. So I always try and take bottles out with us. Plus, it's better for the environment. Ossie has now outgrown his toddler beakers, so this aluminium water bottle is perfect for trips out and about.

3. Noisy Bottoms Book















Yes, I know I said we already had lots of books, but Ossie loves books and story time and he thinks that bottom burps are hilarious, so I know he'll love this book. Plus, I bought it from a local mum who is an independent Usborne Organiser and runs The Book Basket, which means I'm putting something back into the local economy. Check out her website or look her up on Facebook.

4. Personalised Blanket



















Elliot, my eldest, was given a beautiful personalised blanket for his baptism and, ten years later, he still loves to snuggle up with it. So when I saw this personalised blanket by Oh Sew Happy on Etsy UK, I knew it would be the perfect birthday gift for Ossie. He loves snuggling up with a blanket; whether on the sofa, in the car on a long journey, or making a fort or den under the kitchen table. This is a gift that will just keep giving. The blanket is super soft and fleecy and the name stitched on makes it extra special for Ossie.

Do you have any go-to gift ideas for the children in your life?

Friday, 23 March 2018

Quick And Easy Supper: Beef and Harissa Flatbreads


I love trying new recipes, so when I saw this beef and harissa flatbread in the Waitrose Weekend magazine I was keen to give it a go.

With only four ingredients, it makes for a quick and easy supper dish. And while I thoroughly enjoyed it, unfortunately, it didn't go down quite so well with the four small ones.

Ingredients:

  • 200 grams of self-raising flour
  • 350 grams natural yoghurt
  • 20 beef meatballs
  • 4 tablespoons harissa paste

Method:

  1. Mix 200 grams of self-raising flour and 200g of natural yoghurt into a bowl and knead to form a dough.
  2. Set the dough to one side and marinade the beef meatballs in 2 tablespoons of harissa paste.
  3. Thread the meatballs onto metal skewers (I used pre-soaked wooden skewers as I didn't have any metal skewers).
  4. Grill the meatball skewers for 10-12 minutes, turning occasionally until they are cooked through.
  5. Meanwhile, divide the dough into four balls and flatten into discs on a well-floured surface.
  6. Fry the dough discs for one minute each side until they are browned and puffed up.
  7. Spread the flat breads with a couple of tablespoons of natural yoghurt, dot each with a teaspoon of harissa paste and then place the meatball skewers on top.






Verdict:

This was a delicious light supper, which I wolfed down very quickly. The hot spice of the harissa paste is beautifully offset by the natural yoghurt and the freshness of the flatbread makes a really good base.

Elliot, my ten year old, who is normally very cautious of new foods, thoroughly enjoyed the slightly exotic taste. However, the younger three were not so keen. As far as they are concerned, yoghurt should be strawberry flavoured and be served at breakfast. So they just ate the bits of flat bread that hadn't been touched by the yoghurt. Wilf, who is five, eventually relented and, once he got stuck in, enjoyed the meatballs.

I'd love to make this a regular supper for the family. But it looks like it will be something I serve as a quick and easy adult meal.

Why don't you try the recipe and let me know what you think?

Monday, 5 March 2018

Becoming a single mum


I've been a bit quiet on the blogging over the past few weeks as I've been coming to terms with a major life change.

My marriage of 13 years is over.

Separation and divorce are things I never dreamt would happen to us. I honestly believed when I made my marriage vows that we were committed to a lifetime together. But you can never predict the future and I am 100% sure that splitting up is the right decision for us.

So I am now getting used to being a single mum of four and the children are adjusting to a life where mum and dad live separately.

I won't lie - it's been hard and I have no doubt that the coming months are going to be tough for everyone involved.

There's a lot I could write about what happened, how it happened and how we're all managing. But I am being very careful to consider the feelings of everyone involved and I don't think it would be appropriate to share that information on a public platform. So I'm just going to leave it at that for now.

Apologies for the radio silence and please bear with me while I get my life back on track.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

How to celebrate Chinese New Year 2018 in Devon

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This year, the Chinese New Year falls in half-term, which means there are plenty of opportunities to celebrate with the kids.

Chinese New Year officially starts on Friday February 16th 2018 when the Year of the Dog commences. The dog is the 11th Chinese Zodiac sign. There are actually five types of dog: wood, fire, earth, gold and water. 2018 is the year of the Earth Dog. People born under the earth dog sign are believed to be communicative, serious and responsible in work.

Where to celebrate Chinese New Year 2018 in Devon

Chinese New Year Craft at Dartmouth Library

Thursday 15th February 2018
10:00am-11:30am

Make lanterns, dancing dragons and dog puppets at this drop-in craft session. There's also a treasure hunt at the library throughout the half-term week where you can find out more about what each animal in the Chinese Zodiac means. For more information, click here.

Chinese New Year Trail around the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter

Saturday 17th February - Friday 16th March 2018
10:00am-5:00pm
FREE

Collect a trail sheet from the reception desk and explore the museum to find Chinese and Chinese-inspired objects including a dazzling hairpin made of kingfisher feathers and an Irish silver tea set. For more information, click here.

University of Exeter 

Sunday 4th March 2018
1:30pm-6:30pm
FREE

The University of Exeter Chinese New Year celebrations are hugely popular events, organised by Chinese Student Scholars Association. The event kicks off in the city centre at 1:00pm with traditional lion and dragon dancing starting at Buffet City and continuing through Cathedral Green, Bedford Square, the High Street and Gandy Street. Celebrations then continue on the University campus from 3:00pm with more traditional lion and dragon dancing on the Great Hall Piazza. Indoors, there are lots of activities including a Chinese market, food, martial arts demonstrations and performances in the University Forum before a fireworks display, which can be viewed from the XFI building at 6:30pm. For more information, click here.

How will you be celebrating the Chinese New Year?

Monday, 22 January 2018

Living Arrows - Playing With Cars

I'm taking part in the Living Arrows linky, hosted by What The Redhead Said for the first time this week.

Living Arrows is about celebrating childhood. The project originally took it’s name from a poem by Kahlil Gibran, “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth” and every Monday bloggers share a moment from their week and invite others to do the same.

This is a picture of Ossie, my youngest, taken yesterday.


Ossie absolutely loves playing with his toy cars. If we've been out, the first thing he'll do when he gets home is ask to play with his cars. He spends hours driving them around, with plenty of sound effects, and arranging them. It's lovely to see his imagination blossoming as he chatters away as he plays.


Over the years we seem to have amassed boxes full of toy cars, many belonged to my husband, so they're certainly getting good use.

As you can see in the photos, his hair is getting quite long now and he's well overdue a haircut. But he looks so cute with it longer and it really shows off his big eyes, so I'm tempted to just give it a little trim and keep as much of the length as I can. What do you think?



Living Arrows