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Friday, 12 January 2018

Our 2018 Bucket List

January can be a pretty bleak month, but as the year opens up before us, it's the perfect time to plan lots of exciting things to see and do over the coming months.

While New Year's Resolutions are all about changing habits and making lifestyle improvements, a bucket list is all about coming up with plans to make the most of what 2018 has to offer.

Here's what we hope to get up to over the coming 12 months.

1. Go to Cadbury World

Beatrix is learning all about chocolate for her topic this term, so it's a perfect excuse for a half-term trip to Birmingham to Cadbury World where we can learn all about how chocolate is made. Educational, yummy and, hopefully, the perfect excuse to catch up with friends in the area.

2. Visit The Making of Harry Potter

Elliot is a big fan of Harry Potter and I'd love to take him to The Making of Harry Potter WB Studio Tour. It's a bit of a trek for us, but it's not too far from friends or my Grandad, so we could make a mini holiday of it. Tickets sell well in advance, so it's likely to be something we do towards the end of the year in October half-term.

3. Go on an aeroplane

My younger two have never been on an aeroplane and it's been a few years since the older two have flown. However, we have booked flights in the summer holidays to visit my cousin and her family in the south of France. I just need to remember to ensure everyone still has a valid passport!

4. Go to a festival

This has been on my bucket list since my teens and I have never managed to do it. So this is the year! As it will be our first festival experience, I'm hoping to find something fairly local and small with lots of things for the children to do. 

5. Get a dog

We've been talking about getting a dog for a few years now, but the time has never been right. Once little Ossie starts to sleep through, I will hopefully have a bit more energy so will be able to commit to caring for a dog. Plus, Elliot is nearly old enough to be able to take a dog on short walks now. We're keen to get a collie-type breed, which will need lots of exercise and stimulation. Hopefully, this will be the year where we can free up enough time to care for a furry companion.

6. Go on a retreat

Over the past year I've recognised that with the build up of sleep deprivation and trying to do too much, my cup really is very empty and I've been looking at getting away from it all for a bit of self-care. A retreat away for a weekend really seemed to fit the bill, but I wanted something that would not only give me an opportunity to get away from everything for a couple of days but that would energise me too. Oh, and price was also a big consideration. Just before Christmas I found something that looks to fit the bill. The Flea Retreat is a blogging retreat organised by Flea Enterprises. It's just over the border in Somerset and will enable me to connect with like-minded people, help me think about where I want to go with this blog and I'll learn new skills in the many workshops available. I can't wait.

7. Go wild camping with Elliot

I used to love going walking and camping up on Dartmoor and I really want to share that passion with Elliot. With three younger siblings, I often feel guilty that Elliot misses out on older child type activities because the little ones aren't quite big enough to join in. So I'd really like to do something for him. We'll sit together to plan our route and chat about safety. Then I'll show him how to use a compass and map read as we navigate across the moors looking for letterboxes before setting up camp in the middle of the moor. Hopefully, it will be the perfect opportunity to reconnect as we stargaze before settling down for the night.

8. Potty train Ossie

My youngest baby turns three this year, so potty training is almost definitely going to happen in the next few months. My older boys were a couple of months shy of their third birthday when it happened and Ossie is definitely showing an interest so it won't be long. I'll be sad to say farewell to my beloved cloth nappies and the last vestiges of babyhood, but also excited to see my youngest develop into a little boy.

What's on your bucket list for 2018?

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

A trip to the Minor Injuries Unit

Beatrix has lost a lot of her milk teeth in the past few weeks. She already has two adult teeth on the bottom and has recently lost another bottom tooth and three along the top. All except a stubborn milk tooth that remains in the middle at the top.

All that changed last on Friday afternoon.

We were just preparing for our first weekend of 2018, enjoying a cosy afternoon after school away from the wet and dark outside when I heard the scream.

Beatrix came running through to the kitchen with her hands covering her mouth. When I eventually persuaded her to move them so I could see what had happened I saw the blood dripping down her arms.

Now I didn't think I'd be any good in an emergency, but I surprised myself with how calm I was. I grabbed some kitchen roll to mop up and managed to get a look to see where the injury was. Inside Bea's mouth her one remaining top front milk tooth was hanging by a thread.

She'd clashed heads with her brother and her mouth had taken the brunt of the impact.

I considered calling the dentist, but at twenty to five on a Friday afternoon, I figured I'd have more luck at the minor injuries unit, so I bundled her into the car and off we went.

I love our local minor injuries unit! At a time of year when doctors surgeries are overrun with seasonal ailments and A&E departments are heaving, the MIU is an oasis of calm. I'm not sure why more people don't use this amazing resource.

We got there and it was empty so we were seen straight away. From reception through to seeing the doctor, the staff immediately reassured Beatrix and put her at ease. The doctor dosed Bea up with Calpol and, as he stemmed the flow of blood, he presented her with her tooth. We had a quick chat about head injuries and he suggested her mouth might be sore and bruised for a couple of weeks. But we were back home within an hour.

By Saturday morning, thanks to a particularly generous tooth fairy, Bea was back in fine spirits and we headed off for a girly shopping day so she could spend her small fortune.

Monday, 8 January 2018

New Year's Resolutions 2018

Now that I have finally got my head around the fact that we are now in 2018 it's time to plan for the next twelve months and sort my goals out.

I always write my New Year's Resolutions in the first week of January. Christmas is always too hectic to focus and I hate the pressure of trying to make major life changes in the post festive hangover period. So I like to wait until after I've taken my Christmas decorations down before committing to my plans for the new year.

Like many people, I usually fail to stick to my New Year's resolutions because I don't plan them out properly or they're unachievable. This year is going to be different. Instead of just writing a wish list and then hoping they happen, I've actually taken a bit more time to work out how I'm going to achieve my plans and how I'm going to track my progress.

I had a bit of a wobbly year in 2017, so my focus in 2018 is on creating manageable habits that will help me be more organised and live a more physically and mentally healthy lifestyle.

As well as a resolution list, I'm also creating a 2018 bucket list with things I'd like to do with the family. 

So here are my 2018 New Year's Resolutions

1. Get on top of personal finance and budgeting. 

I've always been a bit lazy about financial management, but last year I learnt that if I want to make savings so we get more from our money, then I need to know what we've got and where savings can be made. I'm starting off by tracking everything that comes in and out. Once I've got a clearer picture, I intend to work out where we can make savings to make our money go further. I've looked into lots of apps and online budgeting systems, but for the moment, I'm going for a simple Excel spreadsheet. 

2. Get fitter.

Last year, my fitness plans got scuppered by injury, which resulted in an operation in September. So I'm pretty much starting from scratch again. I reckon exercising at least three times a week is a pretty achievable goal, mixing gym sessions and classes with running, swimming and getting back to rugby again.

3. Eat at least five portions of fruit and veg each day. 

I was going to just put eat more healthily, but realised it's not so easy to track progress for that. So I've gone for the recommended minimum daily fruit and veg intake as I can more easily measure that. It also means that when that becomes an ingrained habit, I can up my game a bit and aim for more.

4. Drink at least eight glasses of water per day.

This is another habit I always mean to do but never seem to manage, but this year I'm going to try and nail this drinking water habit. I've got a handy little tracker on my FitBit app, which will make is easy to measure.

5. Create and stick to a weekly meal plan.

I must waste hours every week wondering what to cook for dinner each day. So this year I'm going to plan our meals so I can use that time more productively. I've started to create a master list of meal ideas on Pinterest and I'm using Trello to plan out a weekly meal planner. So all I need to do each week is transfer the week's meals into my diary and plan my food shop around the meals, which will hopefully save time and money.

6. Get some more sleep.

Sleep deprivation has really impacted my life over the last few years. But I don't help matters because when I get the chance to have an early night and catch up on some much needed zs, I instead decide to use that time to catch up on housework or mess around on social media. While I can't control when my youngest might wake up through the night, I can control making sure I catch up on my sleep, which will hopefully make me a bit more cheerful and productive. So I'm aiming to get to bed by 10:30pm every night and I'm going to try and get up at 7am. And if I have a really bad night, I'm going to try and have a late morning nap so I don't impact on the next night of sleep. My FitBit can track sleep, so I'll be able to see if this new regime makes any difference as to the amount of sleep I actually get.

7. Write a daily gratitude journal.

This one is aimed at keeping a positive mindset and I'll be posting my weekly gratitude list on this blog every Friday. I used to be a huge optimist, but in recent years I've noticed myself focusing more on the negative side of life - I blame the sleep deprivation. So I'm going to spend 2018 focusing on the positives of life again. Even if that is just being thankful for the fact that I managed to get the children to school on time!

8. Spend 20 minutes on a decluttering task every day.

I've been attempting to declutter our house for the last couple of years but have always been overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff we've managed to accumulate. This year, I'm going to keep things simple and set aside 20 minutes each day to clear a small area like one drawer or cupboard. Hopefully the little and often approach will slowly start to pay dividends. When I have more energy, I might look at doing a more drastic purge along Konmari lines.

9. Create and stick to a cleaning and organisation schedule.

One of the things that stresses me out is having to think all the time about what needs doing. So this year I'm going to focus on having set times to do stuff like changing the beds, cleaning out the guinea pigs, invoicing clients and doing the food shopping. That way, my mind will be freed up to focus on having fun. 

10. Stick to the same organisation tools!

Over the past year, I have tried and failed to keep up with two separate online calendar systems, two paper diaries, a bullet journal, an online project management system and countless notebooks. The result is that instead of being streamlined and organised, I've been even more disorganised. This year, I'm going to stick to using the online calendar for all family stuff (because it's shared with my husband). I also have two paper diaries - one is for me to transfer my to do list onto specific days and one is for my work to dos. I'm going to still use Trello for random lists. Then every Sunday I am going to sit down and review all of these to ensure they are synced and I've not missed anything. Basically, everything will now go into the diary on a specific day so I don't miss anything.

11. Publish at least two blog posts per week and schedule daily social media updates.

This year I am focused on moving from being a hobby blogger to a career blogger. Now that's a pretty big aim, so for this resolution I'm just going to focus on publishing regular posts. I've written a content and social media plan for the year and I've carved out time in the diary to write it. Now I just have to action it!

What are your goals for 2018?

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Christmas isn't over until...6th January!

Stop with all the new year austerity!

It's January 2nd and my Christmas decorations are still up.

Yes - that's right. In the SeasideBelle household, Christmas keeps on going until 6th January aka the Feast of the Epiphany.

Why pack everything up as the new year dawns (or even as early as Boxing Day) when the season of Christmas lasts so much longer?

There's so much hype in the run up to the big day, it seems a real shame to suddenly bring it to a premature end.

So I'm standing up for making the season of goodwill last the full 12 days of Christmas.

Imagine what those three kings/wise men/magi would have thought if they'd travelled all that way from the East following the star to find the stable empty because Mary and Joseph had packed up and left for their return journey to Nazareth straight after the birth. Would you want to sit on a donkey for several hours straight after having a baby?

My three kings are still making their way around the living room, drawing ever closer to the nativity scene my nan knitted many years ago. Yes, I'm rather attached to the idea of keeping my nativity scene real.

And how do you think Santa would feel if he'd just spent 24 hours delivering presents to all the children around the world and returned home looking forward to enjoying his Christmas dinner to find Mrs Claus packing the tree away?

On a more practical note, I like to have a bit of extra time to come up with my New Year's resolutions. Trying to come up with achievable goals over the Christmas period adds another layer of stress to what is usually an incredibly busy time of year. Plus, it means I don't start mine until 7th January - which gives me a week to watch everyone peak too soon at their attempts to better themselves.

It's also useful to have an extra week to finish off the chocolates, wine and other goodies before knuckling down to the obligatory January healthy eating.

Having spent four weeks through advent preparing for the anniversary of the birth of Jesus, it seems a shame to cut the festivities down to just a couple of days when you can stretch out the celebrations for nearly a fortnight.

So who's with me? Let's sing along to "We Three Kings" and celebrate Christmas for the full 12 days.

When do you take down your Christmas decorations?
Cuddle Fairy

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

A day at Newquay Zoo

The The Beast of Bodmin might be Cornwall's most famous big cat, but if you want a guaranteed sighting of an exotic feline in Britain's south west peninsula, Newquay Zoo is a much better bet.

So when we visited Cornwall last weekend, my mum, Wilf, Ossie and I headed to the UK's surfing capital to catch some wildlife, rather than waves. After all, November can be a bit chilly for the beach!

Newquay Zoo is home to over 1,000 rare and endangered animals ranging from penguins, monkeys and zebras to frogs and birds along with several big cats; as well as lynx and fishing cats the zoo is home to three lions, so we were spoilt for choice on the big cat front.

The Lynx effect.

Feeding time at the zoo

There are plenty of opportunities to find out more about the animals living at Newquay Zoo with regular talks and feeding times throughout the day. And because Newquay is a relatively small zoo compared with Bristol and Paignton, you don't have to plan your visit with military precision to catch them all. As well as being informative, the talks are also entertaining and interactive with questions encouraged.

We arrived just before the meerkat talk and learnt why meerkats do not make great pets and about the mob that live at Newquay Zoo as they tucked into their lunch of fruit, veg and live crickets. 

However, the highlight of the day was the lion feeding. Newquay is home to one male and two females who originally came from Longleat. Because the enclosure is relatively small, you are guaranteed a good view as the lions raced in to tuck into a hearty bit of Dartmoor and Exmoor pony. 

Wilf is pleased he's not on the lions' menu.

We also learnt about their strength as we were shown the mangled state of one of the balls they play with for enrichment (as if the crack of bone as the male tucked into his horse leg wasn't enough to remind us of the power of their jaws!). 

Newquay's male lion enjoying a spot of lunch.

Even at enclosures where there were no talks, keepers were happy to talk about the animals in their care and answer questions.

If you want to get into the enclosures, you can sign up to be a keeper for the day. Or you can walk among the birds in the Gems of the Jungle exhibit, which opened last year.

Seeing all the animals get their lunch made us a bit hungry too. There's a cafe on site as well as several kiosks selling food and drink (although these were closed as it was November), but we had brought a packed lunch and there were plenty of picnic benches where we could sit down and tuck into our grub. Watch out for the local wildlife though! I nearly lost my sandwich to a seagull.

Feeding time for mum and Ossie.


Having seen lots of animals clambering and climbing on the equipment in the zoo, my little monkeys were keen to stretch their limbs and the play area near the lion enclosure served us well with slides, a see saw and a variety of things to climb on that were suitable for all ages.

Ossie enjoying the slide in the play area.

Wilf climbing in the play area (it might be November, but he's still wearing shorts!)

Hot Chocolate

Cornwall in mid-November is a bit chilly, so after a few hours in the cold air, we decided it was time for a hot drink. So we headed for the cafe near the exit where we indulged in a hot chocolate with liberal sprinklings of chocolate, whipped cream and marshmallows. The perfect way to end our visit to Newquay Zoo.

Wilf enjoying his hot chocolate.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Ten things I've learnt after a decade of being a mum

Ten years ago I became a mother.

Elliot was born at 9:42pm weighing 7lb6oz on 24th September 2007. Today, he is a strapping ten year old who loves football and is a kind and caring boy who astounds me daily with his thirst for knowledge, his passion for fair play and justice and his empathy for others.

I can vividly remember that first night I spent with him lying next to me in the hospital. He slept peacefully and I lay awake staring at this wondrous being. I was completely overawed at the fact that I was now a mum who was responsible for bringing up this tiny person. I lay there drinking in his tiny features and wondering how he might turn out and what he might become.

Today, I am proud of who he is. We're still learning daily, but we're loving the journey so far, although I'm sure the turbulent teenage years will bring many new challenges for us to navigate on the road to adulthood.

So what have I learnt in my first ten years of being a mum?

  1. There is no 'right' way of doing things. When Elliot was tiny I devoured parenting books. I was petrified of breaking him or of scarring him for life and leaving him with long-term psychological issues by doing something 'wrong'. The problem was that all the parenting books contradicted each other and I quickly came to the conclusion that there is no 'one size fits all' approach to bringing up a baby. Every child is unique. Every mum is different. You do what fits best for your child and your family circumstance based on the information you have at the time and that's not necessarily the same for everyone. Once I got my head round the fact that doing my best was the best for my child, I started to relax and settle into motherhood rather than constantly worrying that if he didn't learn to self-soothe he'd be a lifelong insomniac (for the record, he slept through a lot earlier than the other three, but I'm pretty sure that's more the luck of the draw than anything I did or didn't do when he was a baby).
  2. Don't compare and never judge. Social media was still in its infancy when Elliot was born. We still took photos on an actual camera and then had to upload them onto the computer when we got home before we could post them on Facebook. I'm pretty glad I was able to navigate my early motherhood journey before life got so competitive on Facebook. The thing is, you never know what's going on behind closed doors. Those picture perfect moments posted to your friend's instagram wall might just be an illusion - a big, brave front to hide from a crippling anxiety or an abusive relationship. You just don't know. So before you panic about the mess in the corner of the photo you posted to Facebook that morning after you see the immaculate image of a healthy tea time on a blogger's timeline, think about how many hours sleep she might have missed out on by polishing that gleaming floor - maybe she has OCD, maybe she is frightened her husband will hit her if the place is a mess. And before you judge that random mum because her kid is bouncing off the walls at soft play - remember that you don't know what else is going on in her life - she may be struggling with PND, her child might be autistic. And as for the ongoing spats between breastfeeding mums and bottle feeding mums - you have no idea what struggles that poor woman may have been through. So before you bitch and moan, pause for a moment and think about how you might be able to help another mum rather than criticise and spread negativity.
  3. You can't just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. I've been caught out a few too many times on this one. Things like telling them they can't eat a biscuit because it's nearly dinner time. And then, two minutes later they walk into the kitchen and catch me stuffing a chocolate digestive into my mouth. Whoops! But it's frightening how much of your behaviour your kids copy. It's all very well telling them to say please and thank-you, but for it to really hit home, they need to hear you saying please and thank-you. I sometimes get frustrated that the children seem to constantly shout from room to room if they want something. And then I realised, that's because I shout from one room to the next - especially in the mornings when I'm yelling "Get your shoes on." If I want to see a certain behaviour from my kids, I have to model it too. 
  4. Always make time. I find this one really difficult. Time is in massive short supply, what with juggling four children, trying to keep the house looking vaguely tidy, keeping on top of the never-ending laundry, trying to make a living etc. But I think it's vital to make time to connect properly with each child. It might be five minutes as you tuck them into bed where you talk about their day, their hopes, their dreams and their fears but it matters so, so much. I try and arrange individual activities with each child once every month or so. It doesn't always happen, but those trips to the cinema or going to watch a football match without any of the other siblings are such special moments. 
  5. You're always learning something new. Just when you think you're nailing this parenting lark on the head something always happens to make you doubt yourself. I love the fact that parenting is an ongoing learning journey. And while I've learnt a lot about dinosaurs, football, Star Wars and Minecraft, I've also learnt about managing expectations, being consistent and listening properly. Having children has taught me so much more than how to change a nappy and survive on less than 2 hours of sleep. It's taught me about myself and made me examine how I react to different situations and helped me improve who I am.
  6. Respect your child. If you want to be respected as a parent, you've got to respect your child. They might be little and their brains still developing, but their ideas and opinions are valid and really do matter. The more you respect your child, the more they'll respect those around them. You don't have to agree on everything (or very much at all on some days); I think that would actually be pretty unhealthy. But if you listen and give them the space to make their feelings known, you are showing them that they really do matter and you'll be arming them with the strength to stand up for themselves while understanding that other people may hold different views and that none of us are necessarily wrong or right. Maybe if there was more respect for others in the world, we'd all get along a bit better (and yes, I know I'm sounding like a Miss World contestant wishing for World Peace!)
  7. Inspire and be inspired. Young children are incredibly curious, they want to explore and find out why and how things happen. But somewhere along the line that can sometimes get sucked out of them. But I want my kids to retain that spark that can lead to so many creative ideas. It's not always easy, when I'm trying to make the tea and fielding questions about why rice is brown or white. And I have to kick myself when I nearly say "because it is". Instead, I try and look stuff up with them. We now have Alexa in the house, which is a big help! Anyway, whatever we're doing and wherever we're going, I try to make a point to learn something new with them. In the past ten years I have discovered all sorts of interesting stuff. I now know why a helicopter is called a helicopter and why tomatoes are red. Together we're inspiring each other and that's not just helping them develop, it's helping me become a better person too.
  8. It's not always a walk in the park. Being a mum is without doubt one of the most challenging things I've done. There have been times when I'm up for the 5th time that night and it's not even 1am where I have seriously considered throwing in the towel. But it's also one of the most rewarding. When I hear an unprompted "I love you", when I see the joy in my son's eyes when he comes home from school and tells me he has been elected to the school council, when I see my daughter giggling hysterically with her friends, when they excitedly tell me about a school trip they are going on. Those moments are pure magic.
  9. Delight in the small things. When I got married, the best piece of advice I received was that I was to take a pause during the day just to observe and soak in the atmosphere and really take in who was there and what was happening because the day would fly by and I'd remember that moment of pause forever. The same thing applies to parenting. The last ten years have whizzed by in something of a blur. So I try and take a pause every now and then and take in the normal stuff. Pushing them on the swings. Picking them up for school and hearing them ask "what's for tea?" A cuddle on the sofa. Doing a jigsaw together. Those are small, normal memories that will stay with me forever as well as the big milestone memories like first steps, first day at school, first sleepover.
  10. Trust yourself. There's a lot of room for doubt in parenting. You're worried you're doing it all wrong and you're going to mess up your kids. But trust yourself to know your child better than anyone else. Trust yourself to know what's best for your family. Trust yourself that you'll inevitably make mistakes along the way - we're all making it up as we go along - but as long as we pick ourselves back up, acknowledge that it's a learning process and then learn from our mistakes, then we're actually nailing this parenting business after all.
And one extra little thing. Take a moment to be proud of what you've achieved. Even if it's just the fact that you managed to get the kids to school on time today. Acknowledge that you are rocking this mum business and that little (or not so little anymore) person is what they are today because of YOU!

What has motherhood taught you?

Sunday, 20 August 2017

My Sunday Photo - 20th August 2017

I haven't done a Sunday Photo post in quite a while. This is Poppy. She is my mum's dog and we are looking after her for the weekend.

This photo was taken on a walk up on the common between Haldon and Luton. The heather and gorse were in bloom and the views over towards Dartmoor were amazing.

Getting out in the fresh air for an hour was a lovely way to spend the afternoon. It was peaceful and we didn't meet another soul.

We've always said that when the children are a little older, we'll get a dog. So this weekend has been the perfect opportunity for us to test out whether we are ready to commit to getting our own four legged friend yet.

After all, getting a dog is a big commitment. We work from home, so being around isn't an issue. But dogs need walking - lots. Especially the breed of dog we'd like to get. Impulsive days out and weekends away would also need rethinking. But, to be honest, we don't tend to do a lot of those nowadays anyway. And we'd perhaps just need to adapt these to ensure they are dog friendly.

We'd always said we'd get a dog when Ossie starts school - but after this weekend, I think it might be sooner than that!


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Four uses for egg whites

One of my go-to recipes for a quick and easy dinner is spaghetti or tagliatelle carbonara.

If I'm feeling lazy I'll mix whole eggs with the cream and parmesan cheese to make the sauce. However, the children aren't overly keen on the grainy consistency and I always worry a little bit about salmonella (yes, I grew up in the Edwina Currie years!).

So if I've got time, I'll separate the eggs and just use the yolks.

This leaves me with several egg whites and rather than let them go to waste, I like to try and use them in something else.

Here are some of my favourite recipes to use up egg whites.

1. Meringue

This is such an easy recipe - well it would be if you had an electric whisk that worked - but even whisking by hand and getting a lovely arm work out wasn't too bad.

I used this recipe from BBC Good Food but as my eggs weren't large, I used five alongside the 115g of caster sugar and icing sugar.

My kids aren't big fans of cream so we served them up as pudding with ice cream and strawberries and then crushed them up to make our own version of Eton Mess.

2. Egg White Omelette

This is a really quick and easy tea that helps you use up lots of other ingredients. It's also good if you're on a fitness regime because egg whites contain very little, if any, fat and lots of protein. But probably the best thing about this recipe is that you can adjust the contents of each omelette to suit each fussy member of the family.

Just whisk up the egg whites with a splash of milk and pour into a hot pan. Then add whatever ingredients you have to hand, My kids love ham or chorizo and cheese and maybe even a bit of tomato, while I like to add a bit of chopped pepper, mushrooms and spinach. 

3. Sesame Prawn Toast

I love prawn toast. Again this is handy as a snack or tea - although my lot are far too suspicious of the sesame seeds to give it a try. They also make a good party food.

This Sesame Prawn Toast recipe from Good Food is pretty easy to follow. Although it does ask you to deep fry the toast. I don't own a deep fat fryer and so I just toast one side of the bread before spreading the prawn mixture on the uncooked side and then fry up the prawn side in a regular frying pan.

4. Tempura

Jazz up vegetables by coating them in a light tempura batter or make tempura prawns. You could even pass off tempura chicken as an alternative to chicken nuggets! I use this recipe from I have read that using sparkling water instead of the still water suggested can make this batter even lighter. Sadly, I'm not posh enough to have sparkling water in the house and I've not yet been organised to buy any in anticipation of making this dish.

What are your go-to recipes for using up egg whites?

Monday, 14 August 2017

Five ways football can boost learning

The footy season has kicked off, which, in my house, means endless discussion about transfers, goal stats, referee decisions and absolutely no chance of watching anything else on TV until next May.

I usually dread the start of the football season as I'm expected to know who plays for which team and my rather flimsy grasp of the offside rule means I struggle with a lot of dinner table discussion.

However, this year I've decided that if you can't beat them, it's probably best to join them and capitalise on their interest.

So here are five ways I can exploit my kids' obsession with the beautiful game to enhance their learning (maybe I should have trained as a teacher after all!).

  1. Geography: Grab a map and help your child find where all the teams in the Premier League are based. Even better, if you are travelling around the country on holiday, see if you can take a quick detour to drive past a ground. Lots of the grounds are pretty near major routes, which is helpful. We frequently drive past the Brighton ground on our way to the in-laws and the highlight of our recent trip to Derbyshire for my five year old was the fact that we saw the Stoke ground. If you want to further the geography lesson, grab an atlas and point out the countries their favourite players are from. Or show them where are opponents are on the globe when we're playing international fixtures. For older children, you might want to investigate a bit more about the countries involved and find out about the country's cuisine, main exports or industries and what a typical home might look like. You can head to the library and look in the children's reference section or even search on Google to find out the answers.
  2. Foreign languages: Follow up on the geography by talking about the different languages spoken by their favourite footballers and managers. See if you can learn how to say "I love football." or "What a goal!" in all the different languages spoken by the players on their favourite team.
  3. Maths: I love using football to help with maths. There's the obvious adding up of points to see where their team is in the table. But my favourite game involves football trading cards. My sons love collecting Match Attax and sometimes I'll give them an imaginary figure and ask them to create their ideal team within budget. For my five year old, I ask lots of questions about the score: asking how many goals were scored all together requires him to add together the goals scored by each team. As they get more confident with numbers you can ask how many goals were scored in the whole league over a weekend.
  4. History: Why not capitalise on their appreciation for a team by finding out more about its history. I particularly love the German teams for this as many were founded as works teams and you can still tell this by their names (Bayer Leverkusen was set up by workers at the Bayer pharmaceutical company). Find out when their favourite team was founded (this information is often on the club badge). What are the most significant events in the club's history. Lots of football clubs have museums so you can take your child to visit and find out more about how the team has changed through the years.
  5. Science: What happens when you drop a football and why? How do you get the ball to curve into the top of the net? Experiment with your child about what might happen if you use a different force or angle. For younger children you might want to talk about different ball shapes and why you might need to use a different type of ball for a different sport, such as golf or cricket.
These are just some of the ideas I've had - I'd love to read your suggestions for other ways I can harness my children's love of football to encourage more curiosity about the world around us. 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Kicking a wet wipe addiction

How heavy is your wet wipe use? How many packs do you get through in a week?

Those soft, damp, throwaway cloths are just so useful. Whether you're changing a nappy, wiping a mucky hand or mouth or need to swipe round the kitchen for a quick tidy up, they have a multitude of uses.

But they also harbour a dark secret. In today's throwaway world, it's easy to forget where those used wipes end up when they've been disposed of. But during the Marine Conservation Society's Great British Beach Clean weekend over 4000 wet wipes were found littering our beaches. That's equivalent to 50 for every kilometre of coastline. Worse still, all sorts of marine wildlife can mistake wet wipes for food, which isn't a particularly tasty thought as you tuck into your fish and chip supper.

Next week, Teignmouth will welcome a Wet Wipe Monster as part of the Love Your Beach campaign to educate people about the importance of keeping beaches clean. As part of the initiative, the Marine Conservation Society is bringing Wallace the Wet Wipe Monster to Teignmouth beach to help people understand why flushing wet wipes down the toilet can have dire consequences both financially and environmentally.

You can see Wallace the Wet Wipe Monster in action here:

UK water companies spend over £81m every year dealing with over 400,000 blockages. And around 80% of these are caused by wet wipes, cotton buds and nappies.

The Marine Conservation Society is currently campaigning to get wet wipe retailers to include a 'Don't Flush' message on packaging. You can sign the petition here.

These startling facts got me thinking about my own wet wipe habit and have given me a kick up the backside to try and reduce my waste.

I know not to flush them down the toilet, but surely the amount that must go to landfill must be pretty damaging to the environment too!

I've used reusable wipes before, but laziness meant that I'm probably not using them as often as I should. As the mum of four young children, I'm not going to try and cut my wet wipe use completely. I mean, I live in the real world. But I'm going to try and use a greener option wherever possible. Although if I'm going on holiday I'll probably stick to the throwaway variety. But at home there's definitely room for improvement.

You don't have to buy special reusable wipes or solutions. I actually bought some pre-loved ones a few years ago that are still going strong and I'm making more by just cutting up some old rags. You can either just dampen them with water or you could make your own solution. Alternatively, there are some pre-made solutions for reusable wet wipes available.

And, as with throwaway wipes, I don't just use them for nappy changes. I've got a couple of boxes of reusable wipes dotted around the house for the odd wipe around, for dusting, for wiping sticky hands and, of course, for nappy changing.

I haven't bought any new packs of disposable wet wipes for a couple of weeks and we currently have less than a third of a packet left. I'm not planning on buying anymore until we go away at the end of the month.

Do you think you could give up your wet wipe habit?

Monday, 26 June 2017

How to do a car boot sale like a boss

Over recent months I've been feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of 'stuff' we have accumulated.

So I have started making in-roads into decluttering the house.

The resulting piles of things to sell were threatening to take over our basement. And, to be honest, listing individual items on eBay, Gumtree and Facebook selling groups was taking too much time and bringing few rewards. So I decided to take the bull by the horns and brave a car boot sale.

The idea of setting the alarm for 5am on a Sunday morning was horrific. But, quite frankly, the idea of having piles of 'stuff' sitting downstairs any longer, was enough motivation to bypass my lie-in.

Here are my tips to do a car boot sale like a boss.

Tip one: Enlist some help.
My eldest, who is nine years old, was keen to spend a morning helping me sell our unwanted clutter. However,  he did name a price - I was to buy him a McDonalds breakfast on the way! You can imagine how disappointed he was when we arrived at the 24 hour drive thru and discovered it was closed for refurbishment. We then discovered that 24 hour Tesco is not open 24/7 and is, in fact, closed at 6:30am on a Sunday morning. Likewise, the Tesco Express is also closed until 7am. Luckily, I found a garage and gave him a sausage roll and a Galaxy milkshake and he seemed happy enough. Anyway, having help was essential as it meant I had a runner to go and buy me more coffee and I had someone to man the stall when I needed to go to the toilet. It also meant I had an extra pair of eyes and hands on the stall for busy periods.

Tip two: Pack the car the night before.
Given the early morning start, we opted to put load the car the night before. This was a good plan as it meant I had time to pack snacks and a drink and to make myself a large coffee to help me through the long day ahead.

Tip three: Organise your boxes.
We had a couple of boxes of stuff that were in the same category: clothes; kitchen stuff; and toys. But the rest was a bit of a mishmash. This made it more difficult for potential buyers to find what they might be looking for. Next time we go, I'll definitely work on packing more sensibly so it's easier to just whack out the boxes on and around the table rather than just chucking everything out and hoping for the best.

Tip four: Make the most of your pitch space
We took our camping table to display our wares, and then placed a couple of boxes and some larger items around this. But I noticed that other sellers were able to really maximise the space on their pitch with a hanging rail for clothes, a sheet laid out next to the table for things like DVDs and books, as well as boxes for things like soft toys. If you make it easier for buyers to browse, they're more likely to spend some time at your stall and thus, more likely to buy what you are offering.

Tip five: Take plenty of small change.
Not only do you need to take money to pay for your pitch. You also need to be able to give customers the right change when they only have a five or ten pound note. This resulted in a late night raiding of all our piggy banks and a quick sweep behind the sofa cushions, but we managed to cobble together enough small change to ensure we didn't lose a sale due to not being able to provide change.

Tip six: Make a note of your float.
We had to remember how small change was in our float so we could reimburse the piggy banks, but it's also very helpful in working out how much money we actually made from the car boot sale. We paid £8 entry and we had £8 in our float and we came home with around £37, which meant our morning generated £20 - give or take the two coffees I needed to buy while I was there.

Tip seven: Remember, you are in control.
When you arrive and start setting up your stall, don't be afraid to tell the early bird buyers to wait until you are ready to sell. It can be a little disconcerting to have people asking about items you haven't yet unloaded from the car. But you don't have to sell anything until you are ready and it won't hurt them to wait until you have set up properly before they buy from you.

Tip eight: Have a price in mind.
You're likely to have an idea of what prices you are going to ask for your items. Be open to haggling, but don't be afraid to stick to your price if you feel your item is worth more that what someone is asking.

Tip nine: Keep your eye on the prize.
When you're looking at other people's stalls it can be tempting to eat into your profits by buying. But remember why you're there - for us, it was to declutter. Before you part with cash and diminish your profits, think about whether you need that item or whether it's just going to add to the clutter problem when you get home.

One of the benefits of taking an assistant with me, apart from having someone to talk to, was that it meant we were able to have a quick look round at the other stalls. He went with some pocket money, although I am very pleased and relieved that he didn't buy anything to replace what we were selling. I looked round because I was interested in what other people were selling. I also had a good nose at what people had already bought when they passed our stall.

Here's what seemed to sell well at the car boot sale I went to:

  • DVDs
  • CDs
  • Books
  • Toys
  • Clothes
  • Crockery, especially bowls
  • Baby equipment 
  • Larger items (for example, fish tank, small tables, chairs etc)
  • Curtains
We enjoyed our car boot sale so much that we plan to go again in a couple of weeks. My son loved helping out and looking around the stalls and I've been really invigorated to get home and do some more decluttering.

What are your top tips for a successful car boot sale?

Friday, 23 June 2017

Five things I want my boys to learn from the Isca lads

This week, more than 50 teenage boys at Isca Academy in Exeter went to school wearing skirts. They were protesting at the sexist uniform policy that forced them to wear long trousers through a heatwave where temperatures topped 30 degrees C.

Here is a film from local news website DevonLive featuring the boys:

And it got me thinking about how sexism isn't just a female issue.

The actions of these boys made me consider what I might want for my own three sons as they grow up. So here are some lessons I'd love my boys to learn from the lads at Isca Academy.
  1. Take action. If you see inequality, don't be afraid to stand up and do something about it. These teenagers saw that something wasn't fair: girls at their school can choose to wear a skirt or long trousers, but the boys don't have the same choice. Instead of sweating in their slacks and moaning about it, they decided to take action.
  1. Be fearless. I have always imagined teenage boys to have a massive pack mentality (can you tell I haven't got to the parenting a teenager stage yet?). So to do something that could potentially have you ribbed and made fun of must have been quite a brave thing to do. So don't be afraid about what other people think. If you believe in what you are doing and others feel the same, they will join you. By showing bravery, you can often encourage shyer members of the pack to join you. And that is exactly what happened at Isca. Three boys started the movement off and a day later there were more than 50 joining them to take a stand. 
  1. Just because something is not be the cultural norm, doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. In this country, boys don't generally wear skirts or dresses. But just because you don't see something on a daily basis doesn't mean it is wrong. I'd love to think that by wearing a skirt to school, these boys have broadened their minds and gained more of an appreciation that sometimes people might dress or do things differently, but that being different isn't wrong, it's just part of our wonderful, diverse world.
  1. Sometimes rules are made to be broken. I've always been someone that respects authority and tries to toe the line. But as I've grown older, I've realised that while rules are often made to protect us, sometimes we need to break the rules to get ahead. I want my kids to appreciate why rules might be in place and to respect the rules that keep us safe, while having the wisdom to challenge the status quo when the rules don't benefit the people around them. 
  1. Sometimes bending the rules is more effective than breaking them. I love the fact that technically, these boys aren't actually contravening the school uniform rules. They are wearing regulation school attire - skirts. And that has had much more impact and strengthened their case a lot more effectively than if they were to wear non-regulation shorts.
I'm really proud of what the boys at Isca Academy have done. Ironically, the Isca Academy website sums it up rather well. It says:

"We know that our students face a rapidly changing and competitive adult world. They will have to be confident and skilled learners, flexible, capable of taking risks, creative, and compassionate." 

I think the school should be rather proud that its students have done just that!
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Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Sorry for being so rubbish - a letter to my friends and family

I'm sorry.

I've been a bit crap over the past six months or so.

I've missed birthdays (and not just any old birthdays, I've missed some big milestone birthdays too). I've neglected to send cards for the birth of babies. I haven't called to congratulate you on your wedding anniversaries.

I've not responded to texts. I haven't called you back. I've not replied to your Facebook messages or WhatsApp posts.

I have been a completely rubbish friend.

It's not because I don't think of you. It's not because I don't care. It's just, I've been a bit tired and overwhelmed over the past year or so.

The months and months of sleep deprivation have stolen who I am and left an exhausted shell. My self-confidence and self-belief have taken a bit of a battering. It's taken every ounce of energy I have to just manage the basics of preparing dinner each night, of making sure the children are wearing clean clothes and that they are dropped off and picked up from school on time. Everything else has fallen by the wayside.

But now that the summer is here, and the days are longer and brighter, I think I can feel my mood lifting.

My diary is a place of hope, with plans of socialising and getting back out in the real world rather than a source of dread of all the cards I haven't sent and things I have failed to do.

The sleep is still terrible, but I feel stronger and more able to deal with the fatigue. One day he will sleep through and I'll be back to the person you remember, full of life and energy.

So please forgive me for neglecting you all. I feel terrible. Give me a chance to get back in touch without it being awkward - it might be a while, my list of people I've failed to touch base with is extremely long. And please be patient and bear with me as I try and get back on to the rollercoaster of life. I'm sure I'll continue to have up days and down days. But I'm optimistic that the good days will soon outnumber the days where I'm down.

Life will no doubt continue to throw up challenges, but if I know you're still by my side, that you've still got my back, I'll be strong enough to deal with it all.