Friday, 18 July 2014

How to organise summer holiday child care

School's out for the summer. And, unless you're a teacher and you get the 6 weeks off too, organising child care for the school holidays can be a nightmare. Especially, if like me, you have multiple children of different ages with varying interests.

So, that's how I found myself creating a spreadsheet so I could keep track of who is doing what, when and where.

Luckily, I work freelance from home, which makes life easier than when I had an office job with set hours. But even so, I still need to be strict to ensure I get my work done. Hubby works full-time and is pretty limited on when he can take his annual leave, which leaves me to sort out managing the childcare.

My youngest son is 2 and goes to a childminder, who is fairly flexible, which helps - a lot. My lovely childminder is also happy to increase my 3 (nearly 4) year old daughter's hours over the holidays and will even take my 6 year old son.

The only problem is that my childminder also needs a holiday, and the week she has chosen, just happens to be the week after we go away - so that's already one week of alternative arrangements to be found.

And then there's my oldest son, who has expressed an interest in going to a local football camp, and learning tennis and going to a sports camp at his school.

You can see how easily things can become confused.

So, I created a simple table in a word document with the week days along the top and the week commencing dates down the left hand side. I started off by marking in our booked holidays. I then hunted for some activities for my older two (football for my oldest son and a dance camp for my daughter) while my childminder is on holiday and begged my dad and a friend to take Wilf for two mornings. Once the holiday cover was sorted, I inserted my oldest son's remaining activities and then booked my younger two into the childminder on those days. Once I had sorted the childcare, I highlighted the days where I had childcare and marked those as my work days. I then noticed a couple of weeks where I didn't have enough working time, so I asked my childminder to take all three for a couple of days and I was sorted.

The spreadsheet has now been printed out and is on the fridge door so we can easily glance up and see who's doing what, when and where during the school holidays.

For once, I feel organised.

How do you manage childcare over the school holidays?

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Why we put a tank on our wedding (anniversary) cake

Who would put a tank on their wedding cake - or even their wedding anniversary cake?

I did - for both occasions.

It was certainly a talking point, but actually, there was real meaning behind the gesture.

You see, when we got married ten years ago, my husband's grandparents were preparing to mark their diamond wedding anniversary. The longevity of their happy union is a real inspiration to my husband and I and we wanted to honour them in our own marriage.

My husband's grandparents were married in 1944. And, like many men of his generation, he saw active service as part of the tank regiment (he was actually awarded the Military Cross). In recognition of his life as a serviceman, my grandparents had a small tank on top of their wedding cake and we used this on top of our wedding cake too.

Roll on ten years and we decided to hold a party to mark a decade of marriage as well as my husband's impending 40th birthday.

Every party needs a cake, so I commissioned Carole's Cup Cakes in Teignmouth to create a two tier, chocolate (my husband doesn't like fruit cake) wedding anniversary and birthday cake. Carole copied the flowers from our original cake in intricate sugar paste. She added two flags made of icing: one said Happy 10th wedding anniversary; and the other said Happy 40th Birthday Richard. And she added a tank to the top in recognition of the fact that my grandparents-in-law will be celebrating an amazing 70 years of marriage in October.

Unfortunately they are both well into their 90s now and are no longer fit enough to manage the 5 hour journey to Devon so they were unable to join us for our wedding anniversary party. However, we sent my mother-in-law back to Eastbourne with photos and a slice of cake for them to enjoy.

Do you have any quirky cake stories to share?

Friday, 11 July 2014

10 tips for a long and happy marriage

Yesterday,  I celebrated ten years of marriage. In the past decade my husband and I have had three children, moved house, changed jobs (and career), and been through moments of joy and despair including the deaths of loved ones. So that's quite a lot of change, stress, joy and grief.

So, as we mark our tenth anniversary I thought I'd reflect on ten ingredients for a long and happy marriage.

1. Show kindness every day. It might just be making him a cup of tea when he walks in from work or complimenting him on how good he looks in that shirt. But by showing kindness, you are showing how much he means to you and that you are thinking of him.

2. Share the every day chores. Washing up, hoovering, doing the laundry, putting the bins out. They're all a bit boring and if one person thinks they're doing all the work, then resentment can soon build up. So make sure you both pull your weight. Sometimes you might allocate certain tasks (in my house my husband tends to do the bins), but occasionally, step up and do their bit too.

2. It's not just about sex. When children enter the equation and you're knee deep in nappies and exhausted because you've not slept for longer than 2 hours straight for weeks on end, it can be difficult to imagine how you ever managed to create this new life. There are times in married life when your libido packs up its bags and goes on holiday for a while - but you're married for life and when things settle back down again you can reignite the passion. You don't have to do it every night, week or even month to prove how much you love eachother. Accept that this is a temporary phase and enjoy less vigorous past-times. You can be close by just sitting next to eachother on the sofa and holding hands.

3. But you can keep the spark alive. Every now and then I look at my husband when he doesn't know I'm watching and I focus on what made me fancy him like mad when we first met. The way his eyebrows sit above his twinkling eyes, the way he runs his hand through his hair, his cute bum. Every time I do this I remember how much I love him and why I am so thrilled to be his wife.

4. Be responsible for your own happiness. Being married is not all roses. Sometimes you experience sadness too. But don't depend on your other half to make you happy. You are responsible for the way you feel. So take ownership of your emotions and if you're having an off day (or week or month) do something constructive about it. Go out for a walk or a run, go and see a doctor if you need to, but don't blame your spouse, just ask for their support in helping you help yourself.

5. Remember you have just as many annoying habits as he does. My husband has a few little quirks that can be really annoying (especially if I'm tired). The way he always forgets to rinse his stubble out of the sink after a shave and his inability to put a bin-liner in the bin properly. But, I also remember that I am not perfect and there are a few things I do that wind him up like failing to wipe down the kitchen surfaces when I wash up and leaving piles of newspapers around the house. So accept eachother's shortcomings and remember that neither of you is perfect.

6.  Take time out to enjoy your own friends or interests. Every now and then I go away for a weekend with my old friends and leave my husband at home with the children and occasionally, my husband goes away for the weekend with his old friends and leaves me at home with the children. It keeps us in touch with our wider support networks and it reminds us of the people we were when we first met. When we come back, we are usually tired (because we never take advantage of the potential lie in and always stay up far too late) but rejuvenated.

7. Show an interest in each other's hobbies. I'm never going to be a huge football fan, but my husband is a big sports enthusiast and I enjoy surprising him every now and then with a fact I have picked up about his favourite team. Showing an interest in something new expands your horizons and gives you more to talk about. You don't have to suddenly become a die-hard Spurs fan, but by sharing your husband's passion, you have more to talk about and you show how much you care about their passions (after all - you are one of their passions too).

8. Compromise. But not on the things that really, really matter to you. Compromise is all well and good, but actually, I think it's about give and take. Work out which things really matter to you and reason why they are so important and let go of the stuff that isn't so important. Do you really need to be in charge of the colour scheme for the whole house? I had firm ideas for how I wanted our dining room to look, so I took charge of that project and let my husband have free reign in the lounge. I love what he's done in there and it's probably not what we would have chosen together and I adore our dining room too.

9. Accept change. We have both changed a lot in the past ten years. I suppose parenthood can have that effect on people! But I think what strengthens a relationship is that we have both embraced the changes that have come along. Changes are part of our shared history and as we've encountered changes in our lives we've become even more intertwined rather than growing apart.

10. Make plans. We have plans for the short-term future, mid-term future and long-term future. We've not necessarily mapped them out, but we know eachother's hopes for the future. When we retire, we are going to go on a round the world trip. It's a long-term plan and it's part of the cement of our shared future.

What tips do you have for a long and happy marriage?

Thursday, 10 July 2014

10th wedding anniversary gifts (and how to replace a wedding ring with something better)

Today is my (well me and my husband's) tenth wedding anniversary.

The traditional wedding anniversary gift is something made of tin. But I think ten years is a big milestone and I wanted to get something special to mark the occasion.

My husband lost his wedding ring a couple of years ago. I wasn't that bothered, because, to be honest, I didn't really like it very much. It was a last minute purchase (we had a whole wedding to organise) and it was in the sale. It was a little bit too big for my husband and it was a surprise he managed so long without losing it.

So, for our tenth wedding anniversary I wanted to get him a replacement. Except, I didn't want to replace a wedding ring, I wanted something better, something that reflected our lives a decade later.

I was browsing Pinterest when I found the perfect idea: a band featuring the birthstones of our children.

I visited a jeweller in Exeter (I won't mention the name because they weren't very helpful, but it's behind Boots on the way up to the castle), but they were stumped when I mentioned June, the month my youngest son was born. The birthstone is pearl and apparently they can't set that into a ring. The alternative is alexandrite, but they said it was rare and very expensive. I'm not sure if it was to do with the scruffy way I was dressed, but I felt a bit like Pretty Woman in the posh boutique and it seemed like they were fobbing me off a bit when they suggested I get in touch when I knew exactly what I wanted. I didn't bother and instead I visited my local jeweller in The Triangle in Teignmouth.

Teignmouth Jewellers was a lot more accommodating and promised he would be able to get the alexandrite and the other stones and set them into the ring exactly like I wanted. And he did (delivering a week ahead of schedule). He wasn't even phased when I made an educated guess about my husband's ring size (no jokes please) and said it would be no problem to get the ring re-sized later if we needed to.

I'm really pleased with the result. The stones from left to right are: Sapphire (September, the birth month of my oldest son and my husband); Peridot (August, the birth month of my daughter); Alexandrite (June, the birth month of my youngest son) and Aquamarine (March, my birth month).

If we have any more children, the jeweller has assured me that it will be very easy to incorporate another stone into the ring.

I gave it to my husband this morning. And the best bit - the ring fits perfectly - if anything it's a bit tight so there's no excuses for losing it this time.

To accompany the ring and to celebrate with a meal at home this evening, I managed to find a bottle of 2004 Moet & Chandon from, of all places, my local Morrison's supermarket.

Happy 10th Wedding Anniversary.

What is the most amazing 10th wedding anniversary gift you've seen, given or received?

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Bargain England football top

I love a good bargain and if I have a little bit of spare time (very rare in my life), there's nothing I enjoy more than having a browse in some of our local charity shops.

Unfortunately, my 6 year old son is not such a fan, but I'm hoping this latest find will convert him.

I am lucky enough to get a couple of hours on my own with my biggest boy on a Friday after school while the younger two are still with the childminder. It's precious time and we usually do something he chooses, often swimming or the park, but on this particular Friday we had to do a bit of shopping before baby W's birthday.

We had about 10 minutes to spare after we'd got the balloons and last minute gifts, so I suggested we have a quick look in one of the charity shops in town.

I spotted the top pretty much as soon as we walked in and when I showed it to my son, his eyes lit up. An England away football shirt.

It was a little bit too big for him, but for £1.49 and a couple of years of growing room, it was too good to pass up. He wears it all the time and is very proud of it.

And I love being able to treat my boy without breaking the bank.

Have you found any bargains recently? I'd love to hear your stories.