Saturday, 5 December 2015

Contemplating the meaning of advent

My 5 year old daughter, B, was up and fully dressed in her school uniform at 4.30AM on Tuesday morning! The reason for her excitement? It was December 1st and she just couldn't wait to open the first door on her advent calendar.

This year, we asked if she wanted a Lego Friends calendar, but refreshingly (for my bank balance), she said no. She had her eye on a Frozen calendar that had chocolate behind each door and nothing else compared.

Big brother, 8 year old E, has a Lego Star Wars calendar, middle brother, 3 year old W, has a chocolate Star Wars calendar and I bought hubby a Meaningful Chocolate Company advent calendar.

But none of these, for me, reflect the true meaning of advent: preparing ourselves to celebrate the birth of Jesus. As a Roman Catholic, I do this by going to confession and saying sorry. But even if you don't believe in God, surely there's some room to use Advent as a time to reflect on how we can make peace and cleanse our soul ready for the new year.

To make time in the day for all the family to take a quiet moment, this year I bought an advent candle.

We light the candle every day before dinner and we pray. I use a Walk With Me booklet I was given at church to help guide our thought and E and B contribute their own prayers.

I can honestly say I've been pleasantly surprised at how they are just as excited about lighting the advent candle as they are about opening a new door on their calendars. 

I had been feeling a bit guilty that we don't fo Elf on a shelf. But I think I prefer our candle as our latest advent tradition. 

Friday, 20 November 2015

A trip to The Monkey House soft play centre in Dawlish

When a trip to a local soft play centre is discounted to £1, you'd be crazy not to go. Especially when the weather is miserable and your pre-schooler is climbing up the walls.

So thank-you to The Monkey House in Dawlish for running a Facebook promotion and letting me treat my two smallest boys with a trip to the soft play and for giving me some sanity by getting us all out for the afternoon.

The Monkey House is one of Little W's favourite places. It's where he celebrated his third birthday in the summer and it's where most of his friends have their parties too. This is probably because the party packages are good value for money and you get exclusive hire after 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

One of the best things about The Monkey House is that, unlike most soft play venues, it's really light and airy. It's not a huge venue, but there's more than enough equipment to keep small children entertained for a good couple of hours. And no matter where you try to hide sit, you can see what they're up to; unless they disappear into the non-softplay room, which has a play kitchen and den.

W on the 'really fast slide'
We arrived in time for lunch and W ordered pasta with grated cheese and I snacked on a sausage roll and a small portion of chips. Baby O had bits of what we were having. Sometimes, it's the thoughtful little touches that make the biggest difference to a day out. The Monkey House has plenty of booster seats for babies as well as a range of plastic and metal children's cutlery, and most importantly, bibs (something I always forget to pack).

I was very tempted by a home-made millionaire's shortcake, but managed to resist temptation.

Baby O was happy to sit and play with some toys designed for much younger children and even had a turn sitting next to the baby ball pit where he spent quite a long time studying one of the balls.

Baby O had fun with the toys

Before we knew it, it was time to go and collect the bigger two from school. The next challenge was to prevent an exhausted W from falling asleep in the car. Luckily, I won!

Do you have a favourite soft play centre?

Monday, 16 November 2015

Five ways to keep running when the going gets tough

Most of the time, running makes me feel good. I relish the opportunity to have some me-time and it gives my brain space to think and my body time to breathe. But sometimes, it can be hard.

Yesterday, I ran a 10 mile trail race and it was tough. By mile six I could feel huge blisters on my feet because I was wearing the wrong socks and the hills seemed never-ending.

But I got through it. I finished. OK, so I didn't run in a great time, but I got round and crossed the finish line. And that's what counts. It also taught me that I have the mental strength to get through.

So if you're ever out running and finding it tough, here are a five ways you can power on and get through to the end:

  1. Break the run down into smaller goals. Instead of overwhelming yourself with how far you still have to go, just focus on getting to the next mile marker and when you get there, congratulate yourself and work towards the next mile-marker. This is not the time to be thinking of the bigger picture, just work on smaller, more achievable targets. Once you get near the end, you can start focusing on what's left of the run...only 2 miles to go, only 1 mile to go, less than a mile to go, nearly there etc.
  2. Visualise a familiar run that you know you are good at. I often run the same three mile route and so instead of thinking about the run you are on now, visualise the landmarks you pass on your familiar route. Think to yourself, OK, I'm at the bridge (or church or pink house), it's only 5 minutes until I'll be at the traffic lights (or corner shop or school) and then after that it's only 5 minutes until I'm on the homeward strait.
  3. Use music to help you find your headspace or to set a beat to run or breathe to. Take the time to create a playlist of inspiring music – ideally with a fairly fast beat – and use this to help you take your mind off the pain and embrace your power to do this.
  4. Look up. If you look down, you'll just see your feet and by looking down, you might feel more down. If you look at eye level, you might accidentally catch someone else's eye and get embarrassed (or is that just me). But if you look up, you'll feel more 'up'. Just be careful to make sure you do look around you as well or you might end up running into a lamp-post or even someone else!
  5. While you're looking up and around, challenge yourself to notice something new about your surroundings. When you're walking or driving around, you are generally looking at things that are your height. If you look up, you'll notice the cloud formations, or a bit of interesting architecture on the buildings around you, or a funny pattern in the leaves of the trees around you. Even if you're running in an area that you are familiar with or on a route you know well, you will always notice something you've never seen before. And while you're busy noticing new things, you're not thinking about how hard you're finding it.
Of course, if you're finding it really tough or you have picked up an injury, it's not always wise to keep on going because you could do yourself even more damage. So if you have to stop, then do. But don't beat yourself up. Regather yourself for the next run and remember: the tough runs make the good runs even sweeter. 

How do you keep going when you are finding running hard going? Do you have any tips to add to my list?

Friday, 13 November 2015

How to choose a name for your baby: 11 rules

Newborn outside Devon Register Office, Newton Abbot
I'll name that baby in...three days.
Your name is a really important part of your identity. Admit it, as soon as someone mentions names like Sharon or Tracy or Wayne of Chardonnay, you immediately stereotype that person.

So naming your child can actually be quite stressful.

For us, it was very stressful because I have stringent criteria and a lot of names fall short. In fact, my criteria are so strict that even some names I really liked couldn't be used because of the stupid rules.

Poor Baby O was a John Doe for a couple of days because we just couldn't agree on his name.

In the end we agreed to disagree, I love his full name (which is on his birth certificate), but hubby prefers the shortened version.

So here are my baby name specifications:

  1. No androgynous names. So no names that could be used for either gender, such as Charlie or Sam. This was a shame as I quite liked the name Charlotte.
  2. No names that were in the Top 10. I was one of three girls in my class called Jo. It was annoying and often downright confusing when anyone shouted our name and we all turned around.
  3. No names that had been used by any of our relations or anyone in our circle of friends. I would hate to be thought of as a copycat and, as in rule number 2, it would be annoying at get togethers if we called our child's name and the other child came running. This rule did have an exception though: each of our children has two middle names and these are family names (one from each side). But this doesn't count as copying, it is classed as continuing a family tradition. This means that my youngest son's middle name has ended up being the same as my nephew's first name. But that's OK and my nephew is proud that his name was used. And most importantly, we're not likely to be shouting out Baby O's middle name in a restaurant and get a confused nephew wondering why we're shouting at him.
  4. No place names, which ruled out Sydney, Sienna and my particular favourite – Florence.
  5. No names of flowers, trees or objects. This meant that names like Rose, Ivy, River and Topaz were eliminated.
  6. No 'weird' names. You know, like Chardonnay or Hurricane.
  7. Then of course, we had the difficulty of our personal preferences, based on people we may have known and perhaps disliked. This also includes preconceived stereotypes about a particular name, such as Tarquin.
  8. None of our names could start with the same initial. I knew a family where all the names (including the mum and dad) began with a J. Let's just say that one of the offspring wasn't too impressed when his dad 'accidentally' opened his bank statement after his first term at university.
  9. None of our names could end in an 'ee' sound as that would have sounded odd with our surname.
  10. Occasionally, we came up with a name that we both liked, but then a tragic news story would emerge that meant the name developed a slightly different meaning to us.
  11. Meaning is very important to me. So once I found a name, I had to check the meaning and a couple of names were ditched after I discovered the origin and decided it was either too boring or not the sort of thing I wanted my child's name to represent.
So we had to come up with a name that wasn't too popular, but wasn't too 'out there' either.

Here are some names from my shortlists including a few that got vetoed (just in case anybody is looking for inspiration):
  • Gilbert
  • Sebastian
  • Laurence
  • Noah
  • Solomon
  • Madeline
  • Meredith
  • Juliet
  • Jemima
  • Charlotte (Lottie)
  • Isabelle
  • Gabriella
  • Amelia
Despite all our rules, we still received unsolicited opinions on our chosen names and certain people weren't keen at all. My favourite comment was: "You can't call him that, it's an old man's name".

But I firmly believe that whether you decide what you will call your baby before or after it is born, in most cases it will grow into or adapt its name to suit its personality.

And if it all goes wrong, there's always Deed Poll.

What criteria did you use when choosing your children's names? 

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Why it's OK to move your freelance goalposts

I started freelancing just under two years ago. Landing a regular client that would cover the bills gave me the push I needed to escape the (part-time) 9-5 and be more flexible in juggling family and career.

In my corporate life I was a marketing manager, so it made sense that I would freelance in the marketing/PR/social media field. After all, I had spent months studying late into the night to get my diploma and become a Chartered Marketer.

CIM graduation

My regular gig was managing the social media accounts of a national organisation and setting up and managing its blog. I enjoyed it. But I don't think I loved it. Anyway, I got pregnant and when I had Baby O we parted company.

The thing is, while marketing is pretty fun, my heart still lies in my previous career – journalism.

But, when I was a journalist I lived in the bustling metropolis of London and had time to go to lots of parties. Now I live in deepest Devon, the opportunities didn't really seem to be there.

Duh! Hello? There's such a thing as the Internet. And, as I have discovered this week, you don't need to be in the capital to write for London-based magazines.

Yes, over the past week I have landed some work writing some great articles about some really inspiring people and I've rediscovered my love of journalism. Suddenly I'm motivated and raring to go.'s not marketing. So now I'm having a good think about how I market myself (which is actually far more difficult than marketing products or services).

What am I offering as a freelancer? What work do I want to do and how will I get it?

My brain is buzzing with possibilities. But I'm enthused and happy, which means I'm not as grumpy as I usually am with the rest of the family. I feel like I've rediscovered what makes me tick and it's exciting.

I was scared about changing my freelance business. What about the brand I've built up? What about clients I've already worked with? But actually, I think it's for the best. It's OK because I'm playing to my strengths and my passions, not what I think I am expected to be offering. And luckily, marketing needs strong writers and proofreaders, so actually, by moving the goalposts I'm finding my niche.

Watch this space to see how I get on...

Thursday, 5 November 2015

I did it! Now to keep up the momentum

A couple of weeks ago I was blogging about running the Great West half marathon in memory of my nan.

And then radio silence.

You must have been wondering if I actually did it?

Well, yes I did. In 2 hours 5 minutes and 51 seconds.

And I even managed a sprint finish. You can tell by the picture that I was definitely hurting by that point. But I'm glad I pushed on so I kept on 2 hours 5 and didn't slip into 2 hours 6!

Great West Run Exeter 2015 Parkinsons Joanna Bowery

As you know, I was running to raise funds for Parkinson's UK. There's still time to donate (now that you know I definitely completed it) via my JustGiving page.

Exeter Great West Run 2015 medal

So what's next?

Well, I've signed up to run the Drogo 10 in TEN DAYS! And yes, that's 10 miles, not 10K.

I've not learnt my lesson and haven't done nearly enough training (again). So it looks like I'm going to have to keep punishing myself with more races until I get into a decent habit of regular running.

How do you motivate yourself to keep fit?

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Great West Run Exeter 2015

Tomorrow is 18th October and it would have been my grandmother's birthday. She died nine years ago after suffering with Parkinson's Disease and Osteoporosis.

In her memory, I will be taking part in the Exeter Great West Run half marathon and raising funds for Parkinson's UK.

Parkinson's UK Race Pack

Parkinson's UK supports those affected by Parkinson's and funds research to find a cure for the condition. Around one in every 500 people in the UK has Parkinson's. It is a progressive neurological condition that affects sufferer's movements.

I've not trained for the event as much as I would have liked. Having four young children, including a six month old who likes to feed a lot, has put paid to my ambitions on that front. But I'm still pretty confident I'll get round the course.

I was hoping to do the 13.1 miles in under two hours. But I'm now going for sub 2 hours 15 minutes.

A couple of weeks ago I ran more than 11 miles (although the MayMyRun app says 13.8 miles) in just under two hours and I was pretty comfortable at the end.

If you'd like to sponsor me, you can donate via my JustGiving page.

And if you're in Exeter tomorrow morning, look out for race number 2381 and give me a cheer. I think I'll need all the support I can get!

Exeter Great West Run 2015 Race Number

Friday, 16 October 2015

Siblings October 2015

Every month, the dear beautiful blog runs a challenge to capture a photograph of your children together to celebrate how growing up with siblings completely shapes your life.

The linky runs on the 15th of every month. So I'm a day late!

This photograph was taken during filming for a breastfeeding advert. I'll blog in more detail about the ad in future. So watch this space...

I love the way this image captures the personalities and interactions between my four.
Big brother E is very protective of baby O and loves to take responsibility to pick him up and hold him. My daughter B would love to be big enough to hold him, so she's taking ownership by holding his arm. She is always keen to help him out and she is directing his hand towards the toy. Meanwhile, middle boy W is heavily involved, holding the toy so everyone can participate in the activity.

dear beautiful

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Labour music playlist

Music is very important to me. I love the way it can often set the mood and help me achieve my goals. Whether I'm working, running and even when I'm giving birth.

It's been six months since I gave birth and I'm currently training for a half marathon. But some of the tracks I listen to when I'm pounding the roads are the same as the ones I listened to when I was in labour. But I suppose I'm tapping into the same area of my brain: working my body, getting my muscles to work and breaking through the pain barrier to achieve a goal.

Often, I hear a piece of music and it brings me right back to that magical moment. Lying in the bath in the zone as I prepared to meet my precious baby.

I compiled my labour playlist using Spotify. Here it is.

I hope there are some inspiring tracks here to help you bring your child into the world.

What music helped you give birth?

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Life's irritations: Centre or Center?

As I grow older, I realise that I am becoming increasingly irritated by minor inconveniences. 

So, to save my family from putting up with my daily rants, I have decided to blog about them instead. 

Today I am annoyed about the way American spellings seem to be creeping into everyday UK life. While I like the diversity of the English language as it has evolved around the world, I prefer a little consistency on the domestic front. 

So when I realised that one of the 'compulsory' apps (in that you can't seem to delete it) on my iPhone is Game Center (not Game Centre), I felt the familiar unreasonable rage at a minor annoyance.

And don't even get me started on Center Parks!

What's made you unreasonably angry this week?

Monday, 31 August 2015

Five ways to release your child's inner naturalist

My eldest son, seven year old E, has always been insatiably curious about the world around him. And, unfortunately, my GCSE in biology hasn't really equipped me to answer his numerous questions about the natural environment. I'm usually saved by Google, but my access to the internet isn't always great when he's asking me to identify common trees, flowers, birds or insects.

We are lucky enough to live in an area with a wide variety of natural environments: we live close to the beach, the river, the town and the countryside and not far from Dartmoor. So we're trying to learn more about what we see, hear and smell as we explore the world. I say we - because I'm embarrassed about my igorance and I want to learn this stuff too!

Here are a few ways I'm helping to unleash his inner naturalist. Who knows, maybe I'm nurturing the next David Attenborough?

1. I've bought him several spotter type books so he can tick off things he's found and take notes about when and where he came across it. His current favourite is the Nature Detectives' Handbook.

2. Our local nature reserve wardens at Dawlish Warren often run Junior Rangers events for children aged between 7 and 11 years old. Earlier in the summer he attended a free session on Dragonflies and Damselflies. As well as exploring the reserve, the children also made a model of what they'd seen. Art and craft are not favourite subjects of E, but he thoroughly enjoyed putting his damselfly together and I was really impressed with the result. The Junior Rangers get their own badge and newsletter too!

3. We try and take part in activities and campaigns run by charities and organisations that promote the natural environment, such as the RSPB, which runs an annual census of birds in your garden, or the Woodland Trust, or the WildlifeWatch section of the Wildlife Trusts.

4. Forest and outdoor school. E's school often runs a 'Forest School' after school club and he loves taking part. Locally, we also have a couple of Forest Schools that run holiday and weekend activities. We've yet to try them, but they are definitely on the radar.

5. When we're out and about we often stop and look or listen for signs of wildlife. I ask questions like: what do you think this is? what do you think made this? what do you think makes that sound? why do you think that? Even if we don't know the answers, maybe we can look them up or maybe I'm just helping him to further develop his curiosity about the world we live in.

How do you help your child learn more about nature?

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Silent Sunday

A trip to Minehead

Last weekend, we visited Minehead for our annual weekend away with my sisters, nieces, nephews and mum. This year, with the addition of Baby O, we numbered four adults and eight children!

Minehead, to many, is synonymous with Butlin's. Indeed the site dominates one end of the town centre and promenade. But there is more to the town than its famous holiday park and we stayed just outside the town in the Minehead Youth Hostel. It's a tradition that we always stay in a Youth Hostel for our annual weekend away.

We aimed to meet late morning and my sister inkspotsandgrassstains had found a soft play centre based in Minehead Baptist Church's youth and family centre, the Hub, that sounded ideal. In fact, we were all a bit later than late morning. We had been held up by traffic for Dunster Show, which was taking place just outside Minehead. And my sister - well, she had to travel a bit further than us. So meeting in a soft play place was a great solution as it meant the children were having fun and not bored at waiting for everyone else. The only problem was the soft play only served snacks and we were all hungry for lunch - but we made do with crisps, cake and chocolate!

Once we had all had a good cup of tea and the children had worked off a bit of steam after the journey, we decided to head into the town to have a look around and to find the beach, before going up to check into the hostel.

Minehead Youth Hostel is probably the most family-friendly I've stayed in. The staff were warm and friendly and the request for everyone to remove their shoes before coming in actually made the hostel feel more like a home than holiday accommodation. I was even more impressed that, unlike most youth hostels, this one even had a bath, which makes cleaning children up after a busy day a lot easier!

Saturday was our full day. With several train fanatics in our party, we decided to catch a steam train on the West Somerset Railway - England's longest heritage rail line, to pretty harbour town of Watchet and then back to Dunster to visit the castle and Medieval village.

We wandered round a small market in Watchet before getting the train to Dunster where we took a somewhat scenic walk (alright - we got lost and took the wrong footpath) to the town and up the hill to the castle, which is owned by the National Trust.

It was definitely a very scenic route.

The children really enjoyed the dressing up room and outside they were able to play with hula hoops and other outdoor games. I was a little relieved that the archery was finished by the time we'd finished walking round the interior of the castle.

On Sunday, we opted to travel in the opposite direction and visit Lynton and Lynmouth, where the older boys, 7 year old E and my 8 year old nephew D, were fascinated to learn about the tragic floods of 1952 in the Lynmouth Flood Memorial Hall. We then travelled up the cliff railway to the neighbouring village of Lynton where we had lunch. One of my sisters then had to travel back up north, but the remaining Devon contingent decided to travel on to visit Porlock Weir. The two older boys were keen to see more of the hills described in the account of when, in 1899, the lifeboatmen of Lynmouth had pushed the lifeboat up 1000 feet on the 14 mile journey to Porlock Weir to come to the rescue of the 1900 ton cargo ship, the Forest Hill. The weather was too stormy for the lifeboat to be launched from Lynmouth. The journey over Countisbury Hill was stunning and the ice-cream we enjoyed in Porlock Weir was a delicious end to a lovely weekend.

Even better, was the scenery as we drove over Exmoor on our journey home. The heather and gorse were in full bloom and the hues of purple and yellow were simply amazing. Sometimes, a trip fairly close to home can be a reminder to enjoy what we have. I definitely plan to return and explore the North Devon and West Somerset border a bit more. And I'm very tempted to do that bit of the South West Coast Path. And maybe next time I'll try and make sure I take a camera with room to take a few more pictures.

Now to decide where we should stay next year. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Sweet little lies - why has motherhood corrupted me?

Honesty is the best policy. That is something I have always truly believed in and I have always taken pride in telling the truth the majority of the time.

However, since becoming a mother, I have found myself telling more and more lies.
It started with Father Christmas, then the Easter bunny, then the tooth fairy.

I can't believe I'm posting a picture of Santa Claus in the middle of the summer.
 But tonight really took the biscuit.

As I was kissing 5 year old B goodnight, she said to me: "Look mummy, look up there." B's bed has a canopy over it and as I looked up where she pointed, I saw a big spider's web and, sitting proudly above the web, was its creator.

Now, while I'm not exactly frightened of spiders, I'm not that comfortable with handling them either. And I didn't fancy the circus of a spider chase just as I'd put her to bed. So I lied...

"Oh, you are such a lucky girl," I said. "That spider has spun a web to catch any bad dreams and now the spider is sat over you to watch you and make sure you sleep well."

"Spiders don't sleep, do they mummy?" she said.

"But they do rest B, they do rest." I replied.

And as I gave her another kiss goodnight and left her room I felt terribly guilty. How could such blatant lies so easily trip off my tongue?

What have I turned into?

What lies have you told your children?

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Siblings (August)

The blogger, Dear Beautiful Boy, runs a monthly linky that celebrates the sibling bond as it grows and develops.

I find it very difficult to capture all four of mine in one go, so hopefully, Dear Beautiful Boy has given me the inspiration to try and get a photo at least every month so I can watch as all four develop and witness as their bonds grow.

Here's my picture for August:

This was taken on the morning of B's 5th birthday. All four of them were crowded into our beds for the ceremonial present opening. You can see how excited they are about the presents. Unfortunately, Baby O is a bit of a wriggler, so it's almost impossible to take a photograph without some blurring around whichever limb he is waving around at the time.

dear beautiful

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Camping at Woodlands

What could be better than a campsite with its very own theme park?

Not much, according to my children after we had an amazing weekend at Woodlands, just outside Dartmouth in Devon.

If you book two nights at the Woodlands Grove campsite, you get free entry into the theme park next door. And if you work your arrivals and departures out right, you can end up spending nearly three days on the rides.

We arrived at 1pm on the Friday and went straight up to our pitch to start getting the tent up. Well - I say our pitch. This is August and the height of summer, so we were shown an area of the top field without any particular markings and informed that this was our pitch. After some slight misunderstandings about where our friends we were supposed to be camping with, and who had already arrived, might be located, we were eventually united and able to get on with pitching our tents. Luckily, there was plenty of room for our tent along with a smaller hiking tent for our au pair and our friends tents and parking for all our cars.

There were a few downsides to booking in peak season:

  1. You can only get electric hook-up if you book for a minimum of three nights (although Mr B says this was a good thing because it meant that I was without my phone, which has a battery life of about 20 minutes, for the weekend).
  2. The showers were freezing, unless, like Mr B, you got up early and showered at about 6.30am

On the day of our arrival, Peppa Pig was making an appearance in the park, so we sent 5 year old B and 3 year old W straight down into the park with our au pair to see their favourite character in the flesh, while we set up our home for the weekend. We headed down later to check out a couple of rides and the small zoo area.

The Saturday was a scorcher and Woodlands is brilliant for its water rides. The benefit of being on site is that we were able to get into the park first thing and avoid the worst of the queues. We had originally planned to head back up to the tent for lunch, but we were having so much fun that we ordered a hot dinner from the pizza and chicken parlour and retired to the shade of one of the indoor play areas to enjoy our food and revitalise ourselves for a busy afternoon.

By the end of the day, we had managed to cover about 80% of the park and we headed back up to the tent for a well-earned hotdog and burger, cooked on the barbecue.

On Sunday morning, we got up and packed up our tent before heading back into the park for a final day of fun. We headed to the bits we missed first before revisiting some of our favourite rides. 7 year old E was a big fan of the Swing Dragon Swing Ship, B loved the water slides, and the Dinosaur Farm ride in the zoo farm was a firm favourite with W.

Would I book again? Definitely. It was lovely to spend a weekend without having to use the car. And even if we aren't blessed with good weather, Woodlands has a lot of indoor attractions and, further down the campsite, a large shower and toilet block with a TV and games room. I have a feeling we'll be returning to Woodlands quite a few times in the coming years.

What campsites would you recommend for family fun?

Monday, 3 August 2015

Carry on breastfeeding...when you go back to work

Many women stop breastfeeding when they return to work. It often seems impossible to continue nursing your child when you are apart for many hours of the day. And the idea of pumping can be a real turn off.

This year's World Breastfeeding Week aims to support women to combine breastfeeding and work.

And I'm here to show you that if you want to carry on nursing, then going back to work doesn't need to stop you. I've managed it three times:

  • With my eldest son, E, I returned to work part-time when he was seven months old. He transitioned onto solids very quickly and soon dropped to just morning and night time feeds before he fully weaned from the breast at a year old.
  • My daughter B breastfed until she was four years old. I went back to work part-time when she was 10 months old. We continued nursing during the day when I was at home, but when I was at work, she just had solids and water. But she tended to catch up at night (whether I'd been at work or not) until I night weaned her when she was two and a half years old.
  • I went back to work part-time when little W was just four months old. I pumped every lunch time when I was at work and he took bottles of expressed milk from the childminder. He also caught up overnight and breastfed throughout the day when I was at home. W is now three years old and continues to nurse.

So if you need to go back to work and want to continue breastfeeding, you can make it work for you. Here are my top tips:

  1. Tell your employer in writing before you return to work. If you don't let your employer know that you plan to continue breastfeeding and tell them how they can help, then you can't expect them to be supportive. Before you return to work, write a letter explaining that you plan to continue breastfeeding and reminding them that they are legally required to provide somewhere for pregnant and breastfeeding employees to rest. You might also like to direct them to the Health and Safety Executive website where they will find information on good practice (but sadly not a legal obligation), to provide 'a private, healthy and safe environment for employees to express and store milk' - not a toilet. In reality, this means a lockable room with an electric socket (for your breast pump) and a fridge in which you can store your milk. You may find it helpful to include a list of benefits to the employer of you continuing to breastfeed, such as reduced absence due to childhood illnesses). My experience with two different employers has been really positive. After my daughter was born, I provided written notification of my return to work date and included a paragraph explaining that I would still be breastfeeding and that I would need somewhere to pump milk and somewhere to store the milk.  After my second son was born, I started a new job when he was four months old and still exclusively breastfeeding. After I accepted the job offer, I spoke to HR and told them I would still be breastfeeding and that it would be good practice to provide me with somewhere to pump and store my milk. I added that if they failed to do so, there would be a risk of me developing mastitis. All my requests were met and my employers bent over backwards to help me out. I realise that in some jobs, having the time to pump can be quite difficult. But by raising the issue with your employers before you return to work, you can at least discuss possible solutions and enable them to help. The more working women that raise the issue of breastfeeding, the more pressure will be put on employers to enable women to continue their nursing relationship.
  2. Just breastfeed when you are together. In the UK, most women are able to take at least six months of maternity leave. This means that by the time you are back at work, your baby will most likely have started solids. So, in reality, you can just breastfeed when you are with your child (bedtime and/or first thing or even through the night) and then encourage your child to take solid food and water from a beaker during the times you are at work. If you are worried about dropping all milk feeds during the day, you could express breastmilk or leave some formula with your childcare provider. You will be surprised at how quickly your body and your child adapt. How do I know? I returned to work when my eldest was 7 months old. I expressed milk and left it with the nursery. After a couple of months, the nursery staff told me my sone was refusing to take the expressed milk from a bottle and actually wanted to have water from a sippy cup and a snack like the other children. We continued nursing when we were together, but when he was out and about with other carers, he was quite happy to take on other forms of nutrition.
  3. Ask for flexible working so you can take breaks to breastfeed your child during the day or you can manage your shifts so you're not away from home for 12 hours at a time. This is an NHS suggestion and not something I've managed to do myself, so I can't really comment on how feasible it is. But I'm sure for some women it's a viable option.
  4. Arrange for your childcare to be close to where you work so you can actually breastfeed your child in your breaks rather than pump. Again, this isn't something I've tried, although I now work from home and my childminder is round the corner, so it might be something I attempt later this year with Baby O.
  5. Relax and be flexible. You and your child will adapt to whatever works for you. Don't beat yourself up if you can't express. Don't be disappointed if you are only managing to nurse once a day or just at the weekends. Have faith in your boobs they will adapt to supply enough milk for whenever you manage to nurse your child. And your child is growing and developing every day and will easily manage the transition to fit in with whatever you can provide.
Have you successfully combined work with a continued breastfeeding relationship? How did it work? What tips would you add?

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Days out in Devon - an eventful trip on the Dartmouth Steam Railway Round Robin

Little W is three years old and is obsessed with trains, boats and buses.
A day trip involving all three would surely be a winner.
So earlier this week we took my mother (who loves steam trains) and our au pair (who loves the Devon countryside) on the Dartmouth Steam Railway and River Boat Company Round Robin trip. It was an eventful day. But more of that later. First I'll explain the trip.
The round robin involves:

  • a steam train between Paignton and Kingswear and then a short passenger ferry over the River Dart to Dartmouth
  • a passenger cruise boat up along the River Dart between Dartmouth and Totnes
  • a double-decker (sometimes open top) bus between Totnes and Paignton
The direction of travel depends on the tides as the water needs to be high enough for the boat to travel along the River Dart.

We began our trip by taking a regular train to Paignton. The steam train station is next door, right in the town centre. So as we transferred from our modern(ish) diesel train and wandered next door into the ticket office of the Dartmouth Steam Railway, it was like stepping back in time to an age when steam engines powered the world.

We bought a family ticket, which covers two adults and up to three children. Under 3s are free, but must be 'declared'. It was a lovely touch that our very own under 3 (baby O) was given his own special 'My first round robin' ticket to commemorate the occasion.

Our train departed at 10am. The route is beautiful as the railway follows the coast out of Paignton along through Goodrington Sands before dipping inland behind Churston, past Agatha Christie's house at Greenaways before hugging the River Dart back down to the coast.

It's well worth hanging around on the platform when you arrive in Kingswear to watch the steam engine unhook from the front and chuff round to the other end of the train for the return journey.

Outside the station you follow the ramp down to the river to get the ferry across to Dartmouth, which runs every 10 minutes or so.

Dartmouth is a beautiful town with lots of lovely shops - including a SeaSalt samples and sale shop which is great if you are a Size 10!

We wandered through the shops and along the river wall where lots of families were enjoying a spot of crabbing and enjoyed lunch in a fish and chip shop before heading back down to the quayside for our 2.45pm River Dart cruise.

It was at this point that the day took an interesting turn. We decided to pop into the supermarket for some extra food supplies for the next stage of the trip (strawberries and a packet of biscuits). Little W was being carried by his grandmother when a seagull decided to spatter them with epic proportions of droppings. They were absolutely covered. Obviously, before digging out wet wipes to try and cleanup the mess, I stood in fits of laughter and grabbed my camera! Karma meant that I only managed to get one photograph before the battery went.

If you look closely, the seagull managed to get W's hair and shirt and my mum's arm, cleavage, hat, bag and vest.

Once we had cleaned them up as best we could, we went down and boarded the boat. We opted for the open air top deck for the best views (although I did regret failing to bring a jumper as the wind was fairly fresh at times).

The commentary on board was interesting and pretty amusing. Our skipper had a very dry sense of humour. We looked out for some seals, but only managed to spot a few herons. However, the scenery was beautiful and it was a really relaxing way to spend an afternoon.

Things began to go wrong when we got to Totnes. The plan was to get straight on the bus back down to Paignton as we were planning to head to the carnival back in our home town later that evening and we wanted to grab some supper before the procession. Unfortunately, everyone else on the boat had the same idea and by the time the bus arrived (20 minutes late), there were more passengers than seats, so a group of around 20 of us were left behind. We were promised that an additional bus was on route, but given no assurances about how long this would take. So we waited, and waited, and waited.  Luckily Baby O is pretty chilled out for a 16 week old baby. And the rest of us were happy to take advantage of the adjacent ice cream shop. An hour later (about 5 minutes before the scheduled last bus), a 'relief' bus arrived. By this point, the queue was really long again so by the time we'd all clambered on, there were still passengers left waiting.

As we boarded the bus, I joked that all we needed now was for this bus to break down. And yes, you've guessed it, two miles out of Totnes and the bus broke down. Luckily, this time, we only had to wait about 25 minutes for what was the original bus to pass by and we were able to resume our journey back to Paignton. 

We got back with one minute to spare before our train home, so we hot-footed it through the station and over the footbridge with seconds to spare and got back just as the carnival procession started.

If all the transport had gone to plan, this would have been a perfect day. Although the boat trip is a little long for toddlers and the top deck of the boat is pretty precarious. You need to make sure they stay sat down in their seats and I was holding on to baby O very, very tightly!

But sometimes the best memories are when things don't go to plan. And I don't think little W will forget the time the bus 'breaked down'.

What are your favourite day trips in Devon?

Silent Sunday

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Holiday activities for kids: Football and other sports

Yesterday, E and B went to a free summer launch party event run by Exeter City Football in the Community (ECFITC).

The day wasn't just about football - it was about all sorts of sports including, rugby, golf, dodgeball, cricket, rounders and table tennis.

E has been attending Exeter City's Tiny Tots, which is also run by ECFITC, on a Saturday morning since he was four years old. And, since turning five, he often attends their school holiday sessions, which are held in Exeter, and more conveniently, in our home town too.

However, this was B's first time at a sporty holiday club. And she loved it!

In the morning, E brought B into his room and lent her one of his football shirts, a pair of his football shorts and a pair of his football socks. I did suggest that B wore her PE shorts, but apparently she needed 'proper football ones'. Mr B then went up to the loft and dug out E's first pair of football astroturf boots and shin pads. B really looked the part and was so excited to finally being able to join her big brother in some sporty holiday fun.

I'd really recommend looking up your local football team's community courses. The coaches are really enthusiastic and professional and the equipment they have is amazing. It's a great way to introduce sport and physical activity to your children. It's also an inexpensive way to entertain your kids in the school holidays and get a few hours to yourself.

W can't wait until he's old enough to join in the fun.

What activities are your children taking part in this summer?

Saturday, 18 July 2015

End of year gift for the teachers - smart cookies

I love Pinterest! Especially for gathering quirky ideas for handmade gifts.

The end of term and the end of the school year can be manic. And I was looking for something small and personal, yet slightly quirky and easy to make for the children to make as a gift for their teachers. And, because we needed to provide gifts for several teachers (well, teachers and teaching assistants), it needed to be something we could make in bulk. So I was really pleased when I found an idea for 'smart cookies'. Surely this was something we could make together that would look half decent.

The basic idea is that you make cookies and then attach a label that thanks the teachers for helping the child become a smart cookie.

We followed this basic cookie recipe:

300g plain flour
150g caster sugar
250g soft butter
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp salt

  1. Beat the butter and sugar together.
  2. Add the egg yolk and vanilla essence and beat the mixture until it is smooth
  3. Add the flour and salt and mix to form a smooth dough.
  4. Add some chocolate chips.
  5. Knead the dough into a ball and wrap in cling film. Put in the fridge for about half an hour.
  6. Roll the dough out and cut into shapes.
  7. Bake the cookies at 180 degrees celsius for 12 minutes.

Once the cookies were made, I just had to make the labels. The easiest option would be to get some plain brown luggage labels. But I wasn't that organised so I cut up a brown envelope instead and used a hole punch to make a hole for the ribbon. Except, I wasn't even organised enough to have ribbon, so we used wool instead!

We used the following text: "Thank you for helping me become such a smart cookie."

I then got each child to write each teacher's name on the back along with their own name.

I reckon they turned out alright.

Smart cookies

What gifts have you made for your teachers at the end of this school year?

Friday, 17 July 2015

The day we packed the moses basket away

Today I'm feeling a bit emotional because we've packed away the moses basket.

Not only does this signify that Baby O is growing fast, it is also a stark reminder that this is my last baby and that the newborn days are most definitely behind us. He is 14 weeks old now.

Moses basket
Baby O has outgrown our family moses basket
Our moses basket is not just any old baby crib. It is a family heirloom.

The moses basket in which my four children have spent their earliest nights was also the moses basket in which I slept as a newborn. My two sisters slept in it too. And before my generation, it was where my father slept as a tiny baby.

It is a beautiful white whicker basket, which, I believe, was previously painted a pale green colour.

When I was pregnant with my eldest child, my parents passed it to me. My husband and I bought a new rocking stand for it and my husband's grandmother sewed a new broderie anglaise inner dressing.

Almost like a wedding, we had something new (our precious newborn) and something old (the basket).

As well as continuing a tradition, the moses basket has a secret underneath. For each child that has slept in the basket, we have glued on a brand new coin from their year of birth as a record of each inhabitant and to mark the passing of time. We've added a £2 coin for each of our children. There is a 50 pence piece from when I was a baby and there is a shilling from my when my father slept in it.

But now, the moses basket has been packed away back into the loft.

The next time it will be brought out will be to welcome in the next generation, when I become a grandmother.

Baby O is spending his first night in his cot. He settled down in his new bed beautifully. He is growing older now. And one day, maybe his son or daughter will sleep in our family moses basket.

Do you have any family heirlooms that are passed to the newborns of each generation?

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

New hair - using a mobile hairdresser to cover the silver strands

I rarely go to the hairdresser. I don't seem to have the time. And with a small baby, I just couldn't guarantee he'd sleep through an entire appointment. 

However, during my latest pregnancy I noticed that the odd grey hair also seemed to have gone forth and multiplied. So, one of the first things I did after giving birth was to dye my hair. (You are advised not to use hair dye while pregnant). But I only used a semi-permanent because I knew I'd make a hash of it. Luckily the completely inappropriate shade (probably the same dark red I favoured at the age of 15) and uneven coverage soon washed out. And I was still left with those increasing numbers of grey and white hairs.

Going to the hairdresser for a proper cut and colour filled me with dread. I could see it taking a lot of time and costing a lot of money. 

And then I remembered that a friend of mine is a mobile hairdresser. Jo has three children and says that while many of her clients are the stereotypical elderly ladies who can't always manage a trip to a salon, she's increasingly seeing lots of mums who can't get out because they've got kids. 

I made the appointment in the school playground, with a brief description of what I wanted. Two days later she popped round to do a patch test, to make sure I wasn't going to react to the dye. And the following day she came to my house to transform me.

Jo brought her gorgeous two year old daughter with her. And while she played with Baby O in the lounge with my au pair, Jo set about rejuvenating my maturing locks. And when Baby O got cranky and needed a feed I got on with it while Jo carried on around us.

It was one of the most relaxing hairdressing experiences I've had. And I finally have a professional colour job and a cut that works for me for less than I would have paid in a salon. I'll definitely be using Jo again.

I'm really pleased with the results: she's matched my natural hair colour and cut me a beautiful long bob that's slightly shaped around my face. It's versatile enough to tie back in the hot weather and away from small fists that like to grab, but short enough to look good loose. 

Monday, 13 July 2015

5 tips to discreetly breastfeed in public (and how I came to breastfeedlive on TV)

As silly season approaches in media-land (August is notoriously slow for news), you can bet your bottom dollar that there will be at least one story doing the rounds about breastfeeding in public.

Well, I've got news for you. I appeared live on Sky Sports 1 over the weekend while I was breastfeeding three month old Baby O. And do you know what? No-one batted an eyelid. Because breastfeeding...IS NORMAL!

OK - so it was a fleeting glimpse. Blink, and you miss it (ah, the beauty of Sky Plus and the pause button). And, to be honest, if I hadn't said what I was doing, you probably wouldn't have noticed.

But - that's the point. 

Virtually every week there is a furore in the media somewhere about a breastfeeding woman being asked to move or to stop breastfeeding. I mean, we even have legislation making it unlawful for people to discriminate against breastfeeding mothers (the 2010 Equality Act if you want to look it up). And that makes women scared to breastfeed in public. Some may go to great lengths to avoid breastfeeding in public opting to spend time and energy they may not have expressing (only to get grief for bottle feeding!). It can all be a bit stressful.

Well, I am pleased to report that I sat all day in the front row of an international rugby event - the European Rugby 7s at Sandy Park in Exeter - and received no comments at all. No-one batted an eyelid. And yes, I even got caught on live TV and still no-one noticed. Because actually, breastfeeding is quite a normal thing to do. And it's pretty easy to be discreet without hiding you or baby away in a back room (or worse, a toilet).

Back in the real world, there are lots of women who breastfeed in public everyday. They're not flashing their nips to the world and they're bringing attention to what they're doing by draping a huge curtain over their youngster (although, if a cover makes you more comfortable, go for it).

Here are my five top tips for discreet breastfeeding in public:

  1. Double layer - wear a vest underneath your top so when baby wants to nurse you lift up your top layer and drop down the vest. This means the top layer covers the top half of your chest and the vest prevents the world from seeing your post baby mum tum.
  2. Wear a scarf or drape a muslin cloth over your shoulder to gently drape above baby's head to hide the top half of your boob. All babies need muslins and it's as common for mums of young babies to have them draped over their shoulder as it is for waiters to wear a tea towel in a similar fashion. (If you don't have a scarf or a muslin cloth, why not pretend to be a waitress and use a tea towel?)
  3. Don't wait to find a more convenient place. Try and nurse your baby as soon as they start showing signs of hunger. People are more likely to turn around with a frown to investigate why that baby is making a noise if it is crying. If you can start to nurse before your baby begins to fuss, then people won't even realise baby is there, let alone breastfeeding.
  4. Wear a sling - once you get the hang of breastfeeding, try nursing in a sling - that way you can carry on walking round the supermarket while your baby feeds and no-one will be any the wiser. The only issue will be when your other half realises you can now multitask while breastfeeding so you're days of lounging on the sofa because you're nursing the baby might be numbered!
  5. Smile - If anyone looks over, flash them a grin to reassure them that what you are doing is perfectly normal and to disarm them if they were even thinking of saying anything remotely negative.
Breastfeeding in public is not all or nothing. You don't have to flash any flesh and you don't have to hide in the toilet or under a blanket. It's just part of bringing your baby up.

I am proud I appeared on TV breastfeeding in a very public place. But I'm most proud that what I did provoked no reaction at all. I'm pleased I've been part of the movement to #normalisebreastfeeding

What tips do you have for breastfeeding in public?