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?

Friday, 10 July 2015

The best wedding anniversary present...ever

Today my husband, Mr B, and I are celebrating eleven years of marriage.

Last year, we had a bit of a shindig down at the local rugby club to coincide with Mr B's 40th.  And I was determined to find the perfect 10th anniversary gift to mark the occasion. I was very proud, and just a bit smug, with the replacement wedding ring I got him. Especially when it fitted him perfectly. The ring contains birthstones representing all the families birth months.

Well, Mr B trumped me in the brilliant anniversary present stakes.

It took nine months for his gift to arrive, but it was well worth the wait.

The gorgeous Baby O turned three months earlier this week. He is absolutely perfect and he completes our family.

He is definitely the best wedding anniversary gift I ever received.

But now I have to add a new stone to Mr B's ring.

What's the best anniversary present you've ever received?

Saturday, 4 July 2015

A trip to Beer in Devon

This week I took my two youngest children to Beer for a couple of days with a friend and her nearly three year old son.

It was lovely to spend some proper time with my newly three year old son doing proper toddler stuff without the distraction of my older two children.

Beer was the perfect destination for us. It only took about an hour to drive there and the village is small enough to explore on foot, yet has more than enough on offer to entertain little people (and their mums). Sadly, although we were visiting Beer, we most certainly weren't on the beers!

We stayed in the Youth Hostel, which is situated up the hill from the centre of the village. We booked a family room, which contained one single bunk bed and one bunk bed with a double bed base and single top bunk. The hostel offers catered and self-catered options and we opted for a catered cooked breakfast and to self cater for lunch and dinner. The 7pm catered dinner was a bit late for the children and too early for us to put them to bed and then get down in time for an adult-only dinner.

We arrived in the late afternoon on the Wednesday, which was not quite as early as planned due to the fact I'd been cheering my two older children on at their school sports day. Once we'd checked in (the reception is open from 8am-10am and then from 5pm to 10pm), we wandered down towards the beach. Unfortunately, we didn't actually make it to the waterfront as our two boys were ravenous and also needed a toilet stop. So we stopped at an Italian/Thai restaurant, where we were swiftly dispatched to the back room so we didn't interfere with the romantic front of house. My friend ordered a pizza to share with her son, while I opted for a children's spaghetti with pesto sauce and I went for an amazing Thai curry. By the time we had eaten, it was time to head back up to the hostel for bed.

After an amazingly sunny week, we were disappointed to wake up to rain on the Thursday. Undeterred by the miserable weather, we decided to walk to Pecorama, drawn by the promise of indoor model railways and a soft play area. The two boys were entranced by all the different model trains and thoroughly enjoyed driving a steam train and Gordon (Thomas the Tank Engine's friend) on one of the tracks. After wandering round the indoor exhibit, we took advantage of a break in the weather to brave the outdoor steam train ride around the extensive, and beautiful, gardens. The highlight for the two boys was the long tunnel.
As we ended our ride the heavens reopened, so we decided to investigate the soft play in the 'Playstation'. We were amazed. We both agreed it was the cleanest, lightest, airiest, best-kept soft play either of us had ever visited. The coffee was good too. So good, we ended up staying in there for three hours.
And by that time, the miserable weather had cleared and the blue skies and sunshine had returned. We wandered back to the exit through the beautiful gardens and decided to head straight down to the beach. And this time, we actually made it.

Beer beach is a working beach dotted with numerous boats. Jurassic Coast fossils and we spent a relaxing hour sifting through the shingle and watching the world go by. Meanwhile the youngest member of our party opted for a long feeding session. At 12 weeks, he's a little bit young for fossil hunting!
We were lucky enough to watch one fishing boat come in and get winched up the beach. The boys, who are both typical 2/3 year olds and obsessed with dinosaurs, decided to hunt among the pebbles for

We then headed back to the Youth Hostel and made a quick pesto pasta in the self-catered kitchen before heading to bed.

For our last day, we decided to head for the more fertile fossil hunting area of Lyme Regis, which is about 20 minutes' drive away from Beer. On our way, we were stopped at a level crossing to allow the Seaton to Colyton tram to pass. And if we had been staying for longer, this is definitely a trip we'd have done.

Lyme Regis is a beautiful town although all the car parks seem to be up the hill from the centre! Our main quest for our final day was to find some fossils. And as we walked into the town we spotted a sign for the Dinosaurland Fossil Museum, which sounded like the perfect place to introduce our toddlers to the joys of dinosaurs and fossils. Unfortunately, the museum was nowhere near as child-friendly as the 'Dinosaurland' name suggested. It is much more suitable for older children and teenagers than our young charges. It is a very old school museum, with extensive writing on notes near the artefacts. And, unlike many other museums, which are very much hands-on, with lots of interactive exhibits, this was very much a look but don't touch place. We also spent a lot of time lifting our boys up to see what was on show as everything seemed to be at a very adult height. We were particularly amused by the natural history room, which contained the archetypal, moth-eaten taxidermy we'd not seen since we visited museums in our childhood back in the late 70s and early 80s.

Once we'd looked around the museum, we realised the boys probably needed some sustenance.  We definitely needed a cup of tea and 12 week old baby O certainly needed a feed. So we found a lovely little square by the water mill and sat down for some refreshments and a slice of very nice cake. It soon became apparent that the boys needed to let off some steam. They were still quite frustrated that we hadn't found any fossils yet. So we headed straight to the beach.Lyme Regis Museum.
The tide was out and the desire to find a fossil (unlikely on the main beach - we had discovered in Dinosaurland that the most fertile fossil hunting ground is about a mile walk further east along the beach) was quickly replaced by the lure of the rock pools. After messing about at the water's edge and eating our picnic lunch for more than an hour, we decided to head towards the

Before coming to Lyme Regis, we had looked on the internet to see if there were any guided fossil walks. We were hopeful of finding our very own, but our research suggested these only took place on a Saturday. We were gutted to find, when we finally made it to the Lyme Regis, that the walks are a lot more regular and there had been one that morning. We made a point of asking the museum worker why these dates were not on the website, but a discussion about the merits of technology seemed beyond her. She argued that the walks are dependent on the tides, but then conceded that they had the times of the walk already planned until the end of the year (thanks to the tide timetable). So we are still none the wiser about why they don't seem to be available on the museum website!

Unfortunately, we didn't have time to visit the actual museum as I needed to get back to pick the children up from school. So we had a quick look round the shop to buy some souvenirs before heading home.

We had a really relaxing time away and I loved being able to spend some proper time with my friend as well as getting some one-on-one time with my three year old, thanks to my friend helping out with baby O.

Visiting East Devon and West Dorset really is like stepping back in time (although not quite to the Jurassic era!). The pace of life seems slower. Although this could just be that I was missing the internet - the 3G reception is pretty much non-existent and I barely picked up any WiFi - not even in the Youth Hostel!

My friend plans to return later this summer and I'm planning to go back again next May for the annual Lyme Regis Fossil Festival when, hopefully, we'll be able to get out on a guided fossil hunting trip and maybe make our very own Mary Anning discovery.