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?