Thursday, 1 December 2016

A rant about the 12 days of Christmas

It's the first day of December and marketers everywhere are ramping up their festive campaigns. One of the popular promotions at the start of Advent is to run a promotion based on the 12 days of Christmas. 

There's only one problem: the 12 days of Christmas actually marks the period between Christmas and the Epiphany and not the first 12 days of Advent.

I can understand that a 12 day promotion might be easier to manage than a 24 day event through December. I can see how it's a helpful follow-up to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But is it really acceptable to hook a marketing campaign to a season that actually takes place several weeks later? I don't think so! To me, it's lazy marketing. It suggests that companies don't understand what exactly they are tying their marketing to. And, quite frankly, it shows a lack of respect.

While I appreciate that Christmas, for many, is merely a season where you get a couple of days off work and can exchange presents and goodwill, for others it is a deeply significant religious festival celebrating the birth of Christ. 

The 12 days of Christmas is a period of celebration and reflection on the birth of Christ, culminating in the visit of the Magi or three wise men and the baptism of the Lord. It most definitely isn't the first 12 days of Advent, when Christians prepare in earnest for welcoming the Light of the World with the birth of Jesus.

Perhaps it's the well-known song that has confused matters. But even popular carol has a deeper Christian meaning. Some suggest that the lyrics were a code used by Roman Catholics in England between 1558 and 1829 when they were not permitted to practise their faith openly with the 'true love' representing Jesus.

  1. Partridge in a Pear Tree = Jesus
  2. Turtle Doves = Old and New Testament
  3. French Hens = Faith, Hope and Love
  4. Four Calling Birds = Four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
  5. Gold Rings = Five books of the Old Testament
  6. Geese-a-laying = Six days of Creation (the 7th day was the day of rest)
  7. Swans-a-swimming = Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (Contribution, Exhortation, Leadership, Mercy, Prophecy, Serving and Teaching)
  8. Maid-a-milking = Eight Beatitudes
  9. Ladies Dancing = Nine gifts of the Holy Spirit (Charity, Chastity, Fidelity, Joy, Modesty, Peace, Patience, Goodness and Mildness)
  10. Lords-a-leaping = Ten Commandments
  11. Pipers Piping = Eleven faithful Apostles
  12. Drummers Drumming = Twelve points of belief in the Apostles' Creed
Credit for this information from: The Catholic News Agency - original source Father Calvin Goodwin, FSSP, Nebraska. 

I wonder how it would be received if marketers tried to attach a campaign to a festival related to another major religion?

For me, well I have an increasingly long list of companies that I will not be purchasing from this year. But, as it's the season of goodwill, perhaps it would be more Christian of me to forgive them their ignorance.

Monday, 21 November 2016

7 alcohol free drinks for the party season

This year will be one of the first Christmas periods is a long time where I'll be able to have a few drinks. But even though I'm entering the Christmas party season without being pregnant, life with four young children, two of which are still nursing, means that while I'm excited about being able to have a couple of glasses of the strong stuff, I'm still not keen on nursing a hangover.

Not drinking at Christmas parties doesn't have to be boring though. And, having spent several years struggling with sickly sweet kids drinks, I've discovered a few adult alternatives for anyone having a dry Christmas.

This post includes affiliate links.

Here are seven of my favourite non-alcoholic party drinks for grown-ups:

  1. Apple, elderflower and mint fizz: Combine half a glass of apple juice with a splash of elderflower cordial and top up with sparkling water for a refreshing non-alcoholic spritzer.
  2. If you're a fan of Rose wine but don't fancy the alcohol-free versions, why not try Fenitmans Rose Lemonade. It's made using pure rose oil and tastes divine. 
  3. Just because you're missing out on the sparkling wine or champagne doesn't mean you can't toast the season. Schloer do a range of sparkling grape-based drinks including this Sparkling Rose
  4. Mulled apple juice: Conjure up the smell of Christmas with an alternative to the seasonal mulled wine. Simply add cinnamon sticks, orange peel and cloves to a pan of apple juice and simmer. You'll be sober enough to really appreciate the smell of Christmas wafting through the house.
  5. Cranberries aren't just for turkeys. Mix cranberry juice with sparkling water and top with a twist of lime for a seasonal and refreshing simple mocktail.
  6. Ginger and honey iced tea: If you're feeling under the weather, a ginger and honey iced tea will look classy while also easing your sore throat and boosting your immune system. Brew a black tea and stir in some grated ginger and a spoonful of honey. Remove the tea bags after about five minutes and leave to cool before putting in the fridge. Add ice and mint leaves to serve.
  7. Grapefruit and Rosemary Mocktail: This takes a bit of preparation, but the result smells so good, it's well worth the time. First, you need to make a rosemary syrup by heating up a cup of water and a cup of granulated sugar on the hob. Be careful not to let the mixture boil or the sugar might crystallise. Once you have your syrup, add a couple of sprigs of rosemary and let it cool before putting it in the fridge. When your rosemary syrup is ready, add a glug to a glass of grapefruit juice and add ice and another sprig of rosemary.
What are your favourite alcohol-free party drinks?

Sunday, 6 November 2016

My Sunday Photo - A Trip to the Optician

Wilf started school in September and needs to use his eyes a lot as he learns to identify letters and numbers and starts to read.

Although many children will have an eye test at the hospital around their fifth birthday (well, in my area they do!), it's still important to get them used to having regular eye checks so any issues can be identified and treated early on.

There are a few things to look out for that suggest there might be sight problems. These include: if your child rubs their eyes a lot; if they hold things very close to look at them; if they blink a lot or squint; or if they stand very close to the TV.

Wilf has a terrible habit of standing right in front of our TV, so I wanted to get him in to see the optician for his first eye test to double check there were no underlying issues.

He tends to be quite reserved when he faces new situations, so we watched the "I really absolutely must have glasses" Charlie and Lola episode, which explains what happens at an eye test. He really enjoyed the different activities the optician asked him to do, such as pointing at letters she was showing him in the mirror and finding shapes within coloured dots. He even co-operated when she asked if she could shine her bright torch into his eyes.

It turns out, his eyesight is great.

The only problem is that actually, he really, really wanted to have a pair of glasses!


Saturday, 5 November 2016

8 of the best Advent Calendar ideas

The countdown to Christmas really gets going on December 1st with the start of Advent.

The word Advent comes from the Latin, meaning coming. It is the season of preparation and symbolises the expectation and anticipation of the coming of the Lord, culminating in the celebration of His birth on Christmas Day.

While most Advent calendars start on December 1st, in the Church, Advent can often start at the beginning of November because it starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. That means that this year Advent starts on Sunday 27th November.

I suppose it's easier for Advent calendars to stick to the regular 1st December start date. I won't tell the children that they have potentially missed out on three chocolates this year!

And, to make it easier for you, I've compiled a list of my favourite Advent calendar ideas for this year (Disclaimer: this post features affiliate links):
  1. Ensuring my children understand the real meaning of Christmas is very important to me. We are Roman Catholics and the season of Christmas is a very important part of our faith. And while I don't want to deny them the sheer excitement that comes with opening a door of an Advent calendar and getting something, I also want to remind them of the importance of giving. This year, I'll be helping them to make an Advent kindness calendar. We'll write a list of  24 ideas of how they can be kind or helpful and place them in a fabric 'fillable' Advent calendar we bought years ago from a market in Lanzarote and then, each morning, they can pick out their Act of Kindness and try to carry it out that day. This is a similar Hanging Felt Santa Father Christmas Advent Calendar if you want something that you can re-use every year.

  2. Another idea that highlights that this is the season of goodwill is the Reverse Advent Calendar, which fellow blogger Mum In The Madhouse featured on her blog last year.

  3. For a more chocolatey take on reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas, try The Real Advent Calendar by The Meaningful Chocolate Company (85g chocolate). I buy this for my husband, who is not religious. He enjoys the chocolate and I enjoy the fact that he can share the Nativity story by sharing the 28-page Christmas story activity book with the children.

  4. If your family are football fans, you will have no doubt come across the Match Attax football trading cards. Elliot is an avid collector and has already reminded us several times that he would very much like to extend his collection with the EPL Match Attax 2016/17 Advent Calendar. Behind the doors are 120 Match Attax cards, including a limited edition Gold Jack Wilshere card.

  5. Beatrix is really into her Lego at the moment and has her heart set on this LEGO Friends 41131 Advent Calendar. We've had Lego Advent calendars for the past couple of years and the children have really enjoyed building a scene and adding the various Lego models and characters to it as the month progresses.

  6. At the moment, Wilfred says he is not fussed by toys calendar and he just wants a Darth Vader chocolate one, like this Star Wars (Episode VII The Force Awakens) Milk Chocolate Advent Calendar 2015 (Toys Inc).  

  7. Of course, if the older children are getting collectables in their Advent calendar, the younger boys are going to want something to play with too. Luckily, VTech have come up trumps with the Toot-Toot Drivers Advent Calendar. We already have the garage and the airport and they are played with constantly, so I know this will be perfect for them and provide them with hours of fun.
  8. Advent is also known as the season of light as we prepare to welcome the light of the world with the birth of Jesus. What better way to celebrate this than with an Advent candle. This Traditional Festive Christmas Advent Countdown Taper Candle is a lovely way to count down the days to Christmas. Simply light it each day and then blow it out when you reach the next marker. While the candle is lit, you can talk to your children about the meaning of Christmas, pray or meditate. We started the tradition of lighting an Advent candle last year. Read about it here.
What Advent calendars will you be using this year?    

Disclaimer: this blog post contains affiliate links.

Mr and Mrs T Plus Three

Monday, 31 October 2016

10 things to do in November

The clocks have gone back and the nights are drawing in, but Christmas is coming and there's plenty to keep you occupied in November. Here are ten ideas:
  1. Go vegan. November is World Vegan Month, so why not try a vegan diet for the month? Or, i, like me, your family are too fond of their meat and two veg and that seems a bit too much of a lifestyle shift, try a vegan recipe. There are lots of resources on the Vegan Society website.
  2. Write a letter to Father Christmas.
  3. Make a Guy and display him outside your house with a "penny for the Guy" sign. 
  4. See a fireworks display. In Devon, there are displays at Teignmouth Rugby Club on 4th November and at Westpoint Arena on 5th November. If you're feeling brave, you might want to go to Ottery St Mary for the annual Tar Barrels.
  5. Write a story. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). And, while writing an entire novel might be a bit much to ask of your children, why not adapt a game of Consequences and write a sentence each day and see how your story ends up at the end of the month? Who knows, maybe you will be inspired to write your own novel!
  6. Pledge an act of kindness for World Kindness Day. There are lots of ideas on the Kindness UK website.
  7. If you extend your commitment to random acts of kindness, make a Kindness Advent Calendar, where you come up with 24 random acts of kindness and commit to doing one each day in the run up to Christmas.
  8. Dress up as a hero of your choice or wear blue on 18th November to raise awareness of Anti-bullying week. Post your pictures on social media using the #wearbluecampaign #antibullyingweek and #powerforgood hashtags
  9. Wear a poppy and attend a Remembrance Sunday parade on 13th November.
  10. Visit a Christmas craft fair. You'll find lots of original, hand-made presents that will sort Christmas shopping for even the most difficult to buy for relatives and you'll be supporting local small businesses. As well as the big Christmas Shopping Fayre at Westpoint in Devon, there are hundreds of smaller events taking place in local church halls and schools. Keep an eye on your Facebook feed or do a Google search to find a fair near you.
  11. Mr and Mrs T Plus Three

Sunday, 30 October 2016

My Sunday Photo - 30th October 2016

One of the best things about Autumn is going for a walk in woodland, kicking around in the leaves. and admiring the beautiful colours as the trees change colour.

Ossie is 18 months old and this is the first time he's been able to really enjoy exploring the different textures of nature in Autumn.

This photo was captures the moment he realised we'd found him after he'd been playing hide and seek behind the tree trunks. His face is a picture of surprise and enjoyment.


Saturday, 29 October 2016

4 reasons bullet journalling didn't work for me

I am constantly on a mission to 'get organised'.

If there's a new fad that promises to save you time and guarantee you won't miss an appointment or forget something vital on your shopping list, I'm a captive audience.

Generally though, a few weeks in and I've either lost interest or managed to find a flaw in the plan.

In my head, I love being organised, but in real life, things don't tend to go to plan.

I'm a big sucker for stationery and notebooks, which made me think that keeping a bullet journal, or BuJo, might actually be a workable solution.

Basically, a bullet journal combines your diary and all your to-do lists, bucket lists, birthday present lists and any other thoughts you have into one handwritten notebook. It seemed like the perfect solution to the woman who seems to juggle several notebooks as well as a diary, usually missing the vital notebook for the occasion.

I started bullet journalling at the beginning of the year, so I've given it a fair crack of the whip. But I've finally conceded that even this 'foolproof' organisation system doesn't work for me. Here's why:

  1. I couldn't commit to the index. The index page (at the front of the bullet journal) is essential to make it a workable system. If you want to continue a list, you use the next available page, which might not be the next consecutive page, and then you mark the page number in the index. I was hopeless at writing page numbers on each page and not particularly good at adding this information to the index, which meant I could never find the page I needed.
  2. The system is flexible, but not flexible enough for me (or maybe I wasn't flexible enough for the bullet journal system). The index page is integral to the bullet journal; you just add information on a page and the index enables you to find it. But I prefer to be able to just flick to a section and have all the information in one place, rather than have to flick between pages to find all the relevant details. I tried to get round this, by ditching the notebook and using an A4 ring binder, and that kind of worked. The only problem was that the folder is too big to carry around every day. Instead, it sits on the kitchen table, so it's more a family organiser and planner than a true bullet journal. And this meant that I was writing random lists on bits of paper, which is really not the point of a bullet journal.
  3. I'm not arty enough. To get inspiration and to try and make my bullet journal work for me, I joined a couple of Facebook groups. I was inspired by the really amazing and artistic spreads and trackers created by other bullet journallers, but my own attempts were more functional. I'm not arty. I can't draw to save my life. And I got overwhelmed and disheartened that I just couldn't produce anything near so pretty.
  4. I didn't have enough time and I lacked the commitment needed to make it work. I think to get the most out of a bullet journal, you need to devote time to filling in the pages and making them look good. My own use of the bullet journal was more rushed. To make a bullet journal work, you need to use it pretty constantly. You need to spend at least 20 minutes every night sorting out your life and your bullet journal for the next day. I do most of my organising on the hoof - often while feeding the baby. Trying to write in a notebook while breastfeeding a curious toddler is, quite frankly, impossible. So I started using electronic apps on my phone - well, my Google Calendar mainly. So I was ending up with some information in my phone and some in my bullet journal. And I didn't have the time to tally them up.
Things came to a head when I got to the end of my first BuJo notebook. The thought of transferring the vital information scattered across multiple pages in my original notebook scared the crap out of me. And I really didn't fancy carting two or three notebooks around. So I added the BuJo fad to the long list of failed organisation attempts.

Coincidentally, it was at this moment that I discovered an online organisation app called Trello. It's an online project management tool, which I started using at work. But I soon realised how helpful it could be in my personal life. Basically, you create a board for particular project and you then add cards to detail the specifics. Each card has options to add comments, a checklist and even attachments. There are also 'power ups' that enable you to link due dates with your online calendar, which I haven't explored yet.

I love the concept of the bullet journal and I can see how it is an amazing tool for some people. But sadly, not me.

What organisation systems work for you in managing your life?

Friday, 28 October 2016

A Crealy great Hallowe'en

Last weekend, we visited Crealy Adventure Park near Exeter for the second time in a week, thanks to their very generous free returns in six days scheme.

One of the benefits of living in Devon is being able to visit attractions when they're a bit quieter. So on the previous weekend, we'd taken full advantage of the unseasonal sunshine and had pretty much free reign to ride the most popular attractions several times with little or no queueing.

We expected the park to be a bit busier this weekend as it was the start of Crealy's half-term Hallowe'en extravaganza. So, as well as the usual attractions, there were added extras, such as Creaky House, Trolls in the wood and pumpkin carving.

When we arrived, again we benefitted from amazing weather, the park was still quiet and we headed straight to our favourite rides, starting with the wetter ones so we had time to get dry before it was time to go home.

The aqua blaster boats are probably the wettest ride and after soaking each other, we teamed up to squirt everybody else on the lake. I shared a boat with Beatrix, who took on the steering responsibilities, while Wilf shared with his dad and Elliot was big enough to captain his own vessel.

We then headed down to the Tidal Wave log flume. I had been on this with Wilf the previous week and managed to avoid riding again by opting to look after a sleeping Ossie in his buggy. Despite it being half-term, the park was still fairly quiet and they managed to stay on the ride for a few times as there was no queue. As well as the Aqua Blasters and the Tidal Wave, Crealy has the Vortex triple water slide, which we'd been on the previous weekend.

We decided to take advantage of the lack of queues and headed straight over to the Maximus roller coaster. Elliot and Beatrix were incredibly excited to get a spot at the front of the train, while 4 year old Wilf rode further back with his dad.

After this, Wilf wanted to go on the Dino Jeeps again before we began investigating the special Hallowe'en attractions.

So, we headed for the Creaky House, only to be told it was closed for lunch, so instead we returned to the Carousel, Honey Swing and Flying Machine swings before wandering down to find the Trick or Treat Trolls. These are based across a rickety bridge in a forested area of the park we had never visited before. We enjoyed a lovely stroll through the trees and the children were rewarded for finding the trolls with lollipops.

Once we returned to the main park area, we decided to try the Creaky House again. Unfortunately, it seemed that everyone else at Crealy had the same idea and we found ourselves in our first queue of the day. After an hour of waiting, we were guided through the haunted hotel and encountered lots of spooky occurrences before landing back in the reality of the park.

Because the queue was long, Mr SeasideBelle opted to take baby Ossie up to the indoor Atlantis play area, where they had great fun in the soft play. It was a good option because the queue was something of a time warp and by the time we emerged, the park was almost ready to close! So we scooted up to the animal barn, where we had held the rabbits the previous week, to pick up a pumpkin. You can actually carve them there, but we were too late for that.

If you take advantage of the free returns, the park is great value for money and you can definitely spend two full days there without worrying that the kids are spending too long in the play areas. The indoor play areas are also a great option to get out of any inclement weather.

I looked at getting a season ticket, but I think I'll probably wait until Ossie is old enough to participate a bit more. While my older two are the perfect age for Crealy and Wilf, who is 4, is now tall enough to be able to go on most of the rides, I still need to have an adult with me, to look after baby Ossie. So that would mean we would only be able to go when both Mr SeasideBelle and I have a day off, which is not as often as I would like.

However, after picking up a leaflet promoting their campsite and hearing great stuff about the underfloor heating in the shower blocks, I think we might be taking a trip over with our tent next year!

What's your favourite theme park and why?

Friday, 7 October 2016

How to choose a baby carrier

Most babies love being held, even beyond the fourth trimester. However, if you've got older siblings and stuff to do, sometimes it's not practical to be a one-armed superwoman. Or maybe, you have dogs that need walking on terrain that's not really suitable for a pram or buggy. That's where babywearing can be an absolute life saver.

This week is International Babywearing Week, which aims to "celebrate, promote, advocate for, and focus media attention on the many benefits of babywearing".

With my eldest, while the benefits of babywearing were obvious, I wasn't sold: I had been given a high street carrier that was a faff to put on, was uncomfortable for me and which my son outgrew in a matter of weeks because he was just too chunky and the shoulder straps dug into him.

It was only with my daughter that I discovered the myriad of babywearing options out there and really got into the babywearing scene.

If, like me, you are confused by all the options, here's a rundown of the different baby carriers and slings available. The best place to start is by looking up your local sling library or sling meet where you can try out a few options and ask questions from babywearing experts.

Things to consider:

  1. Who will be using the baby carrier? Is it just you, or will your partner or another care giver also be using the sling?
  2. When will you be using it? Will you be wearing your baby all day? Will you be out in all weathers or are you just planning to use it for the school run?
  3. Do you need to breastfeed in it?
  4. How long will you be babywearing? What age is your child? Will you just be wearing your baby while he or she is an infant or will you continue until they are nearer pre-school age?
  5. How will you carry the sling when you are not breastfeeding? Do you need something that can fold up into your change bag or is size not an issue?
  6. What size are you? Are you tall, short, slight or larger? You'll need a sling that is comfortable and supports your back as your baby gets bigger and heavier.
  7. What's the weather like? If you're in a hot climate, you'd be better off with a lightweight fabric like cotton, whereas if you live in a cooler climate, you might be better off with a thicker fabric.

Buckle carriers

If you want a carrier that's fairly easy to put on and can be easily adjusted between you and another care giver, you might want to look at a buckle carrier. These are the easiest to find on the high street or you can visit a specialist retailer. Look for a carrier with a wider base to support your baby's hips. You want baby's legs to sit in an 'M' shape rather than to just dangle. Although some carriers are built for baby to face either you or out to the world, it's generally recommended to have them facing you as this position is better for their backs and prevents them from being over-stimulated. Popular makes include: Beco, Connecta, Emei Baby, Ergo, Manduca and Rose & Rebellion.

Half buckle

These are similar to buckle carriers, but the shoulder straps are fastened by tying a knot in the straps and the waist is fastened with a buckle. 

Mei Tai

A Mei Tai carrier has a similar body to a buckle carrier, but is fastened by tying long fabric straps rather than with a buckle. This means it's easy to adjust the carrier to fit your size and means it can easily be shared with another care giver. Popular makes include: BabyhawkKozy, and Palm & Pond.

Stretchy Wraps

These are ideal for newborns and infants. They are a length of stretchy material that you tie around you in a variety of different ways. Stretch wraps are ideal for supporting baby while leaving your hands free to get on with life and it's easy to reposition baby to feed while wearing them. The bonus with a stretchy wrap is that you can pre-tie it around you before placing baby inside. Popular makes include: Calin Bleu, Je Porte Mon Bebe (JPMBB) and Moby.

Woven Wraps

These are a length of woven material, available in different lengths, that enable you to achieve a range of different carries by tying the material around you and your baby. Woven wraps are incredibly versatile and suitable for front or back carries and for all ages of child. It can take a bit of practice to get the hang of wrapping, but there are plenty of YouTube videos that show you how to achieve the different styles. Woven wraps are ideal for longer-term use, the only drawback is that it can be difficult to tie them in the rain without getting the ends wet. Popular makes include: Didymos, Girasol, Kokadi, Lenny Lamb and Oscha.

Ring Slings

Ring slings are great for popping in your change bag and for quick carries, such as getting from the car to do the school run or, for an older child, when they tire of walking. They are a length of material with two rings attached that you wear over one shoulder and then simply tighten the material through the rings. Ring slings are suitable for any age and easily adjustable for different wearers. However, because all the weight is on one shoulder, they're not ideal for wearing on long walks. Popular makes include: Didymos, Girasol, Lenny Lamb and Little Frog.

Some people have been put off babywearing after hearing tragic stories of babies being suffocated while in a sling. However, if you use a bit of common sense and follow the simple, TICKS babywearing guidelines, the risks are minimised and you and your baby will benefit from an increased bond and an ability to get on with everything life throws at you with both hands available!

TICKS guidelines

  • T - Tight: Ensure your sling or carrier is tight enough to hold your baby close. You don't want any slack or loose fabric that could mean your baby slumps down in the carrier and potentially could hinder their ability to breathe.
  • I - In view at all times. You should be able to see your baby's face. Not only does this help with your bond, but it means you can easily check on their wellbeing.
  • C - Close enough to kiss. Your baby's head should be close enough to your chin that you can easily bend forward to kiss them. 
  • K - Keep baby's chin off their chest, so their airway is unrestricted.
  • S - Supported. Baby's back should be supported so their tummy and chest rest against yours.
Over the years, I've tried a few baby carriers and I currently have three: a ring sling I made myself; a Beco buckle carrier; and a Kokadi Frog Prince woven wrap. I like having the versatility of choosing a carrier for different circumstances. For the school run, I favour the ring sling, while for longer days out I prefer the buckle or the wrap.

What baby carrier do you have and why?

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Opening night at The Stable in Exeter

Locally sourced food and drink seems to be a selling point for lots of cafes, restaurants and bars at the moment. So, when I received an invite to attend opening of The Stable in Exeter, I was a little sceptical about how a Dorset-headquartered, growing chain of pizza restaurants could honour its claim to offer quality, local fare in the heart of Devon (aka a foodie's paradise).

However, I was impressed by the obvious dedication to finding the finest local food and drink producers to supply the Exeter branch of The Stable.

Exeter is the latest location for The Stable, which now has a presence across the south of England from Falmouth to Whitechapel.

The opening night was absolutely rammed, no doubt thanks to the free-flowing cider and copious amount of pizza being offered for free. However, it was a fantastic opportunity to try the menu and meet some of the local suppliers, including Quicke's Cheese and Green Valley Cyder.

The pizza menu also reflects The Stable's commitment to local fare with names such as The Guildhall Grazer (potato, blue cheese, spanish onions and spinach), The Cathedral Clucker (chicken, roasted red peppers and field mushrooms) and The Ten Tor Tingler (spicy chopped pork, naga chillies, garlic, red onion, basil leaves and field mushrooms) nodding to local landmarks and offering a twist on traditional pizza toppings. My absolute favourite was The Fresh Hawaiian, which features avocado and chilli as well as the usual ham and pineapple.

I really enjoy hot food and the generous addition of different varieties of chilli to lots of the dishes like the Blazing Saddle (slow roasted pulled beef, bacon, caramelised onions, roasted red pepper, sour cream and jalapeƱos) and The King Crabber (West Country crab meat lightly infused with red chilli, garlic and lemon, roasted red peppers and fresh basil leaves).

Opening night can be a fraught affair as new staff get to grips with their roles, but at The Stable, everything seemed to go swimmingly. The pizza came thick and fast and, despite the huge crowd over two floors, there wasn't long to wait until we were offered more slices of the pizza to try.

Elliot, my 9 year old son, is a big pizza fan and I love proper cider. With The Stable located so close to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM), the main shopping area of the city and Exeter Central railway station, I can guarantee we'll be back. After all, I was very restrained and only tried the Black Rat Perry.

Have you been to The Stable? What was your favourite pizza?

DISCLAIMER: I was invited to the opening night event to try the pizza and cider for free. However, I was not paid to write this post and all opinions are my own.

Monday, 26 September 2016

A birthday pizza at Ode&Co True Pizza

For his 9th birthday, Elliot wanted to go out for his favourite food: pizza.

Rather than visit a pizzeria, an Italian restaurant or one of the big pizza chain restaurants, I wanted to take him somewhere a bit special. I wanted to take him somewhere that serves quality food made with local produce. And I wanted us to celebrate his birthday in stunning surroundings.

This was the perfect excuse for me us to try Ode&Co "true pizza", which opened earlier this summer at the nearby Coast View Holiday Park.

Ode&Co delivers on all those fronts. It opened earlier this summer as the latest offering by Tim Bouget, who runs the award-winning Ode Fine Dining in Shaldon and Cafe Ode.

The first thing that struck us when we walked into Ode&Co was the stunning view over Lyme Bay. We took a seat by the window as, despite the sun in the picture, we had arrived in a rain shower and more were forecast.

View over Lyme Bay from Ode&Co

To take full advantage of the uninterrupted view of the sky, the outside balcony features a telescope for star-gazing at night. So obviously we'll have to return for tea in the winter to try it out!

The pizzas are made on a sour dough base and cooked in a wood fired oven and the menu takes full advantage of the variety of local produce available to offer something different that your regular Hawaiian and Margerita offering. Which, caused a slight problem when Elliot looked through it and panicked that he couldn't see his favourite sort of pizza: pepperoni. Luckily, because everything is cooked to order and the staff are so accommodating, they were happy to turn the 'Sharpham Brie, Shaldon Figs and Dorset Salami' into a plain Salami pizza, which went down very well indeed.

I had the same, but with all the toppings and Mr SeasideBelle had the 'Day Boat White Fish Calzone with Dill, Red Chilli and Black Pepper'. He said that it was the first time he'd had fish on a pizza, but that it was really tasty and that the slight kick of the chilli gave it a good edge.

You can actually see the pizzas being cooked in the open kitchen and I had told Elliot that it only takes 40 seconds to heat the pizzas in the wood fired oven. Of course, he had to test my theory out and apparently, it actually takes 43 seconds.

To top the pizzas, Ode&Co serves a wide range of oils, and I added a gentle chilli oil, which really contrasted with the sweetness of the figs.

We also ordered a couple of starters, including a wood-fired venison chorizo with honey glaze and a tomato, mozzarella and torn basil salad.

Ode&Co has a very well stocked bar and as Mr SeasideBelle was driving I had a blush cider while he had an organic cola and the children enjoyed apple juice.

Because I mentioned that it was Elliot's birthday when I booked, we were invited to bring a cake if we wanted and the staff were happy to light a candle and bring the cake over with a knife and some plates and join us as we sang Happy Birthday, a really lovely added touch.

Another added touch that made us feel really welcome, despite being a party with 5 children aged 17 months to 9 years was the basket of books for the children to look at while we waited to order our food and eat.

To find an amazing pizza restaurant, with good quality ingredients, a stunning view and such relaxing surroundings so close to home just brings it home to me how lucky we are to live in this neck of the woods.

If you're ever in South Devon, I definitely recommend you pay a visit. You might also want to try CafeOde in Shaldon, which is next on our list to visit.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Recipe: courgette and cheese fritters

Getting children to eat vegetables is not easy, well not in my house. However, last night, I tried something new and it went down a storm. Everyone asked for a second helping!

I made courgette fritters. And the best thing was that they were so easy to make. So, I'm sharing the love with you. I'm not sure if renaming them as mini pancakes helped my cause - I opted to remove any reference to courgette in the title when describing them to the children to avoid any preconceptions about the taste.

 I got the recipe from BBC Good Food, but added some grated cheese.


  • 50g plain flour 
  • 2 eggs 
  • 1 grated courgette 
  • 1 tbsp oil 
  • a couple of handfuls of grated cheese 
  • sweet chilli sauce (or tomato ketchup) to dip 


  1. Sieve the plain flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre.
  2. Break the eggs into the well and gently whisk the eggs and flour together. 
  3. Slowly whisk in the milk to make a pancake batter. 
  4. Add the grated courgette and the cheese and mix together. 
  5. Heat the oil in a pan and spoon in the mixture, flip when the base is browned and firm. 
  6. Serve. I served the fritters with a poached egg on top and some sliced chorizo on the side, to give it a Spanish tapas feel. I also added some baby spinach leaves to my plate, for extra greenery and added some sweet chilli sauce. The children opted for tomato ketchup instead of the sweet chilli sauce. 

This is a really easy and quick midweek supper and it's definitely something I'll make again.

What are your go-to recipes for quick and easy after school meals?
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Saturday, 3 September 2016

When sleep deprivation sends you to the edge of insanity

Six years of chronic sleep deprivation has really hit me.

Three consecutive (and overlapping) non-sleeping children has impacted my ability to live a normal life and robbed me of my personality. It's left me questioning who I am and sent me to the edge of madness.

You expect a small baby to be up feeding several times a night. And I have, at times, loved the precious midnight hours as we've forged a deep connection - just us - as the rest of the family have slumbered. But when weeks turn into months and months turn into years, sleep deprivation can send you right to the edge.

I realised things weren't quite right when I had to stop the car on the way to work because I could hear the baby crying and I panicked that I had forgotten to drop him at the childminder and was bringing him to work with me. Sometimes I would wake at night and hear crying, but when I went to the baby's cot he would still be asleep. I often heard an irritating, low buzzing noise that stopped me from getting back to sleep. Then there was the time when I was convinced I could see rats running along the side of the road. I probably wasn't really safe to drive, but you can't exactly call in sick every day because you're over-tired. So I carried on, telling myself it's just part of motherhood, you just have to suck it up.

I became short-tempered with the rest of the family. Little things would irritate me and I occasionally struggled with my temper. I struggled to be the mum I desperately wanted to be. It was an effort just to get everybody out the door for school and on my days off and at weekends, I struggled to leave the house. I stopped taking them to the park and it was a real effort to get out to any baby groups, days out or activities.

When the baby woke, yet again, in the night I would drag myself off to feed and if he wouldn't settle, I would sob to my husband that I couldn't do this anymore. On several occasions, I just wanted to wander out of the house in my pyjamas and wander down to the beach or up on to the cliffs to breathe in the fresh, cool night air and be free of the shackles of breastfeeding constantly through the night. Luckily, I never did. The fear of being locked up in a mental institute and depriving my baby of my milk was the only thing that stopped me.

I was completely overwhelmed by life, by all the stuff I had to do. I just wanted to curl up and sleep for a week, and for life to stop while I did so, because I didn't want the children to miss me and I didn't want to miss a day of them growing up.

It was at this point that I decided to get help. My emotions were swinging wildly and I had stopped socialising with friends. Invitations to occasional nights out, that I used to look forward to, were declined because I was just too tired and too miserable. I just felt so horrible.

So I saw the health visitor. I was frightened. My exhaustion was so bad that it was making me paranoid that if I admitted to how bad things really were, that social services might take my children from me. But they were lovely. I started getting weekly visits so I could talk about how I was feeling. How down I was about the dark place I was in. We talked about ways we could help the baby sleep and we put in place a very gentle sleep training system which was based on trying to ease him away from associating the boob with sleep. My husband was a massive help. He realised I was massively struggling and he took over the first night waking so I could get a bit more sleep.

The health visitor gave me a questionnaire and the score suggested I had postnatal depression. She suggested I visit the GP and consider taking anti-depressants. She also referred me to counselling. I declined the anti-depressants - I couldn't face the thought of taking drugs and having to wean myself off them. I didn't want to feel fake happiness - I wanted to feel real happiness. I was already tired of faking to everyone that everything was fine and I was coping brilliantly with four young children when in reality I was falling apart at the seams.

So I opted for the counselling. It was a disaster. At the first session, I was asked lots of questions about family life, money, work etc and started to think that I really shouldn't feel the way I did because financial issues, bereavement, work weren't an issue (except that I didn't feel like I was performing as well as I could at work because of the exhaustion). She then gave me a sleep diary and a book on insomnia.

I didn't need a book on insomnia or the relaxation CD to help me get to sleep. I didn't have a problem getting to sleep and it wasn't my issue that was waking me up several times a night. It was absolutely no help for someone who was having to wake up all the time to deal with a non-sleeping baby.

At the second session, I told the counsellor that the sleep information she had given me was completely useless. There was nothing else she could do, so we stopped the sessions.

And then a miracle happened. Yesterday, I woke up for the first time in six years feeling refreshed. It was as though I had been having trouble with my eyesight and put on a pair of glasses and could see clearly again. I had gone to bed a 9pm and when I opened my eyes to look at the clock it said 5.45am. All was quiet in the house. I had woken naturally and baby was still asleep! He woke 20 minutes later having had 10 hours of solid sleep. I felt wonderful. I felt human. I felt alive for the first time in over half a decade! I relished every minute of the day, knowing it would never last. It would be a one-off.

But then, today, I woke up at 7am after another full night of sleep.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. I'm on the road to find the real me again. I can start planning life again. I feel like I can look forward.

I hadn't expected this to happen so soon. It took Bea four and a half years to manage a full night of sleep. I'm delighted. I just hope it lasts!

The last six years have taught me a few things. Mainly, that while lots of mums get help and understanding in the early days, it's when the child is older and still not sleeping that they really need the help. I was OK in the early days, adrenaline and hormones pushed me through. It was as my children got older and still didn't sleep that I could have done with some help. Practical things like taking the children out to the park so I could sleep or maybe dropping round a dinner to heat up in the oven would have been very much appreciated. I didn't ask. I was too proud and too embarrassed. But if you every see a mum who is really struggling with sleep. Don't just sympathise or, even worse, talk about when your child slept through the night! Offer some practical support and a friendly, non-judgemental listening ear.

And if you are struggling with chronic sleep deprivation, there is light at the end of the tunnel. You're not going mad and you're not losing the plot. You might just need a good night of sleep. Hang in there! And don't be afraid or too proud to ask for help.

If this really is the start of some proper sleeping through, I think I might actually miss our night feeds. How mad is that? Brilliant blog posts on
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Sunday, 21 August 2016

My Sunday Photo

August seems to be flying by and as each day passes, we're getting closer to Wilf starting school.

This week we picked up his school uniform and tried it on for size.

Suddenly, my little pre-schooler looks more grown up, despite the Darth Vadar mask, which I persuaded him to move slightly so I could get a decent photo. (It's on his head, if you were wondering about his head gear!)

I had hoped that I would be able to use the school uniform Elliot has outgrown, but Wilf is a lot smaller, so I've had to buy everything new.

In just a couple of weeks, I'll be taking a photo to mark his first day at school!


Saturday, 20 August 2016

We need to tackle our own sexism in sport

One of the things that has struck me most about the Rio Olympics is the fact that in 2016 sexism is still rife in sport. When a male athlete wins a medal, the media focuses on his ability. But when a female athlete excels, often commentators refer to her husband, male coach or even pass judgement on her body.

Much as you'd like to think that this sexism is limited to the media, it's actually symptomatic of our society in general: even at grassroots level in encouraging children to participate in sport.

This week Elliot and Beatrix took part in a Exeter City Football In The Community (ECFITC) football summer holiday course. Beatrix was one of only two girls. She's been before and been the only girl.

Now, there are a few non-feminist reasons she goes to the football camp:

  1. It's easier for me to have children doing the same activity as it means I'm not wasting time picking up and dropping off in multiple locations.
  2. It's local. There are other activities and other sports available, but they tend to be further afield.
  3. I think physical activity is important for children, it teaches how to be a team player, about winning and losing. It also helps to develop spatial awareness, balance, ball control and improves her confidence in what her body can do. 
  4. And most importantly, she enjoys it. This week she won a medal because she was part of the winning team in the football tournament they played on the last day.

    Showing off medals from the Exeter City Football in the Community summer holiday course
And with my feminist hat on, I like her to go because I want her to believe that being a female shouldn't restrict her life choices.

Sadly, the lack of girls on the football course suggests that not everyone thinks the same way and that sexism in sport is firmly entrenched in people's thinking. Another parent expressed surprise that Beatrix was at the camp and said she hadn't realised the football camp was open to girls as well as boys.


It was an innocent comment, but it's been bothering me ever since. Why would someone not think girls could go to a summer holiday football course? Is it because the marketing is wrong? I went back to the ECFITC website to have a look. Nowhere in the text does it suggest the courses are for boys only and the images clearly show boys and girls enjoying the activities. The only thing I could think of is that, in a bid to encourage girls to take part, the football club offers girls only sessions. Perhaps this attempt at reverse discrimination has only served to reinforce stereotypes?

I'm not sure that's the case. I think it's a wider issue that affects pretty much every area of life where gender stereotypes are formed from an early age and reinforced with gender stereotypes: pink is for girls, blue is for boys and the separation of boys and girls with gender specific toys, books etc.

It's up to all of us to change society's thinking

There have been huge strides in women's equality over the past century: we can now vote, we are supposed to have equal pay. But the Olympics and my own experiences show there's still a way to go. It's up to all of us to keep on challenging gender stereotypes and to encourage children and even our peers follow their dreams and do what they enjoy no matter what their sex.

So next time you find yourself thinking, oh - that's just for boys/girls. Stop and challenge yourself to make a stand against entrenched sexism. And, if you can, lead by example. Last year, I started playing rugby again: because I enjoy it. I really, really hope my daughter will see me enjoy playing and training and be confident that being a girl isn't a barrier to whatever sport (or any other activity) she might choose.

Have you encountered sexism in sport and how have you tackled it?

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The Siblings Project | August 2016

I find it incredibly difficult to capture all four of my children in a photograph where they are looking in the right direction and smiling. But somehow, this month, I managed it!

We were at The Bear Trail just outside Cullompton in Devon at our first Devon Bloggers Meet.

We'd been around the assault course twice and were spending some time in the younger children's play area so Ossie could have a play on equipment more suited to a toddler.

Beatrix was sitting on a tyre (because she was tired - excuse the pun) and was holding Ossie. So I invited the two other boys over for a photo and was shocked when even Wilf, who normally avoids the camera like the plague, came over and posed.

Here's the result:

The Me and Mine Project

Monday, 15 August 2016

Days out in Devon: The Bear Trail

Title Text Days Out In Devon The Bear Trail

Mud, glorious mud: whether making mud pies in the garden or going out jumping up and down in muddy puddles it's the stuff of enduring childhood memories along with climbing, clambering and exploring the great outdoors.

But often, today's children are more likely to explore the world through electronic devices and screens.

One man wants to change all that. Ben, a former officer in the Rifles Regiment, has created the Bear Trail just outside Cullompton in Devon. It's an army assault course for children (and grown ups) aimed at encouraging young people to work together to challenge themselves and explore their boundaries. There's none of that rubber matting or soft play bumpers here - just good, old fashioned mud.

Elliot with Ben from the Bear Trail
We were invited to try the Bear Trail this week for a Devon Bloggers Meet. As we were midway through the summer holidays, the chance to take the children to something different was just too good to miss.

I had expected the trail to be in a forest and was surprised to see all the obstacles in a large, flat field. And actually, it makes it really easy to keep an eye on the children, even if they are going at different speeds and are tackling different apparatus.

A large bear statue greets all entrants at the start of the course, which is clearly marked and really easy to follow.

The obstacles, which include some pretty high net climbing frames, rope swings, rickety bridges and tunnels, seemed at first glance to be a bit too hard for children. And I was secretly a little bit pleased I didn't have to tackle them as I was holding baby Ossie.

However, 8 year old Elliot took them in his stride and 6 year old Beatrix managed to do the majority with no help at all. Wilf, who is 4, was a bit more cautious and avoided the majority the first time round. However, on our second circuit, having watched his brother and sister, he gave them all a go and was soon clambering over the top of a high rope climbing net!

Ben from the Bear Trail is firmly positioning the attraction as aimed at adults just as much as children and has plans to host grown up physical training activities for grown ups wanting to get fit. He's even considering opening adult only sessions in the evenings. Certainly, with the increasing popularity of events such as Rock Solid, The Commando Challenge, and Tough Mudder, I'm sure this would be a great way of training.

In fact, Ben is full of ideas on how to improve and expand the Bear Trail and is also open to any suggestions. While we were there, the children were encouraged to draw the sort of obstacle they'd like to see added to the trail. Elliot opted for monkey bars over a mud pit.

The day we visited was hot, sunny and dry and, although we had been advised to bring a change of clothes and towels, we somehow managed to keep fairly clean and didn't need to use the showers provided. (This was a relief for me as I had been dreading trying to manage all four in a shower block on my own!) However, I'm sure that after a spell of rain, the trail will be a lot messier.

We also arrived early in the day and Elliot noted that some of the obstacles, particularly the stepping stones, became a lot slippier and more muddy on his second time round. Ben plans to add more showers as the attraction grows to cater for demand, which I am sure will be high on wetter and muddier days.

At the start and finish of the trail is an enclosed children's play area, just opposite the cafe. It's aimed at children under 1 metre and includes a sand pit, roundabout, wooden seesaw and a couple of tyres to clamber on, which makes it a bit more 'real' than the rubber coated parks in towns. The floor is covered in bark chippings, which 16 month Ossie enjoyed exploring (and tasting).

And on the subject of taste, the cafe serves a range of hot and cold drinks, sandwiches and cakes, but the highlight for my lot was the pizza, which are served from an outdoor pizza oven.

In a world that seems to cocoon children indoors and in front of technology, the Bear Trail is a breath of fresh air.  Its back to basics, no nonsense feel harks back to a simpler childhood where you got dirty while you larked around climbing trees and paddling in streams and sometimes you picked up the odd knock and bruise, but you emerged stronger and braver. In the words of a well-known laundry detergent: "Dirt is good".

Need to know:

Address: Westcott, Cullompton, Devon EX15 1SA
Opening times: 10am-5pm
Entry: £6.50 per person / Under 1 metre: £3.50 / Babes in arms: Free
Food: The Bear Cave Cafe serves sandwiches, cakes and hot and cold drinks. There's also an outdoor pizza oven. You are also welcome to bring your own picnics.
Getting there: The Bear Trail is much easier to find than we expected; the Bear Trail website warns that satnav might take you to the wrong place. In fact, the attraction is just opposite the Merry Harriers Inn on the B3181 just outside Cullompton.

A massive thank-you to the hospitality of the Bear Trail and Chalk & Ward PR for organising the Devon Blogger Meet and letting us try out the attraction.