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.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

My Sunday Photo | 14th August 2016

This week we were invited to meet other Devon bloggers to try the Bear Trail in Cullompton. You can read more about it in tomorrow's blog post.

The attraction is all about encouraging children (and adults) to test their boundaries and work together to tackle an army assault course.

I think this picture pretty much sums the Bear Trail up, it shows Elliot helping and encouraging his little brother Wilfred over one of the obstacles on the course. I love the way Elliot is showing Wilf what he needs to do to get up the last bit of the netting and go over the top.

Two boys climbing over an obstacle at the Bear Trail, Cullompton.

Elliot is so good with his younger siblings and I'm really pleased I managed to capture this aspect of his personality in a photo.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

How to find your blogging voice when you haven't found yourself

One of the most common pieces of advice given to new bloggers is to "be yourself". This is great advice, unless you're not really sure who you are. And, as a parenting blogger, this can be a real issue because becoming a parent changes who you are and it can take a while to grow into your new role. So how can you be authentic when you're not really sure who you are?

The problem can be exacerbated if you never really found yourself before. It's often said that the teenage years are tumultuous because you're carving out your identity. I'm not sure I ever got to grips with who I am. Growing up, my father often remarked that I was like a chameleon and that my personality adapted depending on where I was, what I was doing and who I was with. He added that this was no bad thing as it meant I could respond appropriately in a wide range of environments, but it did mean that this multi-faceted approach to life could often be confusing - and still is! Perhaps I should have been an actress. Even now, I still present very different sides of my personality depending on whether I'm at work, home or out with the girls. And I'm sure I'm not alone in this! Maybe I should have gone on that gap year to find myself after all.

How to find your blogging voice when you haven't found yourself

So presenting a consistent voice when blogging isn't as easy as being myself. If you're struggling with the same issue, here are some of the ways I'm trying to tackle the issue (I'm purposely saying issue, rather than problem, because I honestly don't think it is a negative attribute).

Write for your ideal audience, not yourself

My background in journalism and marketing means that my writing default is to write for an audience and not necessarily for myself. Instead of trying to work out which personality I am today, I think about who I think will be reading the post. I've probably spent a little more time than those who are comfortable in their skin thinking about my blog audience and have mentally created a picture of my reader. I've answered questions like: How old are they? Where do they live? What is their approach to life? What music do they like? What sort of thing would they like to know? My reader is actually someone a bit like me (or the sort of person I'd like to be), which is probably helpful in finding my own authentic voice.

Read other blogs

By reading other blogs, you can analyse what you like and dislike about other people's writing. I ask myself which bits I can identify with and which bits I don't. And, much as I would love to write brilliantly humorous posts, I've realised that it's not my style. That's not who I am. Sometimes finding yourself is a process of elimination - yes, that's me, but no, that's not me (even if I'd like it to be me). Don't forget to comment on other blogs too - adding a personal reaction helps you define your thoughts and opinions.

Keep writing and evolve

My writing style and tone of voice has evolved over time. I've realised as I've journeyed through life, that nobody has a static personality. Every day brings new experiences and those experiences shape us and change us. Motherhood being a case in point. I am not the same person I was before I gave birth; my priorities have changed, my relationships with others have shifted. The more you write, the more you find your voice, your tone and even your subject matter.

Remember and embrace the fact that we're all different

When I was younger, I assumed that everyone had experienced the same stuff as me. Maybe it was the fact that conversations and relationships were based on shared experiences, cultural references and things we had in common. I don't know. Maybe I was just naive. But it took me a very long time to realise that even identical twins experience life differently. The same experience can affect different people in different ways. We react differently, we process information in our diverse ways, we remember distinct aspects of the same event. And that's what makes you, your experiences and your opinions unique. The other thing I struggled with for a long time was being confident that even if I had a different take on something, my opinion was and is just as valid as anyone else's. So don't be afraid to write what you feel and think about something. Even if you change your mind later, whatever your thought, did, said or wrote is still valid because it was based on your knowledge and circumstances at the time.

My personality is and always will be a work in progress. But instead of worrying that I still haven't found myself, I'm now embracing the fact that I am an evolving work of art.

I'd love to know if and how you 'found yourself' and how you reflect yourself in your blog posts.

Brilliant blog posts on
Mudpie Fridays

Monday, 1 August 2016

Why don't we talk about the environmental benefits of breastfeeding?

Today marks the start of World Breastfeeding Week. The theme this year is "about how breastfeeding is a key element in getting us to think about how to value our wellbeing from the start of life, how to respect each other and care for the world we share". Yep, its not particularly catchy and can probably be interpreted in many ways.

But, it's very ambitious. The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), which organises World Breastfeeding Week, is trying to link breastfeeding to the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that form the basis of the UN Transforming Our World 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

I really like the ideology of encouraging respect for each other and maybe not being quite so judgemental about breastfeeding v bottle feeding. This is something I'll blog about later this week. But what really struck me was the focus on caring for the world we share and the environmental issues around infant feeding. Why is so much breastfeeding information focused on the benefits to baby - and sometimes to mum - instead of the wider benefits to the world?

Deciding, or often being forced into a decision, on how to feed your child is usually based on a myriad of contributing factors: receiving adequate support from professionals, family and friends; health; financial capabilities; convenience etc. But being environmentally friendly isn't usually near the top of anyone's list!

When you've had a baby, being green is normally reserved for deciding which nappy to use (disposable or washable), or which high chair or clothes you'll buy (sustainable cotton anyone?). And maybe, as you start to introduce solid food, you'll choose whether to buy organic where possible.

But how many people decide to breastfeed because it's better for the planet?

Quite a few years ago, a friend of mine had twins. She kept every single tin of formula she bought as a reminder of how much money she had spent feeding them during the first six months of their lives. But it's not just the financial cost: for every tin or ready made carton, there is an environmental cost too.

Here are some of the environmental costs of formula milk

  • Packaging - although some can be recycled, the majority goes to landfill. And then, of course, there are the resources used to create the packaging in the first place: ink, metals, paper, oil etc.
  • Transport - formula needs to be shipped from the manufacturers to the shops and then back to your house. And the ingredients need to be shipped to the manufacturers in the first place.
  • Energy - the factories that make formula use up energy, which is often created from fossil fuels. Oh, and don't forget the energy used to feed the cows, plant the crops, drive the tractors, create the chemicals and synthetic ingredients. And if you want something a bit closer to home, think about the electricity you use to boil the kettle and the water you use to wash up and sterilise the bottles and teats.
  • Feeding equipment - it's not just the actual formula that has an environmental cost attached to it, don't forget the resources used to create the bottles, teats, steriliser machines etc.
  • Land clearance - most formula is based on cow's milk and cow's need land to graze on, which often results in tree felling to clear forests.
Breastfeeding, on the other hand, is a sustainable and renewable resource and the only waste it creates is (usually) contained in your baby's nappy! The only extra energy it requires is the cake and tea a mother needs to maintain her energy and sanity levels.

I believe that formula plays an important role in enabling parents to feed their babies and that sometimes there really isn't a choice. But where there is a choice, perhaps thinking about the planet we are bringing our children up in should be a factor in our decision on how to feed our infants.