Tuesday, 21 November 2017

A day at Newquay Zoo

The The Beast of Bodmin might be Cornwall's most famous big cat, but if you want a guaranteed sighting of an exotic feline in Britain's south west peninsula, Newquay Zoo is a much better bet.

So when we visited Cornwall last weekend, my mum, Wilf, Ossie and I headed to the UK's surfing capital to catch some wildlife, rather than waves. After all, November can be a bit chilly for the beach!

Newquay Zoo is home to over 1,000 rare and endangered animals ranging from penguins, monkeys and zebras to frogs and birds along with several big cats; as well as lynx and fishing cats the zoo is home to three lions, so we were spoilt for choice on the big cat front.

The Lynx effect.

Feeding time at the zoo

There are plenty of opportunities to find out more about the animals living at Newquay Zoo with regular talks and feeding times throughout the day. And because Newquay is a relatively small zoo compared with Bristol and Paignton, you don't have to plan your visit with military precision to catch them all. As well as being informative, the talks are also entertaining and interactive with questions encouraged.

We arrived just before the meerkat talk and learnt why meerkats do not make great pets and about the mob that live at Newquay Zoo as they tucked into their lunch of fruit, veg and live crickets. 

However, the highlight of the day was the lion feeding. Newquay is home to one male and two females who originally came from Longleat. Because the enclosure is relatively small, you are guaranteed a good view as the lions raced in to tuck into a hearty bit of Dartmoor and Exmoor pony. 

Wilf is pleased he's not on the lions' menu.

We also learnt about their strength as we were shown the mangled state of one of the balls they play with for enrichment (as if the crack of bone as the male tucked into his horse leg wasn't enough to remind us of the power of their jaws!). 

Newquay's male lion enjoying a spot of lunch.

Even at enclosures where there were no talks, keepers were happy to talk about the animals in their care and answer questions.

If you want to get into the enclosures, you can sign up to be a keeper for the day. Or you can walk among the birds in the Gems of the Jungle exhibit, which opened last year.

Seeing all the animals get their lunch made us a bit hungry too. There's a cafe on site as well as several kiosks selling food and drink (although these were closed as it was November), but we had brought a packed lunch and there were plenty of picnic benches where we could sit down and tuck into our grub. Watch out for the local wildlife though! I nearly lost my sandwich to a seagull.

Feeding time for mum and Ossie.


Having seen lots of animals clambering and climbing on the equipment in the zoo, my little monkeys were keen to stretch their limbs and the play area near the lion enclosure served us well with slides, a see saw and a variety of things to climb on that were suitable for all ages.

Ossie enjoying the slide in the play area.

Wilf climbing in the play area (it might be November, but he's still wearing shorts!)

Hot Chocolate

Cornwall in mid-November is a bit chilly, so after a few hours in the cold air, we decided it was time for a hot drink. So we headed for the cafe near the exit where we indulged in a hot chocolate with liberal sprinklings of chocolate, whipped cream and marshmallows. The perfect way to end our visit to Newquay Zoo.

Wilf enjoying his hot chocolate.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Ten things I've learnt after a decade of being a mum

Ten years ago I became a mother.

Elliot was born at 9:42pm weighing 7lb6oz on 24th September 2007. Today, he is a strapping ten year old who loves football and is a kind and caring boy who astounds me daily with his thirst for knowledge, his passion for fair play and justice and his empathy for others.

I can vividly remember that first night I spent with him lying next to me in the hospital. He slept peacefully and I lay awake staring at this wondrous being. I was completely overawed at the fact that I was now a mum who was responsible for bringing up this tiny person. I lay there drinking in his tiny features and wondering how he might turn out and what he might become.

Today, I am proud of who he is. We're still learning daily, but we're loving the journey so far, although I'm sure the turbulent teenage years will bring many new challenges for us to navigate on the road to adulthood.

So what have I learnt in my first ten years of being a mum?

  1. There is no 'right' way of doing things. When Elliot was tiny I devoured parenting books. I was petrified of breaking him or of scarring him for life and leaving him with long-term psychological issues by doing something 'wrong'. The problem was that all the parenting books contradicted each other and I quickly came to the conclusion that there is no 'one size fits all' approach to bringing up a baby. Every child is unique. Every mum is different. You do what fits best for your child and your family circumstance based on the information you have at the time and that's not necessarily the same for everyone. Once I got my head round the fact that doing my best was the best for my child, I started to relax and settle into motherhood rather than constantly worrying that if he didn't learn to self-soothe he'd be a lifelong insomniac (for the record, he slept through a lot earlier than the other three, but I'm pretty sure that's more the luck of the draw than anything I did or didn't do when he was a baby).
  2. Don't compare and never judge. Social media was still in its infancy when Elliot was born. We still took photos on an actual camera and then had to upload them onto the computer when we got home before we could post them on Facebook. I'm pretty glad I was able to navigate my early motherhood journey before life got so competitive on Facebook. The thing is, you never know what's going on behind closed doors. Those picture perfect moments posted to your friend's instagram wall might just be an illusion - a big, brave front to hide from a crippling anxiety or an abusive relationship. You just don't know. So before you panic about the mess in the corner of the photo you posted to Facebook that morning after you see the immaculate image of a healthy tea time on a blogger's timeline, think about how many hours sleep she might have missed out on by polishing that gleaming floor - maybe she has OCD, maybe she is frightened her husband will hit her if the place is a mess. And before you judge that random mum because her kid is bouncing off the walls at soft play - remember that you don't know what else is going on in her life - she may be struggling with PND, her child might be autistic. And as for the ongoing spats between breastfeeding mums and bottle feeding mums - you have no idea what struggles that poor woman may have been through. So before you bitch and moan, pause for a moment and think about how you might be able to help another mum rather than criticise and spread negativity.
  3. You can't just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. I've been caught out a few too many times on this one. Things like telling them they can't eat a biscuit because it's nearly dinner time. And then, two minutes later they walk into the kitchen and catch me stuffing a chocolate digestive into my mouth. Whoops! But it's frightening how much of your behaviour your kids copy. It's all very well telling them to say please and thank-you, but for it to really hit home, they need to hear you saying please and thank-you. I sometimes get frustrated that the children seem to constantly shout from room to room if they want something. And then I realised, that's because I shout from one room to the next - especially in the mornings when I'm yelling "Get your shoes on." If I want to see a certain behaviour from my kids, I have to model it too. 
  4. Always make time. I find this one really difficult. Time is in massive short supply, what with juggling four children, trying to keep the house looking vaguely tidy, keeping on top of the never-ending laundry, trying to make a living etc. But I think it's vital to make time to connect properly with each child. It might be five minutes as you tuck them into bed where you talk about their day, their hopes, their dreams and their fears but it matters so, so much. I try and arrange individual activities with each child once every month or so. It doesn't always happen, but those trips to the cinema or going to watch a football match without any of the other siblings are such special moments. 
  5. You're always learning something new. Just when you think you're nailing this parenting lark on the head something always happens to make you doubt yourself. I love the fact that parenting is an ongoing learning journey. And while I've learnt a lot about dinosaurs, football, Star Wars and Minecraft, I've also learnt about managing expectations, being consistent and listening properly. Having children has taught me so much more than how to change a nappy and survive on less than 2 hours of sleep. It's taught me about myself and made me examine how I react to different situations and helped me improve who I am.
  6. Respect your child. If you want to be respected as a parent, you've got to respect your child. They might be little and their brains still developing, but their ideas and opinions are valid and really do matter. The more you respect your child, the more they'll respect those around them. You don't have to agree on everything (or very much at all on some days); I think that would actually be pretty unhealthy. But if you listen and give them the space to make their feelings known, you are showing them that they really do matter and you'll be arming them with the strength to stand up for themselves while understanding that other people may hold different views and that none of us are necessarily wrong or right. Maybe if there was more respect for others in the world, we'd all get along a bit better (and yes, I know I'm sounding like a Miss World contestant wishing for World Peace!)
  7. Inspire and be inspired. Young children are incredibly curious, they want to explore and find out why and how things happen. But somewhere along the line that can sometimes get sucked out of them. But I want my kids to retain that spark that can lead to so many creative ideas. It's not always easy, when I'm trying to make the tea and fielding questions about why rice is brown or white. And I have to kick myself when I nearly say "because it is". Instead, I try and look stuff up with them. We now have Alexa in the house, which is a big help! Anyway, whatever we're doing and wherever we're going, I try to make a point to learn something new with them. In the past ten years I have discovered all sorts of interesting stuff. I now know why a helicopter is called a helicopter and why tomatoes are red. Together we're inspiring each other and that's not just helping them develop, it's helping me become a better person too.
  8. It's not always a walk in the park. Being a mum is without doubt one of the most challenging things I've done. There have been times when I'm up for the 5th time that night and it's not even 1am where I have seriously considered throwing in the towel. But it's also one of the most rewarding. When I hear an unprompted "I love you", when I see the joy in my son's eyes when he comes home from school and tells me he has been elected to the school council, when I see my daughter giggling hysterically with her friends, when they excitedly tell me about a school trip they are going on. Those moments are pure magic.
  9. Delight in the small things. When I got married, the best piece of advice I received was that I was to take a pause during the day just to observe and soak in the atmosphere and really take in who was there and what was happening because the day would fly by and I'd remember that moment of pause forever. The same thing applies to parenting. The last ten years have whizzed by in something of a blur. So I try and take a pause every now and then and take in the normal stuff. Pushing them on the swings. Picking them up for school and hearing them ask "what's for tea?" A cuddle on the sofa. Doing a jigsaw together. Those are small, normal memories that will stay with me forever as well as the big milestone memories like first steps, first day at school, first sleepover.
  10. Trust yourself. There's a lot of room for doubt in parenting. You're worried you're doing it all wrong and you're going to mess up your kids. But trust yourself to know your child better than anyone else. Trust yourself to know what's best for your family. Trust yourself that you'll inevitably make mistakes along the way - we're all making it up as we go along - but as long as we pick ourselves back up, acknowledge that it's a learning process and then learn from our mistakes, then we're actually nailing this parenting business after all.
And one extra little thing. Take a moment to be proud of what you've achieved. Even if it's just the fact that you managed to get the kids to school on time today. Acknowledge that you are rocking this mum business and that little (or not so little anymore) person is what they are today because of YOU!

What has motherhood taught you?

Sunday, 20 August 2017

My Sunday Photo - 20th August 2017

I haven't done a Sunday Photo post in quite a while. This is Poppy. She is my mum's dog and we are looking after her for the weekend.

This photo was taken on a walk up on the common between Haldon and Luton. The heather and gorse were in bloom and the views over towards Dartmoor were amazing.

Getting out in the fresh air for an hour was a lovely way to spend the afternoon. It was peaceful and we didn't meet another soul.

We've always said that when the children are a little older, we'll get a dog. So this weekend has been the perfect opportunity for us to test out whether we are ready to commit to getting our own four legged friend yet.

After all, getting a dog is a big commitment. We work from home, so being around isn't an issue. But dogs need walking - lots. Especially the breed of dog we'd like to get. Impulsive days out and weekends away would also need rethinking. But, to be honest, we don't tend to do a lot of those nowadays anyway. And we'd perhaps just need to adapt these to ensure they are dog friendly.

We'd always said we'd get a dog when Ossie starts school - but after this weekend, I think it might be sooner than that!


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Four uses for egg whites

One of my go-to recipes for a quick and easy dinner is spaghetti or tagliatelle carbonara.

If I'm feeling lazy I'll mix whole eggs with the cream and parmesan cheese to make the sauce. However, the children aren't overly keen on the grainy consistency and I always worry a little bit about salmonella (yes, I grew up in the Edwina Currie years!).

So if I've got time, I'll separate the eggs and just use the yolks.

This leaves me with several egg whites and rather than let them go to waste, I like to try and use them in something else.

Here are some of my favourite recipes to use up egg whites.

1. Meringue

This is such an easy recipe - well it would be if you had an electric whisk that worked - but even whisking by hand and getting a lovely arm work out wasn't too bad.

I used this recipe from BBC Good Food but as my eggs weren't large, I used five alongside the 115g of caster sugar and icing sugar.

My kids aren't big fans of cream so we served them up as pudding with ice cream and strawberries and then crushed them up to make our own version of Eton Mess.

2. Egg White Omelette

This is a really quick and easy tea that helps you use up lots of other ingredients. It's also good if you're on a fitness regime because egg whites contain very little, if any, fat and lots of protein. But probably the best thing about this recipe is that you can adjust the contents of each omelette to suit each fussy member of the family.

Just whisk up the egg whites with a splash of milk and pour into a hot pan. Then add whatever ingredients you have to hand, My kids love ham or chorizo and cheese and maybe even a bit of tomato, while I like to add a bit of chopped pepper, mushrooms and spinach. 

3. Sesame Prawn Toast

I love prawn toast. Again this is handy as a snack or tea - although my lot are far too suspicious of the sesame seeds to give it a try. They also make a good party food.

This Sesame Prawn Toast recipe from Good Food is pretty easy to follow. Although it does ask you to deep fry the toast. I don't own a deep fat fryer and so I just toast one side of the bread before spreading the prawn mixture on the uncooked side and then fry up the prawn side in a regular frying pan.

4. Tempura

Jazz up vegetables by coating them in a light tempura batter or make tempura prawns. You could even pass off tempura chicken as an alternative to chicken nuggets! I use this recipe from allrecipes.co.uk. I have read that using sparkling water instead of the still water suggested can make this batter even lighter. Sadly, I'm not posh enough to have sparkling water in the house and I've not yet been organised to buy any in anticipation of making this dish.

What are your go-to recipes for using up egg whites?

Monday, 14 August 2017

Five ways football can boost learning

The footy season has kicked off, which, in my house, means endless discussion about transfers, goal stats, referee decisions and absolutely no chance of watching anything else on TV until next May.

I usually dread the start of the football season as I'm expected to know who plays for which team and my rather flimsy grasp of the offside rule means I struggle with a lot of dinner table discussion.

However, this year I've decided that if you can't beat them, it's probably best to join them and capitalise on their interest.

So here are five ways I can exploit my kids' obsession with the beautiful game to enhance their learning (maybe I should have trained as a teacher after all!).

  1. Geography: Grab a map and help your child find where all the teams in the Premier League are based. Even better, if you are travelling around the country on holiday, see if you can take a quick detour to drive past a ground. Lots of the grounds are pretty near major routes, which is helpful. We frequently drive past the Brighton ground on our way to the in-laws and the highlight of our recent trip to Derbyshire for my five year old was the fact that we saw the Stoke ground. If you want to further the geography lesson, grab an atlas and point out the countries their favourite players are from. Or show them where are opponents are on the globe when we're playing international fixtures. For older children, you might want to investigate a bit more about the countries involved and find out about the country's cuisine, main exports or industries and what a typical home might look like. You can head to the library and look in the children's reference section or even search on Google to find out the answers.
  2. Foreign languages: Follow up on the geography by talking about the different languages spoken by their favourite footballers and managers. See if you can learn how to say "I love football." or "What a goal!" in all the different languages spoken by the players on their favourite team.
  3. Maths: I love using football to help with maths. There's the obvious adding up of points to see where their team is in the table. But my favourite game involves football trading cards. My sons love collecting Match Attax and sometimes I'll give them an imaginary figure and ask them to create their ideal team within budget. For my five year old, I ask lots of questions about the score: asking how many goals were scored all together requires him to add together the goals scored by each team. As they get more confident with numbers you can ask how many goals were scored in the whole league over a weekend.
  4. History: Why not capitalise on their appreciation for a team by finding out more about its history. I particularly love the German teams for this as many were founded as works teams and you can still tell this by their names (Bayer Leverkusen was set up by workers at the Bayer pharmaceutical company). Find out when their favourite team was founded (this information is often on the club badge). What are the most significant events in the club's history. Lots of football clubs have museums so you can take your child to visit and find out more about how the team has changed through the years.
  5. Science: What happens when you drop a football and why? How do you get the ball to curve into the top of the net? Experiment with your child about what might happen if you use a different force or angle. For younger children you might want to talk about different ball shapes and why you might need to use a different type of ball for a different sport, such as golf or cricket.
These are just some of the ideas I've had - I'd love to read your suggestions for other ways I can harness my children's love of football to encourage more curiosity about the world around us. 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Kicking a wet wipe addiction

How heavy is your wet wipe use? How many packs do you get through in a week?

Those soft, damp, throwaway cloths are just so useful. Whether you're changing a nappy, wiping a mucky hand or mouth or need to swipe round the kitchen for a quick tidy up, they have a multitude of uses.

But they also harbour a dark secret. In today's throwaway world, it's easy to forget where those used wipes end up when they've been disposed of. But during the Marine Conservation Society's Great British Beach Clean weekend over 4000 wet wipes were found littering our beaches. That's equivalent to 50 for every kilometre of coastline. Worse still, all sorts of marine wildlife can mistake wet wipes for food, which isn't a particularly tasty thought as you tuck into your fish and chip supper.

Next week, Teignmouth will welcome a Wet Wipe Monster as part of the Love Your Beach campaign to educate people about the importance of keeping beaches clean. As part of the initiative, the Marine Conservation Society is bringing Wallace the Wet Wipe Monster to Teignmouth beach to help people understand why flushing wet wipes down the toilet can have dire consequences both financially and environmentally.

You can see Wallace the Wet Wipe Monster in action here:

UK water companies spend over £81m every year dealing with over 400,000 blockages. And around 80% of these are caused by wet wipes, cotton buds and nappies.

The Marine Conservation Society is currently campaigning to get wet wipe retailers to include a 'Don't Flush' message on packaging. You can sign the petition here.

These startling facts got me thinking about my own wet wipe habit and have given me a kick up the backside to try and reduce my waste.

I know not to flush them down the toilet, but surely the amount that must go to landfill must be pretty damaging to the environment too!

I've used reusable wipes before, but laziness meant that I'm probably not using them as often as I should. As the mum of four young children, I'm not going to try and cut my wet wipe use completely. I mean, I live in the real world. But I'm going to try and use a greener option wherever possible. Although if I'm going on holiday I'll probably stick to the throwaway variety. But at home there's definitely room for improvement.

You don't have to buy special reusable wipes or solutions. I actually bought some pre-loved ones a few years ago that are still going strong and I'm making more by just cutting up some old rags. You can either just dampen them with water or you could make your own solution. Alternatively, there are some pre-made solutions for reusable wet wipes available.

And, as with throwaway wipes, I don't just use them for nappy changes. I've got a couple of boxes of reusable wipes dotted around the house for the odd wipe around, for dusting, for wiping sticky hands and, of course, for nappy changing.

I haven't bought any new packs of disposable wet wipes for a couple of weeks and we currently have less than a third of a packet left. I'm not planning on buying anymore until we go away at the end of the month.

Do you think you could give up your wet wipe habit?

Monday, 26 June 2017

How to do a car boot sale like a boss

Over recent months I've been feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of 'stuff' we have accumulated.

So I have started making in-roads into decluttering the house.

The resulting piles of things to sell were threatening to take over our basement. And, to be honest, listing individual items on eBay, Gumtree and Facebook selling groups was taking too much time and bringing few rewards. So I decided to take the bull by the horns and brave a car boot sale.

The idea of setting the alarm for 5am on a Sunday morning was horrific. But, quite frankly, the idea of having piles of 'stuff' sitting downstairs any longer, was enough motivation to bypass my lie-in.

Here are my tips to do a car boot sale like a boss.

Tip one: Enlist some help.
My eldest, who is nine years old, was keen to spend a morning helping me sell our unwanted clutter. However,  he did name a price - I was to buy him a McDonalds breakfast on the way! You can imagine how disappointed he was when we arrived at the 24 hour drive thru and discovered it was closed for refurbishment. We then discovered that 24 hour Tesco is not open 24/7 and is, in fact, closed at 6:30am on a Sunday morning. Likewise, the Tesco Express is also closed until 7am. Luckily, I found a garage and gave him a sausage roll and a Galaxy milkshake and he seemed happy enough. Anyway, having help was essential as it meant I had a runner to go and buy me more coffee and I had someone to man the stall when I needed to go to the toilet. It also meant I had an extra pair of eyes and hands on the stall for busy periods.

Tip two: Pack the car the night before.
Given the early morning start, we opted to put load the car the night before. This was a good plan as it meant I had time to pack snacks and a drink and to make myself a large coffee to help me through the long day ahead.

Tip three: Organise your boxes.
We had a couple of boxes of stuff that were in the same category: clothes; kitchen stuff; and toys. But the rest was a bit of a mishmash. This made it more difficult for potential buyers to find what they might be looking for. Next time we go, I'll definitely work on packing more sensibly so it's easier to just whack out the boxes on and around the table rather than just chucking everything out and hoping for the best.

Tip four: Make the most of your pitch space
We took our camping table to display our wares, and then placed a couple of boxes and some larger items around this. But I noticed that other sellers were able to really maximise the space on their pitch with a hanging rail for clothes, a sheet laid out next to the table for things like DVDs and books, as well as boxes for things like soft toys. If you make it easier for buyers to browse, they're more likely to spend some time at your stall and thus, more likely to buy what you are offering.

Tip five: Take plenty of small change.
Not only do you need to take money to pay for your pitch. You also need to be able to give customers the right change when they only have a five or ten pound note. This resulted in a late night raiding of all our piggy banks and a quick sweep behind the sofa cushions, but we managed to cobble together enough small change to ensure we didn't lose a sale due to not being able to provide change.

Tip six: Make a note of your float.
We had to remember how small change was in our float so we could reimburse the piggy banks, but it's also very helpful in working out how much money we actually made from the car boot sale. We paid £8 entry and we had £8 in our float and we came home with around £37, which meant our morning generated £20 - give or take the two coffees I needed to buy while I was there.

Tip seven: Remember, you are in control.
When you arrive and start setting up your stall, don't be afraid to tell the early bird buyers to wait until you are ready to sell. It can be a little disconcerting to have people asking about items you haven't yet unloaded from the car. But you don't have to sell anything until you are ready and it won't hurt them to wait until you have set up properly before they buy from you.

Tip eight: Have a price in mind.
You're likely to have an idea of what prices you are going to ask for your items. Be open to haggling, but don't be afraid to stick to your price if you feel your item is worth more that what someone is asking.

Tip nine: Keep your eye on the prize.
When you're looking at other people's stalls it can be tempting to eat into your profits by buying. But remember why you're there - for us, it was to declutter. Before you part with cash and diminish your profits, think about whether you need that item or whether it's just going to add to the clutter problem when you get home.

One of the benefits of taking an assistant with me, apart from having someone to talk to, was that it meant we were able to have a quick look round at the other stalls. He went with some pocket money, although I am very pleased and relieved that he didn't buy anything to replace what we were selling. I looked round because I was interested in what other people were selling. I also had a good nose at what people had already bought when they passed our stall.

Here's what seemed to sell well at the car boot sale I went to:

  • DVDs
  • CDs
  • Books
  • Toys
  • Clothes
  • Crockery, especially bowls
  • Baby equipment 
  • Larger items (for example, fish tank, small tables, chairs etc)
  • Curtains
We enjoyed our car boot sale so much that we plan to go again in a couple of weeks. My son loved helping out and looking around the stalls and I've been really invigorated to get home and do some more decluttering.

What are your top tips for a successful car boot sale?

Friday, 23 June 2017

Five things I want my boys to learn from the Isca lads

This week, more than 50 teenage boys at Isca Academy in Exeter went to school wearing skirts. They were protesting at the sexist uniform policy that forced them to wear long trousers through a heatwave where temperatures topped 30 degrees C.

Here is a film from local news website DevonLive featuring the boys:

And it got me thinking about how sexism isn't just a female issue.

The actions of these boys made me consider what I might want for my own three sons as they grow up. So here are some lessons I'd love my boys to learn from the lads at Isca Academy.
  1. Take action. If you see inequality, don't be afraid to stand up and do something about it. These teenagers saw that something wasn't fair: girls at their school can choose to wear a skirt or long trousers, but the boys don't have the same choice. Instead of sweating in their slacks and moaning about it, they decided to take action.
  1. Be fearless. I have always imagined teenage boys to have a massive pack mentality (can you tell I haven't got to the parenting a teenager stage yet?). So to do something that could potentially have you ribbed and made fun of must have been quite a brave thing to do. So don't be afraid about what other people think. If you believe in what you are doing and others feel the same, they will join you. By showing bravery, you can often encourage shyer members of the pack to join you. And that is exactly what happened at Isca. Three boys started the movement off and a day later there were more than 50 joining them to take a stand. 
  1. Just because something is not be the cultural norm, doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. In this country, boys don't generally wear skirts or dresses. But just because you don't see something on a daily basis doesn't mean it is wrong. I'd love to think that by wearing a skirt to school, these boys have broadened their minds and gained more of an appreciation that sometimes people might dress or do things differently, but that being different isn't wrong, it's just part of our wonderful, diverse world.
  1. Sometimes rules are made to be broken. I've always been someone that respects authority and tries to toe the line. But as I've grown older, I've realised that while rules are often made to protect us, sometimes we need to break the rules to get ahead. I want my kids to appreciate why rules might be in place and to respect the rules that keep us safe, while having the wisdom to challenge the status quo when the rules don't benefit the people around them. 
  1. Sometimes bending the rules is more effective than breaking them. I love the fact that technically, these boys aren't actually contravening the school uniform rules. They are wearing regulation school attire - skirts. And that has had much more impact and strengthened their case a lot more effectively than if they were to wear non-regulation shorts.
I'm really proud of what the boys at Isca Academy have done. Ironically, the Isca Academy website sums it up rather well. It says:

"We know that our students face a rapidly changing and competitive adult world. They will have to be confident and skilled learners, flexible, capable of taking risks, creative, and compassionate." 

I think the school should be rather proud that its students have done just that!
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Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Sorry for being so rubbish - a letter to my friends and family

I'm sorry.

I've been a bit crap over the past six months or so.

I've missed birthdays (and not just any old birthdays, I've missed some big milestone birthdays too). I've neglected to send cards for the birth of babies. I haven't called to congratulate you on your wedding anniversaries.

I've not responded to texts. I haven't called you back. I've not replied to your Facebook messages or WhatsApp posts.

I have been a completely rubbish friend.

It's not because I don't think of you. It's not because I don't care. It's just, I've been a bit tired and overwhelmed over the past year or so.

The months and months of sleep deprivation have stolen who I am and left an exhausted shell. My self-confidence and self-belief have taken a bit of a battering. It's taken every ounce of energy I have to just manage the basics of preparing dinner each night, of making sure the children are wearing clean clothes and that they are dropped off and picked up from school on time. Everything else has fallen by the wayside.

But now that the summer is here, and the days are longer and brighter, I think I can feel my mood lifting.

My diary is a place of hope, with plans of socialising and getting back out in the real world rather than a source of dread of all the cards I haven't sent and things I have failed to do.

The sleep is still terrible, but I feel stronger and more able to deal with the fatigue. One day he will sleep through and I'll be back to the person you remember, full of life and energy.

So please forgive me for neglecting you all. I feel terrible. Give me a chance to get back in touch without it being awkward - it might be a while, my list of people I've failed to touch base with is extremely long. And please be patient and bear with me as I try and get back on to the rollercoaster of life. I'm sure I'll continue to have up days and down days. But I'm optimistic that the good days will soon outnumber the days where I'm down.

Life will no doubt continue to throw up challenges, but if I know you're still by my side, that you've still got my back, I'll be strong enough to deal with it all.


Monday, 12 June 2017

Six natural remedies for chicken pox

Chicken pox season is in full flow and the virus seems to be particularly prevalent this year with most of Wilf's reception class at school going down with it over the past month or so.

Unfortunately for him, he managed to go down with it at the beginning of half-term, so didn't miss any school and ended up being poorly all through the holiday.

Then Ossie went down with it, so we're just emerging from around two weeks of enforced confinement.

Chicken pox is normally a fairly mild childhood illness, but it can be dangerous for pregnant women or anyone with a compromised immune system, which is why we've stayed in. For more information on symptoms, you can check out this NHS webpage.

Often the person with chicken pox feels unwell before the spots appear and can seem fairly OK once the rash has come out. However, Wilf was very under the weather for about four days. However, Ossie seemed pretty OK apart from being very itchy.

There are lots of medications you can use to treat the symptoms of chicken pox, from paracetamol to ease aches and pains (never ibuprofen) to things like calamine lotion and antihistamines to relieve itching.

While I'm not averse to using medication to treat illness, I'm always keen to also try a natural approach. So here are some natural remedies to treat the symptoms of chicken pox.
  1. Oats - yes, as in porridge oats - are really good at easing itching and protecting skin. We popped several tablespoons of oats into an old sock and used it like a tea bag in the bath. As we ran the bathwater, we kept squeezing the sock to get out of the oats as we could and then we used the sock like a sponge to gently rub over the skin, which both boys enjoyed. 
  2. Bicarbonate of soda. If you're running a bath and you don't have any oats, you can also add a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to the water. Bicarbonate of soda has antibacterial properties, which can help prevent any of the chicken pox blisters from getting infected. Some people recommend making up a paste with bicarbonate of soda and water, however, I would be wary of doing this as bicarbonate of soda is very alkaline and I would be worried that it might damage a child's delicate skin.
  3. Epsom Salts. Another one for the bath, Epsom salts are known for their magnesium and sulphate properties that can help relieve pain and inflammation. Soaking in a bath with Epsom salts is ideal for reducing itchiness and will help the chicken pox spots to dry out, which can speed up the healing process. And the sooner the spots dry out, the sooner you can get out and about.
  4. Honey. Well-known for its anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties, honey is great for relieving the itch of chicken pox. Just apply straight to the skin and then gently wipe off after a few minutes. It's a bit sticky, but wonderfully gentle.
  5. Coconut oil is another soothing antibacterial. Simply apply direct to the skin and gently rub the oil in.
  6. Aloe vera. If you have an aloe vera plant at home, break off a leaf and apply the gel direct to the skin for a cooling and soothing relief to the itch. Aloe vera contains anti-inflammatory and healing properties that will help relieve discomfort and speed up recovery.
What natural remedies have you tried for treating chicken pox?

DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional and the above post should not be used as medical advice. If you require health advice, please get in touch with your doctor.
You Baby Me Mummy

Friday, 2 June 2017

An afternoon at Dawlish Warren

Yesterday I had a couple of hours to kill at Dawlish Warren.

I had dropped 9 year old Elliot off at Junior Rangers, where he enjoyed an afternoon of pond dipping and learning about dragonflies and newts.

Dawlish Warren is a place of contrasts. Thanks to the Blue Flag beach and large number of holiday parks nearby, it is a proper touristy, kiss-me-quick sort of resort with amusements, fish and chips, ice-cream and buckets and spades. But the warren is also a national nature reserve and an area of international importance for wildlife, particularly wading birds, which over-winter on the 1.5 mile sandspit.

With Elliot enjoying the natural wonders of the Warren, it was up to me and 6 year old Bea to investigate the more touristy side.

We headed straight to the Funder Park, which we had spotted from the train. I had been a little concerned that this might be a bit pricey, given that the hook a duck at the entrance was £3 a go. However, the rides are all 1 token each and you can buy three tokens for £5 or eight tokens for £10, which I didn't think was too bad. We opted for three tokens.

Bea is a bit of an adrenaline junkie and her first choice was the pirate ship. Unfortunately, she was a couple of centimetres too short to ride, so after a quick re-think, she decided on the Wacky Worm rollercoaster. Despite it being a hot day in May half-term, there was no queue, despite being fairly busy. This meant she got to get on first and she headed straight for the front seat, which made her very happy and probably made up for the pirate ship disappointment.

From the rollercoaster, she had spotted some boats. Having really enjoyed the aqua blasters at Crealy, I think she was hoping these would be similar. Certainly, the boats seemed to have buttons to operate a squirter, but (thankfully) this option appeared to have been disabled, so she made do with steering her spinning boat as vigorously as possible and bumping the sides and other boats as much as she could.

For her last ride, she headed for the quad bike race track where she tore round the track with just a few steering issues, a complete disregard for the brakes and a couple of bumps.

With half an hour left until we needed to pick up Elliot we wandered over to the amusements arcade to play the 2p machines. I love the 2p machines - they're the only machines I play in arcades. We had a good look around to decide which looked the best option. As well as winning 2ps, most of the machines also had keyrings or fidget spinners that could also drop down. Plus, all the machines seemed to produce tickets, which you can swap for prizes in the amusements shop. Bea decided to try for a Princess Poppy Trolls keyring and I opted for a Rubble from Paw Patrol keyring. Neither of us managed to win a keyring, but Bea definitely did the best in winning tickets. Between us, we amassed 73, which we are saving until we go back later in the summer.

We had a lovely time being tourists in our local resort. Meanwhile, Elliot had really enjoyed being a nature ranger and learning about the wildlife in the reserve and making his very own model dragonfly.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Why we need to get our kids talking with the older generation

Do you know what sort of things your grandparents used to eat for breakfast?

I didn't. Not really. I assumed it would have been fairly similar to us: maybe toast. Or perhaps eggs and bacon.

It wasn't until last week, when 6 year old Beatrix had homework that involved asking what we used to eat, that I discovered that porridge was the order of the day for breakfast and that eggs and bacon were normally a lunchtime thing. Well, in my grandad's house at least.

Me and my Grandad at Christmas
It was only when we rang my 87 year old grandfather, Beatrix's Great Grandad Gordon, to ask him questions about what he ate as a child and whether his family grew their own food (they didn't because they didn't have a garden) and he started to talk about ration books and buying loose tea from a sack that I realised quite how much the world has changed.

Our grandparents - my children's great grandparents - are living history. A finite resource of knowledge and first-hand experiences that they are usually quite willing to share. You just have to ask.

Having lost three great grandparents in the last few years, it struck me that this wealth of information won't last forever.

The history books might tell us about air raid shelters and battles, but they don't always provide details about the details of every day life. And while museums can provide interesting examples of the toys our predecessors played with, it's not the same as someone telling us which was their favourite car and of the playground politics associated with a game of marbles.

All it took was one phone call. A simple conversation between a six year old child and her 87 year old great grandad. A connection that she might remember long after his lifetime.

So pick up the phone or take the kids to visit their elderly relatives and ask them to share stories of what life was like when they were young. And if you are not as fortunate as me and you no longer have any grandparents, volunteer to befriend someone at your local nursing or care home.

Chat about what life was like. Maybe ask for tips on how to make your food stretch further, how to grow your own veg or how to make-do-and-mend. Let's make the most of the precious time we have together.

Our living history won't be around forever.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway

They say life is like a rollercoaster (well, Ronan Keating sang a pretty good song about it - showing my age!). And at the moment life feels very much as though I'm on the slow uphill bit just before the speedy and exhilarating descent!

Earlier this week I finally decided to call it a day in my current part-time marketing consultant role and embrace freelance life again. It's a decision that has been weighing on my mind for several months and I'd previously been a bit nervous about making the jump, particularly when thinking about the potential financial implications. But as my 12-month contract comes to a close, it seemed the right time to bite the bullet and just get on with it.

So, as I celebrate a significant birthday next month, I'll also be starting life as a freelance copywriter, blogger and website editor.

After all, life is for living and if you can't take a risk on something, then you'll always think about the what ifs in life.

2016 was a tough year for me. I really struggled with sleep deprivation and it impacted on my mental health. But with the new year and, for me, a new decade approaching, I've decided to try and find my mojo again and that means living life to the full, grabbing opportunities and trying to make the most of them. It's not always going to be easy and I need to remember to pace myself, but at least as a freelance, there should be a bit more flexibility to allow myself to work hard, play hard and rest when I need to.

I've done the freelance thing before and I learnt quite a few lessons that should serve me well as I venture down the self-employed road again. Things like making sure I actually get paid and not relying too heavily one client (these were different clients, I hasten to add).

At the moment, I'm busy getting myself set up again: updating my business website and social media accounts; business planning; panicking a little bit about money etc.

It's scary and I've no doubt that the next few months are going to involve a lot of hard work drumming up new business and getting back out there again. But in my heart of hearts I know I've made the right decision.

If anything, my year spent back in employment has confirmed that it's definitely the freelance life for me.

I'll be posting more about my new freelance ventures, so stay tuned for more updates.

If you've taken the leap into self-employment, I'd love to hear your tips.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Why we need an a breastfeeding advert

Have you ever sat watching television when an advert promoting formula milk come on and thought to yourself, "wouldn't it be great if there could be an ad for breastfeeding"?

But where would you find a multi-million pound budget to fund an ad for a free, natural resource? Surely, it will never happen.

Well, it has! Thanks to the inspirational Claire Tchaikowski who had the same thought, but actually got up and did something about it.

The Breastfeeding Advert was launched today in Bristol and I am honoured and humbled to have been given the opportunity to be part of the campaign.

"Human Milk, Tailor-Made For Tiny Humans" advert from Tiny Humans Productions on Vimeo.

Why do we need a breastfeeding advert?

But why do we need a breastfeeding advert anyway and how can an advert pulled together thanks to the generosity of volunteers compete with huge corporations pushing formula sales with multi-million pound marketing budgets?

UK breastfeeding rates are abysmal. At the advert launch today, Dr Amy Brown, Associate Professor of Child Public Health at Swansea University and author of Breastfeeding Uncovered, explained that while 95% of UK women plan to breastfeed a lack of support and a culture in which breasts are sexualised and women are encouraged to get their bodies back means that breastfeeding rates plummet over the first six months and only one in 200 babies is still breastfed at 12 months.

So lots of women want to breastfeed but they don't always know how and they don't have a support network and they're given a lot of unhelpful advice. And this means that when breastfeeding is promoted they can feel very emotional if they didn't reach their personal breastfeeding goals and this guilt can often turn to anger about the breastfeeding mafia.

Trying to create an advert that promotes breastfeeding without alienating women who have been let down by a lack of support is a bit of a tough undertaking.

Separating fact from fiction...

However, when researching her idea for an advert, Claire set about learning as much as she could and enlisted the support of both Dr Amy Brown and Dr Natalie Shenker who has investigated the make up of breastmilk as part of her research into epigenetics and breast cancer. And it was learning about the ingredients of breastmilk that led her to focus on the science in the advert. "After all," Claire says, "If I didn't know any of this amazing stuff, who else doesn't know about this. We need to know."

I am a firm believer that women should be able to make a decision on how they feed their baby in a way that best suits their personal circumstances based on a thorough understanding of the options. At the moment, they are bombarded with conflicting information and anecdotes from well-meaning friends and family.

This campaign, based on the advert and the human milk website, seeks to simply explain what is in breastmilk and how it contributes to the health of baby and mother. It's a way of educating people about breastmilk without preaching about how "breast is best" (a phrase I personally detest). Actually, while breast is brilliant and is probably great for the majority - it isn't best for everyone.  Best can be interpreted as a bit of a judgemental term and who are we to judge the decisions other people make when we don't know the circumstances in which they reached that decision? (Rant over)

...but keeping the emotion

Anyway, the science of the ad is softened by the beautiful images of mothers breastfeeding their babies (I would say that, wouldn't I, because one of them is me feeding Ossie), and the gentle voice-over, which really helps to humanise the science.

Creating the advert has been a labour of love and has taken a long time. We actually filmed the footage back in October 2015!

Next steps

Launching the advert isn't the end of the story - it's just the beginning. The next step is a crowdfunding campaign to buy slots in the mainstream media. And there are a whole host of other plans to use the advert and the website to educate healthcare professionals, new mums and their families etc.

I'm so proud to be a part of this and I can't wait for the next phase of the campaign. I have met some truly inspirational women that are proof that we really can make stuff happen.

What do you think of this advert?

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Blogging goals 2017

Blogging is a hobby for me. It's something I've dabbled with when I've had time. But over the past year, I've read some really inspirational posts and met other bloggers who have really committed to their blogs and are able to turn their hobby into a job and a lifestyle.

Now, I realise that to turn a blog into a profession is going to involve a lot of hard work. And I've decided that 2017 is going to be the year that I roll my sleeves up and see if I've got what it takes to give it a go.

I've not started well. The better known bloggers posted their blogging goals last week at the beginning of the year. But I wanted to take the time to really analyse what I need to do and to set myself some challenging, but realistic goals to see if maybe, this time next year, I might be able to turn SeasideBelle into something that might give me an income.

Here's how I plan to do it.
  1. Post more consistently. This is going to require some forward planning. I'm going to need an editorial calendar and I'm going to need to plan posts in advance so I can upload posts on regular topics on regular days. I've seen a few linkies that might help with my planning and I've spent some time working out the subjects I'd like to focus on. I'll share my editorial planning process with you later in the month.
  2. Redesign the blog. At the moment, I'm not 100% happy with the way Seaside Belle looks. The branding is all over the place - especially with the graphics I use. So I'm going to take the time to write some brand guidelines so I have a consistent look and feel to the website. I'll update you with how I do that sometime in February.
  3. Grow my social media following. It's all very well posting more consistently and getting a better looking blog, but to make a real success, I'm going to have to extend this across my social media channels so I can extend my reach. At the moment I've got 667 followers on Twitter and by 31st December 2017 I'd love to get to 1000 followers. On Facebook I have 55 page likes. Facebook is more of a slow grower, so I'm going to be conservative in my goal and aim to get to 150 by the end of the year. On Instagram, I've managed to get 326 followers so I reckon 500 by the end of the year is a pretty realistic expectation. I also want to make more of Pinterest. At the moment I use my personal page for the blog and I'm going to investigate whether it would be worth setting up a separate SeasideBelle branded Pinterest before setting myself a goal for this. SeasideBelle is also on Bloglovin and has 44 followers. If I could get to 150 by the end of the year, I'd be very happy. I also list SeasideBelle on the Tots100 index where I am currently ranked 1648. With a bit of hard work, I reckon I could get into the top 1000 by 31st December. I'll keep you updated with my progress each month.
  4. Make an average of £200 per month from SeasideBelle by the end of the year. At the moment, I'm signed up to a couple of Affiliate networks where I get a small commission if someone clicks on an affiliate link in my post and buys something, but I've only written a couple of posts that include affiliate links and haven't really had any income from this yet. Over the next few months I'd like to exploit this potential income stream a bit more. However, I'll only ever post an affiliate link to a product I would probably buy myself and I'm keen to stay true to myself so I'll never be overly 'salesy' so you won't be bombarded with posts trying to sell you something, just so I can make money, I'd rather only use affiliate links as a value added extra to content I would write anyway. I also have a couple of ads on the site, but I haven't made anything from them yet either - I'd need a lot of traffic to make them worth while, but as my following grows they might provide a bit of pocket money. If I really want to turn blogging into my job I'm going to need to create a media pack so I can offer things like sponsored posts (don't worry, I'll always make it obvious that I'm being paid to write something) and social media shout outs. I will also have to look at diversifying my income stream and selling products, so I'd like to try my hand at writing an e-book this year - although this will probably be a project for the autumn.
  5. One thing I have learnt is that to succeed you need to invest in learning or CPD (continued professional development), so I'm planning to take part in more blogger events and meet-ups. Last year I went to BritMums Live, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I went to an Exeter Bloggers MeetUp, where I met a few more bloggers and we learnt about 'monetising your blog'. I've also met some local bloggers socially through the Devon Bloggers Facebook group and I think by meeting up with others, some of whom are already blogging professionally, will be really helpful in sharing best practice and keeping the faith that this is something I might actually be able to do!
  6. Take advantage of blogger networks to access paid opportunities. I'm a member of Tots100, Britmums and the MumsNet Professional Bloggers network, but I don't really tap into the opportunities available or take advantage of the wealth of knowledge available on their websites. This year I intend to access at least 3 paid opportunities through these networks and take part in 1 or 2 training sessions, webinars or events that they run.
So that's one very ambitious blogging goal for 2017 and six pretty measurable ways I can work towards achieving it.

I'll keep you posted about how I get on!

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Monday, 2 January 2017

Why you should keep your Christmas decorations up until 6th January

It's a brand new year. Time to start afresh. But does that really mean you should take your Christmas decorations down already?

I know that some people find it easier to put the tinsel away before the end of the holidays so the house is tidied up ready for the new year to begin in earnest. Maybe I'm a traditionalist at heart, but I'm a big believer in keeping my tree up for the full 12 days of Christmas. Here are five reasons why:

  1. The build up to Christmas is huge. As soon as Hallowe'en is over, the shops are full of cards and merchandise. The lights are often switched on in town centres from mid-November and advent starts 4 weeks before the big day - so why end the festivities prematurely? If you're going to celebrate in style, you may as well see it through until the end.
  2. And talking of endings, Christmas doesn't end until the Feast of the Epiphany, when the three kings arrived at the stable (it was a long journey and they were on camels). The tradition is that if you took your decorations down before then, the wise men would not be able to find their way as the Christmas lights represent the star of David.
  3. January is depressing enough - so I like to keep reminders of the festive joy up until the last moment. What better way to remind yourself of your loved ones than seeing all their cards still up around the house through the first week of January.
  4. Although the longest night was just before Christmas, January is still cold and dark. I love the way the Christmas lights and tinsel add a bit of sparkle and light to life.
  5. It's a way of delaying the New Year's resolutions. Most resolutions are broken in the first week of January. But by easing yourself into the new year and keeping Christmas going for its full duration, you have an excuse to start your resolutions again on 7th January, when Christmas is put away.

When do you take your Christmas decorations down?