Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Missing Out On Special Moments With Shared Childcare

My eldest daughter's time is shared between her Father and me. Do you ever get used to not having your children with you? This year I spent my first Christmas Eve in 6 years without my eldest daughter. She was at her Dad’s house. I’m sure she was full of anticipation for Christmas Day, but I couldn’t help missing her. I tried to distract myself, but my Instagram feed was full of pictures of Christmas Eve boxes and families posing in their matching PJs. I couldn’t join in the fun. Matching PJs or a family picture with my big girl missing wouldn’t feel right.

As excited as everyone was for Little’s first Christmas, my baby didn’t understand what was coming; a Christmas film would be ignored and she’s too young for Hot Chocolate with marshmallows. Once she was asleep I spent the evening tidying the house and wrapping presents. While I appreciated having the time to do these things I would have preferred to have shared the magic on Christmas Eve with both my children. My big girl would have loved to hang her’s and her sister’s stockings. Little is just too young this year...

A baby reaching into a large stocking


Thursday, 22 December 2016

Disney On Ice Presents Frozen Review

Today we went to see Disney On Ice presents Frozen. It was the first time M had seen anything like it and we both had a great time. It was at the O2 in London which I love as a venue, mainly because it is so easy for me to get to. It's a short walk from the Jubilee line and we managed to get home in an hour from leaving the Arena.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

What's My Name?

If you Google ‘changing your name after divorce’ the general assumption is that women want to return to their maiden name. I guess it makes sense that if you took your husband’s surname when you married you would want to return to your own name when you divorce. But I don’t want to. Yes I still share the same surname as my ex, but is that really a problem?

The inside page of a moleskine notepad which reads "In case of loss, please return to:" with a felt tip drawn ? And a blue pen

The main reason I’m in no rush to change my surname is because a very special person has the same surname as me: my eldest daughter. If you don’t have children changing your surname may be a symbolic way to distance yourself from your ex, but I don’t want to distance myself from my daughter.  As my two daughters have two different fathers they will never both have the same surname as me, but changing back to my maiden name would mean not having the same surname as either of them. 

Then of course there is the more practical reason I don’t want to change my name, it’s a huge amount of admin. If you want to take your husband’s surname when you get married your marriage certificate works as evidence of your new name. Send copies off to all the various institutions and hey presto you get sent new cards, driving license, post etc in your new “Mrs” name. When your divorce is finalised if you want to revert to your maiden name then most places will accept your marriage certificate and your decree absolute as evidence that your old name is now your new name. For some organisations this isn’t good enough, you also have to change your name by deed poll. So on top of the faff of contacting everywhere, and paying to change your name on certain documents (like your passport) you also have to pay to change your name.

Alternatively I can just keep my existing surname. No expense. No paperwork. No hassle.

Then there is the decision about what to put in front of my name. Does divorce stop me being a “Mrs”? Clearly my days of being a “Miss” are behind me, so do I change my prefix to “Ms”? As far as I can tell it is my choice and I don’t have to provide any evidence for the change. I wonder if that’s the same as with other prefixes, can I call myself a Lady for instance?

I find it funny that I don’t know what I should call myself yet there are some things which are constant: my email addresses have all stayed the same as before I got married, as has my Twitter name (I don’t think I had Instagram back then). To 1000s of people I am EssexKate and my surname is irrelevant. 
I appear to have a stronger identity on social media than in real life. 

Of course there is always the option to change my name to something completely new. Maybe Ms Kate Essex?

Monday, 19 December 2016

Giveaway: Trio of Dove products

Is one of your New Year resolutions going to be to look after yourself a bit more? If your body needs a little bit of TLC why not enter my latest giveaway? My latest prize is for a trio of Dove products thanks to Unilever. You could win: Deeply Nourishing body wash, Derma Spa Body cream and Original 48h Anti-Perspirant Deodorant. That’s enough to make you clean, soft and smelling beautiful, what better way to start the New Year?

Dove supports Be Real which is campaigning to change attitudes to body image. Dove research found that 7 in 10 women and 6 in 10 girls in the uK think the media and advertisers set an unrealistic standard of beauty that most women can’t achieve. According to the Be Real Campaign 60% of people in the UK are ashamed of their appearance. That is huge.

As I sit here with no make up, a face full of spots and slightly over weight I’m not about to post a selfie of how I look. I don’t love my reflection when I look in the mirror, but I have come to tolerate it. I am hoping I can teach my daughters to be more confident in their bodies than I am in mine. I am careful about what I say about my body in front of my eldest daughter because she doesn’t see anything wrong with how I look. I won’t let people talk about “diets” in front of her, but they can talk about healthy eating. She see’s me putting my make up on and has long been asking to have her own. She is 5 years old. I bought her some make up for her birthday because I want to protect mine, but it is subtle make up and I have made it clear that she doesn’t need it. It is hard to explain why I choose to enhance how I look with make up (or hide behind it) and she shouldn’t. It is important that as she becomes more aware of adverts she is exposed to real people who are beautiful and not just air brushed images.

You can enter the giveaway via the Rafflecopter widget below. All normal T&C's apply (you can read them in the widget). Giveaway closes 1st January 2017 at midnight.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, 16 December 2016

My Daughter Made Me Cry Again

My eldest daughter is an absolute horror at times. She and I can better manage her frequent meltdowns now than we could in the past, but it’s still a regular occurrence that her emotions take control and she becomes angry or upset. Then there are the times when it is all about her, the times she doesn’t want to share her toys, but also wants to play with all of her little sister’s ones. The ability to see beyond herself and her feelings at times is frustrating, but not totally unexpected at 5 years old. Perhaps due to the the frequency of M’s poor behaviour I have recently been almost reduced to tears over some new behaviour emerging…

There have been a number of times recently when I have been so proud of my eldest girl that I can feel the tears pricking at the corner of my eyes. When she does things that are totally unexpected, but show that she has a beautiful and caring personality. That the feeling of love is just as strong as the more challenging character traits.

A 5 year old girl in red toggle coat, hat and gloves


Thursday, 15 December 2016

Review: The Original London Sightseeing Tour

I love London. I have lived on the edge of it for about 30 years so I think I know it pretty well. There is an endless amount of things to see and do in London, but like many people living close to somewhere I often take it for granted. Thanks to 365 Tickets we were recently given the chance to review The Original London Sightseeing Tour and it seemed like a great opportunity to take a fresh look at the city. 

When I’ve been away on a city break I often go on a bus or a boat tour. I have explored Dublin, Paris, Barcelona and Edinburgh in this way, but never my home city.  

A view of the city of London from the bus including the Gherkin
Take a better look at London's new buildings...

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

My Breasts Are Wonky

This post could also be called “The lesser talked about perils of co-sleeping”.

First the obligatory safety warning: co-sleeping or bed sharing can be dangerous. If you choose to co-sleep please ensure you follow the guidelines. I’m using co-sleeping to mean intentionally sleeping in the same bed as my baby, rather than falling asleep on the sofa together which is not safe.

Further information about co-sleeping:

Now enough about that, I’m going to write the rest of this post with the assumption that safe advice is being followed by myself and anyone who may be encouraged to co-sleep.

Little used to sleep well, but around 4 months it all went wrong. In the months that followed I was pretty exhausted as I tried to get her back to sleep in her cot after the many night time wake ups. On a few occasions my eyes drifted closed while I was sitting up feeding so I decided I would just lie down on my side with my boob out. I cuddled Little next to me, she fed and I fell asleep. Some time later Little started fussing, I had barely opened my eyes before she had found my nipple and re-latched. 

For the last few months when Little wakes up for the first time after I have gone to bed, I pick her up from her cot and we lie down together. I get at least an hours more sleep this way and it’s kept me functioning while we go through this extended sleeping like a newborn ‘phase’.

black and white photograph of a sleeping mother with a breastfeeding baby

Sounds great, but it’s not without it’s downsides, the biggest of them is probably my wonky boobs. Little lies on the outside of the bed rather than between me and my partner. I lie on my side and find it more comfortable if she nurses from the breast which is closest to the mattress so for most of our night feeds she is feeding from the same side.  The magic which is breastfeeding means my right boob can easily compensate for the extra feeds, but it has had the result that it’s become (very slightly) bigger than the left. You probably wouldn’t notice. At least I hope you wouldn’t notice, although now I’m going to worry about what people are thinking if they stare at my chest. 

To go with my wonky chest I often wake up with a painful shoulder from the way I am lying. I don’t think it’s natural to lie in one position all night, but I instinctively do when Little is next to me. This sometimes results in sore muscles. It’s just as well I don’t have to pick up anything heavy so my aching body can recover…

I guess I’m fortunate, due to Little’s interest in my chest she normally stays in one place so I don’t have the acrobatics and head kicks many co-sleeping families report (I get these when she is awake instead). I have tried moving further away from her at times when she is asleep (and unattached), but she tends to wriggle closer again. We repeat this process until the big man is on the brink of falling out of bed. Maybe I should keep going?

Night time activities are a challenge too (I’m not talking sex, my Nana might be reading). If I ever need to get out of bed to go to the toilet it requires careful manoeuvring to avoid disturbing the waking baby. Best case scenario she stays asleep and I return to discover I no longer have an adult size patch of bed to sleep in. I then have to make the decision of moving the baby (and her inevitably waking up) or trying to perform some sleep yoga to fit in to the available space and cover myself in the duvet without getting any too near Little.

If I happen to be wake up before Little, a very rare event, I have no choice but to stay in bed as I can’t safely leave her on her own. I could turn the monitor on, but there is a good chance she would wake up quietly and crawl off the bed before making a noise. When she has finally learnt to climb off things backwards I might be able to try this, but I’m hoping she will start sleeping better in her cot again one day soon.

So co-sleeping causes wonky boobs, aching shoulders, cold nights or uncomfortable bladders and no alone time. Balance that out with getting more sleep? I choose sleep every time.

Friday, 9 December 2016

The Magic of Books

I still remember that my sister and I were read to every night before bed. In our room we had shelves filled with books by Roald Dahl, C S Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, The Wizard of Oz books (there were 15 in total) and Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. We would have a few pages read to us each night. I seem to remember my Dad saying that if he was going to be spending all the time reading to us he wanted to read books he enjoyed too.

I don’t really remember watching much TV when I was small, but I remember books being everywhere. My family were (and still are) big readers and for a while I rebelled against it refusing to read myself, but it was inevitable that at some point I would give in. When I was a confident (and happy) reader one of my favourite books was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

It’s really important for me that my girls love books too. It is so easy in this world of tablets and e-readers to not have physical books around. My children often can’t tell if I’m reading a book or on Facebook, but we have lots of children’s books in the house. I think it's only through holding physical books in your hands that you can really fall in love with them.

My eldest had lots of books from birth. They ended up with chewed corners and eventually thrown away, but at a really early age I was proud that she could hold a board book and would turn the pages over one by one in the right direction. She was read to at bedtime and still spends hours looking at the pictures trying to remember the original story or making up her own.

In the last few months something even more magical has happened: my eldest daughter is learning to read. She has known all the letters for sometime, but it’s only with the first term of school she has found the interest and concentration to blend the letters together and start reading words herself. This is such an exciting time. I don’t think she realises just how much being able to read will change her life, but sitting next to her as she works out how to turn the individual letters into a word she recognises fills me with warm cosy feelings.

M’s little sister hasn’t had the same literary opportunities so far. It’s only recently with the prompt from Penguin books that I realised how few books she has. The parts of her big sister’s board books which weren’t eaten have been thrown away (or recycled) and she doesn’t get to play with the paper books for fear she will rip them. 

While Little had a library card at just a few weeks old I haven’t spent as much time reading to her as I would like. Reading formed part of her big sister’s bedtime routine early on, but everything has become much more hectic trying to get 2 girls to bed. This week I was motivated to change this and I have managed to get both girls cuddled up into my bed and read them a story on 3 occasions. This has been really special. It’s not just about the sounds, the stories or the pictures, but taking the time out to cuddle up and share some magic together.

For Christmas I have written a list of some classic first books and some great new ones. I have looked for the stories they produce as board books and Little’s Great Nana has purchased a collection for her. These books will belong to my baby so we can read to her, but just as importantly so she can play with them, look at them and, yes, eat them too. 

As part of the Britmums and Penguin Round House Children’s Books Christmas Present Challenge I received 3 books and I was challenged to share who I would be wrapping them up for. 
I received: 
The Little Elephant Who Wants To Fall Asleep by Carl-Johan Foreseen Ehrlin and Illustrated by Sydney Hanson.
The Dinosaur that Pooped Christmas by Tom Fletcher & Dougie Poynter Illustrated by Garry Parsons
Max and Bird by Ed Vere

These are a lovely selection of books and I must admit to giving each one a quick read (very carefully so they don’t look like they have been opened). I have heard of The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep when it was recommended to me as a way to try and help my eldest go to sleep. The elephant book is a new version following the same idea so this book will be wrapped up and given to M for Christmas. I love the idea that through the gentle repetition and story it can help people to fall asleep.

The Dinosaur That Pooped Christmas is written in rhyme. While i’m not a fan of talking about poo, it does seem to be something which children find funny. My baby is too young to understand the words, but she will enjoy the pictures and the sing song pattern of the words so this book will be wrapped for her.

Finally Max and Bird is a story about a bird and a kitten which become friends, it could all end badly (but •spoiler alert• it doesn’t). This book will be going to my nephew to enjoy.

I hope they enjoy the books and I wonder whether they will be one of the stories they remember when they have grown up.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Expressing Milk When Out and a Review of The Tommee Tippee Manual Pump

Looking back a month on from my first day away from my youngest daughter I think what I struggled with most was the discomfort from not breastfeeding all day. I had been so focused on how she and I would feel emotionally I hadn’t really considered the practicality of needing to express. Last week I had my second day away from my daughter, but this time I was armed with the Tommee Tippee manual breast pump. Being able to pump milk while I was out made a huge difference to how I felt. 

I was kindly sent the Tommee Tippee manual breast pump to review and found it perfect for relieving the pressure in my boobs from not feeding. Just 10 minutes use in my lunch break was enough for me to avoid the painful engorged stage. It also meant that when I got home Little could feed without being overwhelmed by the speed of my let down.

The Tommee Tippee manual breast pump box, the steriliser box, the pump parts, the closer to nature bottle (with breast milk in) , the milk storage pot and disposable breast pads
What's in the box (with added breast milk)


Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Giveaway: Disney Tsum Tsum

In my latest giveaway you could win a Disney Tsum Tsum 9 pack. I love these little stackable figures from Jakks which are small enough to slip in your pocket. They come in a huge range of characters, but in this pack from series 1 there is Olaf, Dumbo, Tigger, Gus, Stitch, Sebastian, Goofy and Minnie as well as a surprise figure.

Latest giveway prize

To try and win them just enter via the Rafflecopter (if you live in the UK and all the other normal T&C's as in the widget) or you can buy your own here if you can't wait.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disney is so powerful. I love how these sets combine characters from films that are older than me (Dumbo, Cinderella), films which were released when I was a child (The Little Mermaid) and more recent films (Frozen). It's pretty hard to avoid Disney while you are growing up or if you have small people living in your house, and why would you want to? They might not always set the best example (everything will be all right if you marry a prince for example), but the magic is enough to win me over every time.

One of the ways to enter the competition (via Rafflecopter) is to comment on what your favourite Disney character is, so I have been thinking about who mine is. When I was younger I used to love the Little Mermaid so I think Arial was probably my favourite. Now I'm more picky and can't just enjoy a leading lady for who she is in the films. Most of the female characters from the older films are a bit too wimpy for me. I much prefer the more modern heroines like Anna, Elsa, Merida and Mulan. The more subtle humour of some of the animals in the films appeals to me more now I'm older too: Pascal in Tangled, Abu from Aladdin, and the evil Scar from The Lion King are all great. There are so many to love though across all the films that I could have a different favourite for every day of the year.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Review: Funky Giraffe Outfit

We have been a big fan of Funky Giraffe bibs for years. I love them because these super absorbent dribble bibs have kept my babies necks dry, they wash well, they are excellent value and they come in a huge range of lovely designs. When Funky Giraffe offered us one of their new outfits to review I was really excited to see that the fun designs had made it on to trousers and hats.  We absolutely loved the print of this outfit, although Little isn’t so keen on wearing a hat even when it’s freezing outside.
A baby wearing Funky Giraffe Funky Toucan trousers and bib and holding the hat
Funky Giraffe Outfit in Funky Toucan print


Tuesday, 29 November 2016

My Baby at 10 Months

The last week has seen a transformation in my baby, she is becoming more and more like a toddler. She isn’t toddling yet, but she suddenly seems to understand a lot more about what is going on. She responds to my questions more and communicates more clearly when she wants something. We play games together and I am enjoying watching her play. She is also exploring more in play. It’s no longer just chewing on things and waving them around, she is now putting objects on top of each other and inside each other.

9 photographs of a baby girl aged 9 months includes eating, sitting in a pumpkin outfit, sitting in front of a mini piano, in a baby carrier and reclining on a white bed
Little aged 9 to 10 months


Friday, 25 November 2016

How To Choose Childcare When You Return To Work

For most parents making a decision about childcare after maternity leave is inevitable. Having gone through the process twice now here is my advice on what is useful to think about when choosing the right childcare.

Text saying: Returning to Work? How to choose childcare www.countingtoten.co.uk over an image of an open notepad

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Dear All The Bad Mummies

Dear all the Mummies out there,

Have you had that conversation yet? The one where you admit to some mum friends that you think you are a rubbish mum? If you haven't I really think you should.


Because all mums think they are rubbish at some point. If you are reading this and thinking "I've never thought that, I'm perfect" then please contact me, I would love a chat. I honestly think it is part of parenting to doubt yourself and to make mistakes. 
Canva image of an old fashioned type writer with text "dear all the bad mummies"
Whether you have just one child or a houseful being a mum means juggling a whole load of responsibilities. Yes women are great at multi tasking, but children can be very challenging. Add to the mix that you are probably chronically sleep deprived and chances of doing something stupid are high.

But hang on a minute. Aren't we meant to be perfect? We selflessly spend 9 months not touching alcohol, giving up some of our favourite foods (rare steak, yum) and eating only wholesome nutritious food harvested under a full moon by an elf in silk gloves. Then, post birth, we all nurse our babies without any problems learning how to latch or establishing a milk supply. Our babies barely cry as their every need is met instantly by our amazing mother's intuition. Oh and of course we get our babies sleeping independently and for long stretches before tiredness destroys half our brain cells.

Sorry, but back in the real world being a mum is a steep learning curve and whether we make mistakes through our innocence, through bad luck or just by being pulled in too many directions at once; we all make mistakes.
A baby and a kitten looking into an open washing machine
Why yes that is a wet paw print on the back of my daughter as she climbs in the washing machine
Like many bloggers I am happy to talk about myself and I'm pretty honest about what I've done wrong. Let's face it I've done a lot of stupid things. The number of daft errors has increased since having my second daughter. While many of them aren't parenting related (I keep going in the shower with my glasses on for instance), a lot do involve lapses of sense affecting my children. I accept a lot of these things as just part of the way I am. If there's no harm done I brush most things off, but I know others take their mistakes more to heart which is why I'm writing this post.

When talking to other people about their "bad mummy" moments I can tick most of them off on my own list. Those which I can't I can easily imagine doing in the future so I offer no judgement.
Spilling food on baby while eating? That's part of having a nursing newborn and the reason I ate cold food.
Accidentally bashing your baby/ child with a hard object? From walking into door frames while holding them, hitting them against the car seat while getting them in the car or knocking them with my camera swinging from my neck I can tick all of these off with my clumsiness.
Baby temporarily dunked under water in the bath or swimming pool? A split second is unlikely to cause harm as their instinct is to hold their breath. I always make sure they are breathing ok and haven't breathed in any water though. 
A whole list of objects have been retrieved from the mouths of both girls, a few of which I've had to google the toxicity of. So far no medical treatment has been necessary.
I went to start the car engine once only to hear M say "aren't you going to strap me in?" in a very sad voice. Forgetting to strap your child in the car seat? Check.
I've left knives and scissors in stupid places and caught little hands just in time.
I've taken them out in inappropriate clothes for the weather, let them stay in night clothes all day and left them in dirty clothes.
I've assessed the danger levels of the random item being chewed and left my baby if she was happy: cardboard boxes, bottles, chair legs.

Then there are little things a mummy should know better about like when you forget baby wipes and end up using a pair of socks to wipe a snotty nose. I've been known to check if a nappy needs changing by sticking a finger in it. Why? Why? Why? I ask myself as I have to go wash poo off my hand. Oh and there is the too frequent howls of my children when I've lost track of time when we are out and I haven't brought any snacks to help their little tummies last until we get proper food.
A baby reaching up to pull a bottle of wine our of a wine rack
Mmm wine
Of course I've made bigger mistakes too. 

There are a few times which have stayed with me:
The time I dropped my eldest on the floor when she was a baby. I was more upset than she was and there was no lasting damage.
The time I left my youngest on the sofa to go get something and she crawled off with a thud on the hardwood floor.
The time my baby crawled off and found the cat litter. This was a couple of days after finding cat litter in her nappy after my partner did the same.

But so far we have avoided major harm and my children are developing well.

Ok now are you all thinking "she's such a bad mum, I'm calling social services"? Or maybe you're thinking you aren't such a rubbish mum after all.

I hope it's the latter.
Best of Worst

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Review: Selfie Mic

My latest giveaway is the brilliant Selfie Mic. Selected as one of the top 12 toys for Christmas 2016 by the DreamToys selection committee I would have loved this when I was younger. I'll be honest I'm quite a big fan of it now. Add a smartphone and the Starmaker app (free download from Google Play or App Store) and you have a personal karaoke machine that will even record a music video.


Sunday, 20 November 2016

Taking photographs in Autumn

I love the cold crisp days of Autumn as the leaves change shades of gold, red and amber. I love the soggy days when there are no leaves on the trees less. The days where big rain drops fall off the trees and manage to fall down the small gap between my coat collar and my neck, yep I’m not the biggest fan of those days either.

I live on the edge of Epping Forest which is beautiful all year round, but Autumn probably shows the woods at their best. This weekend is the tipping point where there are more leaves on the floor than on the trees. It’s easy to feel it is all downhill from here, but with only 5 weeks until Christmas I’m feeling the air of optimism still.

Too many presents have been bought for the girls (who already have too much) and I am at a loss what to buy for most of the rest of the family. I also don’t know what I want, which is just as well since I’ve already had a camera bought for me and I’m asking people to contribute to it. Lovely camera. It's a shame I am struggling to find the time or good enough light to take great pictures at the moment. Instead I am practising with low light photography, my tripod and different techniques. 

Yesterday I went out just before dusk to have a play with my camera, these are some of my captures from the forest and the road outside the car park.

Some orangey yellow leaves on a tree with sky behind
A close up of leaves on a tree
ISO 400, f/ 2.8,  1/25 sec

A path covered in leaves, the edge of a lake and trees all autumnal colours
The edge of a lake
ISO 400, f/ 2.8, 1/15 sec

A path covered in brown leaves, the edge of a lake and trees in different shades of yellow, orange and brown
The path out of the forest
ISO 400, f/11, 3.2 sec

A lake in the foreground and autumnal trees behind it
Across the lake
ISO 400, f/11, 1/10 sec

A road at dusk with lines across the photograph caused by cars and a fire engine driving past on a slow shutter speed. The lights are orange, red and blue
A fire engine and cars
ISO 125, f/4, 5.0 sec

A road with red lights caused by car tail lights taken on a slow shutter speed
ISO 125, f/ 5.6, 10.0

All the photographs were taken using a tripod and my Sony rx100 camera. I used Lightroom to crop and enhance them.

Linking up with the #MySundayPhoto Linky hosted by Photalife

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Gifts of Gold for Christmas

A wise man once thought Gold made the perfect gift for Christmas so I have been searching for golden gifts for every type of person in your life. (Ok I recognise that the 3 wise men didn’t really come at Christmas bringing Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh because if they did visit newborn Jesus and his folks it wouldn’t have been Christmas, but I still think it's a good theme for a gift guide).
All images for this post combined into one collage with the text "Gifts of Gold for Christmas"

Monday, 14 November 2016

My First Day Away From My Breastfed Baby

The Morning

There is a time in every parent’s life when they leave their baby for the first time. I'm not talking about a quick trip to the loo or popping out to the shops. I'm talking about when you leave them for hours, long enough for them to know you aren't there.

For the Dad this time comes soon after they are born. G had to head home from hospital a few hours after birth. After some paternity leave he returned to work. He goes to work every day. For him, being away from Little is part of his norm. It only really hits him when she is still asleep in the morning and he misses out on his normal early cuddles.

For me, this time round, my baby hasn't wanted me to leave her and I haven’t needed to for 9 months. The longest I've been away was to go out for dinner with some friends, but she was asleep the whole time.

Today, for the first time I'm spending a day away from her. It's for a very exciting reason and I'm looking forward to a great day, but as I sit on the train travelling to Blogfest I feel like part of me is missing. I want my baby snuggles.

People tell me she'll be ok, and I'm sure she will be, but whenever people have looked after her before she has reached a point where they won't do and she only wants her mummy. I know the main reason for that is her obsession with my chest: what was once her sole provision of nourishment is now primarily her comforter. Unfortunately I can't leave my boobs behind so I'm not only taking her mummy away for the day, but stealing her favourite comfort too.

She loves her Daddy and is happier with him than anyone else (except me), but his cleavage is lacking. I know that today she will cry. She will be crying lots and wondering why her normal comfort isn't available. She will be held, rocked, cuddled and loved while she cries. If she is screaming as loud as she can, distraught and confused, does being held really make a difference?

During The Day

I asked for regular updates about Little throughout the day. Her Dad managed to get her to have two (shortish) naps. One in the car and one in the pushchair and she has remained pretty happy. She hasn’t taken any milk from the sippy cup, but she  has had a reasonable amount of food including fruit which will keep her hydrated.

My boobs are getting progressively fuller and more painful. I tried to go to the toilet to hand express but as I forgot a muslin or a cup to express into it wasn’t very successful. I expressed a small amount into loo roll, but decided to go back to join everyone else. A toilet isn’t the best environment to get milk flowing quickly anyway. As the day goes on I get a little obsessed with my boobs, mentioning them to more and more people and fondle them a fair bit due to the discomfort. It’s just as well the event is mostly mums.

The Evening

I decided to leave slightly early as my boobs were very tender. Someone accidentally knocking into me resulted in a yelp of pain and I couldn’t cross my arms due to the increased mass. I sent G a message on the way home so he and Little were at the station ready to meet me. As soon as she saw me Little gave me a big smile. I enjoyed some cuddles while holding her on my hips as my chest was too sensitive. All too soon I had to put her back in the car, she didn’t appreciate being strapped back in, but the journey wasn’t very long and I reached into the back to hold her hand the whole way.

As soon as we got in I gave her some milk. I was worried that she would be sick due to the force of the milk so I covered the sofa up with a towel. She quickly wolfed down one side making me feel much more comfortable, I put her to the other side, but she only took a tiny bit. Over the next couple of hours I fed her a few times and felt almost normal.

Due to a late second nap we put Little to bed late, but she didn’t sleep long before waking up. After a few more attempts to get her to sleep I decided to go to bed with her and we had a good night with lots of cuddling and co-sleeping.

How I felt the next day

It was a lot tougher on me than my baby and I'm so glad that we have managed to get through our first day apart. My maternity leave ends in a couple of months so I now feel slightly more confident about going back to work. Next time I leave her I will make sure I have a way of expressing so I feel more comfortable. Having regularly messages about how my baby was doing helped me miss her less. She was fine without any milk for the day and she caught up when I was home so I don't need to worry about her taking a bottle. The water she had from a sippy cup plus juicy fruit was enough to keep her hydrated.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Review: Trutex School Uniform

We were recently offered the chance to review a school uniform from Trutex. This came at a great time because in just a few months at school M has really been putting her uniform though it’s paces. Her shoes are scuffed, a barely worn pinafore has a rip in it and I’ve had to bleach several t-shirts to remove tomato sauce stains and paint. The Reception playground has mud, a swing, a climbing frame and all sorts of equipment to test the best of school uniforms.

A young blonde girl sitting on the floor in Trutex school uniform


Wednesday, 9 November 2016

DreamToys for Christmas 2016

This morning I went to the Dream Toys event for 2016. This exciting event showcases some of the best toys around and predicts what they expect the top sellers to be for Christmas. The list is decided by a panel of leading toy retailers in the UK.

The top 12 identified as Dream Toys for Christmas 2016 (in no particular order and with RRP) are:
Image of the top 12 toys selected for Christmas 2016

Fighting for our country, has it changed?

Poppy Day, Armistice Day, Remembrance Sunday. What do these mean to you? The images in the media are often of ageing veterans of World Wars placing wreaths of poppies on stone memorials. This makes war seem far away and long ago, but there continue to be thousands of people serving all over the world. British men and women are currently risking their lives to protect and defend the UK and it’s allies and it’s important to remember them and their bravery too.

I want my daughters to know that there are people who have been fighting for their country, their way of life, for a long time. There is a lot of evil in the world, but there is good too. My eldest doesn’t understand war. Luckily she can’t imagine the suffering other children her age are facing as they flee from atrocities and I will keep her sheltered as long as I can from the horrific images which all too rarely make it into mainstream media. While I want to protect her, I also want her to know there are heroes who will protect her against bad people and that her Great Grandad (who she can only just remember) was one of those heroes.

A couple of years ago I interviewed two people who had seen active duty: my Grandad who served during and after World War 2 and a friend who served over 60 years later. Neither speak much of their service. I wanted to have more of an understanding about what it was like, and how much had changed over the decades. I originally published these interviews on a previous blog 2 years ago. My Grandad has since died and I wanted to revisit what was said.
A box of poppies

My Grandad

Why did you join the army? 

I was called up a week after I turned 18 because the war was on.

Have you seen active service?

I was in Italy and Austria during the war and Egypt and Palestine post war. Post war the fighting was between the Jews and Arabs and it was in many ways more dangerous as you didn't know what you were going into. 

How long were you in the army for? 

I was in the army for 4 1/2 years and away for all that time except for the first 9 months spent in training.

What did you miss most whilst serving?

It was so different to being at home that you put up with what you got. There were no comforts. Many nights you slept on the bonnet of the armoured truck. Post was received regularly so you had contact, but you couldn't telephone or anything like that (my Nana wrote a lot of letters to him throughout his time in the Army).

What were the good things about it?

At that age (18 to 22) the variety was good, you were doing things you had never done before and you were suddenly thrown into it without any choice.

How does the work of the army differ today from World War 2? 

There is still a risk of death etc if posted abroad so that hasn’t changed. When in barracks there is more drill now which we didn't really do even post war, you could always find an excuse to get out of it.

How important is the work of the Royal British Legion? 

It is very good if you need it and you are prepared to ask for it and have a necessity for it. They do good work and have some wonderful homes for old soldiers.

A black and white photograph of a 22 year old man in army uniform taken in 1947
My Grandad in 1947

My Friend

Why did you join the army?

I joined the Army for several reasons. Right from the start I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself, where I could help make a real difference to people.   I valued the opportunity to be part of a highly effective and organised team entity, with the chance to make close friends and develop as a team player and as a leader.  I also wanted the chance to learn new skills, and see new places that I wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to do in my life.

Have you seen active service?  

I served in the Iraq War in 2006-07, for nearly 6 months, spending time in Basra and Baghdad.

What did you miss most whilst serving?

Operational conditions meant that many things or routines I was used to in normal life, and considered to be every day necessities or perhaps hadn’t even thought until I didn’t have them, were simply not available.

What were the good things about it?

I went out to do my part and serve in an operational environment, and that is what I did.  I have pride in doing my part as well as I could, and being an integral part of the team was always the best part for me.

How does the work of the army differ today to World War 2?

I have met Old Comrades from my Squadron who served in WW2 and landed on the D-Day beaches, or fought in other places to free Europe.  The work then and now is primarily the same, in the sense that soldiers still do the same fundamental job.  The way this is done is different in some ways in a different age, and some threats cannot be best met in the same ways.  Peacekeeping and asymmetric warfare have their own challenges, and the Army operates closely with other services and allies and multinational entities.

How important is the work of the Royal British Legion?

The Royal British Legion is an excellent charity doing amazing direct work to support beneficiaries, but also operates in ways that not all charities can, such as with regards to activities like comradeship and remembrance.  The Legion is not in itself the source of these good works, but is the custodian and facilitator of much of it, and helps ensure that the whole family of service and veteran charities can operate in a favourable environment. The Legion isn’t the only service charity, but all would be much weaker and find their jobs much harder to do without the Legion being around.

You can support the work on the Royal British Legion by buying a Poppy or donating on their website.


Tuesday, 8 November 2016


Are you looking for stocking fillers for LEGO fans? Or do you just want to give your child a treat? My latest giveaway is this Ultimate LEGO NEXO KNIGHT set featuring chief spy Ultimate Lavaria. As well as the minifigure you can download the app to make her come to life in a digital game. Recommended for ages 7 to 14.

Entry via the Rafflecopter widget below. Giveaway closes Sunday 20th November. 2016 
Thank you to LEGO (R) NEXO KNIGHTS (TM) for providing this prize.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Paw Patrol Hopscotch Playmats Review

My biggest girl is a huge Paw Patrol fan so when we were given the chance to review some Paw Patrol playmats I said "yes" before even asking her.

When they arrived M excitedly got them out of the box straight away. She decided to put them together to form a hopscotch and after assembling them she happily hopped and jumped along for a few minutes before deciding to get her Paw Patrol figures out and play on the mats.
Paw Patrol playmats being assembled into a Hopscotch by a young girl


Tuesday, 1 November 2016

My Baby At 9 Months

Every month my little baby is getting bigger, more active, more inquisitive, more communicative and less my little baby. She is amazing and continues to make me smile. It’s not always easy, I am frequently exhausted, but her hugs, kisses and smiles help make it all easier.

A 9 month old baby sitting on the floor if the forest on brown leaves next to a log and in front of a tree
So excited to be 9 months old


Monday, 31 October 2016

My Little Halloween Monster

I think one of the reasons childhood is so magical is that children have poor long term memories. This means they get to rediscover special holidays over and over again, year after year. M was taken Trick or Treating last year, but she doesn’t remember it. This year I wasn’t planning on taking her because it seemed like too much hassle. Trying to do dinner and bath time for both girls plus a tour of the neighbourhood and sugar could easily make a challenging time worse. After picking M up from after school club I showed her the bucket of sweets and explained about Halloween.

I had only got the sweets 'just in case'. I've always thought it's better to have treats if people knock than to risk getting the front door egged. It's not exactly a hardship if we have to eat all the sweets ourselves, but this meant I hadn't carved a pumpkin or prepared any decorations to put outside encouraging people to knock.

M waited impatiently on the doorstep for visitors, but there were hardly any people going door to door on our road. Those we could see headed to the houses with pumpkins. M ended up running down the street after them shouting "Trickle sweets! Trickle sweets!". 

I decided to stop cooking dinner and asked M if she wanted to go out Trick or Treating. There were 2 houses we could see with decorations so we headed to those. That was enough to give M a taste for it. Something clicked and she realised that just by knocking on a door and holding a bucket out people would give her handfuls of sugar. I was foolish to think we would stop after 2 houses.

The road round the corner had lots of the houses decorated and a mass of children knocking at the doors. I managed to persuade M the phrase was "Trick or Treat" (much as I loved “trickle sweets”), but she was often too shy to say it. I was impressed that she mumbled unprompted “thank you”s.

It was fun meeting so many neighbours and there was a great party atmosphere. I've never really gone trick or treating before and my previous neighbours haven't encouraged it. Each year I've bought sweets, but even when I've put a pumpkin outside not many have knocked. I now appear to live near a popular street for Halloween. Next year we are definitely going to make more effort.

I asked M what she thought of Trick or Treating and she said “It was really good, I wish they did it every day. I want to do it again. I like Trick or Treating because you get to have lots of yummy scrumptious sweets.” I kinda wish she hadn’t tried to eat them all, in the dark I didn’t notice as they kept disappearing into her mouth.

With my aching arms I cut the sweet collecting short. I was carrying the baby as I originally planned to only visit 2 houses. I wanted the girls to have dinner and encouraged M to head home to see if anyone else would come to our door. I put our (uncarved and edible) pumpkin on the pavement and stuck a witches hat in the letter box, but we still didn’t get anyone stop by. As M stood by the window ready to pounce with her sweets I attempted to persuade her to eat some dinner, the sugar high had already hit though and she barely touched it.

M was loud and annoying. The sugar had turned my little witch into a monster so I got her in the bath, letting her splash around with her sister and hoping she would go to bed soon. She may have been inspired by Johnson's special edition baby bubble bath featuring cheeky bubble monsters. There was shouting, giggling and too much noise, but she finally burnt herself out earlier than normal.


Now I get to eat all the sweets.

Disclosure: The girls had a bath in Johnson's Bubble Bath and Wash this evening which is gentle enough for both of them. I was sent a bottle and character cards about their Bubble Monsters. The Bubble Monsters were not given any sugary snacks either in or out of the water.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Halloween - My Sunday Photo

As a child I didn't really celebrate Halloween. I don't remember going trick or treating or dressing up. Now there doesn't seem to be any getting away from it and having a daughter who loves to wear glitter and sparkly dresses it's an opportunity where she can be dressed up out of the house without getting those looks from other parents. You know the look, the look that says "yes, I understand, you let your child wear anything out of the house because it was easier than trying to get her in sensible clothes. My child once went to the dentist as spiderman".

This week we went to Audley End Miniature Railway in Saffron Waldon for their Halloween special because it's half term and seemed like a good thing to do with friends. We had a great time. As well as the train ride which had a spooky make over with bats, ghosts and dancing witches offering treats there was a dance tent, craft tent and the normal bouncy castle and play area. We had great weather and a brilliant time.

I took a lot of pictures and the one I have chosen for this post is hugely over exposed and is when we were coming out of a tunnel. I love it and think it adds to the spooky feel of the train ride. You can see M's face and her waving a magic wand and feel the movement of the train.


Tuesday, 25 October 2016

An Advent Calendar Full Of Glitter, Sequins And Stickers

If you are looking for an alternative to a chocolate advent calendar how about this crafty calendar? It’s perfect for toddlers and preschoolers. I made it for my daughter when she is was 2 (it’s just taken me a few years to blog about it). The end result is a lovely “Happy Christmas” garland decorated by your child.

A fun, crafty advent calendar for children (with no chocolate) and images of the contents of the advent calendar


Monday, 24 October 2016

Creating a Photo Book for Family Face Recognition

For a baby Christmas Day is just another day, but when they have older siblings you can’t leave them out. Why wouldn’t Father Christmas leave a filled stocking for the little sister? So what do you put in a Christmas stocking for a baby? One idea I’ve had is a family photo book.
Text saying "photo book to help babies recognise family" and a photograph of the photo book with all the pages fanned out

POP BOOK Review and Giveaway

POP BOOK kindly offered me a code to try out their app and receive a mini photo book. I made a Family Photo book for my baby which you can read about here. This mini book is perfect as a stocking filler for Christmas. If you would like a chance to win one there is a giveaway at the bottom of this post.
The front of our POP BOOK with the title "the Little Book of Sophie" and a picture of a baby in front of the envelope with the POP BOOK envelope


Sunday, 23 October 2016

Give us a clue: night time ailments

We had a duvet day today. This meant comfort food, snuggling on the sofa with a duvet and lots of TV. 

Last night M woke up crying about half ten. In between sobs she said in a wibbly voice that her ear hurt. It’s not uncommon for M to wake up in the night in pain, normally it’s because she has fallen asleep in a strange position and she has pins and needles.

Trying to decipher what hurts and the possible cause when your child (and you) are half asleep requires lots of patience and strong parenting skills.

“Where does it hurt?”
“My ear”
Can you show me where?
“On the outside or the inside?
“Hear?” (ha ha, I actually said “here?”) I went to touch it and she cried it was too painful.

After half an hour of crying, holding on to her head and not being able to establish exactly where the pain was I go get the Nurofen (first painkiller type bottle which came to hand).

I cuddle M for another half an hour, stoke her, pat her with little impact on getting her back to sleep and minimal comfort. She doesn’t seem able to sleep or calm down so I go get the iPad and tell her she can lie in bed watching something. I leave her with the instruction to call me if she wants me. I crawl back into bed, head on pillow for a couple of minutes before Little begins to make whimpering noises in her sleep. These soon progress to her waking up and crying so I scoop her up from her cot to feed her.

At some point during the half an hour feed, M starts calling for me. I send G in and he returns about 5 minutes later. M must have fallen asleep briefly, woken up and was very distressed about why Mummy had left the iPad there. A clear sign she wasn’t well, normally she would be overjoyed she had the iPad in her room. He got M to sleep and the rest of us all went to sleep too.

For the next 3 hours M woke up every so often crying in pain. She spent sometime watching BBC iplayer, had more medicine and around 4 fell into a decent sleep until 9. Today she has had some pain, but has mostly just been tired. I have lost count of how many episodes of Paw Patrol we have seen. There has also been a bit of painting, drawing and dragon hunting in the garden so it’s not all been screen time. 

We think M has an ear infection because her hearing is affected too, fingers crossed she will catch up on sleep tonight and it won’t effect half term too much.
4 figures drawn in felt tip by a 5 year old: 2 girls, a mum and a dad
Little, M, Me and G by M age 5

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Keeping it simple for a Bright Future

I avoid the news. I know I shouldn’t and I recognise it's important to have an understanding of current affairs, but the news is so miserable. Pick anything: the environment, finances, how humans behave towards each other, so much of it makes me worry about the world we live in. Worse still, I worry about what the world will be like when my children are grown up. It makes me want to hold them closer, to protect them and keep them safe. It even makes me doubt my decision to have children. Was it selfish to bring more life into the world when the future looks so bleak?

I can’t save the world and as an individual there is a limit to how much I can influence what happens to it, but as a Mum, a girlfriend, a granddaughter, a sister and a daughter I can make a difference. I can make small changes to what I do, I can guide my daughters and in a big world which feels so out of control I can help make their future brighter. 

Unilever have a brightFuture initiative with a goal to unite communities. They encourage small changes in everyday life that have a positive impact on the world. They challenged me to share the everyday actions we take as a family to make the world a better place.

One of the things I realised when I talked to my big girl about the world and how we can make it better is that her view of the world is so very different to mine. She doesn’t understand how big the world is, how cruel it can be. To her life is simple. To her the world can be a better place if we help each other more. If we are kind, if we do things as simple as picking up rubbish then we can make the world better. 

So I’m thinking simple, what simple things can we do as a family to make the future brighter?

Make a mess. Don’t worry about dirt, don’t worry about stains, just play. Clothes can be cleaned, the house can be cleaned, people can be cleaned. So lets get in that mud kitchen, dig a hole, paint with our hands. Embrace mess and have fun.
A child's hand covered in red paint, a table, paint brush and piece of paper also covered in red paint

Make time. When I hear “mummy!” for the 50th time in an hour I find it tempting to ignore it, to not have patience. When I'm in the middle of cooking dinner and I feel a tug on my sleeve I have choices: keep trying to get dinner ready as quickly as possible or stop, bend down, look my daughter in the eye and focus completely on her for 30 seconds. How much difference will 30 seconds make to the dinner? How much difference could that 30 seconds make to my child?

Make contact. There is power in human contact. A hug can change the course of someone's day, but contact doesn’t have to be physical. We can all think of someone we should call more often, or email, or write to. People are often in our thoughts, but I know I’m guilty of not always letting them know.

Make bubbles. It could be a shower to relax and feel refreshed. Giving my children a bubble bath and a splash around. Maybe getting some bubble mixture, turning on some music and dancing around popping all the bubbles. Soap isn’t just for getting clean.
A baby's face floating in a bath surrounded by bubbles

Make a difference. My big girl knows what goes in the recycling, what goes in the compost and what goes in the rubbish. We give away old clothes and toys to charity shops so other boys and girls can enjoy them. I encourage her to speak to the child standing alone and scared at the side of a party. I give money to charity, reuse carrier bags and try to save energy. Such small changes, but maybe they will add up.

This post is an entry for BritMums #brightFuture Challenge, sponsored by Unilever  http://www.brightfuture.unilever.com.
A fabric bag with a "U" on and the Unilever logo with a bottle of Domestos, Dove body lotion, persil non bio and Dove bath cream

  • “Unilever’s brightFuture initiative focuses on small changes that can make big differences and how we can build a world where everyone lives well and lives sustainably. Since the launch of the Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever has helped 482 million people to improve their health and hygiene, including through hand washing, improving self-esteem and oral hygiene.
  • This is exemplified in the work undertaken by Domestos that has committed to helping 25 million people gain improved access to a toilet by 2020. Access to clean sanitation can protect people from preventable diseases, reduce mortality rates, help reduce school dropout rates and improve quality of life.
  • Furthermore, Persil has backed a global initiative ‘Learning for Tomorrow’ partnering with UNICEF to help give children in some of the world’s toughest areas the opportunity of a quality education.
  • Building on the aim to improve lives through small steps, the Dove Self-Esteem Project has worked closely with leading psychologists, academics and experts to create materials and resources that help young people develop a positive relationship with their appearance. The project has now reached over 19 million young lives.”

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Mythical Mothers and Me

Being a parent is a wonderful thing, but some days I just want to get away from it all. I frequently struggle, but I hear there are these mythical amazing mothers who have it all together. They have tidy houses, all the washing is washed AND put away (my spare room is basically one big clothes mountain right now), they cook, they socialise and they work or volunteer and have other commitments on their time.

Based on my 5 years experience of being a parent it is impossible to get anywhere close to these mythical mothers' level of perfection unless you have children who sleep a lot. I'm talking early bedtimes, no wake ups and regular naps. It helps if you only need a few hours sleep too. 

The rest of us normal mums of young children have this huge sleep deficit and have to compromise on what we are going to achieve.

Children clean, dressed, fed and at school on time means I've either got up super early (and I'm doing a rather good zombie impression) or I've had to skip breakfast, having a shower and putting on make up. 

If my house is tidy it probably means that I'm expecting visitors, but it also means I will have a big backlog of emails, blog posts and general admin. I love having a tidy house, but between the 5 year old, the baby and the kitten it doesn't happen. Even if I spent nap time cleaning the kitchen, vacuuming and mopping the floor it would look like I hadn't bothered when G got home from work as dinner time would undo all the effort.
Today is one of those parenting days where I'm really struggling. There have been quite a few of those recently. Little hasn't slept well for months. At the moment she is in a seemingly endless cold cycle and I haven't even been able to take her to baby group this morning as she looks too infectious. 

The house work has built up to the level that it's going to take some serious effort to get it sorted and if I have some child free time sleep is far higher a priority.

On top of all that it's been one of those crappy parenting evenings. The baby has been crying because she didn't nap this afternoon, she was so exhausted I pretty much had to hold her from 4pm until bedtime. The big sister came back from after school club full of attitude that suggested she had been taking behavioural lessons from a teenager. She had a small accident in her room which led to their being poo on Elsa (just Let it Go). The kitten timed her bowel emptying perfectly so we got to eat dinner with the odour of poop (yes my evening has largely been poo). M had a few bites of her dinner and bit her tongue so she decided she was no longer hungry and she was going to play with the lego mini figures at the table. Alice's head fell off so I had to crawl under the table looking for it. The alternative would mean forgetting about it until I find it tomorrow in the baby's mouth. Yay for the pincer grip development. M knocked over her drink soaking the table which is obviously piled high with stuff because every available surface in my house is. I finish cleaning it up just in time to see Little feeding the kitten some chicken which was meant to be her dinner.

There was less than 15 minutes from Elsa’s mishap to the baby led kitten feeding.

I have a sore throat and feel like rubbish because my body is too run down right now to constantly fight off the cold germs from the snot I'm being covered in daily. I think I'll thank school for the endless gift of illness.

I was hiding away writing this post after getting Little temporarily to sleep, but I heard a large crashing noise. I couldn't avoid investigating in case it was in my house and someone or some thing was in trouble. The source of crash is still unknown, but the house looks intact.

It's all ok. Tomorrow will be different. The house will still be a mess, I'll still have 1001 things to do, but Little will smile at me, M will give me a hug and I'll be buying some air freshener.