Treating and being treated: Mother’s Day

Mother's DayI’ve sent off my card (a beautiful one from local stationers Needle & Fred) and my sisters and I are planning a joint present for the best mother I know 🙂

In terms of my wish list for Mother’s Day? I’d say these rank pretty highly:

  • Breakfast in bed (preferably involving poached eggs)
  • A hot cup of tea and a magazine
  • A lie in (a realistic one – I’m talking 8am rather than early afternoon)
  • A long bath with no small children helpfully sharing their plastic toys which I’ve already tried to hide
  • (See how many of these revolve around relaxation?…)
  • A lovely sunny day
  • Some time in the garden
  • No whining before 9am (again, realistic – I’m not asking for miracles)

I would obviously love a grand gesture (hint, hint) but small treats are just as special. Baylis & Harding sent me some Mother’s Day treats which I hope might put a smile on my Mum’s face, are spot on to aid relaxation and can still be ordered in time for the weekend.

Baylis & Harding candle Baylis & Harding Tin  Baylis & Harding Socks

I thought the candle in particular was lovely and would fit into a bathroom or a bedroom very stylishly – I was surprised it only came in at £15 (it’s really large). The enamel tin is packed with goodies as well as doubling up as a planter. And the luxe socks are always a nice addition and are beautifully soft, plus I love the name of the range – Pink Prosecco & Cassis. Gives me some other ideas for pressies!…

I hope you have a restful Mother’s Day and get treated as I’m sure you deserve to be.

Thanks to Baylis & Harding for sending the goodies which were:

Linen Rose & Cotton Large Single Wick Candle, £15 from House of Fraser
Pink Prosecco & Cassis Luxury Foot Set, £8 from Amazon
Linen Rose & Cotton Bathing Essentials Tin, £30 from Argos

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Scrip’s 5th birthday – our one stop shop for party supplies

PartyBagsAndSupplies.jpgWith a busy start to the year work-wise I really enjoyed spending some time planning Scrip’s 5th birthday party. It was nice to concentrate on something totally different and fun.

We were lucky enough to hire a spacious converted barn at Jamie’s Farm, I bought up all the green food dye I could for Scrip’s farm cake, we found lucky dip presents at Tiger at a pound each and we got all our decorations and accessories at Party Bags & Supplies.

I was first approached by the site for a review at the end of last year and I kept it in mind for Scrip’s birthday. As soon as we knew there was a farm theme I had a browse of the site and found there was a wide range of items on offer – from ready-made party packs to mix and match plates, cups, balloons and even games.

Party table

We based our theme on the venue but we could have equally been inspired by the site itself which has almost 100 themes on offer – from Batman v Superman to Fairies to Glitzy Gold. I’d say any age is catered for (even grown ups). There’s everything from traditional themes (football, butterflies, unicorns) to current children’s cartoons (Paw Patrol, The Good Dinosaur, Moana). There’s even a whole section on 1st birthdays.

Paper pom pom

Some accessories were definitely more to my taste than others (I particularly loved the paper pom poms and the Very Hungry Caterpillar range) but I’m sure children would love everything, lurid colours and all! We went with farm cups and plates as part of ours which Scrip was very pleased with.

Farm party supplies

I found our £30 review budget stretched pretty far. We also chose balloons – including a fab and massive silver 5th birthday balloon, designed for helium but fine just blown up normally – noisy blowers and sugarcraft cake decorations. They do a lot of cheap party bag fillers, party games and even accessories for dressing up.

I was pleasantly surprised with the ranges, inspiration and prices on offer. It’s not the most beautiful site but it’s easy to navigate and find what you like. Delivery was quick and everything looked good. Most was good quality but I was a little disappointed with the blowers that didn’t all make a noise.

Party Bags & Supplies

But generally it’s a great one stop shop and well worth a browse when planning a party. I only wish I’d bought Thank You cards as well…

Thanks to Party Bags & Supplies who gave me a £30 voucher to spend on Scrip’s party accessories.

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The school run: 5 things I love and 6 things I really don’t

School RunSix months of school, six months of the school run. It’s definitely a different beast to the nursery or preschool runs – they might have been initiations but I couldn’t say they fully prepared me for the real thing.

I drop Scrip off every day and pick her up three times a week, so I’m a pretty permanent fixture at the school gates. Here’s what I do and don’t like about 8.40am and 3.30pm, every week day:

I love:

  1. Her enthusiasm as we approach the school (I’m guessing it won’t always be like this)
  2. Seeing new friends I might not have seen for a while – it’s nice to have a quick chat and catch up
  3. Getting out in the fresh air. We walk it a few times a week and it’s lovely (if it’s dry)
  4. Spending some nice, quality time with her each morning
  5. Dropping off a happy girl and going on to do my own things – either work or a day with D

I don’t love:

  1. Not just pulling on the first thing I find in the morning. These are smart parents – I feel like I need to be too
  2. The crush – I always seem to find the busiest time possible, cue lots of bumping into people and dragging D out of the way if he’s with me
  3. The uncertain greetings – seeing those people you kind of know, kind of don’t
  4. Pulling Baby D out of Scrip’s classroom EVERY TIME he comes with me
  5. Passing the sporty parents and feeling distinctly unsporty
  6. The traffic! Arrive a few minutes after the gates have opened and it’s never-seen before chaos

I’m guessing I’ll have to get used to this. It’s going to be like this for the next decade at least 😉

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Ready for video? 11 tips for YouTube success

YouTube tipsI’ve been watching a lot more online video in the last few years (and not just Tractor Ted on repeat). I love a bit of YouTube for everything from DIY to baby weaning to the odd clothes haul. But I’m not sure I’m quite ready to take the plunge myself. Not just yet.

But my first #BristolBloggers event with the fab Emily from Mermaid Gossip gave me so much to think about – it was a really packed, practical session. Here are 11 of my take outs for aspiring YouTube sensations.

  1. Go for it – there’s no better time. Don’t wait for the perfect equipment, moment or even content. Start with your iPhone and a window and learn as you go along
  2. Be consistent with timing – once you build a base they will learn to expect videos on a certain time at a certain day (or a few days) during the week
  3. And on that, don’t expect an instant fan club. It will take time and effort – Emily has been doing it for almost three years
  4. Find good alternative search terms by typing your theme into YouTube and seeing what else comes up
  5. Use key words on your description but no more than 20 and make sure the 1st one you use is your channel’s name
  6. Wait until you have a really good base (say 100k views a month) before monetising – otherwise you risk putting people off with unskippable ads which are a turn off to a less loyal audience
  7. Verify your channel and you can choose your video thumbnail. Make the title punchy and easy to read and the picture bright and bold to capture attention across devices
  8. Use editing apps like iMovie, Pinnacle Studio and Final Cut Pro
  9. Don’t forget your prompt to ‘like my video’, ‘comment’ or ‘subscribe to my channel’ but try to use just one main prompt rather than all three and make sure you allow seven seconds for someone to take action before the video ends
  10. Make sure your YouTube video’s under five minutes long (your Instagram video can be one minute long)
  11. Know your worth! Use sites like Social Blue Book and Social Blade for rankings and suggested fees once you’ve built up your following

Good luck!

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Guest post: Are you driven by guilt or aspiration?

I know all too well how hard it is to strike “the balance” (I’m not sure I ever have done). My talented, driven, inspirational friend Lucy – who managed to create and launch her halterneck support product, Halto, with her sister whilst also being a working mum and singer – talks about her lightbulb moment.  Thank you Lucy 🙂

Lucy CoxHaving worked harder than average to get pregnant and then being blessed with a healthy baby girl, being a mum became both my conscious and unconscious priority in life from that moment on. The role to rule over every other role. But something surprising shifted in my mind-set last week, and I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner!

Just to scene set for a moment. Although we couldn’t really afford it, after having our daughter I took the full twelve months off work, and again with questionable affordability, decided to go back to work part-time. It felt right to build every detail of my life around my daughter. I had been waiting a long time for her, and this is what being a proud mum was all about, right? We needed to live, but my daughter needed me more than ‘stuff’, so that’s what she got. Me, as close as I could to 100% of the time. For five years.

Over this period I had also started a small business with my little sister, Halto, which we worked around the kids and other ‘stuff’. This was to be our ‘get out’ from the shackles of paid employment and enable us to spend more time being mums. The kids came everywhere with us, and anything we couldn’t do with the kids was banished to the twilight hours. It grew from a very small acorn, and soon gathered momentum.

I would tell people how lovely it was to work part-time, and how proud I was that I had built my life in this way, and I meant it. I focused solely on the positives of this situation, until I had a few health problems in 2015 that made me really question my lifestyle choices and I became far more aware of getting a better balance in life.

It took me far longer than it should have to understand that if you expect yourself up to be the perfect mother, wife, employee, friend, sister, daughter and business partner, you will fail. You will be enough to adequately label yourself as all those roles, but you won’t be 100% of what you aspire to be in any of them, and (from a bar set high in the first instance) that doesn’t feel good. It is so draining.

Fast forward to the present day, and during a business coaching session last week, I came to the crashing realisation that I had become driven more by guilt than aspiration. Satiating guilt was a much bigger priority than satisfying my own ambition. I keep my own business under the radar as much as possible, often being quite apologetic for it, and try to work when my family is either in bed or out so it doesn’t impact on them at all. And when it does, I feel guilty. I tie myself up in logistical knots making sure that I am there at the school drop-offs and pick-ups every day despite my ever-growing to do list, and I am so exhausted.

The coach at this session was discussing innovation, and what was stopping us achieving the goals we have for our businesses. Many talked of financial challenges, or finding the right staff. For some, it was how to access new countries or develop new products. Right at that moment it hit me so hard between the eyes. My attitude was the sole barrier to me and my business achieving. As long guilt was my main motivator, I would never be fully committed to growing the business to its full potential.

Another thing struck me at the same time. I had arrogantly always assumed that my family, friends and colleagues actually all wanted me 100% of the time! I had never asked them whether more was better? Perhaps less, but better quality would actually be preferable to all (including my sanity!).

The first thing I did was ask my family if they minded me condensing my employed hours into fewer days (meaning my daughter would need to go to after school club two days a week), and I would then take one whole day a week on my own business. To my delight (and frustration) they both said they were very happy with that. In fact, my daughter (who had been bugging me about going to after school club for months) actually sounded like she had just won the lottery!

So here we are, about to embark on a new chapter where I am no longer apologetic for being a working mum. I will never shed myself of mummy-guilt completely, because I am a great mum. But from now on I plan to be, at the very least, a realistic mum who can demonstrate a more balanced life.

And who knows, maybe my daughter will take over the family business one day!

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What children have taught me about work

children and workI compartmentalise my life – at least in my head. So hours are carved up into children at childcare/school, children with just me, children with both of us, children in bed and so on. It makes it easier to visualise chunks of time I have for work and for non-work (at least that’s the plan).

In reality, you can’t always focus your mind on just one thing or another; it’s called multi-tasking but often it’s multi-visualising because much of it is the thinking rather than the doing. Sometimes I long to concentrate on one task, be single-minded and do it really well.

But maybe the meeting of my two worlds isn’t always such a bad thing. I hope that my working has brought benefits to my children and I also think the reverse is true. Here’s what I think my children have taught me about work.

That persistence does pay off
I’m a persistent person – some may even say very determined (perhaps anyone who’s ever worked with me!) but sometimes it’s a challenge. It’s not always the easiest or most comfortable route. Right from the start of their lives children show us it’s about trying and trying until they master something. Just look at them learning to crawl, walk, use a knife and fork, talk. Without the challenge there’s no reward.

To embrace change
I can’t underestimate how much change they’ve had over the last 12 months. They’ve moved houses, counties, nurseries. They’ve had to make new friends, Scrip has started pre-school then school. Children are incredibly adaptable. In contrast, I could deal with change better.

To be brave
Neither are extroverts or are outgoing. They both need a lot of encouragement. But when I think about how brave they’ve been in their own little ways – Scrip with swimming, when she was terrified of going underwater at first – D with nursery which was totally new to him at 11 months – I’m so proud. I read a piece recently about getting used to feeling uncomfortable if you run your own business, and this is a similar thing.

To get along
OK, this doesn’t always happen, but I ask them to get along A LOT! And they generally respond (at least my four year old takes the lead in this). I can see it doesn’t always come naturally – it’s a learnt behaviour. Likewise, it sometimes goes against the grain for me. But they do it against their instinct and things get better.

The power of simplicity
Children see everyone as equal. They don’t notice colour, nationality, disability. And if they do question, they accept a simple response and carry on. I love that. There’s so much to be said for taking a simple outlook.

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Shutting the door: a poem

Shutting the door

There’s a time
Around the age of four
When your child learns to shut her door
She looks shy when you hear her imaginary phone
And she asks to watch the DVD alone
She’s just as sweet, she’s just as caring
But some things become private, not for sharing

You remember fondly when there was never a game
Which didn’t prompt her to call your name
All those imaginary cups of tea
One plastic saucer for you and one for me
And when did her arms and chubby thighs
Double in length and halve in size?

When you cuddle her and shut out the cold
There’s just so much of her to hold
And when people ask her age you round it down
Which makes her cast a little frown

It’s so easy to forget or be carried away
By mundane living, the day-to-day
So I’ll try to remember when she next wants to play
To join her on the floor and put the washing away.

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Some festive fun – a Gingerbread Man waistcoat for boys

Gingerbread Boys Waistcoat

One of my oldest and best friends, Helen Baker, has reviewed this festive waistcoat modelled by her six year-old son.

This Gingerbread Man boys Christmas waistcoat by Dobell adds an element of fun to formal wear. For the times when a novelty Christmas jumper isn’t quite smart enough this waistcoat is ideal – it’s formal whilst maintaining childlike charm.

Both my six year-old son and I really liked the design, demonstrating its universal appeal; after all the gingerbread man is traditional, timeless and recognisable. Boy’s clothing can be a little unadventurous at times but this waistcoat is bright and busy, just like children at Christmas time!

The waistcoat is a good fit, true to size and very well made. It is made from a silk-feel fabric which is lovely to feel whilst crucially being comfortable for the child to wear. This luxurious feel fabric does mean that the waistcoat is dry clean only, but I would expect this of any formal wear.

This gingerbread man waistcoat is smart, of a high quality and has a playful sense of charm, perfect for festive family gatherings.

Thanks Dobell for gifting this Gingerbread Man boys’ waistcoat – currently reduced to £9.99 and in sizes up to age 13/14.

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Ten things to be grateful for after a difficult year

reasons to be gratefulI’m not alone in saying this year’s been a bit of a bummer (x 500). Aside from the UK and US making some of the worst decisions in both of their histories, we’ve had some pretty rough family times, house problems and work issues. So I’ll be toasting the new year more heartily than usual.

But before then there’s the small matter of a big family Christmas and we’re hosting for the first time (eight people and three bedrooms – I love a challenge!) so that’s something to look forward to. And in between the ripped wrapping paper and pine needles, I thought it was time to reflect on the brilliant things that have happened this year as well. There’s always something to be grateful for – here are my 10:

  1. Baby D is much less of a baby than he was 12 months ago (in fact, can I even call him a baby anymore *sob*?) 2016 was the year he turned one and started walking and talking – his favourite words being ‘mun’ (moon) and ‘trak-tor’ – and his personality started shining through.
  2. Scrip is now a fully fledged school girl. After my emotions before her first day she is loving it more than ever. Although the tiredness is another story…
  3. We had our first nativity. Almost a post in itself! And my mum could have written a Sunday Times critique on the performances – once a teacher…
  4. The house is starting to look a little bit more like my Pinterest boards (starting to). And I’m now a dab hand at DIY, spotting a pressure problem with a boiler at twenty paces and fixing the broken doorbell (again).
  5. The garden is also taking shape. Once an overgrown jungle with the odd dog poo delight it’s now family friendly and we’ve used it loads this year. We’ve also discovered the joy of firepits!
  6. I’ve started a business! Yes, really. I still can’t believe it but I’m really enjoying it. I’m here at Carnsight Communications if you want to see more.
  7. Scrip can now ride the beautiful bike her grandparents bought for her and really enjoys it.
  8. They’re both enjoying the water in their weekly swimming lessons.
  9. Almost a year after we bought the house and ten months after we moved in, we’re’re still enjoying our new area. We love going back to London but we’re also loving exploring here.
  10. And my husband and I have spent plenty of time together – adversity can bring you together, even if it is over a supermarket saag aloo rather than in a fancy London restaurant.

So I’m definitely making the most of my remaining 19 sleeps until we welcome in 2017.

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Mothercare Spring/Summer 2017 Preview: my top picks

This month my London meetings coincided with the Mothercare Spring/Summer 2017 press day by happy coincidence. It meant adding a little bit of sunshine and a lot of bright colours and positive slogans to my day, which were much needed after this week’s sorry events. Plus I got to meet Hannah @ Budding Smiles and Alex @ Lamb & Bear which was a nice bonus (and a good reminder to buy Baby D some his Christmas leggings from Lamb & Bear!).

I’m a bit sad that Scrip is getting too big for some of Mothercare’s clothes because I think the ranges get better and better. For next summer, expect this:

Stripes
Never out of fashion and some can be unisex – I love stripes. Nautical, smock tops and sweet toddler tees to look forward to.
Mothercare topMothercare vestMothercare t-shirt

Slogans
I particularly love the ‘3 months’ and ‘6 months’ vests – taking their cues from the popular age cards. These are fab and would make good presents. My Rainbow Baby is a lovely idea and Little Bird slogans are as joyful as ever. Little Bird happy t-shirtMonth marker vestsRainbow baby vest

Animals
Some roarsome stuff here and great little details. The little faces and ears on the sleeves of this t-shirt and the dinosaur scale leggings are gorgeous. I’m very tempted by the bedding.

Mothercare jumperMothercare cat sleevesAnimal bedding

Perfect patterns
Orla Kiely sleepbags, retro dresses and that unisex babygro (I love unisex now, for obvious reasons!)

Little Bird sleepsuitOrla Kiely sleepbags Little Bird dress

I had a quick look at the ELC   toys – probably just as well I was child-free as a big tractor took centre stage and I wouldn’t have been able to drag Baby D away! Some nice Happy Land pieces and the portable potties looked good. Thanks for a good afternoon, Mothercare!

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