My perfect writing space

Six months into my maternity leave I can safely say my work at home is very different to (and quite a bit more hands on than) my office job. As baby D gets into more of a routine, I’m starting to carve out time and a space to do my own thing at home and that’s mainly writing and blogging.

As I do a lot of it on my iPhone my ‘desk’ is pretty portable. We did buy an actual desk for either of us to use when working from home but we both still tend to gravitate towards the kitchen table. Our kitchen is light and airy and I love having a view when I type.

I can’t say I’m the tidiest person (ahem – read organised clutter) but I do find that a good clear out helps me work and think better and I love looking up at pictures and family photos on the walls.

Furniture at Work recently surveyed people on their own desks and here are the full results. Stress balls, pictures and the right lighting – does any of this ring true with your desk space?


In collaboration with and infographic supplied by Furniture at Work

Why the best toys aren’t toys at all

Toys that aren't toysChildren are always more interested in the big cardboard box than the shiny new toy inside, so the saying goes. And that’s often proved true in this household, with my husband and I trying to sneak old, bulky packaging outside once Scrip has gone to bed, hoping that out of sight, out of mind works.

Likewise I’ve noticed that she’s a bit of a magpie where toys are concerned, collecting random bits and pieces from all over and enjoying playing with them just as much – or maybe more so – than her beautiful crafted and thoughtfully chosen toys.

I had a bit of a look around the house as I was tidying up today (for what seems like the thirtieth time) and found a range of Scrip’s favourite ‘toys’. Here’s a selection – each comes with its own back story.

  1. Forget the ducks and fancy battery operated fish, some of her favourite bath toys are bottles and cups that she uses to pour out glasses of ‘tea’ or ‘champagne’ (obviously we drink that all the time here!) each evening. I’d be in trouble if I ever threw this selection of a plastic dessert glass and two empty tubes of bubbles away.
  2. This little wind-up plastic penguin came with a box of crackers two Christmases ago. It was a race game and this was her penguin. He still wheels around in circles now.
  3. Scrip was intrigued by this paper fan that her Daddy picked up from the station during the hot weather. Cue lots of opening and closing, fanning everyone in the family and even making her own concertina fans.
  4. This remote control is her second ‘phone’ (see below). Rather annoying when we need to use it and it’s tucked into one of her many ‘handbags’.
  5. This classy plastic green skeleton is a pound shop relic from Halloween past. He has an interesting way of walking and a special skeleton voice.
  6. What fun you can have with an old sweet tin! As well as opening and shutting a lot of things get squirreled away in here – hair clips, 2p coins and beads being the most popular.
  7. Scrip’s original mobile phone is an old iPhone box. A bit bulky to transport but it comes with the same icons as our phones and she’s had hours of fun ‘taking pictures’ and ‘talking’ to her friends. Most of them seem to be busy eating sweets and going to parks, we’re told afterwards…

What random ‘toys’ do your little ones love playing with?

Guest post: Goodness gracious great balls of dough 

Bread making collageWe’ve been enjoying fresh bread at home for the past few weeks courtesy of my husband – and it all started with a Dad Academy session. Here’s more.

Arts and crafts, DIY, cooking… I’ll chance my arm at most things to varying degrees of success. I have never been blessed, as my mum often tells me, with naturally practical genes but I like to think what I lack in God-given ability I make up through endeavour and determination.

So when I was asked by my wife to attend a session of Dad Academy from, my naturally competitive streak kicked in and I started to psyche myself up for what I imagined would be the urban equivalent of zip wiring through mangrove swamps with fellow chest beating males.

Not so.

I did, however, have the opportunity one reasonably balmy August evening to roll up my man sleeves and get mixing, kneading and baking through Ma Baker’s bread making course.

So off I went telling myself I’d be competing in The Great British Bake Off – albeit at Sunday League football level. A glass of bubbly down the hatch, I and fellow dads were welcomed to our pristine work surfaces with all our ingredients laid out to make our first bread – a lovely sourdough.

Nervous laughter aside at the thought of losing face in front of each other, Liz from Ma Baker cut through all our barely concealed bravado and took us back to the classroom with a fun and easy to follow session. Balls of dough at the ready we set about kneading our dough with the delicacy of heavyweight boxers.

I was jokingly reprimanded for some over-vociferous dough banging on the table but I knew, you see, that it’d give my mix the competitive advantage it would need. Off to the oven they went and off to the bar we went for discussion about the merits of dough scrapers and the quickest ways to remove congealed flour from our hands.

Back we came for round 2 and growing in confidence we set about delivering our second batch, this time a traditional white farmhouse loaf – the process once again expertly curated by Ma Baker herself.

It was a lovely evening and very good fun. Ma Baker was also very open to even the most basic of questions about baking and we were all happy another string had been added to our bows.

Whether my home creations have the same sparkle as those made on the day I’ll leave others to judge. I, on the other hand, look forward to the next instalment of Dad Academy: no doubt zip wiring through those swamps.

Family budgeting: how to reduce the cost of home insurance

September is budgeting month for us. We’re thinking about a potential move, I’m still on maternity leave from my job with baby D and a new season means new clothes, shoes and winter coats. The cable sports subscription’s been discussed (always a touchy subject…) and we’re also looking for ways to save on household costs.

Did you know that joining the Neighbourhood Watch scheme can help reduce home insurance costs? As can installing fire alarms? We now have one in every room. This useful guide from comparison site Chill Insurance gives six tips to help reduce your home insurance costs this year. I hope it helps with your family budgeting (and you can avoid any sports-related fall outs).

How to reduce home insurance costs

A collaborative post – thanks to Chill Insurance.

Gold standard – helping stains to Vanish

Vanish Gold Review

Apart from raising incredible children you’d do anything for, how much does parenthood actually look like you imagined it would? Cosy bedtime stories all snuggled up in PJs and slippers or re-reading the same book for the 500th time followed by an argument over brushing teeth? Fun, healthy meals as a family around the table or a cacophony of fussing over hidden veg and why pudding can’t be served as a first course? Drawers full of crisp Mini Boden clothes or another machine load full of tomato ketchup and blackcurrant stains?

With a weaning 20 week old and an enthusiastic 3 year old, washing is a daily activity and stubborn clothes stains are the hallmark of each load. I already used Vanish stain remover after my mum recommended it (surely we were all very clean, unmessy children?..) but when I was offered Gold to trial I was keen to give it a go. Anything to shift the stains and make the loads go quicker.

Promising their best ever stain removal, I tried the Gold Gel, Capsules, Pre-Treat Spray and Power Gel (not all at once). The quickest to use are the capsules, which you just pop in each wash, and they seemed to cope pretty well with everyday stains. But I found the Pre-Treat Power Gel the most failsafe, working in just 30 seconds once you’ve sprayed onto an area and getting all new stains out first time. I did find that older stains were more difficult to shift using any of the products.

So, I’ve now found something else to go on my growing online shopping list. Even with the new name, Vanish Gold may not be the sexiest product out there but it’s certainly coming in pretty handy at the moment.

Thank you Vanish. I tried Vanish Gold Oxi Action Gel, Vanish Power Shot Gel Capsules, Vanish Oxi Action Pre-treat Spray and Vanish Gold Pre-Treat Power Gel.

More info and a good stain solver on the Vanish site.

When one becomes two: what I should have told my toddler

When one becomes twoWe’re now getting to the stage where Scrip asks where baby D is if he’s not in the room (it’s usually that he’s napping – not that he’s lying on his own somewhere!) She loves our morning routine of making silly faces through the cot bars, playing with him on our bed and lying next to him for nappy changes. And she’s very proud when I bring him into nursery to collect her and her friends crowd around and touch his little fingers and toes.

But there are still adjustments to be made and it certainly hasn’t always been straightforward. She struggled at the start and sometimes reacted in ways that surprised me. I don’t think you can ever be sure exactly how introducing a new baby will go. Although I thought a three year-ish age gap would work well for us, it has also meant that Scrip has had three years of us on her own and she understands so much more than a smaller child would. 

With the benefit of good old hindsight, here’s what I wish I’d told her before baby D came along:

She knew about the newborn crying (I warned her a lot about that!) but she didn’t know about all the waiting. There’s a lot of her having to be patient – waiting while I feed D, waiting while I change (another) nappy, waiting while I re-figure out the raincover (I’ve always struggled with that one), waiting when we go for his baby check ups. I read somewhere that you could introduce a specific activity for your child to do every time your baby needs a change or a feed – great idea (but Scrip would have been doing a lot of it!)

The sheer tiredness of mummy and daddy. She was too young to remember our zombie-like states first time around but she can see them clearly this time! From encouraging her to play ‘sleeping’ games with me (yes, seriously – they work sometimes!), to the large coffees that accompany every playground trip to lots of playing whilst I’m lying on the floor or sofa she can clearly see the effects of sleepless nights. Plus I’m probably more likely to be snappy which I’m trying hard to avoid. That’s where the effervescent Sofia the First and Henry Hugglemonster come in handy.

Having to be quiet. Whilst I’ve tried to make sure D gets used to background noise – which is hard to avoid in London – I’ve found three year olds have a certain pitch that’s almost guaranteed to wake a soundly sleeping baby. I find myself asking her to be quiet a lot. I want to let her run, dance and sing but maybe not all at the same time and not when he’s just settling for a nap (or in his face when he wakes up).

Gentleness. She has always been a gentle little girl – playing gently, stroking cats and rabbits softly and brushing my hair so delicately I can hardly feel it. But there’s something about having a sibling that brings out her ‘enthusiasm’. She rocks D vigorously, pinches his cheeks and tickles him like she’s scratching an itch! Unless he’s visibly upset I like to let her play with him but I have to keep a close eye and I’m always using the ‘g’ word.

How to enjoy being independent. Although a little shy, Scrip is a pretty independent girl. She’ll play on her own and will now happily race off at soft play and will join in with other children at playgrounds. But I probably didn’t do enough beforehand to encourage her to help dress herself, brush her own teeth, tidy her own toys away etc. It’s so helpful for her to do that when we’re all trying to leave the house and now she’s a lot better at it she’s starting to take real pride in it (as well as being now dry at nights – yey!)

What did you wish you’d told your little one when you had a new baby?

Guest post: Holiday thoughts from home

Holiday thoughtsAfter a lovely family holiday where I actually managed to read a book (an actual book!) my dad sent through some of his thoughts. Here’s a Granddad-eye-view on our extended family holiday.

I am very lucky – or at least I think I am – as my family seem to want to spend some holiday time with my wife and me, and not just in Cornwall. Whether Scrip’s and D’s Dad feels the same I don’t know, but I think he does, or at least he is a very good actor!

We have all just returned from a holiday in France having made our respective ways there at different times by land, sea and air. No doubt growing older decreases tolerance and distance lends enchantment to our view of the past, but it did seem that nowadays a significant number of children on our ferry were left to their own rather annoying and noisy devices, whilst parents – especially fathers – sat glued to their iPads or iPhones. Fortunately, we could escape to the luxury of a daytime cabin, something my family were keen to point out that had never figured when we all travelled together.

Looking after children is a tiring and stressful job and I admire the way that Scrip’s and D’s parents have coped – albeit, as I am sure they would admit, with help and support from their aunts. There is no more important job than bringing up the next generation and I am full of sympathy for parents today who have so many pressures on them. Life was much simpler for my generation, although I shudder to look back at some of the things we did – driving in an open-top sports car with the baby tucked up in a carry cot behind our seats or travelling through France with three unbelted children playing school in the luggage space of an estate car.

Of course we had had concerns in those far off days but personal computers were still a thing of the future, so there was no online ‘information’ immediately available to worry you or to make you compare your children to the apparently perfect family; phones were fixed, and not hearing from family members, often for weeks on end, wasn’t a reason for concern.

This holiday meant we were able to see how Scrip was coming to terms with a new baby and this was fascinating. Clearly having been the centre of attention for 3 years, adjustment was bound to be necessary. Her physical expressions of sisterly love sometimes bordered on the over-enthusiastic and D’s feeding times coincided with extra attention-seeking but she was able to vocalise and play out her feelings both about D, as well as her recent entry to a nursery, with help from a French supermarket acquired ‘Sofia the First’ doll – once I’d learnt to say the name right! Sofia was obviously able and did to say things that might have been taboo for Scrip.

As always the speed of change in the children came as a surprise, both in the case of baby D, who looks increasingly as if he will play in the second row, and Scrip. Her co-ordination and ball skills, helped no doubt by attending Playball regularly, and her increasing command of the subtleties of language lulled me into subconsciously regarding her as older than she is and made the few occasions where tiredness and frustration led to tears seem deliberately contrived when, on reflection, it was clear that they were not and it was my understanding that was at fault.

Still who can blame me when in the middle of ‘playing’ table tennis pre-lunch Scrip paused, look thoughtful and said ‘Hang on, there is something in the sky that shouldn’t be there’. Indeed there was, a full pale moon – try explaining to a 3 year old why despite being always the moon can only be seen sometimes. No wonder I am tired.

A very pleasing feature of the holiday was the way in which Scrip took to French food both at home and in restaurants. Frites of course, pain chocolate and croissants, and crepes, both sweet and savoury, were polished off with gusto, albeit at different times! Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, when she comes to Cornwall we have to buy in extra olives. D meanwhile stayed on his diet of mother’s milk provided with scarce a disapproving glance from the French.

The best part of the holiday was the privilege of seeing things – not just the moon – through the un-jaundiced eyes of a child and thus being able to rediscover the wonders that surround us daily, especially deep in the French countryside.