Category Archives: Thoughts

Striking a balance: free-play Fridays

BalanceHow often do I talk about striking a balance? A balance between family and work; a balance between looking after the children and my own time (which is inevitably becoming work time), a balance between the children having structured activities and playing themselves; a balance between treat foods and healthy foods. The list goes on.

I made a decision recently to stop D’s swimming lessons. I was initially really keen to carry them on – particularly having seen all those older toddlers in the class above him happily splashing about and doggy paddling their way to their five metre badges. And because we could – it being on one of our two days off together a week – it felt like we should make the most of it.

The problem was, he wasn’t happily splashing around. In fact he was in tears before we left the house, sobbing when we arrived and clinging to me like a limpet when we were in the pool. He hadn’t always been like this but certainly had for a few months and it wasn’t getting any better. So when the swimming venue was due to change I decided to have bit of a pause.

Our first Friday felt strangely long and unstructured. We stopped off in the local tea shop and ambled our way back home. We had a snack, read some books, did some drawing…and it was still only 10.30am! I had a strange feeling – a feeling I hadn’t had since the baby months. What should we actually be doing together?

I don’t consider myself to be someone who fills their time with classes, play dates and activities but I wonder if that’s become my comfort zone over the last year. I work three days, Scrip has tennis on Tuesday evenings, I help run our local Toddler group every Wednesday and I suppose Friday was swimming. Naps are usually at home and at the same time.

Having a routine and sticking to it helps me a lot, I think. Particularly during busy times. But I was starting to rely on it and losing sight of why D and I were having time together in the first place.

Now Fridays are now free-play for the foreseeable future (with the odd post office trip thrown in). It’s actually nice to not be rushing off somewhere and limiting D’s playtime. We do puzzles and reading together when it’s not about filling a gap. It’s made me realise we don’t actually have that much time playing, just the two of us.

It’s definitely easier to just hang out in the summer with the garden to roam around but I’m not sure what winters will look like. I’d like to go back to swimming at some point but in the meantime I’ll be focusing on enjoying our time together – especially if it really is, as I’m intending it to be, just the two of us.

Guest post: Keeping the magic alive? A grandparent’s dilemma

Children's MagicTwo birthdays and countless chocolate eggs meant Easter was packed full of fun. It was also full of magic – or was it?! My dad, aka Grandy, shares his dilemma on keeping the magic alive for his grandchildren versus trying to keep it real.

Grandchildren pose all sorts of problems and dilemmas, particularly to a simple soul like me. In the rosy glow of retrospect raising children seemed simpler years ago.  Should I tell my granddaughter she is pretty? That she is clever? Interestingly I have no difficulty in telling her she has been naughty!  Should I encourage my grandson in his boisterous games or should I be developing his gentler side?  Is ‘grandparent spoiling’ undermining parental authority?

However all these issues paled into insignificance recently when a truly moral dilemma emerged.  It all started innocently enough. Scrip was pretending to be two magical unicorns – one at a time obviously – as well as herself and each time she appeared I had to ask to whom I was speaking: Daisy Unicorn,  Ruby Unicorn or Scrip.  Scrip was given magical powers via a fairy wand by the unicorns and we ‘saw’ non-frightening mythical figures appear and disappear in a friendly fashion with every wave of the wand and  Scrip’s appropriate incantation.

Somehow this morphed into ‘reality’ as Scrip decided that her magical powers were such that she could make toast in the toaster and lo and behold she did – not realising that innocently a piece of bread was already gently browning there! She was so excited that I didn’t like to tell her what had really happened – a vivid imagination and suspension of disbelief is after all a blessing in my world.

Others then joined in and Scrip was able to make a flower in a vase in the kitchen disappear and re-appear by ‘recharging’ her wand in another room after each incantation. All this to her great excitement and delight. So far so good; although I did feel slightly shame-faced about playing on her youthful naivety but her delight and enjoyment allowed met put those feeling aside.

As mid-morning was approaching Scrip then went off and got dressed – ours is far from a formal house – although I hasten to add I was setting a good practical example as I was already fully dressed and showered! The moral dilemma first appeared when a thoughtful Scrip sat with her mid morning cocoa and said: ‘ Did I really magic those things or were you tricking me?’

I felt I had to tell the truth despite the fact that it would disappoint her, not just because she wasn’t really able to work magic but also because it revealed me as duplicitous and might undermine further trust in me and indeed the others who had  been part of the magic session.  I said that I hadn’t meant to be mean but admitted that I had ‘helped the magic tricks along’.  Her face fell and she made off without a word leaving me wondering what was the right answer to her question or indeed whether I should have allowed a situation to arise where she could ask such a question.

My confusion was made worse later when Scrip’s Mum and Aunt said, in front of Scrip, that they were really surprised that I had tried to fool Scrip by telling her that she hadn’t worked real magic! What was I thinking, of course the magic was real? Scrip looked on apparently relishing my being exposed as a fraud. What was I to say? Damned if I agreed with my daughters’ accusations; damned if I stuck by my assertion that the magic wasn’t real.

Feebly I argued that I had simply agreed with Scrip’s doubts since ‘honesty is the best policy’ but I am far from sure that in this instance it was. Is there an absolute set of rules to be followed when interacting with the young or are all rules relative?  Answers on a post card please…

11 reasons why I love babysitting as a grown-up

BabysittingI still remember the feel of my first £20 note which was payment for babysitting as a teenager – £20! We were ferried to our parents’ friends’ houses and back, we got to play with the children, stay up late legitimately and, if we were lucky, they’d even have a few good videos in their original plastic boxes for us to watch.

Now I’m part of a babysitting circle in the village I’ve been enjoying babysitting all over again – but for rather different reasons (and with no crisp £20s in sight). This is a great system, though. It’s all token-based and was set up by my rather clever friend. So now we can babysit and in turn get a sitter ourselves for free.

Here’s why I’ve been enjoying babysitting as a grown-up:

  1. Somehow it’s less stressful if someone else’s child wakes up rather than your own
  2. And generally they don’t – they’re usually tucked up in bed fast asleep and cosy
  3. You get to choose what you watch on TV, whether you’re in the mood for Friends re-runs or an ITV drama (just nothing too scary for me!)
  4. Other people’s recorded films are always so much better than yours
  5. And other people’s snacks are always superior – posher crisps and double chocolate cookies. Mmmm
  6. Not to mention fruit teas! I rarely drink them at home but I love a lemon, ginger and honey infusion at someone else’s house
  7. I can sit in front of the TV on my laptop and do a bit of work or blog or just Google random 80s children’s TV (my husband’s not a fan of me doing this which is probably fair enough)
  8. It’s nice to sit on someone else’s comfortable sofa for a change
  9. They might even have a magazine or two lying around and I might even have a chance to flick through the pages
  10. I’ve also met lots of new people through our babysitting circle and everyone’s local to us
  11. And best of all, you get the chance to earn tokens for your own night out – we’re even threatening a cinema trip one of these days…

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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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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.

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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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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