Friday, 30 May 2014

Back in the habit


For as long as I can remember, I've been a reader, and aspired to be a writer.
As a young child, I read simple books with my mum, and at a very young age, began to read for myself. I started out with Mr Men and Garfield picture books, but quickly moved onto Enid Blyton, avidly reading every chapter, loving the fact that I could get lost in these worlds and get to know these amazing characters.
I read everything I could get my hands on, and was on first name terms with the local librarians, always in there, getting new books to race home and pore over.
As I got older, I moved on to more teenage fiction - Sweet Valley High, Point Horror, that sort of thing. 
I wrote constantly - journals, poems, short stories. I never ran out of inspiration, and was delighted that when I asked my English teacher if he believed I could be a writer, he replied "Absolutely, and I fully expect you to dedicate your first book to me".
Into my adult years, I loved chick lit, but also enjoyed non-fiction, especially self improvement books and books about philosophy, psychology and religion. There was always something new to learn, and I was never happier than when I was browsing the shelves of a bookshop.
In fact, books and music were pretty much all I spent my money on...as I've said before, clothes and make-up really weren't my "thing", if I ever had a few spare quid, you could find me happily wandering in a music store or bookshop. There's something magical about old bookshops, isn't there? You just don't know what treasures you might find.

Anyway, fast forward to now. How many books have I read in the past three years? Um....none. Well, maybe one, but I re-read that, having read it years before, so it doesn't count.
What's happened to me? Well, it's a combination, I guess. For one thing, I'm always so busy during the day with the house and the kids, by night time, I don't really have the energy to concentrate on anything too lengthy or involved.
For another thing, the internet happened. Now, I love the internet, don't get me wrong, but it has completely killed my attention span.

You know the story, you wake up, you check your phone. You make a cup of tea, check your phone. Feed the kids, check your phone. Have a shower, check your phone. Go out, check your phone. Come home, check your phone. Hell, I can't even make it through a half hour TV programme without checking my sodding phone!
I know I'm not alone, but I think technology moves so fast and is so immediate, it's ruined a lot of people's ability to concentrate on anything for any length of time.
Nowadays, I read the odd blog post, Facebook post, web news article (which I've probably seen on Facebook), and that's fine. I have time for that. I can concentrate on these things, because they're only a few hundred words long and then I can go about my business again.
Reading books is much harder, because I struggle to find time to read more than a chapter at a time, then it might be a few days before I can read another chapter, by which time I've lost the plot and forgotten stuff, and eventually it becomes so long between chapters that I lose interest entirely and yet another book is consigned to the "I never did get round to that" pile.

Time to change all that. I mean, how hard can it be? I miss reading, I miss getting so excited about the next chapter that I race through all my jobs just so I can get back to my book. Time to set myself an internet curfew, set aside some real, uninterrupted (except maybe by kids) time and just read an actual paper book.

After all, just as I believe you can't be a truly great cook unless you love eating and appreciate good food, you can't be a truly great writer unless you love reading and can appreciate good prose.

I've borrowed a copy of "The Burgess Boys" by Elizabeth Strout to get me back in the habit. My friend (who happens to be the librarian!) raved about it and said it lit the touchpaper to get her out of the same bad habits that I'm in, and reignited her love of reading. I really hope it does the same for me!

Do you read? Do you wish you read more often? And most importantly, can you recommend me any good books? I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

When are you ready for a baby?



After today's post, one of my friends said in a reply that she isn't anywhere near ready to have a baby yet, which got me thinking - how do you know when you're ready?

If you have kids, did you make that decision and decide that you were ready? In fact, are any of us ever ready?
The way I see it, if you're waiting for the right time, the right stage in your relationship, the right financial situation, the right point in your career, you'll never truly be ready. Yay for "happy accidents"!
Having said that, here's a few ways to find out if you're "ready"....

1) Do you enjoy waking up at 20 minute intervals through the night?

2) Do you like getting poop on your hands?

3) Do you enjoy being watched while you're on the toilet?

4) Do you feel that your day isn't complete until you've done 20,000 loads of laundry?

5) Do you find it amusing to clean a room, only to find it wrecked again 10 minutes later?

6) Do you like eating your dinner cold, while standing up?

7) Do you enjoy finding 57 cold, half finished cups of tea around the house?

8) Would it be funny to be constantly trying to save the life of a tiny nutjob with no sense of danger?

9) Are you happy enough to only have sex on special occasions?

10) Is it fun to share your bed with a midget contortionist who can only sleep with their butt in your face and their feet on your partner's face?

11) Do you like being headbutted in your sleep?

12) Would your kitchen benefit from having food thrown all over it?

13) Do you fancy spending the entirety of your beach holiday frantically trying to find a small person who is running towards the sea, and then spend an hour trying to get them to stop eating
sand?

14) Do you like crying your way through the news, because you no longer have any control over your emotions?

15) Do you fancy taking off your bra and having your boobs unroll their way toward the floor?

16) In fact, speaking of boobs, do you like having them bitten - not in a kinky, 50 Shades kind of way, but in an angry, rabid dog kind of way?

17) Also, do you like the idea of getting your saggy, bruised, bitten boobs out in public, or worse, in front of your father in law?

18) Do you feel sexy in leggings and milk stained t-shirts?

19) Do you find it rewarding to be judged by every single person who crosses your path, and to be berated for "not taking advice" every time something goes wrong?

20) Do you love feeling permanently guilty?

21) Do you have any idea what it feels like to step on a lego in the middle of the night and stay perfectly silent because you don't dare wake anybody?

22) Do you find it adorable to attempt to dress somebody who will not stay still for one effing second? Think trying to stuff an octopus in a Pringles tube, or put a harness on a bumblebee.

23) Are you FREAKING MENTAL?

If the answer to any of these is YES, then congratulations, you're ready for parenthood!
If the answer to one or more is NO, then congratulations, you're still ready! Because guess what, you'll never be ready, which in a way, kind of means you'll always be ready.

We'll stumble our way around this journey, making countless mistakes, wasting loads of time and money, and missing more sleep than we'll ever be able to catch up on.
But you know what? Ready or not, you'll never, ever, ever regret it.

How pregnancies change

First Pregnancy

* You are a delicate flower - everyone and their dog will ask how you're feeling every two seconds, so much that you will want to stab them in the eye and say "I'M FINE!!!!"

* After about 10 weeks, you will start to look a little softer, rounder, and like you've put on a little weight. 

* After about 24 weeks, you'll start to look properly pregnant.

* You will eat super healthy foods, checking compulsively that something is "safe" before it's even allowed in your house.

*You will lift nothing heavier than a cup of (herbal) tea. If anyone catches you lifting anything at all, they will rush to your aid and tell you to sit down and rest. You will find this intensely annoying.

* You will want to show how healthy and strong you are by carrying on as normal right up until the end of your pregnancy. Rest is for the weak!

* You will be determined to have a pain free, drug free, silent birth, preferably in the woods or the ocean, with nothing more than woodland animals by your side, as nature intended.

SECOND PREGNANCY

* People will always stop to coo over your toddler, and occasionally ask how you are. You will find this intensely annoying.

* After having your first baby, you are already softer, rounder and looking a bit fatter than before. Sorry about that.

* After about 10 weeks, you will start to look properly pregnant.

* You will try to eat super healthy foods, but mostly be so hungry, you'll be stealing potato waffles and ketchup off your toddler's plate. Chocolate gets you through the day.

* You lift nothing heavier than your toddler, which is especially fun when they have those "rubber child" tantrums and become a dead weight in the middle of the supermarket. People will say "You shouldn't be lifting, should you?", but that's as far as the help goes.

* You will fall asleep in the middle of "Dora The Explorer", secretly hoping that your toddler will become bilingual with the amount of spanish speaking cartoons they're watching while you snooze.

* You will be determined to have every method of pain relief available to you in labour. In fact, after last time, you wonder if there's any chance they could just knock you out and wake you up when it's over.

THIRD PREGNANCY

* When you announce your pregnancy, people will react as if you've just told them what you're having for dinner, by saying "Oh, that's nice", and changing the subject.

* You will start to look pregnant about 5 minutes after taking the test.

* You will lift nothing heavier than your eldest child's mountain bike, while onlookers simply laugh and say "You must be mental!"
Um, yes.

* You will eat all day long, because there's no time to sit down for an actual meal. Grazing is the future! Crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks are your friend.

* You will sleep in 5 minute bursts, because the second you sit or lie down at any given time of the day or night, someone will need you for something. Did you know that horses sleep standing up? Why hasn't evolution made this happen for pregnant mothers?

* You will be so busy, you won't even think about labour until you're fully dilated and then think "Oh yeah, I thought I was a bit uncomfy today..."

FOURTH PREGNANCY

* When you annouce your pregnancy, people will react by saying "Really? Did you mean for that to happen?"

* You will have started looking pregnant before you even suspected you might be.

* You will eat leftovers off your kids plates, your husband's plate, and you won't be allowed into restaurants after that embarrassing episode when you walked round Harry Ramsden's stealing chips off small children. Rare steaks, dippy eggs and goats cheese are top of your cravings list.
When someone asks if what you're eating is "safe", you'll say "Who are you, the pregnancy police?"

*You'll lift nothing heavier than the average bodybuilder's free weights, while also carrying your toddler and your older children's schoolbags.

* When people see you with 6 bags of shopping on each arm, they'll laugh and say "I don't envy you much!"

* You'll laugh manically when anyone asks if you're "resting"




Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Random rant - response to Paris Lees

I'm not generally one for spouting strong opinions - I'm such a natural people pleaser that I tend to crumble at the slightest whiff of disagreement from someone. I don't generally like confrontation, and try to take an open minded, let's look at this from every angle kind of approach.
However, recently, I've had some experience of standing my ground, fighting my corner and giving my side of the story - and you know what? It felt bloody marvellous.
Plus, I think people have more respect for someone who is willing so stand by their beliefs, rather than a feeble fence sitter who will back down at the smallest challenge. Having said that, I will always listen to other people's point of view, and will never just shout anyone down.
So, in an effort to get my splinter covered bum off the fence for a change, I had to post this response to an article I read recently - I'm sure you'll have heard of Josie Cunningham, a girl who has shot to fame by getting a boob job on the NHS so she could become a glamour model, and more recently caused a stir by saying she wanted to have an abortion at 19 weeks because she wanted to appear on Celebrity Big Brother.
I should add that she has since changed her mind and chosen not to go ahead with the abortion - cynical publicity stunt, anyone?

The article in question was written by Paris Lees, and this is the full article here.
Basically, I wanted to write a bigger post on this, because there are some points she makes that I fully agree with, and others that I totally disagree with.

First of all, she speaks about the social media storm following the original abortion story - where thousands of people made horrible remarks about Josie's appearance, her upbringing, her morals, you name it. Death threats aplenty.
Not cool, people. As soon as you start with the name calling and threats of physical violence, you've lost your moral high ground. But then Paris goes on to say;

Her crime? She wants to be famous. Clearly she is the first woman in Britain with the sufficient audacity to express this disgusting desire. Never mind Jessie J and Rita Ora and whatsherface off of EastEnders and all those other women who presumably were hungry enough for fame that they went out and got it. They probably have nice tits. Josie’s don’t make the grade though, so she doesn’t get to be famous. She should just stay in Leeds and shut up.

Okay, but let's not forget that these people all worked and trained for their jobs in the entertainment industry. Why do we suddenly have this generation of entitled kids who believe that they just want it all but not to have to do anything to get it? Why is it that the likes of Joey Essex and the cast of Geordie Shore think that they're entitled to have all the trappings of fame and fortune, but all they have to do is get their tits out or be mind numbingly stupid? What happened to actually working for your ambitions in life?

Fair enough, Paris does acknowledge that Josie doesn't exactly enamour herself to the public, by bragging about her NHS boob job and her abortion plans. Quite.
Then, she goes on speak about how the media is forever highlighting famous women's bodies, how the headlines are never about what a woman has achieved, but how much leg she was showing, or how amazing her cleavage looked at an awards ceremony.

Culture, I’m confused. Do we celebrate young women who take off their clothes? Or do we despise them? Or does it all depend on which woman is taking her clothes off? And, if so, how does the woman find out, beforehand, which sort of woman she is – and if she is likely to be celebrated or despised? 

Now, I completely agree - I hate the misogynistic way that the media choose to overlook talent, contribution to society or achievement, and instead focus on boobs and legs. Such is the shallow, vacuous, looks obsessed, empty celebrity society they seem to live in. It sucks, I'm with you there.

Now, the article goes on to imply that the public reaction might be different if a woman chose to have an abortion for a more "well respected" career, such as a barrister or a surgeon. Well, apart from the fact that these careers are probably something that someone has been studying and working hard towards all their lives, you might assume that they wouldn't have babies in their immediate plans anyway, and if they accidentally found themselves pregnant, they might face a very tough decision.

I suspect there’s more than a whiff of snobbery when people pile in to judge Josie for her plans to abort her baby. What would the reaction be if she were a little more refined, a little less Northern, a little less fake-tanned? If she’d been talking to the Lady instead of the Mirror? If her language were more delicate? She says she’s “a good mum” but “this is ­something I have wanted for so long. I can’t give up my big break for anything”. What if "big break" referred to training as a barrister, or a surgeon, rather than a stint in the Big Brother house? Would people be admiring Josie for her steely determination and fearlessness in the face of tough personal decisions?

I can only talk for myself here, but I'm not sure I would applaud anyone for choosing to have an abortion at 19 weeks because they got a better offer, whatever that offer may be. I think there might be a slight difference between being halfway through a very long term training and career plan which didn't have babies in it at all, and choosing to take a quick fix over a life.
While I would respect a woman's choice to take a career over a child, I have to be honest, I wouldn't be throwing them a congratulations party.

Then, Paris goes on to speak about the reaction from Nicola McClean, another glamour model type whom she compares to Josie, because let's face it, they have a lot of similarities. Nicola did say some pretty nasty things about Josie, and Paris points out that they've both had cosmetic surgery;

She also had an operation when she was a child to correct a “bad squint”. It’s not my place to say if this squint was cosmetic but I’m pretty sure squints aren’t life threatening. But she had it done. On the NHS! The bloody NHS paying for things that aren’t cancer. Utter bastards.

Really? Can we compare a childhood operation to correct a sight problem with an adult having a boob job in order to fast track her way to fame and fortune? Not really a valid comparison, is it?

Now comes my favourite part;

Still, Nicola tweeted that she is: "Totally outraged reading about that stupid slag that wants an abortion so she can go on big brother !!! She doesn't deserve children." It’s funny because, while Josie said that one of her reasons for considering an abortion was so she could appear on BB, she also cites the children she already has and her desire to give them the best in life: “I want it for myself but I want it for my boys… I love them and I want to be able to buy them the most expensive toys and to give them nice holidays. People will criticise me but I’m a good mother.” No one seems to be talking about that bit.
Now, hold on a cotton picking minute. She didn't say she was doing it for her KIDS! That makes it all okay!
"Hey kids, guess what? You could have had a brother or sister but I chose to get rid of them for money. So yeah, they're dead now, but look at our massive telly!"
I'm sorry, but on what fucking planet is it okay to teach our children that things are more important than people? That money is more important than life? That fame is more important than relationships?
And to put that kind of responsibility onto her kids? "Yes kids, I got rid of your brother or sister, but I did it for you!"
Okay, so not only are they responsible for this decision, but they're also expected to be grateful! Sod off.
It makes me so sad that Josie is so desperate for fame that she'd rather be famous for being hated than not famous at all. Why would you teach your kids that it's okay that mummy gets spat at in the street, look at her pink Range Rover!  Why would you teach your kids that material things - shiny, fancy expensive things are more important than integrity, dignity, and love?

It worries me that we seem to have spawned a generation of entitled assholes who just want the stuff, the money and the fame at any cost, so much so that they'd sell the lives of their own children to get them.
We get by financially, but we're not well off by any means. Our bills are paid, our kids are fed, but fancy holidays are out, designer clothes are out - hell, even a trip to Costco to stock up the freezer is a special occasion that we have to save weeks in advance for. But we're teaching our kids that if you want something, you work for it, you save for it, you don't just stomp your feet and expect a quick fix.
I can see why we do have a generation of people who think "Sod the education - I'll just marry a footballer/get my tits out". Why bother when you can do that? It just makes me sad is all.
Paris finishes by saying;
I still may not agree with your motives, or how you choose to present yourself in the media, and you’re never gonna get a Pride of Britain award, babe. But you don’t deserve all that blind hate and death threats. Your boobs, by the way, are fine. The really ugly tits are the ones that have been bullying you.
Damn right, I totally agree. Keep the death threats, the name calling and the blind hate to yourself please.
I think I just feel strongly about this because personally, I've had to make sacrifices for my children. I had to give up a hard fought place on a midwifery degree programme because I couldn't afford the childcare, I had to give up a photography course because I was offered a full time job, and at that time, feeding my kids was more important than fulfilling my personal ambitions. I know what it's like to have to choose between your dreams and your kids, and for me, my kids win, every time.
If someone came to me right now at 15 weeks pregnant and said they could give me a millionaire lifestyle on the condition that I aborted my baby, I'd tell them to get stuffed, and so would my kids. They know what's more important. We might be driving a clapped out old campervan instead of a range rover, but we've got something that money can't buy.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

A hot date with the ironing



When I look at Daisy, I see a lot of my younger self in her - a wee, skinny girl with thin, permanently messy hair and glasses always falling down her nose.
Like me as a child, she doesn't care much about how she looks - she'd rather be climbing trees and rockpooling than worrying about getting her shoes dirty. She's not quite a tomboy, but certainly not a princess type, either!
She's adorable, but shy and awkward about her appearance, she hates being called pretty, and has already had the odd comment from classmates, girls as young as 7, who are already into clothes and shoes and hair, about how her outfit doesn't match or her hair isn't sitting right. She's not bothered - she, like me, is growing up not noticing, or caring what other people look like. It's just not that important, is it?
It does make me wonder...is caring about your appearance something that you're born with, something that either comes naturally or doesn't?

I've never been one to take time to worry much about my appearance. As a kid, I was always the scruffy one, genuinely not giving a damn what I looked like. A a young teenager, I cared much more, but didn't have a clue what to do about it. I wasn't naturally into clothes or make up, and didn't know where to start putting an outfit or hairstyle together. It bothered me massively that it seemed as if all the other girls were way prettier than me, but I just didn't know where to start. Where was I when they taught these girls how to be so attractive, anyway?

Nowadays, I'm much the same. My lifestyle doesn't really allow for much prettiness - my days consist of housework, cooking, dog walking and going out and about with the kids, so my mum uniform is generally a practical combo of leggings, tshirts and no make up.
So why is is that I reserve the right to feel so intimidated by other women? Everywhere I go, everyone is so much more "put together" than me - their clothes match, they have make up on, their hair is done, they are in control of themselves. Why am I not like that?
Why am I the frumpy one in the baggy, stained clothes, with a make up free, wrinkly face and flat, sad looking hair?

I'll tell you who is to blame for this. Me.
It's not the kids' fault. If I wanted to, I could take 5 minutes in the morning to slap on a bit of mascara and lipstick. It wouldn't inhibit my ability to do housework, would it?
If I wanted to, I could put on a dress and sandals occasionally, it's hardly like I'm constantly splashing bleach all over myself while cleaning, it wouldn't be so much harder to do the hoovering in a skirt, would it?
If I wanted to, I could choose that instead of wasting 5-10 minutes during a quiet moment on Facebook, Viral Nova or Buzz Feed (do I REALLY need to know what colour represents my personality or what city I should live in?), I could invest those few minutes in applying a nice hand cream, painting my nails occasionally or doing something else that is for ME, that makes me feel nice, and worthy of a few minutes' indulgence.

We need to remember that we might be parents, that our lives might be devoted to these little angels, but that we are also worthy of feeling good about ourselves.
I'm a naturally very low maintenance kind of girl, but when I start to feel crappy about going into the playground because I feel ugly, it's time to take action and remind myself that I deserve to look and feel good too, and only I can do that.
Time to shake off these frumpy leggings and get my groove back, starting with a quick haircut and colour while Amelie is asleep.

Have you been on the slippery slope to Frumpsville lately? Do you ever get that feeling?
Come and join me in 5 minutes of indulgent me-time. We might not have nights out or offices to get ready for, but we can still take a minute to remind ourselves that we're still worth looking good for.

I'm off to hunt out my reddest lippy - I've got a hot date with the ironing....

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Seaside living


We've just come back from a gorgeous weekend away in Crovie, a small village on the coast of the Moray Firth. It's close to Pennan, our "spiritual home", and favourite retreat. There were no houses available for rent in Pennan this weekend, so we opted for Crovie instead.
The house we stayed in was lovely, very comfy and had beautiful sea views. The whole village is literally at the bottom of the cliffs, right next to the sea, and the water virtually touches the path in front of the houses at high tide! There's not even a road in front of the houses, you have to park your car at the foot of the cliff and take your stuff to your house in a wheelbarrow.


We love staying in little remote places, and the kids are in their element when they can step right outside the house and be on the beach. I think we're all beach dwellers at heart - even Molly, the salty sea dog!



Everyone had a great time, we loved hearing the waves swishing right outside the house late at night, and waking up to see the sun coming up over the sea. 
It's always tiring (in a good way), because we have to be constantly making sure the dog is safe, the baby is safe, the kids are entertained, and everyone has something to eat (do these kids EVER stop eating???), but it's all a brilliant experience. 
The kids loved rockpooling - Daisy even bravely held a crab this time, and Charlie just becomes a mini Bear Grylls when you cut off his internet connection. He goes from a minecraft addicted computer slave, to a rock scaling, crab finding seaside adventurer. It's amazing to see!
We all enjoyed a wifi free weekend of fresh air, conversations and quality time. 
I think we all need to be disconnected from the world once in a while to remind us where are most important connections really are.





As for Crovie itself, it had a certain rugged beauty - you can imagine it's a hard life if you live there permanently, but I like the idea of being right by the sea. The only thing was, it felt more than isolated, it felt almost abandoned. Of the 70 houses there, we only saw signs of life in about 5 of them, the rest appeared to be empty, with big wooden shutters closed over the windows and doors.
It was a shame, for such a beauty spot, it was almost like a forgotten village...












On the way home, we had to stop in past Pennan, it would have been wrong to just pass it by!





On the whole, we had to agree that Pennan is far nicer - just more charming and well kept, although Crovie was well worth a visit.
We all had a ball, but we're knackered. Roll on an early night and then we'll get to planning our big Highlands and Islands camping tour, wish us luck!










Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Pick your battles


If there's one thing I've learned in my (nearly) 12 years of parenting, it's this:
Everything is a phase.
Everything is temporary.
If everything is going swimmingly with your kids, no issues at all, enjoy it, but don't get too smug, because eventually something will come along to test your resolve.
Similarly, if you're having an issue with your child, don't sweat it too much, because eventually, it will balance itself out and you'll barely remember what all the fuss was about. This too shall pass.
Of course, if you have more than one child, they will team tag you and you can guarantee that at least one of them will be in a tricky phase at any given time, but that's another story for another day...

Before you have kids, or after they've grown and the tricky phases are long since forgotten, it's easy to be idealistic, to demand that kids should meet a certain set of expectations at all times. Of course your kids will always eat their dinner, of course they'll always go to bed on time, of course they'll never have tantrums in supermarkets.....
Yeah, right!

For those of us on the front line, who are bringing our kids up every single day, who are having to make on the spot decisions while juggling a million things at once, sometimes we just have to pick our battles.

I'm not talking about inconsistency. If you have specific principles, you should absolutely stick to them. Having said that, the important thing I've learned is what to be super strict about and what isn't worth the battle.

My kids are good kids. Not perfect kids, but fundamentally good people. They don't swear, they don't hit, they don't fight (bicker, but don't fight), and they know when to stop.
I've learned to pick my battles on the small stuff.

Sleep

With three kids of very different ages, bedtime is important to me. I devote my entire day to them, so from the second they get up, everything I do is for them. Cooking, cleaning, entertaining, ferrying them to and from school, etc. 
9pm is my cut off time. I NEED to stop by then, unless someone is ill or we're out, they know that 9pm is the cut off. 
Having said that, there are very rare occasions when for example, I'll tell Charlie that it's bedtime and he's in the thick of doing something online, such as making something on Minecraft. Now, some might say tough, it's bedtime, pull the plug.
I give 5-10 minutes grace to let him finish what he's doing, because I often put myself in the kids' shoes. How would I feel if I was 5 minutes from finishing a blog post I'd worked hard on, only for someone to come along and pull the plug without even a second thought? Id be devastated! So, I give that small bit of flexibility, and make it clear that he either finishes or saves what he's doing. It's a compromise I'm willing to make, and Charlie respects that, and always finishes and gets to bed with no further arguments.
Is that being too soft? I don't think so.

Another sleep related battle I've had to pick is with Amelie and her naps. She used to take a nap from 9am-10am, but the last few weeks, she's been refusing to sleep, and I've ended up wasting an hour or more trying to settle her, when she clearly has decided for herself that she no longer needs a morning nap.
Am I making a rod for my own back?  I don't think so, I've just learned that things change as children grow, and you have to change with them.
Night time sleep is another constant game-changer in the early years. I know the experts will tell you to pick an approach and stick to it NO MATTER WHAT, but they don't take all the variables into account - teething, night terrors, ear infections, etc. You might just be bloody knackered and taking them into bed is the only way you'll get some sleep that night. Just do whatever feels right. If your baby is screaming blue murder and smiles as soon as you pick them up, I guarantee they're not thinking "There was bugger all wrong with me, my mum's a sucker", they're thinking "I was scared/lonely/hungry and now I'm happy because mum's here. My mum is awesome!"

Food

My kids used to be fussy little monkeys. Seriously, talk about battles - our dining table was a constant battle zone, and I don't even want to think of the crying and tantrums there have been over food and refusal to eat it, and that's just from me!
I've been lucky in the sense that my kids all like salad - especially lettuce and cucumber, so my compromise has been to always, always have a big salad in the middle of the table for them to help themselves. That way, if they don't like what's on the menu that day, they'll get it anyway, but as long as they eat plenty of salad, I'll let them off with only having a tiny amount of actual dinner.
If your kids don't like salad, do they like bread? WOuld it make you happier if they had bread with their dinner, so at least you know they're eating something?
It's not giving in, it's not letting them win. It's acknowledging that they are little people with tastes of their own, and imagine how awful it would be if someone was forcing you to eat something you hated! 

Sweets are another bugbear. The girls aren't bad, but Charlie would live on chocolate if he could, so I do have to often say no to him. Having said that, there are times when I have no choice but to pick my battles. For example, when I've been up all night, I'm up to my elbows in baby poop, helping Daisy with homework, trying to tidy up and deal with a barking dog, and Charlie asks if he can have a Kit Kat. Hmm, I'd probably rather he didn't, but really - will it kill him? No. Will he still eat his dinner? Yes. Have I got enough to deal with without worrying about something as minor as a biscuit? Absolutely. Let him have it, it's not about always having to win or show them who's boss, it's about realising when it's really not worth a fight.
For the most part, if it's too close to teatime, or he's already had enough, I will say no and he will accept it, but he trusts me to be reasonable, and I believe that improves our relationship. It's not that he has me "wrapped round his little finger", but more that he knows I'm flexible and approachable and it's worth a try. If I say yes, brilliant. If I say no, he accepts it.

Backchat

Backchat is something I don't tolerate. My kids know not to be cheeky to me, but sometimes they will question a decision I've made, and while that's not always acceptable, I don't mind the odd question. Long gone are the days when we would blindly do what an adult said just because they were older and we had no choice. Of course, they know not to talk back in a cheeky way, and wouldn't dream of talking back to a teacher, but if they feel that something is unfair, I have no problem with them questioning it.
For example, if they choose something in a restaurant and it's too expensive, I wouldn't just say "No, because I said so", I would explain why I was saying no. They might try to appeal against it, but as long as I'm satisfied that I've given a good enough reason, I will tell them to drop it.

A big issue at the moment is online safety, teaching the kids that they just shouldn't be talking online to strangers, but it's important to explain why. I want the kids to trust us and not just see us as dragons who lay down the law and have no flexibility or explanation.

Am I letting the kids walk all over me by explaining my decisions and rules to them? Should I just say "Because I'm your mum and I say so"? 
I don't think so, but I do make sure they drop it once I've made my decisions clear.

I know there will be far more battles to come - I well remember the days of arguing with a toddler because we're running late and they insist on putting their own shoes on, or they want to wear something totally inappropriate for the weather. I know I still have all this to come, and I will cross those bridges as and when I come to them.

Parenting shouldn't be a battleground. We should be approachable to our kids and understand when to be flexible. As long as our kids follow the basic rules we set, we need to be able to let little things slide occasionally without guilt or fear of judgement from others.
Not everything is worth flipping out over....is it?



Sunday, 11 May 2014

Mama's Chocolate Overload Cake


The kids came home with amazing school reports this week - both of them were praised for being polite, well mannered, quick to learn and eager to please. Like me, they both struggle to cope with making mistakes and getting things wrong, but really, if their biggest problem is being too keen to do well, I have little to complain about!
They were at their dad's this weekend, so I decided to surprise them on their return with a well deserved celebration cake.
This cake ticks all the boxes - rich, moist chocolate sponge, sandwiched together with thick chocolate frosting, covered with even more frosting, surrounded with Kit Kats, and topped with a metric crapload of M&Ms. Oh yeah baby, I don't call this Mama's Chocolate Overload Cake for nothing!
I've always wanted to be one of THOSE mums - you know, the kind who sweep into the party with a beautiful, stunningly artistic, gorgeously decorated cake, and casually say "Oh, this old thing? I made it myself!"
Yeah, but that's not me. Baking, I can do. Cake decorating? Not so much. I have neither the time or the patience to be delicately creating intricate flowers out of sugarpaste. Think of this as the sloppy girl's celebration cake. It looks fab, but secretly takes very little time or effort to put together. Shhh! Don't tell anyone.....

MAMA'S CHOCOLATE OVERLOAD CAKE

The cake itself is actually Nigella Lawson's "Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake", it's my go-to chocolate cake recipe:

CAKE

200g plain flour
200g caster sugar
1tsp baking powder
1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda
40g cocoa powder
175g soft unsalted butter
2 large eggs
2tsps vanilla extract
150ml sour cream

ICING

75g unsalted butter
175g dark chocolate, broken into squares
300g icing sugar
1tbsp golden syrup
125ml sour cream
1tsp vanilla extract

DECORATION

19 Kit Kats
2 Large bags M&Ms
Tealight holder and tealight
Ribbon

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180c and line and butter two 8in sandwich tins with removable bases (I use sillicone ones instead)
Now put all of the cake ingredients into a food processor or stand mixer and mix until you have a smooth, thick batter.
Divide this batter into your two cake tins and bake for 25 minutes, or until the top is springy and a skewer comes out clean.
Allow the cakes to cool in their tins for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.

To make the icing, melt the butter and chocolate together either in the microwave or over a pan of simmering water. 
Allow to cool a little, then mix in the syrup, sour cream and vanilla, then whisk in the icing sugar. The icing should be thick enough to coat the cake without dripping off.

To decorate, place one of the cakes on a plate, then spoon 1/3 of the icing on the top and smoth it over until it evenly covers the top. Place the second cake on top to sandwich together.
Take another 1/3 of the icing and smooth over the top of the second cake. Use the last 1/3 to smooth around the sides of the sandwiched cake, making sure the entire cake is covered in icing. Save a small amount of icing for decoration.

To decorate, place the Kit Kats around the perimiter of the cake, the icing will act as a cement, sticking the Kit Kats in place.
Take the tealight holder and cover the outside of it with icing. Press M&Ms into the icing to decorate, and place in the centre of the cake.
Pour M&Ms onto the top of the cake to cover. 
Wrap ribbon around the bottom of the cake.
Light the candle and feel very clever :)





This cake is perfect for any occasion. Birthday? Nothing says Happy Birthday like chocolate. Success? Say Well Done with chocolate. Recently been dumped? Chocolate is the answer. Chocolate will never let you down. Celebration buddy, mender of broken hearts, chocolate is there for you.
The kids went nuts when they came home! Charlie said "Oh My God, it's amazing!", and Daisy announced it was "The best, most beautiful cake you've ever made"


Try it. You won't regret it.*

*DISCLAIMER: MAMA...BARE TAKES NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY WEIGHT GAIN, PROPOSALS OF MARRIAGE OR DROOLING CHILDREN THAT MAY RESULT FROM THE MAKING OF THIS CAKE.



Baby mine

Baby mine, don't you cry

Baby mine, dry your eyes
Rest your head close to my heart, never to part, baby of mine
Little one, when you play, pay no heed what they say
Let your eyes sparkle and shine, never a tear, baby of mine

If they knew all about you, they'd end up loving you too
All those same people who scold you, what they'd give just for the right to hold you
From your head down to your toes, you're not much, goodness knows
But you're so precious to me, sweet as can be, baby of mine.







Friday, 9 May 2014

Bank holiday shopping! #Morrisonsmum

You know you don't get out often when you get excited at the prospect of shopping in a different supermarket than usual.....

Last week, Morrisons reduced the prices of over 1000 items, and to launch the new "I'm Cheaper" campaign, they teamed up with BritMums to offer a select few bloggers the chance to try out their products with a very generous £80 worth of vouchers. You can imagine how delighted I was to be selected, and the smile on my face when this arrived in the post...

Even better that it arrived on a particularly skint week, when lots of unexpected bills arrived, so a week's worth of free shopping was a godsend!

I've always liked Morrisons, but the nearest one to me is more than a half hour drive away, so I tend to stick to my more local supermarket. I was very excited to be trying somewhere I wasn't very familiar with, and couldn't wait to see what they had that my local shop didn't.

I wasn't disappointed! When we first arrived, we were very impressed by the huge range of fresh fruit and veg, all presented in a bright and tempting way.
Everything looked beautiful, and we were particularly excited to see such a wide range of loose chillies. We are absolute chilli fiends, but our local place has precisely one variety, in a sealed plastic bag, which means that you have no control over how many you can buy. The choice in Morrisons was brilliant!


What's more, they were really cheap, with the scotch bonnets working out at just 10p each, and the long finger chillies working out at just 3p each! Bargain! We bought loads :)
I also liked the wicker baskets they were in, giving more of a market feel. 

The next thing I got all giddy about were the fresh herbs, sold in little tied bunches, rather than sealed plastic bags, and were kept nice and fresh with a rather dramatic blast of dry ice....


I bought a lovely big bunch of mint and one of coriander, at a bargainous 75p each.They had a massive range of herbs, I was most impressed.


We liked that a lot of the fruit and veg were 3 for £1.50, so it was easy to work out what we were spending as we merrily chucked things into the trolley!


There's a great selection of meat and fish, and lots of it is 3 for £10, which again makes budgeting much easier. I chose a pack of mini chicken fillets (half of which we grilled and had with salad, and half of which we mixed with vegetables in a curry), a gammon joint (which I slow cooked and served over two nights - once shredded with salad, and once sliced and served with potatoes and peas), and a pack of diced casserole beef (which I slow cooked with peppers, onions and sweet potatoes to make a chunky chilli).
Almost a week's worth of meals from £10 worth of meat, awesome!

Nobody can resist a cheese counter!


The selection of freshly baked (and still warm!) pies was awesome. We chose creamy chicken pies and scotch pies for lunch and both were delicious.


The salad bar is a brilliant idea, you have several clear plastic boxes to choose from, and just pay a set price according to the size of box, so you can fill it with any combination of salad you like. I took a spicy chicken pasta salad and a pesto pasta salad, both gorgeous.



When biscuits and crisps are this cheap, why the hell not? And I can balance it out with all that gorgeous fresh fruit and veg I bought....

Anyway, we decided to make the most of the weekend with a trip to a beach, so we visited Lunan Bay in Angus. It's seriously beautiful, a huge sandy beach with loads of massive dunes for climbing on. The kids had a ball, and our haul from Morrisons gave us a really lovely picnic. The kids are not fans of sandwiches, so our bag was stuffed with various other nibbles - our pasta salads, cocktail sausages, hummous, crisps, olives, fruit, cold meats etc. Plenty to keep us going all day!




We also decided to make a yummy homemade pudding of Berry Mess, with the leftover berries from our fruit salad. Here's the recipe we used:

BERRY MESS


INGREDIENTS

  • 260 g mixed berries, including blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries
  • 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp icing sugar
  • 125 ml double cream
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200 g Greek yogurt
  • 2 x 35g meringue nests, broken into nests



 


METHOD

1. Put the berries in a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of icing sugar and mix, crushing a few of the berries.

2. In a separate bowl, put the cream, the remaining 1 teaspoon of icing sugar and the vanilla and whip to soft peaks. Stir the yogurt to loosen slightly.

3. Carefully fold the yogurt into the cream with the berries and the meringue.

4. Spoon the mixture into 4 glasses and serve. 





Unfortunately, it was so delicious, we ate it before I remembered to take a photo of the finished result, oops!
It was really nice, and worked out at just 68p per portion, can't complain!

Anyway, I was incredibly impressed with Morrisons, beautifully fresh food, very friendly staff, delicious meals, and amazing value for money. Well worth the drive, they've definitely found a new regular customer in me!

Thank you, BritMums and Morrisons!