Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Inspiring Kids ... and an Inspiring Kid! (Plus GIVEAWAY!!)

As I may have mentioned a few times before, my daughter is a confident type. But even confident kids have the occasional wobble. As we near the end of the school year I've noticed that, while she has developed in so many ways, there are also areas where she has become more doubtful.

She is more aware of differences between her and her friends - which of course is great, it shows she's seeing others as individuals! But it does mean she worries about the fact that she doesn't like 'Frozen' but her friend does, or she wears trousers when most girls wear dresses or skirts.

She's also becoming a bit of a perfectionist, getting upset if she makes a mistake in her work or if her work isn't as 'good' as somebody else's. I tell her mistakes are how we learn, and the important thing is she tries her best, but still she finds it hard.

I know how important it is for children to have a growth mindset - to believe that they can get better at things, that their abilities aren't fixed - and to value their own individuality. So I've been looking for ways to teach this to Eleanor.

I was contacted recently by the founders of Socky Wocky, a fab new company that specialises in funky kids' socks with positive affirmations written on. The story behind Socky Wocky itself is inspiring - it was set up by nine year old Safin, who is described on the website as a 'regular boy'. Yes, you read that right. He's NINE! And he's set up his own business! Pretty amazing, right?

Image courtesy of Socky Wocky

Safin set up the business with the intention of making people happy, encouraging and motivating other children to believe in themselves. With some help from his mum, he has created some fantastic designs and chosen some really inspiring affirmations. I think my favourite is 'Be Yourself - Everyone Else Is Taken!'
Image courtesy of Socky Wocky

Image courtesy of Socky Wocky

Image courtesy of Socky Wocky

Image courtesy of Socky Wocky

The socks are currently in production and due to go on sale later this year, but if you feel you and your child needs this positivity in your life sooner, Socky Wocky do have downloadable affirmation posters that you can purchase through their Etsy site. And I am really excited to be able to offer a set of three downloadable posters to two lucky readers! You will be able to choose which three posters you receive, and will be able to download them in a variety of sizes, even printing off extra copies to give as gifts to friends and family!

To enter this competition, go to the pinned post on my Facebook page, like the post and leave a comment with your favourite affirmation or positive motto. You can choose one from the Socky Wocky website, or one of your own! You don't have to like my page or share the post to enter, but it would be lovely if you did anyway!! The giveaway will close on Tuesday 25th July 2017 and the winners will be announced on the Facebook page the following day.

Good luck!

DISCLAIMER: This post contains affiliate links. The prize for the giveaway is kindly provided by Socky Wocky, however this post is not sponsored by Socky Wocky and all words and opinions are my own.

Giveaway Terms and Conditions

To enter the giveaway, please go to The Ish Mother Facebook page, go to the pinned post (which will include a link to this blog post) and do BOTH of the following:

  • Like the post, and
  • Comment on the post with your favourite affirmation or positive motto.
Only one entry per person. Shares and page likes are appreciated but not required.

The giveaway is open to entrants aged over 16, excluding employees and relatives of The Ish Mother and Socky Wocky.

The giveaway will run until 11.59pm on Tuesday, 25th July 2017, and two winners will be randomly selected the following day. If successful, you will be contacted via Facebook and announced on the Facebook page. You will then have 28 days to confirm your e-mail address and choice of posters, and the digital downloads will then be e-mailed to your address within 7 days of confirmation. If the winners do not confirm this information within 28 days another winner will be randomly selected.

The winners' names will be announced on the Facebook page and will be made available by The Ish Mother on request.

By participating in this giveaway, entrants confirm that they have read, understood and agree to be bound by these terms and conditions.

This promotion is no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook.


Thursday, 13 July 2017

5 Words Or Phrases I Irrationally HATE

I'm not going to lie to you, reader. This isn't going to be the most coherent, inspiring or thought-provoking post I'll ever write. But I just need to get this off my chest, OK?

We all have certain things that annoy us, don't we? Well, with me these things are often words or phrases. Ones that I hear once and think, "hmm, bit annoying but OK" but then over time become so overused that they set my teeth on edge. Here are the words and phrases that irritate me the most at present:

1. Hack

Everything's a flipping 'hack' nowadays. Writing hacks, parenting hacks, cleaning hacks, breathing hacks probably. People. Think about what a hack actually IS. It used to mean something dodgy or badly done. If someone was a 'hack writer' they were sensationalist, formulaic, even dishonest. Do you really want to call these handy tips you're sharing HACKS?

OK, so let's go with the idea that it's come to mean something that saves time, effort and/or money. But the hyperbole around these lists of 'hacks' is ridiculous. '16 Life Hacks That'll Change Your World'. '20 Cooking Hacks That'll Blow Your Mind'. Sorry, read them back. Are they really that mind-blowing or life-changing? Yeah it's handy knowing you can pull baby vests down to take them off, but it's hardly revolutionised my life. Calm down.

2. Bantz

This is another one that seems to be suddenly everywhere at the moment. I'm not even fully sure what it means but it provokes a visceral reaction in me. I loathe it. I avoid anything attached to the word. Besides, from what I gather it seems to cover everything from well-intended teasing to being plain obnoxious or worse. If you want to be rude, be honest about it. Or, y'know, think about what being rude will actually achieve and realise it's probably not worth it. Either way, don't hide behind 'bantz'.

3. Date Night

I don't even know why I hate this one so much. Perhaps it's nothing more than bitterness because my children are currently so rubbish at going to bed and/or staying asleep that inflicting them on a babysitter is out of the question. But it's just so twee. I'm not dating any more, I'm married, my dating days are well over. If we do ever get to go out again, I'll call it just that - going out. Going for a meal. Going to the cinema.

There's also the pressure that goes with it. 'Oh you must have date night', 'oh you should have a date night at least once a month'. I often wonder if our grandparents ever got 'date nights'. I doubt it. There are other ways of keeping a relationship healthy than having a monthly trip to a restaurant, I'm sure. Besides, if we do ever go out we'd probably just talk about the kids anyway.

4. Good Baby

Every parent knows this one. 'Is s/he a good baby?' Yep, we know what you're asking. You're asking if s/he sleeps. And you know the answer don't you? The answer is NO s/he doesn't sleep, s/he's a flipping BABY. Yes, some people get lucky with a good sleeper but by and large all babies suck at sleeping. Why put a value judgement on that? It's not that s/he's good or bad. It's just what babies do. Stop making mums worry that their baby is 'bad'!

5. Butter Wouldn't Melt

I've saved my most irrational til last. Ever since I first heard this phrase I've hated it. It actually makes me feel a little sick because it makes me imagine having a mouth full of butter. But the thing I think that bothers me most about the phrase is that it's meant to describe someone who's cool, but it's possibly the least cool phrase in existence. It's painfully old-fashioned. It's a bit like when people say 'the bee's knees'. It's an anachronism, an oxymoron, it has no place in modern society PLEASE STOP MAKING ME IMAGINE HAVING BUTTER IN MY MOUTH.

And breathe.

Do you agree with me on any of these? Or do you want to put up an impassioned defence for one of them? What words or phrases make your skin crawl? Do let me know!

Monday, 10 July 2017

Review: Hotmilk Nursing Bra

I have a confession to make. As much as I love breastfeeding, one thing I don't love so much is the restriction it places on what I wear. Every top or dress needs to be accessible for feeds, and as for underneath, I'm getting a bit fed up of shapeless nursing bras.

Or rather, I was. Until Hotmilk Lingerie offered me the chance to test one of their nursing bras. I was so excited - after nearly six years, I get to wear underwiring again!

Hotmilk have some gorgeous nursing bra designs, from 'everyday' T-shirt style bras to more lacy affairs, and even sports bras. I'm not really a lacy kind of girl, and do nothing even approaching sport, but I live in T-shirts so I went for the Forever Yours design in Nude.

I won't beat about the bush: I love this bra. I was worried that, after so long not wearing wires, it would be uncomfortable but it isn't at all. It's a great bra for everyday wear. The fabric is supersoft and the thick band adds extra support and comfort - and comes with six width options so it can be worn during pregnancy too.

The cup is very full - a bit fuller than I've worn before, which took a bit of getting used to. But it does mean that on days when, ahem, my supply is up I feel contained and comfortable! Getting the cup down to feed also took a bit of adjusting to but after a day I got it down to a fine art!!

And how does it look? I think it creates a great shape and sits nicely under the tops I've tried it with. I was surprised how much of a difference it made - suddenly I had a curvy silhouette I hadn't seen in years!!

Overall, I'm really impressed with the look, quality and comfort of this nursing bra, and I'm sure I'll be using it plenty from now on! You can find Hotmilk online here for the UK site and here for the US site.

DISCLAIMER: I was given the nursing bra featured for the purposes of this review, but all words, photos and opinions are my own.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Mudpies and Minibeasts: What We Did For #30DaysWild

If you follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter (if you don't, it'd be lovely if you would!) you'll know that this month we've been completing the Wildlife Trusts' '30 Days Wild' challenge - making time each day for a Random Act of Wildness. This could be an outdoor activity, something inspired by nature like a craft activity or an environmentally friendly act.

I decided to take the challenge because I felt like Eleanor and I needed to re-engage with nature a bit. Eleanor was such a nature girl as a toddler, loving playing in the garden and even helping out, but when she started preschool all that seemed to change and she was more reluctant to get outdoors. I really believe in the importance of getting out in the fresh air and appreciating nature, and I thought this challenge would be a great way to kickstart that.

Day 1: Cloudspotting - seal or teddy bear?
At first I found it hard to think of ideas. The month started in the middle of half term so should have been a good time to do some more inventive activities but actually we were flagging by that point in the week and it was a bit too warm to go trekking about, especially with Ezra in tow. So we started out simple.

Day 3: Releasing what turned out to be a larder beetle. Glad it's not in the house any more!
In the end, I found that not overthinking it and letting Wild Things just 'happen' worked quite well. Rather than planning wild activities we just opened our eyes to the nature around us and took time to appreciate it. Eleanor rediscovered her love of minibeasts and I learned loads - I can now identify each stage of the ladybird life cycle which I couldn't before!

Day 5: "Look Mummy, it's like confetti!"

Day 7: Minibeast hunting
Day 12: Eleanor likes butter!
Day 21: A blurry red kite circling above our house
Day 17: Walking barefoot in the grass (yes I have weird feet)

We spend more time in the garden than usual too, finding new ways to enjoy nature. Eleanor developed a penchant for making mudpies - she made them on three different occasions in the month!

Day 4: Ezra loving the mud!
Day 16: Making a mud pie
Day 19: First fruit picking of the year
Day 22: Garden yoga!
We did do some more organised activities like rose perfume making and leaf pressing, but in retrospect I'm glad we didn't do more actually, crafts can be quite stressful for us so I much preferred our 'go with the flow' approach!

Day 8: Leaves and flowers ready for pressing
Day 11: Mashing rose petals to make perfume
Day 29: Making dubious nature 'art' with the pressed leaves and flowers
We only had one nature outing, which was a shame. I'd have liked to do at least one more but our weekends filled up fast and the weather kept swinging from blazing hot to pouring with rain! We actually chose a blazing hot day for seeking shade in our local forest which cooled us down a bit.

Day 18: A Father's Day walk/bike ride in the forest
We didn't always manage to put a lot of effort into our Random Acts Of Wildness. On busy days, or when I got ill and it was raining, we 'cheated' a little with nature webcams, bug drawing and even a game of Beetle. I felt weirdly guilty about this but we were still thinking about nature, however tenuously!

The thing I'll take away most from the month is that just slowing down a bit lets us notice and enjoy nature so much more. Yes, checking out that ladybird pupa may add 30 seconds to the school run but it's a small price to pay! And playing with nature doesn't have to be a well-planned mission, it doesn't even have to involve leaving the garden - I just need to be creative (or let the kids be creative) while we're there!

I'm not sure I'll keep up the daily Random Acts Of Wildness long-term, but I'm definitely hoping to keep finding regular moments to enjoy nature with the kids.

Day 30: This is NOT a mud pie apparently - it's a mud cake!!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

To A Friend, Who Unwittingly Helped Me To Breastfeed

This week is National Breastfeeding Celebration Week in England, this year the week has the theme of breastfeeding support. Unicef are encouraging mothers to share stories of our breastfeeding friends, the people who supported us with our breastfeeding journey.

It's got me thinking about the people who supported me when I first started breastfeeding five and a half years ago. My husband, my mum, midwives, health visitors, strangers on online advice forums all played their part. But there was someone else, someone who may not have directly helped me, but whose example gave me the determination to keep going. This post is to her.

We were in each others' day to day lives for just a few months. We worked together, but by the time I started working with you, you might already have been pregnant with your second child. I was childless but hopeful for the future. You talked to me about motherhood, my first real 'mum friend'. You shared your pregnancy woes with me, but talked about the joys of being a mum too.

You talked about breastfeeding. You didn't preach about it, just casually dropped it into our conversations. It was something normal, run-of-the-mill, alongside talk of nappies and toddler tantrums. No big deal.

You went on maternity leave and we stayed in touch via Facebook. And that's how I heard about what happened after your beautiful baby was born. You were ill. Very ill. Scary, hospitalised kind of ill. Then you posted thanking your friends for helping you to continue breastfeeding your child. A few months later you called into work and talked about how you'd had to argue with medics to be able to keep breastfeeding. It stuck with me.

Fast forward two and a half years and I had a newborn baby of my own. I'd always assumed I'd breastfeed, but then I'd always assumed it was easy. How wrong I was. Eleanor had a habit of flat refusing to latch on, and would go from asleep to screaming with what we thought was hunger (actually it was reflux) in seconds. I didn't know how I could keep feeding her, it felt impossible.

But I remembered you. And how you'd continued to breastfeed despite being so very ill. And I kept telling myself, "If she could do it, so can I." You were my proof that it could be done, no matter what the circumstances. And that thought kept me going and helped me to fight for support until, at eight weeks, it finally started to get easier.

You did actually visit me in those early weeks but I didn't talk much about how I was struggling with breastfeeding at the time. You told me your two had both had reflux and we exchanged a couple of texts about it after Eleanor had been diagnosed, but other than that you weren't really directly involved in my breastfeeding journey. And yet you were crucial to it. You were my model of a normal, regular, breastfeeding mum, carrying on despite adversity. Simply by doing what you felt was right by your children, you inspired me to keep doing what I felt was right for my child.

Now Eleanor is five and a half it seems bizarre to me to think how close I came to giving up. Breastfeeding is just part of family life now. It's normal, run-of-the-mill, just like nappies and toddler tantrums. And I have you to thank for that.

Thank you, my unknowing breastfeeding friend.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Review: 'Daisy And The Trouble With Chocolate' by Kes Gray

I haven't written about what Eleanor's reading in a while. This is mostly because, actually, I don't get to read with her very much any more. She's been able to read pretty much fluently for two years now but her growing attention span means she can happily sit with a chapter book and read to herself, rather than wanting to be read to. I still get to read bedtime stories every other day (husband and I alternate) but those are short stories from a Disney book and, to be frank, there isn't much to write about.

So with her reading independently most of the time, I don't often know what she's reading. I don't have time to sit and read a chapter book like I did with picture books. But last week I found a book in the library I thought she might enjoy, and it made her laugh so hard I had to read it myself!

Eleanor loved the Daisy picture books when she was younger. Daisy is a really fun character - witty, a bit rebellious, smart and curious. She doesn't scream 'girlie' at you either, which is refreshing. I thought the chapter books might be a bit too much for Eleanor at first - she tends to read shorter ones still - but she sat and read the whole thing cover to cover in about an hour! I'm not sure she took everything in the first time, but she's since reread it about five times so must have covered the whole story by now!

So what do I think to the book? It's good fun and I can see how it would appeal to kids. It combines two storylines - Daisy looking after the pet hamsters over the Easter holiday, and going to Chocolate Land, a chocolate theme park. The part that had Eleanor properly belly laughing was the hamster storyline and I could see why, there is lots of talk about hamster poo which is of course hilarious to a 5 year old! The Chocolate Land part is more far-fetched, but would be really exciting to a child: chocolate face painting, a rock band with chocolate guitars, chocolate magic shows etc. The whole thing made me feel a bit queasy but to a child it sounds like heaven! It's a very easy read - the text is broken up with lots of fun illustrations, and the repetition of 'the trouble with' throughout the story will help to keep children engaged.

More importantly,Eleanor thinks it's hilarious and says it's her favourite book ever! This week anyway ...
c Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum and Kids Like to Read #KLTR hosted by Laura's Lovely Blog and The Inspiration Edit.

Read With Me

Laura's Lovely Blog

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Things a Teetotal Mum Will Recognise

Just lemonade for me, ta
For all my talk about being this hippyish alternative mum, I generally blend in fairly easily with other mums. After all, we're all in the same boat and need to help each other out. But there is one area where I still feel like the odd one out. Drinking.

I don't drink.

To me it's not a big deal. I've never been massively into alcohol. I experimented with it a bit in uni but never got properly drunk. And as I got older I just, well, grew out of it. I was mostly teetotal when trying for my first baby then stopped altogether for pregnancy and ... never really started again. I think I could count the drinks I've had in the last six years on one hand.

People have always been a bit surprised and baffled by my lack of interest in alcohol, but I'm more aware of it now I'm a mum. It's hard to pinpoint why, but there are a few things I've noticed - things that I'm sure other teetotal/occasional drinking mums will relate to!

The Questions

So, I go on a night out (pahaha, yeah, when my kids will let me which is once a year at best) and I'll get a lemonade or something. And there'll often be a conversation like this.

"Oh, not drinking tonight?"
"No, I don't drink."
"Oh! Why's that?"

I'm still slightly flummoxed by this question. I mean, if we were out for a meal and everyone else was eating steak but I ordered the vegetarian, it's unlikely I'd be asked why I don't eat meat. People just seem to accept that I don't, and carry on as normal. But not drinking will often raise a question.

It's not that I mind the question, I just don't know how to answer it. There's no one reason why I don't drink. There are lots of little reasons, the main one being that I just don't like it. But if I answer with that, people are really confused. So I often say something vaguely related to health issues, because I've learnt that's more acceptable than just thinking alcohol tastes nasty!

Gin O'Clock

Social media is great, isn't it? When I've had a rough day with the kids, or when bedtime has been going on for three hours and I'm about to scream, I will often take to Twitter for a moan, where I am met with solidarity and gifs. And occasionally the suggestion of gin.

It seems that after 6pm, the answer to a mum's problems is in the bottom of a glass. I'm sure it's in jest - at least I hope so, you don't really all drink that much, do you??! But I never know how to respond. Do I pretend to agree? Do I say I don't drink and risk The Questions (see above)? Do I just click 'like' and hope that's a friendly enough way of dodging the conversation?

The Alternative Vice

Of course, I'm no angel. When situations like the one above arise, I don't get through them by deep breathing and mindful housework, or whatever a clean-living alpha mum would do. So how do I cope when the kids are driving me up the wall and I don't want to hit the bottle?

Chocolate. That's how. Lots and lots of chocolate. In various forms - bars, biscuits, cakes. I live on the stuff. And the advantage is you can eat it All Day Long. And, believe me, I do. If it weren't for breastfeeding and babywearing I'd be the size of a house by now. In fact I don't quite know how I'll cope when I'm no longer able to consume my own body weight in chocolate on a daily basis. But that's a problem for another day!

The Second Guessing

I think more difficult to deal with than people's reactions is wondering what the reaction will be. Or what people will think of me. Will they be shocked? Aghast? Suspicious? Will they think I'm judging them? Will they worry that I'm going to remember the daft things they do or say under the influence and hold it over them? Will they think I'm odd, boring, sanctimonious?

The truth is, I'm not judging. Some people drink, some don't. It doesn't bother me. I'm not teetotal through some high-minded moral choice. I'm not making a point. I just don't like the stuff. I can still go out and have a laugh with other mums, kids and energy permitting. And as for what happens on the night out, that stays on the night out. I've got enough to try and remember in my sleep-deprived state without filing away your tipsy antics to tease you with another day.

If you're a fellow non-drinking mum, can you relate to these? And if you're not, go on - what do you really think of the mum in the corner nursing an orange juice?!

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Musings on Gender Stereotypes and Children

We're at a playgroup. Eleanor is 3. She is wearing a typically colourful outfit - blues, greens, reds. I look around and become aware that every other girl in the room is wearing pink. I wonder how long it'll be before Eleanor starts to notice these things too.

While being supremely confident in some ways, I've noticed that Eleanor is becoming more and more concerned about 'fitting in'. She's still a bit quirky, but while before she didn't notice her quirkiness, now she seems to be more conscious of it, and is trying to assimilate with her peers. Particularly her female peers.

I'm tucking Eleanor into bed. She's 4. She starts to talk about something that happened at nursery. There were bunny masks to wear. She wanted a blue one - her favourite colour. She says she was told she couldn't have one. Because, "blue is for boys and pink is for girls."

I tried to avoid gender stereotypes with her. And for three years, maybe longer, I succeeded. Then over time she started to notice. To hear things. To absorb things. And I wonder whether I took entirely the wrong approach. Because now I have a girl who knows deeply what she likes - the colour blue, football, fairies, dinosaurs, dressing up and space. But she's now learning that not all of those things are generally considered 'girls' things. And in her black-and-white view of the world, she doesn't quite know where she fits.

Eleanor is playing with baby Ezra. She is 4. She puts a hairclip on his head. "Ezra, this is what you would look like as a girl." She removes the hairclip. "Ezra, this is what you look like as a boy." The hairclip is replaced - "girl" - and removed - "boy."

I try to point towards examples of women who share her not-typically-feminine interests. "My favourite colour is blue too," I say. "Rachel Yankey is a footballer. Look, Maddie's wearing a dinosaur top! There's an astronaut on the International Space Station who's a lady." But she's unimpressed. They're not little girls like her. She doesn't need common ground with them, she needs common ground with the other little girls she sees.

Eleanor's scooter breaks. She is 5. It was second hand and free. It also happened to be blue. When we're looking for a replacement Eleanor says, "I want to get a pink scooter." I'm surprised - blue is still her favourite colour, and she generally ranks pink as her "20th favourite". (Goodness knows what the 18 colours in between are.) "If I get a blue scooter, people will say it's a boy's scooter." I ask her if that matters. "Yes." I ask why. "Because I'm a girl." We get her a pink scooter. She points out the little bit of blue on it, as if to reassure herself.

Often conversations around gender stereotyping in children's toys and clothes elicit the argument, "well just buy what you want. Does it matter if it says it's for girls or boys?" And to me it doesn't. If I see a top or toy I think one of my kids would like I get it, regardless of which section it's in. But while it doesn't matter to me, an adult with a clear understanding of stereotypes, it does matter to my 5 year old daughter. She's not old enough to understand that gender is a nuanced thing, that women (and men) can have widely different tastes and interests. She just wants to be like the other girls around her. And when we go shopping and she sees girls' clothes in one area, boys' in another, princesses, fairies and Lego Friends down one aisle and dinosaurs, superheroes and regular Lego down another, what's she supposed to think?

Eleanor decides to stop going to her football class. There are various sensible reasons for this - she's one of the youngest and the smallest so it's hard for her to keep up, plus the class is on Thursday when she's already pretty tired from four days at school. But if you ask her why she doesn't want to go any more, her response is that she's the only girl. We talk about how she could join again when she's older. "Yes," she says, "because then I'll be as big as the others. And some more girls might have joined too."

I realise that this is a battle I can't fight alone. No parent can. We might be able to for a while but once childcare and school kicks in, once our kids are old enough to spot the norms, we're on the losing side. And of course, we want our kids to be happy, to not feel like the odd one out, so we go with the flow and hope that when they're older they'll have the resilience to do what they like and be who they want to be. Yet we know that by going with the flow we're reinforcing the norms. Making it harder for the next round of quirky kids. But what can we do?

We can keep buying things we know our kids will like regardless of where in the shop they came from. We can keep talking about the stereotypes and why they don't make sense. We can slowly start to talk to our kids about the roots of those stereotypes. We can hold retailers to account for perpetuating the Great Pink/Blue Divide. (Let Toys Be Toys and Let Clothes Be Clothes are doing a great job there.) And we can wait for the years to pass and for our kids to get a broader perspective, hoping that those years won't ingrain the norms too much.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

'Zoe and Beans: Look At Me!' by Chloe and Mick Inkpen

Last week when I took Ezra to the library he started happily pulling books out of the boxes, and one of the books was very familiar. I'd borrowed it when Eleanor was a toddler and really liked it, so I thought I'd introduce Ezra to it.

I've mentioned this book before in passing, both on this blog and in my guest post for Let Them Be Small, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about why I love it so much.

Firstly, it features a boy-girl friendship. Admittedly this seems more common in picture books than in books aimed at older kids, but still it's refreshing to see a book which represents both genders and shows them engaged in the same activity. The story is all about Zoe and her friend Oscar dressing up as different things, and it's all fairly non-gendered. Zoe doesn't dress up as a princess or similar 'girly' character, and they both dress up as pirates and 'action'-style characters.

I also love the inventiveness of their dressing up. In fact, I used it as an example for Eleanor that she doesn't have to have an exact costume to dress up as something - a pan can be a helmet, a rubber duck can be a parrot. In this 'buy buy buy' culture where so many kids have an array of ready-made costumes, it's endearing to see a story about kids using their imagination and ingenuity.

I absolutely love the ending. Having exhausted their options, even using the dressing up box itself as a costume, they decide to dress as each other. This shouldn't be a bold move, but it is. There is still a stigma around boys dressing up as girls in particular, so seeing the kids happily playing as each other feels like a statement. And what an awesome statement to make - kids can dress how they want and be who they want!

And what does Ezra make of it? It's not quite as 'active' as some of the stories he's used to, but he still really enjoys looking at the pictures, and the onomatopoeic parts of the text really appeal to him. I might read it to him again when he's old enough to understand what's going on - but then he sees his sister dressing up loads so perhaps he understands more than I'm giving him credit for!

I really love the Zoe and Beans series, especially how the illustrations combine Mick Inkpen's familiar style with Chloe's quirkiness, and the playful nature of the stories. I'm looking forward to re-reading them as Ezra grows up.

I'm linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

Read With Me

Friday, 26 May 2017

So You Want To Be A WAHM?

One of the biggest dilemmas for parents (especially, and probably disproportionately, for mums) is choosing whether to stay at home or return to work after maternity leave. It's a hugely personal decision and the right answer will be different for each family. Whatever the decision, we're all doing our best by our kids and ourselves (and we're all full-time parents).

I chose to stay at home, but a couple of years in I started to want a bit more. It wasn't just about money, although extra cash is always useful. I wanted to do something other than parenting, andto prove to myself I could still work! So I decided to try being a work-at-home mum - or WAHM for short.

The tricky bit is finding something that works for me. I tried direct sales but discovered that sales really isn't my thing. I switched to copywriting which I was better at, but once Ezra was born it was impossible to find regular time (and energy) for it. So for now I'm keeping in practise by blogging until I have more time and I'm getting more sleep.

So my experience as a WAHM has been mixed so far, but for many women it's a great opportunity to combine time with the kids with a career. Trouble is, how do you find the balance? I asked some local WAHMs about their top tips for anyone considering working from home, and this is what they had to say:

"A lot of my WAHM clients say having a life coach gives them focus, motivation and accountability. Being on your own with your vision can be really lonely but having a life coach who walks along side you and understand what you are wanting to achieve its paramount to success." - Nicola from Nicola Hughes Coaching and Counselling

"Stay on top of your paperwork, invoicing, book keeping etc. Its really easy to put it in a pile 'for later' and then not be able to remember important details when you eventually get round to it." - Jane from Norris Box

"It's a marathon and not a sprint. Especially fitting work around small ones, you've got to go with the flow and find when you can get work done. Set goals, work hard to achieve them, but be gentle with yourself as you're almost undoubtedly doing better than you think. Don't be afraid to take risks or change direction if you see an opportunity." - Rachel from Spider and Fly

"Try not to compare your business to others who are doing similar things! Make it work for you... and know you can't do everything straight away. Like Rachel rightly says it is a marathon, not a sprint.
Importantly don't underestimate your value. I see 
a lot of WAHMs undercharging for their goods or services so it is a good idea to cost up your business when thinking about pricing. Look at what you need to earn, how many hours you can reasonably work a week, what kind of resources you can put in (for example can you build a website or will you need to pay someone to do that), whether you need specialist training, insurance, registrations and then also factor in sick pay, holidays and childcare. You might not actually be able to charge the amount you need to, but this will give you an idea of what you are aiming for. Being a WAHM has to be about passion and drive because it is hard work, but the pros can outweigh the cons if you love what you do." - Lucy from Om Line Training

"Do something your passionate about because working from home needs a lot of drive from you. Also do market research before setting your goals. I love blogging, Vlogging, making films, teaching bellydance and writing press releases - so I really enjoy the variety I get from working for myself from home and my love of my work (I hope) shines through in what I deliver. Beats an office job any day. Go for it!" - Sophie from Mama Mei and Evoke Media Group

"Make sure you take a break when needed and plan them into your calendar. We have found juggling the long summer holiday and children / partners work was just a means to disaster so we 'close our books' for August and spend the time with our families and catching up on admin type jobs without the pressure of liaising with customers and getting goods out. It has to be on the calendar though as otherwise we easily slipped up and would 'just do this one'." - Amanda from Just A Touch Of Magic

"Don't forget to look after you. If you are running your own business you are your great asset but that can be very easy to forget when you are juggling the demands of family life and work, all in the same space. Especially when you love what you do too and there are not enough hours in the day/week/month... Make sure you take some time out that is just for you, doing something that you love - it could be yoga, crafts, walking, running, swimming, going to the gym or meeting friends. Even better if it is something that enhances and improves your health and wellbeing so that you stay strong and healthy (which means less sick days and more energy for your business and your family!)." - Lucy from Lucyoga

"You can get maternity allowance if you have paid NI contributions (if I recall correctly 13 weeks out of 52, voluntary contributions included) and are entitled to income based ESA. Which is something invaluable." Sophie from Footprints on Forever

If you're interested in what being a WAHM entails, take a look at the above links to see what fab and varied work these ladies do!

Are you a WAHM? Do you have any tips you would add to this list?

Friday, 19 May 2017

Fighting the Clutter and Simplifying Play

I've never been the tidiest person, but recently the amount of mess in my house has been getting me down. I was getting dragged into a 'my house isn't big enough' mentality, feeling sorry for myself, when actually the real issue is that we have too much stuff.

The amount of toys our kids have has been an issue for a while - even when Eleanor was a toddler, we already felt like we were drowning in toys. So of course now we have two, it's almost impossible to keep up with the sheer amount of stuff they have.

The thing is, they hardly play with it. Especially Eleanor. Whenever she complains about being bored I'll reel off a list of all the things she could do, but of course she's not interested. And Ezra will happily drag all his toys out of his box then proceed to play with the nearest non-toy item (preferably a dangerous one). I honestly think that the more toys a child has, the more overwhelming they find the choice and the less likely they are to play.

Alas, I think it is too late to get Eleanor on board with the 'less is more' message. But Ezra, being unable to speak and having a shorter attention span, can be merrily forced to go along with this as long as he doesn't see me getting rid of his stuff.

So, one nap time, I emptied out all his toys on the floor.

Yeah. What a mess, eh? No wonder it took me so long to tidy every evening, and no wonder he didn't seem to play with anything - there's just too much going on. So I set to work sorting through the mess.

I piled up all the cuddly toys - he hardly plays with these at the moment so I selected just one for him to keep, a little jingly Peter Rabbit toy. I fished out anything that wasn't actually his, as Eleanor's stuff had snuck in a little. I chucked away one particularly battered toy that we'd had since Eleanor was toddler and was past it's best. I found all the teethers and put them to one side to wash. And I weeded out any toys that I thought he was a bit big for.

I ended up with this.

These are the toys that he will actually play with: a bead maze, his toy kitchen and play food, a shape-sorting bus, two push-along vehicles, a shaker, stacking blocks, soft blocks, a jingly ball and the aforementioned Peter Rabbit toy.

Most of the rest has been shoved in a bag for now and when we get chance we'll go through it and decide what to keep for when he's older and what can go to charity. The teethers are still awaiting cleaning, and will be kept somewhere safe so they can actually be used for their purpose rather than as toys.

I did this three days ago, and he doesn't seem to have noticed the sudden lack of stuff. But he does seem to be taking more interest in his remaining toys now he can find them more easily. And it's quicker to tidy everything away at the end of the day. Win win!

Have you found that less is more when it comes to toys? How many toys do you think your child 'needs'?

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

'Rhyming Stories: Pip the Dog and Freddy the Frog' by Axel Scheffler

Another bookish post for you this week. In my mission to get Ezra reading books instead of ruining them, I've started getting down to the library more regularly. Last week we picked up this lovely book:

I love Axel Scheffler's illustrations - well, who doesn't? - and I really enjoy reading rhyming text so this is right up my street. It's also a really good choice for Ezra as the two short stories aren't too overwhelming for him - much as I adore them, he's not ready for the Donaldson/Scheffler stories yet.

Ezra's favourite of the two stories is Pip the Dog. Mainly because he thinks it's funny when I bark like a dog!

I'm happy to make silly noises in stories if it gets the kids engaged, and there are plenty of opportunities to practise my dog impression in this story. I'm still working on the difference between a happy woof and a sad woof, but I don't suppose Ezra's that bothered!

He seems less keen on Freddy the Frog - obviously my croaks aren't as funny as my barks - but it's still a sweet little story. There's no real plot to either story but then little toddlers aren't going to follow one anyway, so it's nice to just enjoy the rhymes and descriptions at this age.

Freddy the Frog is a good one to read with your little one on your knee, as then you can bounce them up and down to join in with the race! As I mentioned in my last post, I'm on the lookout for books that you can do actions to, so this is another fun one!

We've both really enjoyed this book - it's colourful, cheerful and gives opportunities for giggles with funny noises and bouncing about. I spotted another 'Rhyming Stories' book while at the library so think I'll be picking that up next week!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum and Kids Love To Read #KLTR hosted by Laura's Lovely Blog and The Inspiration Edit.

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Tuesday, 9 May 2017

'Clip Clop!' by Nicola Smee

I haven't done a post about what we're reading recently. Eleanor is now a very independent reader (and reads the same books over and over) so I don't have much to say about her reading habits these days. And Ezra is in full-on book devastation mode so I'm ashamed to say I haven't been reading much with him.

Except for one book.

As you can see, this book hasn't escaped his destructive powers entirely, but a slightly bent and nibbled front page is nothing compared to some of the havoc he's wreaked. (I've even had to throw books away - sob!) I think he's sparing this book because he loves it so much!

It's a really simple, short story, perfect for older babies and younger toddlers.

This book is absolutely made for bouncing a baby along to. Every parent has played horsey one time or another, and this story gives you lots of opportunity to make your little one giggle.

The rhythm of the text encourages you speed up your bouncing until ...

This is Ezra's favourite page - I lean back for the HALT and forward for the fly and his face lights up every time!

I love the playful ending - anticipating the child asking for another read of it! Although Ezra is too young to say 'again' himself, he will often turn back to the first page, indicating he wants another 'ride'. It's so short and fun I'm more than happy to do a repeat reading.

I'm now on the lookout for more books that encourage actions - any ideas?

I'm linking up with Read With Me hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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