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.


Read With Me


Laura's Lovely Blog

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.




Read With Me

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Review - FotoJet Premium photo editing and collage

You may have noticed my header's changed. I've been undergoing the slow (for me) process of prettifying my blog but I'd been putting off the header. Photo-editing is not my forte at all and I was really worried about doing a bad job of it.

Then FotoJet got in touch to offer me a chance to try out their Premium account. It felt like the universe was telling me to get on with that header once and for all!

So, what do you think to the header? Nice, isn't it? It may not look like much, but to me it was a real challenge! I started out with this photo:


I uploaded it onto the FotoJet Edit section and resized it so it would fit my blog template. (Unfortunately a Blogger-specific header wasn't an option in the Design section, but there were lots of options for social media headers and posts.) It was pretty straightforward to do this, even for a novice like me.

I then set about adjusting the photo a little to make it a little less washed-out. The free version of the website does have some pre-set effects that you can apply, but I thought I'd try out the Advanced features for a more customised look.


After I'd played around with the different settings until I had the look I wanted I added the text. I wanted a clean, fuss-free font so used one of the free options, but there are loads of fancy fonts that are exclusive to the Premium account if you feel like being more creative.


After a bit of playing around I got the header you can see above - not bad for a technophobe, eh?! Just a shame there's nothing that can be done for Eleanor's weird photo pose ...

Overall I found the Edit function really straightforward, so I decided to get adventurous and use the Collage function for my next project. Eleanor is having a half-birthday next month (on account of her birthday being so close to Christmas) so this was a great opportunity to get her invites done.

In the Collage section of the website, there are lots of templates for different occasions, including some lovely invitations. I chose this one, which is only available on the Premium account:


I added a photo of Eleanor (from her actual birthday, just to confuse people even further) and used the effects to brighten it up.


I then edited the text - changing the font and positioning very easily - to include the party's details. I didn't screenshot that bit as obviously I don't want the whole internet knowing when and where the party is, so you'll just have to trust me that it looks great!

I was very impressed with how easy to use the FotoJet browser app is and would recommend it to anyone who needs to do photo editing or graphic design but doesn't know where to start. Whether you're a blogger setting up headers or you need to make a really eye-catching invite or flyer, this app will help you through all the tricky bits. The Premium features are very useful to have, especially if you want to fully customise your work or have a very particular design in mind.

If you're interested in giving FotoJet a try, check out their website where you will also find information on signing up for a Premium account.

DISCLAIMER: I was offered free access to a FotoJet Premium account for the purposes of this review, however all words and opinions are my own.