Monday, 2 July 2018

Things We've Done To Be Greener In ... June

Another month, another chance to think about the little things I've done to be more eco-friendly. I can see this monthly feature becoming harder to write as time goes on as actually, most of the green things we've done this month are a continuation of previous months. It's been a brilliant month for line drying, with the tumble dryer getting a much needed rest. My 'no poo' efforts are ongoing and I am planning to write more on the subject when I've finally cracked it - or given up entirely! We're still taking full advantage of the ability to take our own containers to the supermarket to buy meat, and use paper bags for fruit and veg.

But there have been a couple of things this month that I haven't mentioned before ...

Making our own lollies

When the weather started to heat up, we stocked up on shop-bought lollies, but I soon started to feel guilty about the wastefulness of it. We were throwing away plastic wrappers daily and I'm still unclear on what to do with wooden lolly sticks - are they compostable? Recyclable? I've got enough craft sticks without hoarding lolly sticks for all those activities we'll never do!!

So I dug out our lolly moulds and made simple fruit juice lollies. It's cheaper, less wasteful and means if we run out I can make more. (Which I'm having to do at least every other day in this heatwave!!) It does mean that we're getting through a lot of juice though. I might have to look at other recipes.

Oh and one related thing - I made blackcurrant sorbet out of a huge bag of blackcurrants we'd had in the freezer for ages! They were from our garden so zero food miles (except for the sugar), and I used a reusable container. I'm a culinary disaster zone so felt very proud that I'd managed to make it, and it was delicious!

Signed up to TerraCycle

You know that meme that was going around about the Crayola marker recycling scheme? It kept popping up on my social media feeds, shared by people in the UK, and I was getting increasingly annoyed by this as it's a North American scheme only! But in finding that out, I also found a website called TerraCycle, which does have a writing instruments recycling scheme. It's only available for schools though, so I couldn't sign up myself. But I have mentioned the scheme to a relative who works for an academy chain, so hopefully I'll be able to palm off my old felt tips to them soon!!

One scheme I could sign up for is the Cracker and Biscuit Wrapper Recycling Programme. I keep meaning to reduce my snack waste by doing more baking but realistically I don't have the time to keep the supply up - I basically live on biscuits. So this is one scheme that will assuage my guilt about my biscuit habit until I can either get it under control or start baking more regularly. So I signed up! I'm now collecting biscuit wrappers in a big padded envelope, ready to be sent off for free whenever it's full. There are a few other schemes open to individuals, and others with public collection points, so have a look at the website to see how you can recycle more stuff!

So I may not done a lot of new stuff this month but every little helps. A couple of people have mentioned Plastic Free July to me and, while I don't think I can quite commit to that, I will be doing what I can to reduce my plastic use further this coming month. Are you taking part?

Monday, 25 June 2018

The Ish Mother Reads: 'The Essex Serpent' by Sarah Perry

It's a while since I wrote about the books I've been reading myself - I have been keeping up with my New Year's Resolution to read more, but just haven't been reading books I could easily review! And if I'm honest I'm not entirely sure how to review my most recent read, but I'll give it a go.

Last year when compiling my Christmas wish list I asked for book recommendations on Twitter, and at least a couple of people recommended 'The Essex Serpent'. Sure enough I got it for Christmas, but already had a few other books I needed to finish or read first, so it took me a while to get to it.

'The Essex Serpent' is set in 1893 and tells the story of Cora Seaborne, a wealthy widow who leaves her London home in pursuit of the legendary Essex Serpent, a Nessie-type figure which she believes could be a dinosaur that somehow escaped extinction. Her pursuit leads her to meet Will Ransome, parish priest of a small coastal village, and his family. The pair form an unusual friendship, often falling out over matters of faith and science, while the village is in the grip of the fabled monster they fear is waiting for them in the nearby sea.

I found it a really interesting and enjoyable read - not gripping exactly, I didn't find myself rushing to read it, but equally I looked forward to my reading time at the end of the day in a way that I haven't done for a while. I found Cora and Will's relationship interesting but at times strangely unsettling. Without wanting to give too much away, there were times I felt frustrated by them. One thing I loved about the novel is that Will isn't portrayed as dogmatic or simple because he is a Christian - his faith, and his struggles with it, are both portrayed sympathetically, which makes a refreshing change from a lot of novels. When Cora and Will argue, you feel that it is a meeting of equal minds, and there is no sense that one viewpoint is superior to the other.

I was also fascinated by the portrayal of Cora's son, Francis. It is never explicitly stated (for obvious historical reasons) but it is pretty clear that Francis is autistic. He has fixations, he carries small objects almost like talismans, he refuses affection and is perplexed by relationships. I'd have liked to see more of him in the novel, and more about Cora's difficulties relating to her son.

The novel covers a lot of ground - as well as the issues of religion and science, there is also a subplot regarding housing in the working-class areas of London, and another intermingled one about medical advances - and at times it all felt a bit muddled. I found it hard to see how all the pieces of the story fit together (although that is possibly down to me reading it over a course of a few weeks rather than more quickly) but it was interesting seeing historical references being woven into the overall narrative.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical novels or is interested in nineteenth-century life. It takes a little bit of time to get going, and you need to have a good mind for keeping track of interweaving plots, but it's definitely worth sticking with. And the last few chapters will have your heart in your mouth!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Thursday, 14 June 2018

On Midwives, Media and Mothers

This week has seen another big story in the media about parenting, specifically infant feeding. The huge revelation? The Royal College of Midwives issued updated guidance.

What? How is that headline news? Well, the media decided to ignore the majority of the guidance and latch on (pun intended) to one specific line: that, "if, after being given appropriate information, advice and support on breastfeeding, a woman chooses not to do so, or to give formula as well as breastfeeding, her choice must be respected." This sentence, in a statement which still reiterates the importance of breastfeeding, and the need for support from both medical professionals and society as a whole, is what the Daily Mail chose to call the, "end of breastfeeding tyranny."

Photo courtesy of Pexels

My kneejerk reaction on seeing some of the responses to the news was one of frustration - once again, the media had found a way to bash breastfeeding and those who try to help mums to do it. But when I read the actual statement I was reminded of my breastfeeding peer supporter training and the key message we were given - listen to the mother and what she wants. And actually, that's all this guidance is recommending.

From what I see, midwives are charged with an impossible task. Breastfeeding rates in the UK are amongst the lowest in the world, and as the first point of contact with new mothers, midwives are under pressure to change that. They're also under pressure to deal with understaffing, too much paperwork, increasing numbers of complications in pregnancy and labour, and a culture in which breastfeeding has not been the norm for decades. They're not miracle workers, brilliant and dedicated as many of them are. And I do believe the majority of midwives were probably already following the guidance issued this week.

But in any profession there will be a few who overstep the mark. And it's important to listen to those mums who do feel their midwives did not support their choices, who felt pressured into breastfeeding and judged when they said they wanted to use formula. Equally, it's important to listen to those mums who desperately wanted to breastfeed but felt pressured to give formula. Both sets of voices are valid. (And both instances happen, although I notice there was less discussion of the latter instance in the media.)

One thing the statement said, which has changed very little since the previous guidance, is that mother who choose to give formula should be given advice on how to do it safely and responsively, and shown how to properly sterilise equipment and make up feeds. This is so vital. Several formula feeding mums I know have said that there's hardly any guidance given once a mother makes the decision to use formula. As a result there is a lot of misinformation out there about how to safely prepare formula. So there is clearly a need for this kind of support and I'm glad the RCM continue to highlight that. I hope the message gets out to those in a position to provide that guidance.

This is the crux of the issue: support. A lot of the messages I've seen on social media are from mothers who were not fully supported. Either they were made to feel guilty for choosing formula, or, as commonly if not more so, they weren't given the practical help they needed to get started with breastfeeding and overcome problems. We need to listen to these women, who feel hurt and judged and let down, and learn from them.

As for 'breastfeeding tyranny'? I hope that awful phrase doesn't tar all breastfeeding advocates with the same brush. Yes, some go too far and yes, that needs to change. But most of us just want to support the mothers who do want to breastfeed to do so for as long as they want. We're really not interested in bullying new mums into doing something they don't want to do. We just want them to have an informed choice and to be supported to feed how they want. At the end of the day, our low breastfeeding rates are not the responsibility of new mums. This is an issue that requires investment from the government and public health bodies and a change in how we view breastfeeding as a society. And the media scouring press releases to find any excuse to bash breastfeeding isn't helping with the latter.

So well done to the Royal College of Midwives for issuing a very sensible and well balanced statement. And well done to anyone who supports new mums in their feeding choices with accurate information and practical help. May you be allowed to get on with your job without being labelled a tyrant by the tabloids for doing so.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Things We've Done To Be Greener In ... May

Last month I started a new feature on the blog, talking about the new things (big and little) I did in the previous month to be more environmentally friendly. A few days late, here's my May update!

You may have noticed a slight change in wording - I realised after publishing the last post that actually most of the green things we do are a family effort and so to recognise that I changed 'I've' to 'We've'.

So here are the things our little family have been doing in an effort to be kinder to the planet ...

Doubled down on cloth nappy use

It's no secret that I love cloth nappies, but we always have disposables in for night time and emergencies. Except recently I'd been getting a bit lazy about what constitutes an emergency. Basically any outing of more than an hour was starting to warrant a disposable in my eyes. Our bin was filling up fast and our supplies dwindling. And it wasn't great for Ezra either - we went away for the May Day weekend and used disposables all weekend, which caused dreadful nappy rash. To the point where we actually decided to give cloth another go overnight to give him chance to heal. And now he's older, it works! This, and being a bit stricter with myself about using cloth when going out, means we've massively reduced our disposable usage. 

I'm also working on reducing the number of baby wipes we use. We've never used them loads because they're another thing Ezra is sensitive to, but I've found that reminding myself to use washable wipes, cotton wool or just tissue has made our 'emergency' packs last longer.

Dodged plastic packaging

This one has been massively helped by our local branch of Morrison's who have started using compostable paper bags for fruit and veg, and allowing customers to bring in tupperwares for fresh meat.

It's a small step at the moment - I do still feel like we're drowning in plastic packaging - but it's a start toward reducing the amount that ends up in our bin.

Took an EV road trip

I mentioned last month that we now have an electric car. We kept our old one mainly for longer journeys, as the battery life of the Leaf only covers around 90 miles. But when we went to the coast for the May Day weekend we used it as an opportunity to try out a longer journey in an EV. Admittedly I was skeptical but it did work out fairly well. It meant we had to break up our trips with a stop at a rapid charger (we coincided these with lunch) and my husband had to go on a quick trip to the next town to use the charger in Lidl, but we managed it! I'm still not sure about very long journeys though, the stopping to charge did make our travel time much longer. But it's good to know we can use it for medium-length journeys.

So that's some of what we've been up to - how about you? Have you made any changes recently to be greener? Let me know and I might nick your ideas for this month!!

Monday, 14 May 2018

Review: '101 Fun Outdoor Activities For Children' by Fiona Bird

What glorious weather we're having at the moment! After a few false starts Spring has finally sprung and it feels like Summer is just waiting in the wings now. One lovely side effect of this is that the kids have been playing in the garden much more. Ezra, a typical toddler, is more than happy to potter around and get messy even in cold weather, but Eleanor is quite sensitive to the cold so needs coaxing out most of the time. It's been a joy to see her enjoying being outdoors in the past couple of weeks. She even played football in the rain this weekend!!

I used to be a really outdoorsy kid but sadly I grew out of it and I do find outdoor play hard. So I was really happy when we recently won 101 Fun Outdoor Activities For Children by Fiona Bird in a Toppsta giveaway. As the title suggests, it's got bags of inspiration!

What I love about this book is that the activities have a wide range of challenge level - some of the ideas, like mud pies and Pooh Sticks, are easily achieveable with smaller children and can give them a sense of accomplishment that they can 'tick off' some of the activities very quickly, or even before they look through the book.

But then there are also more complex activities to challenge older children, or to use up more time - craft activities using both natural and recycled materials. Eleanor is very interested in the idea of making natural dyes. I suspect that may be a bit messy but might have to swallow my hatred of mess and give it a try!

The activities also cover a range of seasons and locations, so wherever you are, whatever time of year it is, chances are you'll find a suitable activity. I'm gutted that we forgot to take it to the beach with us when we went over the May Day weekend, but that just gives us an excuse to have another day trip to the beach in the summer!!

I was dubious about some of the activities. Some crafts suggested using plastic bottles or carrier bags, and while reusing is great, I worry about leaving plastic objects outside, possibly to get blown away or cause problems for wildlife. I have to admit the plastic bottle slug catcher was tempting though! Eleanor was a bit bothered by a suggestion of making itching powder and tricking friends with it, we both agreed that didn't seem like a nice thing to do. But with so many other ideas, it's easy enough to skip over the ones we're not keen on.

If you're looking for outdoor inspiration now that the weather is picking up I thoroughly recommend this book. I'm looking forward to working our way through as many activities as possible this summer!

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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Thursday, 10 May 2018

We Were Lucky

So, let's get caught up. Regular readers will now know that Eleanor has had her assessment. Just over a year after the first referral was made, it has been confirmed that she is autistic.

We were lucky.

We were lucky that Eleanor's reception teacher had enough knowledge to recognise that autism was a possibility, rather than deciding her problems were just behavioural.

We were lucky that school dealt with the referral, putting forward enough evidence for our referral to go straight to CAMHS rather than being passed to family services, which could have led to us having to go on a parenting course before any further progress could be made.

We were lucky that, eight months later, CAMHS decided that they had enough evidence to put her forward for an autism assessment after two sessions. We took them up on the offer of a third session to get some advice, but by then the referral was written and ready to go. It was at that point we were told it would be another year before the assessment took place.

We were lucky that by that point our local CAMHS service was so far behind it had started outsourcing the assessments, shortening our wait to four months.

We were lucky that throughout this time we had the full support of the school, who have been incredible in proactively finding ways to support Eleanor and in providing evidence for us.

We were lucky that the assessors were skilled enough to see through Eleanor's sociable nature and developing masking skills, and instead see the symptoms she's trying to hide.

We were lucky - others aren't. Others don't get the right support, are not believed, or not even aware autism is a possibility until much further down the line. Others have a much longer wait for assessment, have to jump through more hoops to even get on the waiting list. Others get as far as assessment only for their child to have learnt to mask so well in that time that they go undiagnosed.

We were lucky and it still took over a year. A year of further brain development, of Eleanor finding new challenges to overcome, of us struggling to know how best to support her.

We were lucky, and we still don't really know what to do next.

I can't help but think this isn't what 'lucky' should look like. Parents should be supported and believed, schools should be equipped to support all pupils, CAMHS should be properly funded to be able to deal with referrals promptly. Our 'luck' should be the baseline.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

What Do You Tell Your Child Before Their Autism Assessment?

I wrote this post nearly two months ago, but didn't feel ready to publish it at the time. I still don't now to be honest, but as it's been a while I'd better get it out there!

So since writing this post, things sped up somewhat. By somewhat I mean a lot - having been told we'd be waiting a year for Eleanor's ASC assessment, we then got a phonecall at the end of January to say our appointment was in March. Actually, as I write this post, we had it this morning.

One thing I struggled with in the run up to the assessment was knowing what to tell Eleanor. At 6 years old I wasn't sure I was ready to tell her she might be autistic, partly because, well, what if they said she wasn't? She sees things so black and white that telling her one thing only to have to backtrack would really upset her. But at the same time, how was I going to explain to her that we were taking her out of school for a few hours to play in a room with a stranger while we were in the next room answering questions?

I turned to Google as any 21st century parent would, but found little guidance. A lot is written about what to tell your child after diagnosis but I couldn't find anything about what to say prior to the assessment. So I asked a couple of bloggers with autistic children what they'd said or done, and here's what they had to say:

"I think it depends on the age of your daughter and level of understanding to be honest. With older children that understand I think its important to be honest with them about what it going on. My 13 year old is currently being assessed and doesn't like the idea of it but needs the help and I have told her and so has the person assessing her, that she might get a diagnosis. My son however was assessed when he was 7/8 and didn't have a clue what was going on at the time so I just told him he had an appointment. After he received a diagnosis I explained it to him at his level of understanding." - Autism Kids On Tour

"I told my son that we were going to see a lady who just wanted to chat with him for a little bit. I said there would be toys and things to play with so it wouldn't be too boring. To be honest, he doesn't really understand anything complex so this was enough for him. I told him the morning we were going as he can't cope with transitions and when he knows something is coming up soon then his anxiety goes through the roof." - Living With A Jude

I got advice from other parents privately too, and in the end decided to keep it simple. We considered waiting until the day to tell her but, as it was an early appointment which meant her morning routine would have to change to allow us to leave sooner, we decided to tell her the night before. At first I just told her that she had an appointment in the morning so wouldn't be going straight to school but we'd get her to school as soon as possible afterwards so she didn't miss too much. When she asked what the appointment was for I told her it would be a bit like when we went to see the lady with lots of toys who talked to her a bit about school last summer. (That was one of our CAMHS appointments prior to being referred for assessment.) She was a bit worried when I told her it would be different people because she doesn't like new people but didn't ask any more questions, which surprised me. Normally she won't stop asking questions! On the way to the appointment we told her we'd be in a different room answering some 'boring questions' and this didn't seem to bother her too much.

So if you're reading this wondering what to tell your child, my advice would be not to overthink it. You know your child best and you know how much information they need or would find helpful right now. If they're older it might be appropriate to explain what the assessment is for, but for younger ones sticking to the what rather than the why might be best. They may surprise you by not actually asking that many questions - if you've got this far they're probably used to going to random appointments by now!

Oh, and if you are reading this in preparation for your child's ASC assessment, I send you love and strength. It's scary, I know. But you've got this far, you can do this next step. Deep breaths, it's going to be OK.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Things I've Done To Be Greener In ... April

One of the bits of this blog I've neglected a bit is the 'green-ish' part. In the busyness of parenting (and reading) I find it hard to remember to write about my efforts to be more eco-friendly. And also, often my efforts feel so small that I'm not sure they're worth writing about.

But then I struck on an idea. Instead of writing about one specific area of eco-living, I could write a monthly post about the things, big and small, that I've done recently in an effort to be greener.

Just to fill you in, I'm already at what would probably be termed 'non-commital hippy' stage - I use cloth nappies and wipes most of the time, I rarely drive (although more on that in a minute), I'm vegetarian, we recycle and compost etc etc. But I still have the nagging feeling that I can do more.

So here's what we've done this month. Some of them are whole-family things, some are individual. Many are quite small, one in particular is very big! But they're all steps towards reducing our impact on the planet.

Bought an electric car

OK, so this is the biggy, and a family one too. While I rarely drive, my husband does need a car for work. So switching to an electric car, although expensive up front, will reduce fuel costs and be better for the environment. We have, however, kept our old diesel car (yes I know, we were told it was eco-friendly back in the days when the car companies were all lying) for longer journeys and as a run-around for me. I'm conscious this means we could potentially use cars more thus increasing our carbon footprint, but my utter hatred of driving means I've only used the diesel once since we got the electric! I will continue to walk or use public transport as much as is practical, but once I've got my confidence up it'll be nice to have the option to drive somewhere in the week.

Used a Zero Waste Shop

We're lucky that in a local-ish town a zero-waste shop is due to open this Summer, and in the run-up to that they are having monthly pop-up shops. I have to confess I didn't go to this myself, I dispatched the husband while I got Ezra to nap, and we only got a few things but I love the concept. You can go with your own containers to fill up to reduce packaging, and buy things like cleaning supplies, soaps and shampoos, some whole foods and reusable accessories like cups and sandwich wrappers. We bought bicarbonate of soda, a shampoo bar and metal washable straws.

Experimented with plastic-free hair washing

Here's where I veer into the world of hardcore hippy a little. This has been going on for a few months and I may write about it separately some day, but basically I'm trying to avoid buying shampoo in plastic bottles. I've dabbled with the world of 'no poo' by using bicarb of soda and cider vinegar (yes really, and actually it gives good results but must be used sparingly) and I'm now trying to get the hang of using a shampoo bar. Results are still mixed at the moment, and I have a bottle of SLS-free shampoo as back-up still, but I'm hoping I'll crack it this month!

Used more rags

I've written about this before but I have to admit when we have a pack of cleaning wipes in I'll always be tempted by the easier option. So we've just stopped buying them, and instead I've made a pile of rags to use for washing and wiping. They're mostly the kids' old clothes that are too stained to pass on. I've even started to use white vinegar for cleaning more often too although I have to do that sparingly because Eleanor hates the smell!!

Used the washing line

Ahh Spring! It may not be reliably warm and dry yet but it's such a relief to be able to hang washing out instead of relying on the dryer setting so much! It also means I'm getting more washing done which is a bonus. During the mini heatwave two weeks ago I almost got to the bottom of all three laundry baskets!!

So that's what I've done. Some things may be a bit too big (or bonkers) for you to try, but hopefully if you've got this far you'll have thought of something you could do to be a bit greener. Or if you're already super-green please tell me your secrets!

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Why I'm In Love With Terry (Nappies!)

It's Real Nappy Week this week. Last year I wrote a post all about my love of cloth nappies, but since then I've been converted to a particular type of cloth that a few years ago I completely dismissed.

I'm talking about terry squares. Yep, that's right, those little towels that your Nan used to use back in the day.

I first tried terry squares when Ezra was a little baby but couldn't find a fold that would cover his bum enough to contain his explosive poos, have enough absorbency at the front for his massive wees and that I could actually do without taking an advanced course in origami. So I gave up. But when Ezra was about 18 months some of the nappies that he had inherited from his sister started to give up the ghost. I needed more nappies but didn't want to spend loads more money when he might have only needed them for another year. I saw an offer on terry squares and thought I'd give them a whirl. They're now the nappies I reach for first when choosing what to put him in.

So here's why I have fallen for terry nappies:

1. They're cheap!

The cost of cloth nappies, while less than disposables over the full course of the pre-potty-training stage, can be prohibitive for some families who simply don't have a couple of hundred quid to spend all at once. Terries, however, can be picked up for less than £2 each. Yes, you need to buy wraps as well, but you don't need to change them every time so you don't need many. You can secure them either with old-fashioned nappy pins, or with the more modern (and safer) Nappy Nippas, both of which are cheap as chips.

2. They're versatile

There is a seriously dizzying number of folds you can do with a terry square. Given enough digging you'll likely find one that suits your child. (Yes, I didn't at first but to be honest I didn't try that hard!) Don't worry about having to learn loads of different folds, once you've found one that works you can just stick to it until it stops working for you. And then try another. I use the croissant fold, which kind of looks like a sumo outfit once on! But it's great for a toddler boy and I haven't needed to learn any others. I'm not a neat folder at all, but that doesn't seem to cause too much trouble!

A terry square laid flat, and one in a very cack-handed croissant fold

3. They last ages

Both in terms of absorbency and general longevity. With a bamboo booster, I find that a terry can last up to 4 hours. I haven't tried them overnight but there may well be a way to make that work. You do need a decent wrap though - personally I find that Motherease are the most reliable but others may disagree! And the great thing about terries is that there's no elastic, poppers or PUL that might degrade or break. You might need to replace wraps from time to time, but terries themselves don't change.

4. They're quick-drying

Another advantage of the simplicity of terry squares is that they dry super-fast. You can also put them on radiators which isn't always advisable with other nappies, or bung them in the tumble dryer which you can't do with most all-in-ones. So if you've only got a small stash you can get them dry and ready for wearing again very quickly.

5. They're great padding

One thing that people sometimes don't like about terry nappies is that they can be quite bulky. You can rectify that with different folds but chances are your baby will still have a big ol' bum. But that's great for when they're unsteady on their pins - imagine how much more comfortable it must be to fall on your bottom if it's padded out with layers of towelling!

6. They can be repurposed

With most nappies, if they've worn out there's not much you can do with them. But with terry squares you could reuse them as cleaning cloths, hand towels, makeshift bibs etc etc. Or of course you can pass them onto a friend and you know that they'll still be in good condition despite months or years of use!

So that's why I love terry squares. How about you? Have you tried them? What did you think?

Monday, 23 April 2018

Review: 'The Wondrous Dinosaurium' by John Condon and Steve Brown

At the grand old age of six, Eleanor seems to have outgrown peak dino-fever. I feel quite sad about it - gone is the little girl who, at age 3, picked up a toy dinosaur and informed me it was a parasaurolophus. And she really did inform me, I had no clue. Luckily, just as she starts to grow out of the dinosaur phase, two year old Ezra is ready to take the baton. His categorisation isn't quite there yet - all dinosaurs are known as 'raa' to him - but what he lacks in detail he makes up for in enthusiasm.

So when Maverick Children's Books sent me an advance copy of their May release, The Wondrous Dinosaurium, I was really glad to have another book to fuel Ezra's interest - and even happier to see Eleanor having a sneaky read of it! Too old for dinosaurs (and picture books) indeed ...

In The Wondrous Dinosaurium, Danny is looking for a pet. But he doesn't choose any ordinary pet shop - Danny wants to find a pet at Mr Ree's Wondrous Dinosaurium, where he can take his pick from any number of prehistoric creatures!

The trouble is, Danny struggles to find the right pet for him at the Dinosaurium. They're all too big, too drooly, or too flappy. Will he find the perfect dinosaur?

This is a really fun book for dino-lovers. It combines a funny and fantastical story with facts about dinosaurs, in very readable prose. I loved how Mr Ree's speech uses rhyme and rhythm to lift the text and raise a chuckle: "I have chewy ones, slurpy ones, licky ones and burpy ones." The illustrations are full of colour and detail, managing to create very accurate depictions of all the different dinosaurs while still making them fun and friendly-looking. Danny does find his pet in the end but it may not be one you've heard of - in fact I had to Google it to check it was real!

If you've got a little one in the peak dinosaur madness phase then they will love this book. And it may even tempt back an older child who thinks they're too old for dinosaurs now!

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of the book for the purposes of this review but all words and opinions are my own.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Books To Get Kids Into Science

I was never much of a fan of science as a child. I don't know where the idea came from, but I was fairly convinced it was boring - I may even have thought of it as a 'boys' subject. But following my daughter's natural interest in science has made me realise what I was missing out on as a child (and kick myself for not following my GCSE Science teacher's advice to continue studying it!)

Now, as a novice to the world of exciting science, I've turned for guidance to something far more familiar to me - books! Here are a few books we have that helped me to feed Eleanor's interest in science, and get interested myself!

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts - This is a great book for preschoolers or younger school-age kids who are just getting into science. Featuring the inquisitive Ada, it gets to the heart of what science is all about: asking questions and trying to find the answer. I love how it also gently encourages parents to support their children's natural curiosity too!

The Usborne Look Inside series - Eleanor absolutely loved the three books pictured when she got them for her 4th birthday. She would pore over them for ages! Packed full of facts delivered in a child-friendly way, the illustrations are colourful and interesting and each book has dozens of flaps to lift. And what small child doesn't love flaps?!

LEGO Women of NASA: Space Heroes by Hannah Dolan - This book is part of the DK Books early readers selection, and it's at Level 1 (Learning to Read). We only got it recently so it's a little basic for Eleanor but would be great for a child just starting to read. I love how it shows all the different sciences involved in space exploration, and how it champions the role of women too. And it has Lego! What more could you want?

Al's Awesome Science: Egg-speriments! by Jane Clarke and James Brown - We won this in a Toppsta giveaway at around the same time as the Lego book, and Eleanor found it so much fun that she read it in an evening! This book is a good way into science for a child who loves stories, as it's a regular chapter book but with science as the main plot driver and with suggestions for experiments throughout the book. This led us to some rather messy egg-speriments of our own! Eleanor also enjoyed the jokes about eggy puke and stinky feet ... kids are gross.

Explore, Experiment and Discover The World Of Science by Anna Claybourne - Another one that Eleanor pores over regularly, this book is full of scientific ideas and principles explained in a child-friendly way with suggestions for experiments linked to each topic. If, like me, the idea of messy or complicated experiments terrifies you, then fear not - many of the experiments are really simple and take very little prep or hunting for odd equipment. 

12 Awesome Women Of Science You've Never Heard Of by Samantha Gouldson - Eleanor recently received this as a gift and while it's a little advanced for her yet, I'm looking forward to her discovering it properly in a year or two. I read it myself and, while I had heard of a couple of the scientists (don't be too impressed, it's only because I follow the 'A Mighty Girl' Facebook page) I still learnt an awful lot and it was a very easy read too. It talks about a really good mix of scientists from different eras, backgrounds and disciplines too. Great for older children who are ready to start exploring science in a more in-depth way.

So those are my tips - have you come across any great science books for children? If so do let me know, I'll probably end up buying them for my little geek!

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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Monday, 2 April 2018

Review: 'AdoraBULL' by Alison Donald and Alex Willmore

So here's a slightly odd fact about me: my favourite animals are cows. I think they're beautiful, with their soulful eyes and massive noses. The big shaggy ones are my favourites, but really I love all cows.

But I'm well aware that I'm a bit weird in this sense, and most people won't share my adoration of all things bovine.  And that's why the premise of 'AdoraBULL' by Alison Donald and Alex Willmore is so effective.

'AdoraBULL' is the story of Alfred the bull who has an unlikely, but strong friendship with a little boy called Tom.

Tom and Alfred are inseparable until Tom starts school. Not only does Alfred miss his friend during the day, one day Tom comes home and asks for an 'adorable' pet. Alfred decides to investigate what 'adorable' means ...

... and tries to make himself adorable for fear of losing his best friend.

What I enjoyed about this book is the wry humour of it, poking fun at our love of cute animal photos and pointing out the ridiculousness of them. I'm still getting used to references to modern technology in children's books but I did smirk at Alfred searching the internet and finding all sorts of odd but adorable animal photos. And his attempts to recreate them made me think of my own failed attempts at recreating something I'd seen online!!

But the best thing about this story is the message of it. Without wanting to spoil the ending, Alfred is eventually reassured that he doesn't need to change how he looks or who he is to keep his friend or be adorable in his own way. Although Eleanor has proclaimed herself too old for picture books she did have a flick through it and I'm glad she did as she's at a stage where she's changing to fit in with others. I hope the message in the story will help her to see she doesn't need to change.

I asked Eleanor what she thought of the book and she said she thought the kittens surrounded by marshmallows were really funny but wasn't so keen on when Alfred broke the swing. Ezra still won't concentrate on anything that doesn't rhyme but he did sit through most of this book and enjoyed the pictures.

I really liked this book (even though I thought Alfred was adorable from the start) and I hope that my children will absorb the moral that they don't need to change, and that true friends will love them as they are.

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of the book for the purposes of this review but all words and opinions are my own.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Review: 'Not My Hats!' by Tracy Gunaratnam and Alea Marley

Do your kids have difficulty sharing? It's an ongoing battle encouraging Eleanor to share her belongings, although she's always more than happy to share her brother's things!! I fear Ezra will be better at sharing for all the wrong reasons - a weary acceptance of having everything taken off him by his big sister!

Last week I received two new releases from Maverick Children's Books, one of which is all about sharing.

'Not My Hats' is all about a polar bear called Hettie who has a penchant for hats. She has a huge array of headwear which she likes to keep to herself.

When Puffin asks to borrow a hat one day, Hettie's answer is adamant. She will share anything ... except her beloved hats.

Puffin is persistent however, and eventually manages to persuade Hettie to agree to swapsies! In the end, Hettie sees the positives and sharing and they both share happily together.

I like how this is a really humorous, light-hearted take on the challenge of sharing. So many picture books about toddler 'issues' can come across as a bit didactic and overbearing, but this tackles a common problem with humour. It's really fun to read aloud too, with plenty of rhyming sections for little ones to enjoy.

Another thing I like about this book is that the illustrations are really bold and clear - although a lot is shown on each page, the use of block colours stops it from feeling 'fussy' and overwhelming for little one's eyes. Ezra still prefers clear illustrations so this book has just the right balance of colour and detail for him.

I'd recommend this book for anyone trying to explain the idea of sharing to their little one, it is a really tricky concept for them to grasp but this book tackles it in such a funny and relaxed way that they won't even realise they're getting a moral lesson as you read it!

'Not My Hats' is published tomorrow (28th March 2018).

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with a copy of 'Not My Hats' for the purposes of this review but all words and opinions are my own.

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.
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Thursday, 22 March 2018

Why I'm Training As A Breastfeeding Peer Supporter

Last week I did something exciting - I began training to become a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter! It's something I've wanted to do for years but there hasn't been any local training I could get to, so I'm thrilled to finally get started.

But why do I want to do this training? It doesn't lead to a paid role, and I don't even know if it'll be relevant to any future career I have. (That's a whole other blog post - what shall I do when I grow up?!)

So why give up my Wednesday mornings for the next ten weeks?

Is it because I think every mother should breastfeed? Because I want to pressure new mums into breastfeeding their babies? Because I think I know best and others should do things how I do them?

Nope. It's because I think all mums should have a choice on how they feed their baby.

For a long time, formula feeding has been held up as the prime example of giving mothers choice. And yes, it is an option, and one which will work for some families. But you can only call it a choice if the mother feels that all other options are wholly available to her.

80% of mothers who stop breastfeeding in the first six weeks do so before they wanted to. Does that sound like choice to you? In some cases there will have been insurmountable health problems that led to the end of breastfeeding, but in many other cases it will be down to a lack of support and information to enable the mother to continue.

I don't know how it feels to stop before I'm ready, but I do know how it feels to come close. To feel like it's never going to get better and it's all too much. The first eight weeks of my daughter's life were possibly the hardest I've ever experienced as I grappled with a baby who would refuse to latch, couldn't maintain a latch once I'd persuaded her to and threw up any milk I managed to get into her. It was hard, it was miserable and I wish I'd had more support.

With our NHS increasingly stretched it's hit and miss whether a new mum will get all the breastfeeding support they need through a professional. Instead, an army of volunteers are trying to plug the gap, in the form of peer supporters and breastfeeding counsellors. These volunteers are helping mums with all kinds of challenges to achieve their goals. And I want to be part of that army.

Having breastfed two children for a combined six years, I know a fair bit about breastfeeding. But I don't know everything. I've never fed multiples, I've never had to deal with returning to work, I haven't encountered complications like CMPA or low milk supply. I know I still have a lot to learn and I'm keen to learn it so I can help women in many different situations.

So that's why I'm training as a breastfeeding peer supporter. Not to pressure, but to enable. To learn more so I can better understand the unique situation each mother has. And hopefully to help mums reach their own breastfeeding goals.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

A Love Letter to Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

(Most of) our Donaldson/Scheffler collection

Dear Julia and Axel

I hope it's OK for me to use your first names. It seems a bit forward as I've never met you, but then again, you feel like part of the family. Because your books have been for nearly six years now.

It all started with a copy of 'The Gruffalo' that a work colleague gave me when I was pregnant, as her children had outgrown it. If you look carefully at the photo above that book is the most worn, but not just because it was second hand to us. When my daughter was one it quickly became her favourite book, and she would ask me to read it over and over. I still remember the day I read it ten times in a row as she gleefully cried, "den!" (again) every time I turned the final page.

I started scouring my local library for your other books, but they were like gold dust. I knew that there were plenty of your titles to be had, the trouble was all the other parents were looking for the same books! We got a long way through your back catalogue thanks to the library but it was hard to part with them after three short weeks. I started acquiring our own copies instead. When my daughter started school I found myself aided and abetted by the Scholastic catalogue that came home in her book bag, and before I knew it we'd amassed a huge collection of your books, as you can see above. (That's not even all of it - I realised after taking the photo that I'd left out 'Hide-And-Seek Pig', and I've got a copy of 'Room On The Broom' on the way!)

Now my two year old son is captivated by your work too. I'm back to repeated readings of 'The Gruffalo', although 'Zog' is another firm favourite of his. And the thing is, I'm actively encouraging his love of your books because I love them too. I love the lyricism of 'The Snail And The Whale', the invitation to use lots of funny voices in 'Tiddler' and the feisty feminism of 'Zog' and the sequel 'Zog and the Flying Doctors'. I love the simple wit of 'Monkey Puzzle', the moral message of 'The Smartest Giant In Town' and the clever pastiche of 'The Highway Rat'. I even love 'Stick Man' so much I crocheted him, along with his Stick Lady Love and their Stick Children Three!

The Stick Family
We love your individual work too - my daughter was really helped by the Pip and Posy books as an older toddler and preschooler, and my son will often demand a reading of 'What The Ladybird Heard' complete with enthusiastic animal noises - but something magical happens when Donaldson's words and Scheffler's images come together. You've created a set of children's classics that I'm sure will be just as loved if and when I have grandchildren to read to.

So thank you to both of you, for creating books that fuel both of my children's love of reading and that are so wonderful to read aloud as an adult.

Yours gratefully

A book-loving Mum

Monday, 12 March 2018

Review: 'Alison Jay's ABC'

I usually opt for story-based books with Ezra, mainly because I prefer to have a narrative structure to follow. Counting or letter books are generally quite dull for me and if I'm not enjoying them, chances are I won't read them as enthusiastically and so Ezra won't enjoy them either.

But on a recent trip to the library I saw this ABC book and couldn't resist borrowing it.

I've been a fan of Alison Jay's work for a few years - we have a couple of other books by her, including the wordless story 'Out Of The Blue'. Her artwork is just stunning and she's great at creating a narrative with just pictures. Even in this ABC book she manages to create mini-stories to connect the pictures.

I love how in the above spread the girl us showing the owl a picture - of the panda on the next page! There are lots of similar connections so that even older toddlers and preschoolers can have fun spotting them.

In many of the pictures she also includes other words beginning with the featured letter - like the aeroplane above the apple and the bee and butterfly flying around the balloon. Little touches like this are what really bring Jay's work to life - as well as being beautiful to look at, her illustrations are so full of details that you can spot something new every time.

If you're introducing your little one to the alphabet but, like me, feel uninspired by your regular ABC books, I thoroughly recommend this one. As I've been writing this post, Ezra is sitting on my knee and said 'owl' and 'apple' when he saw the pictures so I can confirm it's great for building and reinforcing vocabulary!!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

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Saturday, 3 March 2018

The Ish Mother Reads: 'A Year In The Life Of The Yorkshire Shepherdess'

When we bought our first home, it overlooked a farm. I would often look out of the bedroom window at the sheep and cows in the fields, and daydream about being a farmer.

Of course my aversion to early mornings and bad weather made this an unrealistic career for me, but still I retained a fascination with the rural life. And I've always been fascinated by large families - if I didn't suck at being pregnant, I'd love more kids.

So when I heard about Amanda Owen, who lives and works on a remote farm with her impressive brood, I was fascinated by her. When I saw she'd written a book about her life I couldn't wait to read it. At the time of writing the book she'd just had her eighth child, I believe she now has nine! I really wanted to find out about how looking after that many children, living in a remote area and working at a very demanding job was even possible.

The book follows the course of a year, with a chapter for each month. My romanticised notions of farming life drifted further and further away with each month - it soon becomes clear that the work is relentless. Every month brings a new job to do, and honestly, I don't know how she and her husband do it! Even the proverbial 'making hay' sounds like exhausting work!

I found all the different aspects of farming work really interesting to read about, though, and some of the anecdotes Amanda includes in the book are really absorbing, either because of the humour or sadness of the situation. She doesn't shy away from the realities of working with animals - those realities regularly include death - but nor is she completely cold about it. You can really tell how much she loves her animals, especially those which she is particularly close too.

I have to admit though, at times I found this book quite a tough read. Some of the anecdotes she includes have a feel of 'you had to be there' about them and never really go anywhere. And while of course real life doesn't always have a natural climax to a story, these parts did make for tedious reading. I actually read the book over a period of months because there were times when I'd finish a section and not feel particularly inspired to carry on.

I'd say this is a really good book for anyone wanting to learn more about the farming life, either through curiosity or pipe dreams, but just be prepared for the odd patch of boredom as you read. That said, learning about Amanda's family was a joy, even though it made me feel massively inadequate for only having two and barely managing to keep them happy and entertained!!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.


Monday, 19 February 2018

Fun For The School Holidays: Five Rainy-Day Activities Reviewed

There are two types of parent: the ones who look forward to the school holidays as a chance to spend lovely quality time doing fun things with their children, and the ones who dread them, knowing it'll be a week or more of desperately trying to entertain increasingly wayward kids.

I'm very much the latter. I adore my daughter, but school holidays are a challenge. Not just for me - she struggles a lot with the lack of routine and stimulation, which makes her tetchy and giddy. When the weather's miserable, as it has been this week, things get very challenging.

Luckily, a box of goodies arrived just in the nick of time. Sheffield Mutual very kindly sent us an activity pack filled with fun craft projects to get stuck into over the holidays.

So here are the projects we've been busy with this week - and how we found them.


I love baking. Until Ezra came on the scene, Eleanor and I used to bake every week, but the challenge of looking after a little one and the start of school for Eleanor a few months later meant that we got out of that routine. I was really glad to see baking included in the activity pack as it's such a good activity for little ones. The pack included a biscuit recipe, cutters and decorations.

The recipe was really easy - and also egg-free so would be good for very little bakers who are prone to eating the raw dough! Eleanor was able to do a lot of it with very little help which was great. We supplemented the cutters sent in the pack with our own and Eleanor really enjoyed making different shapes and decorating them when the biscuits were cooked. They tasted delicious too!

This was a really good activity as it could be done in stages - the dough needed chilling in the fridge which gave us a nice break to do other things, then the cooking and cooling created another break. This meant that Eleanor didn't get bored at any stage and it filled most of an afternoon too. The clear-up wasn't too onerous either. Definitely a good school holiday activity!

Model painting

Also included in the pack was a money box with paints to decorate. Eleanor loves to get arty so this was a great activity for her, and one that required minimal set-up. The thing that puts me off painting the most is the set-up and clean-up, but when it all comes in a kit with the paints in little pots it takes a lot of the stress out of it.

We did find the paint colours provided a bit limited, but that wasn't a big problem as Eleanor enjoyed mixing little bits of paint in old milk bottle lids to get the colours she wanted. 

This was a great activity for filling half an hour or so - Eleanor could get on with it independently while I did other things which was really handy as the housework really mounts up in the school holidays. It was a bit messy (but that could just be down to my messy child) but overall not too much hassle.

Card decorating

Another good activity for creative kids. The pack supplied us with blank cards, felt tip pens, an array of stickers and a set of pipe cleaners, pom poms and googly eyes. Perfect for letting Eleanor's imagination run wild!

This is probably my favourite type of activity - set up in no time, can be done completely independently and hardly any mess afterwards. Eleanor really enjoyed it too, thinking very carefully about which stickers to use and what pictures to draw. The first card she did was quite simply decorated but the next day she made another card using pompoms, googly eyes and a piece of pipe cleaner to make a monster picture - I wish I'd got a picture of that one but she put it in the envelope too soon!

All in all this is a great rainy day activity: super easy for parent and child, very creative and can be done again and again so you can spread it out over days!

Calming glitter jar

I've been meaning to make something like this with Eleanor for a while. She struggles to control her emotions sometimes so I thought this could be helpful in calming her down. So I was really happy to see it included in the activity pack. There was a jar, biodegradable glitter (extra points for eco credentials), clear glue, food colouring and instructions so all I had to provide was water.

Again this was a fairly quick project to do, probably taking less than half an hour, and required quite a bit of supervision. But it was fun to do together and Eleanor loved adding in the food colouring and glitter - she was very happy that it was blue, her favourite colour!

This is a good activity for when you have a bit of time to spare, and it results in something which will (hopefully) come in very useful in handling little people's big feelings!


The last project included in the activity pack was a Grasshead. I really like the idea of growing something with kids - in better weather we like to get the kids helping in the garden, but as it was rainy most of the week, I thought this would provide a good alternative. The idea is that you water the head daily and after a few days grass would start to grow which the kids can then 'style'. Sadly after a week, our Mrs Grasshead (as christened by Eleanor) still looks like this ...

Now this is not necessarily a criticism of the product - I am notorious for killing indoor plants so may well have over- or under-watered it. Or maybe the time scales given are a little optimistic. This is possibly a better activity for a longer holiday though, as just watering it daily didn't fill a huge amount of time. Ah well, you can't win them all!!

And a bonus activity ...

Of course, all of these activities are good for a school-age child but I felt a bit bad for my toddler Ezra. Luckily the activities were packed with green shredded paper which I thought he'd find fun. So I hid some farm animals in the box ...

Of course, I should have predicted they wouldn't stay in the box for long ...

I won't show you the photos of the living room a few minutes later but let's just say once Eleanor got hold of the paper things got very messy!!

We really enjoyed the variety of activities in this pack - it was good to have projects that filled different lengths of time, and that stimulated Eleanor's creativity in different ways. I think the baking was the definite favourite but the calming glitter jar has created a really useful item for us too. The pack has given me lots of inspiration for future rainy-school-holiday projects!

What activities do your kids enjoy in the school holidays?

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with the activity pack shown by Sheffied Mutual for the purposes of this review but all words, images and opinions are my own.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Review: Stickerkid Name Labels and Stickers

School uniform. Is it the bane of anyone else's life? Trying to keep it all clean and ironed, (yes, ironed - proper button-up shirts here *groan*) getting all manner of stains out (you can find a tip on removing pen marks in this post) and of course making sure everything is labelled so that when something inevitably goes missing, it can be identified five years later when it finally resurfaces.

Eleanor turned six just after Christmas. Now when she started school I was canny and bought age 5-6 clothes so she'd be in them for ages. And it looked like I might get away with stringing them out a bit longer as she's a tad short for her age, but just before her birthday she started catching up in the height department. So that means new uniform.

Having run out of name labels in Reception because she just couldn't stop wrecking shirts, I was very happy to hear from Stickerkid who kindly offered me a review pack of their kids' name labels. The pack they offered was the Discover Stickerkid set which includes 60 small stickers, (for non-clothing items such as stationery, water bottles etc) 22 medium stickers and 20 iron-on name labels.

Small stickers to the top of the image, name labels to the left and medium stickers to the right
I liked how you could personalise the stickers not only with the text but also with colour, font and even an image for the medium stickers. I was worried this would be a tricky process but the website was really clear and easy to use, the only challenge was choosing the right combination! As Eleanor's favourite colour is blue I felt confident I was making the right choice, but the image was trickier as she changes her interests so often! (And because, as you may have guessed, I'm hoping to be able to use the same stickers for little brother Ezra!) After hovering over the rocket and the football I opted for a cute stylised tree as I thought this would be most suitable for both kids. My only slight niggle was the inclusion of 'boys' and 'girls' categories, I think those images could have been sorted in less gender-specific terms.

Delivery only took a few days and I was really impressed by the quality. I soon had a chance to put the stickers to the test as Eleanor has started taking her own snacks to school. I used one of the medium stickers on her snack pot and, having been through the dishwasher twice, it shows no signs of budging! The colours are really vibrant on the stickers and the font very clear and easy to read.

A new set of tights gave me a chance to test out the iron-on labels. They were really easy to apply - just holding the iron down for 30 seconds, no faffing around with repeated pressing - and look to have fused well to the fabric. I haven't tested them out in the washing machine yet but will report back when I have. Again the font is really clear and the labels are smooth after application so won't rub or scratch. I like that these labels are removable too, so if any clothes are ever in a fit state to be passed on I can do!!

Apologies for the slightly dodgy photo, it's surprisingly hard to photograph the inner waistband of tights!!
The Discover Stickerkid pack is £14.99 which I think is great value, and there are lots of other packs on the website to choose from too.

DISCLAIMER: I was provided with the Discover Stickerkid pack for the purposes of this review, however all images, words and opinions are my own.