Friday 22 December 2017

5 Ideas To Get The Playroom Ready For Christmas

We don't decorate the whole house for Christmas, mostly because I hate tidying it all away at the end of the festive season. In fact, most of the house remains largely untouched by Christmas. Most of our Christmas decorations go in the living room, that's where the tree is and it's where we spend most of our time. We eat Christmas dinner in the conservatory so that room gets a festive update, too. And, this year, the playroom has been decorated as well.

The playroom is at the front of our house, people passing by can see into the room from the street (I imagine they are usually quite horrified by the mess). With that in mind, we decided to give it a little festive update this year. Here is some inspiration to help you update your playroom for December:

1. Put a tree up
This is the easiest way to make a room feel festive. We always get a real Christmas tree for the lounge, but we also have a big artificial tree to go in the playroom. It sits in the bay window so our house looks festive from the street. Unfortunately, the tree has a manic festive theme because Ebony decorated it herself and, for some unknown reason, piled all the tinsel on the top third of the tree. 

If you don't fancy putting up a bit tree, you could go for a miniature real tree with a small string of lights to add a festive touch to the room. Pinterest has plenty of ideas for alternative, child-friendly trees, too. I love the rustic wooden pallet trees, although have never gotten around to making one myself. 

2. Add some festive furnishings
Having some Christmas-themed cushions that can be simply thrown onto the sofa in December is an easy way to add a magical touch to the playroom. Since it's pretty nippy in December, you could also add a Christmas throw to the sofa for you all to snuggle under while watching Christmas movies. You could even switch the curtains, red curtains or tartan curtains would add a subtle Christmas feel to the room, and you could keep them up all year round! You can find afforable, high-quality curtains online from Direct Blinds

3. Get creative
There is nothing Ebony loves more than being let loose on her arts and crafts box. She will stick, cut, glue and paint to her heart's content. We have made lots of Christmas decorations this year, from paper chains to baubles, Christmas cards to festive pictures. The playroom is filled with home made festive art. Ok, it's not stylish, but it takes me right back to my own childhood and the walls filled with cotton wool santas and milk bottle top garlands. 

4. Christmas lights
One of my favourite Christmas traditions is to go out walking to find the best Christmas house in the village. There are quite a few to choose from, whole houses lit up with flashing snowmen and prancing reindeer. Ebony always comes home wondering why our house doesn't look like that. I wouldn't want to go overboard with lights, I like going to look at them but I wouldn't want to pay the electricity bill, but we do have a few fairy lights hung up around the room. 

5. Make a window display
Spray snow, the stuff 90s Christmas dreams were made of! We used to have a box of stencils that we used to fill the playroom windows with Father Christmas shapes, smiling snowman and intricate snowflakes. I have a can of snow spray in the cupboard but haven't been able to use it this year because toddlers love eating fake snow from the windows, so I'll have to wait till next year to cover the windows with fake snow. 

This is a collaborative post. 

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Thursday 21 December 2017

Perfect Presents For A Skater Kid

We took Ebony to see a roller derby game once. She was a toddler, probably a bit little to understand what was going on (I was a grown up and I had no idea what was going on), but she sat happily on a chair and watched fierce women zoom around the track. I'm not really much of a spectator, but I can appreciate any sport that has vegan cakes on sale at the matches. I am on board with this kind of sports watching. 

When I was a little girl, I had a beautiful pair of quad skates. There were red with rainbow stripes up the side and I loved them more than it is probably ok to love a piece of sports equipment. I couldn't use them, of course, I have less skill on skates than Bambi has on ice, but I loved how pretty they were. Meanwhile, Laurie was busy learning to skate backwards during his childhood. We are yet to work out who Ebony takes after in the skating department, I worry it might be me and my goal of being a roller derby mum will never come to fruition. In my mind, roller derby mum is way better than 'soccer mom' because there are vegan cakes and a roof (two of my faves). 

Not long after we took Ebony to see the roller derby game, I found a pair of adjustable roller skates in the charity shop. They turned out to be problematic because Ebony insisted on wearing them for the nursery run which meant an already stressful time of the day was now unbearably slow. I do not have the time to drag a toddler around the streets, I hoped she would just glide gracefully beside me like a pro. 

I have looked for a kids roller derby club but there isn't one in Manchester yet (there should be). There was one in Liverpool but I heard a rumour that it has closed down (I have not checked whether this is true). I would love to be able to take her to play roller derby, I think all girls need to learn a sport that teaches them confidence, warrior tactics and the importance of being strong. 

This is a collaborative post.

Monday 11 December 2017

5 Easy Family Holidays To Take In 2018

It is absolutely freezing at the moment and while I’m more than happy trudging through freshly fallen snow, the nonstop rain and biting wind are enough to have me dreaming of warmer climates. There’s a whole movement about creating a life you don’t need to take a holiday from. So instead of working endless hours saving up money to take a holiday you desperately need because you work too much… you just maintain a better work-life balance. I am on board with this theory, but I also like to visit new places and switch off from real life (I miss the days when going on holiday meant no phone and no internet for two weeks).

One of the things I would love to do is travel more. I think sometimes the thought of travelling with small children feels like hard work. Ebony is at a great age now and would be happy on long journeys and in busy cities, but Ember is a toddler and so that feels like it would be hard work. With this in mind, here are five easy family holidays to take in 2018:

1. A family cruise
Cruises sound like a pretty ideal way to see the world when you have young children. The travelling is done on board a giant ship full of entertainment, which sounds pretty perfect. There are loads of different cruise destinations, so whether you’re looking for warm weather or new lands, take a look at what cruises are on offer.

2. Camping in the UK
Camping is about as affordable as holidays come. We only managed to go camping once last year, we went too early in the year and it was too cold and I think I was too traumatised to suggest another trip. But next year, we will definitely be going again. With a heater. It will be easier now that Ember is a little older, too. We tend to arrange camping trips at the last minute so we’re guaranteed good weather, because I am not a fan of camping in the rain. Camping is cheap and easy (apart from the small task of fitting everything in the car which is actually really difficult) and you do tend to end up with no phone signal so it feels like a nice break from real life.

3. A European city break
This is something I really want to do more of. When I was a student, I interrailed around Europe for a month with my best friend and we had so much fun. Interrailing with small children would be beyond terrible (I hear those night trains are full of drunk students...) but the occasional city break would be amazing. Ebony really wants to go to Paris to see Blackpool Tower after learning about France in school (she may not have been listening too closely to what the teacher was saying).

4. A self-catering beach holiday
I have never been on an all-inclusive holiday. I think being vegan would mean the buffet was pretty limited, but also the thought of queueing up outside a food hall filled with hungry toddlers is not really my idea of relaxing. I like going self-catering because it means we have more choice about what and when we eat which I think makes life a lot easier when you have small children.

5. Camping abroad
My childhood was basically spent in a tent in France, or crammed into the backseat of my dad’s rusty Ford Escort on the way to France. For our family holiday in 2018, we’re going to stay at a big campsite in France. But we’re not staying in a tent, we’re in a chalet or something. I am really excited about it, I feel like it will be like a blast from the past. I think we would camp if we had enough room to fit camping things in the car but we struggle to get to the Peak District with all our stuff crammed into the car so there’s no way we would make it to France.

This is a collaborative post.

Thursday 7 December 2017

5 Ways To Raise Kids Who Care About The Planet

Climate change is terrifying, isn’t it? If you really stop to think about, it is absolutely terrifying. I can’t even begin to think about what will happen when climate change really kicks in. I can’t. I can’t bring myself to imagine how people will act when resources are limited, people are horrible enough to each other now.

Well, that’s the cheery introduction out of the way. With climate change looming over humanity as certain and unavoidable as night over day, I think it’s important to educate kids about the environment. Ok, the chance of your child growing up to solve climate change is slim, but somebody is going to have to at least try to tackle the problem. Maybe the things you say, do and teach now will help to inspire the next generation of political activists and scientists.

With that in mind, here are five easy-peasy ways to teach your kids to care about the planet. Because they really need to, before it’s too late. They were let down by all the previous generations and now they need to sort it out. So, please try the following to instil a love of nature in your kids:

1. Plant some trees
Climate change solutions start at home, so you need to create an eco-friendly garden for your kids to enjoy. Luckily, you can do this as a family and it will be a fun bonding experience as well as teaching you all to be more mindful of the planet. Think about your outdoor space and work out ways to make it a more nature-friendly habitat. Planting trees is a great way to create a beautiful outdoor green space. Trees attract a lot of wildlife so adding trees to your garden is great for your garden’s ecosystem. Landmark Trading has some great information to teach you all you need to know about planting your own trees. They also sell all of the accesories you'll need to get started in the garden.

Plant wildflowers on your shed roof, turn the flower beds into patches of wildflower and install a homemade bug hotel in your garden. Try to create a garden that is a welcoming place for animals and insects. Get your kids involved in creating birdhouses, hedgehog homes and other habitats. Whip up some bird feeders for the winter months, plant flowers that will attract butterflies and have plenty of wood in your garden for insects to enjoy.

2. Spend time outdoors
You need to spend time in nature to truly appreciate it. Today’s kids are spending more and more time in front of screens, and yet it is important that they pay close attention to the changes occurring in the world around them. Councils are reducing green spaces, schools are keeping kids indoors during wet playtimes and kids are spending less time outdoors than previous generations. Kids don’t climb trees, run through muddy puddles or build dens like they used to. Instil a love of nature in your kids by letting them immerse themselves in nature. Encourage them to explore, let them get muddy and join in their outdoor games.

Outdoor play doesn’t need to be reserved for warm weather, there are plenty of ways to keep kids occupied on cold, winter days. Go for scavenger hunts, see how many different types of trees you can find, collect foliage to make a winter wreath. Pinterest is overflowing with outdoor play activities so head there for inspiration.

3. Choose bedtime stories that teach environmental awareness
I like stories with a strong message, so we have shelves of moraltastic books. I should probably write a separate post filled with my favourite eco books for kids, but in the meantime, try these:

If you have any favourite eco books that didn't make it onto this list, please share them in the comments below. I'm always on the lookout for new books!

4. Pick up litter
Picking up litter is a really easy thing you can do to improve your local environment. It stops litter ending up in the sea, and it teaches a valuable lesson to your child about the importance of community and doing your bit. Look out for abandoned litter in the street and pick up anything you find. If you have a public green space nearby, you could head there with a litter picker and set a goal of collecting 10 items of litter before going to play at the park.

5. Lead by example
You can talk up the environment all you want, but if you’re being hypocritical, your kids are going to notice. If you want them to care about the environment, you need to care about it, too. You need to stop using the car for short journeys, you need to eat locally produced in-season food, you need to recycle everything you can and try to avoid waste. You need to switch lights off, encourage the school to improve their green policies and write to your MP to find out what they’re doing to prevent climate change. You really do need to be that change you want to see. Inspire your kids to make a difference, too.

This is a collaborative post.

Tuesday 5 December 2017

5 Tips To Save You Time This Christmas

Christmas is very nearly upon us, although I admit I’ve been feeling that way for months. Now, with just weeks to go, I have got most of my big jobs out of the way but I still feel as though there isn’t enough time to get everything done (why did I think I would have time to decorate two Christmas Eve boxes?).

I had forgotten how limited time is when you have a small child in the house. I spend most of my days chasing after her, cleaning up after her and then there is very little time for anything else. So, at this stage in my life, time-saving tips are everything.

Contact Numbers UK has launched the #OneLessWorry campaign to highlight ways to minimise the stress at Christmas. And, I figured I would share a few of my favourite Christmas time-saving tips in case anybody else is so busy tearing after a toddler that they haven’t had chance to write their letter to Santa yet. Here are five ways to save time this Christmas:

1. Do the big shop online
Why would you do it any other way? I honestly don’t get it. The days of trekking around supermarkets arguing over the last bag of brussel sprouts are behind us now. You don’t need to do that anymore. Just get yourself an online delivery slot and fill your trolley with more food than you can carry. I have an Ocado shop arriving on the morning of Christmas Eve and this will save me so much time compared to having to do a big shop myself.

2. Use a gift wrapping service
When you contact stores like John Lewis, they will ask whether you want gift wrapping when you make a purchase. Say yes, it will save you loads of time and it means when you get home you can shove that gift in a wardrobe and forget about it until the big day. Aa an added bonus, all your gifts will be expertly wrapped instead of looking somewhat unhinged (my personal wrapping style).

3. Buy Christmas presents all year
Ok, I don’t start in January, but I am pretty organised when it comes to Christmas presents. If I see something I think somebody will like, I buy it, even if it’s summer. This not only helps to spread the cost of Christmas, but it also means that by the time I come to start my shopping, I’m already halfway there. I also do a lot of my present shopping online which saves me loads of time. I plan what I’m going to buy in advance and that takes away some of the stress and also reduces the chance of me overbuying (though I sometimes still do…).

4. Set aside some time to get the last few bits
There are also ‘a last few bits’ you need to get. It doesn’t matter how organised you are, there will be ‘bits’. And you will need them. So, plan for them now. Set aside a couple of hours to just blitz those final jobs in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Pop into town and get all the things gathering dust on your list. Avoid Saturdays because town is rammed then and the queues will slow you down and end up eating away at your free time.

5. Keep on top of the house
Christmas is all about welcoming visitors into your home. People come round for dinner, they pop round unexpectedly to drop off presents and they come in for a mug of mulled wine. You need to have your house ready for visitors at all times. I am not good at this, my house usually looks like a bombsite unless my mum has just been to visit. It is way easier to keep a house tidy than it is to tidy a house, so this December I’m focusing on keeping the house clean. This means picking up after my toddler (sob, so messy), keeping on top of the laundry and generally trying to give the illusion that my mum has just been round.

What money-saving tips are keeping you sane this Christmas?

This is a collaborative post with Contact Numbers UK.

Monday 4 December 2017

Gone In A Flash

(Firstly, when I was typing the title for this blog post, I missed the 'f' off flash so it could have been an entirely different type of blog post)

Today, I was slumped on the sofa in the kind of post-apocalyptic slump I retain for periods and The End Of The World. Ember was sat across from me, bored out of her mind because I had refused to take her to playgroup for fear of drowning everyone in my menstrual blood (let me know if there is too much period in this blog post, ok?). Elevated on the sofa by my princess and the pea-sized bed of sanitary protection (the ceiling-high pile of mattresses, not the teeny tiny pea, obvs), I kept a lazy eye on her while she entertained herself. 

She stomped over to the fireplace and threw herself down upon it with anger. We have an embarrassingly large collection of Christmas books currently leant to each side, she grabbed one and started thumbing through it. "Da da da da," she muttered loudly to herself, staring intently at the cheerful drawings of the dead-eyed snowman in the story. 

I looked at her and thought about how I didn't remember her sister ever doing this. And then it hit me, she probably had, I'd just forgotten. She probably shared many of her younger sister's quirks only they have been forgotten now thanks to the passing of time. I remember some, those caught on video, mostly, the ones I have actual proof of. The rest have faded into nothingness over time, mere blips in the timeline of my life, small, inconsequential, forgotten. 

And then I realised that this would happen with Ember, too. These things that seem huge now, as I'm sure they once did with her sister, they will be forgotten. Throw away memories discarded as tomorrows' chip wrappers. 

And then, in no time at all, she will be five. Almost six. Long-limbed, articulate, funny. No hint of the toddler I once held close, the baby who snuggled into me, the three-year-old who loved me more than anything. She will grow, change, blossom, and this little girl, these memories, the chubby toddler hands, the mullet of frizzy blonde hair, the gappy teeth, they will be gone. Replaced by someone bigger, older, wiser. Someone I can't ever believe was so little. 

Wednesday 29 November 2017

Sorry About My Conversational Skills

I feel like it's time for me to issue a public apology for my conversation skills. Ember is at that age of toddlerdom where she runs around all day, rarely naps and wakes for the day before the crack of dawn. And, as a result, I spend most of my days unable to put two words together (much tired, many wakings). 

I can remember this period with Ebony. I can remember feeling so completely and utterly engrossed in my new role as her mum that I had no clue what was happening in the real world. When friends asked me what I'd been up to lately I would go into panic mode and silently wonder wtf I had been up to, if anything. In truth, I thought I was the only person who'd ever felt like that, as though real life was leaving me behind because I was so caught up in being a parent. But then a friend nervously admitted she was experiencing the same thing and I realised that it is yet another taboo side effect of motherhood. 

And, here I am again now, stumbling through the familiar mind fog of toddlerdom. The days are long (they pretty much always start before 6am), sleep is hard to come by and I have very little brainpower for anything but wondering when I might next sleep through the night (I have finally accepted that my kids will never do this, but I still hope I might one day get to). 

When you have a newborn baby, it's perfectly acceptable to endlessly mutter about how tired you are. People will expect it, they'll empathise with you and throw sympathetic smiles your way. But when that newborn is stomping along next to you and shouting "HIYA" at every passing dog, people are less sympathetic. Oh, tired again, yah yah, major eye-roll. 

So, this post is by way of an apology. I'm sorry I'm crap at making conversation right now, it's just that:

1. I'm, like, really tired...
You know this, of course you do, I have mentioned little else for the past year. But I'm not sure you understand just how tired I am. Unless you currently have a baby or toddler, I just don't think you get it. Even if you've had them in the past, even if you were once upon a time just as tired as I am today, I don't believe you can remember what that felt like. In just the way that women forget what childbirth feels like, I think you forget what the sleep deprivation of the early years is like, because why else would people go on to have more than one child? 

2. ... & I can't talk about anything else
It's not intentional, but for the past year, my internal monologue has just been me saying 'God, I'm so tired" on repeat. And whenever there's a lull in the conversation, I don't have hilarious or insightful thoughts to share with you, I just end up saying the thing that is already in my head which is, invariably, "God, I'm so tired." And then, I sit in silence hating myself for being able to think of nothing else and also, in all honesty, wishing I was asleep. 

3. I never get to sit down
Even if I can string a few enough words together to engage in some polite small talk, it's unlikely I'll get the chance. I spend most of my day just following Ember from toy to toy. I follow her around the park just in case she throws herself off the slide/head first into the spinning roundabout/directly into the line of the swing. I follow her around playgroup because I am worried one of the bigger kids will punch her in the face (again) or that she will push a smaller child down the slide (in her defence, he was taking the p*ss a bit with how long he'd been sat there). So, I might manage a few words and then I'll have to trundle off. 

4. My mind goes blank when you ask what I've been up to
WTF have I been up to?! I feel so busy all the time but when put on the spot and asked this question I can think of Nothing. Literally nothing. Even if I've been out of the house doing exciting things all weekend, I will remember nothing when you ask. It's like the question itself erases my entire memory. I end up with a stream of very mundane thoughts trudging through my brain, like 'Well I changed that nasty nappy earlier. And did I tidy the kitchen yesterday? No, maybe not. What day is it?' 

5. I am way behind
If you wanted to know about my kids, I'd have the answer. If you wanted to talk parenting theory, sleep regressions or developmental milestones, I'd be there. But, if you want to chat about that important thing you saw on the news, or the book you loved, or that band you love... I'm no good at that. My brain is functioning on about three percent of its normal capacity. The remaining 97 percent is just focused on how my teeth ache from tiredness. 

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Starting The New Year With M&S School Uniform

Doesn’t it feel like Christmas has come early this year? My social media feeds are already filled with photos of newly decorated trees and exclamations of ‘finally’ even though we haven’t yet dipped our toes into December. The countdown to the school holidays is upon us, and the weeks remaining are filled with exciting activities like Christmas dinners and trips to the pantomime.

Christmas will be hectic, it always feels like there isn’t enough time to prepare and I end up wrapping presents on Christmas Eve (even though I bought them in September). We all wake up too early after going to bed too late and then spend most of the day feeling exhausted, or I do, at least. It usually takes a few days for peace to be restored after Christmas. The house will be filled with piles of new toys, scraps of abandoned wrapping paper and scattered baubles for at least a few days. Then, slowly, calm will return.

I’m looking forward to having a little break from the routine of school. Laurie has booked some time off from work, too, and I’m hoping to avoid overscheduling and just enjoy a little downtime as a family. Having to get out of the door in time for school every day means we’re always rushed and trying to catch out tails. I’m looking forward to slower mornings, to taking our time and to only doing what we want to do.

And then, before you know it, it will be time to go back to school. 2018 will be upon us and it will be time to dig out the uniform, fire up the iron and try not to cry while emptying the cupboard under the stairs in search of the (once again) missing book bag (who hides it - is it you?). To make things a little easier, M&S sent us some uniform for the new year. M&S school uniform always reminds me of my own days at school, it was always where my mum took us to buy our new school uniform at the end of the summer. Ebony has had a growth spurt recently so she’s fast growing out of some of the uniform I bought her in September, so she was more than ready for a top up.

She chose these shorts which I absolutely love. They remind me of something Avril Lavigne might have worn to school (who doesn’t want to raise the next generation’s Avril?). I also got her a few staples like stain resistant polo shirts (this sounds like witchcraft that could save my sanity), a cardigan and a jumper. And a beautiful pinafore dress with long pleats which Ebony really loves, though it’s a little long for her at the moment (she disagrees).

Also, how awesome is this sequin backpack? Ebony has a love of all things sparkly and her face was a real treat when she opened the parcel and discovered a bag made purely of sparkle. She was very very excited, to put it mildly. With her new uniform, she’s got everything she needs to get back to school in January. I can send her off safe in the knowledge that she will be warm enough in the bitter January weather and that she’ll look smart.

Ebony will be turning six in January (Where have those six years gone?) and she’ll be wanting to get back to her school friends so she can enjoy her birthday hype. They love birthdays. They spend weeks talking about them, planning their parties and what they might get, it puts them at the centre of attention. So she won’t want to miss out on that. She’ll be ready to talk up her birthday to anyone who will listen. Ebony loves the school holidays, she always enjoys having extra time to spend with her family and loves nothing more than the four of us being together. But by the time January creeps around, she’ll be itching to get back to school and see her friends. 
And she’ll want to tell everyone about Christmas, too. They usually get them to draw a picture of their favourite present and write down what they got. Last year, Ebony drew a single measly block of Lego as though this was all she had received. Probably this year she will draw the satsuma from her stocking but not bother to mention getting anything else.

She’s asking Father Christmas for a two-wheel scooter this year. Or, at least, I hope she is because that’s what he’s got for her (ho ho ho), so she’ll be excited to get back to school so she can scoot there. This will be especially fun for me because we are always late and the mornings are always stressful enough without adding a scooter to the mix.

And, though I hate to say it, I’ll probably be looking forward to the return to normality. Don’t get me wrong, I love the school holidays. I really like having both kids together and watching their bond develop thanks to those extra hours each day. But, when you work from home during nap time, the school holidays can be challenging. I usually just forget about working during the holidays, it’s too difficult trying to squeeze it in otherwise. I’d rather reduce my earnings for the month than spend the whole time feeling stressed because I haven’t managed to do enough writing.

So, when Ebony scoots into school in January, I’ll be rushing back home to dust off my laptop. I’ll finally get a chance to sit down and think about what I want to work on next year, where I want my focus to be and how I’m going to achieve it. I will also need to submit my tax return (please, please don’t forget this).

And, of course, I’ll have birthday prep to take care of. There will inevitably be last minute bits to buy, celebrations to organise and crying to do (how can I possibly have a six-year-old? Where is my life going? Why is everybody growing up? etc). And I’ll need to reorganise the playroom because, even though everything has a place now, this will not be the case come January when Santa has tipped a sack-load of presents down the chimney.

Thanks to M&S for making this post possible.

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