Live Oxfordshire, the end of the beginning…

Thank you so much for following my blog thus far. Happily I have had so much fun and such good feedback as I’ve worked on it over the last year that I’ve decided to take it to the next level of seriousness and am pleased to announce that I have now moved to a new home at www.liveoxfordshire.com

Please join me there for more of the same posts that you’ve all so kindly told me you’ve enjoyed reading as well as some new material that I’m really excited about.

So let’s make this not a farewell, but an a bientôt

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Baby’s first shoes, a photo story

So, it’s a big moment in every Mama’s life, the first pair of shoes for your baby. So many things to consider – fit, style, colour, make. So how do you choose? For us it was really important to look after foot health, which is why we went for a barefoot style shoe from Happy Little Soles, a lovely online boutique store which only stocks foot-healthy brands like the ones we chose. Wide fit, lots of toe-room, a great selection of colours and not horrifically gender-segregated. Even better, I found a pair I loved in the sale. She’s been walking for a couple of months now and is finally confident enough on her feet that it was worth finally buying some. She won’t wear them all the time, but she’s already had a bimble round the garden and was thrilled to be able to join her big bro on the baby trampoline.

Not sure what else I can say about shoes without turning into a complete bore, so I put together a little photo essay instead. Enjoy the cute baba feet (sorry there aren’t more of her wearing the shoes. She has her brother’s aversion to staying still) and the shot where she’s taste-testing her new footwear!

 

Just for full disclosure: I haven’t received any kind of payment or reward for endorsing this brand or retailer – just happy with the shoes and the service.

Edited to ad that yes, she does have truly enormous feet for someone who’s still only 10 months. If kids are like puppies then she is destined to be Great Dane sized. Eek.

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The Messy house: A poem

The chilly cup of tea that Mummy didn’t get to drink,
The crusty weaning spoons that never made it to the sink,
The crumbs of mud from welly boots that got walked right off the mat,
The mouse’s gizzard: a present from the cat.

The towering pile of laundry spilling out of every basket
That no-one but Mummy puts away unless she asks it.
The myriad scattered onesomes of tiny baby socks,
The tattered remains of a fought-over giant box.

Beds: unmade
Toys: much-played
Floors: unswept
And Mummy wept.

But what is this house if not to live?
We give them life and give and give:
A home where a family sleeps and plays
And spends the hours of many days
Learning from each other in ways
That never ceases to amaze.

And day is done and nighttime creeps,
And finally, thankfully, every fucker finally sleeps,
You realise the work you’ve done
Is never over: just begun.
But the value’s not in hoovered floors,
Or uncluttered stairs or tidy drawers.
But in the strength of children raised
Of milestones marked and achievements praised.

And the only reward that’s worth a damn
Is to see your son grow to a man.
And watch the life unfold before her
Of your much-beloved daughter.

And this silly rhyme I tried to write,
The whingeing of a mother’s plight,
Turns into something more profound,
As in some chocolate my sorrows drowned.

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Getting the blogging juices going – inspiring activities for creativity

One of the hardest things about committing to write a regular blog is when the creative juices run dry. There are several reasons you can get writer’s block, but the most soul-destroying probably has to be complete failure to think of a topic. One of the very worst things you can do is navel-gaze in front of your computer whilst metaphorically banging your head on the desk, so here is my patented list of inspirational day to day activities that will not only inspire and fit neatly into your life, but may even improve your standard of living…if you can be arsed.

1 – prep food. There’s something about mindless and repetitive activity that leaves your brain free to wander and preparing food is excellent, hey – it needs to be done anyway, right? So peel some veg, stir a risotto, grate that cheese. If nothing else, you can write about how delicious your dinner was.

2 – Go for a walk. Fresh air is soothing and invigorating in equal measure, especially at this time of year. Green vistas are scientifically proven to be good for the brain and your mood, as is the increase of blood flow if you can work up to a decent pace (not always possible if you’re dragging the smalls with you). A change of scenery will head off frustration and may lead to kernels of inspiration spiralling through your frontal cortex. You’ll have material for photographs, can muse on the changing of seasons, time, weather (as a Brit this is practically obligatory from time to time) and may exchange greetings with  someone interesting. It also saves you from being cocooned in the house with bored, irritable and irritating children. Take them with and wear them out, leave them behind and get some peace – both good options!

3 – Read some other blogs. Yes, it may infuriate and depress you that these bloggers are all merrily writing away and you’re, well, not, but often you’ll happen upon a nugget of something you can enlarge into a post of your own. My post on co-sleeping evolved that way if memory serves me correctly.

4 – Go get a hug from someone. Read a book, eat a chocolate. Whatever it takes to get the happy juices flowing. Don’t get drunk, unless you want to drunk-blog. Which can be amusing for readers, but not always the best idea for the blogger!

5 – Go watch a sad film, read old diaries, contemplate lost loves. Do whatever it takes to get really really, country-music blue and see what rises to the surface. Again, don’t mix with alcohol unless you want to be embarrassingly open or, possibly, completely incoherent.

6 – Get involved. Go find a committee meeting, a volunteer group, charity, special interests group, academic social group – anything where you’ll be pushed out of your comfort zone, forced to think about new stuff and talk to new people. It’ll make you a more rounded person, even if you don’t get any blogging material out of it.

7 – Set yourself a challenge. Whether it’s a physical challenge like C25k, a mental challenge like completing an adult learning course, a lifestyle challenge like taking a photograph every week or cooking a new recipe every week using the same ingredient – whatever rocks your boat really. Write about why you’re doing it, write about your progress, write about what you learned – that’s three posts right there, and maybe even more if you get inspired.

8 – Join a blog hop. Especially if you can find one on a topic close to your heart. Sometimes narrowing the field can actually help – when you have an enormous blank page of *anything* to write about it can be overwhelming and you just shut down. I got so much written during National Breastfeeding Week when I was set a series of topics on the subject of breastfeeding and only had to choose how to approach each one. I’d highly recommend this approach.

 

9 reasons why all mums need a kindle or e-reader

9 reasons why all mums need a Kindle (or other E-reader)

First: a disclaimer. I adore paper books, I do not think they are redundant and they are my go-to gift for adults and children alike. Thank God for my local independent book shop – they rock. However, since I was given an e-reader for Christmas last year I am a total convert from my luddite, paper-book addict self and feel they are an essential piece of kit for all parents. I now need my Kindle and here are my reasons:

1 – backlighting

Oh my Goddess I cannot tell you how much I value this feature on the e-reader I use. It’s a Kindle Paperwhite, in case you were wondering and the backlighting is an essential feature for the mum of small children. I am blessed that The Girl is a fairly decent sleeper (The Boy was awake for hours in the middle of the night) but I still have to settle her at bedtime and don’t want a light on while she feeds to sleep. I also have a husband who doesn’t always want to stay awake reading at the same times as me, plus hideous pregnancy insomnia while I was expecting both kids. Being able to read without a light on is AMAZING. Whilst I still adore paper books, this is the feature I miss the most when trying to read them.

2 – free books

I’m a fast reader. Like really fast. Especially when I spend hours feeding a baby and am not limited by being in a dark room (see above). I can get through a book in a day if the wind is behind me. I also don’t really remember much of what I read afterwards and commonly find myself re-reading books and not realising until more than halfway through that I’ve read it before. The ability to ‘buy’ free books suits my style of readership perfectly.

3 – one-handed

reading and feedingMost of the reading I do is one-handed because I do it whilst doing other things – feeding babies, eating dinner, walking along pushing a buggy etc. The problem with ‘real’ books is holding the pages apart with one hand – not something that’s an issue with an e-reader. The ‘book’ stays open and you can flip the page with your thumb… or your nose if necessary.

Apparently there are other reasons one might find one-handed reading useful, especially when reading bodice-rippers for cheap thrills, but I’m a mum to two under-4s, so reading is the most exciting thing I ever do in bed, other than sleep😉

4 – lightweight

This goes (eh-hem bad pun alert) hand-in-hand with the one-handed reading. No worries about choosing a particularly hefty book, they all weigh the same (about 200g). I am currently carrying around (in addition to a library-full of chick-lit and tat) the full works of Shakespeare, Dickens, L.M. Alcott and the complete set of Anne of Green Gables.

5 – silent

See item no.1 for the times I actually get to sit and read. I’ve tried reading paper books whilst feeding my baby – nuh-uh. Every time I flip a page she turns her head to look and, well, I’m quite fond of my nipples, you could even say I’m attached to them. And she doesn’t. let. go. when she turns her head. Buh-bye paper books.

6 – discreet

God I read some right crap. Mostly I download free books and they’re mostly of the chick-lit/bodice-ripper variety (if you care to have a peek at the text visible in my feature image shot you might get an idea of how trashy some of the things I read are. His Captive Bride, in case you were wondering.)

Now, I do a fair bit of reading on the school run whilst The Girl naps in the sling and I could do without advertising my un-literary proclivities to the other school-run mums. I also don’t need my son querying me on “why is that lady no wearing no cloves Mummy?” as he did when I took a punt on a library paper-book copy of this type of novel.

Finally, The Man is well known for taking the piss remorselessly. Bad enough he knows I read this kind of literature without giving him further ammunition with some of the titles and cover art.

7 – immediate

For when you run out of reading in the middle of the night and/or need a parenting book on how to deal with your three year old’s aggression ishoos the immediacy of downloading a book is fabulous. No waiting. No postage. Super! Start taming the beast right away!

8 – don’t lose your place…usually

Have you any idea how often my children like to get involved with anything I do? Books are fair game as far as they’re concerned, and the number of times I’ve lost my page or had a page ripped out is absurd considering how rarely I read paper books these days. Now I can always be sure that my book will open on the page I left it… though I do get the occasional flailing hand flipping the page back or forwards whilst feeding.

9 – easy for others to locate

The Boy is often used for fetching/carrying. He doesn’t have many uses, but this is one of them (except when he gets distracted halfway through and disappears for 25 minutes only to reappear wearing a cowboy hat and tutu but missing one sock… but most of the time he succeeds in his task).

However his reading skills are still limited to CVC type words and his own name so sending him for “Mummy’s Kindle” is significantly more successful and less confusing than sending him for “Mummy’s book, the one with the lady with no clothes and the man with a sword, you know, with the word H I S at the beginning…? Not not that one, the man is obviously holding a pitchfork, not a sword. Never mind. I’ll go.”

callwaitingscript

Call waiting message script for parents

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Bingly beep Bingly beep

“Thank you for calling Mummy and Daddy Ltd. We appreciate your loyal custom, and your cry is important to us.

I’m afraid we are experiencing a high volume of calls at the moment. You are child number 3 in the queue and a representative of Mummy and Daddy Ltd. will be with you shortly.
In the meantime you may wish to visit RaidThePantryWeNoLongerCare.com
or
SodScreenTimeWatchAllTheCbeebiesYouWant.co.uk
where many frequently asked questions can be answered.

 

Thank you for attempting at least 5 seconds of patience before totally losing your shit.

<Peppa Pig hold music>”


Guest post thanks to Rosie Newton, a friend of mine who posted this on her FB page and made me snort with laughter.

 

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How to get Lucy the dog toy to work

A couple of my friends have been struggling to get their childrens’ beloved new family pets, Lucy The Dog, to respond to instructions as they’re supposed to. There is nothing worse than having your child going goo-goo over a toy that you’ve given them as a much-wanted present only to find you can’t get the wretched thing to work. Touted as “the sweetest, cutest little dog around. She will respond to your voice commands, get her to sit, bark, dance. You can even ask her for a kiss.” then you kind of expect her to be able to do just this, even if, as in my friend’s case, you have a strong Scottish accent. Luckily, after a bit of experimentation, one of my friends seems to have cracked it and has come up with the following guide:

When she is switched on, press her ear and she will bark twice, say her (new) name.
If she barks twice then say her name again.
If she barks once then she is ready for instruction.

For every instruction her name must be said first followed by one bark then the instruction.
Repeat this every time.
The dog is temperamental.

Oh – and you need total silence in the room.

Total silence? Good thing we didn’t get one of these. I can’t remember the last time I had total silence.

Thanks for the tips Shona

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The best day of my life

The Man and I have an ongoing in-joke about various TV programmes hitting certain cliches: a catch-phrase bingo as it were. Reality TV shows are the best for this. Take Strictly Come Dancing, for example (and this is the best known)”It’s been an amazing journey”, plus “I think this will be the best ever year”, “He’s such a fantastic partner, I think we’ll always be friends”, “I know we say this every year, but this year it really is too close to call” etc. (The X Factor is known in our house for the ‘dead Granny’ card – see if you can figure that one out).

The one that always makes me twitch a bit is the line “I think this has been the best day/experience of my life.” Not so much because of the exaggeration, after all, I haven’t walked in their shoes, perhaps it truly is the best day of their life. It’s because me makes me think of what people normally cite as being the best days of their life: their wedding day, the day their children are born.

Now, my wedding day is still the best, most memorable day of my life but, despite the fact that having each of them has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me, the days my children were born are the two worst days of my life. Without question, equivocation or exception. The very worst days of my life. The day my son was born was the day I felt most violated and under threat, the day my daughter was born was the day she and I nearly died.

Do people just say that the day their children were born is the best day of their life because they feel they should say it? Because they’re talking about the eventual outcome rather than the day itself? Or is this just something I’ve missed out on? Can you let me know? Please…

Don’t feel too bad for me, though, because although my wedding day has been my most memorable best, I have had many many ordinary days of love and fun and family since then and I anticipate many many more. It’s not about where you start, is it, but the journey, and this is such an amazing journey.

Bingo!

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Child-friendly baking – Vegan chocolate fudge cake

IMG_7560 blogI have to start with a disclaimer: I’m not vegan. None of us are. Not even close. I still love making and eating this cake though. It’s rich and really chocolatey. It’s made entirely from store cupboard ingredients that I usually have knocking about so I can whip it up any time the cravings hit. Finally it’s an absolute blast to make with children – quick, easy, no scales required so you can even let them do the measuring. I haven’t ever costed it, but I’d imagine that (apart from the coconut oil for the icing) it’s pretty cheap, too. Have fun and don’t forget to let me know what you think.

Shame you can’t live on cake or I might even be persuaded to turn vegan…
So, take one of these:

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Poser alert

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Not actually sponsored by Tesco, despite appearances to the contrary (we just like the clubcard points)

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups plain flour
3 Tbsp. cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar (any sort works, I use white granulated but feel free to experiment)
1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp.  salt

1 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp.  pure vanilla extract
5 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup water

Method
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C and line your tin if not using a casserole.

Mix the dry ingredients together first. If you have a smallish casserole dish (about 8″) you can make the cake straight into it, otherwise mix in a bowl as normal then pour into a lined cake tin, as we did.

IMG_7556 blogMix together the vinegar, water, vanilla and vegetable oil (if you use coconut oil you can make a scrummy chocolate coconut flavour that intensifies the coconut flavour in the fudge icing). Pour this over the dry ingredients and mix well until the batter is smooth. Scrape into tin. Don’t forget to lick the spoon (or find someone who’ll do this arduous duty for you).

Bake for about 35 minutes.  Test it with a skewer to make sure it comes out clean. Allow it too cool if you want to add the fudge icing, or just hack it up right now and eat it warm (with or without ice cream – your call!).

Chocolate Fudge Icing

Ingredients
2 dessert sp Golden syrup
4 tbsp Coconut oil (or, if you don’t like coconut, butter or the non-dairy alternative of your choice)
4 tbsp Cocoa powder
1 cup Icing sugar

Method
Put in same bowl and microwave on low heat until golden syrup and coconut oil have melted. Beat together hard – you’re looking for a smooth, thick, glossy consistency and texture. Feel free to add a little water if necessary, or a little more oil. Let’s face it – if it goes a bit wrong it’s still going to be *yummy*. Just eat it with a spoon, or keep adjusting until it’s right and if you end up with excess you can keep it in the fridge for a bit or make a second cake to top and stick in the freezer for, eh-hem, emergencies… like when you really really really need cake.

Now for some food-porn shots. Keep a tissue handy to mop up that drool, now!

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He takes his role as official taste tester very seriously.

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Crappy Christmas movie score chart bingo

So I have a passionate love of Christmas movies. Not just any old Christmas movie, but the truly terrible Hallmark, made-for-tv type affair. Don’t get me wrong, I also adore the slightly more upscale The Holiday, or Love Actually type production, but my secret indulgence each year is the daytime festive films aired on Channel 5 and Movie Mix. I sit down with a Christmas craft project (currently a knitted Christmas stocking for The Girl) and really enjoy it, but I do have stringent requirements for my trashy viewing so I have worked out the following ‘bauble’ chart to rate them on a standardised scale. This started out as a sort of ‘trashy Xmas film bingo’ and has evolved into the sophisticated system you’ll see below.

For each of the following items a film receives a bauble:
1 – struggling single ‘mom’

2 – ‘cute’ kid, usually with buck teeth, a pudding basin haircut or pigtails

3 – an elf-type character who has been transported from the North Pole into the ‘real’ world in order to either learn a lesson or teach one

4 – hot chocolates (cocoa will do at a push, or any kind of excessive focus on hot beverages)

5 – making Christmas ‘cookies’

6 – a sing-along! Preferably to a Christmas carol but I’ll accept any kind of group vocal effort

7 – an excess of fairy lights and exterior decorations (inflatable snowmen, reindeer on the roof etc)

8 – Christmas tree(s) – bonus points if they go out to buy it as a plot point

9 – fun uncle, usually single and ideal to be set up with the exiled elf-type character, but any old uncle will do

10 – lots of mentions of Christmas spirit, Christmas miracles, how Christmas is a time for loving, giving blah blah blah

11 – cheesy Christmas soundtrack

12 – Father Christmas!

13 – charity bell ringer dressed like Father Christmas

14 – Grinch-like character who’s all ‘bah humbug’ but will be transformed by the magic of Christmas, obvs

15 – a Christmas party

16 – token black character. I’ve watched hundreds (well OK, dozens) of these films and not a single one of them has featured a black lead character. There is nearly always a supporting ‘sista’ (or the male equivalent) who gets to be the funny, straight-talking sidekick.
EDIT to add – finally one with a black male lead (Turk from Scrubs, natch) A Snow Globe Christmas, if you’re interested.

17 – SPARKLE!

18 – good clean family fun like sledging, going to church or an old fashioned family dinner

19 – presents: shopping, wrapping, giving, opening.

20 – a good dose of schmaltz

21 – voiceover – either a little kid’s or a nice old lady voice as she reminisces about the Christmases of her childhood

22 – a head injury. You’d be surprised how often this occurs <cough> plot device </cough>, usually leading to a dream sequence where the main character learns some home truths.

23 – a festive-themed name. Currently watching one where the female lead is called ‘Holly’. Also popular are ‘Carol’, ‘Ivy’, ‘Angel/Angela’, ‘Noelle’ etc…

24 – a close-knit community <awww>

25 – SNOW!