How to get your child interested in gardening

Step 1 – grow stuff your child likes to eat20150705_121406-1

Step 2 – let them eat it.

That’s kind of it, really.  After two years with an allotment (and three with a child) we’ve found this to be far and away the most effective approach.  This morning The Boy has gorged himself on his own bodyweight of organic raspberries and strawberries, fresh off the bush via his own (grubby) hand.

You can even make use of them to water things, carry weeds away and drown slugs, but first you need to get them interested :-)

Ten gender-neutral gifts to buy a three year old

So, people who know me know I can get pretty ranty about the gendered stereotyping to which we subject our children.  As the proud Mama of (now) both a boy and a girl I suspect I’m only going to get more strident as they grow and develop.  The Boy, so far, has been given a pleasing mix of types of toys, most of which I would describe as ‘gender-neutral’ but all of which I suspect would be described by shops and manufacturers as ‘boys’ toys’.  It makes me fume that construction toys, vehicles, puzzles and the like are just for boys unless liberally daubed with pink and sparkles.  The pinkification of Lego is something that particularly grinds my teeth – what was wrong with the lovely multi-coloured bricks that were already in circulation?

Which brings me to the following list, based upon the predilections of The Boy and his many chums.  Periodically (maybe… annually) I will create further lists with suggestions for other age groups. Something tells me it’ll be ‘4 year olds’ next…

1 – A windmill. A cheap yet satisfying gift which gives much pleasure to the recipient and their parents as it’s silent and makes almost no mess. Win.

2- Brio and similar wooden train-tracks and paraphenalia (Big Jigs, Tesco, Ikea etc all do items which work together). It encourages creative play, comes in a variety of colours and can help with numbers and fine motor skills.

3 – Duplo. Lego’s over-sized baby that allows younger children to practice their construction and creativity. The Boy spends many happy hours creating enclosures for his Duplo animals.

4 – Plastic animals and dinos.  Yes – yet another silent toy. You see what I’m doing here? These can be picked up at bargainous prices per bag and have a multitude of uses. They can be combined with Duplo (to inhabit dens) and Brio (to be transported). They can make footprints in Playdoh, pose for photos, be used in role plays and help learn about the outside world. Due to their diminutive size and the tendency for 3 year olds to secrete them in various bags and pockets, they also teach children about loss – a valuable life lesson I’m sure you’ll agree.

5 – Play Doh. This is a tricky one. Kids love the bloody stuff. The parent responsible for housecleaning hates it – trust me on this. It gets mashed into carpets and socks and all sorts. Maybe just buy this for kids who live in houses with hard floors, or whose parents you dislike.

6 – Dressing up clothes, particularly hats. It’s easier than you think to stay gender neutral here. Avoid anything to do with Disney and you should be OK. Doctors, Vets, firefighters, cowboys/girls, vikings – all of these come with fun accessories of some sort and encourage great imaginative play and yes, once again, make no fucking noise!

7 – Books. Always a good call as they take up very little space and are widely regarded as educational, plus they’re a good way to get kids to sit still for a bit. We were recently given a copy of ‘You Choose’ which is absolutely fab as it opens up a dialogue between parents and child and encourages their imagination – plus you can drag it out or speed it up as much as you need to to get to bedtime unscathed. Julia Donaldson is also still a good prospect for this age range, or the Alfie books by Shirley Hughes engages with the life lived by this age groups in a great way. In fact, before I get carried away, I may have to just come back and do a whole post on books for three year olds.

8 – Arts and Crafts materials. Crayons and colouring pencils get broken and go missing with extreme regularity, so it’s hard to have too many of these. Colouring and sticker books are also easy but popular choices. I would recommend steering clear of more messy items like glitter glue and paint unless you know the child has a parent willing to engage in such activities (and, more to the point, willing to clear up after them).  Foam and felt cut-outs are great though and apparently everything looks better plastered with googly eyes…

9 – An ‘experience’. For a more pricey gift then you could consider buying tickets or vouchers for a family day out – especially welcome if this is something the family can’t afford to do themselves. Peppa Pig is still popular at this age (and she has a whole Peppa Pig World to explore – yay) plus there’s Lego Land and Thomas World, or there are usually Thomas days out at railway stations around the country.  Wildlife parks of all sorts wouyld be exciting too – we have the wonderful Cotswold Wildlife Park but there are several dotted across the nation.

10 – A child-proof camera. Have you noticed how besotted small children are with cameras, photos and having their picture taken? They’re so unself-conscious and love to record their version of the world, so if you have the cash to splash there are digital cameras specifically aimed at (and safe for) small children to use. Don’t tell The Boy, but he may be getting one of these soon. Fear not – I will certainly post some of his forays into photography if we do!

Time to reconnect – a review of 101 things for kids to do outside

So The Boy has been driving me a little crazy lately.  Maybe it’s the new addition, maybe it’s the reduced attention he’s been getting. Maybe he’s just three, who knows?  His behaviour has been off the charts horrible some days.

101thingsI was hunting around for some ideas and I came across this book I was sent to review a while ago. (For more on why that review was so long coming can I refer you back to a previous post “Through the clouds“) So the book is called 101 Things For Kids To Do Outside. It’s £10.49 and is written by Dawn Isaac, a mum and blogger (virtual fist-bump Dawn) and advisor to CBeebies Mr Bloom’s Nursery – a big claim to fame in this household!

So, as the title would suggest, it’s 101 things for kids to do outdoors.  It’s the kind of book you might buy hopefully then be disappointed by the actual contents which suggest the blindingly obvious but it’s actually pretty inspiring. OK, you might not find every project suitable for your kids, but there’s enough there to suit most inclinations and reading it should certainly give you more energy and ideas for things to do with your small fry.

I’ve earmarked a few of the ideas that will hopefully appeal to my highly energetic three year old. The ‘Bear Hunt’ using teddy bears hidden round the garden or park sounds like a potential win, as does the scavenger hunt and all kinds of ‘tag’ and water balloon games. Some of the more art based stuff may have to wait until he’s a bit older and the build and use your own bird hide may have to wait until he’s a different child – the kind who can sit still! I’m particularly excited about the snow lanterns project, but first we’ll need some snow…

Anyway. I have a few bright ideas to keep the little man occupied and hopefully have some fun with him at the same time.  Thank you Dawn. It’s so tough being an interactive parent (as opposed to one who sits on the sofa in PJs gibbering quietly over a cold cup of tea) so a little inspiration is definitely worth £10.49!

101 Things For Kids To Do Outside can be purchased from Amazon by clicking here or you can patronise your wonderful local independent bookstore.

Talking trash – my guilty pleasure

I have a guilty secret to confess. I have a bit of an addiction to trashy novels, films and television. Not quite as bad as it could be – I find EastEnders, Hollyoaks and the like just too too depressing – but certainly nothing educational like The Man chooses to watch (not sure I could include his superhero film fetish in the ‘educational’ category, mind, no matter how much he insists it teaches inherent moral truths…).

If I’m kicking back with a book then chances are I’ll pick something from the Chick Lit genre – Katie Fford is a particular favourite – if it’s TV then something along the family comedy drama lines – Gilmore Girls and Gavin & Stacey have both been watched through more than once – and when it comes to films then it’s either Rom Coms or musicals.

Please don’t see this as a reflection on my intelligence. Occasionally I pick up some of the classics – 19thC female authors usually, although I like Hardy also – but mostly what I’m looking for is total escapism. I find it hard to turn y brain off and, whilst I’m sure that soething like meditation would help, I prefer to numb the outside world with the cultural equivalent of bubble gum – tasty, but no substance. Have you got a guilty pleasure?

Summer in the city

Well, not the city exactly. An average sized market town would be more accurate. The weather was very summery – for England. Muggy, humid, overly warm, but gloomy with no sunshine. Not at all what one would desire for a carnival parade into town involving local voluntary groups, businesses, schools and preschools.

The theme was ‘circus’ and The Boy’s preschool had a truly fabulous trailer, towed by a tractor, all decorated up like a Big Top with a canopy, bunting, pompoms, balloons – and even a full sized cuddly panther and unicorn!  The Boy dressed as one of the cutest lions I have ever seen in my life, thanks mostly to his father’s efforts as I have enough on my hands trying to organised things for Modom’s christening tomorrow.

Drummers played a salsa rhythm, the sounds of the circus blasted from more than one set of speakers, children in the parade blew whistles, banged drums, shook maracas and – in The Boy’s case – roared like the animals they had dressed up as.  I felt very dowdy in my workaday ‘mum’ clothes and wished I’d nicked a tutu from the dressing up box so I could have gone as a circus person of some kind. Perhaps I could have pinned a tiny monkey costume to the outside of the sling as The Girl slept…?

The winner as far as I was concerned, though, was the family-friend roped in by the mum who organised the whole preschool shebang – does this costume rock, or what?!


Finding my passion

This (my) article was first published on Jump! Parents. Kindly reblogging here with their permission. Do check them out if you get the chance. It’s a great online resource for all kinds of parenting issues.

Find your passion and make that your job. All very well and good when you’re a teenager with no dependents and no responsibilities, but how about when you’re a mother of two trying to figure out what to do next.  You’re done with the making babies phase of your life and now it’s time to get back to the career path.  For many of us, however, this is easier said than done.

Perhaps, if you were in a job that you were passionate about, took some time out for the baby-growing part of your life, and were able to find a flexible, family-friendly option on the same path, perhaps then it’s easy.

I recently had my ‘last’ baby and suddenly had to think about what came next. I couldn’t put it off any longer, with the excuse that there was no point starting anything because there’d be another pregnancy, another maternity leave, another child dependent on me 24-7 for at least 18 months.  Suddenly I felt a bit lost, and sad – what do we do when we’re not being mothers?  To make it even harder whenever anyone gave me the advice to find my passion I struggled to know what that would be.

Much like a teenager I had the luxury to take some time to figure this out. As long as I was on maternity leave there was no pressure to bring in an income so now was my time and I sat down to think about it really hard.  I’m a fairly decent photographer and used to think maybe I’d do it as a career, but decided not to because I didn’t want to ruin my hobby by forcing it to earn its keep.  I have worked for several years in PR and press relations and again, whilst I enjoyed it and was reasonably competent, I wouldn’t call it a passion.

It was when I was asked what three things I was really good at – no false modesty, no excuses – that I realised what my passion was. Because, the thing is, passion isn’t something you merely enjoy. It’s not something you pick up and put down. It’s like a teenage infatuation – you can’t think about anything else. Even when you don’t realise you’re doing it, you’re thinking about it.  That’s when I realised that writing was my passion, because even when I’m not scribbling things on a piece of paper, or frantically typing my thoughts to screen, I’m composing phrases in my head, describing my day as if it was being written down somewhere, trying to find the funny, the sweet or the extraordinary in the ordinary.

I toyed with the idea of going back to university and doing a Masters degree, but I realised that what I wanted out of the MA was the feedback – for somebody to read my writing and let me know what they thought.  So I discarded the MA idea, for now at least, and dusted off my old blog.  It won’t make me any money, not in the short term. Maybe I’ll have to take a workaday old job for that, but it’s brought the passion back and that makes a plain old job seem more manageable.

So maybe it’s OK not to make our passion our job, maybe it’s OK just to have a passion, to indulge it as best we can – and to have a job as well.

Through the clouds

Don’t worry, despite the fact that The Man has been ear-bashing John Lewis customer-service for the last 45 minutes today’s post isn’t another unexciting installment of the ongoing saga of the broken washing machine.

What I want to talk about is something that’s actually a little bit difficult to talk about, but I don’t think I can go on with my plans for this blog without explaining something about my recent past.  Let me start by saying that both my children were planned and very much wanted.  The Boy arrived as soon as we made room for him in our lives but our little girl kept us waiting. And waiting. And waiting.  With a couple of false starts I was starting to wonder if we’d ever have a sibling for our boy, but then he turned round one day, poked me in the belly and said “Mummy got a baby in her tummy”.

He was right and very shortly after the little pink line came the unrelenting nausea and the depression.  I don’t know how much the depression was linked to the fact I couldn’t keep any food down, how much to the birth trauma I experienced having The Boy and how much was just the pregnancy hormones having a bloody good laugh at my expense, but it came silently, swiftly and quickly took over.

Mild disputes at work had me in sobbing heaps on the floor and calling The Man in despair because I couldn’t cope.  I feel ashamed to think of it now, but more than once I clung to my two year old boy; crying into his soft blonde hair as he patted me on the back and tried to reassure and comfort me.  Everything felt so black and hopeless.  Every person I spoke to except The Man and my lovely midwives felt like an enemy and I even shied away from being honest with them until things got so bad I couldn’t hide it any more.  I ditched everything I had been working on – my clients, my sub-contracted work with Mumsnet that I loved, this blog which I had put so much work into.  The only way I could cope with just putting one foot in front of the other was to excise every responsibility and expectation except for the very bare essentials.

I broke down in front of my husband, my midwife, my GP. I got referred to a service for expectant and new mothers experiencing mental health difficulties. I confessed how I was feeling to a couple of trusted friends, to my online ante-natal group (and on that note do take a look at the post one of them wrote about the importance of a ‘Tribe’ on her blog Another Bun) and slowly – very slowly – I started to feel the darkness fall back a little.  As the sickness eased and the remaining jitters from work-related anxiety receded my happy, horribly optimistic self returned and peace resumed in our little house, but it wasn’t without its casualties.

As I look out at my future post-babies I now do it from a completely blank slate of no clients, no Mumsnet Local-editorship and a missing nine months’ or so worth of blog posts. Just as sadly I also lost a friendship when my careless words of hurt, hurt the person I said them to.

Luckily for all of us, once the clouds cleared they stayed gone, even after our darling girl was born I managed to stay (mostly) sane.  Now I’m trying to work out my next steps and holding on tight to the friendships that survived. Post natal depression is well known now and well publicised, but ante-natal depression less so.  There is help, you will be taken seriously, but firstly you need to recognise that you are struggling and that how you are feeling is not normal and you don’t have to keep feeling that way.

For more information I highly recommend the wonderful PANDAS who can offer advice and support in this situation and around all issues of mental health pre- and post-natally
Ante-natal depression support
Or talk to your GP or midwife

The kindness of neighbours

So I may or may not have mentioned we have a slight washing machine failure Chez Moi at the moment.  After sending home a load or two with my blessed Mater (can you hear angels sing when I mention her name? I swear I can) I was still stuck with more stinky clothes than I could shake a stick at.

Luckily, via the loudspeaker platform of Facebook and this blog, a few of my friends and neighbours may have become aware of my predicament and very kindly offered up their machines for my washing pleasure.  Grateful as I was to throw myself on their mercy and make use of their various machines, I felt reluctant to take advantage more than once.  I’ve been carefully rationing myself, washing only the most essential items, but now I’ve used up three of my four offers and it’s time to locate an alternative option.

Why is it so much harder to accept favours than offer them? I would go out of my way to help anyone I could, but it’s awkward to accept help and almost impossible to ask for it.  I go out of my way to be grateful and probably end up crawling and prostrating myself in an embarrassing display of indebtedness.  I hate it. It is probably almost preferable to offer someone a kidney than to accept the use of someone else’s washing machine.

I just hope The Man’s manly engineering-y phonecall to John Lewis today did the trick.  I neeeeeed that damn machine fixed before I end up offering my kidney to somebody as a thank you present.


Washing machine still dead. Three year old still hyperactive. Baby still cluster feeding. All this and a christening to organise. Who has time to blog?

Oh yes. Me. But I’m not sure this counts. Verdict?

A bad, bad thing

So this weekend we’ve been suffering.  On Friday one of the worst household tragedies that can happen to a family, happened to us. On Friday our washing machine ceased to function.  This is bad. This is very bad. I have a husband who runs and cycles. We work on our allotment. The Boy has experienced a slight backtracking of his potty-trainedness and The Girl is not just the world’s biggest vomiter, but she’s in cloth nappies.

1434396337220The washing machine died with four loads of muddy, sweaty, painty, pee-smelling clothes and a bucket full of shitty nappies all in need of washing.

I rang Bosch, but apparently two and half years is outside the realms of the ‘sales and goods act’ term of ‘reasonable time’. I rang John Lewis who, bless them, lived up to their rep of excellent customer service (Thanks Nick – you were a sweetie) and offered to make a contribution towards repair or replacement even though it was outside the two-year period of their built-in warrantee.

Currently I’m awaiting a call-back from a local domestic appliances repair firm in the hopes they’ll be somewhat less expensive than the sky-high prices charged by Bosch’s own engineers.

In the meantime I am relying on the kindness of friends and neighbours and, probably, the Mater when she does her Angel of Mercy routine again tomorrow. I would have used the laundrette, but the only one in town was closed down last year and the next nearest that I know of is a 25 minute drive away. Totally not doing that with two kids unless I absolutely have to.

So, if you get the chance, send up a prayer to the appliance Gods for us. I have maybe two more days’ grace, then I’m going to have to strap on the rubber gloves and get to handwashing our smalls. Yay.