Friday, 16 November 2018

I think I want to carry you…

When my little girl was a few months old, I saw an advert for a babywearing dance class at our local play cafe. It looked like so much fun but up to that point, I’d only managed to carry my daughter in a carrier for about 20 minutes before my shoulders started screaming and my back began to ache. I know now that it was down to an ill-fitting, non-ergonomic carrier, but at the time, I almost didn’t go along to the class. However much I loved to dance, I thought that babywearing wasn’t for me.  How wrong I was! 



After a short chat with a sling consultant (during which she also gave me some pointers to try and make my own carriers work for me), I ended up borrowing a super carrier for the class and going on to buy the same one (an Action Baby Carrier) as it was so good! That was a turning point for me, the lovingly chosen travel system rarely saw the light of day after that and Honey could mostly be found chatting away on my front in her carrier.

When we found out we were expecting our second baby, babywearing was on the cards from day 1. At just a few hours old, our son had his first snuggles in our Vija Designs UK skin to skin tops, he loved being so close to my husband and myself and with a toddler running round the place as well, it enabled us both to be hands free from the off! This time round, we invested in a babywearing raincoat, a babywearing hoody and babywearing all weather covers. All of these enabled us to wear our son any time, anywhere. When our son was around 18 months, we moved on from baby carriers to toddler carrier,s which have a wider and taller panel to allow older children to be worn comfortably on their parent/carer’s front of back. I absolutely adore wearing my son, we have so many amazing cuddles and chats and I’m free to hold my daughter’s hand, carry the shopping or cook the tea.


As well as wearing my own toddler, I love talking about babywearing, slings and carriers with other parents and often volunteer as a peer supporter at our local sling library, Cheltenham and Gloucester Sling Library. Two local sling consultants, who give up their time to help families safely try out a whole host of different slings and carriers, run the library. Hopefully, families will find one that suits their needs and then they can either hire from the library or make a well-informed purchase elsewhere. The consultants spend time keeping up to date with the latest safety regulations and investigate new carriers on the market, using library funds to purchase stock to keep the library fresh and current.

To me, babywearing means cuddles, convenience and chats. If you’re not sure whether babyweraing is for you or if you’d like some help with your sling or carrier, I urge you to get in touch with your local sling library or consultant. It was the best thing I ever did and I now have an endless supply of lovely, slingy memories with both my babies. 


Sunday, 21 October 2018

The more you read, the more you will know...

On the way home from dance yesterday, Honey told me that she was the best teacher in our whole house. After a slight panic that I was going to be out of a job, I observed her giving Ace a phonics lesson and I have to agree that she’s pretty good! Learning to read has been such a revelation for Honey, she is chuffed to bits every time she finishes a book, reads a story in her comic or a deciphers a sign while we're out, and feeling confident with phonics has been instrumental in her reading journey.

We were asked to try out the Read with Phonics app a few weeks ago and Honey has been working to complete it at her own pace ever since. For context, Honey is now in year 1 and already has a solid grounding in phonics, so much of the app acted as revision for her, which is no bad thing at all based on the ‘use it or lose it’ school of thought!

Yesterday, Honey showed Ace how to navigate the different islands and recognised that he would need to start with the most basic sounds. The app is arranged in the same order that your child will start to learn their sounds during the EYFS, beginning with satpin and moving cohesively through the rest of the sounds, finishing with digraphs and split digraphs. Children can gain points by completing the games and activities and can level up, which Honey found really motivational and exciting.

















The app is intuitive, therefore easy for children to use without lots of support and it provides a range of engaging games and activities which Honey explained to Ace and then helped him to try. At 2 1/2, we are not actively teaching Ace phonics, but he does get roped into being Honey’s pupil fairly often, so it’s lovely for him to have such a visually appealing app to navigate under her guidance.




















Honey says... I think that this app is good for anyone in Reception class or older children who might find phonics a little bit tricky. I give the app 5 stars because it is very colourful and the games are fun! 

You can download the app from App Store, Google Play, Amazon or you can play online.

* Although we were lucky enough to have the in app purchases unlocked free of charge for the purposes of this review, all thoughts and opinions expressed are our own.

Honey wears... Rainbow jumper dress by Next








Saturday, 6 October 2018

Tuppence a bag...

One of Honey's first words was bird and Ace loves anything that can fly, so agreeing to review Nick Baker's Window Bird Feeder distributed by Interplay UK Limited was a no brainer.

The feeder came in a compact box (simple to wrap up as a Christmas present FYI) which was easy to open and required no extra equipment to get in to. The feeder came with an instruction booklet which is broken into clear, easy to follow steps. Each step accompanied by an annotated diagram which is great if you prefer to follow visuals. 


Following the instructions, it took around 5 minutes to put the feeder together. During this time, I was able to chat to Ace about the different shapes and colours of the various components and ask him to find parts that matched my descriptions, which he loved doing.


The finished article is a good looking, neat product which wasn't at all obtrusive once added to our patio door. We added some seeds and hoped for the best, but unfortunately, our garden is a wildlife free zone most of the time and even after a week, we didn't spot any birds. 



Honey, Ace and I had a chat about why birds might not be coming to our feeder and their ideas were:

- They don't like the food.
- They don't like the garden.
- They're scared because they can see us playing inside.

After our chat, we decided to move the feeder to the playhouse window, as Honey thought that they could hide behind the curtains to peek at any feathered friends who may decide to visit. Ace wanted to try offering the birds some bread instead of seeds so he grabbed a crust and tore it into more manageable chunks. Alas, still no birds after a few days of waiting (and some optimistic trails laid out by Ace), but I guess that's the peril of having an artificial lawn and only one (barely) living plant in the garden! It's great for year round play and is incredibly low maintenance, but it's not very attractive for animals.


The instruction booklet also includes some suggestions about they types of food that can be used to attract birds, as well as ideas for positioning the feeder to try and get the best results. Our next step is to take the feeder round to my parent's house as they already have a well established bird feeding station and plenty of yummy looking (if you're a bird of course) bird food options.

Another great feature of the instruction book is the glossary of birds (complete with fact file and pictures), so you can extend the learning beyond the garden and spot different species when you're out and about too! Honey wanted to tick off some of the birds we saw in the park and in town and we also chatted about some of the birds we were unlikely to see at the moment and why that might be. 

My only very slight niggle with this product, was that each piece came in an individual plastic bag which seemed unnecessary as we just opened everything all at once and laid it all out on the floor so we could see it more clearly!

We will let you know how the feeder gets on in its new home, oh and a little bird (groan) tells us that some of the other products in the My Living World range from Interplay may suit our little garden down to the ground... Snail World was made for us as we have always, inexplicably had an abundance of snails here and Honey is just desperate to keep them as pets!

*Although we were gifted this product in order to write a review, all thoughts and opinions within this blog are my own.


Ace wears... Dinosaur top by Blade and Rose @ Cotswold Baby Co



Saturday, 29 September 2018

Faith and Trust and Pixie Dust...

Ever since Honey first saw the advert for My Fairy Garden on kids TV a couple of years ago, she has spoken about them constantly (ok, I exaggerate, but sometimes it feels like that's the case). I knew she would be over the moon to receive one of her very own, so I held on to it for a few days after the parcel arrived, to make sure we had the time to put it all together there and then!


Needless to say, Honey couldn't believe her luck and was ecstatic to receive such a fabulous gift. I explained that we would have to test the Fairy Garden and let other children know all about it, which she took very seriously and nattered the whole time about ideas for this post. Honey and I spent a (mostly) happy hour putting it all together, she definitely needed some adult help as some parts feel a bit brittle and Honey can be heavy handed so would have broken them without intervention.

As a primary school teacher, it's hard to let go of searching out the educational value of a toy coming into the house, but when I was offered the chance to review the Fairy Light Garden, I googled Interplay and the first thing I read was 'STEM toys' which was positive! While we put the garden together, lots of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) chat naturally occurred. We discussed 2D and 3D shapes, symmetry and the seed growing process. Honey commented that the soil pilfered from our solitary plant in the garden was cold and probably needed some water to soften it so the seeds would be able to bed in. She also reminded me when we needed to water the seeds (I needed reminding, I cannot keep plants or flowers alive to save my life). After a few days, the grass hadn't started to grow, so we had another conversation about why that might be and what we could do to encourage growth and together, we decided to move the garden to a sunnier location. Bingo, grass shoots!


Growth Mindset is a huge deal in education at the moment and putting the kit together required plenty of perseverance and resilience on Honey's part. She was keen to get on, so didn't read the instructions at first and accidentally connected a couple of pieces incorrectly. This annoyed her, but after a little pep talk, she went back to the drawing board (instruction booklet) and tried again. She also put her fine motor skills to the test by tying knots, peeling stickers and folding the bunting. The age guide states 'for ages 4+'. Honey turned 5 in May and has just started year 1, so I'd say the the age advice is accurate, if your children will be supported by an adult. 

Once she had finished laying the gravel path, assembling and attaching the bridge and sprinkling the fairy dust, Honey was really chuffed with what she had created. She loved the sounds and once she got the hang of how to turn it on and off (blow like a candle), the light was a hit too. 


What you will need to be able to put together the Fairy Light Garden:
A pair of scissors to aid unpacking.
A small cross head screwdriver.
2AAA batteries.
Some soil or compost.
Roughly a tablespoon of water.

The Fairy Garden would be even better if...
The toadstool house was secured on top of decking. At the moment, it is really easy to take off and play with separately but it slides around if they try to play with it in place. Perhaps velcro or a clip could be used so you still have the option of removing the house.

The manufacturers used less packaging. The kit came packaged in lots of different plastic bags, most of which could have been avoided, as the first thing Honey wanted to do was spread all the pieces out on the table so they ended up jumbled together anyway! 

Overall, the Fairy Light Garden is a hit in this house. I am happy with the balance of traditionally educational and free play opportunities the garden opens up and Honey is thrilled to own a much longed for toy. Even Ace asks to put the nightlight on when I put him to bed, which is super cute! The Fairy Light Garden is available from Interplay UK Ltd and while its not exactly a pocket money toy (this set retails at £29.99), I would definitely purchase it as a Christmas or birthday present. 
























Honey wears... Rainbow sweatshirt from Next 

*Although we were kindly gifted this product in order to write a review, all thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own.





Monday, 10 September 2018

Shop 'til you drop...

The Gallagher Shopping Park is one of the most popular shopping destinations in Cheltenham and we are lucky enough to live just a 5 minute drive away from it. It has over 500 free parking spaces, which includes both disabled and parent and child spaces. They have also been recognised with a Park Mark award under the Safer Parking Scheme, designed to reduce crime in car parks. Easily accessible by bus, the shopping park is situated less than 2 miles away from the town centre and is also on bus routes leaving from the train station.

We arrived on Saturday afternoon when the park was at its busiest, finding a parking space took a while, but eventually we spotted one. When we have Ace with us, it's really useful to park in one of the parent and child spaces so I can easily get down the side of the car to help him out, but he wasn't with us today so any space would do. Navigating the car park with a young child is made easier by the zebra crossings and there are also designated lanes for bikes, so everyone knows where they should be. 

With clothing and accessories from Next, Outfit and Sports Direct, food from Subway, Greggs and Patisserie Valerie and homeware from HomeSense, DFS and Oak Furniture land, there isn't much you won't find at the Gallagher Shopping Park.

 

The reason for this trip was because we had been invited to check out what's in the shops for Autumn/Winter 2018, which was exciting but a little daunting for me as I am a huge fan of 'summer brights' and often feel drab in darker, more wintery colours (apart from a LBD, who feels drab in a LBD?). I needn't have worried though, because what Honey and I found across the stores was actually a sea of colour! Sure there was some terracotta and mustard in the mix (both lovely, classic Autumn colours, they're just not normally what I look for), but overwhelmingly, the trends seemed to be all about colour. 

Boots is my favourite, child friendly place to shop on the park. There are parent and child spaces right out side the doors, tiny trollies to keep little ones occupied while you shop, plus a baby room for those emergency feeding or changing moments. There are also loads of fab offers in store if you're part of the Boots Parenting Club (which is free to join online and gives you benefits such as free gifts, extra points on kids items and money off vouchers). For the grown ups, there are some fab new nail and lip colours hitting the shelves and the current trend for face masks doesn't seem to be diminishing, which is great news for people like me who like to pamper themselves at home when the budget doesn't stretch to anything more professional!


I hear a lot about HomeSense on Instagram, but rarely visit as we have a relatively minimalist home (apart from the kids' toys) and I don't want to be tempted into buying all the pretty trinkets! Honey LOVED all the pretty trinkets and I was rather taken by the range of colourful cushions available, but it was upstairs that really surprised me. Honey was in awe of the toy section and I could see her point! It's a great place to pick up quirky yet inexpensive birthday presents and there are some fab gifts for new babies too. There's even a food emporium up there, which I had no idea about!


Now on to my favourite bit of shopping, clothes! Since becoming a Mum in 2013, then again in 2016, most of my clothes purchasing has been for my children, which is why they most definitely have way better wardrobes than I do! I wouldn't have it any other way, but sometimes a treat for me is needed and appreciated.

Outfit was our first stop and Honey and I were overjoyed to see so much red on the rails (she's obsessed with PJ Masks and Owlet is her favourite, I just think it's a fun colour)! I also loved the metallic trainers, fun, slogan t-shirts and bright hoodies. I love this shop because you can buy for yourself and your children and choose from a range of brands all under one roof.


In Sports Direct, the great choice of colourful, practical outerwear caught my eye. Proper outdoor clothing is a must for our family. Honey and Ace love to go out in most weather conditions (Ace isn't overly keen on snow) and the school run needs doing whether it's pouring with rain or not, so being able to buy great quality, outdoor brands at reasonable prices is ideal. I also loved their range of colourful footwear, I am definitely motivated by pretty things, so a cute pair of trainers I've found in there will be the perfect 'carrot' to dangle to encourage me to exercise more often!



Finally, in Next, we loved their fun twists on animal print, their rainbow themed kids range and their colourful adult styles too. Perennial favourites, dinosaurs and unicorns continue to play a big part in the children's and homeware departments, much to Honey's delight. We also loved that after a tiring couple of hours shopping, we could relax with a juice and a babychino at their in store cafe, Patisserie Valerie.




To summarise, The Gallagher Shopping Park is a great, family friendly shopping destination. From the parent and child spaces, walkways and zebra crossings in the car park, to the super useful baby rooms and toilets in Boots and Next, they have tried hard to make life just that little bit easier. On top of that if you need to get back home for the school run or only have half an hour to shop before a toddler meltdown ensues, Gallagher Shopping Park's Click and Collect service can help make sure you get what you came for. Oh, and one last thing, how useful is it to have a supermarket on site too? With Sainsbury's across the road from the main park and another supermarket due to open in the old Whole Foods building, you can even do the weekly shop while you're there!

So, I'm off to do an online shop for some of the rainbow clothing we didn't purchase yesterday but if you fancy seeing some of the other bits we liked the look of while we were shopping, why not have a browse of our Pinterest board to give you some inspiration? Happy shopping everyone!

*Although this blog post is a paid collaboration with The Gallagher Shopping Park, all images, thoughts and opinions within are my own.

Honey wears... Leopard print dress by Next
Mummy and Honey wear... Autumn/Winter brights by Next and Sports Direct













Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Once upon a potty...

A few years ago, I wrote a potty training post and the whole experience feels like just yesterday! Recently, we have embarked on potty training for the second time and I was expecting it to be very different, both because we have a boy this time and because he's a second child, but you know what, it was remarkably similar.

With both my children, I had pinpointed the summer holidays after their second birthday as an ideal time to start but was obviously prepared to be flexible if they didn't seem ready. As if on cue, a few weeks before the holidays, Ace started to tell us every time he did a poo and ask to be changed immediately. We had placed a couple of potties in strategic places around the house a few months previously, just so he could get used to them and slowly buy surely, he asked to sit on them at bedtime and would put his dolls and toys on them so they would wee too.

Potty training will be a different experience for everyone, but here are some of the things we have tried and tested with two children and that may inspire you if you're just about to start!

Differences:

My biggest tip for potty training a second child would be to wait until the family is ready. I was reluctant to go full steam ahead at first, as we had a camping trip and numerous, exciting day trips planned for the start of the holidays. In the end, we waited until we came back from camping and one day when our plans were cancelled due to a friend's poorly child, we went for it. 

Unlike with Honey, when the two of us spent about 4 days sitting on the living room floor visiting the potty every 20 minutes, with Ace we were out and about from day one. Having time to be organised before leaving the house, as well as to deal with the inevitable extra loads of washing for the first few days is useful, but carrying on as normal means that number 1 doesn't miss out on their routine and any extra holiday fun. I found it reassuring to get him to sit on a hand towel for the first week or so if he was in the buggy or car seat and I think we will put him in a pull up when we go down to Cornwall, as it would be such a pain to have to wash the car seat covers while away!

Ace found doing a poo on the potty a bit strange at first. With Honey, it was the other way round and she was very aware of being dirty from the outset. The first two days, he went on the floor (all praise wipe clean, laminate flooring) and didn't even seem to register that he had been. The third day, he started to go on the fioor, realised what was going on and ran to the potty to finish off. Kids are so clever! We know now that if he tells us his bottom is a bit stinky, something is on its way!

With boys, there are certainly more 'external clues' when they need a wee. Even Honey knows to remind Ace to go and sit on his potty if his hands start straying to his pants and Ace comments on what's going on 'down there' every time he sits down for a wee.

Honey lived in dresses and long t-shirts while she was potty training, so she could quickly and easily pull her pants down when she needed to use the potty. While we were at home, Ace was mainly in tops and pants (or just tops) for the first week or so, but when out and about and now he's used to using a potty, we try to put him in bottoms that are easy to pull down. We've given him some pulling up and down lessons but he still needs help with some bottoms. 

Similarities:

Save muslins and reusable wipes to use for fast clean ups. We rinsed them and put them straight in the washing machine, no fuss, no waste, no drama. I used so much kitchen roll the first time round, why didn't I think of this sooner?  For wees in the potty, we use reusable wipes and throw them straight in the washing machine. I keep a pack of tissues in the bag for out and about. Obviously if you're going straight for the toilet, toilet roll is the way forwards! For poos, flushable toddler wipes are our go to product at home or away.

Have some Dettol wipes (or similar) to hand. Again, this ensures minimal fuss when it comes to clean ups and you also know that the surface will be properly clean. Our floors were super shiny for the first few days, as they were getting wiped with disinfectant wipes throughout the day and then steam mopped in the evening. I also use these to wipe the potty after a poo.

Invest in a travel potty (or an adventure potty as Ace calls his). We used a My Carry Potty with Honey and loved it, but had a couple of issues with it sliding across the floor on occasion and also with one of the hinges breaking in the end. Fast forward a few years and the newer model we bought for Ace still has all the great features from before, but with non slip pads underneath and a new, improved hinge system which is super sturdy! Oh and when I was getting the link for this post, I noticed that they now do a dinosaur one... You're welcome!

Books were a huge part of Honey's potty training journey and Ace has definitely followed in her footsteps with his love of reading and listening to stories, so we made sure we stocked up on themed books (from selling sites and the library), as well as keeping a few old favourites nearby for when he needed to sit there for a while.

 

We stuck a huge sheet of coloured paper to the back of the door near Ace's potty and used stickers as a reward each time he did a wee there. At first, we used a random selection of stickers we already had, but when he got through most of those, we took him to Pound Land to choose his own (tractors, diggers and fire engines obviously). This renewed his excitement to earn them! We also purchased a little pack of Thomas the Tank Engine Minis in the Argos sale to use as rewards for a poo in the potty or toilet and he was so proud every time he got to add another train or carriage to his line up! The staff at Ace's nursery have been really supportive and even made him his own sticker chart for when he's there. 

Plenty of pants is a must! I purchased two packs of super cheap pants from Pound Land (what would we do without that place), which means that there's no pressure to try and save them if it all goes a bit wrong! We have a stash of pull ups for night time at the moment too, after trying a range, we have found Huggies to be the best fitting for Ace. A great side effect of potty training is that you can often bring back clothes that were too small, Ace is currently getting some wear out of his old 18-24 month trousers which fit again now there's no bulky nappy taking up room!

I keep the dry bag that came with our old reusable nappies in my bag just incase of any accidents. It folds up really small and saves scrabbling around looking for a carrier bag to put wet or dirty clothes in.

It may sound odd, but try to ensure that your hand soap is easy to press down. Our current dispenser is really tricky to push, it was a panic buy when our usual Child's Farm soap ran out. The Child's Farm soap is ideal for helping little ones wash their hands independently as it has a larger area to press down on. I wind a small hair bobble round the pump to stop over zealous little hands pumping out too much (thanks to Honey's lovely childminder for that life hack)!

The biggest tip I can give you is to keep calm and carry on. However odd it may feel to pull out a potty in the middle of a street, surely it's better than the alternative and if they're shy or it feels too public, you can always shield them with the buggy, your body or pop the potty down behind a wall or similar. However inconvenient an accident may be, what's done is done. If you're prepared for it with spare clothes, wipes and somewhere to put the wet or soiled clothing, there's nothing more you can do. Finally, however many spills you wipe or pairs of pants you end up throwing away, the look on that little person's face when they get it right, makes it all worthwhile!

Ace wears... Multicolour Zebra shorts by Bonnie Pop Makes






Monday, 13 August 2018

Life through a lense...

Back in April, I was lucky enough to win the Feelgood category at The Cotswold Blogger Awards. You can read my post about the awards here, but suffice to say that the win was a huge surprise and I am truly thankful to everyone who took the time to vote and help me win!

As well as a fabulous trophy, I was also awarded the generous prize of a photo shoot with Cheltenham based photographer Chui King Li. I was familiar with Chui's work as she has previously done shoots for some friends of ours and the results were beautiful, candid portraits of family life.

I chose the Pilley Bridge Nature Reserve as the destination for our shoot, as I felt that we would all feel more comfortable having our photo taken by a someone new, if we were outdoors, doing what normally we do on a family adventure.

Ace and I had done a recce the weekend before the shoot, Ace always enjoys things more if he knows what to expect and has an idea of where he can go and what he can do there, so he lead the way when we arrived on the day of the shoot. Walking through the reserve, we naturally stopped to watch butterflies and pick up sticks, just as we would at any other time. Honey and Ace found steps and paths they wanted to explore and we spent some time making a den of sticks more homely (adding a camp fire, cooker and a set of 'stairs'). All in all, we tried our best to 'act normal'.

We chatted to Chui as if she were an old friend and quickly forgot that this was someone Honey and Ace had never met before and that my husband and I had only met once, on the evening of The Cotswold Blogger Awards (I was ever so slightly tipsy after a few 'Blogger' cocktails at Babel). Before the shoot, Chui emailed me a questionnaire so she could find out more about us as individuals and as a family and on the day, we spent time singing the 'Waffle the Wonder Dog' theme tune (Ace's current favourite song) and chatting about Scouts (where my husband and I met each other for the first time as kids). This helped us to feel relaxed and meant that we weren't under pressure to pose unnaturally as we were just hanging out and having a chat! 

Chui encouraged the children to do more of what they were enjoying, which meant that the expressions she captured were those of pure job and she even followed Honey and Ace into a muddy clearing (they were wearing wellies, she wasn't) and captured their excited faces and they got themselves (and her) covered in mud.

Without further ado, I'll share some of the amazing photos from the day, we are so pleased with them and can't wait to make our final image choices and get them up on the wall alongside our cherished family bump and newborn pictures!