Friday, 16 November 2018

The glasses lay beside their case

Another prompt from my Writers' Circle.  This time the prompt was: The glasses lay beside their case on a small table - an open book alongside.  For me this one sparked a memory, and I immediately started to write a memoir.  

Members of my family will recognise the couple involved, we all miss them.

The glasses lay beside their case on a small table - an open book alongside.  My dad edged over and picked up the glasses, depositing them behind a card on the mantelpiece.  I saw him from the corner or my eye, but at the time thought nothing of it.  Meme bustled in from the kitchen, a flurry of tweed and twinset, lips pursed and silver hair in neat curls.  She set the tea-tray on top of the open book on the little table and poured into clinking cups and saucers, the tea leaves collecting in the strainer.  I stood to join her, carefully pouring drops of milk from the dainty floral jug.  Grandpa bowled in behind us and sat in his special chair, "Ooohhh, I love to see all my wonderful family.  God bless."  His wrinkled face creased into a smile of joy as I bent to hug him, breathing in the scent of soap and grandpa cologne.  Delicately drinking our tea, my sisters and I sprawled across the thick carpet, playing cards.  We all loved this house and these wonderful people.  Meme bustled out again with the tea tray and my sisters, game now complete, followed to help in the kitchen.  Grandpa was regaling Mum and Dad with the latest news from friends in France.  He had the letter in front of him, and effortlessly translated excerpts from the neat French script.  Meme was back, grey eyes looking worriedly over the half moon glasses glinting on the end of her nose.  "Are you alright Mum?" asked my own mum, halfway to her feet.
"Darling?"  Grandpa looked up with a tender query.
"Has anybody seen my specs?"  I couldn't help the laugh escaping,
"They're on your nose, Meme!"  She looked up distractedly and then smiled sheepishly.
"Not those ones dear.  My reading glasses.  I need them for a recipe.  I'm sure I was sitting in here reading earlier."  My dad tried to hide a smile as he asked innocently,
"You haven't lost your glasses again?  You're always losing your glasses."  Her face immediately transformed from worried fretting to mock annoyance as she realised what had happened.  She wagged her finger at my dad.  This had been a standing joke and tradition for as long as I could remember.  She was notorious for losing her specs and my dad made the most of it, hiding them whenever he spotted a pair.
"You," she scolded, "are my most wicked son-in-law.  Which is probably why I love you."Image may contain: one or more people
Do you have fond memories of your grandparents?

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Ten Top Tips for settling your puppy into the family

Getting a puppy can be one of the most exciting things you do as a family, especially a family with young children.

It's important to remember though that you are introducing a new member to the family, and the health, safety, behaviour and happiness of this animal will be entirely your responsibility for, in all likelihood, at least a decade.  
We introduced Blossom (a Working Cocker Spaniel) to our family at the beginning of August, when she was ten weeks old.  These tips are from our experience.
  1. Your puppy needs a period of quiet before they will settle in.  While your family and friends will be desperate to meet your bundle of cuteness, hold off on the visitors for a while to give your puppy a chance to get to know his new family and home.
  2. The first few months are bonkers.  This bundle of fur doesn't know right from wrong, doesn't have any idea of what things are okay to chew and what are not, and is desperate for your attention.  Also, until the vaccines are complete they aren't allowed out for a walk, so pup has a lot of pent up energy!  Expect racing around, picking up EVERYTHING and giving it a chew, bouncing, jumping, bundling, biting and just being mad.  It's not personal, but it is exhausting.  I felt as though I had a toddler in the house again, you just can't turn your back for a second!  Be prepared for this.
  3. With all this chaos and madness it's important to introduce boundaries and stick to them.  Remember that puppy won't be a puppy for ever, and while a bouncy puppy may be entertaining, a grown dog that jumps up at everybody it meets will frighten people or knock somebody over.  Think how you would like your adult dog to behave, and begin to train your puppy with that in mind.  The best way to start is to only respond to puppy and give her fuss when all four paws are on the ground, to make a loud noise and move away if those teeth come out, to teach 'sit' early on etc. etc.  We also use a crate to keep Blossom contained when we are not able to keep an eye on her.  It's a large enough crate that she has plenty of space, and we make it comfortable and give rewards, toys and treats to her when she's in it so its only ever a positive space, but it helps with house training, gives her a safe space for calming down when she's over-excited and contains her when required.  Our pup is now 5.5 months old, and she is crated when home alone, overnight, when we are eating or when she's over-excited.  We're planning to gradually reduce the time that the crate door is shut, and then eventually lose it altogether.
  4. Invest in puppy walker or doggy daycare.  If you have to be at work all day you can't expect puppy to keep her legs crossed.  Pups just don't have that sort of bladder control.  Also, as sociable animals they crave company.  As they get older, some breeds can cope with solitude better than others but many breeds would begin to develop destructive or obsessive habits out of boredom and stress.  We've been lucky to have a friend around during the day who we've paid to take Blossom for a walk and play with her at lunchtime on the days I work.  On a couple of occasions in the last week she's been left alone all day so we know she can handle it, but we also know that she'll be much happier with a walker or some company, so now that my friend has a new job, we'll be looking for other options for Blossom.
  5. I've discovered that its as much about training the children as it is about training the dog.  I'm spending a lot of time explaining to Miss Busy that we have to be consistent with Blossom.  If Miss Busy allows her to bite her feet when playing, allows her to jump up "because its cute" and gets her very excited, then it undoes all the work that the rest of us are doing to stop her doing those things.  Mr Build-it needs teaching to use a firm voice and clear instructions.
  6. Puppy proofing - some people go a little mad with the puppy-proofing just as they do with toddler-proofing.  I go with the middle-ground.  I figure I don't want to spend the next 12 years keeping all shoes and socks above waist height, so we've left those where they are, and are slowly teaching the dog to either leave them alone, or to bring them to us rather than take them to her bed for a chew.  On the other hand she was getting a bit tiresome with her raids on the sitting-room bin, so that's now out of her reach, and I know that I need to move a basket of wool out of the dining-room if she is ever to be allowed out of her crate unsupervised!
  7. Listen to your puppy - Your puppy will soon learn to communicate with you in different ways.  It might be that they get a bit 'mouthy' when they are over-tired and need to be put in their bed and left alone.  Maybe they come and nudge your hand when they need a bit of attention.  If they normally go to bed at night no problem, but tonight they wake you with their whining, it might be worth going to check on them. (I've just had this very experience, and poor Blossom was trying to tell me she had a bit of diarrhoea and could I please put all her bedding in the wash and let her outside in case there was any more.)
  8. Once your dog has got past the first week or two and knows who you all are and where her home is and has had those first vaccinations, it's time to socialise your dog and to expose them to lots of everything.  The experiences your puppy has in the first months of his life will be what they build their understanding of the world on.  So use the hoover, take the dog on car trips, to the beach, to a river, into snow, near crying babies, men in hi-vis jackets, post-men and women, bikes, push-chairs, wheelchairs, scooters, motor-bikes, ambulances with sirens blaring, people with beards, people with no-hair, people of different skin colours, loud music, shops, town centres, the vets, children being crazy and running about, farm animals, birds, cats, lots of other dogs.  Basically give your puppy as wide an experience as you possibly can.  When exposing them to something new, don't keep checking back on them to see if they are okay - that makes them think you're scared and are looking to them for guidance, and they will feel uncertain.  Instead, be calm, confident and purposeful.  Just stand normally or keep walking as if nothing out of the ordinary.  If pup is clearly scared kneel with her and put your hand on her chest, but avoid looking at her or making reassuring noises - show her that you are in charge and you aren't worried.  Whatever it is that she's nervous of, go back to it several times over the next weeks.  For example Blossom showed signs of uncertainty with bicycles, motorbikes, pushchairs etc.  Since then, whenever we've come across some, I've asked the owner if its okay for Blossom to come and have a look and a sniff.  She's checked them out, she's found that they are no threat, and now she's fine with them.
  9. Get a good vet, and pet insurance.  We already had a good vet from our last dog.  We think they are fab.  A good vet will give you advice when you need it, tell you if you're doing something wrong, and be there when you need it.  They'll ensure that your puppy is well looked after with vaccinations; flea, tick and worm treatment; advice on neutering; feeding; training and much more.  Pet insurance just makes sense.  If your dog becomes unwell with something serious, or has an accident, things can get very expensive very quickly.  You don't want to be in the position where you can't meet your dog's needs because you can't afford it - better to be covered.
  10. Enjoy your puppy and spend lots of time with them.  Everybody says the same thing about babies and puppies.  Enjoy them while they are young because it doesn't last long.  The reason they keep saying it is because its true.  So take those photos, enjoy those cuddles, and above all spend lots of time playing with your puppy.  The time you spend building your relationship, training and playing games with your puppy now will provide your whole family with wonderful memories (and photos) to cherish, but they will also sow the seeds of a long and happy relationship with your dog into the future.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

School Garden Club

I've been running our school garden club since last Christmas.  I've usually got between 8 and 12 children between the ages of 6 and 11 who come along each week.  

What we've got:
2 large square raised beds
lots of pots, raised planters etc.
an old shed full of pots, compost, and tools.

A few challenges
We have a bit of an issue with rascally rabbits, 
the other children in the school don't have any ownership of the garden, so they stand on the planters (destroying our plants), pull flowers up and generally maraud.
Image result for school garden club ideas
The vision
A place for learning...
A place where children can enjoy growing things, seeing things grow, and finding out about wildlife...
A place where children from different year-groups come together...
The area around the garden to be an area that the whole school enjoys, feels part of and looks after...

1 raised bed for veg - a path down the middle, soft fruit bushes, and rows of veg.
The other raised bed split into four parts - one is a fairy garden, one a herb garden, one a rainbow garden and one a wildlife garden, surrounded and divided by willow fencing.
A compost heap which the children add to.
benches and seating around the garden.
A willow tunnel for the children to play in.
Surplus cut flowers and veg and fruit to be sold at the school gate and money put back into the garden.
Members of the school community (parents) to volunteer with garden upkeep.
Get some funding for a new shed.

I'm gradually working towards this aim and was delighted with the response last year when I asked parents to donate seeds and plant cuttings for the garden.  

This week we cleared out the shed, which was quite a major undertaking as you couldn't even get in there before.  

As well as working towards our vision, I quite like the activities suggested by the RHS on their website:
image from RHS School Gardening website
This document from the Gardens Trust is also really helpful: Garden Trust leaflet 

I'll post some of our own photos as the project develops.

What ideas have you got for involving children and the community in developing the green space around the school?

Monday, 5 November 2018

Some things are worth the wait

Another one of my Writers' Circle exercises.  I wasn't sure where to go with this prompt, and opted for a bit of romance...

As the underground train jerked into movement, Louise looked around.  She loved people watching on the underground.  There were so many interesting people and all of them had their heads down, studiously ignoring all the other passengers and making absolutely sure not to make eye contact.  She would guess who they might be and where they were going.  Her eye passed over some professional types on their way home from the office with their eyes glued to their kindle or book and alighted on a group of teenagers talking loudly about their plans for the evening and their friends.  After shamelessly listening in to their conversation for a few minutes they got off and headed for the cinema.  Her eyes wandered through the carriage to the busker, he’d finished his tune on the clarinet, and was moving among the other passengers rattling a few coins in a cup.  Hang on a minute… Her attention fixed on the man who had just dropped a couple of coins into the busker’s cup.  Did she know him?  Her eyes fixed on him and she tried to place the face.  In the six years she had lived in London and travelled the tube she had never yet come across somebody she actually  knew, but several times had almost thought she had.  Once, early on, she’d been convinced that she saw her husband, and then remembered that Derek had moved to Spain with Philippa.  It had never been a happy marriage, just a quick fix because she’d got pregnant. Once Ed had grown up and left home, Derek told her that he had fallen in love with their next door neighbour and she had let him go with few regrets and gone to London where she could more easily pursue a career that had been on hold throughout her marriage.  
Image result for london underground train busker
photo from The Evening Standard
This man on the train was handsome in a Judge-John-Deed way, his grey hair suiting his brown eyes.  The busker had said something funny at that end of the carriage and the eyes crinkled into a smile.  She glanced at her reflection in the train window.  Her own face showed a few wrinkles, and grey roots were visible in her blonde bob.  She couldn’t shake the feeling that she recognised him from somewhere and kept glancing at him thoughtfully until she reached her stop. 

“Louise?” the deep voice carried down the platform from behind her.  She turned.  It was the man she’d been trying to place so she did know him, but still couldn’t quite place where.

He came towards her, a half smile playing on his lips and dancing in his eyes.  “Well of all the people to run into.”

“I know I know you,” Louise began to confess,

“But you don’t know where from,” he finished with a gleeful smile.  “Think back 34 years.  You promised you’d love me forever.”  Colour drained from Louise’s face and then flushed back deepest crimson.

“Tom! I can’t believe I didn’t recognise you.”  She was grinning broadly now.  “I was watching you on the train.  I thought I knew you from somewhere but couldn’t be sure.”  She certainly knew him now.  She and Tom had declared undying love for one another aged 18.  They had almost got engaged but both sets of parents had stepped in and told them they were too young.  They went their separate ways to University and while they tried to maintain a long-distance relationship, they were young and had drifted apart.  Tom’s parents had moved away too, so they didn’t even meet in the holidays.  Over the years Louise had sometimes thought of Tom and wondered where he had ended up and what had happened to him.

They caught up over coffee.  Tom was a lawyer, as he always dreamed he would be, and had married and had three daughters.  Louise was saddened to hear that his wife had died of cancer five years earlier.  She told him about Ed, and about Derek and Philippa.  They arranged to meet the next day and headed home.  The next day’s meeting turned into another date set, and then another and another.  Three months later as they exchanged vows in a registry office, Tom and Louise looked at one another with a smile and both said together, “Some things are worth the wait.”

What would you write about with the prompt, "Some things are worth the wait?"

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Silent Sunday

I'm going to have a go at linking up to a Silent Sunday linky.  The idea is that you just post a photo, no words.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Do you remember that photo we took?

Image may contain: one or more people
Do you remember that photo we took?
The one where we sat on the stairs?
There was you Dad, and mum, and the three of us girls, 
Image may contain: one or more peopleNo automatic alt text available.dancing and putting on airs.

I think I was twelve or maybe thirteen,
and my dress sense was truly awful
No automatic alt text available.I'm not sure that torn jeans and bright yellow wellies
have even been sane or lawful.

Image may contain: 3 peopleYou were in the middle, smiling and happy,
Mum looked tired but managed a smile
the three of us girls just for a change
did as bid and came together a while.

Was there an occasion or special purpose?  
Or did you just want time to freeze?
We were all growing fast and doing our thing,
No automatic alt text get us together and make us say cheese.

No automatic alt text available.I'm glad you did it anyway,
I look back at pictures taken by you.
You managed to get the three girls together 
and capture us as we grew.
Image may contain: one or more people and indoor

No automatic alt text available.Three little girls at a birthday party, 
three little girls on a train.
Three little girls on a holiday,
or standing out in the rain.

Three teenage girls looking mawkish,
No automatic alt text available.three teenage girls in the sun.
Three teenage girls at a wedding,
smiling and having fun.

Now its three grown women and their children,
Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, ocean, sky, outdoor and natureyou capture at least once a year,
Getting together at a party
Those moments are never drear.

Do you remember that photo we took?
The one we sat on the stairs?
I'm glad you made us sit there,
your three little girls on the stairs.

Image may contain: 10 people, people smilingNo automatic alt text available.
Image may contain: 6 people
No automatic alt text available.Image may contain: one or more peopleImage may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standingImage may contain: 3 peopleImage may contain: 13 peopleImage may contain: 3 peopleImage may contain: one or more people, people standing, child and indoor
I wrote this poem in about 15 minutes at our latest meeting of Hereford Writers' Circle.  I find rhyming poetry challenging and usually avoid it, but I thought I'd give it a go.  I'm not entirely satisfied, particularly with the rhythm, but I did like the sentiment, so I thought I'd share.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

The Beginning of my Birthday - trip to Diggerland!

My Birthday began this weekend.  I actually turn 40 tomorrow, but my birthday treat was a trip to Diggerland in North Devon so it started on Friday.

First, my husband gave me the first part of my birthday present.  Over the last few years, I've lost two wedding rings and the diamond from my engagement ring.  For my 40th he got the engagement ring fixed and a new wedding ring.  I feel very loved.  This is definitely not a need, but is something that has made me feel very loved and special.  He also gave me a cord necklace on which to hang them when swimming in the sea, making pizza dough, or any other occasion on which I might take off / lose any rings.

We headed down on Friday evening to Cullompton in North East Devon where we camped in the campsite behind Diggerland.  Blossom, our crazy four-month-old Cocker Spaniel puppy had never been camping before but she settled really well in the campervan.  She doesn't realise that this is what we do in this family and that campervan trips are going to be a key part of her life in this pack.
photo from Diggerland website
Dogs aren't allowed into Diggerland, so on Saturday morning Mum came up from South Devon to take care of Blossom for us.  C was feeling a bit under the weather and complaining of a sore tummy but we reassured him and went in.  Diggerland is AMAZING!  Driving a digger is on my bucket list, so this was a big tick for me.  There are digger themed rides, you get to dig holes with proper diggers, and I got to drive a JCB!  Unfortunately C really was feeling rotten and was sick twice.  He felt rubbish and sat out of all the rides we went on that morning.  After a sit-down for lunch, Hubby took him back to the campervan for a sleep, leaving Bug and I to play...  Thankfully after a couple of hours resting he felt much better, and came back into the park for the last couple of hours, so was able to enjoy plenty of rides and even got to drive a real car!
this isn't C - it's a photo from the Diggerland website
As the park closed, we headed back to the campervan where mum was waiting with Blossom.  We got changed and headed for a pub in Cullompton called The Weary Traveller.  I would definitely recommend this pub.  While the carpet could do with a clean, the service was friendly and the food absolutely delicious.  I had slow cooked belly of pork in a red apple and cider jus with dauphinois potatoes and seasonal veg, followed by Eton Mess ice-cream.  Mmmmmm!  Also a pint of Otter Ale.

This morning dawned sunny and I got up to take Blossom out, only to hear a strange sound.  As I returned from the toilet block I realised there was a hot-air balloon being inflated in the next field!  I headed back to wake the others and tell them about it, but the campervan was empty.  They had already heard it and we sat under a tree watching as it inflated and took off - very exciting!  Hot air balloon riding is also on my bucket list, and I hope to tick that one off as soon as the children are old enough to join us for the trip.  

We packed up and headed to the Bluebell Restaurant (tucked behind the service station at Willand if you're ever in need of a hearty breakfast, a carvery or anything in between - we opted for the breakfast).  Then we made our way to Weston-super-mare for Blossom's first beach trip.  It will be the first of many, and it was fairly limited today as she's still on a short lead, tires easily and there are dog restrictions on a large part of the beach.  She did have a paddle though, and was interested in the sand.  By the time we got back to the campervan she just landed in a floppy, doggy heap of cuteness.

As I'm back to work tomorrow morning, we decided to have present opening and cake this evening.  Aside from feeling very special indeed, the gifts I received are all very reflective of me, they've been thought out so carefully.  From Mum and Dad I got garden centre vouchers, which I will spend on plants for my new pond (when I build it).  From my big sister new Trollbeads for the bracelet she bought me for my 30th birthday.  From my little sister a beautiful edition of Jane Austen novels and a replacement rainbow mug (she keeps buying me them, but they are my favourite mug so I use them all the time and eventually drop and break them and she just keeps on replacing them).  From C, a rainbow coloured stripy towel and another rainbow mug.  From Bug, a giant fairy castle which will take pride of place in my Utility Pants* when I've sorted it.  From Hubby, as well as the rings, a canvas of the Periodic Table of Elements, which I've coveted since seeing it on the wall in Sherlock's flat on the TV.
Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sitting and indoor
All in all, a pretty wonderful weekend.  I feel very pampered and loved.  This weekend was all about doing the things that I love doing, and having a very special time.  

What would your ideal birthday weekend look like?

*It's probably best not to ask about my Utility Pants.  It's a room in my house, not an item of underwear.  It's a cross between a utility room and a pantry, and I've decided that it will be a den, a "mum-shed" if you like, decorated so that anybody wandering in there to get a can of beans or load the washing machine will think for a moment that they have stumbled inside my brain - rainbows and witchery, wildlife and craziness.  I'll post more on that this year as the decorating and sorting comes to fruition.  

Friday, 31 August 2018

This is me.

This is me.  

  • I turn 40 on Monday.
  • I 'm 5-10kg overweight.
  • I have sparkly green eyes and a big smile that's never too far away, my e-mail address has been smilymel@... forever.
  • I have a seven and a half year old daughter and a nine year old son.
  • I have a four month old puppy.
  • I have a geriatric 3 year old gerbil.
  • I am a teacher working 3 days a week in a caring but very busy school.  I love my job.
  • I am a Cub Leader with 28 happy Cubs.
  • I get involved with projects at The Scout Association at UK level and am a Training Adviser in the County.
  • I have a lovely husband with a very busy job as a Dr in our local hospital.
  • I love the outdoors, walking, scrambling, waterfalls, woodlands, castles etc.
  • I enjoy learning about history.
  • I love crafting and making things and being creative.
  • I love writing.  I'm a member of our local Writing Circle and have a burning ambition to finish editing one of the books I'm writing and actually send it off to a publisher.
  • I enjoy cooking (and eating).
  • I'm not as fit as I should be.
  • I've had Vasculitis which is in remission but I'm still on a lovely cocktail of drugs every day to keep it that way.
  • I have friends who I love and who make me feel good.  I don't see any of them nearly as often as I would like to.
  • I have a loving mum and dad, two lovely sisters and their families, and a set of lovely in-laws.  
  • I'm generally optimistic and happy, but sometimes find that I'm unravelling a bit and am swamped by trying to do too much in too little time and end up feeling that I'm not actually achieving anything.  Then I get grouchy and grumpy and give the people I love a hard time.  Then I give myself a really hard time.
This is me.

I've not used this blog all that much over the last couple of years, but have decided to make it a priority this year.  I'll blog often to log my thoughts, log the activities I do, and give a creative outlet.  I'm going to show myself just how much I can get done in a busy year.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Writing Group prompt - and they said it couldn't be done.

I've joined Hereford Writer's Circle.  We meet on the first Friday of the month.  I won't be able to get there every month.  I've been meaning to go since February, but the March one was cancelled by snow, the April one I was away for the Easter Holiday, and the May one was a bank holiday weekend and we were away in the campervan.  I went this time though, and it was great fun.  There weren't many there, though apparently numbers are usually higher, but it was lovely just to have time and space to write and talk about writing.  I thought I would revive my blog, and each week try to share a piece of writing that came from the most recent Writer's Circle meeting.  I love to write, and getting back to blogging will give me a creative outlet that I need and rarely make time for.  The first piece of writing I did at the Circle we were given a title - and they said it couldn't be done.  We had about ten minutes to write and we all did something very different with the title.  The following piece of writing is the first thing that came to my mind.  My sister (who blogs as Seaside Belle) has recently become a single mum of four.  I can't say how accurate this piece of writing is (as I've not spoken to her since she got back), but her Facebook posts this week are the inspiration for it.

"I'm still not sure this is a good idea," she messaged from the airport lounge.  Around her loomed the potential for chaos.  E. was looking for his i-pad, rummaging through the carefully packed bags; Overexcited B was pirouetting, very nearly knocking poor little O off his feet.  He gazed around, fingers in mouth and drank in the busy scene, then he continued inexorably towards Mum, his safe haven, clambering over the bags, discarded coats and the luggage trolley.  On his arrival a hand reached down and pushed his face away.  Five year old W already occupied this lap, and he wasn't giving it up easily to his three-year-old nemesis.  

Was she brave or stupid?  She couldn't decide.  A newly single mum of four, trying to prove to herself and the world that she could manage.  She took a deep breath... Look out Barcelona!

"Still waiting for take-off," said the next message.  The children in their aeroplane seats in this photo were now looking a little less excited and a bit more sugar-fuelled.

"We went for the hop-on-hop-off bus tour to see the sights without tiring ourselves out too much," was the message the following day.  Those in the know read between the lines, and wondered whether the children had kept her up all night and it was her energy she was preserving.  A flurry of supportive and encouraging messages back ensued.

Over the following days the messages and photos on Facebook showed the children eating churros, at Camp Nou football ground, at the market, enjoying views and sunshine and almost every photo showing all the children looking in the same direction and grinning at the camera.

"A glass of cava on the last day to celebrate a successful trip to Barcelona," said the caption on the last photo of the week, showing a tired-looking but smiling mum.  She'd proved it to herself.  She'd proved it to everybody else.  A single mum on holiday with four children under the age of ten to Barcelona.  They said it couldn't be done, but the hashtags on that last photo said it all: #travellingsolowith4kids #planningournexttripalready.  She'd done it.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Advice to a new mum

Quite a few friends and colleagues are having babies for the first time, and I've thought often about what advice I would or should give.  Here's where I've got to:
  1. Take all advice with a pinch of salt.  Everybody wants to give a new mum advice - I'm writing this blog!  You don't have to follow it.  There are many many "correct" ways to bring up children.  As long as you love them, you can't go far wrong.  What works for some families won't work for others, what works for some children may not work for yours.  Muddle through, make mistakes, find what works for you.
  2. Nearly all the baby paraphernalia that they try to convince you to buy is a complete waste of money, and you don't need to fit out "the nursery".  Mostly, baby won't spend any time in its nursery unless it's with you or asleep, so it won't care two hoots about the carefully picked out colour scheme and wallpaper with rabbits on.  Paint a calm neutral colour and wait until it begins to show some interest in stuff as a toddler to start accessorising.  As for the rest, it needs a car seat, a buggy, a cot, bottles if you're bottle feeding, nappies, clothes and that's about it.  Muslin squares are the exception.  You need muslin squares.  Get a pack of ten, you'll use them as a sun shade on the front of the buggy, to mop up baby sick, to lay on the floor if you need to put baby down somewhere clean and many other uses I don't remember.  I just remember they were very useful.  We also bought a very cheap baby bouncer from a car boot which we cleaned up and was great so you could put baby down and they could still see you.  And a friend made a lovely blanket for the floor for when baby had tummy time, and later when they started playing on the floor. 
  3. Find other mummies, preferably open and honest ones.  It's great to know you are not alone in going through some of the stuff you go through as a new mum.
  4. Try to get out every day.  This doesn't need to be far.  A walk to the shops, a wander around the park with the buggy for example.  It's good for morale to be up and dressed, especially on a day when you've had no sleep and baby won't stop crying.  A change of scenery will do you both good, and if you can combine this with a meet up with a fellow mummy, so you can compare notes and support one another then even better.  This is why they invented "mother and baby" or "toddler" groups.  They can be cliquey, they can be scary and some of them are awful, but if you find a welcoming one with those honest mums who look after one another, then its worth it.
  5. On the same count, don't feel you have to fill baby's day with clubs and classes.  Baby doesn't care whether they've been to baby sensory, or baby yoga or baby music lessons.  Baby wants to spend time with mummy.  As mentioned earlier, a walk to the shops or around the park or coffee at a friend's house is plenty.  There are some days when you'll be very tired.  There are some days when baby will be cranky.  There are plenty of days when sitting on the sofa cuddling the baby and watching daytime telly are perfectly acceptable ways to while away the hours.  Also, your baby will begin to fall into a napping routine at some point and you'll want to encourage this, because healthy sleep patterns = happy baby (and mummy).  Once this starts to happen, ditch any regular activities that interfere with baby nap time.
  6. All this advice is written with the assumption that its mum at home with the baby.  Of course, all this advice applies equally to dad being the main carer at home, and my next piece of advice is to share the load.  Dad needs time to bond with baby too, and should be involved with all the decisions about how you manage things.
  7. Having a baby around the place isn't always easy, and being a new mum at home can be lonely.  Don't feel you are alone.  Everybody will tell you to "relish these years, they go so fast".  They do.  But sometimes it doesn't feel like that at four in the morning when baby just won't go to sleep, or when you realise that you haven't got dressed or had a shower for four days because baby wails every time you put it down... those days seem very very long.  Pick up the phone.  Call a friend.  Have a cry or a moan or a rant.  If they are a good friend they will remember or understand.  Ask them to come over and hold the baby so you can have a shower.  Ask them to hang the washing and mop the kitchen while you and baby have a nap together.  
My children are now seven and eight.  I don't remember the details of my time as a new mum, though looking back at this blog from 2010 and 2011 gives a bit of an insight to what we were getting up to.  I do know that we had some great days, and we had some harder days.  I also know that the time I spent with my babies and toddlers has helped build the relationship we have today.  Having babies isn't always easy, but it's worth every moment as you watch that baby grow into an independent young person.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Ten ways to happiness

  1. Be kind to yourself.  This means that you need to look after the things that are important to you - Sometimes we're so busy rushing around trying to get everything done and look after everybody else that we forget to think about ourselves.  To be happy you have to value yourself, which means looking after your priorities.  Write down the things that are important for you such as exercise or relaxation, and the things that make up your personality such as hobbies, likes and dislikes, and prioritise spending some time on those too.
  2. Your key relationship - this is the relationship with your significant other.  It might be a parent, a best friend, your only child, a sibling or your spouse.  This is the person you rely on and who relies on you.  Every relationship needs time and effort to run smoothly.  The chances are, if you're taking it for granted, you're going to run into a problem somewhere.  Take time together, listen to one another and keep building dreams and plans for your future as well as sharing your past and present.
  3. Other important relationships - friendships and families matter.  A phone call to let your mum know you're thinking of her, a catch up with a friend over coffee or a glass of wine.  These are the moments that top up your happy tank (and theirs).
  4. Be kind and generous - do things for others - studies have shown that those who are kind and help others report feeling happier and more content.  Doing things for others makes us feel more connected to the world around us.
  5. Get enough sleep - we all know that we're more grumpy, and more likely to be overwhelmed and out of control when we're tired.  To be happy, get enough sleep so you have the energy to approach all of life's challenges.
  6. Appreciate the little things - be mindful - don't always be striving for that elusive lottery win, that perfect wedding day or something distant and hard to find.  Be aware of all the little things every day that are good, from the smell of fresh coffee in the morning, to the feel of your child resting their head in safety on your shoulder or the sound of birds singing on a sunny day.
  7. try new stuff - trying new things stimulates our mind, gives us rewarding satisfaction in overcoming the fear of the unknown, keeps us curious, engaged and resilient.  It also opens up new possibilities for the future.  Whether it's trying a new food, trying a new outfit, learning Spanish or having a go at Salsa dancing - go for it!
  8. small actions for big problems - It's easy to become overwhelmed by the calamities of the world around us, from war and famine to global warming, homelessness and pollution.  Rather than looking at it as a hopeless case, try finding a small action that you can take.  You could write a letter to lobby those in power, you could donate to a charity, take part in a litter pick in your home town or audit your own home energy use.  Small actions really do add up, and your small step in the right direction might lead to more, or inspire others to make small steps too.  Your action might seem tiny, but if enough people make a small step, then giant leaps can be accomplished.
  9. have goals - goals help us to put our values into action.  Working towards a realistic goal gives us satisfaction, and so does achieving a goal.  Set yourself goals and targets for the things that you want to do with your life.  You'll have seen mine on my blog last week.
  10. be resilient - resilience can be described as "emotional elasticity".  The ability to manage changes and difficulties without being derailed when life throws you a curve ball.  Resilience is about developing a bit of bounce so that if something goes wrong, you can get back up, dust yourself down, shrug your shoulders (you can have a little cry if you need to, or even stick two fingers up to the world), but you can move on and find a different path to take.
Image result for happiness
I like to think I'm a pretty happy person most of the time.  I look forward with hope and optimism and am pretty resilient to life's problems. I also understand how hard it can be when that doesn't come easily - I've suffered with Post Natal Depression and understand how difficult it can be to see a light at the end of the tunnel at times.  If any of my friends or family ever need somebody to help them through when times are hard, please don't hesitate to call on me. 

Thursday, 4 January 2018