Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Proud mummy- bear with me- it will pass

Being a parent.
I find myself in situations where I don't know how to act, how to behave.
Parents Evening.
What am I meant to ask? What am I not meant to say?
Is there a code to the words being chosen by the teacher.
My daughter is 5 years old, does it matter?
And to be honest.
I don't have the answers to any of this.
This evening was my appointment with Seren's Year 1 teacher.
And it seemed to be more of an introduction than anything else.
Which is probably right, half a term in.
But I did feel the need to ask questions.
I was really proud of how Seren was described in terms of her behaviours.
I was surprised, and not surprised, to hear Seren commended for her artistic and creative ability.
I know this is true of her, but have no benchmark, so it was good to hear this is a strength, and surprising given I don't think this trait is true of Mr J or I.
The remainder of the report seemed to focus on maths, on one hand Seren is undertaking Year 1 maths (speed) and the other she is currently achieving 7/10 and she needs to be at 10/10 (click).
I am sort of ok about this, to be honest, I think Seren is better at maths than I was when I was 7 years old, and I am reassured that she's doing ok.
I asked about her writing ability, I try not to be concerned about every hint that my children might have the same learning difficulties as me, and then Seren presents me with this picture and I can only be concerned (Seren has changed to mirror writing half way through... which is basically how I spent my childhood writing).
Seren's teacher reassured me that I shouldn't be concerned. And even sought Seren's exercise book for me, which she said wouldn't usually be covered until Seren's second parent's evening. She commented that sometimes Seren's writing is messy, but never mirror writing. I felt reassured that it may just be tiredness.
And that Seren's reading ability is fine.

And I am over the moon.
This term, Seren has also been the recipient of an Award twice. And I think- only from my twitter stream- that this is a rarity. To get one is special it would seem.
The Awards are given out, when warranted, on a Friday. They seem to be given out for behaviour traits rather than academic achievement- being kind, helping others,  tidying up.
And to be honest, these are the behaviours that mean most to me in my 5 year old.
Recent experiences seem to show to me that when you are kind, thoughtful and helpful, good things happen. I don't like the idea of 'mean girls'.
And given the horrible world of work, I want Seren to have the opportunity to, one day, find a career which she wants, that offers reward, that she knows what she wants and can be supported in achieving this.
And of course, all of this is written, because of my guilt.

Because in spite of everything she is doing well.
She wasn't breastfed beyond six weeks.
Her mother went back to work full time at six months.
Her parents changed her life by making her a sister to two boys when she was only 22 months.
And then at 30months uprooted her from her home in Yorkshire to Wales.
And her mother obviously favours her brothers.
And can be quite mean to her.
And her mother works a way a lot.
And doesn't remember to help her with her homework,
Or make a packed lunch.

And yet, we rub along.
She forgives me.
She makes me a proud mum.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Planning an office makeover

When we moved to South Wales from Yorkshire we had a particular specification in mind for our new home.
We wanted an office.
Whilst work will not classify me as someone who works from home, I average two of my four days at home, which means some times my four days are working from home.
Sitting on the sofa working is not really practical.
Taking away any family space is far from ideal.
So we were really lucky to find a home that not only has four bedrooms, but also an office.

And common to the rest of the house, it came with the green carpet and, in this case, the light green paint.
And it's been difficult to justify changing, because why would you invest efforts in work stuff when other rooms need improving.
So, Seren's room has been painted pink, the boys have moved to the bigger room and have a Fireman Sam themed room, the spare room has been madeover, the lounge has had wooden flooring and the playroom new furniture.
So, I'm sort of ok with looking to improve my office, as probably a room that has a lot of my time.

And the office has become our (my) dumping ground.
As well as my desk, it contains all of my books, all of my craft bits 'n' pieces... and a chair which I love, but the cats' claws' love too.

And so, this weekend I have started small:
I choose, and purchased paint and wallpaper.
Albeit, I choose the wallpaper first.
I decided, after all of my Pinterest aspirations, I would be inspired by our surroundings, and bringing the inside in, our coastline, I decided on beach huts.
And then considering that I can't afford to replace the carpet, I decided to find a way to compliment (!) the carpet as well as match the wallpaper.
And so Graham & Brown wallpaper met Dulux Paint.
I hope it's going to work out ok:

A coat of paint in, I'm definitely optimistic.
And, of course, I've starting thinking about the furniture which is going to make this room fantastic.

I'm intending to move the bookcases to the corner which has been dominated by storage (aka dumping ground)

And ideally, use the space created to have meaningful storage for my cardboard boxes crammed with craft materials, as well as space for my birthday gift- my Cricut Explore.
And I have found plenty of ideas:

Of course I got carried away, from permanent storage to match the wallpaper, to a new chair to replace my 'three cats loved, and scratched to bits' chair; and something I can use to have my latest project- easily transferred from office to lounge.

And then I started dreaming big.
My new desk, which needs some TLC.
And I have no idea what.
But I would love your advice.
If this desk could become part of my life, how could I nurture it and make it its best?

#LoomtotheMoon with Rainbow Braid

Over the summer holidays we became loom band addicts.
We had tried them earlier in the year, I had got so frustrated with the loom I had wanted to throw it into oblivion.
Fortunately, we had friends to stay, and they taught Seren and me how to loom with our fingers. And we were away!
And it transpired, in the most unlikeliest of suspects, Mr J turned out to be the pro with the loom and the complex designs!
And shortly after we found out about Skye's ambition- to Loom to the Moon.
And after receiving Rainbow Braid's Refill Pack we were over the moon to help.
5400 bands, including lots of clips (although it later transpired that the clips need to be removed to contribute to Skye's ambition).
And the pack includes 18 colours- so there were lots of patterns to make- with solid colours, fluorescents and glitter.
And they were great to loom with- fantastic quality in terms of not breaking and stretching. And colours which added variety to our braids.
Currently, this pack has a 66% reduction, so is priced at £12.90 on Amazon.
So, if you or your children are 'loomers' and you want to make a difference- to celebrate Skye's life- please consider contributing, to what is now Skye's brother's wish, and see Skye's hope to Loom to the Moon realised.

Disclosure: We received a Rainbow Band refill pack for the purposes of this review. All opinions and views contained are our own.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Feeling the pressure- the cost of children's parties

When we lived in Todmorden, Seren's birthdays were celebrated with a tea party.
By the we moved to Wales and Seren started school, it became apparent classmates were all invited to celebrate the special day, and Seren had one party at a local venue and another at a softplay.
With March seemingly on the horizon, Seren has great plans for her 6th birthday, which seem to now be based on a select group of friends.

The expense of parties astounds me, and the reality is that whether it be a party for all the classmates or select few, the reality is the costs don't really change- the expectations just grow.

So, when GrowingUpMilkInfo.com shared their latest research, revealing that the average budget for a fabulous first-birthday bash is less than £114, as most UK parents choose to celebrate the milestone event with close-knit family (70%), over a bigger bash with extended family (33.44%) and friends (41%), I wasn't surprised- we tried to start small.

And as the research shows, making me one of four, four in ten mums (42%) feel there is more pressure on them than their parents' generation to throw a memorable party, and nearly half (46%) say they would be embarrassed if guests didn't have a good time.

So, my mission is to try and consider if I can become one of the thrifty parents who spend less than a tenner per head.
I like to think saving money by hosting one party for two children increases my odds!

And if you're interesting in some helpful tips, which may increase the odds of staying within a budget, I liked the ones GrowingUpMilkInfo.com provided from Celebrity Party Planner, Steven Duggen:

· There are many ways to achieve a stunning look at home for your toddler's party. It is important to decorate smart, for example, using recyclable products from your home and making interesting hanging features! When hanging, make sure your craft pieces are out of reach of little fingers

· The classic blue for a boy and pink for a girl has now developed into pale greens, yellows and other pastel tones to set a certain theme or 'look'

· Popular hired entertainment includes clay making, balloon modellers and face painting but something you can do at home is to have colouring competitions, cupcake decorating and decoration-making

· For the more lavish or elegant settings you wish to create, the use of a few fun props to hire, coloured wall up-lighting and even tall jungle trees will help to get a great atmosphere within the space. Themes are also impactful. You can choose anything from Alice in Wonderland, to Aladdin, to a Circus party and still be able to create the setting for less by being a little more creative

· The idea is to create a theme that is fun, as busy and detailed as possible, while using art supplies and items from around the house

· Soft play areas and mini ball pits are also very popular for the younger ones. Again you can have an entire floor of soft play and soft shapes to ensure they are safe.'
The Birthday Spread

First birthday menus include all time favourites, such as cocktail sausages and sausage rolls (63%), crisps (54%), sandwiches (53%) and pizza (44%), as well as healthy alternatives, like fruit (40%) and vegetable sticks (39%), and even sushi (2%).

Leading child nutritionist, Dr Carrie Ruxton comments: "The first birthday celebration is a wonderful time. It's a way to celebrate what is a milestone age and reflect on just how fast your little one is growing. Soon enough they'll be a fully-fledged toddler! They are walking, talking and growing into their very own person. As a result, they need to be fuelled with the right vitamins and minerals to encourage this healthy growth and development.

"Toddlers have specific nutrition requirements, however, that's not to say you should leave out the jelly, cake and ice cream at the first birthday party! But it is something important to think about as your child enters this new stage. Along with a healthy balanced diet, one way to help toddlers top-up with essential vitamins and nutrients such as vitamin D, omega 3, iron and fibre, is to serve two beakers of Growing Up Milk a day to support their growth and development."

Disclosure: This information is brought to you in my role as a Growing Up Milk Info Mum not least because I am planning Tom & Seb's 4th birthday party and thought it useful for keeping things in perspective.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Doddle for Dogs #Review and #Giveaway

Regular readers of my blog will know the firm part our pets take in our lives.
Thanks to Seren's Christmas wish we now boast a dog and three cats.
Our dog is Miller, a cocker spaniel, a couple of years older than Seren.

And, like most dogs, he loves, and gets giddy over the idea of a walk.
Like most things in our lives, we're loyal, we love the collar and lead we have.
We had harnesses when Miller was a puppy and have stuck with the same kind of stretchy lead ever since.

The opportunity to review Doddle for Dogs was intriguing.
Partly because Mr J and I love Dragon's Den.
A dog collar, with an inbuilt retractable lead.
Hmmmmm.

On arrival I was impressed but wary.
It appeared less hardwearing than Miller's leads and collars to date.
I was wary about how Miller would accept it, would it be heavier, given the inbuilt lead?

Of course, he loved it.
Any chance to get out of the house, of course.
And, in reality, the lead is lightweight, the pod weights 39 grams.
Doddle for Dogs lead for cocker spaniels
And the pro's quickly became apparent.
We live next to a nature reserve, so Miller is on a lead for the 10 yards from our home to the pedestrian pathway.
We like to have him on the lead when we're passing children or other dogs.
And apart from that the lead is worn around Mr J's neck, or when it's me, I carry it.
Acceptable but not convenient.

In terms of improvements, whilst Miller is microchipped, there isn't the facility for the collar to hold our phone number, which would be really convenient given it would just get him back to us a little quicker.
I do like the substantive handle we have on our current lead when bringing Miller close, however this really is outweighed by the amount of time he spends off the lead, and the convenience of the retractable lead.

As you'll see from our video, the lead is so convenient to extend when needed.
The consideration of carrying a lead disappears.
The ease of getting Miller onto a lead when needed is simple.

And so, it is now the "outfit" of choice.
To just clip on a collar now seems to much more straightforward.

And fortunately, I have been offered the opportunity to share this great product, and can offer one as part of a giveaway.
Please check out the rafflecopter widget!
Disclosure: We received a Doddle for Dogs for the purposes of this review. All opinions and views contained are our own.

Word of the Week #WotW

It's been a tough few months.
Work-wise.
There is a reality.
My family and friends are my sanctuary.
And the majority of people at work aren't so bad really (!).

And this week, randomly, things seem to be coming back together.
Last week, it happened, dates has been set on the thing hanging over so many peoples head.
The best and the worst of times.
There are much needed decisions on the horizon.
I have been offered help and support from the most unexpected of places.
And this week, for the first time in forever, I have needed to spend two consecutive nights away, something I used to completely begrudge. And as much as I missed my family dearly, it was bearable, I kissed my children goodbye at 0530 on Tuesday morning and got home in time for bathtime on Thursday.

And work, unexpectedly was good.
I had, what I think is a compliment, of being asked to be a part of an MBA Revalidation Panel. I was sooooo nervous. Despite the fact I think they were meant to be scared of us I was so petrified of holding so many people's qualifications in balance. And it was such a gruelling but invigorating day. I think I like academia. But definitely just for the day.

Wednesday was back to reality, excel spreadsheets and made-up algebra. And fortunately much laughter.

And Thursday, Thursday was homeward bound, keeping perspective, and laughing about it. The reality being made so much more cathartic than I thought. It's uncomfortable, and yet, as always, I am sure the end will justify the means.

And so, for the first time in some time, I arrived home without the angst of work.
I arrived home still laughing about moments of the last three days.

And, to know I have been laughing, about the last time I was laughing, when my foot and suitcase got trapped in the doors of a tube train, and I helplessly did nothing.
It's a good feeling to laugh about laughing.
The Reading Residence

Friday, 10 October 2014

Word of the Week #WotW

Last night I wrote my post.
And shut my laptop.
This morning, it was as I remembered.
My ramblings.

And so this week's word is meant on both levels.

The word I picked last night didn't sit right.
And this morning's phone call confirmed that.

Control.
The thing so many strive for.
And so we learn.
Assertiveness.
Resilience.

These were words I was pondering as my word of the week.
Because I am so trying to be a better person.

And yet there is a reality.
I cannot be all things to all people.

I spent two days this week on such a good course.
One of the learning points was the "sh*t sandwich".
Deliver a compliment. Reveal an area for improvement. Provide a positive recommendation.
In fairness, I think it works.
I am about to give up on people who simply tell me "it's sh*t", no explanation, and no recommendation.

Today, I talked to someone, about mental health, about helplessness and hopelessness.
And how and whether it is possible to return from an illness.
I felt helpless, I had no answers.
Apart from to ask how I can help.
But what use is that when there is no road map for the person to follow.
How does anyone know what help they need.
They just need help.

And when that help is so dependent on other outcomes.
And yes, it seems there is now a date in the diary.
The date, if there hadn't been a realisation before now, this is the date that everything is focused on.

And in the meantime there is everything else.
Saying goodbyes.
Realising confrontation is the only way forward.
Realising that you don't need to do this alone.
That you don't have to own everything.

Sometimes you just have to have faith.
It will be ok.
It always is.
But I don't want collateral damage.
I just want, that those people who want and do make a difference to be appreciated.
That making a difference to others is the greatest priority.
The Reading Residence
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