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Fifteen for '15

Fifteen for 2015 – Setting Goals, Hopes and Dreams

After a lot of reflection over the past few weeks, I have come to the conclusion that a lot of things need to change in my life. Some of them internal, some of them external. Some are changes I can personally make, and some are changes that rely on things outside of my control.

With that in mind I wanted to focus on setting achievable goals for the months ahead, goals which are not only quantifiable but also have a real impact on my life in a positive way. And for that, I needed to consider what my hopes and dreams were for this year.

It was at this point that I realised that good planning includes not just your hopes and dreams, but also the general aims you have as well as those very specific goals. It’s like three very different but completely complementary layers which, when considered together, create a positive and affirming outlook in life.

And this led me to this…

Fifteen for '15

I feel like these are all really achievable and give me some real focus for creating a far better balance in my life. My word for 2015 is Surrender, and a large part of this includes surrendering the extremely high expectations I hold for myself. Instead of thinking I need to “do it all” I am setting myself some very specific goals which will make a massive difference in my life.

My five goals will assist me in making the five general aims a reality. For instance, working on the crochet blanket enables me to “create more”. Eating at the table helps us have “more family time”. And keeping a personal journal (as opposed to simply writing on the blog) will enable me to “be more mindful” and also “pray more” as I reflect on things.

And hopefully, these five goals and five aims will in turn impact on my five hopes and dreams. Being more mindful will help me live on purpose. Spending more time with family and embracing community will bring more stability to our lives. And that will all hopefully bring about some better health through having better support and worrying less.

Do you see how I have tried to connect everything together in some way? It’s the first time I have really tried to do this on a personal level and I do so hope it will help… but only time will tell and I am “surrendering” my expectations of this and simply choosing to see how it all pans out!

Have you set any goals for the year? Please do leave your comments below, I would love to read about your hopes and dreams for the year ahead!

 

Midwinter Solstice

Solstice Reflections

Midwinter Solstice

Today marks the Midwinter Solstice, or the “return of the sun” and is one of the main celebrations in the Pagan Wheel of the Year. It comes just a few days before Christmas and is a time of celebration of hope for us in some of our darkest days.

I find this very poignant this year, as the past few weeks have really taken their toll on our little family. To be fair, 2014 has been one of the biggest and longest challenges of our lives, and I have felt utterly broken by it. But the past few weeks have pretty much pushed the very fragile nature of my soul into shattering completely. It has been like a metaphorical Winter of the soul!

And yet, within it all, a little light of hope shines. Hope that nothing lasts forever, and one day soon life will begin its upswing into the light and warmth of Spring and Summer. We’ve already seen the beginning sparks of this with the good news regarding TJ’s treatment plan, and having some time and space to stop still and breathe has enabled me to find my footing and begin to put myself back together again.

Sometimes, in life, things get so messed up that trying to fix one more crack is not enough… sometimes it is better to smash it all to pieces and rebuild with firmer foundations. Not that it always feels that way when it happens!!

I feel like 2014 has been my “breaking point” and I have reached that point where the old ways just no longer cut it. TJ and I have been through so much together (and as individuals) and we have had so very many cracks to try and fill and sustain and we finally hit that point where it felt like everything was crumbling around us and we didn’t know what to do. Looking back over the past 12 months I can see how we have had a slow crumble rather than one big crash, but the final push most certainly came over the past quarter.

And just when I felt like I had let everybody down and there was no way out, I began to see that there is an opportunity in all of this. An opportunity to build those firmer foundations, to find a more stable way of living and being, to rediscover the roots of faith that have sustained me in the past and the joys of life which help to balance out the challenges we face. In the midst of my own personal Winter I am beginning to see the light that lies just around the corner.

And whilst I long to be there right now, I am beginning to respect that life is a cycle and no matter how much we may wish to rush things forward, we need to allow things to happen in their own time. I am also beginning to finally understand that I cannot (and should not try!) to do it all alone. Everybody needs help and support and community around them and that is something I truly wish to embrace in a way I have never really done so before.

As much as I feel that 2014 has been our “breaking point”, I really feel that 2015 is going to be our “turning point”, the year in which we begin to find our feet, breathe a little easier, and set the foundations for the future. And whilst 2015 is still a little way off, today marks a significant moment in that process. It is a day that we set intentions and hopes for the year ahead, and look towards the light that is just around the corner.

Happy Solstice, everyone!

 

Emma @ Bubba Blue and Me

Let’s Talk About… One Child Families: Interview with Emma @ Bubbablue and Me

It’s been a little while since I featured an interview with another parent of an only child, because life has been pretty darn hectic behind the scenes here at The Patch lately.

But today I am really pleased to be bringing you another interview with a blogger who is raising an only child, just like we are. Emma @ Bubba Blue and Me

 

Meet Emma:

Emma’s a working mum of one and farmer’s wife…yes, she has the stereotypical Aga, Hunter wellies and (occasionally) bakes cakes.  She blogs to journal life on and off the farm with N, having started Bubbablue and me to reflect how she got on having a child when she’s not really a baby person.

Can you explain how and/or why you decided to have an only child? Was it something you always planned or did some circumstance force you to make the decision?

I always thought I wouldn’t have children.  I couldn’t see myself having them, and wasn’t into babies or children at all, apart from our nephews and niece.  I did always think that if I changed my mind and wanted children, then I’d have 2.  I didn’t like the idea of only children, having only known 1 growing up.  To me having a sibling was the norm and something I’d have wanted for any children if I had them.

I hit 32, and then realised that actually I might regret not even trying for a child by the time I got old. My OH had been going on about children for years (I can never tell even now whether he’s joking) and we decided we’d try but keep it fairly relaxed.

Once N arrived I was surprised at how easy it was (apart from him not breastfeeding like I’d hoped, and the unplanned c section), and always presumed he’d be the first of two.  Then reality hits, and life gets back to normal, I go back to work, and childcare costs start.  Practically, with the OH (other half) being a farmer, he works 7 days a week, so the onus is on me to deal with working and childcare.  So having a second wouldn’t have been realistic – too expensive for childcare which would have meant me having to give up work, and there’s no way I could give up my only link to normality and enjoying the work I do (or did, bit different now in the work I do).  There’s also the change to relationships when you have a family, however long you’ve been married.  We’re quite happy now with only N, although I think if he didn’t have 6 cousins living within 1.5 miles, I might think differently.

Do you know other parents who have an only child, or are you the only person in your group of friends/colleagues who has stopped at one?

It’s a real mix.  Out of 7 in our NCT group, 3 have only 1 for various reasons, and the rest have 2-3.  Other friends with similar aged children to N, mostly only have the one at the moment, a couple have had a second.  I think many of us are in our 30s, and have taken our time having children, so one works at the moment.

I also have a lot of online mum friends – we quite often have discussions over who’s still only got one because it seems like lots of them have had more, are pregnant or trying.  But actually, I’m surprised by how many are now only having one.

Do people often ask you, “so when are you going to have another?” If so, how does this make you feel and how do you respond?

I used to get it quite a bit.  The worst was a Great Aunt congratulating me on being pregnant at my mum’s funeral.  I didn’t think I looked like I had a ‘tummy’ at the time, but her reasoning for saying it was because ‘it’s about the right age gap after the first’.  I was mortified, but mostly because I thought I’d lost a bit of weight and was looking quite good in my dress!

A couple of friends have asked, but it’s more interest than anything judgemental.  Luckily, I think people probably wouldn’t dare ask me in case I snapped back.  Now N’s older, people probably presume we’ve chosen to have one and that’s it.

Can you share some of the best things about being a parent to an only child?

Aside from the money aspect, there’s the getting your life back earlier and not having to split your time across more than one child.  With more than one, you need to be able to balance the different personalities and needs.

I think also, only children have to be able to speak to and socialise with a wider mix of age groups, where in social settings often siblings will get sent off to play together, and not be expected to sit and talk to the adults.  It’s a good way to ease them in to adult conversation while still ensuring the adults get to play at being children to entertain the only child.

And what are the hardest things about having an only child?

Definitely worrying that they’re not growing up to be spoilt, and making sure they have enough social opportunities with peers.  I think it’s brilliant that all of N’s cousins live so close, and that he’s really good friends with his 6 year old cousin.  Without them around, I’d have to organise a lot more playdates outside nursery.

They do say that only children tend to be more confident. I’m not sure N’s at that level, but that’s not surprising with a quiet dad, and a naturally shy mum (although talking for England and being opinionated tends to cover that up).  Being an only child means N will have to find his own way, and not be encouraged or challenged by having either an older sibling to follow and aspire to, or a younger one to compete with as they come up behind.

Having lost my mum last year (our dad died when I was 3), I do think it would be hard to have gone through that without my brother as well.  We’re now dealing with our Nan’s dementia and putting her in a home, and again, it’s not something I’d want to go through alone.  That kind of thing in future will be harder for N, but hopefully he’ll still be close to his cousins for support.

Does your son ever ask about siblings? If so, how does this make you feel and how do you respond to their questions?

Thankfully no.  I think N is pretty oblivious although he knows that others have baby brothers or sisters.

What are the best and worst things that people have told you about only children? Do people tell you they will be “spoiled” or “lonely”? Or are people generally positive about your decision?

People don’t really comment on N being an only child.  Comments tend to be more about how happy he is, or chatty or reserved until he gets to know someone.  I think most of what I’ve heard was growing up or in the media about other people.  I didn’t know many only children growing up, but once I started work I came across quite a few.  The ones I’ve met have predominantly been very self-assured and confident, and as adults you don’t notice if they were spoiled as a child or not, so the stereotype of that isn’t always true.

Do you worry about any of these things, or are you confident that your child will thrive as an only child?

I worry a little about N being spoiled.  He does have a lot of stuff because instead of spending money on me, I now spend it on him to a certain extent.  But I think if we can instill correct values, expectations and breadth of experience and situations where he’ll meet lots of new people, hopefully he’ll grow up having not missed out on having a sibling.

If you could offer some advice to someone who was considering raising an only child, what would you say?

If you’ve chosen specifically to only have one child, then it’s your decision and sod what anyone else says.

If you’ve not had a choice in the matter but circumstances have meant you have one child, then make the most of having the time to spend with one child.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Ultimately as long as your child is happy and fulfilled, they don’t have to have a sibling to make their way in the world.

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I’d like to thank Emma for taking part in this series and answering all my questions so openly and honestly. If you’d like to find out more about Emma then you can find her on the Bubbablue and Me blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Pinterest.

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Let's Talk About... One Child Families

This post is part of my “Let’s Talk About… One Child Families” series. If you are a parent to an only child and would like to take part, please get in touch using my contact form.

Warrior

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I’m pretty sure that everybody has times in their lives when it feels like one battle after another, one long fight that just doesn’t seem to end. And at times like that it can feel like you’re a warrior against impossible odds.

The past year has been one of the most exhausting battles I think I’ve ever had to face, and that’s saying something! We’ve had our fair share of difficulties over the years, but even the really good things in life have been a struggle lately.

Weary and worn, I found that even the success of the book I had worked so hard to move from thought to reality faded away into a sense of numbness, as I struggled to process anything beyond the absolute necessities: work, parenting, and supporting my husband through an incredible difficult period in his life.

That’s not to say I was worn beyond fighting… if anything my senses were all heightened and I didn’t quite know how to stop. Until something stopped me.

As it turns out, it took a few things to stop me. It took a hideous stomach virus landing me in bed for days on end. It took a lot of heartbreak and tears over what is and isn’t achievable right now. And it also took a lot of anger over the blurring of lines between what I was perfectly capable of still doing and what would actually be too much for anybody, regardless of the other things in my life right now.

That anger spilled out over the past couple of days and it’s not an emotion I am comfortable with. I don’t really know how to process it, because usually I feel frustrated or sad or cross, but rarely angry. But it is a very powerful emotion I needed to feel right now – I needed to feel it to make me sit up and realise that I am “good enough” and that if something is difficult, I shouldn’t allow myself to feel it is my fault that something isn’t quite right.

Which leads me back to the title of this blog post. I am a warrior, not just in life but against all the doubts and fears and guilt I lay upon myself. I am, so often, my biggest enemy and expecting too much of myself is a constant battle. Especially when the going gets tough.

Over the past few months I have been learning a lot of lessons. And it hasn’t been easy. I have lost a couple of friends and had to limit contact with others because the battles I am fighting are not compatible with where they are in their lives. And that hurts. A lot. But whilst I will never stop fighting for change, I do need to learn that I do not need acceptance of that battle from others. I also do not need to be “successful” in any definable terms. Simply turning up is enough.

And that has been the message I have been watching this evening. A little late to the party, I decided to watch the Thrive Moms Fall Retreat this evening, once I had finished work, as TJ is out and Little Man is in bed and I actually had some time to just sit in peace.

I know that Thrive Moms is not for everybody. I hold up my hand and honestly say that I do not personally hold the exact same beliefs as a lot of the speakers at the retreat. I am way too liberal to fit into most groups, and definitely do not define myself as a Christian. However what I love about this ministry is that it aims to support mums to not only survive but to actually thrive in their lives. It aims to hold mums high, no matter what their circumstances, in a place of acceptance and love. And it manages that beautifully.

I watched their Spring Retreat live earlier this year but hadn’t bothered to mark the Fall Retreat in my diary at all. I didn’t really take to the theme of “Warrior” at all. Which, if you’ve read what I wrote above, doesn’t make much sense. But the truth is that until recently I really didn’t see myself as a warrior. At all.

But you know what. I am. And so are you. We are all warriors in life, whether we are warriors for ourselves, our families, our friends, the people we work with, a cause we care about, or the world at large, we all fight battles every day.

And I wanted to highlight the things that this retreat left in my heart. The things that really spoke to me and gave my strength to continue fighting whatever may come tomorrow.

1) We are not called to succeed… simply turning up is what matters!

I actually watched a talk by Marianne Williamson just last week which said the same thing – sometimes we do not live to see the success of the cause we have championed, and yet our efforts made that success possible.

I find this hugely humbling and it gives me hope that no matter what, the work I do today will have an effect one day.

2) We fight a daily battle against the “small things”, which distract us from the “big things”.

I know this is so true for me. I have always known that I am much, much better at dealing with the big, highly stressful things, because I just do not have time to think too much about them. But the little things? Oh, I totally fall apart when the little things crop up… I over-analyse and fret and just have way too much time to think too much about them.

3) One of the biggest distractions for us can be social media and trying to “keep up” or comparing ourselves with others, when their lives are totally different to ours to begin with.

I know this is also so true for me. I purposefully stopped checking social media regularly a week or so ago and it has made such a massive difference. I do not waste time looking at other people’s lives and wishing I had my life a bit more “together”. And even more than this, I have found I spend more time actually reading blogs and commenting on the blog posts themselves (*gasp*) because I have more time full stop. This is so much more exciting for me than communicating on social media.

4) We cannot do this alone.

Whether you believe in a God of some sort or not, this is still true, I think, for pretty much anybody. You can’t do it all, without any help. You might seek that help from your God, or you might seek it from your friends. You may even seek it from other sources too, but the fact is that if you try to do it all yourself you end up burning out.

5) Being able to write down and actually delve into what your fears are, why you fear them, and seeing them on paper can be very therapeutic!

When asked to write down what I feared and why, I ended up with four very long sentences, which totally summed up why I had been struggling so much lately. Honestly, if you’ve not tried this before, give it a go!

I’ve actually got the last segment of the retreat to watch, as I started writing this during the intermission and then paused the recording to finish writing it. So I’m going to end this post now and watch the rest. But I am so glad I took the time to write this post – I haven’t blogged like this – so freely – in such a long time. This warrior has been trying to “go it alone” and stopping to reflect on this has made such a difference.

If you’re interested in watching the Thrive Moms Fall Retreat you can do so here. And if you’re interested in the Spring Retreat (the theme of which was Hiding Place) you can do so here.

Handmade pumpkins

Handmade Halloween Home

Halloween Kids Art

Halloween is a big thing here at The Patch. We just love this time of year, the autumn colours, the cooler weather (and snuggling up warm in the evenings) , and celebrations galore. Halloween is the first, quickly followed by Guy Fawkes, and then it’s not long before the run up to Christmas. We all need reasons to celebrate during these colder, darker months and there’s nothing we need more in our family right now than some cheer during the harsher season.

I know Halloween can be a bit of a tricky holiday for some, and I thought about explaining how we celebrate it, but in the end I decided I didn’t really want to do that. What I want to do is share with you the way we have made Halloween our own this year.

It’s the first year that Little Man has really been able to grasp the concept of celebrating and the changing of the seasons, so we have had fun doing autumn and Halloween crafts with him. We’ve done lots of art, hung on the wall (under our Wheel of the Year display) as directed by Little Man himself (hence the higgledy piggledy nature of the display!)

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We have also made pumpkins… there’s the decoupage pumpkin we did together (or rather mummy did most of because Little Man didn’t like being sticky!) And the crochet pumpkin I made.

Handmade pumpkins

And then there are the actual pumpkins… as we have been ill lately, I am rather behind in Halloween preparations and so we haven’t actually carved the pumpkins this year. I am still debating whether to carve them when Little Man gets home from nursery or whether to simply cook something with them for tea, to eat whilst answering the door to the multitude of Trick or Treaters we are bound to get.

And talking of Trick or Treaters, this year I have bought some non-food related treats to put in the bowl, as inspired by my US friend Jen and the Teal Pumpkin Project. The idea is that some kids can’t take part because they have allergies and cannot eat the things we hand out, so it’s nice to have a non-food alternative for these kids. As someone who struggles with food intolerances (not even allergies!) I knew it was something I wanted to try and incorporate. I’ll print out a sign for our door so people know we do have food-free treats (you can get these online).

I scoured the shops and found these ghost bottles of blowing bubbles so decided they would be fun. To bulk up the treat bags I have added some monster stickers and Halloween balloons. Here’s hoping no-one has a latex allergy, hey?!

Non Food Halloween Treat Bags Teal Pumpkin Project

I wasn’t sure how many to get, after all the novelty of bubbles after lots of sweets may be tempting even for kids who can eat the chocolates we bought, but I didn’t want to be left with loads of bubbles afterwards if no one took them. So this is definitely a trial run! Any that are left can still be used next year.

We decided on treat bags this year as it means we can make sure all the kids get a nice treat. The food ones all include a small treat-sized chocolate bar or bag of cookies, plus a smaller chewy sweet and either one sticker or one balloon. I had so much fun putting them together – I think I may have overdone it and so sent a dozen to work with TJ today too!

We usually go all out for Halloween decorations too, but most are cheap ones from the supermarket that do not last. This year we wanted to add some extra special bits, so aside from our own handmade items we bought something too…

Handmade Halloween wreath from Ashleigh's

It is hanging inside our door (to keep it safe), hence the very orange photo as our hallway doesn’t have any natural light!

I bought this from someone I know through the HG world who has set up her own handmade business. Ashleigh’s Wonderland is filled to the brim with the most gorgeous handmade Christmas decorations and I cannot recommend her work highly enough. She made a few Halloween items earlier this year and I had to buy one of her rag wreaths. Just look at it!

Halloween Wreath close up

Isn’t it marvellous? She has added some truly charming details to it, like Halloween shaped buttons above. I love the colour combinations too… and we have two felt decorations to match!

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They’ve all been sitting in a bag for weeks now waiting to come out and I am so excited to see them hanging in my hallway. It will last us for many, many years and it only cost £20 which is an absolute bargain when you consider the cost of materials and the time it must have taken to make. Seriously, do check out Ashleigh’s other work and see if anything takes your fancy.

Finally, I couldn’t end this post without letting you see Little Man’s make-up for today’s celebrations. He’s gone to nursery with two little pumpkins on his face (the theme was orange and black) as I didn’t have time to sort out a costume for him. Isn’t he cute?

Kids pumpkin face paint

And that’s it from me. A quick peek into our Handmade Halloween Home, I do hope you liked it. Tell me, do you decorate at Halloween?

Neglecting Ourselves

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A few weeks ago, we all trotted off on an impromptu walk off the beaten track for a while. We surrounded ourselves with beautiful autumn colours, rolling fields in every direction, and watched the multitude of deer wandering in the woods close by. And it was glorious.

For the first time in a very long time I felt like I could breathe. We used to go for nature walks like this regularly and I hadn’t realised just how much I was craving them until we got right out on our own and allowed ourselves to simply be. Life lately has been one major stress after another and in an attempt to keep going for ourselves and each other, we had both been neglecting ourselves.

It is something that TJ has been discussing in his counselling sessions and something that we have started talking about at home too. Between working full-time, dealing with chronic health issues, and raising a very inquisitive preschooler, we haven’t really given time to nurturing our own needs. And it has taken a huge toll on us both.

I think this pattern of putting your work and family first is very common for parents in any situation and it’s something we need to be aware of. It is all too easy to think that we don’t have enough time to do anything for ourselves when life is simply one necessary task after another. And it can be easy to feel “guilty” or “selfish” for wanting to have more time for ourselves, when we’re made to believe that we should be able to “have it all” without compromising somewhere.

But compromise does have to happen sometimes, and it is really crucial to surviving the busy times in our lives. Right now we barely have a moment to ourselves and life feels like one battle after another, so we are burning out fast and it is showing in so many areas of our lives.

Which is why communication is so important for us right now. It isn’t easy. There are times we we get cross at each other, and times when we really need more than the other can give. But we are getting there.

And in the meantime, I am doing all I can to limit additional stresses that I can change. I have purposefully decided to avoid social media for a while (other than what is necessary for work) as I am aware that however easy it is to simply pick up my phone and “check in”, it is not all that healthy to do so when feeling so run down. Instead I am choosing to pick up old projects I used to have before social media took over my life!

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I can’t always get out and about, in the quiet solitude of nature, even though this is my ultimate choice of relaxation. But I can immerse myself in other solitary activities, which give me the chance to clear my mind and focus on my more creative side, which for me is the biggest tension reliever ever.

I was recently given a new sewing machine, something I have always dreamed of having (I have only ever had old, second hand machines which skipped stitches or jammed up constantly) and I plan on getting all my fabrics out and finally working on a patchwork quilt for the winter months. It will take me forever to complete, I am sure, but I am really looking forward to it.

And I have picked up my novel again. I started writing this in 2010, but it needs a huge amount of reworking and completing and I have finally found the desire to do that. Whilst that means working on the computer, it is still a world away from chatting on social media. It is quality “me time” and that is what I need right now.

It is so easy to neglect ourselves, and so hard to dig ourselves out of the pits we create in doing so. But there comes a time when you hit rock bottom and know that this is what you need to do for your own well-being and sanity. That’s where I am now and that’s why I am doing to all I can to change this, so I can cope with the challenges of life with more resilience and ease.

Trish Burgess Mums Gone To

Let’s Talk About… One Child Families: Interview with Trish Burgess @ Mums Gone To…

A couple of weeks ago I started a new series, here at The Patch, interviewing other parents of an only child in the hopes of sharing a wide variety of views on what it is like to raise an only child.

This week I’m featuring Trish Burgess about what it has been like raising her “one and only” and how it feels now that he has left for university.

Trish Burgess Mums Gone To

Trish is mum to Rory, who is 18.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Originally from Newcastle upon Tyne, I now live in South Lincolnshire with my GP husband, Dougie and my son, Rory, who has just started his first term at university. My blog, ‘Mum’s Gone To…’ began as a place to write up my holiday diaries and although I write about other subjects, travel is its main topic.

Can you explain how and/or why you decided to have an only child? Was it something you always planned or did some circumstance force you to make the decision?

It wasn’t a planned decision. We had some fertility issues which meant it took four years before Rory came along. There followed a miscarriage two years later. After that, my husband and I decided we didn’t want Rory’s childhood to be affected by us constantly pursuing a wish for another child. We were so grateful that Rory had been born, we wanted to just love him and accept the dynamics of our little family.

Do you know other parents who have an only child, or are you the only person in your group of friends/colleagues who has stopped at one?

Yes, I do know one or two parents who just have one child although most of our friends have more than one.

Did people often ask you, “so when are you going to have another?” If so, how did this make you feel and how did you respond? At what point did people stop asking this question?

I was very relieved that people never asked me if I was going to have another although, interestingly, in the early years, my husband used to get a lot of queries from people, something he found very frustrating.  However, as Rory grew older, and the number of photos on his desk of Rory at different ages increased, people thought our family was larger than it was!

Can you share some of the best things about being a parent to an only child?

We have had lots of time to give to our child and, in return, he has been very close to us. He has been content in his own company from an early age, although very sociable outside of the family. We breezed through the teenage years. However, I’m not sure how much of his personality has been affected by being an only child and how much is just in his genes. He may have been the same child even if he had been part of a larger family.

And what are the hardest things about having an only child?

When he was growing up, unless he had pals round, his dad and I were his friends. It would have been great to be able to say, ‘Off you go and play with your brother/sister.’

I do worry about the future and the fact that he will have to deal with ageing parents alone. However, my husband is an only child and although his parents are elderly, he has me by his side to support him.

Did your son ever ask about siblings? If so, how did this make you feel and how did you respond to his questions?

I don’t think he ever asked about siblings. He has cousins, although they don’t live nearby, but it doesn’t seem to have been an issue.

What are the best and worst things that people have told you about only children? Did people tell you they will be “spoiled” or “lonely”? Or have people been generally positive about your decision? Has this changed as you son has grown older?

Not so much what people have said to me but I have read articles over the years which would suggest an only child could be lonely or introverted. I don’t think people consider him ‘spoiled’ but they have teased me recently because I have had to start teaching him how to cook and iron before going off to university. I think I mothered him a bit too much but would I have been just the same if I had been the mother of more than one child? Probably.

Did/do you worry about any of these things, or were/are you confident that your child will thrive as an only child?

I did worry a little when he was younger but my husband never had any concerns, reassuring me that Rory was content and that, just because he enjoyed his own company, this wasn’t something to be seen as a bad thing.

If you could offer some advice to someone who was considering raising an only child, what would you say?

A family is a family whatever its size. Try not to be overly concerned about him or her being an only child and, instead, go with the flow. Don’t force your child to have company all the time. I used to try and encourage him to play with friends, which was great, but sometimes it was all a bit too much and he preferred the peace and quiet once they had gone. Not every ‘only child’ is going to be the same.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

When your only child does leave home, the nest becomes empty straight away as there are no brothers or sisters staying at home to ease the pain: that’s quite tough.

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I’d like to thank Trish for taking part in this series and answering all my questions so openly and honestly. If you’d like to find out more about Trish then you can find her on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, and Pinterest.

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Let's Talk About... One Child Families

This post is part of my “Let’s Talk About… One Child Families” series. If you are a parent to an only child and would like to take part, please get in touch using my contact form.

Seasonal Craft Activities… It Starts Here!

Halloween Kids' Craft

One of the things I have been most looking forward to since becoming a mum has to be getting to a stage when Little Man and I would be able to do some crafts together. I loved creating things as a child, and continue to enjoy it as an adult, so I couldn’t wait to explore this love with Little Man too.

He has enjoyed watching kids’ art programmes on tv for a while now and recently he has really started getting interested in scissors and sticking, rather than simply drawing with pens. So when he received more money for his birthday than he really needed for a few more toys and books, I decided it was time to head to the craft store and buy him some bits and pieces.

We took a trip to Hobbycraft and I swear I could have bought the whole store! I found it rather difficult limiting our shop to a certain budget and so decided to stick to a theme for our crafting adventures. And that theme was “seasonal activities”.

With Halloween coming up, we went with this pumpkin which we plan to decorate with tissue paper and glitter, as well as some leaf shaped foam pieces to use while exploring the changes in nature as we move into autumn, and some more tissue paper, scissors and glue for good luck!

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I couldn’t resist buying a little something for myself whilst we were there. I got this wooden sign and orange paint (I need to dig out the other colours we have stashed somewhere at home) and will try and find time to sit and paint this before Halloween arrives. It is a big celebration in our household, so any new addition to our decorations is always well received!

Christmas kids' crafts

Returning to the bits we got for Little Man, we decided to look ahead and buy a few bits ready for Christmas too. These baubles for painting are so adorable, I cannot wait to see what Little Man paints on them. And the wooden stamp set is for taking our handmade wrapping paper up a gear.

The plan is to start decorating the big pumpkin tomorrow – it is almost October after all. I may also have to try and crochet a few little pumpkins to go with it. I’m so excited.

Tell me, are you planning any seasonal craft activities?

Finding the Blessings: Reflections on the past three years

Three years ago today I was at the hospital, having been induced early that morning. Despite the fact I didn’t know what to expect and was starting to feel decidedly unwell by this point in the day, I was thankful that whatever happened I was not leaving that hospital again until I had given birth to my baby. Nine long months of suffering with hyperemesis gravidarum was finally going to be over, and I was ready to move on. birth However, I totally underestimated just how difficult life would be over the years ahead. After such a challenging pregnancy I was convinced life could only get better. And it did in many, many ways. I was finally a mother, something I had always dreamed of being, ever since I was a very young girl. I loved every sleep-deprived moment of those early days, but life was far from easy.

Over the past three years so much has happened… both TJ and I have changed jobs, I’ve written a book, and Little Man has grown into the most adorable little boy. But the biggest change has been in TJ’s health. I have watched my husband gradually lose himself to some truly awful neuropathic symptoms and my own health has, in turn, taken a real beating as I try to balance the changing needs of my family along with working full-time and working on the book. I am, quite frankly, beyond exhausted.

Most days I feel like crying. I feel myself breaking into a million pieces, torn between so many responsibilities. And I have lost so much of the optimism and faith that once defined the way I viewed the world. I’ve lost the trust that “one day” life will get easier! But beneath all of that sadness, anger and grief, there is a little light that shines so brightly… SAM_1297 This gorgeous boy of mine, the one I fought through nine terrifyingly long months of sickness to meet, means the world to me. He is, quite simply, the light of our lives and no matter how hard things get, we keep going for him. Because he is worth it.

There was a time when I wasn’t sure I could have children. Despite the fact I would have loved a larger family, there are some incredible blessings to be had in having an only child. Our love for Little Man is unrivalled by any other, and his love is poured on us just as freely. Whilst I know we would have loved other children just as much, knowing that we get to pour all our love onto him alone is a wonderful feeling.

Of course we have our moments, times when I worry about the effect of all this stress on him. The times he sobs and just wants his mummy because he cannot express what is wrong, just that he is sad. And his frustration comes out by hitting, kicking and pinching right now, which is incredibly difficult to cope with. But even at those times we know that his heart is full of love for us and others, because we see it every single day. He adores making friends and finds joy in the simplest of things and reminds us that life is so beautiful, if only you would look. Feeding Daddy Daddy will probably hate me for posting this photo, but I love the beauty in seeing my boy sharing with his daddy and “looking after him”

The nine months of sickness were more than worth it for a lifetime with this beautiful little boy, and knowing this gives me the hope and strength I need to know that the battles we are currently facing are more than worth it for the life we have together. Right now. I no longer look for “one day”… that day may never come.

But right now my life is so totally blessed. I have a husband who is my best friend, who has stood by me through my darkest periods and now trusts me to stand by him through his. And together we are raising the most important person in our lives, receiving just as much from him as he receives from us. No matter what life throws at us, so long as we are together we will get through it.

Ticket to Ride

We climbed on board the train, bought our “ticket to ride” and chose the people we wanted to go on this journey with. I have no idea where we’re going, what the destination is or when we’ll get there, but right now I am choosing to enjoy the journey for what it is. A blessing.

 This post has been added to the Share the Joy linky (hosted by Bod For Tea) on 2nd February 2015

Share the Joy linky at bodfortea.co.uk

Mary from Over 40 and a Mum to One

Let’s Talk About… One Child Families: Interview with Mary @ Over 40 and a Mum to One

In light of my trip to London this week to talk about my decision to never have another baby thanks to Hyperemesis Gravidarum, I’ve decided it is an aspect of our lives that I want to focus on in more detail. I’ve touched on it before and you can find out more on my “One Child Family” page.

However as one child families are on the rise, for a multitude of reasons, I thought it would be both fun and beneficial to find out from others just how they came to be a “one child family” and what it has meant to them.

I have already made some great connections online with other parents of only children and so I am beginning my series with one such parent, the lovely Mary from Over 40 and a Mum to One.

Mary from Over 40 and a Mum to One

Mary is mum to Monkey, who is 4 years old (soon to be 5 in December, which we all know is a very important detail at this age!)

Can you tell me a little about yourself?

“I’m a mid 40 Mum of one.  Before Monkey was born I had a busy career in Export Sales and enjoyed visiting customers across Europe.  But since becoming a Mum I decided to take time out and enjoy life with my son.  We’ve had an amazing time together and I now look forward to watching him as he starts his journey through school.”

Can you explain how and/or why you decided to have an only child? Was it something you always planned or did some circumstance force you to make the decision?

“I had always hoped to have two children, I certainly didn’t set out to have an only child.  I had Monkey when I was 41, and fell for him within 3 months of trying.  I knew that time was against me to have number two, but it took longer to fall second time around.  Lots of tears when each month nothing had happened.  Then I fell pregnant early in 2011 but had a rather unpleasant miscarriage just before my 12 week scan.  It was heartbreaking and for me I just couldn’t go through that again.  By this time I was  43 and just felt that I could either spend each month getting more upset that I wasn’t pregnant, or draw a line under it and be happy with what I had – a beautiful little boy.  My OH works very long hours so I’m practically a single parent really, with no family support.  I was tired and worn out and just realised that for me, that was that.  It was upsetting, and I’ll always feel guilty that Monkey doesn’t have a sibling. But he’ll never know what he’s missed.”

Do you know other parents who have an only child, or are you the only person in your group of friends/colleagues who has stopped at one?

“My oldest school friend has an eight year old daughter and always knew she would only have one child; and another friend tried IVF a few times after not being able to conceive for a second time, they failed.  But in general all of my friends have at least two children now.”

Do people often ask you, “so when are you going to have another?” If so, how does this make you feel and how do you respond?

“Friends and family used to ask, but I’ve always been open about my miscarriage and they know how devastated I was at the time.  I think most people who don’t actually know me, presume that I had to have IVF to have Monkey in the first place!”

Can you share some of the best things about being a parent to an only child?

“They have your full concentration.  There are no arguments about sharing/breaking toys, unlike my friends.  I don’t have to worry about activities that will cater for two different age groups or interests.  Everything can be totally focused on what Monkey likes.”

And what are the hardest things about having an only child?

“Knowing he won’t have the sibling relationship that I had with my brother growing up. Worrying about Monkey being spoilt and not as sociable as other children.  Being older parents I worry about Monkey being alone to deal with life in the future.  I’ve always been lucky that my brother and I have supported each other in difficult times.”

Does your son/daughter ever ask about siblings? If so, how does this make you feel and how do you respond to their questions?

“When our NCT group had their second children – all boys, I was waiting for Monkey to ask when he was going to get a brother too.  He never has.  But last week when he started school, he asked me why his friends were going a different way home.  I told him that they had older brothers and sisters to collect from other classes.  Oh, ok Mummy. Can I have a brother or sister then?  It made me feel sad.  I just said that I didn’t think he’d like to share his train set would he?  Oh no Mummy!  That was end of that conversation.  But if he asks again then I’ll try to explain why he’s an only child.”

What are the best and worst things that people have told you about only children? Do people tell you they will be “spoiled” or “lonely”? Or are people generally positive about your decision?

“I can’t actually think of anyone making comments about him being an only child to be honest.”

Do you worry about any of these things, or are you confident that your child will thrive as an only child?

“I am worried that I do spoil Monkey, it can also be the downside to blogging when new and exciting things keep popping through the letterbox!  I’m sure there will be times when he might feel lonely, but he is very good at entertaining himself.  He is very timid and no matter what I have done to try to make him more confident, I’ve had to accept that this is who he is.”

If you could offer some advice to someone who was considering raising an only child, what would you say?

“The most important thing is to have a happy child who knows that they are loved.  That’s the only thing to consider in my opinion.”

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I’d like to thank Mary for taking part in this series and answering all my questions so openly and honestly. If you’d like to find out more about Mary and her life with Monkey, you can find her on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram and Pinterest.

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Let's Talk About... One Child Families

This post is part of my “Let’s Talk About… One Child Families” series. If you are a parent to an only child and would like to take part, please get in touch using my contact form.

Gluten Free Pancake Mix from Sweetpea Pantry (Review)

Sweet Pea Pantry

Way back in May, I got to know the lovely Tanya from Sweetpea Pantry, as the company began to support the charity I work for (more on this later). It didn’t take me long to fall in love the what Sweetpea Pantry is all about, and I started thinking about all the things we’d like to try.

You see, Sweetpea Pantry was set up by two friends,Tanya and Phillipa, when they had children and discovered that the range of baking mixes available was extremely limited. And so they decided to create their own!

You know what it’s like – you want to bake with your kids but you just don’t have all the ingredients you need. And if you’re stretched for time, having a range of baking mixes in the cupboard could be super helpful. However you also want those mixes to be as healthy and wholesome as can be.

Sweetpea Pantry mixes contain a wealth of grains including barley, buckwheat, oats, quinoa and rye. You can find out all about these, and many more, on their website, which will explain exactly why these mixes are so very special.

Grainy Brainy Pancakes

Sweetpea Pantry Grainy Brain Pancakes Mix

One of the things that most excited me about the range, was that it included a gluten-free pancake mix, which I was desperate to try. I am unable to tolerate wheat, and so a pancake mix made without it was right up my street.

I mentioned my excitement to Tanya upon seeing it, and she kindly sent us a free box to try. Here’s how we got on…

Sweetpea Pantry Grainy Brainy Pancakes Mix

The mix contains everything you need other than some milk, a couple of eggs, and whatever options you want to flavour your pancakes with. We decided to try the pancakes for dinner one day, so we went for a savoury option of cheese and ham.

Savoury Pancake Fillings

Making the pancakes was super quick and easy, we simply put all the ingredients in a bowl, mixed it up, and then off we went. Pancake after pancake came out of the frying pan without a glitch, and we even managed to melt the cheese on top of the pancakes as they were cooking, which was great fun.

Making Pancakes

After eating our fill of the savoury pancakes, we decided to turn some of the remaining ones into pudding with the addition of some chocolate spread, cherries and bananas. It’s not often you can get a main course and pudding from the same ingredients, but we managed it this time and it was simply delicious.

Sweet Pancake Fillings

The package says that the mix will produce around 12-18 pancakes, and they aren’t kidding! We had a massive stack of thick, filling pancakes some of which we had to stick in the fridge and eat for breakfast the following morning. I can honestly say that these pancakes are just as delicious cold the next day as they are freshly cooked.

As the pancakes are full of healthy grains, we found that they kept us going for hours (unlike some of our previous attempts at pancakes which have left us hungry for more an hour or so after dinner). And  despite the ease and simplicity of this meal, it was a nutritious option to feed my family, meaning it is a suitable option to have in the cupboard for days when we need a quick meal at short notice.

Little Man may not have been as interested in the preparation part of this meal, as I had hoped, but he very much enjoyed trying the different toppings for our pancakes! Next time I think we’ll try Tanya’s suggestion of adding ingredients into the actual mix… mashed banana and ricotta cheese, anyone?

If you’d like to try any of the Sweetpea Pantry mixes yourself, you can order them direct from their website. Tanya and Phillipa are kindly supporting the charity I work for, Pregnancy Sickness Support (PSS), if you use the code bigbrew at the checkout. This will give you a 10% discount and a further 20% will be donated to PSS. So why not give them a go and support a good cause at the same time?

If you do try them out, do let me know. I’d love to hear how you get on.

Disclaimer: a box of Grainy, Brainy Pancakes were provided free of charge by Sweetpea Pantry. The charity I work for will also receive donations if the code “bigbrew” is used when ordering mixes from their website. However no other financial incentives were offered for this review and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. 

 

Project Wild Thing – Our #WildTime Pledge

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If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll surely know by now that TJ and I both love to be outdoors, especially in nature. I can’t explain what exactly it is about this that I love so much, but needless to say I never feel more at peace than I do when I get out of the house and away from all the stresses of everyday life.

I’ve done this for many years now and I remember during my second pseudo-menopause when I was hit with depression and signed off work for a month, we would take midnight walks from the village we were living in at the time to the neighbouring village whenever TJ had worked a late shift and neither of us were ready for sleep! Walking down an unlit country road, with fields either side, the stars above us and only the light from the two churchyards in either village signalling our path, was a truly magical experience and I miss that sometimes.

DSC_0856This photo is incredibly deceptive – there is a massive hill between us and the avenue of trees!

Although we no longer live in a rural village, we are very lucky that the town we now live in has several wonderful woodlands dotted around and about for us to explore. Woodland areas are my absolute favourite places to be. I think that’s pretty evident by the fact that the theme of our wedding was “autumn leaves” and Little Man’s bedroom is also a woodland themed room, complete with 26 individual watercolour pictures my mum drew at my request, one for each letter of the alphabet.

And we try to get out as often as we can. I love how getting out and about can really take you away from everything that has been bugging you and transport you to a very simple activity of just walking and drinking in every bit of your surroundings. In fact I often feel a very intense sense of longing to remain outdoors as long as possible because I know that as soon as I go home everything will suddeny speed up and I will need to keep up with a million things again.

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There is a place near to us which has this fantastic folly right at the top of the hill and at the edge of a beautiful wooded area. Whenever I walk up to and through the archway I feel like I am almost passing into another world, and it just feels so special. The woodland beyond is a popular place with families and dog walkers, but it is never crowded and so Little Man can run around in freedom as we wander behind him at a slower pace. It’s here that he first discovered that nettles can sting you, because he tried to “tickle” them. And it’s here where he met a very friendly dog who danced around his feet and made him squeal in delight!

It’s also where I introduced him to the idea of a “kissing gate”. (A kissing gate is one of those gates which allow people through but not livestock). I don’t know exactly why they are called kissing gates, but my family have a tradition of letting one person go through the gate and then they have to turn and the next person has to give them a kiss before going through the gate. And then that person has to receive a kiss from the next person before they pass through. Does anyone else do this or is it just my family?

Little Man, has taken this to also mean he needs to kiss the gate itself, which is both adorable and amusing in equal measure!

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The only problem with this beautiful woodland (and all the others in our area) is that we have to drive a short distance to get there. It is just too far to walk there and back. And this means that we don’t go out nearly as often as we would like to. I crave going outdoors so much, and if you remember my posts about Little Man you will know he does too!

We go out in our garden as much as we possibly can, and actually one of the things I love most about our garden is that we have gradually allowed it to just grow a little bit wild and free. We’ve been here for 4 years now and in that time we have planted rose bushes, climbers and trees that we’ve found for just a couple of pounds each and they have taken over in a beautiful way. And out herb patch is a crazy mingle of rosemary, thyme, sage, chives and mint that spread into each other and right across the garden (the feverfew really has taken over the garden!)

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We even have a small tree which I found as a tiny seedling growing right next to our old house (we lived opposite an old churchyard and it must have found its way over the road somehow) and a Buddleia that planted itself randomly in another pot. I cannot tell you how much joy this natural process brings me. And the fact we’re also growing a variety of fruit and veg this year again also pleases me immensely.

But despite the garden being a lovely place to be, it just isn’t a place that Little Man can run around in freely and explore. There isn’t much room. And as we live on a major road, it will also be many years before I feel safe letting him out to play on his own (because, after all, cars in this area don’t even seem to stop at the crossings!)

And this makes me sad as I remember playing in my parents’ garden a lot as a child. And as I grew older I went out and about. My sister even used to go with friends to the local Arboretum to climb trees. It was fun and it was wild. That’s not to say there weren’t times when I didn’t appreciate it – there were many days when my parents would ask me why I was holed up in my bedroom, with my curtains closed, instead of outside in the sunshine (I enjoyed reading in private a lot of my teen years!) but on the whole my memories of childhood were that I had the chance to explore, even if I didn’t take the opportunity given to me every single time.

And this is what I want for Little Man. Especially as our world becomes more and more dependent on technology. It is so easy to spend so much time reading about life or watching it on a screen rather than actually experiencing it. As a blogger I see this very clearly even in my own life, and so I want to guide Little Man in the best way I can to find a good balance between the two. I see only positives in technology, if and when it is used alongside other means and experiences.

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Which is why I am so excited to tell you all about Project Wild Thing. Have you heard about it? My mum brought us the DVD to watch the other day and we found the time to watch it yesterday. If you don’t know what it’s all about, the easiest way to find out would be to watch the film trailer. However, if you want a quick overview, here it is:

Project Wild Thing is a movement to get more kids (and their parents) out into nature.

It’s that simple! And yet it is so big it seems wrong to call it “simple”. Honestly, I cannot do it justice, you really should just watch the film!!

You can join the movement by visiting the website and clicking “join”. You can then pledge a certain amount of time each day that you will swap “screen time” for “wild time”. You can start from as little as 10 minutes per day. And depending on which time commitment you make, you will be able to find activity ideas that you can try in that time frame.

I signed up earlier in the week (before even watching the film – I knew I would love it!) and pledged to spend 30 minutes outdoors everyday. At first I thought this felt like a lot – we can’t go to the woods every single day. But what I found really interesting when watching the film was that going outdoors doesn’t have to mean going out in nature… not everyone has easy access to that option! What it does mean, however, is that you are simply getting away from the confines of being indoors and allowing yourself freedom to explore the world outside.

No matter where you are, you can always look up at the sky!

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Yesterday evening, however, TJ and I decided we needed to get into nature. We needed to rebalance as this week has been really tough for us. And so we decided to take advantage of a public footpath just a few minutes walk from our house which leads up a hill and then around a massive field. We had only ever been up there once before and never at this time of year, so I was stunned by the sheer beauty of fields full of wheat, glistening so brightly in the early evening sunshine.

Walking around the edge of the field I was reminded of how we used to take our niece for a walk around the local farm of an evening when we stayed with my in-laws. It was always such a pleasant way to spend an evening and our niece looked forward to it every night. I want that for Little Man. He had a fantastic time running his hand along the edge of the wheat, picking bits of tall wavy grass (which led to us reciting parts of “We’re going on a Bear Hunt”) and sniffing at the Elderflower we picked (we will be returning to do some foraging soon). He even decided we should all have a sit down by the side of the field at one point and just enjoy each others’ company.

We brought his Elderflower home and it is now a lovely reminder of the time we spent together as a family, outside having “wild time” instead of “screen time”. So how about it – do you fancy joining us and pledging some “wild time” of your own? If so, visit the Project Wild Thing website for more details.

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Changing The Way We Eat

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The past few months have been really challenging for us as a family healthwise. The biggest issue for me has been my digestion – having suffered from IBS for years, everything just seems to have become so much worse over the past year, with a rapid increase in symptoms since 6 months.

In desperation I saw my GP when nothing seemed to be helping and weight loss was added to the mix. He referred me to a gastroenterologist and after a busy few weeks of various investigations, I finally saw the gastroenterologist for a follow up on Monday.

It appears that everything looks fine internally, other than the fact that my digestive system isn’t working as efficiently as it should. So his suggestion was to change the way I eat to see if that would combat the nausea and indigestion I am suffering from after eating. Namely, he wants me to drink at least 3 litres per day and start eating 6-8 meals per day to help make things as easy as possible on my system.

That’s quite a change to the 3 meals a day, often at random times and struggling to make time to stop and drink even 2 litres a day around work and looking after a toddler! But it makes sense, so we’re trying it out…

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The problem is, finding a way to work around this new way of working. There are certain things that I cannot eat and haven’t been able to eat for years – wheat, too much meat, too much dairy, raw vegetables and leafy greens like lettuce etc. So I am already limited in my variety of foods, so how can I find enough for 6-8 meals each day?

It turns out it hasn’t actually been that difficult. I’ve discovered that I can easily create nutritious meals that last me several servings – things like “saladas” made from a mixture of green beans, peas and sweetcorn left over from the night before, added to egg mayo, cheese or ham the next day and split between two “mini meals” an hour or so apart rather than all in one go at lunchtime. Or a fruit salad, made in bulk one day (and kept fresh with a bit of lemon juice) and then eaten as a “snack” with some yoghurt or homemade museli at various intervals throughout the day!

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The upside of all of this is that I’ve really started to enjoy cooking and preparing meals again for the first time in a very long time. We’re experimenting in ways we’ve never done before – creating our own wheat-free muesli and discovering new combinations of tastes and textures. I feel pretty happy in the kitchen these days and find myself taking pleasure in feeding my family and myself in a whole new way. And that feels good!

As does the fact that my digestion seems to be dealing pretty well with the changes. I still have a long way to go before I am at the optimum suggestion made by the consultant, but so far so good. And whilst it’s working I am going to enjoy trying new things…

Tell me, do you have any tips for nutritious and tasty “mini meals” or meals that can be split over several servings?

This post is another of my “Joy in the Everyday Moments” posts as I am finding so much joy in the simple act of preparing food – you can’t get more “everyday” than that, can you?

Parenting – Are These The “Happiest Days of Your Life”?

The other day I wrote a blog post about feeling guilty as a wife, mother and friend. It got quite a varied response, with one friend telling me she felt exactly the same a lot of the time and then a different friend asking me why I was letting so much guilt in when this should be the “happiest time of your life”.

At first my response was that these past two years have been the most stressful of my life in many, many ways. I suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum during pregnancy, then I started having problems with nausea and then Endo pains pretty soon after having Little Man, and  now my husband has just been told that he most likely has small fibre neuropathy. That’s a lot of health issues to cope with when you have a young child taking up so much of your time and energy!

But it struck me as interesting that within my group of friends there was such a wide gap between the one who told me that she too struggled with guilt and the one who told me that this guilt was unhealthy and that my focus was all wrong. I have a lovely husband and a beautiful son, how could I be letting guilt ruin what should be the happiest time of my life? It seems especially important to ask this when I spent many years of my life looking forward to this exact moment. Am I simply ungrateful for what I have, or did I completely underestimate how hard this would all be?

I wanted to see what other parents thought to this, so I asked a few other bloggers  for their thoughts. Here are their responses:

“I’m with you on this one. I can now see that I had no idea what it was like to be a parent until I had my own children. One minute it can be utter bliss and then in an instant everything can be total s**t (literally). Parenting is constant, I’d like to meet anyone who can be happy every minute of the day when they are always on duty!! I just look forward to the days when my friends have children and I shall just smile knowingly to myself.” – Ginger Bisquite

“Parenting is like a roller coaster, looking on at the people screaming and arms in the air it looks like loads of fun, but when you’re on it there’s the mixed feeling of nerves, elations and slight terror as you navigate the track. No one can fully understand how it feels until you’re on the ride. And it’s a ride you can’t get off. There are always going to be moments that are overwhelming and you can burst into tears in the street and there can be times where your heart is so full full of love it feels like a dream. The one thing it most definitely is? Hard work, a relationship that is constantly challenging you. To all the mums out there I take my hat off to you.” – Wild & Grizzly

“To me, this kind of response just adds something else to feel guilty about – not enjoying every moment! I regularly feel as though I’m the only who isn’t enjoying every moment and that there must be something wrong with me! Reality is that parenting is blummin’ hard work. FACT!” – 3 Children and It

“To me, the happiest time in my life doesn’t exist anyway. I find life mostly hard work and stress with the odd good day, you know, every decade or so …..”

“I get so angry at those type of comments (enjoy it, they won’t be like this forever etc.) – some days I can’t wait for my boys to be old enough to blow their own noses and be left alone for 20 minutes without risk of them destroying the house, or each other! Parenthood is a rollercoaster (and at times, bloody hard work, especially with pre-schoolers). This myth of it being permanently wonderful isn’t helping anyone…” – Hodge Podge Craft

*edited – in respone to Hodge Podge’s comment* “I find those things are a reminder for me when the kids do tire me out and I feel like I have no energy, am too stressed etc. I do feel like I will miss this stage once it is over and it helps me to remind myself of that at times when it feels challenging. As for happiest times of your life, I think that’s probably way too broad and way too individual for anyone to make these kind of sweeping statements.” – In The Playroom

“I keep having these thoughts. I know it is a blessing to have my little one, and I am eternally grateful for it, but we are humans too. We are allowed our mood-swings and meltdowns. I have written about this here” – Rambling Through Parenthood

Reading these comments back, I am reminded that parenting is hard work and that’s a fact! And yet we put all this pressure on ourselves to have the most perfect life ever.

We see, hear and read about people “having it all”. We believe we should be able to do all these things and still have time and energy to spare, but that is just nuts. So often the only things we share are the good bits, the bits which we want people to see. We hide the exhaustion, frustration and anger we feel because it doesn’t seem right to share these. Everybody else seems to have it all under control, and so we feel bad about the fact that we don’t. What is wrong with us? Why can’t we be like everybody else?

But the truth is everybody has these moments in life when it all gets too much. And by hiding this we make it harder for ourselves and others to ever admit that. We get caught up in trying to keep up with an impossible ideal and it is that which leads us down the path of guilt.

When I first received the comment about this being the happiest time of my life I reacted strongly… with guilt, go figure! But why should I? This is where my thinking is all wrong… these past few years have been the most challenging but they have been brightened by the wonderful parts of being a parent. However, when I fall into the trap of believing my life isn’t perfect without being able to do and be everything I want to be (or feel I need to be) I lose that balance entirely.

With that in mind I am making a few changes around here. The things I feel guilty about are the things my heart yearns for the most. Guilt can be  a very helpful emotion so long as you use it as an indicator to what is wrong, rather than believing there is nothing you can do about it. I am choosing to use it as a measure of what needs to change in my life.

These days may be the happiest of my life, but they are also some of the most stressful – and that’s okay!

Feeling Guilty – as a mother, a wife, and a friend

I hadn’t planned on writing so much about how I am struggling right now, but it seems as if writing about these things is more important than I realised.

This past week I have written two posts about my health and each one has received over 200 hits – my blog never receives that much interest in one day, let alone twice in one week! And this has given me the confidence to know that it’s okay to use this space to share how I’m feeling. And right now, sharing how I am feeling is so important because I need to let it out somewhere or I might explode.

So let’s start with guilt.

It’s not a pleasant feeling is it? It’s certainly not very helpful at times. But it is very, very invasive and creeps up on you at the worst possible moments, doesn’t it?

This past week I have really struggled with my physical health, and my emotional and mental health has suffered too. I have felt guilty over pretty much everything that has happened.

I’ve felt guilty for snapping at Little Man when he has jumped on me or dragged me off the sofa when I’ve been feeling really poorly.

I’ve felt guilty for not being able to remain strong and clear headed when TJ was changing meds and feeling out of sorts himself

And I’ve felt guilty for having to miss yet another friend’s birthday because right now it feels like all I am ever doing is saying, “no, I’m sorry, I just can’t make it.”

I felt guilty for not taking Little Man to toddler group because I felt so poorly.

I felt guilty for not cooking nutritious meals from scratch and making my family eat easy, convenience food.

And I felt guilty for missing my brother-in-law’s birthday because it completely slipped my mind.

Quite frankly, I feel guilty as a mother, I feel guilty as a wife, and I feel guilty as a friend. In each of these roles I am falling short because I am feeling so ill I just cannot give what I want to each one.

And that’s hard for me to take.

I was talking to a friend this morning about the way forward and whether I should be considering more drastic action to deal with my symptoms and I realised just how much this is taking over my life. A year ago it was bad, now it is unbearable.

I find myself in a familiar place, except last time I was here I wasn’t a mother and I remember very clearly saying to TJ that I didn’t know if I would ever be well enough to have children and maybe we weren’t meant to be parents.

And I feel immensely guilty about that! I have the most beautiful son, who is the light of my life, and I cannot give him what he deserves because I am so ill. And that breaks my heart.

The past two years have been spent coming to terms with the fact that we cannot have another child… and yet suddenly that means nothing. Right now my focus is on what I need to do to be well enough to give the child I have the best of me.

Don’t get me wrong – my son is loved, he is cared for, he is thriving in all areas. I am not failing him in any way other than the fact that I want to do more. I want to be well enough to plan activities and trips away to see family and friends, and actually be able to do them. Right now I just cannot do more than what I have to do. I can feed him, clean him, clothe him, play with him, read to him, teach him and love him… but at the end of all that I am so exhausted I don’t know how to recover.

And there are so many things I want to give him. So many things I want to give my husband. And so many things I want to give myself. I want to complete the HG book. I want to devote as much of my career to changing things for other women, so that they never have to feel these emotions. And I want to have a life where my health doesn’t dictate what I can and can’t do. Where we can invite Little Man’s cousins and friends to stay or we can plan a holiday of our own without thinking “will I be well enough to do this?”

And right now I know roughly what I need to do to get there, but the path is a scary one. It means considering more invasive surgery than I have ever considered and that terrifies me. But I think I’m at the point where I no longer want to live like this – I want to see what life is like without it hanging over me.

I’ve spent more years of my life controlled by my health than I have without these health issues, and that is a fact I want to change sooner rather than later.

And hopefully that will stop the guilt too…

Homemade Vegetarian Bolognese with a (Chipotle) Twist

So, I never really thought of myself as a good cook. But it turns out that when I put my mind to it I’m actually pretty good at mixing flavours together in a hodge podge kind of way – go figure!

This is what we ate last night – Veggie Bolognese with a (chipotle) twist.

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And it was really rather delicious. So much so that TJ has taken the rest of it to work today for lunch. How’s that for success?

The idea for this came, as most of my meals do, from a need to use what was in the cupboard and some very random decisions along the way. But I like that – I think cooking is very much an artistic kind of activity – I’m just no good at following a recipe properly (mostly because I never have all the ingredients to hand). But that doesn’t mean I don’t use recipes for inspiration…

The basis for this particular sauce goes back a few weeks ago when I decided to make a vegetarian bolognese and realised we didn’t have any pre-made sauce. I searched online for ideas on how to use the ingredients I had available and came across this recipe by The Pioneer Woman which struck a chord. The addition of grated carrot to the sauce was new to me, but the addition of milk was something I had seen when in Germany – I was keen to try both!

We don’t generally have much cow’s milk in the house though, prefering dairy alternatives, so I decided cream of tomato soup would suffice for the creaminess aspect of the milk and went with it. Thankfully it worked beautifully, and I knew I wanted to try it again.

That’s when yesterday’s recipe happened. I started off by preparing all my fresh ingredients first, having realised that it really is easier if you chop and grate everything before you turn on the heat (rather than simply creating more washing up as I always thought!)

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In went the (very) roughly chopped onions (because I wanted some extra chunks to the sauce) followed closely by the grated carrot and courgette. I had planned to document each stage, but at this point I discovered a jar of chipotle paste in the cupboard whilst searching for some seasoning and my mind wandered elsewhere…

I sent out an image on instagram and twitter asking if anyone thought adding chipotle paste to a bolognese would work and I got a very excited response from Mummy Whiskers. So I thought, “what the heck” and threw some in. TJ loves a bit of a kick to his food (hence us having chipotle paste in the first place) and I knew he would like it – but would I?

I wasn’t sure how much to put in, and I made the mistake of tasting a tiny bit of the paste before adding some to the pan. This meant all I could taste was chipotle and couldn’t tell if I’d put enough in to the sauce or not. Oh well, you live and learn!

I continued adding my ingredients: diced courgette and roughly sliced bell pepper; tinned tomatoes and finally tomato soup. I put the frozen peas, sweetcorn and fresh mangetout in a pan with some tiny wheat-free alphabet pasta shapes and boiled some wheat-free penne in another pan. Finally, I added salt and pepper to the sauce and let it reduce down as it was rather “wet” after adding a whole tin of tomato soup!

It reduced beautifully though and so I strained the peas, sweetcorn, mangetout, tiny pasta shapes combo and added that to the sauce. It looked lovely…

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All in all I would call this meal a success and I think it may become one of our family favourites. Now that I am working full-time from home, I am able to make sure I finish work in the evening in time to start cooking more adventurously (rather than taking an hour to get home and making it too late to really do anything more than a very basic meal). I’m looking forward to where this will take me!

Do you want to know how I did it? Well, I’m not good at recipes but here goes…

Ingredients

  • 2 carrots (grated)
  • 2 courgettes (1 grated, one diced)
  • 1 large onion (roughly chopped)
  • 1 bell pepper (roughly sliced into bite sized pieces)
  • a handful of fresh mangetout (chopped into bite sized pieces)
  • a cupful of frozen peas
  • a cupful of frozen sweetcorn
  • a cupful of small pasta shapes (optional)
  • approx. 2.5 tsps of chipotle paste (can be substituted with normal tomato paste)
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 1 tin of cream of tomato soup

Of course, the lovely nature of this recipe is that aside from the basics of tinned tomatoes, cream of tomato soup, tomato paste, onions and the grated veg you can mix and match the rest of the ingredients depending on what you have in your cupboards the time! Don’t want mange tout and bell pepper? Why not try mushrooms and broccoli!

The method

  1. Heat around a tbsp of oil in a large pan
  2. Add the roughly chopped onion and leave for a few minutes to soften
  3. Add the grated carrot and courgette and allow to soften for about 5 mins
  4. Add the chipotle paste and mix in with the onion, carrot and courgette
  5. Add the diced courgette and bell pepper, allow to soften for another 5-10 mins
  6. Add the tinned tomatoes and mix
  7. Add the tomato soup, half a tin first and then the other half when it has reduced a little
  8. Leave on steady heat and boil pasta along with the rest of the veg
  9. Once veg and pasta is cooked, strain and add veg to sauce, then dish up
  10. Enjoy!

This went down a treat not just with us but also with the dinosaurs…

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Piles of Books for World Book Day 2014

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So this is the current state of Little Man's bedroom floor – several big piles of books dotted across the room creating a "hilly" landscape we have to traverse in order to get to his bed each night.

I have tried keeping his books in boxes, in cupboards and even on a bookcase, but we always seem to end up with these same piles of books on the floor. And no wonder – this boy loves his books and we have to read at least 3 (usually more) before bedtime each night. And as we let Little Man choose the books he wants each time, we've just ended up with a crazy system whereby he can see pretty much every book (even if just a tiny corner peeking out from under the rest) and decide which he wants next.

I've been seeing so many posts today for World Book Day. Children going to school dressed as characters from their favourite books, and I can't help but wonder which book or character Little Man would choose if we were to attempt the same. He has so many "favourites" right now that I'm not sure where to begin. Here are the current most popular titles from an ever increasing bunch of "favourites"…

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There are some real crackers in there and even though we have read them so many times that we all know them by heart (including Little Man who now recognises certain words – like zebra!! – just because he sees them so often) I never tired of reading these books to him.

I've even thought about starting a new series on the blog about what we're reading because although Little Man has some of the more popular books in his favourites (such as Dr Seuss and Julia Donaldson books as well as Charlie and Lola) there are also some books I had never heard of before randomly coming across them in a charity shop or bookstore. And these are the books that I'd love to share with you all.

But for now we're celebrating World Book Day by relishing in the fact that it doesn't matter that books are strewn across the floor and there is no system to our book-madness. I will read as many books as Little Man likes because it is a love that I wish to treasure and encourage in him.

The other day I promised to read him "as many books as he wanted before bedtime" because we had to change his routine slightly and it really upset him to begin with. And that night we read at least 8 books (I lost count after 8!) and the whole time Little Man sat in bed curled up next to me, telling me all the words he knew, and just loving the attention. Those moments are moments to truly treasure and I plan to do just that.

What books does your little one love to read? Do you read before bedtime or is it an "as and when" kind of thing in your house? (It's both in our house!) Or are your children old enough to read by themselves now? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Potty Training – A Relaxed Approach

Ever since I started working for an Early Years' Consultant I have come across a vast amount of information and a wide range of ideas through keeping up with social media feeds and industry press. And sometimes it can all feel a little overwhelming – which style will suit you best and how will you adapt what you see, hear and read into your reality of life as a parent?

One thing I have come to appreciate more than ever before is that there really is no "right" or "wrong" answer and most of us are just blundering our way through parenting, hoping to do the very best we can for ourselves and our children but knowing we will invariably get some things "wrong". Finding what works for you and your own family is key to not only surviving but thriving.

Some things I have found myself doing differently to how I thought I would prior to having a child of my own, others I have stuck with completely. Many of those things I already had strong ideas and preferences about came from experiences working in childcare and thinking "I like the way that parent does this, I hope I can achieve something similar when I'm a parent". But some things I just had no experience of whatsoever.

Potty training is one of those things! I've worked with under 2s and pre-school aged children, but never with this 2-3 year age when potty training usually begins. I have no experience and therefore had no pre-conceived ideas about how it might work or how I might make it as stress-free as possible. And so this is one of those areas where I would avidly read any messages that popped up on the various social media feeds I follow.

The one thing I really took from this is that I wanted to take as relaxed an approach as possible and that all children potty train in their own time. No matter what techniques people used, the one thing most seemed to agree on was that there was no rushing children to potty train, you could try for months without success and then as soon as they were ready they would "get it" within a week or two. Sounds good, right?

Except because both TJ and I work full-time, Little Man goes to nursery 3 full days a week. I also work another 2 days from home, fitting work in around Little Man as best I can. This means that there is very little chance for us to let him run around and just take it at his own pace. Were I at home with him every day I would simply leave his potty where he could find it as and when he wanted to, following his cues and just going along with his leads.

Little Man started holding on to his wee months ago, and so we decided that as he seemed to be showing more control and interest in the potty we would try potty training over Christmas. We had 2 whole weeks off with him and thought it was the perfect opportunity to have a "relaxed approach" to the whole thing. But what actually happened was we spent such a large amount of that time travelling and visiting family that there was very little time to just take it slowly… Little Man was put in nappies for journeys and visits to avoid stress (for him and for us) and so there was no consistency to it at all.

And so when he returned to nursery he was in pull-ups and had no interest in trying the potty. We continued letting him run around without a nappy on or "big boy pants" at home and he was doing okay. He really enjoys his Pirate Pete's Potty book and will happily sit on his potty whilst watching tv or reading a book. But he would then wait until his nappy or pants were put back on before doing his wee. He actually got quite upset when he did a wee in the potty at times, whereas others he would happily ask us to "flush" it down the "toilet". It was all a bit confusing…

Then the other day he had 9 accidents at nursery (which is entirely unheard of normally) and got very, very upset about it all. And I felt awful. Though I had set out to have a "relaxed approach" it just hadn't worked out as I had hoped. Little Man was obviously getting upset by it all and it was time to say "stop". The last thing I want is to stress him out about it.

I didn't want to take a complete step back, so instead of returning to cloth nappies we have gone back to disposable pull-ups. We had been using cloth training pants but they just aren't absorbent enough to deal with Little Man's mega wees! This way he can still pull his "big boy pants" down and sit on the potty, but he has the security of knowing if he wees himself it will be okay. It has taken a few days of reassuring him that these "special" big boy pants will do that but he seems much happier again now.

In retrospect we tried too early. He has the physical control but is not quite ready to take that big step. He is, after all, only 2 years and 4 months and whilst some children potty train this early, many don't. And I feel bad that we rushed him, but equally I know as a parent that the "relaxed approach" should not only benefit our children but also ourselves. We are all on a huge learning curve and if we can't cut ourselves some slack then who will? Certainly not the media who makes us all think that we should be competing in this parenting journey!! 

I misjudged the situation… but we got through it and we're just going to take it as it comes. If it takes until next Christmas to get to grips with the potty then so be it! Of course I would rather it didn't, but I am not going to stress Little Man and myself over it. Too much of life is spent comparing ourselves and our achievements with those of others, I don't want to start Little Man's life in that way. 

Now begins our new and improved "relaxed approach". I am sure we will make many more mistakes along the way, but hopefully we can continue to work through it together and keep listening to each other and honouring the feelings we all have.

So tell me, how did potty training work out for you and your family? Did you struggle with it or was it relaxed and straight-forward? I'd love to hear from you as I know everyone's experience is different!

Road Safety: How do you keep your kids safe?

Bit of a serious post from me today, but I would love your thoughts on this.

We live on a very busy road and I have always been very aware of the need to teach Little Man road safety from the word go. He still doesn't quite get it, but every time we cross any road I try to involve him in the "stop, look, listen" routine.

But what worries me the most is that I am trying to teach him to use a pedestrian crossing if at all possible and yet these do not seem all that safe these days either.

You see, we live right next to a zebra crossing. Every day I tell Little Man to hold my hand and stop at the crossing and wait until the cars stop… and then we stand and watch several cars drive straight past us. And I'm not talking about cars which were practically on the crossing when we got there, I'm talking about those which had plenty of time to stop. I've even been in the middle of the road, crossing because the side nearest to me has stopped, and had cars zoom through the other side.

They did this when I was heavily pregnant, when I had a pram with a baby in, and now when I have a toddler by my side. It is honestly terrifying how little awareness there seems to be of the fact that this is a crossing and someone is waiting to cross. And I don't know which is worse, the cars that zoom by with their drivers seemingly oblivious to what is happening or those whose drivers look at me and shrug their shoulders as if to say, "well, what could I do?"

Um… you could stop!

And yet, I am used to this. I am super careful on this zebra crossing as I know what it is like. I am cross that this is the case, but it is what it is. What I was not prepared for, however, was the fact the same thing could happen at a pelican crossing – you know, the ones with traffic lights and a green man for pedestrians?

Last week I was in town and I saw the lights at the crossing starting to change to amber and then red. I knew I wanted to cross and so I sped up my pace to make sure I got to the crossing before the green man showed up. I got there just as the green man flashed on and the beeping started. The cars nearest to me had stopped and so I began crossing, all good so far… and then not one, but two cars zoomed through the other side right in front of me and a third car, whilst stopping to let me cross, had the audacity to honk her horn at me. And when I looked at the driver she shook her head at me as if I was in the wrong.

For a horrid moment I honestly thought I must have misread the situation, but one quick look at the traffic lights confirmed that there was a green man and these drivers had just gone straight through a red light whilst a pedestrian was on the road. How's that for terrifying?

It seems I'm not alone in this experience either. When I shared my story on Facebook I was greeted by several similar stories of drivers being so unaware of the road that they sped through red lights or turned when it was not safe etc. And it seems that it isn't only us pedestrians who have things to fear, other drivers seem to be struggling with the actions of other road users too.

But as I am trying to teach my son road safety, it is the safety of him as a pedestrian that most concerns me. That isn't to say I don't worry about his safety when we are in the car, because I do, but there will come a day when he wants to go out on his own and that's when I worry about having taught him enough road safety to remain safe. (Thankfully, this is a few years off yet, but the seeds of that knowledge begin now).

And I thoroughly accept that pedestrians can be just as dangerous too… I have seen so many people walk out in front of cars when they just couldn't be bothered to wait for the lights to change or walk those extra few yards to use a crossing. Why do we seem to have such a disrespect for how dangerous our roads can be?

For now, the only thing I can think of is to teach Little Man to always use a crossing if one is available and even if the cars seem to have stopped, to keep looking and listening both ways as he crosses the road… teach him to expect the unexpected. But is that enough?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. How have you taught road safety to your kids? And have you come across these kinds of problems?

Handmade Christmas Wrapping Paper – The Toddler Way

I'm really excited about Christmas this year. And our preparations have already begun…

Artist Wrapping Paper

Yesterday Little Man and I set about creating our very own Christmas Wrapping Paper. I bought some brown paper, unrolled it bit by bit, and he drew enthusiastically across the paper with a variety of coloured pens. 

I was a bit concerned that he wouldn't really take to this activity – a lot of the time when I give him pens and paper he just wants me to write numbers and his name for him over and over again rather than scribbling and drawing himself. Hence the early start. I thought if we began now, we'd have plenty of days to get it out and work on the next piece of the roll of paper. But surprisingly Little Man enjoyed it so much that he got through the entire roll in one afternoon and evening. 

And they weren't just little squiggles here and there either… he went at it like it was the best activity ever (even getting cross with me when it took too long to roll up the piece he'd just finished to get a new blank piece to work on!) Some bits were less "busy" than others, but some bits look like a whirlwind has passed through…

Wrapping Paper

I am so happy that he enjoyed it, as I had visions of having to scrap this idea and actually go out and buy wrapping paper instead. It gives me hope that he'll enjoy the activities I have planned for hism throughout December.

 

You see, I've created a sweet little Advent Calendar for Little Man, one with an activity each day, and I cannot wait until the weekend to share it with him. There are 24 envelopes hung on some ribbon with tiny pegs and each one has a number on it. As Little Man loves numbers, I hope this will entertain him. And each day we will open an envelope and find out what activity we can do, hanging the card inside up on the ribbon to show which have been opened and how many days we still have left to go. (I'll try and remember to share some photos once it is up).

Activities include things like 'make Christmas cards', 'write a letter to Santa' (I'll help with that one!), 'Go on a winter walk', and 'make mince pies'. I've had to be careful to ensure that I planned each day according to what is achievable: family activities happen at the weekend, messy activities happen on days I am home with Little Man, and we have short and sweet activities for the days he goes to nursery and they need to be done either over breakfast or just before bed. I think I have planned it all okay, but only time will tell.

Artist at Work

However, seeing Little Man's excitement yesterday made me realise that it really doesn't matter if the plan works or not, so long as he is enjoying himself!

Do you have any activities planned for your little ones over the Christmas period?

 

Celebrating Autumn: Making Smudge Sticks on the Equinox

Last weekend was the Autumn Equinox (or Mabon) and it was a beautifully sunny day. 

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As you know, TJ and I are very spiritual but we don't really follow any single religious path. But that doesn't mean we don't celebrate our own individual faith within the family. One of the ways we do this is to honour nature and the world around us as sacred, and so this year we decided it was high time we tried to celebrate the Autumn Equinox in a way that was special to us.

As our herb garden has flourished this past year, we thought it would be a great idea to make our own smudge sticks, utilising the abundance of growth in our garden rather than just letting it all die off for the winter without being used. I hasten to add here that we left more herbs in the garden than we took out of the garden, but we wanted to use some of it.

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TJ (with his aptly coloured hair!) cut some sage, rosemary and lavendar whilst I hung the washing out and wandered around the garden taking photos in the gloriously golden autumn light, and then we headed indoors to make up smudge sticks together whilst Little Man had his afternoon nap. 

It took us a while to figure out the best way to put the herbs together and we have yet to discover how well the different combinations of herbs smell together when burned, but we are more than happy with our homemade smudge sticks.

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Later that evening, we held our own little celebration using a ritual created for the Solitary Druid Fellowship, adapting it to suit our own needs, missing out bits we didn't feel reflected us personally and adding our own little touches. Little Man was more interested in the candle than anything else, so that had to be moved to a safe distance away from him, but all in all it was nice to mark the turning of the seasons by remembering all that has happened over the past year and thinking about the months ahead of us. 

Autumn is one of my favourite times of year (it always has been) as it is both a time of reflection and gathering things together for the cold winter months ahead. There is something very special about the last few rays of summer sun, the wrapping up in blankets in the evenings, and the preparation for celebrations such as Halloween, Guy Fawkes and Christmas!!

When I was still at school, September was the month in which we returned to school and so it was also a time of new beginnings. And it seems to be this way again now, as I move into my new role with PSS (more on this in a later post, I'm sure!) And before I know it, October will be out and we'll be on to the next celebration. How exciting.

Tell me, do you love autumn or are someone who dislikes the end of summer?

 

Baking with a Toddler for the Very First Time!

Little Man and I did something very special this week – we baked cakes together!

I haven't baked in far too long and I suddenly realised that Little Man will be 2 in just over a fortnight and he has yet to experience the wonder of baking. That had to change.

We got off to a poor start as I realised my baking powder was out of date (and having only plain wheat-free flour to work with this was a really bad oversight on my part). So we trundled off to the corner shop and thankfully found some there.

We both put on our aprons, I carried a chair through from the dining room whilst Little Man emptied my cupboards…

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And eventually we were all set to start baking!

While the oven heated up and I softened the butter in the microwave (because I forgot to take it out to come to room temperature), Little Man chose to pull all the paper cakes out of the muffin tin. Because apparently that is what you do when you are almost 2 and baking for the first time…

You also try to eat the batter before your mummy has even added the eggs and have to be consoled with a mini chocolate bar to distract you from the cocoa in the batter for just a little while longer.

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Because if you don't get some chocolate soon, you will go on strike!

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Thankfully disaster was averted by mummy offering to let you have a sneaky little taste!

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After a little stir, you help mummy add batter to the new paper cases she has hastily placed in the muffin tins, saying "yummy yummy" with every little spoonful you add, because that is what mummy did and you think it's funny!

Mix

And then you decide that it is time to dive straight back in and eat some more batter before she puts it all into the paper cases because you have no idea where those are going…

Taste 2

Eventually, the cakes go in the oven and you go off to play (but not before you try to explore the eggs that mummy has left unattended, because they look like fun!).

Eggs

Mummy chases you around to wipe you hands, and then asks you if you want to sit on the potty, which you do but only until mummy goes off to check the cakes and then you promptly run across the room leaving a trail of poo pellets (just like a rabbit, according to mummy) meaning that she has to come and clean up and the cakes end up getting a little burnt around the edges!

And that, dear readers, is where there are no more photos of the finished cakes.

They were sunken in the middle (I think I got my measurements of baking powder wrong due to trying to stop Little Man eating the mixture and not paying enough attention), burnt around the edges, and then squished flat by a bottle of oil falling out of the cupboard just as I was icing them.

All in all the end product of our first attempt at baking was tasty, if not so perfect to look at. But the fun that we had was far greater than anything I could have hoped for and I plan on baking with Little Man far more regularly from now on.

Do you bake with your children? What funny little mishaps have happened to you whilst baking?

“Darling” – the funny names our kids give us!

Little Man has recently taken to calling me "darling".

Not mama. Never mummy. Just Darling.

And it tickles me so much that out of all the words he could have chosen, this is the one he chose for me. I mean, I have no idea if he truly realises just what a sweet word he has chosen for his mama. What has most likely happened is that he has heard me call him "darling" on so many occasions that he simply associates this word with me. And whilst it makes my heart burst with emotion every time his beautiful voice calls out to me in this way, the biggest thing it does is make me chuckle…

Like when he stands at the gate to his bedroom, shouting "darling, darling, darling" down the stairs because he really does not want to go to bed right now even though it is dark and far too late for little boys to still be awake. He shouts "darling" whenever he wants his mama and it usually works!

But it is not just when he wants something that he uses this term of endearment to call me. When we pick him up from nursery he runs across the room shouting "darling" with a grin on his face and a kiss ready to bestow on me. Daddy is called "dada", but mama  doesn't have a name, she is "darling".

He even says it when we're out and about and he just wants my attention. I cannot actually remember the last time he even muttered anything close to "mama" or "mummy" let alone call me one of these names. Yet he used to call me both of those names quite clearly.

I guess he is making his own connections. Just a few weeks ago whenever we went to get him up in the morning he'd smile at us and say "baby boy" because that was what we called him when we saw him. "Morning, baby boy" we'd say to him and he'd reply with "baby boy" as he launched himself at us for a cuddle.

That has since stopped and he's moved on to "darling". I wonder how many other words he might say if we used them often enough? I don't mind "sweetheart" but I'd be a bit annoyed if he started shouting, "oi" to get my attention! (I hasten to add that we do not use "oi" in our house, but my point is that he is obviously copying our language so well these days that we really need to watch what we say and how we say it).

At the end of the day, though, I am truly loving being my baby boy's "darling". He'll be 2 in less than 3 weeks. Before I know it he will be too grown up to want to hold my hand or kiss me in public, so thoughts of calling me "darling" will be long gone. I plan on treasuring these moments whilst they happen and creating such sweet memories to remind me of this beautiful stage of our lives.

Has your child ever used a funny or sweet name for you? (My mum was once called "Woofa" for years by a girl she looked after… and that's girl's own daughter is now being taught the name "Woofa" just for good measure!)

Nature Baby

I'm sure most of you have figured out by now that TJ and I love nature. But what you might not know is that Little Man is also developing a real love of being outdoors, digging his hands into the dirt, watching the bees buzzing around, watering the plants in the garden,  and generally enjoying every last minute he can before he is called indoors for dinner or bed.

If he wants to go out he will grab my hand and drag me to the back door, or bring me his shoes to put on. There have been times when he has gone into the garden with the most fetching of outfits, just a nappy and his wellies!! I have never known a child get so worked up over the time it takes to put shoes on or grab the keys from the front door… he is just so desperate to get out there!

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He is fascinated by the fact plants grow high above his head, but is perhaps  more perplexed by the fact his "twirly whirlies" (that would be the windmills) are up there too… he's seen them in the garden but what are they doing all the way up there?

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Note the pen grasped firmly in his hand… this is another "obsession" of his!

He has this game he plays where he walks right to the top of the garden, his back against the fence, and shouts "ready, steady, go" before running down the path (swerving around the strawberry planter and washing on the rotary airer) and having an explore of another part of the garden before he goes back to the fence to start again.

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It isn't just the plants he loves… he will play with anything, so long as it is outside! Here he is "scrubbing" the dirt on the floor after he found the two scrubbing brushes I had thrown out the door (when emptying the bucket) earlier that day after cleaning the kitchen floor.

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He'll creep into the smallest places to have a peek (one of his favourite places being between the dustbin and the recycling bin, but I am always too busy coaxing him out of there to take a photo!)

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And he most definitely loves getting right in there between the plants and having a dig around. His version of weeding currently consists of his grabbing one handful of soil after another and throwing them onto the path.

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He's my nature baby and he can't wait to show me all the wonderful things he has found outdoors!