Books. What are they good for? Absolutey everything,

Reading is more than the words on a page, more than an exercise in linguistics. Grasping at the page corners waiting to turn to the next adventure; silly voices and watching your child really believe in something. Contact, interaction – reading is, without question, one of the most important things to do with your child.

This week my sister in law gave Arthur a fantastic signed copy of ’We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen. How wonderful. We sat down, snuggled up and read it twice, pointing out the pictures, making funny voices and enjoying the moment. The connotations of being a bookworm are of someone quiet, withdrawn and nerdy, yet books are full of adventure, moments of amazing enlightenment and the chance to use imagination in ways few other activities allow.

Levels and rates of reading among children are falling , I suspect, mainly because parents don’t read to them. A whole generation of children not knowing how amazing it can be…. – it’s sad. But more than that, it’s a dying art. Reading a book aloud requires imagination and  with children’s books, often abandoning your inhibitions and putting a little bit of you into making something real.

I’m not naïve, computers are not the devil, PSDs haven’t stolen a childhood. But they’ve given parents a lazy alternative, one that doesn’t require them to be involved but gives hours of child-free time. Oh god, I hope they realise they will have so much of that when their children have grown and gone.

Books influenced my life, Wuthering Heights made me cry, To Kill A Mocking Bird showed me the brilliance of the human condition and The Great Gatsby the utter wastefulness of an unfulfilled life.  As I said, it’s more than words.

I want Arthur to have confidence in his ability to read; quietly to himself, immersed in a story, and loudly and proudly to his children and grandchildren. It’s a confidence that permeates beyond the pages to offices, meetings, report writing, soulful evenings spent debating world issues with friends and family. It is a skill we need to save and cherish and hold in the same esteem as getting to level whatever on a Gameboy. How we actually do this is a whole other problem!

Maybe this is a little indulgent middle-class rhetoric but then again, my working-class dad told the best stories in the world and I think he’s partly responsible for my love of language. What a bloody marvellous gift to give me.  It’s as if books have become uncool, defunct and pointless  they are also a casualty of an ever-increasingly throw away world where no one has time and living in the immediate is more important. They need a makeover and quick.

But more basic than this, we are words; big ones, small ones and all the ones in the middle. They make up our days and if our children were to struggle to read them and make sense of them – what a sad loss for us all.

If you appreciate a book, you will never be alone.

Stats from The Reading Agency UK

  • Children and young people who do not achieve expected levels of literacy are likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • 14% of children in lower income homes rarely or never read books for pleasure.
  • Parents are the most important reading role models for children and young people.
  • Only 1 in 5 parents easily find the opportunity to read to their children.

There is overwhelming evidence that literacy has a significant relationship to people’s life chances. A person with poor literacy is more likely to live in a non-working household, live in overcrowded housing and is less likely to vote.

Literacy skills and a love of reading can break this vicious cycle of deprivation and disadvantage. It is vital that children enjoy reading – motivation is essential for acquiring literacy skills.  Reading for pleasure is more important than either wealth or social class as an indicator of success at school

  • Yet only 40% of England’s ten year olds have a positive attitude to reading. The figure for Italy is 64% and 58% for Germany.

”books”

U, me and the kids

‘What To Expect’ goes online

When I was pregnant I spent a huge amount of time thumbing through books on pregnancy and one of the best known was ‘What to Expect’. Everyone had read it, whether eagerly buying brand new or borrowing a well-loved version from a friend.

I found it a great read, well-informed, easy to understand but full of common sense and expert opinion. I’m starting to think about baby number 2 I was so pleased to see this wonderful title is now a UK website – still full of fantastic advice and common sense to help you get through the most wonderful and sometimes toughest nine months.

But more than this when I clicked on the site I realised it covers toddlers too! It’s probably because I never bought books beyond the first few months but I never realised ‘What to Expect’ covers toddlers – result!

Such a find and I loved the coloured meal planner buttons at the top – I’m always looking for new ways to entice Arthur to eat veg.  With tips on playing, behaviour and potty training I found myself hooked. I literally sat down with an hour to spend looking at this site and got up to make a cup of tea two hours later! There are also some great interactive tools like recipe swaps and blogs – gotta love a blog!

I’d jotted down some new meals, managed to put my mind at rest about how potty training was going and learned some fantastic tips to deal with toddler tantrums.

Heidi Murkoff, author of the original bestseller, has created something that gives great advice and invaluable support. It’s recognisable worldwide but still manages to feel small, personal and a bit like a warm hug when you’re looking for reassurance. I also found the site very easy to use, no inane clicking with little idea where you’re going.  Clearly signposted so it’s ideal when you’re snatching a quick ten minutes between naps and feeds etc.

Over the coming months I’ll be using it to help me chart the choppy waters of toddlerdom while keeping an eye on the ovulation calculator and other great tips around getting pregnant – for when I’m ready to do it all over again!

 

A bumbling buffoon of uncoolness

I ain’t cool – fact. Even squeezing the word ‘ain’t’ out leaves me painfully aware of my non-cool status. I’ve tried on many occasions but have to finally admit I can’t be arsed any more. I’m neither edgy or quirky, just a bit chubby and tired.

  • I’ve tried but I can’t do vintage – when I do it looks like my nan’s house
  • I find find talk of poo, lady parts and general bum humour hilarious, this simply isn’t cool
  • I like to think I’m a cool, working mum feminist. Truth is I secretly feel a little incensed if a man doesn’t hold a door open for me. I know, I know, deal with it – this is my moment.
  • I love John Lewis, it’s so convenient and everything there is lovely.
  • I have a huge head, I mean proper fuck-off massive and therefore can never wear a cool hat. Well I can but the poor hat’s street cred will immediately tumble.
  • I wear big pants more often than not because they are comfy and comfy comes before style- so not cool.
  • I hate text speak and can’t write it, even if it takes me an hour to finish a text.
  • I love pork pies and scotch eggs – just shop bought ones, nothing fancy from a deli needed here and I can’t be doing with sundried things and things in small pots.
  • I bought a jump suit and looked like my mum in the 80s.
  • I love Midsummer Murder and Miss Marple. I mean really love them, and Murder She Wrote.

This is me, uncool and proud. No longer searching for vintage pieces and flattering ‘on trend’ outfits. No longer marching to the tune of some unattainable cool that chills me to the bone. I’m a bumbling buffoon in a world of cool and that’s cool with me. So for all those big-headed weirdos who wear big pants, let’s reclaim cool and put it in something comfy from John Lewis. Ahh, that’s better.

Arthur’s two-year-check – what’s really going on?

Last week Arthur had his two-year check. A check that apparently is supposed to make sure he’s hitting his milestones, that he’s happy, healthy and doing everything a two-year-old should be.

I guess it’s also a chance for the professionals to make sure I’m doing my job as his mum and that his world is everything it should be at two-years old. So when a very polite young man turned up I expected him to play with Arthur, interact with him and get to know my little man. Instead I was subjected to a questionnaire which ticked boxes as I answered yes or no to a barrage of standard questions.

Frighteningly they were questions I could hide from had I felt the need. Questions that, without proper interation from this health visitor, didn’t even scratch the surface of my little boy’s world.

Granted he did talk to Arthur but it was only brief words when Arthur initiated it. I was asked, “Can he build a tower, jump, does he enjoy nursery, does he use his imagination” and so the list went on. Scribbling answers in his little book and he didn’t even want to see our red book. He also said if I wanted to get Arthur weighed to take him to a clinic as he didn’t have his scales.

After he went I thought long about our experience. What if Arthur was a little boy in trouble, desperate for help, covered in bruises that would have been clear if undressed and weighed there and then. What if I had wanted to cover up his progress? I could answer as I pleased and there was no way this was picked up.

This check should be a safety net as well as a medical requirement. Despite a written report they know nothing about my boy and whether he’s happy and healthy. Today the news has been filled with horrific coverage about the vile woman who beat her two-year-old son to death over a prolonged period. What if his check had been a detached questionnaire.

Perhaps I had middle-class , two-parent family written all over me – a low risk where time, stripped to the bone by overwork and understaffing, is rationed and saved for those who really need it. Their assumption,  many of us know,  is the mother of all f*ck-ups. They don’t know me and my boy and the more I thought about this the more it filled me with a sense of unease.

I was talking to a friend who said her check had been completely different. Her daughter had been asked to build a tower, thread some beads, talk, dance and generally interact. Not much to ask is it? I just hope we were the exception to the rule. I would question why these checks are not standardised. That those carrying them out are not told and told again how important it is to understand the child physically and emotionally.

How many children have had their check and fallen through the net I wonder.

Nurturing nature – Kids Grow Wild gardening fun!

I love getting outside with my boy and what simpler way than in the garden.

Granted it’s less cultivating beautiful flowers and more making a mess and spreading mud but anything that lets him enjoy nature has to be good. So we were really pleased when our Kids Grow Wild Little Pals gardening kit arrived.

It’s so cute and Arthur absolutely loved having his own little bag of tools. Great quality too and I’m tempted to swap my own rusty old watering can for his lovely bright green one! The wooden handled tools were also lovely and it made a nice change to have something robust made specifically for children. I’ve brought the plastic ones before but they never seem to last. The gloves a great additions too – bit big for Arthur at the moment but he insisted on wearing them anyway!

gardeningfinal2

We had a brilliantly messy afternoon digging a few random holes then finding some old pots to plant his seeds. Having his own set of gardening bits and bobs really made him feel part of the process. Rather than just ‘helping mummy’,  it meant he felt he was in control. This does mean we have some ‘creatively’ placed seeds, but that’s part of the fun!

Kids Grow Wild fun!

Arthur is keen each morning to go outside and check on the progress so we’ll let you know when they appear. This is such an easy and cost-effective way of getting him outside and interested in the world around him. Now we talk about the seeds and the earth and how we feed and water them with his special watering can. How the sun helps and the rain stops plants being thirsty.

Sometimes it’s the simple things toddlers enjoy and this lovely little bag of goodies is a great way to get the most out of a morning at home. I’m sure we’ll being having lots of fun over the coming months with the Little Pals bag – and I really want one of those watering cans!

This post is an entry for BritMums’ #KidsGrowWildChallengerel=”nofollow”>

Hypothetical diets and a small persons obsession with cake

So this week I’m starting my assault on my meagre and somewhat embarrassing fitness levels.
I’ve been on a diet hypothetically for quite some time and I’ve been thinking about it really well. I’ve planned meals that haven’t quite happened and gazed at aisles of fruit and veg on my journey to the baguettes. Yes, in theory, I’ve got this diet thing down – I think you get the point.

So, next to tackle my lack of movement. Step one involved removing the bum-shaped crater in my sofa. Done. Step two was buying some lovely new workout gear and trainers – also done. Step three – move, very fast. This one’s taken a lot more hypothesizing but tonight I’m actually putting it into practise and I’m going to Zumba.

fat3  fat4

“Zumba, zumba”, I’ve heard it whispered through the ladies loos at work, seen frighteningly pink posters promising ‘the ride of your life’ and even sheepishly stood at the back of a class once. But the instructor was a chap who insisted on kicking a make-believe football every time we finished a move. Most off-putting and clearly I couldn’t go back again.

Tonight is different and I promise I will go and go again and again until this wobbly body resembles something like the pre-baby bod I once knew. In all seriousness I do feel like I don’t know my body anymore. Like it’s slipping further and further away from me and if I don’t grasp it back now it may never happen.

I want to understand what it can do, remember it could run and dance and not lose, completely the me that did dance and move and go to the gym.
So I’ll let you know how I get on and I will be putting theory into practise with my diet too. Any tips gratefully received!

Me and the boy
Arthur has a burgeoning obsession with making cakes, every time I pick him up from nursery and ask what he’s done he says: ‘Mix cakes’ which I know he hasn’t, having chatted to the girls about his day. We get home and he immediately wants to have some cake and has even resorted to imaginary play where he takes his little trolley and buys treats, most of which are, you guessed it – ‘cake’.

We made cakes at the weekend so I’ve been fuelling this obsession – in fact I’m sure I’m pretty much to blame for this obsession. Perhaps I can use this power to my advantage and cultivate an obsession for clean bedrooms, teeth-cleaning, getting dressed. Hmmm – who am I kidding.

Easter Shenanigans

It was very hard getting up and back into the swing of work this morning – we over slept and I think it was partly due to the fact I was refusing to believe the Easter weekend was finally over.

Why is it when you’re staring at a long weekend from the right end it feels like a huge expanse of time with days sprawling out in front of you. You plan activities, time with family, visits to the coast and crazy plans to cook up 15 different dishes you’ve never had time to attempt before (perhaps that’s just me). Once it’s started you’re so busy doing stuff that you suddenly look up and it’s over.

On Friday Arthur and I did made some dubious looking hand puppets, I’ve never been great with arts and crafts and I fear the little man has inherited my ‘crap at art’ gene. We both spent a lot of time looking at each other confused and a little bemused about what it was we’d actually created.
Jonathan looked at the mutant rabbit for a while and said: “Oh it’s a fun Easter thing!” Yes people we had created an ‘Easter thing’. To be fair it’s probably the best description and far less insulting to the endless stream of beautiful bunnies and chicks our friends have created. But we didn’t care!

art1

Next up was cake and bird’s nest baking – much better! I make a mean cake and this was a chocolate and banana creation topped with mini eggs and surrounded by Shredded Wheat nests. I do wonder, however, who these people are, the ones who have serene and wonderful baking experiences with their children where they work as a team and giggle and laugh while a touch of flour adorns their noses.
Ours was a battle of wits, would I be able to reach the spatula before he’d consumed the
full bowl of raw egg and margarine – he won. Next he had a small melt down when I refused to let him eat all the melted chocolate. Mind you it did take every ounce of willpower I had too so fair play – he’s only two! Giving him his own bowl with a small amount of ingredients was my next master plan. It worked for about two minutes until he tipped it on the work surface. I stopped to clear it up only for him to whip my bowl away and snuffle half the mixture – he’s a cunning fox my boy.

Eventually we emerged triumphant and glowing (though that may have been the egg yolk drying in our hair).

Arthur’s always so keen to see his cousins Florence and Jimmy so an Easter egg hunt at my mum and dad’s on Saturday was perfect. My dad had created a treasure hunt style event with clues and special Easter bags – it really was lovely. I get such a kick out of seeing them all together and even little Jimmy was able to join in a bit – he’s walking now so will soon be right in there. I love my dad – I know that’s a pretty standard statement but I really do. I never say it but he’s just amazing and no one can ever make me feel better than him. I love watching him with his grandchildren – he’s the rock in our family.
Mum – you rock too, more than you know, but it’s dad’s turn this week!

Arthur and Florence hunting for eggs

Arthur and Florence hunting for eggs

easter3 

Arthur is just starting to play with other children rather than that thing they do of playing side by side. It’s lovely to see and I can’t wait to watch this new skill grow.

On Sunday we all trundled over to my uncle in Suffolk – another great day catching up and increasing my warm family glow. Sunday really made me realise how important these days are. Moments when all the generations sit together, memories shared and created in the same moment. We realised it would have been my Grandpop Seppy’s 100th birthday this year. Arthur will never know him or my amazing Grandma who broke new ground and made decisions for her family for which I’ll be eternally grateful – maybe I’ll tell her story on here soon. Days like Sunday keep them alive and will mean Arthur knows the family I know and love and the stories that frame our world.

On Monday me, the boy and Jonathan heading off to the coast and it was utterly beautiful. Just simple and easy and Arthur loved it splashing in the tidal puddles and falling over in the sand. We had proper fish and chips and soaked up the last of the Bank Holiday loveliness.

My boy at the beach

My boy at the beach

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So it’s Wednesday now and I’m still a little sad but I’ve refilled the bank of fun and memory building for a while. Lots of people played a role in our wonderful weekend, mums, dads, grannies, nannas, grandpas, papas, cousins, brother – I could go on. This weekend reminded me that bringing up a family is so much more than just the people you live with. It’s the people who weave through our memories, cook our favourite meal because they’ve known you since you were born; tell stories, love you and your children unquestioningly. Thank you to everyone – it really was special.

Almost worth having another baby……
I’m really excited because Bugaboo’s latest collaboration is with the iconic creature of contemporary cool – Andy Warhol.
Who hasn’t seen the epic Marilyn images? His work continues to be influential so sits perfectly with Bugaboos passion for innovation and style.
In May 2013 Bugaboo and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts launch the Warhol-inspired pushchair accessories. The collaboration celebrates the artist’s love for children’s inquisitive and creative minds and his ability to create timeless work that transcends any age or time period.
The Flowers series
Warhol explored his fascination with the fragility and beauty of flowers. Showcasing an eclectic mix of bright red and charcoal black, the selected print is both sophisticated and fun. The Flowers print is used on the sun canopy and tailored fabric set for the Bugaboo Bee, Bugaboo Cameleon3, and the Bugaboo Donkey. In addition, Bugaboo introduces a striking Flowers parasol, including Warhol’s famous print in light blue and green.

flowers1

The Cars Collection
The chosen print origins from 1962 and represents a sense of movement tying in effortlessly with Bugaboo’s go-and- explore-in-style vision. The Cars Collection integrates a playful, bold and graphical print in black and off-white and is featured on the sun canopies and tailored fabric sets for the Bugaboo Bee, Bugaboo Cameleon3, and the Bugaboo Donkey.

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As I said…almost worth having a baby for! www.bugaboo.com

ohyo collapsabottle – space squashing brilliance!

 Since Arthur’s been born I’ve accumulated a vast array of plastic stuff. Stuff for his bath, stuff to change him on, eat off and most prominently of all – stuff out of which he can drink.
There are so many bottles to choose from, ones with straws, sippy cups, it’s mind-blowing. But one flaw they all have is their size! It’s not easy to store several large bottles, they don’t stack like plates and I’m always taking them apart to make more room.
So I was so pleased to be sent the new Ohyo collapsabottle. It’s utterly ingenious and you know something’s good when you think: “I can’t believe no one’s done that before”.

ohyo collapseabottle

ohyo collapseabottle

The cup comes in blue, pink, white and green and is concertina shaped so basically it folds down into a disc. Perfect for packing away if you’re off on holiday or for storing in the cupboard. This brilliant design doesn’t detract from the usage either, it’s pretty non-spill and Arthur happily took in on a long journey and chucked it on the floor several times without damage.

The cups are BPA-free and carbon neutral so help quell my growing sense of environmental guilt.The colours are plain so I’d happily take it out with me for the day too or to the gym (I’m sure I’ll return one day). It also has a wide neck so it’s really easy to wash up or bung in the dishwasher.

There are so many cups on the market but this hits the spot for me because it addresses storage as well as being easy to use for little hands – I actually think the concertina shape makes it easier for them to grip on to.

For £4.99 they are a brilliant design and definitely worth a look if you’re on the hunt for a new cup for little people.

Spring cleaning my shoes

Its’ that time of year again when I’m still suffering a financial hangover from Christmas but my wardrobe is screaming to be dragged into Spring. I found, once my son came along, and I went back to work, clothes and shoes fell into two distinct categories: Ones I don’t mind getting porridge on and ones I do. It’s a simple equation but it works for me.
I’m really conscious that I don’t want to spend a fortune on outfits but I want to look good, we all do. So my favourite place to drop in for a rummage is New Look. I have always been a huge fan of their shoes and often stock up in summer when you seem to need 100 pairs of pumps, sandals and suitable work shoes. Winter seems a lot easier with a couple of pairs of reliable boots my staple until March comes knocking on my door.
So I thought I’d share a few of my favourite pairs of women’s shoes that I think tick the style, budget and work boxes.
Oh and I love the fact you don’t have to wait for a shop assistant to bring you the other shoe – so much easier when you have a small person in tow or a short lunch hour to get things done.

Love these pumps that I can wear for work and at home – they look great with capri pants and far more expensive than their £29.99 price tag.

bargain flats for work or home

bargain flats for work or home

These sandals just make me smile and I think for £24.99 they will really brighten up my summer dresses

wedges for sunny days ahead

wedges for sunny days ahead

Perfect work shoes, they go with black, navy, cream – everything! Just £19.99 – I bought the peep-toe ones too!

Perfect workday staple

Perfect workday staple

For just £19.99 these gladiator sandals are my favourite weekend shoe – just so easy to wear and make your feet look pretty!

Gladiator appeal

Gladiator appeal

Brogues – so comfortable and look great with trousers for work or at home, nice neutral colour and I can walk for miles with a buggy too! They come in at an incredible £14.99.

Classic style

Classic style

When I buy shoes it cheers me up, partly that’s because it doesn’t matter if you’ve put on weight or just not feeling your best – shoes don’t let you down! New Look’s collections means I can indulge is some summer sandals, classic work shoes or my ever-faithful flats, without breaking the bank – that’s a win in my book.

Embracing chaos and the £2.50 wonder cream

I started a spreadsheet – not just any old spreadsheet  -a Christmas one. My chance to be that woman who said: “Yes that should be fine, we have a window 12-3 on Tuesday.” I would have times and events at my fingertips.  I’ve always dreamt of being that woman and not the one who’s only attempt at a diary lies helplessly at the bottom of a bag, pages stuck together with coffee and apple juice with faded enthusiasm that wained before we hit April. Along with this growing love affair with spreadsheets I began to develop an urge to buy a powersuit – fingers crossed they work with leggings.

Oh fickle world how you woo me with your grand ideas then drop me like a fat bird on a big night out. Spreadsheets and Arthur don’t mix simply because I’ve been trying to do them on my laptop, which, to Arthur, is like a red rag to a bull. One lapse in concentration, one sip of tea and I’ve lost a date, moved a column and generally turned December into a very, very strange looking month.

So I’ve given up and embraced my lazy girl attitude and found a new found joy in being always on the cusp of a new decision and never really knowing what we’re doing at the weekend unless someone else has planned it. I must admit I have a few dates in for Christmas and this are mainly things at our lovely Surestart centre. Do you know this week I did a cooking class, music session and fantastic outdoor explorer sessions – all free. Mr Cameron please protect these vital facilities for our children’s future. Treat it as part of the NHS – health and wellbeing is so much more than physical and through Surestart all children are on an equal footing.

In my quest to look 25 for the next 25 years I’ve been trying out some fab new products from those lovely people at Asda. They’ve created a new skincare range called SKINSYSTEM Q10 Complex.

At £2.50 a pop they are amazing value, which, in the lead up to Christmas is music to my ears. I tried the day cream and found it light, easy to use and most importantly for busy mums in the morning, it sinks in really quickly so you can carry on with the rest of the war paint before facing the world. I’ve also been using the eye cream which feels lovely and is just easy to use. I can’t quite believe the serum is also just £2.50 but feels like a bit of luxuary when I put it on at night. I genuinely found it as effective to use as some of the other far more expensive products I’ve used – perfect for busy mums looking for a bit of pampering with out the price tag.

Next week I’m off to the Baby Show at Earl’s Court – really looking forward to it as I get loads of ideas for presents and stuff for at home – plus there’s a creche so that’s always a bonus! It’s also great news that the British Red Cross is kicking off a new UK-wide campaign to get parents up to speed with first aid.The First Aid Challenge begins on 26th October at the Baby Show and comes after a survey found 96% parents think all parents whould have basic first aid but two thirds are too worried or lack confidence to actually do it.

This is great news for me as I’ve always wanted to know more and indeed do more if I have to. Why not sign-up, it’s open to everyone and you can get advice, videos and lots more.

Toptip:

I’ve been stock piling paint pots, glitter, paper, felt letters and loads of stuff from pound shops on my travels and I’m going to make Arthur a big art basket for one of his Christmas presents. I looked at art sets and they are so expensive! Arthur’s going to get a massive basket full of lovely goodies that I am not too bothered about losing, spilling breaking etc, for half the price.