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Sponsored Video: The Glorious Nothing Day

We don’t get enough nothing days here, even though all too often it feels as if every day is a nothing day because we spend too much of it driving between places to drop the girls at one thing or another, dealing with tired toddlers and stressed out teenagers, hustling people through homework and music practice.

Those are the wrong sort of nothing days. The ones I like are the ones we used to have when we home educated, when we lounged in our pjs all day, curled up with a book, the baby playing on the floor, endless cups of tea interlacing discussions about bats and medieval politics and how to design a dress for a doll 12 inches high (and why do we use inches not cm anyway… and oh, what did you say you wanted me to find out for you?) I miss the days when an 11 year old cooked a lunch and we took time off education for an afternoon in the garden because the sun was out and the sandpit was calling and anyway, we’d almost certainly learned enough today anyway.

I miss the days when a family day didn’t mean revision needed doing or the children would disappear to the four corners of the house, ipod in hand, ear phones in and housework avoidance techniques on. I miss the days of 4 little girls huddled in a sofa cushion house while parents, ostensibly busy, enjoyed the sound of delighted children immersed in play. I miss hours of hearing that babble, knowing I made the right choices in having them at home, having so many of them, letting them be. I miss late nights and family films.

But just occasionally it happens; at Christmas it ALWAYS happens. We batten down the hatches, light the magic and stand back to revel in 48 hours of doing nothing but enjoy each others company. And the delight of it is always that that time together reminds us all of how much we enjoy spending family time together. We always pledge to do more of it; we do eat together most days but Christmas reminds us of taking time to chat, playing games together, curling up with a film together, exploring new toys with the little ones and new gadgets with the big ones, talking and maybe even just not talking.

I’m seeing the effect of no family nothing days at the moment on all of us, particularly the angst ridden teenager, gcse revision/music exam/gym competition/dance exam/4 shows in a week all having taken their toll. She had to write a definition of leisure time this week and it made her cry – she doesn’t get any. I’m pledging to get that time back for her soon, days and days of sitting in the sun, taking walks, reading books for pleasure, making things, playing with her brother and having time to talk, do nothing, spend that little bit more time with her sisters before it is time to grow up and fly the nest.

Arla Foods are giving you the chance to win £200 to spend on goodies for a family ‘nothing day’ to indulge your family in taking time to do the small, delicious, memorable things together that sometimes seem so simple we don’t do them. You can find out more at their Facebook page or by following them on Twitter.

School woes

I have come to the sorry conclusion that the state school system suffers from a fundamental flaw; those are clever enough or well enough supported at home to thrive at school could have managed very well without it and those who struggle with support, learning or the acquisition of skills run a huge – if not entirely inevitable – risk of being utterly failed by it.

I got as far as writing this a week or so ago, as we wrestled with the knotty problem of school not working out for one, perhaps two, of the girls.

I’m at my wits end with the school system, the hold it has on our life, the problem of being firmly in it now and a host of other issues that make our next set of decisions far from straight forward.

Fundamentally though, I am so wearied by how inadequate a system of education it is. There are two things to say about our experiences of it, both to home educators and schoolers. The first is, if you home educate or are considering it, I promise you, you can hardly do worse than an ‘adequate’ school does (and by adequate I mean a school judged by it’s own standards to be satisfactory or good). And the second is, if you are sending your children to school, don’t fall in to the trap of thinking that good means really, amazingly, awe-inspiringly, cannot be beaten, good. Because really, I think it means “not actually harmful”.

I’ve wrestled with this for such a long time; I’ve failed to understand since I was a child how you could do a degree with teaching if you weren’t academically strong enough to do the subject without teaching. I’ve struggled to understand how schools fail to achieve reading and writing and basic maths with children when mine (and so many other home ed kids) learned it at home, without a ‘teacher’, perfectly well.

Our big girls are happy enough; their school has dropped in Ofsted’s estimation and frankly I do not believe that Fran will do as well in her GCSEs as she could have at a different (for which I mean ‘like mine’) school. The standards set are not high enough, the teaching not rigorous enough, the work ethic not strong enough. She is slogging her guts out and I’m going to be really sad for her if school ends up being the weak link. She got an igcse B in History on her own, in a year of work, with just my help; if school cannot better that significantly, questions need asking. But she DOES work, has a busy life and all in all, the school has been a good fit. For Maddy, friends is key and she loves her friends there, muddles through lessons, but gets too little support for issues with written word which are holding her back. I’m going to have to go back to that again and it annoys me to have to. She’s clever and the school will have to do well this summer for me to leave her there but in general it is a good enough fit too.

There is just something wrong when your best option ends up being “adequate”.

Amelie will be leaving at the end of the week. She’s given it two terms but she hasn’t settled in, is lonely, has dealt with low level bullying and unpleasantness that has rocked her confidence. She’s used to being liked and loved, she was fully at home in her junior school, despite joining in yr6 and she is bewildered to be lonely and ostracised for liking to work hard in this school. They’ve tried really hard to help her but she was too far gone before we addressed it fully and she is fed up of noisy, disrupted classrooms, work that is too easy (way, way too easy, paltry, pointless, time filling pap) and sneers for being a good girl. It’s not nice for her and she’s not robust enough to shrug it off. Never has been.

We came tantalisingly close to a different opportunity for her; she was awarded a significant scholarship at the local private school, but we couldn’t make up the shortfall. So now we are removing her from the system and debating the next step. She has 3 choices; one of two local schools if we can get her in (where annoyingly the bonuses of close friends she knows, near enough to walk, excellent academic record and Fran possibly moving to one of them are equally divided between the two) or home.

Part of me wants to keep her home; she is clever, motivated, enjoyable company on her own and needs recovery time. Part of me thinking I can’t provide the social life she would like now, neither logistics nor personal motivation would be on my side. Part of me likes not home educating any more. I like my space, the lack of responsibility for it, having to think of things. Part of me knows school and home ed don’t partner well for us, plus we have Bene to consider, plus selfishly I like time with just Max and going to work, job sharing with Max. Max doesn’t really like ‘educating’ and Amelie plays up for him a bit, so it would fall back to me being home.

Josie is happy enough in school. It’s a nice school, I love her class, the environment, her teacher and the head. It feels like the nicest local primary I’ve been in. She has friends and her reading and writing jumped the last hurdle once she got there; she likes the topics well enough and enjoys her day. The maths provision is far lower than her ability though (she can do most of a yr 6 maths paper but her class maths seems to be at roughly the 4×3 level) and she finds that boring and quite a lot of the other segments of the day don’t go into the depth she is used to.

It just disappoints me to find that overall what we think children should be engaging in through their day as a country is so uninspiring. I expected to find that I’d failed them through home ed, but I utterly did not. Too much time is wasted in crowd control and disciplining and getting time wasters to play ball. Too much of it is filler homeworks and lowest common denominator rehashing. If I see another ‘poster’ homework I may revolt.

Even though circumstance meant it was the right choice, I sincerely regret sending them now. There have been ‘some’ positives, enough that removing everyone is not an option, which is frustrating because I’d quite like to just get back to full home ed. Half in and half out did not work for me. Amelie is leaving because she is unhappy and not well enough served educationally to make that unhappiness something worth fighting through but the others do get things from school. It’s just that it should be a fabulous and inspirational and fit for the future education and I utterly lack confidence that it is.

How depressing to find that I was right enough all along.

Although his sister has already commandeered it. @bigjigstoys  It's very sturdy!

The MAD Blog Awards. This time it’s personal.

If you’ve been reading my blog a while (and, um… if so, well done!) you’ll know perhaps that the last few years I have had the great fortune to be at the finals of the MAD Blog Awards. It’s been a highlight of the year. I’ve been a finalist (3 times a bridesmaid, never a bride!!) in various categories from Most Inspiring to Blog of the Year and Blog Post of the Year. It’s always been amazing, even though I haven’t won. Getting there is winning, to be honest.

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Last year topped it when I stood on the stage with 9 incredible change makers and survivors; I might not have been the ‘winner’ but we all were really. It was an emotional night. It was particularly special to watch Mammywoo win Blog of the Year and Best Writer (not that I’m jealous), because she is fabulous and I love her.

One category you can’t nominate me in this year is the Craft Category (actually I have no idea if I can be a finalist at all, but don’t let that stop you making me feel good with a nomination ;) ) because WE ARE SPONSORING IT. Our craft website, CraftMerrily, part of the Merrily Toys & Crafts Empire, is sponsoring a whole amazing category!

I’m really looking forward to seeing who is nominated in our category; why not tell me in the comments who you plan to nominate? The prize is a fab iPod Touch with camera, perfect for capturing and blogging your craftiness on the go, with a £100 hamper of our favourite craft products to go with it. You know you want to win ;) Tweet me at @MerrilyMe or @PlayMerrily (I know the twitter biz name is confusing, sorry!) to tell me your favourite craft bloggers.

MAD Blog Awards

Promoted Post: The Hidden Costs of Having a Baby.

Having a child is one of the major milestones in many peoples’ lives. It is both stressful and rewarding, a source of endless joy and occasional frustration but above all it can be rather expensive! A recent UK government study suggested that the average cost of raising a child to adulthood is now in excess of two hundred thousand pounds! Of course, much of this cost comes in the everyday requirements of shelter, food, clothing, school costs, birthdays and Christmas, but of course there are many other factors at play.

Photo 4 Feb 2012 19:06

The UK is currently experiencing record energy consumption, with affordable gas and electricity prices harder and harder to find – additional and sometimes forgotten costs in raising a baby can really add to the expense. This article takes a look at a number of things which contribute to energy use and add to the cost of bringing up a child.

1. Getting a baby to sleep

For many parents, getting a baby to sleep can be a stressful process – some children require darkness and absolute quiet, others can only settle with a night light or their favourite lullaby playing on repeat! If you’re using a nightlight for a few hours, or have programmed the CD player to play for an hour or two, it all adds to the energy consumption of your household – not to mention the costs of putting on the heating or lights during a night feed! Another common way to settle a baby can be to take them for a drive in the car – whilst this may prove extremely effective, it can significantly add to petrol bills.

2. Extra space, higher bills?

Getting pregnant or expanding your family often requires a move to more sizeable accommodation. A larger house with extra rooms generally leads to increased energy consumption and thus higher bills. Similarly, couples with a sporty car or small vehicle may find a need to invest in an extra vehicle or one which can more comfortably accommodate buggies and all the extra baby gear that’s needed in the first few years – this can see costs spiral and is often not considered when initially planning a family. Many baby car seats also require specific “Isofix” car points to secure them; these may not be present in older vehicles.

3. Nappies and clothing

Everyone knows that babies get through lots of nappies, but the costs can be staggering – it’s not unusual for babies to need a dozen or more changes in a day, and the bills soon add up. Even those who “go green” and use washable nappies or undergarments will see a notable increase in washing machine loads. Similarly, there can be a high turnover of clothes due to spills, accidents and the like, and the cleaning costs all need to be factored in!

4. Baby formula

Many parents plan to breastfeed their child but are unable to do so for medical or other reasons. Thus baby and infant milks and formulas are required – this also brings associated costs for sterilising equipment, bottles and teats, pumps, the electricity required to warm the milk and more – this can become a considerable cost over a period of time in addition to any original outlay.

5. Water usage

There is often a considerable increase in water usage when a baby arrives – daily baths, washing machine use, cleaning of feeding equipment, not to mention all those extra cups of tea for your visitors! It can all mount up into a considerable increase in energy consumption and raised bills.

Disclosure: this is a promoted post written for Patch of Puddles and I have received payment to publish it.

Sponsored Video: You’re so fake.

I have a vivid memory of starting to trade on the internet. Like much of my life back then, people were full of doubt that it would ever work. If people weren’t questioning whether home ed would work, whether it was legal or could be trusted, people were wondering what on earth I thought I was doing setting up an online. shop.

“No one will ever buy online,” people would say. “I can’t see people ever believing they’ll actually receive things if they buy online,” and “I wouldn’t risk that. Who is ever going to put their card details into a website?”

eBay was embryonic, Paypal still a misunderstood service, there was no other obvious way to pay with a credit card, most people who purchased online seemed to be genuinely delighted if their items actually arrived.

But in that great wash of human optimism in the goodwill of others, lubricated with a dose of hope over expectation, people tried it and it mostly worked. Online market places became the places to grab a bargain and the internet turned into the flea market of the world.

Even the best of us will get caught out by a hoax occasionally, whether a sneaky joke that flies under your radar or a deal that is too good to be true. One of Fran’s favourite ever Nintendo games was bought online and turned out to be a fraud. It played but you had to start from scratch each time and I had optimistically purchased from overseas. It was fake, of course and never worked properly. I learned my lesson and the touch and feel we do on goods in front of our eyes turned into a series of skills I learned to use online. Too weird? Probably fake? Too cheap? Probably fake? Too good to be true? Probably fake?

I still mess it up at times, if I’m in a rush or not paying attention or forget to check feedback, origin and comparative price. In 2011 115 million fake goods were detained on EU borders. I think this frightens me the most; 27 million fake medicines were detained. What a risk to take. What an education we have to supply to our kids now, to help them navigate that minefield as they grow up. The man with sweets at the school gate is an almost lightweight monster by comparison.

You can find out more at the European Commission Facebook page. You can also tweet about the campaign using

Don’t be #fake. Don’t buy #fake. The real price of fake goods http://youtu.be/V346TEgj1Lo @EU_enterprise @EU_Commission

and follow them.

EC

Sponsored by the EU Fake campaign.

Talent Show

I didn’t get time to mark Fran’s success in a recent talent show she was part of; the evening coincided with me having to dash off to rescue Josie who arrived on a holiday with friends and threw up immediately :roll:

Dancer girl.

I’ve also been waiting for Fran to organise a video of the dance in costume, but I’m about to give up; she’s lost the music and is being a rebel so shall just have to hope that one day she indulges her mother with it for posterity ;)

She danced to Adele, Set Fire to the Rain, was totally amazing and got Silver, plus a prize for her costume suiting the dance. She was fairly beaten by the winner but an amazing silver. We were so proud of her and the comments afterwards (not just from the judge but even more importantly the dad of the dance school owner) made me glow with pride :) It was her own choreography and she totally nailed it, performance and steps and story. It was fab.

She’s also just had a very solid mark in her first ever professional dance exam, Intermediate Jazz which she took after taking grade 4 and 5 earlier in the year last year. She got 89/100 – and even beat one of her teachers who took it at the same time. All of that has helped, no doubt, in her being marked out as a ‘talented’ dancer at school, something she richly deserves.

Well done Fran.

 

Oh, Gove Away! Frustrations with School

I’ve had this post in draft for a while, trying to find a time to write up some of the nagging doubts that are resurfacing about having our children in school. Debating the Paul Kirby blog post (a former advisor to the government) yesterday caused me to say, among other things, this:-

This man may have left his secondment but you can bet your bottom dollar it is discussed elsewhere too. And Gove just can’t be trusted not to say ‘I like this, make it so!’

And look, less than 24 hours later, Gove has the same miracle idea – keep all kids in school for 10 hours a day. I’ve linked to Sky as it has some of a video of him speaking, but the press of all shapes and sizes is erupting in discussion about his radical ideas. Twitter is alight; it comes to a pretty pass when I retweet  Alastair Campbell.

It’s almost like he listened to that man who wrote a blog post. Or maybe, I guess, they’ve long been discussing these ideas in Whitehall.

I’m not sure what bothers me most about this; my kids arrive in school at 8.30 and rarely leave before 4.30pm. They do their lessons and they go to a school that doesn’t have a lunch break and they fill their after school with homework, netball, singing and dancing, CCF, music, trampoline and more. Fran spends a further 3 nights a week and a Saturday morning doing 16 hours of gymnastics at a club, Josie does 8 hours, Fran does 5 hours of dancing and she and Maddy play rugby on Sunday, Amelie does 5 hours of dancing too, they all play instruments, they all help out at home too. They are busy kids, learning to be meaningful humans but it is their choice to be at those places. And part of what makes them who they are is the choosing to do it.

I’m not clear (is he clear?) whether he means these ten hour days should be compulsory. Should it be for reception too? All the way through or just for some kids? Will ones with lives classed as fulfilling outside school be let off or will they have to give up gymnastics to attend a compulsory school club? Will they come home with more homework to do, all that meaningful poster making they do at the moment… Sigh.

And when am I supposed to see them? When will they play? Chill out? Eat meals with us? Read a book? Get to know each other? And should I be worried? After all, this is no longer just a former advisor writing a blog post, it’s the Education Secretary! Or shall I just hope that like Badman, Balls and Brown, he’ll be out of office before the hammer drops on our family life?

At least Kirby seemed to just be being a cold heartened economist about it – let’s get those annoying kids people insist on birthing and then don’t know what to do with out of their hair so they can work – but as an experienced teacher on my Facebook thread pointed out, this is not about parents flexible working hours, the key point here is the welfare of children. Gove seems to actually think he’ll be doing the kids a favour too. And he’s going to do that, apparently, by making all schools as good as those (£30K a year) private schools.

Okaaaaay.

I looked round a private school last week. I went to private school. Gove is NEVER going to make our state schools like our private schools. There is more to them (and they are not perfect themselves) than length of hours, facilities and attitude. They are infused with something you can’t easily inject into a state school for reasons far to complex to bother listing. And apart from anything else, they get very long holidays compared to our state schools. I just can’t see the likes of Kirby and Gove liking that idea.

I’ve had a passionate, hands on role in my kids’ education for their whole life. Sending them to school was a wrench and recently we’ve begun to re-evaluate that. Fran is fine, but in some subjects we now have to help her as she has fallen behind after being ahead when she started. She won’t do as well in her GCSE’s as she would in a different school, or maybe even at home. It makes me sad when I go to parent’s evening and hear her teachers aspiring to mediocrity for her. Maddy gains in social joy what she loses in brilliant teaching but Amelie is sinking fast. I’ve kidded myself for a while that at least they are in the hands of people who know what they are doing and then…

And then…

Fran is predicted an A* in Maths and that prediction was holding over lots of reports. In half term I asked her to do a practice paper to reassure me all was well. She could barely do 25% of it. I started to investigate and discovered the following.

Her prediction is based on her SAT score (at age 11) and her SAT score is on her record as 5A, so she gets predicted a GCSE (5 years later) of an A*. Only she never did SATS, so they took her very good CAT score when she joined them in Yr 9 and extrapolated backwards to guess what she might have got at SATs and then used that imaginary data to guess her GCSE prediction.

That’s pretty bad use of statistics I would say, but wait for this.

They don’t use current data (ie the marks she is currently getting in class, homework or tests) to make assumptions on her GCSE grade. So had I not made her sit that test, no one would have flagged up that she was not even going to get a D in an exam 5 months away. It’s lucky I did – and that she has able and interested parents who coached her in the 3 weeks before her mocks to try and remedy the situation. She missed a B by 3 marks.

And so it is because there are people making decisions like that in charge of our education system, that I think it is a good idea to be alert and questioning the words of anyone who has recently walked the halls of Whitehall. And because 24 hours ago I said that in a list of reasons to be wary, Gove should be on it twice just for the sake of safety. I’ll end with the statement I started with. I think it turned out to be justified.

I shall say this politely and only once, but any government that brings in 45 hour school weeks and 7 school holiday weeks a year will lose the pleasure of all my children’s company in the school system. And they are uppers of averages, so think on Policy makers.

PS Mr Gove, I think the tax contribution to a child in the state system is something like £1600 a year compared to even a cheapish private school being roughly £13000 a year. So, you know, good luck and all that.

Review: Clarks Shoes.

We were recently given the opportunity to review the service at Clarks in exchange for a voucher towards shoes; Bene, owner of the fastest growing feet in history, got lucky, since he was the person currently poking through the ends of his shoes so off we went, pausing along the way for a variety of stops off to look at cars being showcased in the middle of the shopping centre and a gazillion rides that are there to tempt small boys and part parents with 50p or more. Once there, we headed straight for the small boy shoes section and found ourselves a trained shoe fitter.

Not sure about this #clarks #review
Bene, generally a sociable chap, panicked slightly at the sight of a stranger wielding a contraption for putting feet in, but she was very efficient and friendly and we got through the measuring bit pretty quickly At a 6 1/2 F, he’d gone up a whole shoe size and more from the ones he was wearing, so we definitely needed to get on and buy new ones.

Show fitting #Clarks
While buying Fran’s pointe shoes recently, the lady fitting them said “you know how you’ve always gone to Clarks, bought carefully fitted shoes and taken care of her feet? Well here is where you ruin them!” And it’s true; our little people feet have always been shoed with Clarks; doodles, proper shoes, party shoes, winter boots. When they are very small, we stick firmly to the brand and as they get older I’m disappointed 9with one occasional exception) by all other brands. We’ve handed down and handed on Doodles (one pair did 6 pairs of feet before it was done between me and a friend) and loved all the pairs like friends. And yes, handing on is bad (naughty mummy) but luckily all my children have the same width feet :D

Maybe I like these... #clarks  #review
An element of resignation has crept into shopping over the years; nowhere ever has the thing you want in the size you need, so rather than looking too closely at the shelves, I just asked for a selection of outdoor shoes to be brought out to try on. 3 different pairs arrived and we had a go with them. S carefully coaxed a rather worried Bene to try them and we quickly fixed on the pair that suited. We had a walk and she checked, as they always do, for fitting with growing space and then since we were happy, we didn’t worry too much about trying others.

As our voucher was for £40, we had some spare money to use up. I’ve already said I’m a big fan of Doodles and so we asked to see some of the range too. They have always been great for nursery/playgroup shoes, indoor at home on days when particular children feel the need to be fully dressed, beach shoes and dry day, summer shoes. They can be slung in the washing machine, which is just ideal and keeps them going for years. S brought some out and Bene decided (for the first time ever) that he had a very clear choice. Only the green ones would do and he wouldn’t even countenance trying on a different pair.

Doodles! #clarks #review
Fortunately, they fitted :)

And that was that, one small boy of almost 2 years old fitted out with 2 pairs of shoes for £46, shoes which I’m confident will last, suit his feet and are properly fitted by an attentive and trained fitter. Thanks very much, Clarks of Peterborough Serpentine Green.

Disclosure: we were gifted a £40 voucher for this review and paid the excess ourselves. Opinions and small, perfectly formed toddler tantrums, were all our own.

Homemade Hamper Gift.

What do you give the person who has everything? Or in my case, what on earth do I give my mum, who travels a lot, has a lovely home, a brilliant brain and probably almost everything in terms of gifts and things that can be given.

The answer is not stuff at all. In common with a gazillion crafters, I can only hope that time, thought and effort count :)

Christmas hamper with handmade mat and mughug for my mummy. #crochet

The idea was sparked by a rather lovely pattern idea for Rowan Renew yarn that I saw in the book that originally sparked my crochet blanket making. It consists of crocheting 3 long chains in 3 colours (mine were 3.5m long ish and made a mat of about 6 inches across) and then plaiting them together to form a long, thick rope.

My #knitpro #crochet hook is camouflaged.

Once that is made, you have to start coiling and stitch it together.

This was fun. Will have to make one for me #crochet #rowanyarns

Time consuming and fiddly but well worth the effort.

Mug hug. #crochet
The mug hug was an on the hoof, ‘try and make it myself’ design. It worked, by and large. From memory it was a chain to fit the bottom, slipped stitched together, followed by 2 rounds of doubles. Then there was a colour change to red and 2 (?) rounds of trebles but stopping and going back in the other direction rather than joining in a circle to allow for the handle. A colour change and a green row of trebles and a then a colour change to yellow and a double row of trebles. Finally a colour change to green and a single row of doubles that joined back up at the top. It fits snuggly over the handle and is eased off for washing. I fixed a button on to the space under the handle on one side (using a yarn end from a colour change that was still attached) and it uses the gap between two trebles as a button hole. This allows it to fit more tightly while on the mug and stops it from dropping or slipping too much as you hold it.

The fun of the hamper though was going out and finding nice biscuits, the plate and mug (perfect match, thank you Tesco!) and the hot chocolate, plant etc. I hope she liked it, I think she did. Maybe next year I’ll manage homemade biscuits too ;)

 

Calm among storms.

The run up to Christmas is always hectic here, it comes with the toy shop ownership territory. We looked forward to the Xmas break but for the very best of reasons, it was never going to be. Christmas, visitors, a wedding, decorating – it all added up to a holiday that passed by very quickly and we were back at school and work before we knew it. And this year is already whizzing past; I’ve already had one business trip away and this week sees two more, the week after sees another one and the week after that another two. Then I get a week off before the next; chatting with our friends over at BigJigs Toys this week while I was there, I decided I’m very glad to only be a retailer and a blogger; I really don’t think I could handle the weeks and week they spend away at the shows that dominate all our lives at this time of year. On top of that, we find ourselves navigating the reality of a school which isn’t fitting a child adequately and trying to work our what do do about that (achieving more with the current school, moves of various types to be explored or a measured return to home ed all being on the cards). And then, because I’m me, I’ve not been able to stand by and watch the kids gym fall apart. I’m not one for focusing too long on what is done, in fact I cannot stop myself from feeling compassionate about the people involved to be honest – it breaks my heart to see people I liked caught up in a scandal and I’m far too sensible not to understand there will be more to it than meets the eye or seems obvious – but reality is reality and the gym is in crisis. So of course I’m part of trying to keep it going. It seems to me that is the happiest outcome for all concerned and it was a good club, the nicest we’ve ever been involved in and I’m gutted to see the mice  deserting the sinking ship when we have so much worth saving. But it is time consuming and a huge amount to try and understand and put back together.

And all that means that the ever decreasing islands of me time, blogging time, crafting time and time with my kids is getting squeezed away still further. I’m used to not seeing the girls so much, the big ones are increasingly ‘bedroom dwelling teens’ anyway but it smarts when I don’t get days with Bene and when I do, I’m knackered and don’t do those days as well as I want. We have a lovely time but I’m having to be on the phone a lot and even if I keep totally away from work, I’m not getting on with being a fab toddler mum the way I want to.

Family comes first, me time is also important, remembering to blog makes me happy. Instagram is my friend; micro-blogging that reminds me of what I’ve done. If I haven’t taken enough photos that day, we’ve not done enough together. While I know my girls are now too big for me to insist on them downing screens, I’m working on finding bits of time, for me or for them, that are proper, quality family/personal time and make our mini memories in between dashing about.

1. Reading.
Reading together, reading alone, talking about reading. Spotting when someone is at a loose end on been on brain-drain (or even homework) too long and diverting them into a book. Currently we are reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe together, a return to read-alouds after far too long. It was a highlight of Xmas but we need to finish!
We discovered that Amelie and Josie didn't know what Cair Paravel was. Fran is fixing this. #mummyfail

Fran and I are also making the most of bits of time and reading – or listening, to books. I’ve managed Wee Free Men, Soul Music, Broken Homes and The Secret keeper so far this month and Fran has read The Book Thief along with a whole heap of books she is going to blog for me as a list of great teen reads. Maddy reads less at the moment but both she and Amelie are making use of the school library to pad out their Jacqueline Wilson knowledge. At bedtime, Fran and Maddy have just finished listening to Anne of Green Gables, which made me stupidly happy :) I love that they still listen to books like that.

2. Jigsaws.
We were sent (that’s me disclosing I was given this to review, right there) a lovely jigsaw to review at Christmas from Wentworth Wooden Puzzles; I chose a Dartmouth one as I was feeling particularly nostalgic for the place my heart lies at the time but it was REALLY hard to choose because the artwork was gorgeous on them all.
Totally gorgeous #review jigsaw from Wentworth wooden puzzles
The trouble with jigsaws is that they aren’t terribly compatible with having a toddler and limited surfaces, which is a shame as we all enjoy them and I really love the fact that a jigsaw, half complete and out on a table, draws people back to it and around it in a way that only a fire can otherwise do. I really ought to invest in one of those roll up mat things for them, but it never reaches the top of the list of spends. One of the best things about this one was that, coming in to do it from a long walk on a cold day around the local thatched cottage village, the pieces of the jigsaw smelt utterly deliciously of wood fire. I’m not sure what they do to them, but it was the most incredibly evocative smell and just made me want to huddle near to it. My testers said the pieces were lovely to work with and the special shaped pieces (pictured) made it quite a challenge as they don’t interlock in a standard way. At £36.95, it is something of a gift/heirloom item, but yes, definitely worth it for that. Our Dartmouth Art Puzzle will be treasured.

3.Crochet.
Well, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been well and truly diverted from knitting into crochet. I keep trying to find my way back but no project has appealed yet. It’s annoying really.
Loving it so much #crochet #crochetaddict
My current work in progress is coming along but it has reached the non-portable stage now and my other one is not much better. I’m resolutely not starting anything new until this is done though (or allowing myself to buy curtains for the living room with my birthday vouchers either!) so I’ve set myself a target of the end of January. Bizarrely I’ve had two enquiries about making blankets for people recently; I’d quite like to do it but letting them go would be a wrench. Blanket construction is definitely a winter activity; snuggling under this one as it appears is just perfect. But what to make next? I’ve got a stash to bust (oh my word do I have a stash to bust!) and a million ideas but I need an extra day or two a week.

4. Encouraging Creativity.
There is no getting away from the fact that I have work to do today and I’m stuck to the dining room table while dishwasher runs, washing washes and people go out an run or play rugby sessions. I’m home with a couple of the girls who sometimes slope off to their room or find themselves sucked into that world of virtual Lego which is Minecraft. So today I’ve got them to come down and be with me, to snatch family time and also do some of the creative things we all wish we did more of.
Encouraging creativity. Getting the girls drawing this morning.
I’ve got every intention this year of making extra bits of time for this type of thing this year. We rush around a lot but I think if I can just plan a little we can make pockets of time to be together and enjoy the wealth of materials and opportunities in our house.

5. Sibling Collaboration.
Having a guitar lesson from @minimoobear
I miss the familiarity and ease of sibling relationships since they all went to school; it changes things. This year I want to make more time and space for this sort of thing. Some of them are better than others at it and the last year has marked a huge shift in the invisible boundaries between their development. It’s worth putting time into though; I’m always conscious that what I’m orchestrating now, as they reach the second half of their childhood, is the way they will interact as separate adults and after I’m gone.

6. Games and Lego.
Playing the board game of a book while Josie makes the Lego of a computer game. Weirdness.
It’s a funny thing; one of the things I remember about my childhood is HOURS of board games. I loved them. Since having kids, I love them less because I get antsy about pieces getting knocked over. It brings out a control freakery in me only otherwise seen when I get Christmas lights out – a sort of instant anger embedded in my genes that I don’t really acknowledge I have too. My biggest problem though is that I cannot bear playing games with people who care too much about winning or get grumpy about losing. I get a deep seated anxiety that builds up and it makes me want to walk away – this means I cannot play games with most children or most of my friends ;)

It’s also why games like Animal Crossing are my best friend :) No pressure or competition :lol: but the opportunity to connect and play together anyway. We’ve had very happy days on that.
Animal Crossing. Kindle. Listening to an Audible story (wee free men). Crochet. Wine. These are a few of my favourite things.

Lego. It’s a joy. I might not be patient with games but I do love to do some Lego alongside someone. Today Josie and I are dipping into a Christmas kit. Everyone will end up having done some of it. It’s a perfect family activity. I need to make sure we find a way to access it as often as possible. The main bulk of our supply has got a bit tucked away.
Enjoying Lego.

7. Walks. Running.
I love being on a walk. I am hopeless at shoehorning myself out of the house to go for them. I want to live somewhere else and I fail to make the most of the small amount of beauty I could find near here now.
Crunching leaves is the only way to walk.
Bene loves walking, I adore being out for a one to one walk with any of my children. If I can get my habit to walk at lunch time back, I’ll be a happy girl.

I’m also ready to run again; I want to be fitter more than I need to be lighter now and I now have a 5km Park Run so there is no excuse. It’s time to start up again. I know it will make me happy. This year is, for me, about kicking depression and the grip it can get on me, for as close to good as I can. I know my triggers and tiredness, weight, being inside and getting bogged down in dreary all combine. I can’t always deal with the chemicals but I can help them. Running will help.

8. Meals.
I went to a parents evening this week (a whole other story) where one teacher said “it’s very evident that you are a family who eat and talk together”. It’s a compliment of the highest order. Gym and life sometimes get in the way of that now but we make it happen as often as we possibly can. We never snack separately, littered across the house and we have Max to thank for making that such a fundamental part of family life. I loved that part of my birthday this year was my every food whim being gallantly catered for by loving husband and children.
Inspired by someone on Facebook earlier, this was my birthday tea request. Perfectly executed by lovely Max :) Thank you!
It’s such a big deal to me to all eat together; when the girls start leaving home, their absence around the table will be keenly felt.

9. Work.
It’s a funny thing to say, but work has become one of the highlights of my life again. After 5 years always from my own business, to a greater or lesser extent, it has been so exciting to come back into it. It runs beautifully and that removes the stress of it from me. It’s still got masses of growth potential and that excites me enormously too, plus it combines my skills in a way that pleases me and fulfills me. Having organised life in an imperfect way that nonetheless works, I get to be there twice a week with Max too; having that oasis of time together, both to work and to grab lunch, take a break, plan, talk discuss in the hours of daylight has been a huge plus. And while our staff group is tiny, we work in a building that means I have social and professional contact with people – and that has been a huge help in getting my feet back in the real world. So I count it among my pleasures and blessings – and that is no small thing to be able to say about your job.

There are worse ways to spend an evening in a hotel if you have to be on your own. Love that my husband checked I had crochet with me before I left!
How clever was this – a work trip where I still managed to grab some time to do my favourite things. Multi-tasking ;)

10. Us.
And that leads me to end up in one place. One of the highlights of life but also something that needs working on – us time. Having been to hell and back, Max and I have learned the value and requirement for time together. We are lucky to have teenagers and children who understand that and give us evening space as much as is possible, but we often don’t sit down together until 10pm. It’s not really enough.
Husband.
What we’ve learned is to keep the tv off, snuggle up with books together or spend our precious bit of time in the same room, even if doing different things. Sometimes it’s me crocheting with my feet in his lap while he kills aliens. Sometimes it’s a book. Sometimes, not often, we work side by side or talk stuff through. And occasional it is a film with the all important glass of wine. Not even a diet matters more than that. It’s important to keep perspective ;)

Never a bad call.

So these are a few of my favourite things; things I love, things I love and make us who we are.

What makes you?