29-08-2014

Learning to write

Knowing the long summer holiday was looming, I ever-so-eagerly picked up a ‘gold stars’ workbook from the Parragon Books stand At Britmums Live.

I thought this could be the perfect quiet day activity, whilst also helping Arlo to practise his writing and fine motor skills, areas which are not his best.

The book comes with a big sheet of gold stars and the idea was that you place a gold star on each page once completed.

But when Arlo faltered on the very first page (the pages are meant to be done in order as there is a skill level progression), telling me he wouldn’t be able to do it, I knew it was time to pack the book away till a later date.

I know my eldest well enough to understand that he takes a precise approach to everything, and won’t attempt a task until he knows he’s 100% capable of doing it properly. Anything else is time-wasting, apparently. Attempts to encourage him before he is ready generally lead to tears.

I don’t think he has any particular interest in drawing, and at the age of almost-four, he has yet to draw anything that is not an undiscernible scribble.

He does, however, have a lot more interest in learning to write. His preschool should take all the credit for aiding his progression with forming letters – I’ve done practically nothing.

Due to Arlo’s preference of learning alone in his own time, I tend to take a pretty passive, inactive approach to helping him, whilst still maintaining all the encouragement he needs (it’s a tricky balance, I tell you). And so it was, a few months ago, that I came to discover that he could write all the letters of his name, separately.

When I suggested he try to write the letters all in one go so it spells his name, he refused immediately and there were tears. So, I hung back. And then, last week I turned around to this: (always have that big camera handy!)

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He had written his name on his magnadoodle, unassisted. This was the first time Arlo had ever written his name. And the first time he’d really drawn ANYTHING that wasn’t a scribble.

So. Proud.

Swiftly after that, in the same sitting, he was confidently writing ‘Rory’, ‘Mama’, and ‘Dada’ too.

(He doesn’t think his C’s are quite neat enough so he’s now decided he’s better off drawing an ‘O’ and then erasing the latter half to make a perfect C shape. We’re trying to wean him off the magnadoodle.)

I keep finding various scraps of paper dotted around the house, our names written on them.

I’m currently reading the Matched series by Allie Condie. I’m not particularly loving it, but I mention it because one of the main themes of the books is the idea that learning how to write gives you the power to make your mark in life. That your own words are the most powerful.

Watching Arlo at the very beginning of this process has me excited at the thought of what’s in store for him in the future, all the things he will be able to create and all the ways he will be able to put his own stamp on the world.

A summer highlight for sure.

27-08-2014

Brand Love – me&i clothing

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Back in April, Rory and I went to visit our local me&i representative, Mari, (who, it turns out, is a member of Popchoir too) to have a nose through the me&i collection.

We all know my fondness for bright, unisex, hardwearing scandi design – me&i did not disappoint.

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I fell in love with this cheerful sheep baby vest. Thoughtful little touches like the double seams on the cuff (so they can be folded over neatly) mean that this vest fits very well over a long period of time and growth, without looking at all oversized.

Rory started wearing his vest at 11 months old, and at 15 months old the vest still has a couple of inches of growth room left. It will still fit him next Spring, that’s a whole year of wear.

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me&i is a clothing company made by mums, with all products tried and tested by a panel of children before they are available for sale. From the reinforced panels on the knees, soft, high quality fabric, and double seams on the trouser and arm cuffs as mentioned before, the whole range has been carefully designed with longevity in mind.

I also came away with a purchase for myself. I’d been searching for a grey jersey mini skirt for a while, and I love that the twisted hem means that the material doesn’t hang baggy and tired, as often happens with jersey.

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To get your hands on me&i clothing, find your nearest rep. You can host a me&i party where you and your friends can preview the entire collection in the comfort of your own home or a venue of your choice.

If you are local to Croydon or South East London, be sure to check out Mari’s me&i facebook page for new season announcements, sales, and special offers.

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I was not compensated for this post. It is not sponsored. Our me&i purchases were made with my own money.

26-08-2014

Lollibop Festival 2014 – The day we spent queuing

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We were given our Lollibop tickets with no obligation to write a review. Because a whole blog post about queuing is pretty boring, and we didn’t experience much else at the festival, I was ready to be done with the whole thing and not write a post at all.

But then I figured that if I were to brush every negative experience under the carpet (and bear with me, because it’s not ALL negative), I wouldn’t be doing a proper service for anyone looking to go in future years – family days out set you back a decent amount of money, and I know the importance in weighing up the positives and negatives and doing your research to make sure an event is a good fit for your family.

I have written many reviews for this blog, and as far as I can recall, not one has been majoratively negative – which goes to show just how much fun and value we get out of all the experiences that come out of this blog.

After having done three consecutive Lollibop’s, I am of the firm opinion that the festival is what you make of it.

2012 was probably our most enjoyable experience – The upside of Arlo being just short of two was that we were able to amble around, stumbling upon entertainment as we found it, with no particular agenda (disclosure: my view MAY be slightly clouded by the fact that we had access to the VIP area and the free booze that year). The downside was that he was a bit too young to appreciate it, and had we been paying for our tickets, I would have said it wasn’t worth it, wait a year. We were guests of someone else, and so we weren’t obliged to write about or review our experiences.

We weren’t really in the mood to make the most of it in 2013. Sam had gone straight from a long haul overnight flight to the festival, and I had just spent a sleep-deprived 10 days alone with a toddler and an 8 week old baby. The festival had also moved sites to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, there was a confusing new layout which made it hard to see where to go and what there actually was to DO at Lollibop.

This year, THIS YEAR, we were primed for Lollibop Festival. The new, leafy location of Hatfield House sounded promisingly similar to our enjoyable experience at Regent’s Park in 2012. We knew the Lollibop organisers had listened carefully to the calls for more activities and a better space for the festival. Arlo was almost 4, and at a good age to get REALLY stuck in with most of the activities and entertainment on offer. He had spotted the posters for Lollibop every time we travelled on the underground, and was seriously excited about going to a place where all his most-watched characters and presenters from Cbeebies would be.

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A little back story: Arlo is a serious Cbeebies fanboy. Yes, he probably watches far too much of it. In fact, we don’t really watch any other channel or programs, aside from a brief dalliance with channel 5′s ‘Milkshake’ during his die-hard Thomas phase.

In case you hadn’t already gathered from the heavy mentions in pretty much ALL of my recent YouTube videos, Arlo’s absolute favourite is Andy Day. He watches Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures EVERY DAY. He can recount every single scene from every single episode. He knows all of Andy’s phrases. He re-enacts the adventures at home. We listen to the dinosaur raps EVERY MORNING. I know all the words. (I actually really quite like the raps, there are some great puns in there. Kudos to whoever wrote them, Sam and I both agree that you are a bit awesome).

So, if there was one main goal for our time at Lollibop, it was to see Andy’s show in the Lollipalladium. What we didn’t count on was that it actually would be the ONE (and only) thing that we got to do at Lollibop.

Now, everyone knows that the number one rule of parenting is to never tell your young child that you are doing something, until you can 100% guarantee that you ARE doing it. And so the first thing we did when we arrived on site at 12pm was to suss out where the Lollipalladium was in good time for Andy’s show at 1.55pm.

And that was when we saw the queue – snaking up and down and round and round and round the main concourse of the Lollibop site. At this point we faced a decision: Not mention anything to Arlo and forget about seeing Andy entirely, or start queuing.

Sam and I both wanted Arlo to see Andy. We knew it was the thing that HE would get the most from, out of everything at Lollibop. Plus, we are British, and we feel compelled to join a large queue when we see one.

So that’s what we did. We also figured it wouldn’t be too much of a bad thing if the queue did move quickly, as Arlo would most likely be interested in seeing Show Me Show Me and Mr Bloom too (who were on before Andy).

We ate our lunch in the queue and watched as it grew to what must have been over a mile in length. During this time, we saw no one doing crowd management (the queue was starting to get in the way of the through traffic of people and buggies, this was resolved about an hour later by chopping the queue into two sections), and no one coming over to apologise for the long wait, or to explain how the queue system worked – which was all we wanted, really.

This queue was entirely unmanageable for one adult to tackle alone – Sam and I could tag team taking children to the toilet and going on a snack-run, but what happens if you are the only adult and your child needs the toilet?

A lack of research was probably my downfall. Had I been keeping an eye on the tweets of Lollibop attendees from the Friday, I would have known in advance about the queue, and the fact it was a seated tent. I had assumed the tent was standing, like it had been the two years previous, when we had been able to wander by at any point and catch parts of any show without queuing.

I could see that the tent this year didn’t have the open sides like in previous years, but in all honestly, I was baffled by the huge queue. And it wasn’t until we reached the front (after one hour of queuing), that the staff there told us it was a seated tent, and that we would only be allowed in for one show, and then everyone was booted out again.

 

Once we’d reached the front of the queue, we then faced a further hour waiting right outside the tent, in order to see our chosen show. Arlo had been amazingly patient with queuing up until this point, but it was a step too far for a three year old sitting two feet away from a tent where he could hear Mr Bloom but didn’t understand why he’d reached the front and wasn’t allowed to go in and watch.

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There was no way to time the queue accurately for your preferred show. The only option was to join the queue and hope for the best. However, I do feel that we wasted that second hour waiting right outside the tent, had there been someone to explain the queue system and the fact that it was seated and you could only stay for one show, we wouldn’t have joined the queue as early as we did, and we could have had 45 minutes or so exploring the other areas of the festival.

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It was 2.45pm by the time Andy’s Show finished. We had been at Lollibop for almost 3 hours, and had only done one thing. We watched the start of Mr Tumble on the main stage, took sight of the crowds for Andy’s Meet and Greet and decided we couldn’t face another queue, spent an enjoyable 4 minute slot at the Little Tikes zone, and by then we were all well and truly spent.

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How cute is Rory in this massively oversized Little Tikes vest??

As I said before, Lollibop IS what you make of it. I have heard reports from fellow bloggers who had a great time doing lots of different things. We chose to play our day the way we did, but for me, it felt like a big shame that we didn’t have the time or energy to explore the rest of the festival – there were loads of activities that I think Arlo would have loved.

In the interest of being fair, I emailed all of this to Lollibop one week ago (awaiting response), so they know my opinion and what I was going to write. I think Lollibop did a really good job of addressing the comments received about last year’s venue choice, and the criticism that there wasn’t much to DO – there was loads of stuff to get involved with this year, and it was all clearly laid out and easy to access.

The problem was, that I think Lollibop seriously misunderstood their target customer. You can’t ask any Cbeebies-loving preschooler to queue for such long periods or to choose between their favourites. Three year olds form rather obsessive attachments, and nothing else will do. The Cbeebies acts are one of the main draws of Lollibop Festival, and anything generating queues of that size should be on the main outdoor stage, rather than in an exclusive tent with a capacity that can only house a tiny fraction of the overall visitors to the festival.

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We received press tickets for Lollibop 2014.

20-08-2014

Tips for self-employment / working from home with no childcare in place

 

As well as my photography business, I am a freelance writer, and I also offer SEO and social media advice and management, and a bit of design work here and there.

Oh, and then there’s maintaining this blog, which is clearly more of a therapeutic and personal endeavour, but it is also the springboard for the all the paid work that comes my way.

Arlo is at preschool. But Rory isn’t. And his naps amount to no more than an hour in the car during Arlo’s pickups/drop offs. This means that 100% of the time, I am juggling work with my children at the same time. There is no guaranteed, scheduled time just for work, and on the other side of things, I have to actively make sure that I give the children enough of my focus without work-related tasks taking over all the time.

Given the amount of people I know who were unable to return to work post-babies due to childcare costs, the people I know who can’t afford to save a deposit for a house, and all the other things that have become increasingly tricky in the last decade or so, I figure there must be a lot of people out there like me. People for whom it’s necessary to bring in money to cover all the essential living costs, earning a living at home, at the same time as caring for their young children, Because paying for childcare would offset any earnings made. Or because the amount of work you have varies from month to month.

But how come ALL the articles I read about being self-employed, freelance, or working from home always assume that there is some form of childcare in place?

Because it would be bloody impossible to do both at the same time, wouldn’t it?

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I hardly ever see a work / childcare / life balance piece that doesn’t read along the lines of “Keep work and time with your children separate. Turn off your phone when with your children. Don’t try to work around them, use their childcare hours wisely”, etc.

But what about the tips for those of us working from home around their small children? We know we are never going to have a clear distinction between work time and family time, it is always going to be hectic and most often leave you wishing you could do more of both.

Granted, there is no advice that can actively revolutionise the productivity of those of us working from home around small children, but here are some things I’ve learnt along the way about managing expectations.

Tips for self-employment / working from home with no childcare in place:

If you have children that don’t nap / unreliable sleepers, adopt a ’10 minute schedule’ approach to avoid the frustration of starting a task and having to pause. Lots of tasks CAN be accomplished in 10 minutes, and although creative tasks sometimes take a lot longer (and, if your me, require uninterrupted concentration to really give it my best), if you can find a way of subdividing those creative tasks into 10 minute segments, you will feel a lot less frustrated at the interruptions.

If you have children that reliably sleep past 7am (what?), consider getting up at 6am to get an hour’s work in before they wake.

If you have night-wakers, or are sleep deprived, I don’t recommend this approach unless you have no other option, because it WILL lead to burn out. You need SOME sleep to work and to function. Sleep comes first, although it’s tempting to sacrifice it.

Of course you will need to work in the evenings. Which is also the only time you get alone to yourself or to spend with your partner. If you can, schedule in advance the evenings that you will be working so you can more easily see any windows of opportunity to have a ‘date night’ or, y’know, a decent shower.

Cleaning is the last priority. Your job is taking care of the kids, and your work. Save for the washing up, wiping down highchairs, and clearing up food mess, I don’t clean or tidy during the week. It is a task that Sam and I blitz together at the weekend, or that Sam does in the evenings if he has the time. Yes, there are toys EVERYWHERE, and mid-week visitors might be taken aback by the state of the unhoovered floors. But really? It’s the least of my concerns.

If your partner is taking the children out so you can work, make sure they know in advance that there is no time allowed for dawdling in the morning (No leasurely breakfasts and browsing the internet). Let them shower and get ready first. And DON’T attempt to start work until they are 100% ready to assume ALL childcare duties.

Communicate with your partner and be clear on your roles and what you need from each other in order to maximise your time. When you work from home around the kids during the week, you are used to jumping in on the kids requests all the time. It won’t be automatically assumed that this will be any different when you partner is around, unless you are both clear on your roles and your set times for ‘uninterrupted work’. It may be that your partner takes over the whole of the bedtime routine so you can get an hour’s work in for tasks that you are behind on and need to be completed THAT day, or it may be that you need a good few hours at the weekend to work. Whatever set times you decide, make sure that everyone knows their roles, and that all kid requests for drinks / general whining / entertainment / whatever are deflected immediately by your partner.

(Communication is the key with this point. It can be incredibly tricky to execute. Especially because it’s confusing for young children to understand why your work balance is different at the weekend than it is during the week, when you are also doing lots of tasks for them too. And especially if your workspace is in a common living area in the house, where your children may be in the same room as you whilst you work. Generally, I’m FAR more productive if Sam takes the children out – but this is not so simple in winter / when you don’t drive / when you have a small breastfed baby. More often than not, I end up working with the noise and chaos and demands of my children two feet away from me. In this case, you just have to get really good at shutting off from all distractions.)

If your children have a ‘quieter’ time of day when they are more likely to be happy playing independently, use that to your advantage. Our usual routine is to go out and do something fun in the morning, and then have an hour or two of TV time in the afternoon. Because I know they will (usually!) be happy to sit and do that with little input from me. This is when I do the bulk of my ‘Urgent. Needs to be done TODAY’ work.

I try to avoid sitting down to work in the morning, even if I think I have a good window of time where the kids are pre-occupied. Because I tend to find that the emails breed more emails and the ‘Urgent. Needs to be done TODAY’ work starts stretching into the afternoon, and before I know it, the kids have been fobbed off for a whole day with nothing fun planned for them.

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Be realistic about your short-term ambitions, and don’t give yourself a larger workload than is possible to do when you are also the sole carer for your children during the week. Yes, this may mean that you feel like a very small fish in a very big pond, or that you can’t imagine EVER earning a decent living, or that you have to do something that feels very wrong business-wise and turn down work that doesn’t fit with your schedule. But if the long-term goal is to increase your earnings so you CAN afford childcare / to expand your workload once your children hit school age, then the short-term ambition is to not burn out before you get there.

Don’t panic if people chase you for emails before you’ve had time to respond that same day. Don’t worry that they will feel abandoned. Unless it is really a matter of grave importance or the difference between you losing or keeping a client, they can wait a day. I’ve considered putting an out of office disclaimer in my email footer: ‘I have young children, emails may take more than 24 hours to be answered’, but I’m pretty sure that is NOT recommended in Business Sense 101.

Use an organisational system that works for you. In a complete flout of my rule above, I am ALWAYS checking my emails on the go. But I find the iPhone mobile email system kind of crap, and it’s all too easy to open an email, read it, realise your reply needs a bit more thought than you are able to give right now, and then forget all about that email 3 hours later. I’m currently using the Mailbox app, which allows you mark emails or move them to folders with one swipe, and is also really great for removing unimportant emails from view, so you can concentrate on the ones that DO need attention.

You won’t be able to make time for yourself without it being at the sacrifice of family time, work time, or partner time. If you class your three yearly smear check as ‘me-time’, that’s OK. This stage won’t last forever.

Allow yourself to feel guilty that you are not giving your children your ‘all’ at all times. Acknowledge your worries that they perhaps watch more TV than they should. Let yourself feel sad that your family time is compromised because you need to work at the weekends.

And then remind yourself why you chose to work this way in the first place. It might be the best option, it might be the only option. Either way, you are doing the best you can.

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19-08-2014

Morden Hall Park

It’s been a long while since I’ve done a post just because I had some photos that I wanted to share.

Every time we have a free weekend day, we try and tick one off my ‘places to explore’ list. And so, a few weeks ago, we took a picnic to Morden Hall Park.

I haven’t been taking my camera out with me on many of our trips lately (too many children/buggies/bags to wrangle), but something about the words ‘National Trust’ and ‘Rose Garden’ compelled me.

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Whilst Rory thought the photos were THE BEST FUN EVER (Oh, you have so much to learn, little one), Arlo wasn’t too pleased that we interrupted his game of hide and seek and made him sit still. But I did get some sneaky shots of him admiring the flowers:

 

 

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Thanks to Sam, for agreeing to take these photos for me, and for not missing focus on the shots I liked most.