22-12-2014

Next Year

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I don’t usually think about goals or resolutions at this time of year. But following on from a valuable year where I really did take the time to think about myself and what I needed, I’m repeating the same process this year and will see where it takes me.

I guess the word that could most sum up everything that I want and hope to achieve next year is space.

We would desperately like a literal space upgrade. Whether that comes in the form of a new house (that would be the ultimate goal but whether we will get there next year or not is still an unknown), a huge de-clutter of this house, or maybe just simply some more space in the double bed that is currently inhabited by three people.

I also crave emotional space. I can feel the little tug of the desire for a third child starting. But I’m not quite there yet. First, I want some time. A little break from the non-sleeping (I went straight from non-sleeping Arlo to non-sleeping Rory). Potentially a break from breastfeeding before starting all over again.

I need things to get a little easier and I need time to appreciate and register that things have become easier. I want to experience that time where Rory starts preschool and Arlo is at school and I have a bit of time to myself each day. I need time to focus on my creative projects before I wind up moaning that I have no time for anything again.

I need to give myself space to be ready to do this all over again.

Then there are the things that I keep putting off until we have more space. “I’ll have an ordered house when we move and have more room”. “I’ll take more pride in our home decor once we’ve moved to our proper house.” It’s just excuses really.

I keep telling myself that I will do more craft activities with the kids once we have a big enough table and the space to store things neatly away. But I’ve been telling myself that for a few years now. Soon I’ll blink and Arlo will be at an age where he doesn’t find this stuff fun any more.

We’ve already made a start on this in the last couple of weeks:

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Washi Tape Christmas Cards as seen on Mum in the Madhouse

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Designing Christmas t-shirts from BuytshirtsOnline

So, I’m going to make a small, organised craft box that isn’t buried in an inaccessible space in the cupboard under the stairs, and I am going to research some ten minute activities that don’t require a lot of space or mess.

Because it shouldn’t be “one day”. It should be now.

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Our t-shirt making packs were sent to us – the boys had a great time being totally in control of the design, and having this activity planned out definitely helped ease us into the Christmas holidays! 

22-12-2014

Car Safety at Christmas Time

I have been partnering with Britax as a brand ambassador for the past year and a half. I also like to talk about car safety, and the little things we can do to make our cars immediately that bit safer for our children. Today I am sharing with you a guide on car safety at Christmas time that Britax have put together – in the event of a crash or a breakdown, it definitely pays to keep reminding ourselves of these safeguarding measures that can so easily slip our minds otherwise.  

With the winter holidays firmly on the horizon, millions of families all over the UK are planning the big drive home for Christmas. With the prospect of celebrating with friends and family and dining out on festive feasts, it can be easy to forget the dangers that go hand-in-hand with travelling in winter conditions. No parent wants to take chances when it comes to their children’s safety, which is why leading mobility brand, Britax has teamed up with Good Egg Safety to provide parents with some useful winter travel tips to ensure the nation’s families reach their destinations safely this Christmas.

Britax safety expert, Mark Bennett, said, “Christmas is an exciting time of year for families. Each year is another milestone for children and it’s a time to celebrate with loved ones. But amid all the excitement, it’s really important to consider some simple car safety checks to ensure you and your most precious cargo arrive safely. Making sure you have the right car seat installed for your child is the first step to providing that reassurance, so if you’re unsure if your little one has outgrown their seat, be sure to visit your local car seat retailer as they will be able to advise you on what’s right for your family.”

Jan James, CEO at Good Egg Safety said: “We welcome this important initiative from Britax. Of course child car seat safety is a priority at any time of the year, however it is especially important in the winter when driving conditions can be much more hazardous and the chances of a collision increased due to poor visibility, glare from the winter sun, slippery roads and darker mornings and evenings. We are driving in conditions we are less used to, and often at a later time, for example after visiting family and friends, or returning from a Christmas trip. Good Egg Safety supports Britax in encouraging parents to double check their child’s car seat this Christmas.”

To support Britax’s ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ initiative, Good Egg Safety has provided 12 simple tips  and checks for families to consider before setting off for the holidays:

  1. Check your child’s car seat is properly fitted before every journey – particularly if you’ve removed your seat or had others in the car next to the child seat
  2. Check your child’s harness is at the correct height and tension – always adjust the harness to your child when they go in the seat to accommodate their clothing
  3. Remove thick, puffy jackets or winter coats – these can prevent the harness from fitting your child properly, and your child may overheat once the car warms up. As a driver it is worth keeping a spare pair of suitable driving shoes in the car.  Footwear such as winter boots have thick soles that can catch on pedals
  4. Remove any non-soft toys or gifts your child may receive and store them in the boot until you get home – a toy will become a projectile in a collision and can injure occupants in the car. Put presents for friends and family in the boot of your car, rather than next to you or on the back seat
  5. Set the recline of your child’s car seat to semi-reclined rather than upright after trips out, so that they can fall asleep without you worrying about their positioning
  6. Don’t drink and drive!  If you are going to have a drink, avoid driving the next morning – you can easily still be over the limit the next day
  7. Always keep a breakdown kit in your boot.  This should include:

Warning Triangle

Tow Rope

Torch

Hi-Vis jacket/Waistcoat

Tyre Inflator

Blankets/Emergency foil blanket

Spare hats, scarves and gloves

Sunglasses for winter sun glare

Umbrella

  1. If you are going on a long journey, also take/check the following:

A flask of hot water/tea/coffee

Fresh, bottled water

Food/Chocolate

Ensure your phone battery is fully charged

  1. Check the tyres and stock up on antifreeze and screen wash
  2. Take into account weather conditions for your journey and allow extra time and breaks
  3. Early evening failing light is particularly hazardous for spotting cyclists and pedestrians in dark clothes, so with the added distraction of travelling with children please take extra caution
  4. Don’t rush! It is tempting to rush home from work for the holidays, but take the extra time to drive safely and considerately
02-12-2014

Building bears, eating cake, and testing out the Samsung Galaxy S5

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Because I write a blog that more often than not focusses around parenting, and because we live in London, we occasionally get invited to come along to amazingly fun events that I know the kids will LOVE.

And sometimes, Sam, the non-blogger of the family, will ignore my first right of refusal and totally hijack these events for his own benefit.

“Testing out mobile phones and making toys? I’ll take Arlo to that”.

Of course you will.

And so it was that I found myself standing down so that Sam could scoop up all the brownie points with Arlo.

But I did have some very important window shopping to do.

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(This is an iPhone photo)

All jokes aside, Sam really was the best person for this task, being the one with a vested interest in the Samsung S5. He jumped the iPhone ship a few years ago in favour of a much more affordable monthly cost and much larger memory via way of Micro SD.

However, his choice of android phone, an LG, has been problematic since the start, and more recently, has suffered a shattered screen at the hands of a two-foot terror. Naming no names.

With his upgrade date looming, Sam has his eye on the smartphone market and had marked the Samsung Galaxy S5 as one to watch. Being able to test it out in the flesh would prove a highly useful ‘try before you buy’ scenario.

Sam and Arlo are at Hamleys building bears and testing out the Samsung S5 #S5teddybearteaparty

A video posted by Chloe Bridge (@this_is_chloe) on

 

The task? Go to the Build a Bear workshop in Hamleys, and document the bear-making process with the S5.

This was our family’s first Build A Bear experience. What struck us most is the staff’s effort to go the extra mile in making the selecting and customising process a really special experience for your child.

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First, the children select a bear or animal. Then they can select a sound effect or song to go inside their bear. Next up is the stuffing process. All the while, the kids are encouraged to walk around the workshop in funny ways. Check out Arlo’s penguin shuffle:

Your bear then gets a heart, with the children encouraged to think of special traits they want their bear to have – rub the heart on your forehead if you want your bear to be smart, rub it on your arms if you want your bear to be strong, rub it on your feet if you want your bear to dance/run/rollerskate…you get the idea. (Apparently this is called a Heart Ceremony, which sounds a bit cult-like, but the kids LOVE IT.)

Arlo doesn’t typically show much affinity with cuddly toys, but I have to say that he is particularly taken with his Build a Bear creation, and I have no doubt that it’s entirely because of the staff’s dedication to making every child’s experience fun and memorable.

And also perhaps because his resulting creation was a Jingle Bells singing hippo with tap dancing shoes.

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(This is an iPhone photo)

The verdict? Sam wanted to give a special mention for the screen size and quality. He thought the camera performed really well. Most important of all, interface usability was very good, with non of the lagging and unresponsiveness that he has experienced with his current LG android phone.

Sam and I then swapped, and I joined Arlo at Scoff and Banter for afternoon tea and a nice bit of blogger chat.

And because there was cake to be eaten. I am the best person for THAT job.

The task? Eat cake and cute little finger sandwiches and document everything on the S5.

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A brief bit of phone history: I have definitely become one of those people that finds it very tricky to get to grips with a new phone. This is the number 1 reason why I am still loyal to iphone after many years and increasingly eye-watering tariffs.

As a self-employed, work on-the-go around my children type, my phone is my lifeline, and I can’t be dealing with any sort of non-user friendly, time-wasting phone hiccups. I need a phone that does it’s job VERY WELL, and does it without me having to set up a million and one things before it will work in the way I need it to.

So, I am pleased to report that I actually managed to get on with the Samsung S5 very well. Sam handed it over with no instructions, so I was left to figure it all out for myself. I managed to get passed the lock screen on the first try (Yes, even this has flummoxed me with some phone models). Google maps was the same as always (phew), and logging into my google account gave me all of my usual google stuff – my gmail contacts and documents on Drive, etc, making it easy to get going with work stuff straight away.

A quick search found that all of my most-used iphone apps were available on android. I wasted no time in setting up my instagram account on the S5, and Arlo wasted even less time loading on his favourite games.

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(This photo was taken with my iphone)

At one point during our meal, I did a side-by-side camera comparison with the Samsung S5 and my iphone 6. It was late afternoon in an ‘ambiently lit’ room. Straight away I noticed that the S5’s camera was doing a much better job in low light – the picture was sharp and bright, the iphone 6 was surprisingly murky and unclear in comparison. I have so many memories of the kids from my camera phone, I could never have a phone with a rubbish camera, so the fact that I felt confident in the S5’s camera was a big plus point for me.

The verdict – The Samsung Galaxy S5 is very visually appealing, I really like the white model that we had. I like that it’s the same kind of size as my iphone 6 (the S5 is slightly bigger, actually). My first experience with Android OS was surprisingly positive. It’s definitely made the old ‘Stick with extortionate iphone prices or switch to more affordable handsets with larger memory?’ dilemma a bit more of a thinking point for me.

Although I think switching from iphone to android would be a little bit of a learning curve for me, I could see myself getting on very well with the Samsung S5 without taking too long to get used to a new system.

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Thanks to Three mobile for our lovely day out. And thanks for adding the permanent Jingles Bells soundtrack to our lives.

No seriously. 

29-11-2014

7 gift ideas for those you haven’t bought for yet

At this time of year, I’ve usually still got a few people to buy for (Who am I kidding – I rarely start Christmas shopping until December).

Then there are always a few who require a bit more thought when it comes to selecting a gift. A few for whom an idea doesn’t readily spring to mind.

When I get a bit stuck for inspiration, I try to stick to gifts that are either really useful or really lovely. My aim was to combine both of those aspects into every gift on this list, and they have ALL been tirelessly tried and tested by myself.

What a job that was.

7 GIFT IDEAS FOR THOSE YOU HAVEN’T BOUGHT FOR YET

gift ideas

 

 

1. FOR THE ONE ON A HEALTH KICK – This book is packed with recipes that are nourishing, free from gluten, grain, and refined sugar, AND everything looks visually AMAZING. The Art of Eating Well is Bound to spark enthusiasm for healthier eating.

2. FOR THE MEMORY MAKER – Got a friend or family member who is always documenting life’s big and small moments? We love being behind a camera, but we often forget to do anything with those memories. Giving the gift of Blurb vouchers will provide that impetus to get those images off the hard drive and into tangible memories by way of a photobook that can be celebrated again and again for years to come.

3. FOR THE ONE WHO’S ALWAYS ON THE GO – I use my smartphone for everything, but the battery certainly wouldn’t last all day. I wouldn’t be without my power bank. I keep it in my handbag so I can charge on the go, and it can also be used for laptops and tablets. There are a million different brands, sizes, and amounts of power – the one I use is as pictured, an EasyAcc 100000mAh Ultra Slim Dual USB  – enough to fully charge my phone five times over.

4. FOR THE CANDLE ADDICT – Milkhouse Candles are based just down the road from me and are my latest obsession. Every candle addict knows the importance of soy-based, paraffin free wax and a scent that really fills the room, and these may just be the cream of the crop. The milk bottles and butter jars would be perfect for a display shelf, and there are classic jar options too.

5. FOR THE ASPIRING CHEF – Sam bought a Thermopen for his dad a few years back, and his dad loved it so much that he gave one to Sam the next Christmas. It’s the meat thermometer they use on Masterchef (if your recipient is a fan, they will most likely have seen this gadget A LOT). In Sam’s own words, it has “revolutionised” his cooking. No more guess work, perfectly cooked meat every time. He also sometimes uses it to test the bath water for the kids, or how cold our external walls are…but you probably don’t care so much about that.

6. THE BEAUTY ALL-ROUNDER – Hydraluron Moisture Booster has been raved about by many a beauty blogger and expert, and with good reason. This little tube packs a moisture punch and works with your existing moisturiser to keep your skin nourished all day. Works with any moisturiser for any skin type – this is a beauty staple that will be appreciated by everyone.

7. FOR THE DESIGN FANATIC AND THE STATIONARY HOARDER – How about a subscription to Wrap Magazine? Interviews and features celebrating the best of illustration, design, and creative culture – with ten illustrated pull-out sheets so you can build up a unique selection of wrapping paper.

wrap magazine

Now that the madness of Black Friday is over, let’s get back down to the serious business of finding thoughtful presents that we know the recipient will truly love, rather than letting rush discounts cloud our thinking. 

There’s something I really enjoy about Christmas shopping – although I do miss the pre-internet shopping days of ambling round the actual stores looking for inspiration whilst taking in the decorations and the Christmas build-up atmosphere.

Then I remember I have children and I’m ALL GOOD with anywhere that lets me pay by Paypal.

 

23-11-2014

Life decisions make my head hurt

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I’m hungover, lacking a lot of sleep, and my head hurts with decisions to be made. So I’m brain-dumping.

When we moved here, we didn’t give a second thought to schools. It wasn’t that I didn’t think it was important. It was that it wasn’t a choice.

We went with the only London town (and anywhere within reasonable distance inside AND outside the m25) that came up when we put in our budget on Right Move.

School choice was a luxury that we didn’t have. Even if it had been a choice, I think it would have been a massively complex thing to attempt to gain knowledge of when our heads were busy with the adjustment to becoming an overnight family. We were on a race against the third trimester to find somewhere to live on an impossibly small mortgage loan that wouldn’t buy us a studio flat in most parts of South East London. (Why didn’t we rent instead? Couldn’t afford that either. Renting was actually more expensive than a mortgage repayment).

The fact that we couldn’t think about schools but I felt we probably should be thinking about schools was another thing to feel guilty about. And so I pushed it to the back of my mind, like a lot of things.

Fast forward four years and we are about to apply for Arlo’s primary school place. And maybe, just, maybe, we might be in a position to ‘upsize’ in the next year or so. Decisions are suddenly hurtling towards us at once.

Moving house year the same year your child is starting school is not the best (“we should wait until we know he’s happy at school before moving”, “But waiting delays all other life plans… I’ll have another baby in this house but I will NOT entertain the idea of having another baby in transit”) – and apparently it’s also not the best to do either of these things in an election year.

2010 was a GREAT time to accidentally start a family.

Our town is still the best for us, budget-wise, but ideally we want to move to a house we can comfortably live in for more than the next seven years. But I HATE what this stupid government has done to the secondary schools in Croydon. I am not sure I agree with the grammar-schools-in-disguise tactics of the borough Academy sponsor, and they really do have the monopoly – unless you are going non-secular you have no option. So will that mean another move in 6 years or will things have changed again by then?

Does anyone have a crystal ball?

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And then there’s the more pressing primary school decision. I thought I’d quickly find a clear favourite between the schools Arlo is likely to be offered a space, but they all have their very good points and they all have rather strong negative factors for our family. But none of those factors were total deal breakers. I figured schools would be much of a mucness but it’s been an eye opener to realise just how different all the schools have been, they all have their own identity, and each of the schools we’ve visited has been a completely different experience. I definitely need to expand on this further in a dedicated blog post.

If we apply for and get the school that’s a decent drive away, how will that affect my work options? I couldn’t get in to London and back again in time to pick up the kids even with wraparound care. Am I then opting to remove the choice for myself of having a ‘proper’ job in London for the next 11 plus years? But if I choose a school based on our nearest, it might not be our nearest school in two years (moving house, remember?) So then where does that leave me, work-wise?

Trying to work out every single future scenario right now is just not possible.

I thought the important thing was to focus on the best choice for Arlo, and for Rory, who will be following him. Which school will best fit their needs? But this decision isn’t just about the kids, it’s a decision that will affect the whole family. I’ve found it’s making me do a lot of soul searching about what I might possibly want out of my life over the years my children are at school.

I promised myself to try and be all cool about this decision making process, to focus on my gut feeling and to not look at it as the be all and end all. But my mind is feeling pretty engulfed right now. The school decision and the house decision are going to dictate the next decade of our lives.

I guess the norm, or perhaps the ideal, is to be settled by the time you are choosing a primary school, and to have your family home by then. We aren’t there yet. But I really don’t want to be chopping and changing the boys’ schools. In an ideal world, I want to give them the same stability as I had – the long term family home and the same school from reception all the way through to year six.

Having choice feels exciting and important and scary. And also a bit like a Mumsnet thread calling for opinions on schools in not-so-desirable areas and whether it’s ‘safe’ to live there.

But these are good problems to have, I think. Because although I will be in a perma-fog until my brain sorts the overload of impressions and information, it’s reminding me that this is the first time I’ve actually had these big family choices to make. Before now, it’s felt very much out of my hands.

But the luxury of choice is slowly increasing for our family. It’s been an interesting few years, but we are steadying ourselves now. We are getting there.

 

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