Today is the day that we all truly put Christmas behind us and start thinking about our summer holidays. It may only be the first day back at school, but today is apparently the busiest day of the year for flight bookings, peaking at about 1pm as we all rush online in our lunch breaks, desperate to get away already after only a few hours back at work.

Whether you’re going abroad or staying in the UK, deciding what to pack for your holiday can be one of the most stressful things about it, especially if you have young children. Before you start your holiday packing this year then, check out this little infographic to help you decide what’s a suitcase essential and what can probably be left at home with the kitchen sink:

Click here to view a larger version.
Packing for Family Holidays: Infographic

[Image provided courtesy of Center Parcs, specialist in family holidays.]

What are your holiday must haves? Funnily enough I don’t often forget to take my appetite with me, although I have been known to accidentally (on purpose) forget my swimming costume.

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I was reading a piece in The Guardian at the weekend from Zoe Williams about the new trend for women only clubs and restaurants.

Reading it through initially, I was fairly unmoved. OK, so a few clubs are opening that are just for women – fair enough, there are plenty of men only clubs after all. So what if women want to hang out together, chat to other people socially, without any risk of sexual overtones?

"women only"But then the more I thought about it, the more ridiculous it seemed. Isn’t the whole thing that defines us as women that we are always hanging out with other women talking about stuff? Do we seriously need our own official space where we can feel safe to do this?

I thought about my average week, discounting the family I live with.* This morning I played netball – a women only team. During the week I work at home, sometimes going out to meet a (female) friend for lunch or a coffee. Most of my clients are women. Sometimes I pick Belle up from school and have a quick chat with another mum.  Wednesday nights I might go out to netball again. Sometimes I see my mum or my sister.

Do I sound like I need a woman only club??

If anything, I need to get myself into an office job in a male dominated industry. My life is practically begging for some sexual overtones.

Perhaps it’s different if you don’t have children, but I just don’t buy that women lack space or time together with other women. I certainly don’t believe, as one woman quoted in the article claims, that it’s hard for women to make friends. “In London it’s quite unusual to make new friends,” she says. “I think it’s because when you meet someone and say ‘let’s be pals’, in mixed company, that seems weird.”

Nonsense.

‘Let’s be pals’ has been my friend-making one-liner of choice for years. On our first day of college, 18 years ago, my friend Nicky and I spotted a girl we liked the look of in our French group, sat down next to her and said ‘do you want to be our friend?’ There were boys in the room. Nothing terrible happened. I still consider her one of my closest friends and I’ve been employing a similar tactic ever since, albeit more often on twitter nowadays.

What do you think? Is there a need for women only clubs and restaurants? Does your life lack female only contact or would you actually quite fancy spending an evening with just men, drinking whiskey and chatting about cars?**

Let me know…

*Not that I actually discount them in real life, I’m not that cruel, it’s just for the purposes of this musing.

**Because obviously this is all men do.

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I’ve decided that there are too many pens in my house.

I don’t have a big house, and I’ve started to feel like pens are taking up more than their fair share of the space. I don’t know exactly what proportion of a typical family home should be given over to pens, but something feels wrong about the current situation.

There are pens everywhere – in cups on top of the fridge and in mugs on my desk. In every wicker storage basket and biscuit tin in the house there will be at least one pen. Under my desk there is an entire cardboard box full of them.

What’s the deal though when you have too many pens? What are you supposed to do with them? A charity shop doesn’t want a box of half used biros, but you can’t exactly throw them in the bin can you? That’s way too decadent. ‘Oh these? They’re just a few pens I don’t want’. It would be wrong.

"Pen"

This is a good number of pens

In the shower this morning, thinking over the pen situation, (which is ironic given that the shower is one of the few places in the house without pens in it), I concluded that I will probably never have to buy another pen in my whole life. That’s quite a sobering thought – I am so old and the pens are so powerful that they may well outlive me. In fact, such is the speed with which these pens seem to appear, they may end up forming small gangs, pen communities if you will, and taking over the house.

It’s not like I can even do anything to stem the flow as I have no idea where they come from. I have a pen in my bag for instance, a blue barreled biro, that just says ‘raccoon’ on it in big red letters. What does that even mean? I have never bought a pen with ‘raccoon’ written on it and yet there it is, bold as brass, casually lying around in my bag. I can almost hear it chuckling at me, sniggering with its sneaky pen friends behind my back.

So what can I do to take back control? Do you have something similar that takes over your house? How do you deal with it? Give me some pointers and I’ll make a list.

Just let me find a pen…

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The new term is just around the corner. Thank goodness. Belle is really lovely company, but she misses the structure and stimulation of school, and by the end of the holidays is a little on the twitchy side to say the least.

This year is her last year of primary school, and come September she will be moving up to big school. Weird, given she still feels so small to me. I know it’s going to be a massive step for her, and I want to make sure she is prepared for the change in workload and routine. How will she cope with the change, the move to a massive school and all the homework?

I’ve been rooting around on the interweb and come up with my favourite ideas to help support children at school. Do you have children who are moving or have recently moved to secondary school? Please share your top tips to help Belle settle in and do well.

Build confidence
Moving to a new school can be really scary, but if you can help build up your child’s self-esteem beforehand, they’ll find it easier to be themselves, make friends, and be less likely to join gangs, bully others, or be bullied themselves. There are lots of ways you can increase self-confidence – from just paying them more compliments, to getting them involved in a hobby or sport where they can nurture a talent or develop a new skill.

Get to grips with the basics
Although as parents we worry about the big picture, kids are often more anxious about seemingly trivial things like what they will have to wear, how to find their way around, and where they are meant to go for lunch. Do everything you can beforehand to help them feel confident about the logistics – walk the route to school with them a few times, find a map of the school if you can, and find out online about start and finish times, uniform requirements and what equipment they need.

"Secondary school"

Children need all the latest gadgets and equipment

 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help
This is something children struggle with a lot. Nobody wants to be the kid who is always sticking their hand up and saying they don’t understand do they? I try to teach my children that there is no such thing as a stupid question – chances are if they are thinking it, so are plenty of other kids in the class, kids who will be grateful if someone else is brave enough to speak up. If your child does struggle with something, they can always talk to a teacher after class. Lots of schools will offer extra help if you just ask, or you can always look for external support from a personal tutor or online tutoring.

Get involved
This is something I’m a bit rubbish at, but a lot of children do like it if you make an effort to get involved with their school life. This could be anything from helping them to plan their homework schedule to becoming a parent governor and finding out more about how the school runs. Don’t get too involved though. No child wants their parent popping into their classroom every day or turning up at school assembly to demonstrate their accordion playing skills.

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