When Bee was about 12 years old*, she did a very brave thing. She went off all by herself to one of Do It 4 Real’s UK summer camps. As we dropped her off at the bus, which would take her miles and miles away, (somewhere Up North), I couldn’t help but admire her – she knew no one at all, and yet she very quickly made friends, some of whom, thanks to facebook, she is still in touch with now.

Personally I had mixed feelings about summer camps as a child. The idea of them was always much more exciting than the reality. I’d get totally hyped up in the weeks beforehand, imagining Famous Five type adventures, so that the reality of communal sleeping with strangers, without even a deserted island to explore, was always a disappointment.

Another con is the cost of a summer camp. Unfortunately, they can be expensive, and if your child doesn’t like it due to homesickness for example, then it will be very disappointing for the both of you. There is a positive point to this con, however. Many camps have caught on to the importance of being more frugal in the current economic climate and are therefore offering financial solutions like paying the fee over several months, so that it’s not such a shock to your bank account. When Bee went on her camp, we got a really good discount too for being on a low income, so it’s always worth checking to see if they have concessionary prices.

Home-sickness, shared rooms, parting with wads of cash… Am I selling it to you yet?

"Archery for kids"

Image – Do It 4 Real

Let’s look at the pros.

Firstly, you get rid of your child for a whole week! Brilliant! What will you do with yourself? Have a little sit down probably and catch up on the housework, but still, you can do it in glorious peace!

The real beauty though of summer camps is that it gives your child the opportunity to try out activities you simply can’t provide at home. Bee’s camp had a theatrical theme and try as I might, I can’t provide a cast of actors and singers at home in the back garden. If your child likes the idea of learning archery, climbing, or kayaking, or is desperate to ride a quad bike and play paint balling, then a summer camps could be a great choice.

This counts double if after one week of the summer holidays, your kids are complaining about being bored. One fun packed week will not only be a great experience but give them inspiration for new hobbies during term time, too. There’s nothing stopping them from pursuing their new found interests, and maybe even discovering a passion that lasts a lifetime or which could even turn into a career path.

So, will you be packing your kids of this summer for a week full of muddy fun? Let me know…

*Actually I checked with her after I wrote this and she reckons she was only nine! Amazing…

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Today I wasted ninety whole minutes of my life. Ninety minutes that I will never, ever be able to get back.

Today Belle and I went to watch Top Cat The Movie.

Now I didn’t have high expectations – I’m used to watching crappy kids’ films and I’d seen the trailer, so I knew it wasn’t going to be exactly high brow:

The trailer however did not do justice to the full Top Cat horror that awaited us.

I’m not a big fan of 3D films at the best of times, mainly because I have to wear the 3D glasses over the top of my ordinary glasses, and I look kind of stupid, but also I just don’t see the point with something like Top Cat. There was nothing in the film that benefited from 3D, it just feels like jumping on the 3D bandwagon.

Even a bandwagon can be bearable though, so long as you spend more than about 49p on the 3D effects. I suspect that this was roughly the budget for Top Cat.

The 3D was such poor quality that often there were just random objects in 3D, standing out as though in mid-air – a bowl of snacks on a side table for instance, where the bowl appeared to hover about a metre away from the table top for no reason. At other times, the cats and the background couldn’t decide which was meant to be at the front, and it all became rather confusing.

It was a little bit like watching a 3D film but without the glasses on – nothing looked quite right.

And the plot?

Hmmm…

I can’t say it exactly gripped me. In fact I tried my best to think of anything at all I could do to not have to watch Top Cat and the gang’s crazy antics. I gave myself a hand massage – that passed a nice few minutes. Then I was stuck. If we’d not been in a corner I might have slipped out to the ‘toilet’ and just hung about in the lobby for ten minutes. That would have been infinitely preferable.

I really can’t say anymore. I just want to put the whole thing behind me and move on.

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Well she’s less under it to be honest, and more over and around it.

“Mummy!” she yelled, unwrapping the parcel waiting for her in the kitchen. “You’re the best Mummy in the whole world ever! I’ve always dreamed of having my own microscope but never thought it would come true!”

She does loves a bit of drama. She’s trying out for Oliver at school at the moment. I think she has a pretty good shot.

The parcel was indeed a microscope, courtesy of Galt Toys, although I’m doubtful that it will herald any amazing scientific discoveries, as it costs less than £20. Still, Belle was over the moon about the prospect of being able to see bugs close up, so who was I to crush her dreams?

"Microscope for kids"

Belle’s Microscopic Monsters kit, courtesy of Galt Toys

 

Try as I might to help by carefully reading aloud the instructions, Belle was having none of it, and was ripping bits out of the box before I even had chance to fetch her lab coat.*

She seemed pretty content fiddling about with the preloaded slides, so I left her to it and went to make a cup of tea. After about ten minutes I came back. “How are you getting on?” I asked, adopting that very motherly ‘arms folded thoughtfully across chest with mug of tea in hand’ pose.

“It’s awesome!” she said. “Look through there, you can see my blood!”

Blood?

I’d only left her for ten minutes.

“Blood?” I said, trying to sound casual and not like I wanted to call an ambulance. “How did you get blood on a slide?”

“Oh it’s fine,” she waved me away, peering back through her beloved microscope, “nothing to worry about.”

I had a look through the eyepiece, slightly hesitant about what her blood might reveal, but to be honest it looks to me just like the fungi slide. And the one she did of her own hair. Perhaps I was missing something. Belle though was adamant that all her slides looked different, and as long as she’s happy, so am I.

Who am I to stand in the way of science?

*She doesn’t actually have a lab coat, but how cute would that be? Or possibly a little menacing, depending on her mood.

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A recent study by Flora Cuisine has revealed that over a third of mums in the UK are preparing up to three meals each evening in order to satisfy the individual preferences of children and partners.

Three meals!? I find cooking one meal tedious enough, but three? Crazy times.

I’m pretty sure my Gran didn’t used to cook three separate meals every mealtime. My mum just got fried eggs and chips and was grateful. So what’s going on here? Are we raising a generation of fussy eaters, or of parents too frazzled and disenchanted to argue?

Now I’ll admit that sometimes I will ‘tweak’ a dinner to make sure there is at least one type of vegetable that Belle will eat, but that’s just a case of a few extra peas here, and the removal from her plate of anything courgette based, it’s not that I’m cooking entirely different dishes. Who are these women with all this time on their hands?

"peas"

Eat your peas or you don’t get pudding

The survey also showed that us mums are rather lacking in imagination, or possibly motivation, with 72% of us just cooking the same meals over and over again. Oh the joys of parenting! Around two-thirds of us apparently own recipe books we don’t use because the ingredients are too expensive and the recipes too long and complicated. Makes sense to me. I only buy them for the pictures.

So what can we do about this? Well, there’s the ‘shut up, eat it and be grateful’ school of thought of course – that saves on the cooking time but increases the risk of whingeing – or you could argue that it’s good to provide kids with choice, and to give them food they enjoy. Flora are taking a different approach. They’re putting together a recipe book full of cheap and quick meal ideas from real mums. Post your recipe on their facebook page and you could even win a prize! Fish fingers and baked beans anyone?

What do you think? Are we just spoiling our kids and creating extra work for ourselves or is it important to cater for everyone’s tastes?

 

Photo credit – mschmidt62

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When Pickle Pie said they wanted to create a personalised print for me of all the special things in my life, I jumped at the chance.

“Just send us over a list of ten things you love,” they told me.

Easy peasy. I love loads of things – jaffa cakes, hob nobs, mint choc chip ice-cream…

So then I tried to thing of ten things that weren’t just sweets and cakes and suddenly it was quite a lot harder. Have you ever thought about the things that you love? The little things that bring you joy? It’s an interesting exercise.

I managed to come up with a list in the end that wasn’t overly food focussed, and here is my print. They even did the writing in peacock colours for me:

"Pickle Pie"

I love comfy sofas

I really enjoyed thinking about the things that make me happy, and like the fact that sat on my desk, it serves as a useful reminder to me to do more of the things I love.We can all do with remembering now and again can’t we?

If I had any criticism, it would be that I’d rather not have had the line of advertising at the bottom. It’s such a personal thing, that I think it spoils it a little bit to have something so impersonal included so prominently.

All in all though, a very lovely print, and something that would make a lovely present.

What ten things would you have on your list?

 

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I was walking home this afternoon, and happened to overhear a conversation that for me really captured the loveliness of small children.

A woman was walking towards me, pushing a pushchair. Walking beside her was a small darked hair boy, wearing a bright blue polo shirt and red shorts. He looked about three years old. As they got closer, their conversation came into a range.

"Shaving"

“You want a shave??”

“A shave?” the woman was saying, looking a little confused.

“Yes,” said the boy, nodding his head in that way that small children do where the whole top half of their body seems to move with them. “I need to get all the sun off me.”

“And you think having a shave is going to help?”

Both mother and son looks a bit bemused for a few moments as they walked past me.

And then the light came on. “You mean shade!” I heard the mum say. “You want to go in the shade!”

This made me smile all the way home.

Photo credit – blogtrepreneur

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Despite not even applying for olympic tickets, this morning Belle and I got into the olympic spirit and went to watch the torch relay as it came through Bristol. There were already hundreds of people lining the streets when we arrived at our spot, so we queued up for our free Cokes, in true commercial style, and set up camp with some friends from Belle’s school, who we had spotted on the other side of the road.

"Bristol olympic torch relay"

Rule Britannia etc etc

It wasn’t long before the crowd started getting excitable, as a series of police bikes approached, followed by an assortment of strange advertising buses. I was slightly confused, as there appeared to be a boy, dressed in white, getting off a bus and holding the torch at the side of the road throughout this procession. I didn’t think that was how it worked. Can you spot him?

After this initial surge of activity, the boy with the torch was still there, and we of course rushed over to touch it. Belle apparently is ‘never washing her hands again’. Any excuse.

"olympic torch"

Someone pass him a match?

Then though the excitement started up again, and it dawned on me that we were standing at a spot where the flame was being passed over, (I understand the relay concept now), and this torch boy was actually just waiting for the flame to come along. I did thing it was a bit weird that it wasn’t even lit. I am quite slow though sometimes.

"olympic torch relay"

Feel that Olympic spirit…

By this point, thinking the fun was over, I had kindly let an old lady stand in front of me, so didn’t have such a good view. Still, if you ignore that massive head taking up a lot of the picture, I think you get some sense of the occasion.

Hooray for torch boy!

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You’d think that with the wealth of technology we have at our fingertips nowadays that something as simple as a pen and paper would be practically obsolete. And fountain pens? A relic of the past surely?

Apparently not.

According to the BBC today sales of fountain pens are rising, and Amazon say that sales so far this year are four times that of the same period in 2010. That’s a crazy rise isn’t it? What’s causing this amazing fountain pen resurgence? Are we all sick of gadgets and hankering after the past?

"Fountain pen"

The power of the pen

 

I do wonder if I have been partly responsible for the trend, as I have bought about six fountain pens in the last few months. Everyone in Belle’s class is required to write with a fountain pen, and Belle unfortunately hasn’t quite got the hang of pressing gently and evenly, resulting in a costly number of snapped nibs.

It would seem though that Belle’s school are in a minority, and that most schools no longer insist on children using fountain pens. In fact, one headmaster at a school in Stockport even went so far apparently as to ban GCSE pupils from using fountain pens, as he was worried it would affect their exam performance.

Despite getting through them quicker than Bee gets through crates of Angel Delight, Belle loves using a fountain pen. She happily spends time sat up in bed practising her best handwriting, and her choice of pen seems to give her a sense of importance, that makes her take her work just a little bit more seriously. Her pen gives her gravitas, just as lawyers and doctors using fountain pens inspire an air of authority and confidence.

Is this the power of the pen in action?

What do you think? Do you have a special place in your heart for fountain pens or is this possibly the dullest post you’ve read all week?

Photo credit – Linda Cronin

 

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Are you the parent you always thought you’d be, or do you do things a little differently from how you first intended?

I’ve been thinking lately about all the things I do as a parent that I’m not exactly proud of, and wondering if it’s normal to give up so quickly on so many of your principles. Do other parents set out with an idea of the parent they want to be, only to slip into bad habits the minute their baby is born?

Take food for instance. We know that sugar is Bad and fruit and vegetables are Good. No one wants to be the mum with the kid hanging off a Fruit Shoot right? Yet how many of us can honestly say the snacks we give our children are always quite as wholesome as they could be? Haven’t you ever sat your toddler in a trolley whilst simultaneously cracking open a packet of chocolate buttons, just so you can do at least the first ten minutes of the shopping in relative peace?

I know I have.

"nutella"

Bell’s first food

Baby names are another one. I can’t bear the whole ‘quirky’ kids names thing. Seriously, what child wants to be burdened with a name like ‘Apple’ all their life? It’s just not fair. So what is Belle’s middle name?

Pixie.

Pixie.

She had a pointy pixie ear when she was born, which I thought would grow out. It didn’t. And the worst bit? I love that she’s called Pixie! That makes me one of those jazz hands parents doesn’t it?

And then there are dummies. Before I had kids I hated the sight of a child with a dummy. How common it looked! How lazy those parents must be!

Yes, I really thought that, and don’t pretend you haven’t either. How judgemental we all are! When your baby has been crying for hours on end though, and you’re about ready to bash it with a rolling pin, a dummy is a very sensible alternative.

The truth is that until you become a parent you really just don’t understand. Everyone says that I know, but it’s true. So when you’re next dishing up chicken nuggets in front of the TV, don’t feel too bad – the slip from the parenting pedestal happens to the best of us.

Photo credit – Aljoharah Saud

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Did you know that today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week?

Well now you do.

I’m not going to bleat on about it. We should all know by now that mental health problems are nothing to be ashamed of, and that they can happen to any of us. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that it’s OK to feel depressed or anxious. It’s alright to ask for help. It’s not a Bad Thing.

Good.

Now that’s out of the way, I can make light of the subject, in my typically British ‘let’s bury any real emotions under a joke’ style.

I wanted to show you this, from the ‘just cheer up yeah?’ school of thought, because it made me smile. (See? It worked already.)

This Mental Health Awareness Week, just be awesome instead.

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I’m definitely not a ‘shopper’ in the ‘Oooh I simply must have yet another pair of shoes’ sense, but one type of shopping I do like is buying presents. To me, shopping for gifts feels like getting all the fun of buying pretty things, but without any of the guilt. It’s a present after all, something you have to buy, so it just can’t be helped can it?

It’s probably why I enjoy Christmas so much, and why I’ve bought rather an alarming number of Christmas presents already – every time I get the urge to spend some money on myself, I buy a present instead, and then I don’t feel bad.

Anyhoo, this is why I didn’t mind too much when Bamarang asked if I would have a poke about on their website, and see what I thought. Bamarang only launched at the beginning of this year, but are going all out to create a sale site with a bit of a difference. Yes they bring you massive discounts, but what they also want to do is bring you carefully chosen brands and designers, that they’ve picked because they really love their products.

As we speak they are in the middle of a one week only kids sale, with five specially selected brands, who they have chosen for their high quality, heritage and traditional values – Le Petit Prince, Vilac, Juliet the Band, Solar International and Trousellier.

All the products are discounted, so if you’re like me and can’t resist starting your Christmas shopping just a tiny bit earlier than strictly necessary, now would be a great time to stock up on gifts.

A few of my favourite things on sale right now:

This Bunny Angel rattle from Trousellier is very cute indeed, comes in a lovely gift box, and is reduced to just £6.50:

"Bunny Angel"

Bunny Angel

You can’t go wrong with a wooden train set can you? Ours was one of the only things I kept to hand down to future babies, and this Noddy version from Vilac is rather lovely:

"Noddy train set"

All aboard!

It’s not just toys either. Juliet and the Band do a beautiful range of kids’ clothes – this grey dress is my favourite on sale at the moment:

"Juliet and the Band dress"

Too cool for school

 

If you like the look of any of these, and want to have a bit of a browse, you can sign up to Bamarang now and get £10 off your first purchase. Lucky you!

This is a sponsored post, but all the content and opinions are my own.

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Lots of people moan about their partners when they’re in a relationship. I’ve been guilty of it myself in the past – it’s just too easy isn’t it? You don’t want to make a fuss, you want to avoid a row, so instead you content yourself with complaining to your friends over a glass of wine or two, or fantasising about what life might be like if you were single.

Personally though, I’m more than happy to be in a relationship. Yes there may be petty annoyances sometimes, but I think on the whole it’s a pretty good deal. I certainly find it easier than having to spend hours writing witty yet approachable online dating profiles.

I love the intimacy of being able to share my thoughts with someone and not be judged, I love the contentment, being able to relax and be myself, and I love the security of knowing there is at least one person who is putting me at top of their list.

*vomiting noises*

Yes I know it’s soppy but what can I say? I am a happy bunny. Still, I’m not going to go on about it. Instead I’ve been thinking about all the little things that I like about being part of a couple, and have come up with a list of my top seven more light-hearted reasons why I’m glad not to be single:

  1. You never have to worry about dating a man who twiddles the hair on his mole ever again.
  2. You have someone to warm your feet on in bed. My feet get painfully cold, so I really do like this one.
    "cup of tea"

    Tea for two

  3. You can order a take-away without either having to do a pathetic ‘meal for one’ or ordering too much and looking like a greedy pig.
  4. There is someone else in the house who will make you a cup of tea without huffing and puffing and complaining about never having asked to be born.
  5. When you’re really tired at bedtime you can just run upstairs really quickly and the other person has to turn off all the lights and check the doors.
  6. If you are feeling a bit sad, there is someone around who will notice and give you a cuddle.
  7. You can sigh heavily and look wearily at a full bin/overgrown lawn/empty fridge and someone will probably do something about it.

Seriously, what’s not to love? What are your best bits about being in a relationship?

Photo credit – hellojenguine

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