While I don’t really have to think about structured childcare anymore, lots of families with young children do. I still remember the nightmare of trying to fill a seemingly never-ending six weeks of the summer holidays with a carefully compromised combination of family and friends helping out, ‘fun’ football summer camps, time off work and days and days of activities that needed to suit a teenager who didn’t want to do anything and a small hyperactive child. There’s only so much money you can spend on Tango Ice Blasts at the cinema before you go a little bit crazy.

I was lucky enough that despite being a single parent, I’ve spent a lot of my children’s school lives working from home which made it so much easier on a day to day basis, not having to think about long term childcare or after school clubs. But lots of families don’t have that luxury, with both parents needing to work full time. It can be really daunting leaving your child in the hands of a childcare professional for a large part of the day, and you might not know which sort of childcare is right for you. What’s the difference between a nanny and an au pair? How do I know they can be trusted and have the right references? Will I need someone every day or just for a few hours a week? All these questions can have you second guessing your choices while deciding which childcare is right for you.

how to choose a nanny View Post

I’ve always wanted the chance to stay in a vintage VW camper. In fact, it’s on my list of 50 things to do before 50 – the new, vaguely anxiety-inducing list I’ve created since turning 40. (50? I will surely never be 50 years old?)

I’ve done a couple of longer road trips in big, modern motorhomes and absolutely loved them – the simplification of life, minimal stuff, and that feeling of being away from the real world is magical. There’s something very relaxing about it taking half an hour and a trip to an outdoors tap to make a cup of tea.

I’ve always wondered though how I’d get on in something a little less luxurious. It hardly counts as roughing it in a van if your double bed comes down from the ceiling at the press of a button does it?

Cue Happy Days Campervan Hire.

Happy Days is a family run business near Falmouth. They’ve been doing campervan hire in Cornwall for less than a year, but their two 1970s Volkswagen Westfalia Campervans are already proving very popular for weekend breaks and longer holidays. Both vans feature beautiful vintage interiors and are small but perfectly formed. They have full width double beds, space in the roof for a small one, and in good weather you could sleep another couple of people in a drive-away awning.

Now what I probably should have said when Happy Days got in touch, asking if I wanted to have a play with one of their vans for the weekend, is ‘that sounds amazing! How about doing something in the spring?’

What actually happened was that I was so over-excited that I looked at the calendar to find the nearest possible date I could feasibly do and said ‘Yes please! How about December 15th?’

I don’t know if you remember, but the weekend of December 15th was the one with the incredibly high winds and torrential rain. Couple this with a remote campsite on the most southerly coastline in the UK and it would be fair to say that it wasn’t exactly what you’d call optimal camping conditions.

Pah!

The sound of rain on a camper van while you’re tucked up inside is ace isn’t it? We packed our blankets, downloaded some films onto the laptop, filled a bag with ginger biscuits, hot chocolate and jumbo salted peanuts, and off we went.

We picked up Olive, the aptly named green VW campervan of the pair at Happy Days, at teatime on Friday. At a sensible time of the year it would have been still light of course, but we managed a pretty smooth handover by torchlight, and I took the wheel confidently, putting Belle in charge of directions to our campsite, half an hour away.

VW campervan hire UK

The ‘taking the wheel confidently’ bit is important. I’ve found over the years in these sort of situations that with Belle, the best thing to do is not let any nerves show at all, but to just assume the role of ‘person in charge who absolutely knows what they’re doing and definitely doesn’t have any doubts at all about how to change gear.’ View Post

Happy New Year!

I love a bit of new year. I love setting goals and fresh starts and spring cleans and all the things that typically come with a new year. I’ve already washed the kitchen floor and cleaned the bathroom today, and I’ve not eaten a sausage roll in about 20 hours.

Although I do love Christmas, December felt a little bit overwhelming. I had a little knot in my stomach of anxiety that came and went throughout the month and I found it hard to get as excited as I usually would about list making.

(Horror! What is life without the joy of a list?)

I knew that once Christmas ticked over though, that I would feel better, and I did. I do. I have a new diary, a cool calendar, a fist-full of lists for all occasions and I’m ready for 2019, whatever it may bring.

One of the things that 2019 is set to bring is this:

grandparent blog

TADA!

No, it’s not mine, at least not entirely. It’s 25% me though. Come July, Bee is going to be a Mummy, and my blog is going to become, at least in spirit, Slummy Single (Grand)Mummy. View Post

As you may remember from my recent post about lamb kebabs, I am on something of a lamb based journey over the next few months – a meaty pilgrimage if you will – to showcase the ‘Lamb. Try it. Love it.‘ campaign. I’m exploring different cuts of lamb and creating tasty recipes that show that cooking with lamb doesn’t have to be difficult OR expensive.

Today’s recipe ticks both of these boxes – it’s a very simple ‘all in one pan’ dish, that I reckon you can have on the table in 40 minutes. It uses lamb neck fillets, which I have to say is something I would NEVER have thought to buy before, and is easily scalable depending on how many people you’re cooking for. It would work well as a special dinner for two, or scale up the ingredients, add loads of vegetables on the side, and turn it into a feast for family and friends.

The lamb is cooked with sweet potatoes, pine nuts, lemon and honey, and the lemon slices make it look super pretty when it comes out of the oven. This lamb dish would be lovely as a simple supper over Christmas – loads of flavour and style but with minimum effort.

roast lamb neck fillet recipe

How to cook with lamb neck fillets

First things first, you need to buy your neck fillets. I’m sure this is something you could get from the butchers, but I went for these from Tesco. Going by the nutritional information per serving, I would say this would be two generous portions, so that’s what the rest of my measurements are based on. You can be flexible though, depending on how much meat you like, your budget and what side dishes you add in, so take my recipe as a loose guide. View Post

I never get woken up at 6am on a Sunday by someone shoving a Barbie into my face, I never have to wrestle a screaming toddler into a car seat and I haven’t done a school run in years. Not a proper one where I have to stand awkwardly on the playground pretending I don’t care that the other parents don’t talk to me.

I was about to say I don’t have to worry about whether I cut sandwiches into triangles or squares, but then I remembered that Belle doesn’t like it when I cut grilled wraps at odd angles to the grill lines, so perhaps that one is still a thing.

When I found out that I was a finalist again this year in the Vuelio Blog Awards, in the ‘Best Parent Blog’ category, I felt like a bit of a fraud. My ‘children’ are 23 and 16, I thought to myself, does that really count any more? I checked on what day the judging was going to be taking place and made sure I had a recent post with the word ‘parent’ in the title, as though that would be the thing that proved it.

On the night of the awards, I packed my sequinned jumpsuit and set off for the train station, but had to turn back because Belle needed me at home. There was some crying. We watched the awards unfold on Twitter instead and there it was:

It felt ironic really. All that worrying over whether I still really counted as a parent, and then I couldn’t collect the award because I was at home, parenting. View Post

In association with Wayfair

What does Christmas day look like in your house?

Ours has always started with Christmas stockings. Bee and Belle will both come into my bed, (via FaceTime last year when Bee was in England and we were in Ireland), and they will take turns to open a present. Stockings are a mixture of fun things and useful stuff – always socks, often something with a flamingo theme for Bee, just to annoy her.

This year I dared to suggest that as Bee was 23 now, perhaps she didn’t need a stocking any more?

‘I’m just going to pretend you didn’t say that,’ she said. And that was the end of that.

After stockings, we go downstairs for the obligatory festive Bucks Fizz, and to loll about for a while on the sofa while people take turns to shower and get dressed and smaller members of the family organise presents from the tree into piles. ‘You’re sitting there Gran, next to your pile.’

As a family we give a lot of presents, but this year seems to be a bit different. My sister and her family have moved this year into a much smaller house, so they don’t physically have the space for anymore STUFF and that seems to have rubbed off onto the rest of us. There are so many THINGS already in the world, do we really all need a dozen more each?

No, of course not.

The secret really is quality rather than quantity – taking the time to choose one or two things that you know someone will love, rather than just panic buying a load of tat. It’s easier said than done sometimes though, hard to know what people will actually LIKE.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, Wayfair has put together some Christmas gift lists, aimed at very specific groups of people. Looking for a gift for a pet lover? There’s a list for that. Want to splash out on something luxurious for someone special? There’s a list for that. Need to shop for a fussy millennial? Try the millennials gift list.

Wayfair asked me to have a look at the millennial gift list in particular to pick out a few of my favourite things. I’m not technically a millennial myself, but Bee comes in at one end of the generation and my sister at the other, so it’s always handy to have some inspiration. They may be known as the snowflake generation, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to buy Christmas gifts for.

OBVIOUSLY the first thing I was drawn to was this Cat Whisperer print from Gemma Correll:

gemma correll print View Post