Earth Mother

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Growing up in the countryside I never thought I’d ever be a city girl, so I’m still kind of surprised that I’ve spent most of my adult life in cities and, god forbid, am bringing my children up in the suburbs surrounded by houses and cars, rather than by animals and fields.

Sadly I’ve realised that sacrificing the view of cows from my kitchen window is better than sacrificing hours of my time every day commuting.

But living in the suburbs shouldn’t and doesn’t stop us from getting out in the countryside and going a bit earth mother every so often.

Every summer since I met my husband I’ve suggested going strawberry picking. We’ve never actually made it, so it’s become a bit of a running joke between us. And once again this year we missed strawberry picking season, but at a loose end this weekend we decided to make a trip out to Kenyon Hall Farm near Wigan, where they have a year-round supply of pick your own fruit and veg, a playground, farm shop and of course a cafe.

Well, we can’t be leaving all the urban comforts behind now, can we?

Whilst G excitedly ran up and down the rows of peas, sweetcorn and blackberries, C took it all in from her vantage point up on my back – our trusty woven wrap being far more useful in this case than a pram.

We came home happy, with a slight pink tinge from the late sunmer sun, three corn on the cob, a punnet full of garden peas, and a rather sad handful of blackberries – the blackberry bushes having apparently been stripped by visitors earlier in the day.

After teaching G how to shell peas (another ‘earth mother’ moment right there), they made it into that evening’s Sunday roast, with the rest of our haul saved for another day.

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At 8 and a half months old, C is perfecting her pincer grip, and this coupled with inheriting her big sister’s love of food meant she made short work of dinner, peas included.

I had a fleeting realisation when I looked back at the photos that if we go again next summer it’ll be with with not one but two children running up and down the rows.

Time really does fly, doesn’t it?

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In her Mummy’s foot (or hoof) prints?

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Confession time. I was one of those girls who was obsessed with horses when I was younger. I mean, really obsessed. To the extent that on one non-uniform day at primary school I actually insisted on wearing my jodhpurs and riding gear.

Oh, the shame.

I spent what felt like years helping out ‘work for rides’ at a local stables, and at the top of every birthday and Christmas list was ‘pony, saddle, bridle’.

Every time, without fail.

Even falling off and concussing myself didn’t put me off. It’s no wonder that eventually my parents relented, and thanks to a school friend who lived on a farm I was finally able to have my own horse. From then on every penny I earned doing paper rounds and all sorts went into an old Hamlet Cigar tin (feels a bit inappropriate these days?!) to pay towards keeping her. Despite adding a broken leg to the injury list I have very fond memories of my farm based horsey youth.

Most stables take children for lessons from the age of 4, but knowing full well quite how expensive horse riding can get I’ve been putting off taking G for lessons. Secretly however I was just waiting for the day I could take her on her first pony ride. I decided that this summer would be the time, and so last weekend we headed over to Reddish Vale Farm for her first pony riding experience, and – hitting two birds with one stone – C’s first time meeting a horse.

I’d never been to Reddish Vale Farm before but had heard good things about it, and liked their approach, where they encourage children to go along for short Β£2 pony rides on a Sunday afternoon before taking the plunge into ‘proper’ walkouts and eventually lessons.

And the farm made for a great day out too – for Β£1.50 on top of the entrance fee we got a bucket of carrots which G could take to feed the animals – cows, pigs, donkeys, alpaca, llama, an escapee goat roaming the farmyard and of course C’s first horsey experience, the very lovely – and very large – Shire horse called Kylie.

The pony rides are clearly popular as families started queuing up well before the advertised time. We dutifully took our place in the queue and waited our turn as G got more and more excited and C indulged in her latest ‘hobby’ of staring at people stood close by!

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G took the pony ride in her stride and enjoyed every minute. Coupled with a yummy lunch in the cafe, a play on the bouncy castle and playground, and finishing off with the obligatory ice cream, it’s no wonder that G now claims to enjoy horse riding as much as her mother.

With G’s 5th (5th!!) birthday coming up, I wonder how long it will be before I have to start fending off the requests for ‘pony, saddle, bridle’?

Camping out

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We’re doing lots of little holidays this year. It’s nice being able to spread out the anticipation and the fun, and the glorious weather we’ve been having makes it ok that they’re all in the UK.

Last week we went on C’s first camping trip. G is already a fan of camping, and of course knows all about it thanks to Peppa Pig (who says kids don’t learn anything from TV!). And I have to admit, although I never thought I’d say it, I’m a convert. You won’t find a hotel where the kids can run off and make friends to play with before you’ve even unpacked your bags.

Last weekend was slightly different in that we weren’t on an official campsite. A very good friend of mine had organised a wakeboarding weekend in Oxford – a return in fact to the site of her hen do which I helped organise a few years back. We’d arranged to camp overnight at the water sports centre which was perfect.

Sadly (?) there are no pictures of me attempting to wakeboard – a dodgy shoulder put paid to those plans. But G was thrilled to go on her first speedboat ride, then surprised us all braving the lake for a swim afterwards.

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In the meantime, C cooed, gurgled and laughed away in her big sister’s play tent (which made for a handy sunshade). She’s pretty good at sitting up on her own these days, although she’s still showing no interest on being on her tummy, rolling or crawling. I like to think she’s just being lazy. She’s certainly learnt how to get what she wants – mostly by staring and ‘shouting’ at you until you pass it to her.

C even got to join in a bit with the evening BBQ before both kids headed off to bed in the tent. Of course it was far too exciting to think about actually going to sleep so we all ended up tucked up together until I realised that I was the only one awake and made my escape.

All three (yes three – it seems the big kid was also worn out!) slept pretty soundly until the morning, with a brief and well timed wake up from Daddy in order to catch the end of the football, huddled under the sleeping bag with the sound switched off.

We decided against joining in with the early morning open water swim, and instead set about packing up for the trip home. But somehow despite being one of the first to start packing up, by the time we were loaded up everyone else had finished and were already heading off.

It seems despite only being away for one night, we haven’t learnt how to pack light.

Her first Whit Friday

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Back when G was small we lived in Saddleworth, a collection of villages pretty much atop the Pennines between Manchester and Leeds. It’s a lovely place, but unfortunately the practicality of commuting and getting home in time to pick up children meant we moved to the suburbs.

We still love to join in with the Saddleworth traditions though, and there’s none bigger, better, and quite literally brassier than the annual Whit Friday brass band contests.

Easily the highest profile event in the Saddleworth calendar, the mornings are taken up by the traditional whit walks to Uppermill, with each group of villagers led by their own brass band. In the afternoons and late into the evening each village puts on their own competition, and bands travel from miles around to compete in as many as they can.

G has been to Whit Friday in Dobcross every year since she was born, and this year was C’s first time experiencing it. As you can see from the picture she was (as per usual) pretty nonplussed by the whole thing, more interested in playing with her toy than watching the rather good Fairey Band walking out behind her (they came second at Dobcross, beaten by Black Dyke who also won the overall contest, and who C also had the pleasure of watching, er, mostly ignoring).

C did, however, rather enjoy the picnic we took along with us. Yes, despite my trepidation we’ve started weaning and had no issues so far!

Being an old hand at these events, G was straight in to grab a spot on the grass right next to the band, and happily danced, sang, and ate (yep, she enjoyed the picnic too!) through the bands.

There’s only so many times you can listen to Knight Templar however – and I fully expect to be shot down by the real brass band enthusiasts for saying that – so we made a move up to the local pub where the bands typically play more modern tunes as they march down from the band club for their turn. Here C took a much needed nap (eating is tiring work, you know), and G dragged first Daddy, and then Mummy up and down the marching stretch to follow each band down in turn. Highlights included Tartan Brass (“Look! They’re from where Daddy’s from! And they wear that thing Daddy wears!”) and perhaps the furthest travelled band, Neo Brass Band from Japan.

Heading home with two tired kids in the back, I idly wondered how often we’d be able to keep going to Whit Friday in Saddleworth. And as G headed off to bed she turned and said “can I take my toy trumpet next time?”.

Perhaps what I should have been wondering was whether we’ll ever have to swap the civility of sitting on the grass at Dobcross with a picnic for chasing band buses around the villages to cheer on a trumpeting daughter or two?

I think I could live with that.

Superhero Saturday!

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Yesterday G was invited to the ‘superheroes and princesses’ birthday party of her best friends (twins), so Saturday became ‘Superhero Saturday’.

There was never much doubt that G would decide to go as a superhero, which meant an outing for the superhero outfit she got for Christmas, made by the fair hands of Santa’s elves of course (wink).

The night before the party I realised she didn’t have any clothes (other than jeans and T-shirt) that would go with her pink and purple outfit, so decided to whip up a quick dress out of an old jersey wrap dress of mine.

I wish I’d taken some pictures as we went along because I was pretty pleased with how it turned out – in the sense that it fits her, goes on over her head without having to contort into any ridiculous shapes, and survived the whole party intact!

I roughly pinned together and cut the bodice before she went to bed, using safety pins so that I wouldn’t accidentally pin it to her, and worked it so I could reuse the existing neckline and hems meaning the only bit of hemming I needed to do was around the arms.

After G had gone to bed I pulled out the sewing machine and stitched it together in about 10-15 minutes using a stretch stitch. The Great British Sewing Bee would be proud of me.
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I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that G was so excited about the party that she wanted to put on her superhero outfit in the morning, hours before we were due to leave for the party.

In retrospect I also shouldn’t have been surprised that she wanted C to join in the fun, so the rest of our morning was spent making a superhero mask and cape for C, to match the party dress that G picked out for her. Coupled with her new ‘superhero’ nappy, I had two little superheroes on my hands for the rest of the day.

I can’t say C was as excited as G was about her new outfit, but she was certainly a good sport about the whole thing. And the party was a roaring success all round.

Happy birthday L and A! I hope you had as much fun as G did at your party!

The Day I Got My Boobs Out For TV

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I never set out to write about breastfeeding on this blog, but with our challenges with tongue tie, cows milk protein intolerance and of course various news stories about public feeding, it’s become one of my most frequent and most read topics. I guess the old adage of ‘write what you know’ applies even more than usual to blogging, and I do seem to spend rather a lot of my time feeding!

Whilst I’m not of the ‘flaunt it’ mindset, I’ve always been of the view that breastfeeding is both entirely natural and nothing to be squeamish about, so it should come as no real surprise that I recently agreed to get my boobs out for TV – all very tastefully and in the name of education of course!

I was lucky enough to be asked by Lansinoh to take part in a TV programme they’ve been making for mums-to-be about preparing for baby’s arrival, and particularly about their specialist subject, breastfeeding.

You may know Lansinoh as ‘the nipple cream in the purple tube’, and in fact they made it into one of my early blog posts about must have products for newborn babies. What I didn’t know until now was that they also have a host of other products, some of which are coming out in the UK for the first time this year, including breast pumps, bottles, sippy cups and teething rings. As a thank you for taking part in the filming I got a bit of a goody bag of products to try out which I’m sure I’ll write about at some point – we’re already converts to their ‘momma’ bottles which C is so much better with than the previous brand we were using.

Our contribution to the programme was to be interviewed, along with three other mums and their gorgeous babies, about our experiences of breastfeeding. Hopefully it’s given us a chance to spread the word a bit about tongue tie to help other mums in a similar position to us, although in retrospect I should probably have said a bit more about exactly what tongue tie is.

Given I’m a good stone (and a bit) heavier than I’d like to be, and hate the sound of my voice I’m pretty sure I’ll be cringing when I see it, but hopefully I don’t come across as too much of an idiot, and of course people can always be distracted by my boobs.

Oh yes, the boobs. That’s why you’re reading this, right? To find out about the boobs?
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It was all a bit accidental really, I didn’t plan to feed C on TV. I actually started the interview with her sat on my lap, but despite having been angelic all day she promptly decided to cry. And cry, and cry.

And that’s one of the benefits of breastfeeding really, isn’t it? A ready made comforter perfect for such occasions. I’m pretty sure you can’t see anything untoward (apart from the bald patch on the back of C’s head), and I guess it wouldn’t really be much of a programme about breastfeeding without someone, well, breastfeeding!

Given I’d broken the ice by getting them out once, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to film an extra bit about different feeding positions too. And never one to shy away from the camera, G got in on the act with a piece about getting siblings involved.
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I’ve not seen the finished programme so don’t know how much will make the final cut, but hopefully C will show slightly more than the back of her head in it, and I won’t have embarrassed myself too much.

And if she moans when she’s older about how embarrassing it is having TV footage of her feeding, I can remind her that she was actually just meant to smile and coo for the camera, so it’s all her own fault really.

Now all we have to do is wait for it to hit our telly boxes, and then decide whether to sit and hide behind my hands or do a little excited dance around the room…

We weren’t asked to write about our experience, and although we did get some free product we weren’t paid for this either. The photos of the day were kindly sent to me by Lansinoh/Cybher so are their copyright.

Day Trips: Bath – For Mums And For Kids

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Last week we were on our first camping holiday in the South West. Well I say camping, but really we were cheating somewhat with a rather comfortable borrowed motorhome (or ‘car house’ as G has christened it).

Anyhow, one of our day trips was to Bath, famed for its, well, baths. Of the Roman kind.

A little bit of cheeky borrowed babysitting time and it turned out to be the perfect day trip for both Mum (and Dad), and the kids.

First up, a family lunch at the rather lovely The Hop Pole pub on Upper Bristol road, about ten to fifteen minutes walk out of the city centre. Google had reliably informed me it did rather epic chips (and it proved correct!). It also did a rather nice line in chunky sandwiches, and were more than happy to oblige with my dairy free awkwardness.

The main attraction however, had to be its proximity to the rather amazing Royal Victoria Park playground directly opposite.

Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a playground quite so huge – this picture only shows about half of it!
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With equipment to suit all ages, it was no surprise that it kept G entertained for, quite literally, hours. Admittedly the sand pit with hand operated ‘diggers’ took up a good chunk of that time, and also led to several days worth of finding sand in pretty much everything we owned.

Whilst G and C were happily entertained, Mum and Dad got to indulge in a trip to our own kind of playground – the Thermae Bath Spa.

We’re not really ‘spa’ people to be honest, but when in Bath, you have to go to the baths don’t you? And this place, opened in 2006, was a must visit.

Spread over 5 floors, including a rooftop open air pool, and fed by the natural thermal waters, it was well worth the hefty Β£27 entry fee for a two hour session (plus extra for robe/towel/slipper hire) for some seriously indulgent child free time.

Some might say it’s just a posh swimming pool, but the focus on the various baths and steam rooms rather than treatments (although these are available too) was totally up my street, and I was relieved that there was no whale music or candles in sight. The wristbands which you use to electronically secure your locker doubles as a charge card for drinks or snacks at the cafe, although we were too busy enjoying the pools to try that out.

We tried out the basement Minerva pool, with a jacuzzi area and river current; the four large circular steam rooms with different ‘flavours’ to each, a central huge waterfall shower and hot and cold showers to the sides; and of course the stunning open air rooftop pool with views over the city of Bath.

I’d started the day thinking we couldn’t possibly spend two hours in a swimming pool, and ended it wishing we could stay longer, but I was also itching to see what fun the girls had had, so off we went.

As it was they hadn’t missed us one bit. In fact G had to be bribed to leave the playground even though it was starting to get pretty chilly, and has already requested a return visit.

All in all it was a great day out and highly recommended if you’re in the area.

Passing On My Competitive Streak…

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Remember the butterfly garden Easter bonnet I posted about making the other day?

Well today was the school nursery Easter parade, which saw G marching and singing with her classmates, and…winning the Easter bonnet competition!

Now I don’t like to admit to being competitive, but, well, who isn’t just a little bit? So I did feel a little vindicated in spending most of Saturday afternoon making those darned flowers, and cajoling G into designing and making it with me.

The kids (and parents) had clearly put lots of effort in, and I should add that there were actually three winners, one for each group. I had a big grin on my face watching my biggest girl sing, dance, and flap her arms like a chicken with all her friends as they sang their way through such classics as ‘chick chick chicken’.

And so begins the Easter holidays – the first time I’ll actually have to fully entertain two children for a whole week on my own, before we go off on a little holiday next week. Eek!

Any tips welcome, otherwise come this time next week you’ll find me cowering in the corner clutching the gin…

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Craft: How To Make A Butterfly Garden Easter Bonnet

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“Over the next week we’d like you to make an Easter bonnet with your child for our Easter parade, which all parents are invited to attend.”

Wah! It’s enough to strike fear into any parent, even an avid crafter like me. Why? Well firstly there’s a time constraint – any craft project I undertake these days takes at least three times longer than it’s supposed to. Secondly it needs to be something G can help me with – no getting carried away looking at ridiculously extravagant bonnet ideas on Pinterest, and definitely no sewing or crochet allowed. And thirdly, other parents will be watching! Can I stick to number 2 without losing my crafty credentials?! No offence to my incredibly creative daughter, but she is only 4 after all, and her attention span is not exactly infinite.

When asked, G insisted she wanted pretty much everything on her bonnet, but we compromised on flowers and butterflies, as long as there was some pink and glitter in there. A quick trip to the pound shop gave us some basic materials – a plain bonnet (a little on the small side but nothing a bit of ribbon wouldn’t help with), some crepe paper in Easter colours and fake grass. We already had at home some pipe cleaners, green card, glitter and some sticky foam butterflies.

We started by making the flowers. To do this you need about 3-5 layers of crepe paper, measuring around about 4″ wide and 12″ long and laid on top of each other. We varied the size of our rectangles to make different sized flowers.

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Starting with the short side, fold the paper in a concertina style, with the folds about half an inch wide – don’t make the folds any wider or it’ll be hard to open up the flower later. Secure in the middle with a pipe cleaner and then trim the ends into either a rounded or pointed shape.

To turn these into flowers you first fan out your paper on either side of the pipe cleaner and them very carefully separate the layers from each other and fluff up into a flower shape. We made about 15 flowers in a variety of colours and sizes. This is by far the most time consuming bit (I never said it was a quick project!), and I have to confess G got bored halfway through and left me to finish the flowers on my own.

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Next you need to attach your flowers to the bonnet. Staring at the top, use a small pair of scissors to cut a little hole in the hat which you can then poke the pipe cleaner stems through. Do the same for a second flower next to your first, then turn the hat over to secure the two pipe cleaners to each other, holding the flowers in place. Continue until you’ve covered the whole top of the hat.

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Take the fake grass and tease it out into a strip. This then wraps around the brim of the hat, tucking underneath the flowers. We added some little foam flowers we had around the side to secure the grass in place.

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Next the leaves. Using green card, draw and cut out your leaf shapes. Then cover them with glue (both sides) and sprinkle with glitter. Take 2-3 leaves at a time, poke a hole in the bottom and attach to the hat with pipe cleaners.

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Pipe cleaners again for our sticky foam butterflies and dragonflies. We fixed them so they were flying above the flowers and would move a little as she walked. If you don’t have sticky foam ones like us (or wanted some slightly classier ones!) you could make them out of card and colour them in, or even use felt to cut them out of.

Last but not least, we attached some ribbon to either side of the hat for it to be tied onto G’s head neatly with a bow.

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You’ll have to wait until next week to see the bonnet in action at the Easter parade. In the meantime I’d love to see your creations or Easter bonnet plans!

A Mother’s Day Trip To The Park

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Warning: self indulgent photo post coming up!

So today was, of course, Mother’s Day in the UK. After a couple of sleepless nights with C I was rewarded with the best gift possible – a lie in! Although given Mother’s Day coincided with the clocks changing it looked much more luxurious than it really was.

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After brunch of French toast with heaps of bacon and lashings of maple syrup (the post baby diet is very definitely on hold), we set off to enjoy the sunshine at nearby Clifton Country Park. G was lured away from her new favourite TV show (Team Umizoomi, if you’re interested) by the promise of ducks to feed, a big playground and an ice cream van for afterwards, the latter very much mostly for G’s benefit given I’m still eating dairy free due to C’s suspected cows milk intolerance.

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I decided that this was also the opportunity to get some photos with my girls, given I’d realised that beyond a few taken in the hospital when I was most definitely not at my most photogenic (!), we only had two pictures with the three of us in – one our blurry New Year’s Eve Jones family selfie, and another in the pub – both involving alcohol, which surely isn’t the right impression to give! The first of these is still the only picture with all four of us in, but given it was Mother’s Day Mr J was in charge of the camera today. C was happy enough to oblige with our impromptu photo shoot, although she didn’t seem overly excited by her first go on a slide (I kept hold of her, before anyone gets worried!).

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The challenge for Mr J was firstly catching G as she ran around the playground, determined to have a go on everything there, and then getting all three of us looking vaguely in the same direction, but I reckon he did alright.

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I hope everyone had lovely Mother’s Days out in the sun and was spoilt rotten in one way or another, but also big Jones family hugs to those who are missing their mothers or their children today.

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