My half term survival list

Half term with the kids

It’s half term next week. If you don’t have children that means that you’ll be tripping over small people every time you go out. If you do have children, the same applies – except you’ll also be in charge of keeping them amused and happy for a week.

A half term holiday is a great chance for children to relax and kick back. But, there’s only so much relaxing and ‘unstructured time’ you can have. A bit of planning and herding is always required to keep everyone happy in this house.

Here are some tips for keeping everyone sane next week: 

Plan one or two big outings. The seaside, a castle or a trip to Legoland. It’s great to have a treat. But don’t overdo it. You don’t have to do something extraordinary everyday. You’ll be exhausted and bankrupt by the end of the week.

Find local activities to join in with. Museums, galleries, cathedrals and parks all usually organise some sort of holiday activities. Search out these events – they’ll give a bit of structure to your day and take the creative pressure off you for a while. I like to sign my boys up to craft activities at our local museum (which costs a few pounds and is fantastic value) and Ely Cathedral often has a free drop in session with things for children to do. The National Trust also offer fun activities for kids. I generally find out about these events through Facebook (the local paper tends only to tell you about things after they’ve happened). Make sure you’re following local museums and galleries for regular updates.

Plant some seeds. A cheap and cheerful activity that will keep everyone happy for a couple of hours. Go and buy the seeds and compost, choose some little pots. Then plant them. It really is as simple as putting a bit of soil in a pot, poking in your seed (perfect for little fingers), and watering it. If you keep them indoors, they’ll soon start growing. I recommend peas or beans – they’re big (you can’t accidentally drop a whole packet and lose them) and start growing really quickly.

Use public transport. A trip on a bus or a train is always popular with my boys. It doesn’t have to be a special steam train, any old train or bus will do. We don’t do it that often (most things are within walking distance, or we use the car) so it’s a bit exciting and different – especially if we get a seat on the top of a bus.

Meet up with friends. Ok, this is a bit of an obvious one, but worth including anyway. I like to organise a couple of meet-ups with friends in the park or at our house. It’s nice to get the children altogether during the day, rather than the rush after school.

Always have a few simple things up your sleeve. The ingredients for fairy cakes, a new DVD, some printable colouring sheets, some new play dough… you’ll be glad you remembered these.

Remember that it’s OK for your children to be bored sometimes. It’s easy to think you’re only a good parent if you plan and organise every minute of your child’s time. Feeling bored isn’t anything to be afraid of, and I think it’s great to encourage your children to think for themselves and find their own amusement. Sometimes the best games are born out of a sense of boredom. Obviously you want them to have a nice holiday, but remember to give them space to encourage a bit of self-sufficiency. Being a good parent doesn’t have to be all about being an all-singing-all-dancing children’s entertainer from dawn till dusk.

What are your half-term survival tips?

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Creating a cosy new bedroom for a little boy

Boys bedroom

For four happy years my boys have shared a bedroom. They’ve been cosy in their bunk beds and kept each other company every night.

They’re now seven and five, and although they’re still great friends, they’re also fiercely competitive. The time has come for a bit of space. A creative space of their own and a bit of breathing space.

We’ve also actively encouraged the idea of separate bedrooms because it fits in nicely with our grand de-cluttering scheme. We’re gradually decommissioning our playroom and a crucial part of this is moving all the toys upstairs. And they certainly have a lot of toys.

Sorting out the clutter in our house is a bit like a giant (and very challenging) jigsaw puzzle. We can’t move everything at once. It’s all a question of different pieces being gradually slotted into place. Tom’s new bedroom is a key part of this jigsaw.

Toy stable

It’s not a huge room, but compared to some modern houses it’s actually not a bad size at all. For the last few years it’s mostly been where I’ve sorted out our clean washing. This has all been moved out now, and we’ve had a new carpet laid. We redecorated it in a neutral cream shade a year ago, which still looks great and is a perfect backdrop to whatever he chooses to fill it with.

Vintage tractor toys

We didn’t need to buy much new furniture – just a new chest of drawers from IKEA. The bookcase/bedside table is an old one that was previously gathering dust in a corner of their room. The boy’s bunk beds come apart and work equally well as two single beds. A cabin bed would be fantastic in here one day, but that’s something for the future.

Boys bedroom ideas

He has a new pin board, and he’s enjoying swapping things round everyday and filing his bed with sharp drawing pins… So far, I’m trying to hide all the Blu-tak, but I’m sure it’ll creep in eventually. But that’s ok. I want them to stick things up and decorate their rooms to their taste (rather than my Pinterest-worthy dreams).

Boy's small bedroom ideas

Storage in a small room can be challenging, but we’ve started as we mean to go on: everything in its place and a place for every thing. His toys are all stored in large, shallow plastic crates under the bed. His clothes are in a simple Ikea chest of drawers in the window. Boys don’t need coathangers.

Boys bedroom ideas

Tom’s a big fan of tractors, animals and the countryside. We haven’t gone for much of a theme, but have put up lots of bright, colourful pictures of his favourite things. This poster from Posterlounge is wonderful and is just perfect for him!

Posterlounge farm poster

Posterlounge farm poster

I’m so thrilled with the cosy little room we’ve created for him. And so is he. He said on his first night that it was like a bedroom from a holiday cottage. 

And do the boys miss sharing a room? Surprisingly, not at all. 

Disclosure: Posterlounge kindly let me choose a poster from their range. All words, thoughts and photos are (as ever) my own. 

Home Etc

Introducing byEloise…plus, a giveaway

byEloise hair ties bracelets

I’m thrilled to be stocking these byEloise hair ties and bracelets in my shop. Now my hair’s getting longer I’m forever putting it up and down, up and down.. and usually have a tatty old hair elastic on my wrist. Well, no more.

These are hair bands, but they’re also bracelets. They’re soft, colourful and versatile – as comfortable on your wrist as they are in your hair.

by Eloise hair ties

I’m hooked, and I enjoy mixing them up with my other bracelets. I love products that are both pretty and useful. These bracelets offer that in spades and add a pop of colour, whilst also being completely fun and practical!

If you’d like the chance to win a byEloise hair tie then please enter my giveaway. The winner will be announced in a week’s time on my blog. Good luck! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

In the meantime you can view them here, along with lots of other lovely new stock! 

My week of getting things done

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This has been such a busy week for our house and garden. We spend months putting things off and then – bam! – everything gets done in one week.

Last weekend we had a skip delivered. We’ve been talking about getting one for months to deal with the mess that had accumulated in our garden. What started as a pile of old fence panels last summer has multiplied over the months into a teetering heap of dangerous old junk and broken Ikea chairs. Not the nicest thing to have at the end of your garden, and not very safe for the children.

Skip

We spent the weekend filling the skip and sorting out the mess. The garden looks so much better now – I’d actually forgotten we had so much space. We’ve planted a few new perennial plants and some honeysuckle to cover the fences. We’re also making plans for a rose arch, vegetable bed and a new shed. To get things ready we paid to have some old tree stumps removed professionally. They ground them up really quickly and it’s a relief to have them gone. It’s great to be making a difference out there.

Red campion

This was also the week we started work on creating my youngest son’s new bedroom. His new room has the boiler in it and it needed a few repairs and a service. Once that was done, the carpet fitters arrived to put in his new carpet (ever the farm enthusiast he chose a ‘barley’ coloured one). It looks great and has totally pulled together the room together. We decorated it fairly neutrally a year ago, so all it needs now is some furniture and pictures.

For now, we’re all enjoying having an empty room where we can lie on the floor and inhale the smell of new carpet. Seriously, I could do it all day.

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Another thing I’ve managed to do this week is take my eldest to school on his bike for the first time. He rode his, I rode mine – and it felt great. We just need to get his brother confident on his and then we can make it a regular thing.

Brompton bicycle

This week, I’ve also managed to really get back into baking again. We had Melting Moments for the first time in ages…bliss.

Melting Moment biscuit

Plus, I’ve been baking my own bread again. The boys love it and it’s great to think it only contains a few simple ingredients – flour, yeast, salt and butter. The benefits of this deserve a whole post to themselves, but for now let’s just say that it feels great to be making the effort.  Tom said to me today, ‘I like your bread Mummy.’ Then after a pause, ‘I like you too Mummy’. Which makes it heart-meltingly worthwhile.

Bread

So that’s me done for now. What have you got done this week?

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#OnePerfectThing

Pink roses

Perfection often feels out of reach. But however imperfect you’re finding life, you can make an effort to find #OnePerfectThing. Something which makes you pause, smile and feel thankful. 

It might be five minutes in the sunshine listening to the birds sing. Or a pretty cup of coffee which makes your morning. Whatever it is, it’s about stepping back for a moment from our busy lives and appreciating a little bit of perfection.

I like to capture these fleeting moments with a photograph, usually taken on my iPhone. As an avid Instagram fan, I’ve been meaning to create my own hashtag for a while.

#OnePerfectThing feels like the perfect one for me.

So please, come and join in with my new hashtag celebrating those little moments of everyday perfection. I’ll mainly be using it on Instagram (find me there and say hello!), but feel free to also join in on Twitter too.

At the end of every month I’ll be gathering together my favourite photos on my blog, and there’ll be a little prize from my shop for my favourite image. I’m looking forward to seeing them!

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What I’ve been reading lately

What I've been reading lately

The Way We Live Now – Anthony Trollope

This is the first Trollope novel I’ve ever read, and I have to admit it was a bit of Herculean challenge at times. It’s not that it wasn’t good – it was – but at 762 pages, it required a bit of sticking power and there’s a lot of detail. I’m glad I did though. Set in London in the 1870s, it’s a sharp social satire on greed, ambition, love (and maybe a bit of lust) and other human follies. If you fancy a sweeping, panoramic read, then give it a go – despite its age it really does feel remarkably fresh and modern.

A Summer at Sea – Katie Fforde 

This is something completely different, and perfect if you fancy a bit of light (but reasonably intelligent) froth.  This one follows the usual quirky pattern of a Katie Fforde romance: plucky heroine meets handsome chap… this time it’s a midwife on a career break, spending a summer cooking on a steam boat in the Western Isles of Scotland. It was as light-hearted and charming as Katie Fforde books always are, although I think her more recent novels are a bit weak compared to her earlier ones (my favourites are Living Dangerously and Wild Designs). Nevertheless, it’s a nice, effortless summer read.

Sister Carrie – Theodore Dreiser

Now we’re back to the past again, although this time it’s Chicago in the 1880s. The story is all about Carrie, who arrives in the city from the country aged eighteen. We follow her struggles to find work in the rapidly growing city, and then her fascinating rise as the mistress of a wealthy, but flawed, man.  The novel is very direct and modern and was considered pretty shocking at the time, and was first published in a heavily edited form in 1900. Carrie is not always a particularly likeable character, and her decisions (and the narrative of the novel) are strikingly modern and brutal at times. It really is a fascinating read – in parts sad, shocking and unsettling – but, also a great page turner and I couldn’t put it down.

What have you been reading lately?

The morning whirlwind

Morning tea

I’d like to say that mornings in our house were a calm, relaxing affair. Sadly, that isn’t the case. Every morning my boys create a whirlwind of destruction. And at 31 years old, I’m not much better.

Basically seven years of being a stay-at-home mother, and now working from home, appear to have made me chronically lazy. Subconsciously, I’ve mastered the art of never being late for school – but it’s always by the skin of our teeth. Every morning we fly out of the door in a cloud of toast crumbs, leaving chaos in our wake.

Here’s why it always goes wrong… 

After a few years of trying to dress to smartly for the school run, these days (unless I’m going out somewhere) it’s all I can do to simply pull a hairbrush though my hair and brush my teeth. I never allow enough time and always forget that I have two small people to get dressed as well as myself. I usually mean to put my mascara on but I almost always get waylaid trying to track down a clean pair of pants for a small boy.

Clearly, I should get up earlier. And I guess if I was commuting to an office straight after the school run, I would. But as I’m working at home, it’s always easier to scuttle home and smarten up later.

I also always intend to leave the kitchen nice and tidy, and remember to empty the dishwasher before bed. But, really, does anyone actually do that? Instead, it all gets crammed in at the last minute, or not at all. Usually, someone asks for porridge to be cooked at five past eight, or wants four rounds of toast. I just run out of time, and end up coming home to deal with dirty dishes and piles of sticky porridge, when I really should be getting on with work.

I suppose I need to pull my socks up and stop slacking, don’t I? Pretend I’m going to work in an office. My home is my office and it’s no wonder I often struggle to get anything done when I’m always two steps behind.

Of course, there’s always going to be a certain amount of unavoidable morning chaos. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that, no matter how early you get up, your children will always empty the Lego box five minutes before you leave or lose the one precious keyring that has to go on their book bag. And that’s before we even remember about the lost library book/spelling book/raincoat the moment we step over the threshold.

But if I can at least hold my end up, then maybe there’s hope for us yet.

So, next week I’m going to try and get up earlier every day and find some time to gather my thoughts before the morning madness begins. Hey, the husband and I might actually get to have a cup of tea together before he disappears off to catch a train.

I’ll report back on how I get on. In the meantime, I’d love to hear any tips you have for on becoming an early-morning ninja warrior of a mother!

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A few new summery things

Wide legged linen trousers from Marks and Spencers

The warmer weather has made summer shopping very tempting. Last week I picked out a few new summery things to add something new to my wardrobe…

For the first time in years I’m ready to contemplate wearing wide legged linen trousers again. I’m not particularly tall so I usually steer clear of such things in case they make my legs look stumpy. But I wanted a change from my usual spring wardrobe of skinny ankle skimmers. I found these linen trousers (£22.50) in Marks and Spencer and they’re a dream to wear – soft and drapey, but also smart and grown-up.

Wide-legged linen trousers from Marks and Spencer

I think it needs a tucked in t-shirt  – this is an old one from Boden, but they make the same ones every year and they’re a great investment.

After moaning last week that I never buy new shoes, I rectified the situation by buying two new pairs! These slip on pumps from H&M are a complete bargain at £7.99. They’re comfortable and look great with my dungarees (which always present a bit of a shoe dilemma).

Summer pumps from H&M

I also bought some new sandals. I got them in a local independent shoe shop and I think they were quite a bargain for £34.99. They’re really comfortable and definitely pass the school run test! They’re by a brand called Marco Tozzi, which I’d never come across before, but I’ve managed to track them down online here (where they’re actually a little cheaper).

Marco Tozzi sandals

Lastly, I’ve also been channelling my inner My Little Pony with my new rainbow necklace (£7.50). The children are enamoured, as am I.

Rainbow necklace

Rainbow necklace

You can find it in my online shop, along with this little lemony number…

Lemon necklace

As I type this it’s pouring with rain again, but even if the weather takes a turn for the worse I’m determined to push on with the summer dressing!

Have you bought anything yet for summer?

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When summer comes early…

Pink cherry blossom

So, it’s early May. A week ago I was shivering on a school trip to the seaside in arctic weather conditions. But then – suddenly – instant summer! In the past, I’d have probably complained that I wasn’t ready. But these days, I say bring it on. Let’s make the most of it.

Here’s what we decided to do when summer came early… 

Walk around the streets of Cambridge without a coat. Buying new clothes for warm days and eating a lunch in cafe with all the windows thrown wide open…

Summery lunch

Two solid days of gardening. We widened some flower beds to make space for lots of new plants and (James) dug out three tree stumps. Hot, hard work. Achey backs and muddy knees.

Gardening with a spade

Let the children spend the entire weekend outside. Getting grubby, playing with the children next door… and luckily only one unfortunate encounter with the stinging nettles.

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Sit in deckchairs and eat sausages from the barbecue…

Barbecued sausages

…followed by toasted marshmallows…

Toasted marshmallow

Were you also blessed with a taste of summer last weekend? What did you do with it?

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Sunny skies and faded denim

Denim dress

As soon as the first warm sunny days of the year arrive my thoughts always turn to lighter, easier clothes. Soft colours and soft fabrics: faded, washed denim and chambray – they’re all perfect for this inbetweeny weather.

Last weekend was glorious – not only sunny, but warm enough to bring out my son’s freckles and turn my face a little pink.

Spring blossom

It was nice enough to finally wear this denim dress which I’d picked up for a amazing £4 from Peacocks in the winter sales. It’s been waiting patiently in my wardrobe and finally its moment has come. Admittedly, I’m still wearing tights, but hopefully not for much longer…especially given the hot weather forecast for this weekend!

Denim Dress

My dress (Peacocks), cardigan (Lily and Me) and trainers (Cath Kidston) are all winter sales bargains, but here’s my pick of my favourite light and soft denim pieces at the moment.

This dress (£22.99) is very similar to mine and is perfect for spring and summer.

blue-denim-belted-shirt-dress

I also love this loose denim top (£17.99), which sums up everything about laid-back, early summer days.

pale-blue-denim-single-pocket-dip-hem-t-shirt-

This washed-out denim skirt (£39.99) is my idea of perfection. Pair it with a tucked in Breton tee and sandals.

H&M denim skirt

The pale denim also goes perfectly with my new Staffordshire dog bag. Available now in my shop for £7.50.

Laura Stoddart bag

Which is your favourite?

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