Win a family photoshoot with Sweet Whimsy Photography 

A while back, we had a lovely family photoshoot in a strawberry field with the lovely Donna of Sweet Whimsy Photography. We’d never had a family photo shoot before. The whole idea of posing in a studio made me feel uncomfortable. I’m not a fan of being in front of the camera, and so very few of our snaps feature me. It’s as if I don’t go along when my family go out or go on holiday! 

When Donna contacted me and told me that she doesn’t use a studio, preferring to capture families outdoors doing something fun, I was immediately interested. We met at Hendrewennol Fruit Farm in the drizzle on a grey day in July. The results are wonderful! Pictures that we will treasure forever. Donna really put us at ease, and I’m pretty sure Iris completely forgot that she was there. 

Now Donna is giving away a £50 photo shoot voucher, and you can enter just by signing up for her newsletter. If you live in South Wales this is an opportunity you just can’t miss! 

To enter, click here to head to the Sweet Whimsy Photography website and enter your email address.

Good luck! 

*all images by Donna Loring of Sweet Whimsy Photography* 

Starting at meithrin 

Last week Iris started at the the local meithrin, two mornings a week. I think it’s fair to say that she handled it better than I did. You could be fooled into thinking she was dreading it by the expression on her face in this picture! Actually I think she was just puzzled by me and Trevor taking so many pictures of her on the doorstep! 

We’ve been talking to her about starting ‘school’ all summer, and she remembers the day we popped in to fill in the forms and she played with some of the toys. She also remembered the big fancy bikes in the garden and has been desperate to start so that she can try them out. 

On her first morning, she walked in and sat in the sandpit. Trevor came with us, and we told her we were leaving and would be back to pick her up in a little while. “Alright, bye” was her response, and she barely even looked up. I was gutted and relived and so very proud all at once. There were no short sessions or settling in visits for my girl. She didn’t need it. (I’m choosing to believe that my attachment style of parenting – that so many people said would make her clingy – has made her confident, and safe in the knowledge that I’ll always come back  and be there when she needs me).

I have very mixed feelings about using childcare. I’m not working. I didn’t need childcare. I feel guilty for spending two and a half hours twice a week without her. But I’m doing it for her. She’s a very sociable girl, and we don’t always make it to groups and stuff. Often Astrid, me and Trevor are the only people she speaks to for days. I don’t think that’s enough for her! I’m also hoping that starting school next year will be less of a shock, both because she’ll be used to being away from me and because she’ll hopefully already know some of her classmates. 

While she’s there, me and Astrid have some time to play the baby games she’s no longer interested in. It feels like such a break to have just one baby again for a bit! 

Potty learning – why I’m following her lead 

“You need to start potty training her soon” is a phrase I’ve heard way too much in the last few months. While I was a little worried that kids start school at 3 here and need to be reliably using the loo by then, I was in no rush to get Iris out of her nappies. I think part of the reason people have been encouraging me to potty train is because they assume having two in nappies is really hard work, when in fact it really isn’t. I haven’t found it to be anyway. 

My niece was out of nappies pretty early, because she took my sister by surprise and announced that she’d be wearing pants, and not nappies, one day out of the blue. Her accidents were minimal and she was dry and using the loo every time within a few days. Following her lead had worked. It reinforced my belief that there’s not a lot of point in trying to force children to do things they aren’t ready for. 

I’ve worked in nurseries most of my adult life so I have contributed to the potty training of probably hundreds of children. I’ve met loads who have been put in pants too early. They have loads of accidents and it knocks their confidence. This has the complete opposite result to what the parents hoped for. 

Honestly, I see nothing wrong with children wearing nappies until they’re three or four or whatever. Had Iris wanted to stay in nappies a lot longer I’d have rolled with it. Actually, I wasn’t ready for this. As usual, she’s way ahead of me. 

The week before we went away camping Iris just started using her potty. Just like that. It’s been kicking around the house for a while, so it’s become familiar and she’s used it on a few occasions here and there when she’s felt like it. This time was different because she didn’t want to put her nappy back on, preferring to stay naked from the waist down. We stayed at home and she used the potty all afternoon. We even took the potty out with us to walk the dog, and Iris wore a dress and a bare bum underneath. Luckily the weather was warm! 

Her timing was dreadful. With a camping holiday starting a few days later, and then her first sessions at nursery the following week. I’d obviously rather waited until we were back from our holiday and she had settled in at nursery. 

I needn’t have worried. Her wet accidents were few and far between, and camping turned out to be a good time for it. Most of her few accidents happened in the great outdoors! She still isn’t quite there with her poo, and although she’s making it to the potty for most of them now, she isn’t reliable yet. I don’t see it as any more of a chore than changing a dirty nappy so it’s not worrying me. When she does manage it on the potty or the loo she’s so chuffed with herself! I’m so confident in her ability to ask when she needs a wee that I’ve stopped putting puppy pads in her car seat and pushchair, and I’ve even taken her on a train journey to Bristol in pants. She’s pretty much cracked it. 

These are my tips for potty ‘learning’. I’m no expert, but these things have worked so well for Iris that I thought I’d share. 

  • Just wait. Leave a potty lying around by all means, and definitely use the loo in front of them as much as possible. But don’t put any pressure on. Just wait for them to show interest. 
  • Get the Pirate Pete potty book out from the library. Iris really liked the parts where he picked out his potty and his pants. One day she just asked if we could go to the shops and choose pants for her, and we did. Even though she didn’t actually want to wear them yet. 
  • Let them choose the pants. Iris has a mixture of Peppa Pig, monsters, and vehicles. All her choices, and most of them from the boys section. I wasn’t going to tell her that she couldn’t have the pants with diggers on just because some idiot somewhere has decided that only boys can like diggers. 
  • Leave the pants around. Iris has a basket of pants in the living room. They get put on dolls and played with a lot. They’re very familiar to her now. 
  • Invest in a travel potty. We have the ‘carry potty’. It is sealed when you shut the lid and apparently doesn’t leak if you have to carry a wee around with you. I’ve never actually had to test this out though! Every time we go out I remind Iris every so often that the potty is right there in the bottom of the pushchair if she needs it. 
  • Keep a potty near the toys and another one in the bathroom. When they first start learning they can’t hold the wee long! A potty where they play helps with this. 
  • Buy a wet bag or two for storing soiled clothes when you’re out. They’re very cheap, and will save a lot of plastic nappy sacks. You can turn them inside out and chuck them in the washing machine with the pants. 
  • Ditch all in one pyjamas and dungarees. Choose leggings and jogging bottoms, or dresses. They need to be able to get them out of the way quickly and by themselves. 
  • Iris wouldn’t use the loo at nursery to start with so she took her own potty in so that she’d have somewhere familiar to go. She didn’t use it and started using their loo pretty quickly, but it might be helpful for other little ones. 
  • Cheer and congratulate when they do it, but clean it away quickly and without making a big deal when they don’t. It really doesn’t matter. 
  • Think carefully about using sticker charts or other rewards. I’ve used them lots of times with lots of children over the years, but I’ve found they’re not usually helpful. Some kids really respond to them, but just remember that at some point you have to take it away. 

Despite being incredibly proud of Iris for tackling this at such a young age, I’m a little bit emotional too. No nappies definitely means she’s not a baby anymore! 

The SnoozeShade – a review 

Frustratingly, my SnoozeShade arrived the day after our day at the Royal Welsh Show in a heatwave. Astrid isn’t a fan of hot weather and sunshine, and it really would have been a lifesaver that day. Still, the heatwave lived on for a while afterwards (hard to believe now, as a storm is currently raging outside my windows!) so it has been incredibly useful. 

I’m a bit of a collector of pushchairs lately. I have two single ones, and I use them with both kids. I wear Astrid when Iris wants to have a rest, and Astrid goes in the pushchair when Iris wants to walk. There’s often a lot of swapping and changing about, so I was relieved to find that I didn’t have to remove the Snooze Shade completely every time. It was just a case of undoing the bottom two of the Velcro bands that hold it in place, then rolling it up onto the pushchair’s canopy. Once it is on the canopy it’s like it isn’t even there, and it doesn’t get in the way at all. In fact move still got it attached to my pushchair and the sun is long gone. I just forgot it was on there. 

When it is done up, the Snooze Shade blocks 99% of harmful UV rays, according to Snooze Shade. This really gave me peace of mind, especially when one of my kids was asleep in the pushchair and applying sun cream would have disturbed them. It meant I could carry on with my day instead of finding some shade to park them in. There’s a small zip at the top that can be used to take a peek at your little one without disturbing them, as well as a flap that changes the front of the Snooxe Shade to one layer instead of two. The one layer blocks 80% of UV and from the inside your child can see out. Iris was quite happy to sit inside looking through this window, but Astrid wasn’t so keen. Actually, Iris has taken to calling the Snooze Shade a ‘pushchair tent’ and thinks it’s quite good fun to be inside! 

One day both of my kids fell asleep in my Cosatto tandem pushchair and I was amazed to find that it fit right over both seats! Obviously I used this time to play Pokemon Go in the sunshine. 

I was a little concerned about the temperature inside the Snooze Shade on really hot days. I know that blankets draped over pushchair’s can cause the temperature to rise dangerously high on the inside, and very quickly. I didn’t fully test it out because it just wasn’t worth the risk, although the fabric is full of tiny holes and very breathable. On hot days I use clip on pushchair fans on the inside, and it felt very cool in there. I really recommend using them together when it’s very warm. 

I’m so glad we got the chance to review the Snooze Shade. I’d never heard of them beforehand, but now I think it’s going to be something I keep on us at all times in the summer months. It gives me so much peace of mind when it’s sunny. 

The Snooze Shade is available to buy from Amazon. 

*We were gifted the Snooze Shade for the purpose of this review,  but all words, opinions and pictures are my own* 

Camping in the forest yet again…2016 

Both of my children are asleep. They’re asleep upstairs and not on my lap, and they were asleep by 8:30. It’s some kind of miracle, so despite not really being in the mood for it I’m going to blog. 

It’s the third year in a row that we’ve spent the last week of the summer holidays in a tent under a rain cloud in beautiful North Wales. Search ‘camping’ in my search bar, and you’ll see that this was also our third camping trip this year. I really don’t think you can beat it for a family get away. There’s nothing quite like ‘unplugging’ your kids for a while and seeing them roam among the trees and play with nature rather than toys and electronics! 

We originally went to Beddgelert in 2014 because Trevor had such fond memories of camping holidays there as a kid. It’s like a trip down memory lane for him every year, in a good way I think. Although he has muttered ‘oh wow I think I have become my dad’ several times this holiday! Mostly when he was bumping his head on the lamp. 

There’s no way we could currently afford a holiday and for the dog to stay in kennels for a week, so camping is ideal for us. It wouldn’t be a family holiday without stinky Seb anyway. He’s like one of the kids. We forked out for a cattery for Margot and Galahad and that cost a small fortune. Luckily Batpig went to stay with a guinea pig loving friend and got so much attention he looked quite glum about coming home. 

Of course it rained. It always rains. 

To be fair, it rains almost non-stop in North Wales whether we’re there or not. It does feel like the rain clouds follow us a little bit though. It’s like the mountains of Snowdonia have a climate of their own. I keep my iPhone weather app set to show me the weather in Blaenau Ffestiniog all year round, and even when the sun is shining brightly everywhere else, it’s still raining there. We do virtually the same stuff every year. This year we vowed to slow down a little, do a bit less. I think we achieved it. We didn’t leave camp until lunchtime any of the days, which meant we had time for breakfast, a shower, and for the big kids to wander off to the play area for a while. It was nice. It took the pressure off. 

We always have to visit at least one castle (last year we visited what felt like about 400 castles) and this year we managed two. My favourite two. 

Dolbadarn is my favourite by far. It’s not even a castle as such. Just the ruins of one tower, high in a hill over Llanberis. Trevor and the kids always insist on having a sword battle on the steps, complete with chain mail costumes and wooden swords. You used to be able to go halfway up the spiral staircase in the tower, so it was a surprise to find out that you can now go all the way up to the top. Although this discovery did almost cause Trevor to die of shock, when the biggest kid climbed right up there and shouted “I’ve climbed right to the top!”. His “get down right now!” squeal gave away how frightened he was. He thought she’d jumped the barrier and was walking around the top of the walls! Actually you come out of the top of the staircase in a safety cage so you can’t fall off. It’s a pretty amazing view! 

Actually, as much as I like Dolbadarn, I like Llanberis for the park and the lake. We started our visit in Pete’s Eats, a pretty famous climber cafe near the start of the Snowdon path. It does pretty standard fried breakfast type food, but the kids love it there. It was slightly less fun this year as we were constantly bothered by wasps! Then we head to the lake. Seb is first to jump in, but Iris is quick to strip off and jump right in behind him. She started off paddling in pants and shirt, but it was only moment before she fell right in! It was absolutely freezing, but she doesn’t seem to feel it! After the dog and the kids had a paddle, we stopped by the play area for a while before hiring a row boat. I volunteered to look after Seb on the bank (which was a pretty easy job because he swam out and followed the boat around!) so that I could enjoy some rare sunshine while Astrid snoozed on me. Iris was chuffed to bits with her bright orange life jacket, but didn’t last long in the boat before they had to row back in and drop her off. Iris put on a performance of ‘acrobats’ in the bandstand to finish off a nice trip. 

My second favourite castle is Harlech, and I’ve never even been inside. 

This is because the dog isn’t allowed in, and somebody has to sit outside on the grass drinking takeaway coffee in the sun using the snoozing dog as a pillow. Without any kids. That somebody is me. Poor me. My short break outside Harlech castle was spoiled a bit this year by a loud and angry man who sat by me and shouted at somebody on the phone. Trevor and all four kids were having a great time inside though. Trevor was wearing Astrid in a sling, which meant Iris had to walk around and she handled it pretty well with a bit of help on the narrow spiral staircases. We followed up the castle visit with ice creams with flags in the top. 

The other thing we really love to do while we’re in North Wales is to travel around by steam train. Camping in the Forest is a great campsite for this, as it actually has a steam train station in the campsite! Our pitch was right by the station this year, which meant we had an excellent view of passing trains and we spent rather a lot of time waving at strangers as the trains chugged by. We caught the train from our tent to Beddgelert one afternoon, then visited Gelert’s Grave and had dinner in the Saracen’s Head before walking back in the dark. Iris rode on Trevor’s shoulders and decided that wearing a torch on your head is the most exciting thing ever for a two year old. 

I highly recommend the Saracen’s Head if you’re ever in the area. It’s hard to find somewhere that is accepting of toddlers, babies, noisy children and a wet muddy dog. The food is excellent too. I could eat the veggie burger every day and not get bored. The kid’s menu is great, and the desserts are just delicious. 

Our other favourite place to eat is Tan y Bwlch train station. We drove to Blaenau Ffestiniog, where Iris got upset and could only be cheered up by spending her pocket money on a wooden cat called Gringo in a lovely shop called This and That. We had a long wait for the train so got cakes and milkshakes for the kids in a cafe, before strolling over to the station and finding a carriage. This is our third year, yet Seb’s still not keen on the trains. He settles once he’s on, but he stays under the seat and won’t look out of the window. Iris is the opposite, and it’s a big job just to make sure she keeps her hands and head inside the window! As well as great food, Tan y Bwlch station has a little train themed play area. Although they’ve enjoyed it in previous years, the novelty of it is wearing off for the bigger two. Which is a shame in a way as Iris has just reached an age where she really appreciates a good play area. Once we’ve eaten and had a play, we like to head down the hill to the lake. Another lake! Guess what Iris wanted to do? 

The biggest kid insisted on actually changing into a bikini and getting in. Why don’t kids feel the cold? A little while later we had a bunch of wet shivery kids and only a few minutes to get back for the last train! We’re that sort of family. The kind that leaves everything to the last minute, but it’s usually because we’re too busy having fun.

We made a decision to use our last whole day as a campsite day. We’d have to walk the dog but we wouldn’t take the van anywhere or go anywhere specific. It was lucky we hadn’t planned much because the rain was absolutely torrential. It had kept us awake all night and it was relentless until mid afternoon, when it finally eased up. Everything was drenched. We hung out in the tent quite a bit, but the rain was so loud we could barely hear each other, and we were a bit worried it’d continue into the next day and we’d have to pack the tent away in it! We finally decided we’d just have to face it, so we all put our waterproofs on. We were one pair of trousers short, so poor Trevor had to brave the downpour in his jeans. We took the long forest walk and ended up walking all the way into Beddgelert. I had Iris in my back in a carrier. She was wrapped up really warm and in waterproofs, and she slept for most of the walk. In Beddgelert the kids spent the last of their holiday pocket money in a gift shop, and then we headed back the short way. On arrival back at the campsite, most of our waterproof gear had failed and we were all drenched through. Iris was still in my back but was looking pale and was shivering! I thought we’d made her poorly with our daft walk in the rain and I felt so guilty. I took her straight to the shower block, stripped her off and put her under the warm water. Iris has only just got over her fear of showers, but she would not be convinced to get out and get dressed! She just kept pressing the shower button again and again while I waited. Not long after she returned to her usual colour, she decided to get out. Immediately she began to shiver again, so I wrapped her up and we snuggled under the covers in bed for a while. She was fine once she warmed through, although both her and Astrid developed a cold the next morning! And that was that. One last meal at the Saracen’s Head, one last night, and one more breakfast in the forest. Time to pack up. We were all a bit gutted. Actually, we’ve been back over a week and I’m still gutted. I’d been anxious about taking Iris away when she’d just decided she doesn’t wear nappies anymore. She had quite a lot of accidents because she didn’t really know where she was or where she could go to the loo. We carried a potty everywhere with us and she did use it a lot. However, it turned out to be a very good time and place for her to learn. Her accidents all happened outdoors, mostly on the forest floor! I’m already looking forward to next year. It’ll be the best one yet, I reckon! Astrid will most likely be walking, and Iris will be three! It’ll be the week before she starts at school, and the week before the biggest kid moves to high school. How exciting! 

A good weekend for getting a grip 

There are lots of days when I just can’t get a grip of things and I feel a lot like I’m just flailing my limbs around and finding nothing to grasp on to. If you read here regularly (hello!) then you’ll know that there have been more than the normal amount of those days lately. I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’ve been feeling a little glum since Astrid came along at the beginning of the year. It’s even fair to say that there have been times I’ve resented her, because Iris wanted to do our usual things and so did I. It’s not so easy with a baby around. Having a baby and a toddler is hard work. Having an incredibly outgoing and busy toddler and a clingy and unsettled baby is even harder.  The reality of the situation is that we don’t always get to do the stuff we did when it was just Iris and I, and the house is messier than ever and I’m not looking after myself at all.  That’s just the way it goes. 

Acceptance is the key to getting through this bit of motherhood. I know, because when Iris didn’t sleep as a baby I was a frazzled mess. Until I accepted it. Then I sat up half the night feeding her while watching Grey’s Anatomy, and then I napped in the day when she napped. I’d accepted it. I didn’t attempt to go to bed at a normal time, and I gave up all hope of achieving very much in the day. And it got much easier.  Acceptance isn’t something I’m good at. It doesn’t come easily. A few weeks ago it was clearly time to accept that I’d need help through this fog. I asked for help, and got a prescription for medication. The combination of amitriptyline for migraines and sertraline for anxiety has worked well for me.  And here I am. Ignoring the chaos around me and just being mum. 
It helps that Trevor has started working from home more lately. We gain an hour either side of his day now that there’s no commute. This enables me to shower, and us to keep on top of the dishes and stuff. Well, sometimes anyway. I often find being a stepparent really hard. Finding your place in a family that was already a family before you came along is a challenge. I’ve risen to it, over and over. I drag the whole lot of us out of the house and find us fun stuff to do when I’m sure we could just waste a weekend watching tv. It’s important to me that as adults the big two look back and remember their weekends with us. I know I will!  The weekend that just passed by has been a bit of a game changer for me.  I’m getting the hang of things again, post Astrid’s birth, and I felt a part of things. Like before. But better.  We squeezed in so much, and although it’s quite exhausting, I like it like that. Our house is small. Too small for six people to relax in together for any length of time and it makes me feel quite anxious.  Fresh air, exercise, play parks, feeding ducks, trampolines,ice cream, long walks, paddling pools, tractor rides, feeding goats, hanging out with cousins, ball pits, scooters, adventure playgrounds, Pokemon Go, and an Indian takeaway. The weekend was full.
And I’m happy. 

A tale of two trips

I think it’s unlikely that anybody will ever accuse me of putting forward a Pinterest-perfect life. I don’t even use a camera and I have no idea what a flat lay is. Besides, most of what I write is about how badly I cope with life in general, and parenting too. This is another of those. Sort of.

On the advice of Cardiff Mummy Says (check out the stuff to do in the summer holidays posts! So useful!) I took Iris and Astrid to National Museum Cardiff yesterday. And again today actually. But not because we had too much fun yesterday and couldn’t wait to go back. Nope. Yesterday, in typical Mouse family style, was a complete disaster.


I’m not even going to go there really. I don’t want to revisit it. Let’s just say Astrid screamed. A lot. All day long actually. On the train, in the pushchair, in the sling, during lunch. All day. We went to the museum but we only really saw the foyer. Oh, and we bumped into a friend of mine and I couldn’t even talk to her because I was a flustered mess and on the brink of tears. So that was nice. The only positive of the day was when the kids finally fell asleep and I caught a Pikachu. Yep. I’m addicted to Pokemon Go. That was on the way home.


So why would I put myself through it all again?

I don’t know. Because I’m not particularly sensible? I’m a sucker for punishment?

Well Iris was a bit gutted she didn’t get to see ‘Superworm’ and Trevor convinced me I was brave enough. I wasn’t.

I mentioned the whole thing to friends at toddler group this morning, and before I knew it we were all on a train. Four mums and five kids. I had backup. I had a TEAM now. I was brave enough after all.

Astrid was happier today. She napped early and Iris napped too. I arrived with well rested babies, and that makes the world of difference.

We had the best time. Especially Iris. Her favourite part was the worm exhibition, in particular the little house that feels like being a worm underground. There were windows containing other underground creatures, and predators peering down from holes above your head. The fox was quite sinister looking. I don’t fancy being a worm.

Iris, in her usual style, embraced the whole experience and even got into the worm and caterpillar costumes to wriggle about for a bit. She was squealing with excitement at the animals all around, and was extra excited by any animal that features in The Gruffalo’s Child. A tiny stuffed mouse was THE BIG BAD MOUSE, and the fox prompted her to recite a big chunk of her favourite book. Another of her favourite books, Superworm, was available to read in a little book corner with a shelf full of stories about worms and other wriggly creatures. We spent a while in there on the cushions. A relief for me, because I’m constantly exhausted.

 

The exhibition is really great! I hope we can get back and see it again soon. I actually learnt quite a bit too. I had no idea there was a worm called the Bone Eating Snot Flower, for example. But I’m glad to know now. Our friends dashed off, but with nowhere to go I followed Iris as she wandered around some of the other exhibits. I’m sure we only saw a small chunk of the museum as we walk slowly and linger for ages at the interesting stuff. A tree with a stuffed owl inside, whale bones, sparkly rocks, hairy dinosaurs, a huge screen showing volcanoes erupting. So much to see.

 
Plus the cafe is quite nice.

We’ll be back, for sure. And not just because Bute Park is full of Pikachus. On the way back to the train station I decided to treat myself and Iris to an ice cream. Astrid stole mine. As usual.