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.

A little trip to Cardiff Bay

There’s not much that Iris likes more than all the different forms of transport at the moment. Wherever we go she’s squealing “look mummy, a plane/van/lorry/some other vehicle”. Luckily the narrow street we live on is not only a bus route, but also leads to lots of farms so we get a lot of passing tractors! When my mum suggested we get the train to Barry with my very pregnant sister and my little niece and nephew, Iris was excited. As we waited for them at Treforest station yesterday morning the sky was grey and it kept drizzling, so we decided to head somewhere other than the beach. Cardiff Bay is the obvious choice. Easily accessible by train, tons to do, and Techniquest to play in if the weather gets really bad. By the time we’d got off the train at the bay though, it was perfect beach weather. Oh well. For Iris, the train journey is the best bit of the day anyway so weather is unimportant! 


There’s a ‘beach’ set up in the bay at the moment, with a splash pool, huge sandpit and loads of fairground rides. The kids are all a bit little for most rides, but my mum took them on a couple. I was surprised Iris liked them. She quite often asks to go on those little rides outside supermarkets, but then starts crying when they start moving. Maybe seeing her cousins enjoy it gave her confidence? I hope so! I love seeing the three of them interact and play together. Soon Astrid will be old enough to play too, and then my sister’s new baby will join in. It is difficult to imagine day trips like this with five of them running around! Just these three were exhausting. Why do they always want to run in different directions? The only time they stayed still was during lunch, and they spent most of that hiding from each other in a storage cupboard belonging to the hot dog bar! 

Being 37 weeks pregnant, my sister needed frequent loo stops. Starbucks was an obvious choice, and the kids all enjoyed a babyccino. My nephew did enjoy it and was first to finish, despite what the look on his face says! 

When we visited Cardiff Bay on Iris’s birthday we took a boat trip round to Bute Park, so we decided to do that again. That boat wasn’t leaving for half an hour though, so we jumped on a different one. It took a 45 minute guided tour of the whole bay, and the views were lovely. The kids did a bit of boat and duck spotting. Me and my sister tried to resume our games of Pokemon Go (Cardiff is so much better than Pontypridd for Pokemon!) but it didn’t really work on the water. It just looked a bit weird! 

The boat took us back to the exact spot it left from and we went for another wander. Carrying some weird blue dolls they won on Hook a Duck, Iris and my niece spotted not an ice cream van but an ice cream bus! We’ve chased the ice cream van down our street enough times for it to be familiar to Iris, and she was very excited. Her chocolate cone was gone before the rest of us had barely started, and she finished off my nephew’s blue bubblegum one too. Greedy little thing! Astrid ate most of mine. You have to share everything when you’ve got kids! Not fair! 


Then the day was done. We squeezed in to a really overcrowded train back to Cardiff, then another one back to Treforest. My family all headed off home to Bristol while Trevor picked us up. It wasn’t much, but it was a great day for us. We don’t see my family even close to often enough, and I miss them so much. Seeing the little cousins play together is my favourite thing. I can’t wait for there to be five! 

There’s just something about the tent life 

I’m often complimented or congratulated on camping with small children. I get it. Little ones are hard work at home, surrounded by their stuff and the home comforts. When you’re camping, even when you cheat and get an electric hook up like we do, you have to live with the basics. A younger me wouldn’t have enjoyed it. This me loves being unplugged for a few days. 

Even better than unplugging, is unplugging the kids. Ok so Iris did watch a couple of episodes of Teletubbies on my iPad, but mostly the four kids just spent time outdoors. This was made even better by the chance for them to hang out with cousins who live far away and we rarely see. 


I always feel shattered but somehow healed after a few nights under canvas. Even though I slept very little (on a deflated air bed!) and I’m absolutely shattered, I feel good. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad to sleep without having to wear three layers and still feel cold. But I miss the tent already and we’ve been home about 26 hours. 

I think it’s because, in the great outdoors, I just stop caring about the stuff that irritates me at home. When Iris is covered in mud and grass stains, eats Pringles for breakfast and stays up til 11pm making her big sisters read A Squash and a Squeeze over and over. I just don’t care. I can let it go. The bigger kids suddenly develop a love for washing up, and there aren’t any other chores to do. It’s wonderful. 

Plus there’s the grass, and the trees. The birds. Big hills. Campsite playgrounds. Campsite shops with sweets and ice creams. Finding bugs and spiders and counting their legs. Night skies full of stars with no light pollution. Other children that our children have short term but complicated friendships with. What’s not to love? I don’t even mind when it rains. 

There’s about four weeks until our next planned camping trip. The big one. Beddgelert. This is our third year and we hope we’re still going in years to come! 

Our Insect Lore butterflies

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Back in Bristol, before having kids, I worked in nurseries with little children. One of the hardest parts of the role is trying to come up with new, exciting and educational activities all of the time. Yet every summer, year after year, we’d order caterpillars from Insect Lore and spend the next few weeks watching and talking about the life cycle of the butterfly. It was always one of my favourite things to do, and the children were always mesmerised! So when a relative gave me some cash and asked me to spend it on something fun for Iris I knew exactly what to do.

I saw a TV advert with an offer for 10 caterpillars for the price of 5, and ordered immediately. The caterpillars arrived in their little tubs within a few days. The food they need is already contained in the tubs, and the rate that they eat and grow is almost unbelievable! I had to be very careful because Iris can be quite heavy handed and I was worried she’d shake the tubs. All of the caterpillars survived life with Iris, and once they were huge and the food was gone they transformed into chrysalides overnight. A few days later, we watched in awe as the butterflies emerged and stretched their wings. Iris couldn’t quite believe it, and insisted on standing on a chair in the kitchen and watching them flap around.

As wonderful as the caterpillar and chrysalides stages are, they’re difficult to photograph. I managed a few poorly lit snaps, but nothing worth sharing. Really it’s all just a countdown to release day. The best part of the whole process!

We headed into the wooded area where we walk Seb the dog near our house, and we let them go. They seemed almost reluctant at first, landing on our hats and arms, but then off they flew one by one. I have no real idea why, but it made me feel quite emotional. Maybe it was Iris’s cries of ‘bye bye butterfly’ that did it. It’s quite an experience, and weeks later Iris still talks about it. We’ll definitely be doing it all again next summer!

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*We paid for our caterpillars and haven’t worked with Insect Lore for this post. We just really enjoyed the experience and wanted to share!*

 

 

 

 

 

Our family photo shoot with Sweet Whimsy Photography

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After writing our our #sweetsummerchallenge summer to-do list, we arranged to meet up with the lovely Donna of Sweet Whimsy Photography for one of her out in the wild photo shoots. I’ve never been a big fan of a studio photo shoot. They make me feel nervous and then I can’t manage a natural smile. The little ones are the same. I took them for a studio shoot quite recently and Iris went all shy while Astrid got upset. They managed one decent photo but neither kid is smiling. It was good enough for a grandparent’s mantelpiece, but not the kind of picture that brings back memories and makes you feel warm inside. For that you need to capture kids in their own natural environment, doing what they do best. The great outdoors!

We headed to Hendrewennol Fruit Farm near Cardiff to tick strawberry picking off our summer bucket list. It’s a favourite of ours, and a place we often pop into after a visit to the nearby Warren Mill Farm Park. As well as fruit fields, they have a lovely play area and the coffee is pretty good too. Donna had never been before, but was happy to meet us there and I’m pretty sure she’ll be going back with her own daughter!

Iris really got stuck in. Once we convinced her to only pick red ones and not the green ones, she filled her basket pretty quickly. It was a damp drizzly sort of Saturday morning, but we’ve never been the sort of family to let the weather hold us back. Even Astrid was happy to sit on (and eat!) the wet grass, and she really enjoyed her first taste of strawberries. You’re not really supposed to eat them until after you leave, but Astrid is too little to read the signs! It didn’t take long for the little ones to completely forget that Donna and her camera were there. I’m pretty sure Trevor had forgotten too. If I wasn’t so self conscious I could have done the same, but cameras pointed at me make me feel nervous! I needn’t have worried. I don’t look nervous and I’m pretty pleased with the shots of me. I have to admit that my favourites are the images of Trevor and Iris, who were having a really great time together!

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The big two kids were in Lanzarote with their mum, lucky things, so they couldn’t be a part of the shoot. It’s a huge shame, but we’ve already decided that we’ll be doing another shoot with Donna in the future and they’ll be included next time. I think we’ll wait until Astrid is walking, so that they can be captured all running together.

I highly recommend Sweet Whimsy Photography if you’re in South Wales and want a family photoshoot that’s a little bit different!

*Donna photographed us for the purpose of this post and for images for her website/blog. We weren’t charged for the shoot.*

Our summer bucket list with #sweetsummerchallenge and Sweet Whimsy Photography

I was recently put in touch with Donna Loring of Sweet Whimsy Photography, a family photographer based nearby in South Wales who is challenging families to write a to do list for summer and then get outdoors and do all the fun stuff! I’m a big fan of a list. Especially a fun list! Definitely preferable to my usual stuff-to-do-around-the-house list. I set to work straight away writing a list, and in the few weeks since we’ve actually managed to do quite a few of these already! It’s been a lot of fun!

Go camping with friends

Splash in the sea

Search rock pools for creatures

Eat chips on the seafront

Go strawberry picking

Paddle in a lake

Climb a mountain

Go geocaching

Walk the dog in the woods

Visit Castell Coch

Take a boat bus from Cardiff Bay

Visit the splash park

Have a picnic

Pop bubbles in the garden

Build sand castles

Ride on steam trains

Camp in the forest

Visit the lido

Fly kites

Wander around a harbour

Painting in the garden

Play in the paddling pool

Have a BBQ

Visit Folly Farm

So if you’re finding yourself stuck for ideas when you wake up on these summer holiday mornings, try sitting down with your family and writing a similar list. Join in by tagging blog posts and pictures with #sweetsummerchallenge on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For more information and some great free print outs and ideas head to Donna’s page here and sign up!

Pop back here tomorrow and I’ll be sharing the wonderful photographs from our shoot with Donna!