2016

I actually wrote this post a few weeks ago, with the intention to finish it over the Christmas holidays, but when I came back to it tonight I found that it just didn’t say what I wanted it to say. It didn’t sum up the year at all. 

I thought for a while that no year would be bigger (I said bigger, not better) than 2014. That was the year I became a mother. In some respects, that’s still true. I can’t become a mother again. Becoming a mother is the single most exciting thing I’ve ever done and I can’t imagine ever topping that. I became a mum of two this year though, and a mum of two under two. I assumed wrongly that the blissful bubble I lived in after Iris’s birth would be replicated after Astrid arrived. It couldn’t have been more different. I’ve felt slightly traumatised by the birth of Iris. The doctors, the procedures, the room full of people staring at my private parts, the epidural, the forceps, the hospital stay for an infection. It’s all stayed with me. The birth of Astrid was completely different. I refused point blank to go back to the same hospital, and chose to give birth on a midwife led unit somewhere else. A midwife asked me if I had a back up plan in case the unit was full, and I told her that if she wanted me to go back to the hospital she’d have to drag me kicking and screaming. Thankfully it all worked out. Astrid arrived after a day and a night of labour, half of which was at home and half was in a pool in a private room with a midwife poking her head around the door every so often. Just me and Trevor, singing songs by The Smiths and holding each other. She was born in the morning and we went home the same day. I felt healed by the experience and hopeful for a few weeks of newborn bliss. This is my favourite picture ever. Just after arriving home with brand new Astrid, the first time these sisters ever met. The look of wonder on Iris’s face. How gently she’s touching her. Watching the bond between them grow and develop has been the highlight of a very tough year. They belong together. I’m dreading the days when they have real fights and stop talking to each other. I just want them to always love each other the way they do now. The bliss never came and life after her birth was really hard. It wasn’t them. Of course there were moments when I had both of them upset and couldn’t split myself, and it was hard. But mostly I was surprised by having two under two. It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t as hard as I’d anticipated. Despite that, I was seriously down. I can look back now and see that it probably wasn’t just a normal bit of baby blues. The black dog had come along and clouded everything. My migraines returned, and I went back on medication for both. A combination of Sertraline and Amitryptaline helped me so much, but I couldn’t take good care of myself. I was too anxious and stressed out. I ate my feelings, which didn’t make me feel better. I turned 31 in February, and I reflected on how I spent my birthday (doing housework and feeling like crap) and was scared it summed up who I had become, so I vowed to take better care of myself, to look after myself better. I didn’t though. I just couldn’t find the energy or the motivation. I didn’t like myself. I didn’t feel like I was worth the effort. Instead I just carried on in a fog and gained a ridiculous amount of weight. I kept trying to convince myself that writing stuff down and blogging was making me feel better, that it gave me a release and helped me to deal with things. While that was sometimes true, it wasn’t most of the time. The New Years resolutions I’d had for making my blog more of a thing just put more pressure on my already tired brain. Most of my blog posts contained the words ‘sorry for the silence, please stick with me while I attempt to get better at this’. I gave up on my photo round up posts that were like a diary of my life. I just couldn’t keep up. I tried again to fix my bad eating habits. I’m vegetarian, dairy makes me feel crappy, and the thought of eating eggs repulses me. I tried hard to fix my diet and only eat things that make me feel good. I even mastered vegan pancakes! It didn’t last. I turned to chocolate to make me feel better at the end of the day. It didn’t work but I couldn’t give it up. Breastfeeding was a big part of the year, as well as severe sleep deprivation. I was proud of my ability to walk around and be alive on so little sleep for so many months on end. It was so daft, because my skin was grey, my bones ached, my hair was falling out and I felt so so awful. Breastfeeding was easier second time around though, and we’re still going now. We spent more time with my family this year, and that made such a difference to me. I love seeing Iris run around with my sister’s kids. They’re so close now, and are always hugging and kissing each other. They’ve come over the bridge for sleepovers here a few times and they’ve been wonderful. I’m hoping for lots more of that in 2017! The hardest part of being in Wales is being away from people that I love, both friends and family. I’ve been here for over 2 and a half years. It’s still a constant battle. There’s nowhere to run. I have great friends here now, but it’s not the same as running off to your mum’s when life gets a bit overwhelming. Spring bought us a bit of a heatwave and being outside more was soothing. I had already gained so much weight since new year that I had no clothes that fit me. I bought some from charity shops but quickly outgrew those too. It got me down so much, but being outside on our new decking with my little ones brought me joy and that helped. The warm weather wasn’t consistent, but we kept up with the outdoors fun anyway. I didn’t write a single word on my blog in April, and I can’t even remember why. I probably just couldn’t. I couldn’t face it. I hate to write negative posts but I’ve struggled to find positives for much of this year. This leads to me feeling guilty because the news is full of hate and pain and suffering, and I had nothing solid to blame my depression on. Life was good. I have it good. It doesn’t work that way though. If only it did. Trevor decided to try to cuddle a prairie dog and it bit him. I’m including it because it was one of the funniest things that happened all year. Plus it serves him right. Who tries to cuddle a prairie dog?? If I was going to master getting my life back on track, I had to get the hang of getting around with two very small children. As you can see, I’d already mastered the art of the selfie that hides the weight gain and exhaustion. I did briefly get better at travelling around with them, and we did a few days out on public transport and visits to people we miss. Sometimes it was a huge success, and other times it was so stressful it put me off and I hid us all away for a while again. We went to Barry Island on an average spring day only to find that it was still winter at the seafront. It was so freezing, and I was glad of my tendency to overpack the changing bag for once. We made sand castles and played hook a duck while trying to shelter from the blistering wind. Iris’s unexplainable obsession with chickens and ducks kept growing, and I still have no real idea where it started or what she sees in them. A neighbour keeps them, and we visit them often. Iris even sings to them sometimes. It’s not escaped me that there’s barely a mention of Astrid in this post so far. The truth is that I don’t remember quite a bit of her first few months. I was a mess, and she was one of those babies that screams and screams for a reason it’s impossible to work out. I couldn’t console her no matter what I did, and in trying to I often had to ignore Iris. It was so hard. The lowest moment of the year was the day some police community support officers helped me home on the bus because they found me crying and Astrid screaming while Iris slept in the pushchair. I couldn’t juggle it all. I just couldn’t get us out of the public eye and back home by myself. I felt so judged and so ridiculous, but I can see now that people were kind to me. We did run away to my mum’s occasionally despite the distance, and those times were so good. Sometimes I just need to get away from Wales and away from our life. I feel so bad because as much as I insist it’s not about Trevor and our life here (and it really isn’t) it must be so hard for him to live with somebody like me and then to worry about us when I take us all off for a break. I know if the tables were turned I’d feel abandoned and like I’d done something wrong, so I do appreciate that it’s got to be hard for him. In another attempt to fix my terrible eating habits I bought a spiraliser, and for a while we ate a lot of vegetables. Green spaghetti was Iris’s favourite. It didn’t last that long though. Like every other thing I tried to do for my own health this year, it failed at the first hurdle. There was a lot of rain. Thankfully Iris quite likes it and I’m a fan of it too if we’re dressed appropriately! We jumped in a lot of puddles and didn’t let it keep us indoors. A friend of ours set up an exercise class where you could take your little ones along. Iris enjoyed it, but Astrid kept crying and wouldn’t settle so I found I was barely joining in. When I could take part, I had a great time and remembered how good exercise felt. I even lost a bit of weight. The class didn’t carry on because the instructor was expecting another baby, and I didn’t find another form of exercise to replace it. I tried (and still do!) to keep active by walking the dog. Actually we barely walk at all, because Iris goes so slowly and stops to admire every stick. Astrid often starts to cry and Iris asks to be carried, and I give up. It’s just too exhausting and I’m all out of motivation and energy. We got some tiny baby caterpillars and looked after them until they made the transformation into beautiful butterflies, and then we let them go in local woodland. It was magical, and made me feel incredibly emotional! They were landing on us and hanging around, and when they did fly away Iris was calling out goodbye to them. It’s definitely an experience I want to repeat every year! We hung out at the local lido as often as we could, because we’re very lucky to have such a wonderful facility on our doorstep. Iris discovered that she can swim by herself if she wears armbands and I’ve never seen her prouder. I’ve never felt prouder either. She turned TWO! My tiny little baby was a two year old. We celebrated with a picnic in the park on a quite chilly day, followed by fun in the (very cold) splash park and then a day trip to Cardiff Bay with my mum. I couldn’t believe how much she’d changed from 18 months to two, in the six months since Astrid had arrived. She was such a little person already, with her own ways and preferences.I went blonde in an attempt to like what I see in the mirror. It actually worked! I really liked it. The upkeep was two much in my busy life though, so the roots kept growing too long and I just couldn’t keep up. But for a while, I really enjoyed having super frosty blonde hair. We had a lovely family photo shoot in a strawberry field with local photographer Donna of Sweet Whimsy Photography. I love the results and they are pictures I will truly treasure forever. I had to really battle with myself to share the ones of me though, and could hardly bear to look at them myself. I don’t recognise this person I see in pictures and in the mirror. It isn’t the me I know, and I can’t find a better way to explain it than that. I guess it’s an identity crisis of sorts, and I’m very much still having it now. We did a fair bit of camping this year, which suits me just fine. I love it. It’s so freeing and soothing. Even when it pours with rain there’s just something about that sound on the tent. Even if it does keep us all awake. Our first trip was with all of Iris’s friends from breastfeeding support group and their parents who have become our friends. It made me realise that the support network I have here in Wales now is just incredible. I miss my Bristol friends and I always will, but this bunch are wonderful and have kept me going through so much. We managed to pitch our tents in a big circle around the children’s play area, and we just chilled and watched the kids play for a couple of days. Astrid started eating solid food, and we went down the baby led route again. It’s worked so well for us both times, and I’m so glad I’ve never had to mash food or make up puréed veg. It also means I could sit and eat my own dinner with two hands. I didn’t realise it was possible, but Astrid actually eats even better than Iris did. Iris is beginning to get a little fussy now, but as a baby she ate everything and anything in huge quantities. Astrid is exactly the same. I hoped thinking about meals for a small baby would help me sort out my own eating habits but that didn’t happen. The last few weeks of summer were pretty great. We managed another camping trip, this time with Trevor’s brother and his family who we don’t get to see often, as well as a few lovely day trips. The weather was fantastic, and I briefly felt like my old self for a while. I felt like I might have got a grip of things and it felt good. The sunshine was working for me. In August we went to a wedding reception in Bristol, which we decided not to take Iris to. It was kind of a big deal for her, her first sleepover at Nanny’s without me there to put her to bed. She’d stayed overnight with my mum at our house once before (while I was giving birth to Astrid) but I’d never left her at my mum’s. She wasn’t bothered and had a great time. Astrid came along and mostly ate food and slept in the sling. In mid August Iris declared “no more nappies!” and decided she needed big girl pants. We rolled with it despite the awful timing  (the week before our holiday!) and I’m glad I trusted her and followed her lead. She’s had her fair share of accidents but hasn’t looked back. She’s so proud of using the toilet by herself and quickly moved on from the potty. The summer ended, as it has for three years now, with our long camping trip to Beddgelert in North Wales. Having a potty training toddler along for the ride was interesting but it all worked out and we had another fantastic break away. It’s one of the highlights of my year every year now and I look forward to it all year long. This year my sister gave birth to my new baby niece Effie while we were away and I found it quite upsetting to not be nearby for her. The mobile phone signal is so bad in Snowdonia that we could barely keep in touch, and I couldn’t wait to meet her. The week after our holiday, Iris started at nursery. It was a big decision for me, and I wasn’t sure it was right for a while. I don’t have a job, or any real need of childcare, but Iris is a really sociable girl who doesn’t cope with whole days at home or without the company of other children. The pressure of making sure her days were full was something I could do with easing up slightly. She loved it from the very beginning, and on her first morning when we told her we’d leave and come back in a little while she barely looked up from the sandpit and just said ‘bye then’. She had a lot of accidents there to start with as she was nervous about asking to go the loo, but she got the hang of it in the end. She’s been coming home singing in Welsh (it’s a bilingual nursery) and talking about her new friends and her teachers. Astrid quite often naps while she’s there and it’s given me two mornings a week to do housework or just sit still if that’s what I need to do. One of our guinea pigs, Captain Fuzzywuzzy, had died suddenly before our holiday but although we knew Batpig was lonely we put off getting him a new friend so that we could be around to supervise the introductions. It went really well and baby Robin has settled in nicely. He’s more nervous and jumpy than Batpig so we’re working on getting him used to us. The arrival of autumn was welcomed by me. It had been very hot for a while and I was struggling with it. Iris discovered conkers and our days were filled with finding the best trees to collect them from. It was a great game to combine with Pokemon Go, and we spent a lot of time outdoors. Astrid learnt to crawl, and it made our outdoor adventures more fun. She was less frustrated. She could join in! We had a day out with my sister and her family in Bristol, which was wonderful. However, I realised that I didn’t want to be there. I’m not the Bristol version of me anymore. I was scared of bumping into people because I don’t want them to see me like this. I don’t t even want to see myself like this. I’m so tired and worn down. Even my old river city couldn’t pick me up. Astrid wore a lion costume for an animal themed workshop on the park, and I’m basically just including this picture because it makes me happy. I sold our gorgeous Cosatto tandem pushchair because Astrid hated being in the back, and bought a second hand double off-road three wheeler. It’s great for in the woods and the park, and Astrid is so much happier in it. Scenes like this one make it my best purchase of the year. For the third time this year we combined a train trip to Techniquest in Cardiff Bay with a boat ride to Bute Park, but this time we took Trevor and the big girls. We’ve become so attached to Techniquest that we’re getting annual passes next year! Hooray for science! It rained a lot, so we bought some waterproof trousers and rolled around in muddy puddles. Well, the kids did. I just watched and enjoyed seeing their joy. In October we carved pumpkins and Iris had a wonderful Halloween evening answering the door and handing out sweets. Her nursery had a Halloween disco, and although she refused to wear the witch costume I had bought for her, Iris had a wonderful evening. Astrid loved it too. We went to the big firework display in our local park for bonfire night. Astrid stared at them and we couldn’t make out how she felt about the experience. Iris kept trying to climb a nearby tree and I was too scared of losing her in the dark to enjoy the display. Our good friends Jen and Martin at Barefoot Images did a Christmas photo shoot for us. After not even being able to look at the pictures of myself from our last photo shoot, I decided this would be just the four kids. This is an outtake but is actually my favourite shot. It sums up their relationship so well. There’s a constant battle for the limelight, and they seem to be constantly trying to outdo each other in terms of cuteness. It didn’t get used on our Christmas card, but it might just make it onto the wall in the hallway! The beginning of November was a scary time. Iris had been ill with what I thought was a nasty cold for a few days, when she started wheezing and became difficult to wake up. She ended up being rushed to hospital with suspected pneumonia. She likes ambulances and fire engines so she’d probably have enjoyed the ride if she’d been aware of what was going on. She ended up on oxygen, nebulisers and inhalers and stayed in for two nights. Thankfully it was a chest infection and not pneumonia. The experience affected her deeply. She wouldn’t talk about it for a few weeks, and she relapsed with using the toilet, started crying when we took her to nursery, and completely lost her appetite. She didn’t even want to play, and would just lie under a blanket on the sofa. It took a good month to get our usual Iris back. In December, I’ve discovered Marie Kondo and began a serious declutter. I didn’t realise that the mountains of junk all over my house were affecting my mental health and holding me back. Sending bags and bags of stuff to charity shops and to recycling has been life changing, which sounds cheesy and a bit daft but it’s true. It inspired me to look at other areas of my life too, and to figure out what sparks joy and get rid of what doesn’t. It’s just the beginning of a big adventure that I’m hoping will dominate 2017 and help me to get my whole life back on track. Yes, I’m aware that it’s just a book and I sound a bit silly. I’ve become an empty shell. An unhappy one. An overweight one. I have a lot to change but figuring out what’s good and embracing that might just work better than anything else I’ve tried, most of which involved seeing the negative and being angry about it. Iris was in her first Christmas show as a star, and actually wanted to wear a costume which was a shock. It was mostly Christmas songs sung in Welsh so I had no idea what was going on, but Iris was very proud of her performance. It was so cute it brought me to tears!We went to Puxton Park with my mum and my sister’s family for the fourth year in a row. It’s become our little tradition, and we’ve gone from having three kids between us to having seven in that time! I can’t believe Christmas has come around again so quickly. It’s been another lovely one this year, and the first one where Iris had understood it. Astrid was old enough to enjoy it too. We’ve all eaten too much and lazed around. I’ve been weaning myself off the medication I’ve been taking all year, so I’ve been feeling a little poorly and very very anxious. I’m completely overwhelmed with it all today and it’s made me feel quite ill. I want to enjoy the last few days of the festive season but it’s all a bit much and I’m looking forward to getting back to normal. There’s so much tidying up to do. The house is trashed and it’s making me sweaty and netvous. I don’t seem to be able to just enjoy anything anymore! Despite currently feeling quite bleak and exhausted, I’m determined that next year is going to be different. I’m going to feel better and take better care of myself, which will mean I can take better care of my family too. It’s all going to change. Wish me luck!! Happy new year!
 

Autumn. Again.

Photo 02-10-2016, 17 24 29.pngNormally at this time of year I’m completely in denial about the summer ending and autumn beginning, but this year I am not.

I’m not sure if it’s having babies or all the extra weight I’m carrying around, but I’ve gone from being the person who is always cold to always being hot and sweaty. I’ve had enough now. I don’t look good in summer dresses or bikinis. I want layers and knitwear and clunky boots. If I really must wear a dress I want to wear it with woolly tights. I definitely want to stop caring about how hairy my legs are now. photo-02-10-2016-17-32-58

Why does it keep raining when it is far too warm to wear a coat?

I also feel kind of odd about the cooler weather coming. Winter means Astrid’s birthday, and I just don’t understand how I don’t have a newborn anymore. When did that happen?

photo-02-10-2016-17-32-46We’ve already been collecting conkers. Iris has a whole bucket full of them and I have no idea what to do with them. Any crafty conker ideas this way please! At 27 months, I think Iris is just about starting to appreciate craft activities. Somehow autumn feels like craft season. I’ve been crocheting quite a bit when I can, and I really feel like doing some knitting. Or maybe cross stitch. Iris loves playing with glue and glitter, so I really should come up with some new ideas for things she can create. photo-02-10-2016-17-33-48

Halloween and Bonfire Night are two of my favourite celebrations! I’m really looking forward to carving pumpkins and watching fireworks. I’m a little bit worried that Iris won’t like fireworks this year. She’s developed a bit of a sensitivity to loud noises recently, and gets quite scared when noisy vehicles pass by or a hand dryer unexpectedly comes on. It’ll be a shame if we have to skip the display in our local park. It was so good last year! photo-02-10-2016-17-33-56

I sometimes write a list of things I want to do or achieve in Autumn. It helps to keep me motivated to fill our days when the cold weather is getting me down, but I don’t feel like it this year. I’ve got lots of ideas and want to do lots of fun things! I want to keep us outdoors as much as possible whatever the weather. I don’t cope well with being trapped indoors, and both of my little ones seem to have inherited that. DSC01970.JPG

Waterproofs and welly boots at the ready, we’ll still be having adventures all over!

 

Win a family photoshoot with Sweet Whimsy Photography 

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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!

img_1488When 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* 

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! 

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!*