Banish the fear

The fear that never really goes away has once again raised it's head in response to the terror attack in Manchester.


22 people dead.

59 people injured.

15 people still missing.

Pain, trauma and grief that can never be counted.

I am frightened. I'd be lying if I said otherwise.

And yet it is not just the act of terrorism that scares me.

A suitable vocation

I'd like to think I'm a pretty open-minded parent. I obviously want my children to achieve their dreams but I don't mind what that dream looks like.


I know that the career-decisions of a 5 year old will change by the time they're adults. I wanted to be a Nun. Then I nurtured dreams of becoming a journalist and even went through a very short stage where I considered becoming a Biomedical Scientist.

Review - Bounce and Rhyme, Micklefield Library

I love a good library.

Who doesn't love a good library?!

I love to read, I love discovering new books, of course I love the library.


It's something I couldn't wait to introduce Lily and Ollie to and with so many other activities being offered in our local library I'd have to be an idiot to not go along regularly.

Do I need to invite the whole class?

Plans are already underway for Lily's fifth birthday party in September. I'm currently swamped with ideas and potential products to purchase. I'm hunting down bargains, designing invitations, researching entertainment and worrying over the cake.

However, there is another aspect of party planning which concerns me this year that hasn't been a problem before.

As Lily starts school in September, will I have to invite the whole class?


At first I assumed that I should and would. I hate the thought of leaving anyone out, even if they haven't formed friendships a few weeks in.

But, added to Lily's friends and family we'd be looking at a party for over 50 children.

My child-free alter ego

Since having Lily four and a half years ago I can probably count on both hands the times I have been 'child free'.
I'll be honest, it doesn't usually bother me. I had my children because that was what I wanted from life. Giving up boozy weekends never seemed like such a sacrifice, I can watch a film on DVD instead of going to the cinema and a curry still tastes amazing when it's delivered to your house and you can eat it in your PJs whilst watching Netflix.

A lot of the time, I'm quite happy to stay in, or if I do go out, I like to do it with Matt and the kids. My family, making the most of our times together. We set aside weekends for us and don't have family near by to look after the children for the night or take them off our hands for a few hours. If we're going to have fun, we have fun together.

However.

And this is a really BIG however.

Looking after yourself

As a rule, I'm not a big fan of April as a month. It hasn't always been this way but it's over a decade since my Dad died by suicide and I spend most of April (and sometimes a lot of March as well) dreading the anniversary at the end of the month.
It's even tougher because it's Dad's birthday on the 10th and so it can feel like there is no escaping the grief that can overwhelm you on the anniversary of losing a loved one. As soon as I've dealt with one I'm hit by the other and it's pretty hard.

The temptation for me on these days is to stay in bed, pull the covers over my head and not talk to anyone all day. And if you feel the same then my advice to you would be to do it! Allow yourself the time and space for grieving - even if time has passed and some well-meaning but naive friends are telling you to 'move on'.

Party Planning - Tropical Party Outfits for Boys

I've gone a little bit 'tropical party' crazy at the moment and friends are looking at me in shock (horror) when I talk about the bargains I've just picked up in Poundworld or my plans for an epic balloon arch. Afterall, it isn't Lily's birthday until the end of September!


The thing is, we're going for a Moana-inspired tropical theme and all the shops are full of amazing designs, accessories and inspiration right now. I know that if I wait too long I could miss the canoe (sorry) and end up missing out on some great products.

Party Planning - Tropical Party Outfits for Girls

It may be five months until Lily's 5th birthday party but I've already started planning. Partly because I'm a sad and desperate wannabe-party-planner but mainly because if you're planning a tropical, summery themed Moana party then then summer is by far the best time to pick up supplies.

It also comes with the added benefit of being able to spread the cost by picking things up as you go and the chance of getting some bargains when they're easily accessible or on sale at the end of the season.


As all the shops roll out their summer clothing ranges I've noticed a huge range of tropical-inspired dresses, playsuits and skirts - all of which would be perfect for a summer BBQ, party, wedding or a late-September 5th birthday party!

Junior Park Run - Lily's first time

Lily is four and half years old and yesterday she took part in her first ever Junior Park Run.


She ran (and walked) for 2km and completed the course smiling and waving in about 18 minutes.

I have no idea whether this is a 'good' time or expected of a child her age. All I know is that she could have taken twice as long and I still would have sobbed with pride as she ran down that last section.

Overcoming loss by suicide

I don't think I will ever forget the day, as much as I'd love erase it from my mind like clearing the trash can icon on your desktop.

It was a relatively normal morning. I lived with my boyfriend in Highgate, North London and was heading into university to take one of the first exams of my first year studying Journalism with Sociology. A French listening and speaking exam. I wasn't nervous. My French classes where we were taught by a particularly 'cool' lecturer who liked to talk in depth about the primal experiences she felt during childbirth without pain relief. As you do.


My sister called my mobile as I caught the bus from outside my flat. She was worried about our Dad. He'd left a 'strange' voicemail on her phone whilst she'd been working at a pub the previous night.

National Offer Day - How did it go?

Last year I wrote out my feelings about Lily starting school - the frustration of not being able to 'choose' and the worry of doing something wrong.

In the end, we decided not to 'fiddle the system' and temporarily change churches in order to get Lily into our first choice.


This was fine - our second choice and catchment school was a very close second. In fact, I'll admit that it was probably Matt's first choice and is so close to our home that I would have been happy with taking Lily and picking her up every day. I don't drive and so proximity has always been a key deciding factor.

Review - Air and Ash

I have been doing so much reading lately, especially books that would fall into the 'Young Adult Fantasy' genre. As a 30-something year old Mum of two, I don't really fit into that category's target audience but it is still one that I know well. I love a book which has a gripping story line without always having to go down the 'Epic Fantasy' route (which is an equally awesome genre, obviously) and ever since I picked up my first Tamora Pierce book in a Bideford discount book shop when I was 13 I have loved books with a strong, young, female character.


Throw in some adventure, magic and a hint of romance and I'm usually hooked.

Tales as Old as Time

You'll know I love to read and so I was very excited to receive my Blind Date with a Book from Parragon Books this month - I had no idea what to expect but received in the post two fantastic books to tie-in with the newly released Beauty and the Beast film, each with a unique perspective into a tale we think we know so well.


Lost In A Book

First up is 'Lost In A Book' by Jennifer Donnelly.

At first I wondered if I was just a little older than the target reader for this book but I hadn't counted on the feelings of happy nostalgia that come with something you've liked for so long. Belle is by far my favourite Disney Princess and with her love of books, I certainly identify with her character, if not her looks.

The children's TV programmes I can't live without

Well, I could probably survive without these little nuggets of animated brilliance but life certainly wouldn't be the same.

Before I had kids I was one of those parents who wanted to limit my future poppet's screen time in order for their brains to grow merely from wholesome, organic sources and entertainment.

Ha ha ha.

That didn't last that long.


I've watched way too much children's television now. If you're sat questioning Flop's parenting techniques or wondering what idiots voted in Mayor Goodway then you're probably in the same boat as me. Sometimes, kid's TV is ten times more painful to sit through than a visit to the dentist.

I'm looking at you, Peppa-frickin'-Pig.

Chessington World of Adventures

When I planned Ollie's second birthday treat I really wanted to take him to CBeebies Land at Alton Towers using our Merlin Passes. Unfortunately we decided that it was a tad too far for a journey there and back in one day and staying over was out of budget.

I would say it was a shame, but with so many other Merlin attractions in easy reach we decided to head to one of our favourites - Chessington World of Adventures, where we could try out the new and exciting Gruffalo River Ride.


We decided to go on Friday when Matt had the day off work and got there soon after opening. Parking wasn't a problem and we were quite close to the entrance of the park. There was no waiting as we went straight in with our passes after a quick security check and headed straight to the new ride.

The most disgusting things I've done as a Mum

Today, I stepped out of the shower, grabbed the first towel I saw and used it to dry my face.

Wait.

What's that smell?

A few more sniffs of the towel reveal all.

OMG. I just wiped my face with a dirty towel.

Mother's Day Wishlist

I find that I can't decide whether I 'buy-in' to Mother's Day. I don't need to be given some expensive flowers or taken for a meal in a very busy restaurant surrounded by other Mums to know that my children love me. I resent the idea of our precious family funds being spent on random gifts for me just because retailers tell my husband he should.

But.

As a Mum, appreciation can be pretty thin on the ground and now I'm no longer working the days can feel pretty relentless.

So selling me a day where I can relax, put my feet up and open a lovingly-picked gift could actually go down quite well. A special day, a special gift or flowers to say 'thank you'.

And when it comes to gifts, there are some on my Pinterest boards that I've had my eye on for some time... If money was no object!

So, if you're looking for some ideas (or you're my husband, have secretly come into some cash and would like to push the boat out this Mother's Day) here is what is on my wish list.

Things I've learnt as a Mum of Two

Ollie turned 2 at the beginning of the month and if I'm honest, I still find it quite surprising that I'm a Mum of two. I'm not a super mum by any means but we get by with the help of plenty of cake.

Here are some lessons I have learnt over the last two years.


It's like starting over...
Because each child is so different you have no baseline for comparison. It doesn't matter when your first child crawled/walked/talked - the second will do it in their own time. They won't like the same foods when weaning. They won't fall into the same sleep routine. They won't like the same TV programmes.

You need to get to know this little person and what makes them tick, from the start.

Compassion, not ginger - my Hyperemesis story

If, after six months of vomiting, endless nausea, dehydration and fatigue your health care professional laughs outright and tells you to 'try eating ginger', how would you feel?

Because that is what me, and hundreds of other woman have to face when they suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum, or, if you've never had it then you may know it as 'the-morning-sickness-that-Kate-Middleton-had'.

Is it not surprising in 2017 so many people have never heard of a significant sickness that affects so many pregnant women? You'd think that at least our doctors and midwives would be better informed, more knowledgeable about treatments and most importantly, more understanding.


The sickness in my second pregnancy kicked in about eight weeks. It started slowly, throwing up a little food once or twice a day but by 16 weeks I struggled to keep down food or liquids. It was obviously worse than my first pregnancy (which was bad enough) and there were days when even swallowing my own saliva would trigger the vomiting. I couldn't work, I couldn't parent my child, most days I could do nothing except lie in bed.

Review - London Eye with Toddlers

It is nearly a year since we purchased our Merlin Annual Passes. They were a gift from a family member and although it was a lot to pay up front (we bought Premium Passes in the sale) I am so pleased we did - they have been worth the money and more!


Our passes run out in the summer and we're not sure yet whether we'll be able to afford to renew them so we're definitely making the most of them whilst we can. Last month we visited the lovely Warwick Castle and have trips planned later this month to Alton Towers and Chessington World of Adventures.

Of all the attractions offered with the pass, I had already been to the London Eye a few times and so wasn't desperate to do it again. However, Matt had never been and we thought it'd be a good excuse to visit London for the first time in a while.

Sunshine Blogger Quiz

I love these sorts of quizzes. Essentially, I'm just incredibly nosey and so like to read about other people, I doubt anyone is that interested in my answers but here they are anyway.

I was tagged in the Sunshine Blogger Quiz by The Mum from Brum whose blog I love and so here are my answers to her ten (sometimes tricky) questions.

1. If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one box set to watch, what would it be?
I can't believe I'm already stuck on the first question! At the moment I'm actually getting into Criminal Minds thanks to a colleague who recommended it - I know it's old but there are loads of seasons which should keep me going for a while at least.

2. Who was your favourite teacher at school?
Another hard question as I was blessed by some amazing teachers. It's really difficult to pick just one!

In primary school it was Miss Webb who taught me in Year 6 but in secondary school I was over-run by inspiring teachers. Of all these I would ultimately choose Mrs Quirk, my PE teacher and boarding house mistress because her heart was huge but I also loved my French teacher and tutor Mrs Barnes, history teacher Mr Colpus and my favourite subject (English) teacher, Mrs Farrell. 

I could go on, I went to a great school!

3. How did you pick your blog name?
My surname is German for 'cherry' so it's like saying 'Our Family Tree' but just for us.

4. If someone gave you unlimited funds to decorate one room in your house, which room would you choose and why?
The kitchen/diner because that's where we spend most of our time and I really want to buy a Kitchen Aid! I have expensive tastes and would love to have a vintage inspired kitchen filled with Cath Kidston prints and pastel shades.

5. What is your most treasured possession?
I have a wooden box by my bed filled with 'treasures' and memories - anything from my old school tie to photographs and jewellery. Of these, my most precious is a gold heart shaped necklace with my name on it and 'love daddy' inscribed on the back. My Dad gave both me and my sister one for Christmas just after my parents divorced and I've treasured it since.

6. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?
Probably Devon. I like the idea of travelling but am comfortably British when it comes to where I live. I'm actually quite happy where I am in Bucks for now but Devon is my happy place.

7. What was the last film you saw in the cinema?
I really can't remember! It was certainly ages ago - I think it may have been The Good Dinosaur...

8. Which Hogwarts House would you be sorted into?
As a true geek, I can confirm that I have been sorted into Hufflepuff and I'm proud!

9. Can you speak any other languages?
Unfortunately not, although I do have a basic understanding of 'toddler' if that counts?

10. Would you rather visit a beach or tour a city?
My perfect holiday would include a bit of both but if pushed I prefer the city - especially somewhere filled with history like Rome.

Spring Cleaning, when you have toddlers

Nothing can seem as futile as attempting to clean your house when you have small children. No sooner have you finished then the kids have come in and your once-pristine (for all of 10 minutes) home now looks like a tornado has hit.


It's even worse every spring when everyone suddenly starts talking about cleaning as if it's the first thing you really think of as soon as days start to look brighter.

Who really wants to spend hours, days, cleaning your home from top to bottom and then sit and weep whilst the kids destroy your efforts in seconds?

Not me.

But with the cleaning crying out to be done and spring as good a time as any to attempt organisation, here are my top tips for spring cleaning when you have little ones.

Half-Term Home Cinema

Due to the complexities of school-year timetables, if you live in Buckinghamshire then last week was half-term but according to my social media feeds this morning, pretty much everyone else has it this week.

I dreaded facing half-term, the change in routine, the question of how to entertain the children solidly with no toddler groups and everywhere else being packed full of other harassed-looking Mums and their school-age kids.

In reality, it wasn't as bad as I feared. Saying that, with an imagination like mine, nothing is ever quite how I think it will be!

However, I was hit by bloody horrible cramps mid-week and subsequently abandoned plans of taking Lily and Ollie to the local cinema. Instead Matt grabbed some supplies from the corner shop (that is not on a corner, but you know what I mean) and I filled a morning by setting up our very own home cinema.

We made posters.



There were four in the bed... and FFS!

At 9:30 on Sunday evening I gave up and headed to bed. I was shattered and heading into the crappest part of my monthly cycle. I needed my sleep.

I hadn't even managed to drop off when Matt appeared with a wriggling Ollie in his arms who was screaming to go "downstairs".

He didn't want a cuddle, he didn't want to sleep. He wanted to go downstairs and sit with Mummy and Daddy whilst they watched riveting repeats of Downton Abbey on Amazon Prime (because Sundays are not the same without acid-laced comments from the Dowager Countess).


Review - Warwick Castle

Ever got in the car for a family day trip and wondered if it was worth the effort?

The kids are screaming, you're running late and your hubby laughed at your getting ready dancing to Sean Paul... suddenly, an hour in the car after a night of being kicked in the head by your toddler doesn't seem that appealing.

Well, I can confirm that if you're thinking of visiting Warwick Castle, it's worth a little bit morning stressing.


By the time we got there at 10:30 I was expecting it to be packed but we easily found a parking space thanks to the attendants and it didn't take us long to walk up to the castle. We didn't have to queue at the turnstiles thanks to our Merlin Annual Passes and so we headed straight in. If you buy your tickets on the day you can expect to pay up to £19.80 but can make a saving by booking online.

As a lover of castles and history in general, you'd think I'd be tired of looking at old buildings but I could never get bored of somewhere like Warwick Castle. It's beautiful and overflowing with historical facts, fun stuff for the kids and entertainment for all ages.

Let's cut the crap...

Really.

I'm fed up of all the crap.

Not politics, celebrities and general modern life crap.

But actual crap. Poo. Shit. Feces.


Some days it seems like it's all my toddler wants to talk about.

Let's face it, most days it's all I seem to end up talking about!

Review - The Black Mage Series

In the kingdom of Jerar, the crown funds three different schools of warcraft. Before the age of seventeen, each citizen is given the chance to enrol as a soldier, knight or mage.

No need to guess which is the most prestigious.

The chance of being accepted as a mage is slim and the most fought after faction is that of 'combat'. With only five students chosen in each faction, each year, competition is fierce. There is an intense rivalry between students of different social classes - the 'low-borns' and the nobility, perfectly demonstrated by the two main protagonists - Ryiah and Prince Darren.


The end goal? The coveted robes of the Black Mage.

Ryiah and her twin brother, Alex, start their lessons at the keep, making friends and enemies along the way.

This series, described as 'Hogwarts meets the Hunger Games' had me gripped from start to finish. I love a good YA fantasy book and these definitely ticked all the boxes - fast paced action, romance, magic and a touch of intrigue.

Why would you need free childcare if you don't have a job?

I'm not ignorant, I understand that there are multiple reasons why someone may not be working and yet still require free childcare.

That said, I really don't understand the eligibility criteria.

Your 2-year-old can get free early education and childcare if you get one of the following:
- Income Support
- income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
- Universal Credit
- tax credits and you have an annual income of under £16,190 before tax
- the guaranteed element of State Pension Credit
- support through part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act
- the Working Tax Credit 4-week run on (the payment you get when you stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit)

The bit that bothers me the most is income-based jobseekers allowance. If you don't have a job, a disability, someone to care for, why should you be entitled to free childcare for two year olds when there are people in work, struggling to avoid debt in attempt to keep their job and pay for childcare.

It doesn't make sense.

If you claim contribution-based jobseekers allowance then you're not entitled, and yet, are in the same position in that both are meant to be looking for work.

It doesn't make sense.

You'll both need to find someone to look after your kids whilst you attend interviews or maybe courses to further your career. You'll both attend the same meetings at your local job centre. You'll both have bills to pay.

It doesn't make sense.

I don't buy in to the government propaganda about 'scumbags' milking the benefits system for their own gain. The majority of people forced to claim benefits genuinely have no choice, and capping or cutting benefits only serves to harm those in need and actual poverty.

The fault here is not with those claiming benefits and free childcare. It's the system which appears to favour those who do not work over those desperately trying to keep hold of their jobs.

Let's face it, there is little incentive to keep working if, at the end of the day, you'll be financially better off out of work. But I'd like to think that most people, of sound morals, would look beyond their own gain and the pound signs flashing up before their eyes.

Benefits are not that cut and dried and if you're motivated by cash then you have far more earning potential in work. That is how it should be.

So, instead of paying for childcare for people out of work, only to cut it if/when they find a job, surely the money would be better spent towards keeping others in work? Is that not common sense?

For example. I have given up work.

The cost of childcare was more than my salary and we have been struggling financially for some time.

I wanted to keep my job. I enjoy working and felt it was a good balance for my mental and emotional well being. If additional support had been available for my childcare costs then I would have continued (we already made use of childcare vouchers and were not entitled to tax credits).

If I haven't found a job in the six month period allowed for contribution-based JSA then I could apply for income-based JSA. I have no idea if I would get it as I'm hoping to have worked everything out by then but if I did then I'd apparently be able to get free childcare for Ollie when I don't actually need it.

Instead of setting up eligibility based on a child's age, the Government should be looking into ways of supporting parents in work.

So if you work but your childcare exceeds your salary, the Government will top it up and make it worth your while.

It's not hard, you take what a family earns and takes home each month then you take away the cost of their actual rent (don't even get me started on help for tenants) and a local average for council tax, utility bills and childcare and if it doesn't add up, then do something about it.

They'll stay in work. Contributing to society. To the economy. Less likely to be in debt. Less likely to require additional benefits.

Don't just keep chucking free childcare at the small percentage of lazy buggers who aren't going to work and just want time to have a hot cup of tea whilst their children are at nursery. That's not fair on anybody.

How to enjoy Mum and Toddler groups

One of the hardest things I have found with being a Mum is the loneliness. You wouldn't think that you could feel lonely when you spend every hour of every day attached to a tiny human being (or two) but you certainly can.

It can be the loneliness of a day with no adult conversation. Of saying the same thing repeatedly, with no effect.

It's the loneliness of day time television, different social circles and no one to relieve you when you child is tantruming for the tenth time.

So I've always been a big fan of Mum and Baby/Toddler groups.


Well, I say 'always'. That's exaggerating.

At first, I actually hated them.

They were excruciatingly painful at times.

Endless small talk. Judging glances. Screaming children. Badly made tea.

I can definitely see why some Mums avoid these groups like the plague.

But I am a convert. Approach these strange sub-societies in the right way and they can become a break in your day, even a highlight of your week. Here are my top tips for not just surviving toddler groups, but actually enjoying them.

Lily's Letter to Netflix

After Lily expressed her profound disappointment to her Daddy on Friday that Netflix was no longer showing 'Heidi' he suggested that she send them a message asking for it back.

Since then, Lily has asked a couple of times a day if she could send it.

With this picture.


I didn't expect the 'letter' to consist of much more than a plea for bringing back the cartoon but she had her heart set on it, so, in her own words:

Is this the moment?

I'm sorry for the recent silence.

It was not planned. It was not expected.

I just found that I had no words.

Or that I had the words, but not the ability to string them together coherently.

I have been anxious, excited, stressed and relieved to be giving up work to become a stay at home mum.

It resulted in a migraine that lasted two days and I spent all of last Wednesday in bed.

Today is the day.


On Friday I served my last day in the school office. My role has been handed over. Processes have been set up and presentations passed on. I fought my blushes and my tears when I was presented with my leaving gifts and hugged the friends I have made.

Time for Tantrums

A few weeks ago now both my children decided, uncharacteristically, to completely melt down at a toddler group we've attended for more than two years.

At the same time.

It was horrific.

Ollie started with an epic tantrum about not wanting to put cars down for tidy up time. Then Lily joined in because she didn't want to put her shoes and jumper on. A walk, bus ride and home time later, they were both still at it. Tag teaming the screaming and shrieking at everything.

Why?

I have no idea. Perhaps they were under the weather. Maybe they were overwhelmed with the excitement of Christmas. Perhaps they were possessed.

I left the group struggling not to cry, as friends patted me on the back, offered me smiles and even wished me luck. As the screaming continued down the street, flailing arms, protests and angry shouts I headed on to the bus stop. Enduring the stares, the shy smiles and kind words of passers by.

Then, at the bus stop. A lovely lady turned to me and said: "Terrible Twos? I remember those, they don't last forever"

I smiled back.

Through gritted teeth.

I didn't answer her. It would have just sounded rude if I corrected her and told her my daughter is 4.

Like 'morning' sickness. Classifying toddler tantrums as 'terrible twos' is incredibly misleading. 

For one, the tantrums can start way earlier than two. Coming out of the blue and erupting into an inferno of frustration and shock for both parent and child. 

Then, 'terrible' is a bit extreme. True, the tantrums are distressing and they come thick and fast as the children explore more and come across increasing struggles. But as far as two year olds go, they're far from terrible. I actually love this age.

And finally, it gives false hope that once the 'terrible twos' are past, the tantrums will subside and leave you with a little angel.

I thought I'd got through the twos pretty much unscathed. Lily has always been a tad highly strung. She has a wail like an air-raid siren, starting low and building towards a crescendo and she can start it without warning at the slightest hint of dissatisfaction. That said, I'm pretty used to it and she was actually an adorable two year old.

But then. She turned three. And I totally understand why I'd seen other Mum's lamenting about their 'three-nager'.

It wasn't just tantrums. It was tantrums with attitude. With opinions.

I can honestly say, I found three an awful lot harder than two.

Two was a walk in the park compared to three.

And four?

Is pretty good. But that doesn't mean an end to all tantrums. Tantrums are just a thing that happen to all children of all ages when the feelings, frustration and understanding become too much. It's not enjoyable but doesn't make being a parent 'terrible'. Not really.

Let's be fair. I still have tantrums. I'm 31 years old and there are still times when all I want to do is shout and stamp my feet. 99% of the time I can hold it in but then I find I have far more in common with my tantruming toddlers than I often think.

Terrible thirties? Can that still be a thing?
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