Bringing Spring In

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There’s something so glorious about those first days of Spring. There’s nothing like feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin after a long, dark winter, or the promise of daffodils and snowdrops poking their heads out of the green grass. As soon as I see their cheery faces bobbing along at the side of the road my spirit immediately lifts: it’s pure balm for my soul.

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I’ve made some changes for Spring in our house ­‐ after the little bedroom makeover I did a few weeks ago week I took to brightening up our living space. I bought a couple of new cushions in some bright colours and switched out our floral storage boxes for fresh white ones. I appear to be completely addicted to rugs and have added a new one in green, pink and yellow. One pre‐requisite for all my floor coverings is that they must be machine washable: they all get chucked in the wash every few weeks to get rid of pen, chocolate and the remains of chewed up raisins. I love IKEA for these cheerful options that will see us through the mucky weaning years!

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This effect that Spring has on me is one of the reasons I always like to bring colour and life into my house. Colours and new moods make me stop, think, and take a look out the window at new life and a new season in my garden and surroundings. It makes me think about the beauty there is to be found in my home, in our little corner of the world. Soppy much?

I display loads of different things ­‐ fairy lights and tealights -­‐ in Mason jars but I’m starting to keep an eye out at charity shops and vintage stores for different pots and containers which is how one of my favourite bloggers, Little Green Notebook, likes to make a display with. She posted about spring in NY over here, total Wanderlust.

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I’m also a big fan of the traditional Spring clean to kick start the new season. I swear by taking a black bin bag when you’re in a ruthless mood and wandering the house chucking anything that is broken, no longer useful or hasn’t been used in six months. I then take a basket and place in it any objects that don’t belong in the room they’ve found themselves in and return them to their rightful place: hey, presto! You will immediately feel lighter, less cluttered and more organized. I really believe ‘tidy house, tidy mind’.

Have a gander at my friends over at Glade: they’re shaking things up with their new Spring collection. How do you like to kick out the gloom and the grey?

Glade Partnership Badge

 

 

Thank you to Glade for partnering with More Than Toast this spring :)

How To Share Photos Of Your Children: Lifecake At Easter

I don’t know if I’m alone in this but there have been times when I have felt guilt, actual proper guilt, for inundating my friends on Facebook with photos of my darling little cherubs. Because to me, everything they do is delightful. Every drawing they scribble, every face they pull. Every time they fall asleep (in their dinner or in their bed) or master how to correctly eat a piece of toast. To a parent these things are insanely awesome milestones that need to be celebrated and shared with 403 of our closest friends, right?

But there’s only so much our friends can take, and to be honest the more I read about privacy and ownership over our photographs once they’re released into the world wide web the more uneasy I get. I don’t want pictures of my children getting in to the wrong hands, I want to know that I’m the one with control over whose eyes gets to see them. Yes I use photos of them on my blog but no-where near as many as I used to, and the ones I use have been carefully chosen.

Lifecake timeline

Enter my new favourite people: Lifecake! You may have seen me Tweeting and Facebooking on their behalf and I’ve been delighted to have been a part of their team the last few months. Theirs is a service I feel extremely passionate about: allowing parents to share photographs of their children with only those they invite securely and easily with a couple of clicks of a smartphone or laptop. Your child’s moments are formed into a timeline which becomes their own special record of their journey through life and I can attest to the fact that it’s a total joy to look back on.

Lifecake is perfect for new parents who are struggling under the weight of newly captured images and videos (I’ve got that tshirt) with little time to spend hours sending umpteen updates to family. It’s fully grandparent-tested and approved (sooo simple to use!) and is the perfect solution to keeping up to date with a child’s progress in a private space. You can add as many children as you need, tagging them in each photo, and can use their photos together or separately. It’s a fabulous way for parents to keep up to date with their children when they spend time with childminders but my favourite way of using the service is to snap and store Elfie’s artwork – no more guilt over slyly popping the 87th picture of an octopus in the recycling.

You can also use their simple software to create beautiful photobooks from your timeline!

Lifecake is free to install and add up to around 500 photos. After that point customers can upgrade to VIP account level, which gives them up to 100GB storage space, enough for 50,000 photos, for £2 month. There are IOS and Android apps as well as a handy desktop uploader so you can add photographs from all of your devices.

There’s been loads of exciting things going on at casa del Lifecake recently; to celebrate Mothers Day we encouraged our Instagram and Twitter followers to take a #melfie, or a self-portrait of them with their kids. It was wonderful to see so many mums step outside of their comfort zone and you can see the beautiful winner of the #melfie competition here.

This Easter we’re running a scavenger hunt. Over the next five days we’ll be posting clues over on Instagram and Twitter; if you respond to these with your entries and tag them @lifecake then our favourite 10 will win VIP accounts (which includes 100GB of storage). Plus it’s a great way to make sure you snap the best of your Easter this year. Here’s a heads up for today’s clue:

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Here are my entries, though one is from last year so I’m slightly cheating!

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How much has this child grown in one year??! It’s insane.

In addition, Lifecake have kindly given me a VIP account and photobook to give away to one of my lovely readers. All you have to do is fill out the handy rafflecopter widget below: 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!!

Alternative Things To Do This Easter: The Manchester Duck Race

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The long weekend is nearly upon us! And I don’t know how you feel but I’m pretty darned excited about that fact; I had a very glorious time with my two last weekend but for this one I will be child-free for a whole five days. FIVE DAYS, PEOPLE. I would say that this time is going to give me the perfect opportunity to relax, sleep in, catch up on work and watch the whole of Breaking Bad again but we all know this is never going to happen.

Unfortunately when the children spend any length of time away from me I am so overwhelmed by it all I usually end up going wild with plans: trips to London, meals out with friends, daily gym trips. I wind up hungover, tired and possibly with sore thighs (new trainer at the gym, you know?). I need a weekend away from the kids to get over my weekend away from the kids. I have never been busier but then again what keeps me busy keeps me happy. Try spending an ‘evening off’ on your own without your children and I promise you’ll wind up crying into your Instagram feed, drinking a bottle of wine and watching 500 Days Of Summer/Beyonce videos with possible added Spotify karaoke.

It’s a ball.

Anyway, this weekend I have a feast of adult-only entertainment planned (NOT LIKE THAT), starting with a hen do on Saturday and a Euro minibreak that will include travelling through an actual airport without the following items: babywipes, spare vests, nappies, tranquillisers. It’s going to be so grown-up, so quiet, so very lovely. I’ll obviously miss Elfie and Hux more than I can even describe but despite that I plan on eating all the food, drinking all the wine and soaking in all the culture. I’m no Nun, I can’t steer clear of those bars, OK?

Easter has always been one of my favourite holidays – it’s when the sun first appears and we remember what Pimms tastes like – so I’ve been taking a look at what you might like to get up to closer to home. And if you’re based in northern England (or even if you’re not… take a look at some great hotel options in Manchester from Hotel Direct for those who fancy a weekend away) I’ve found the perfect solution! The Manchester Duck Race.

You may smirk but let me tell you, I spent many a happy weekend in my old town racing ducks.

Proper old-school family fun this will be, including a bouncy castle, giant slide and teacup ride. Each duck entry is just £1 and goes towards the valuable work the charity Brainwave does, improving children’s mobility, communication skills and learning potential through a range of educational and physical therapies. The big race starts at 2pm and anyone can enter the family race with as many or as few ducks as you’d like. The first five ducks across the line win a prize.

So go on, spill all: what are you doing this Easter weekend? Euro tripping or duck racing, I want to know!

Thanks to Hotel Direct for supporting More Than  Toast – see more about my disclosure policy here

 

Putting The Cosatto Ooba To The Test

Cosatto Ooba review

I’ve never been one of those mums, you know, who are really in to their prams. I’ve go a couple of friends who go through a different pram every six months but for me it’s never been that important (changing bags, on the other hand…). I had my Bugaboo Bee+ for Elfie and when Hux arrive the fleet expanded by a double Phil + Teds. I’ve always been pretty happy with these two, they get the job done without any fuss – what more could we want?

So when Cosatto got in touch a couple of months ago to ask if I’d want to sample their new model, the Ooba, I was a little hesitant. Could it improve on what were my two totally adequate prams? Turned out that yes, yes it absolutely could.

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Cosatto Ooba unboxed

The day it arrived I was pretty excited. It matched my carpet! Look at that print! The beautiful blues! You can’t deny this is one good looking pram. I set about unboxing and building it, something I managed on my own and with minimal fuss (score one Ooba, the Bugaboo was not this easy).

The Ooba comes with two parts, the carrycot which is suitable from birth (and absolutely gorgeous… almost enough to make me want a newborn to put in it) (HAHAHAH oh god I need a stiff drink just at the thought) and the seat which is where King Hux would be sitting. This photograph was taken as he was crying and desperately claw his way into the pram which says it all. The kid loves it, what can I say?

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The Ooba also comes with a matching nappy bag which fits into the generous basket underneath the buggy, along with your toddler if you so wish (this probably isn’t recommended. Probably).

Cosatto Ooba reviewSo, first impressions? Like I said, this is a looker of a pram. If it were a man it would be a Bradley Cooper.

One of the first things that struck me about the pram is how high up the seat is, and this has made such a big difference. Both the Bugaboo and Phil + Teds have low seats and I’ve really enjoyed Hux being that little bit closer to me. We can chatter a lot more and if I’m sitting for lunch or to have a coffee there’s not as much need to lift him out and into a highchair.

I like the fact the basket is only really accessible from the back and the parts of the pram are easy to click and clonk into place. If you’ve ever got your fingers stuck in the mechanism of a Maclaren you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Cosatto Ooba review

The seat is incredibly comfy and the straps easy to do up, a must when you’re wearing gloves/have cold hands/a wriggly toddler. Because Hux is a stubborn thing and doesn’t like to sleep when he’s in the pram (he prefers to grumble annoyingly because Mama is trying on yet another pair of jeans) we haven’t tested the recline capability so much, but Elfie loves to ‘pretend’ with it.

Cosatto Ooba review

A couple of blustery walks to the park over gravel, grass, woodchips and mud and I can confirm this buggy is a joy to handle. My Bugaboo, it’s built for city living so is not great dealing with different terrains but the Ooba has no issues with this at all.  It’s mostly a pleasure when I’m shopping or on a flat surface; it’s such a pleasure to scoot the pram around and it goes quickly too. I’ve out-walked more than one OAP on a mobility scooter with this bad boy.

Cosatto Ooba review

In a nutshell: so far, so good. The Ooba looks fantastic, is a pleasure to push and does the job. Full marks. Stay tuned for the next stage of our Very Scientific testing method, which involves a day out (possibly with sand?), a time trial for folding/unfolding and more info on just how well those glorious white wheels are holding up.

 

The Lowdown

Included with the Ooba (£800) is:

- Chassis, carrycot and seat unit
- Cosy Toes with reversible zip off liner
- Coordinating changing bag with changing mat and messy bag
- Patterned raincovers for pushchair seat and carrycot
- Spacious storage basket
- Hold car seat adaptors (Hold car seat sold separately)

Thank-you so much to Cosatto for letting us trial this beauty of a pram. We’re having a blast doing it!

 

Hocus Smokus, It’s BBQ Time

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If there’s one thing I enjoy in the summer, it’s a darned good BBQ. Well actually, it’s a big jug of Pimms, but the two ideas go hand-in-hand and it’s difficult to imagine a cool glass of fruit-flavoured lemonady punch without the whiff of chargrilled meat n’veg in the air.

It’s always been this way. My dad was a BBQ man when we were growing up and I still remember vividly our Saturday evenings in the garden, eating in the late afternoon summer sun. Ketchup on our chins, butter from the sweetcorn on our cheeks. We were basically very messy eaters in the summertime, what of it?

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I love that I’m carrying on this tradition for my own kids. I learned to BBQ myself last year (erm, actually a bit trickier than it looks when you’re trying to manhandle two little people away from the HOT HOT COOKING) and mastered great skills in homemade burgers, BBQ chicken thighs and lamb kebabs. Elfie finds it such an exciting tradition to cook and eat our food outside, I love to invite my mum and dad over to enjoy my cremated (ish) meat too, and yes there is definitely a jug or two of Pimms to be consumed every once and a while. Plus beer… hence the beer glasses. Friday night BBQ nights round our place are a definite hoot.

IMG_7830This year I’m craving a new BBQ. Which sounds like a ridiculous thing for me to say. Wanting a new handbag? Yes. Coveting a new jacket? Yup. I have never ever known the feeling of “ooh, I like the look of that outdoor cooking equipment”. I think it’s all part and parcel of wanting to make our beautiful (huge!) new garden place a lovely space to be in this summer, somewhere we can all hang out together, playing, eating, drinking and having a good time.

At the moment we have a gas BBQ but I’m leaning towards a charcoal one this time around. The gas has served us well but it just doesn’t give that authentic flavour and I miss it! I’ve scoped out a couple of ‘starter’ BBQs like this one but they just don’t seem to be big enough. I’m leaning towards a built in which I imagine would require a small bit of sweet talking to DIY Dad but that’s nothing I can’t handle (right Dad?).

Of course, if you want to send one of these Webers my way I’d happily accept it, gas or not. I’m only human after all.

Have a look at Homebase’s current range of lovely BBQs – I challenge you to not come away dreaming of chargrilled chicken thighs :)

This post was written in collaboration with Homebase and my dreams of lazy summer evenings. 

 

Raising Daughters

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The parenting of little girls is a job that is so special. Boys are boys and boys are awesome, but compared to our daughters they really are as different as slugs, snails and puppy dog tails.

Yesterday I did something that doesn’t happen enough in our house; I took Elfie on a little day out, just the two of us. We had an appointment with her new consultant at Great Ormond Street Hospital – and as an aside, what a wonderful place this is. I thank heavens every day that we have the NHS and such open access to brilliant doctors in places like this (ours is a Professor, oooh fancy). Anyway, I’d promised her a lovely meal out afterwards and as she can’t get enough of public transport I made sure we went on both a tube, a bus, and then in a black cab for good measure.

We had a brilliant time together, and for me the day brought home how precious and important this time with my little girl is. Elfie is such a deep thinker, a deep feeler and her mind is more than inquisitive, it’s a sobering thought that it is up to me to shape this into the person she will one day become.

I like to think I bring my children up pretty equally. There’s not a lot of gender stereotyping that goes on in our house: Hux has pink chinos, Elfie has blue ones. They both play with cars (E’s very much into Hot Wheels right now) and they both play with handbags. Elfie asked for her nails to be painted pink this week and so did Hux (I did him one fingernail and one toenail. It was cute, OK?!). I try to buy them gender neutral toys that they are both able to enjoy together or apart.

But in their thoughts, feelings and emotions they are poles apart. Hux barrels into everything, probably picking his nose and giving himself a black eye in the process. Elfie stands back, she observes a situation before deciding what she’s going to do. With school looming on the horizon I’ve been trying to teach her how to hold her own a little more with her peers, so she’s able to tell them if she isn’t happy. But she is so precious and I guess eager to be liked and kind to her friends she’s finding it hard. We are making progress – I heard her say the magic phrase “don’t do that, I don’t like it” to Hux without being prompted last week – and she’s getting more confident at holding her own with the older boys at softplay.

As her mother I want my little girl to grow up knowing she has me always on her side, ready to protect her at any minute. But I also need her to know how important it is that she is capable and able to be strong of her own accord, that she can do anything she puts her mind to. I’m lucky that I grew up thinking this (thanks mum and dad!), only doubting myself very rarely, so I hope to pass on some of my strength and bloody mindedness to her.

These times, when I’m feeling all introspective about raising daughters, this is when I reach for the poem B, by Sarah Key.  It makes me weep, makes me smile, but most importantly it makes me think: yeah… we’re doing OK here.

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Point B – Sarah Key

If I should have a daughter, instead of “Mom,” she’s going to call me, “Point B.”

Because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.

And I’m going to paint the solar systems on the backs of her hands, so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say, “Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.”

And she’s going to learn that this life will hit you, hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.

There is hurt, here, that cannot be fixed by band-aids or poetry, so the first time she realizes that Wonder Woman isn’t coming, I’ll make sure she knows she doesn’t have to wear the cape all by herself. Because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal. Believe me, I’ve tried.

“And baby,” I’ll tell her, “Don’t keep your nose up in the air like that. I know that trick. I’ve done it a million times. You’re just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house, so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him. Or else, find the boy who lit the fire in the first place, to see if you can change him.”

But I know she will anyway, so instead, I’ll always keep an extra supply of chocolate and rainboots nearby. Because there’s no heartbreak that chocolate can’t fix.

Okay, there’s a few heartbreaks that chocolate can’t fix. But that’s what the rainboots are for. Because rain will wash away everything if you let it.

I want her to look at the world through the underside of a glass bottom boat. To look through a microscope at the galaxies that exist on the pinpoint of a human mind. Because that’s the way my mom taught me. That there’ll be days like this, “There’ll be days like this,” my mama said. When you open your hands to catch and wind up with only blisters and bruises. When you step out of the phone booth and try to fly, and the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape. When your boots will fill with rain, and you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment, and those are the very days you have all the more reason to say, “Thank you.” Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shore line, no matter how many times it’s sent away.

You will put the “wind” in “winsome… lose some.” You will put the “star” in “starting over… and over…” And no matter how many land mines erupt in a minute, be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life.

And yes, on a scale from one to over-trusting, I am pretty damn naive. But I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily, but don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it.

“Baby,” I’ll tell her, “Remember, your mama is a worrier, and your papa is a warrior, and you are the girl with small hands and big eyes who never stops asking for more. Remember that good things come in threes, and so do bad things, and always apologize when you’ve done something wrong. But don’t you EVER apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining.

Your voice is small, but don’t ever stop singing. And when they finally hand you heartache, when they slip war and hatred under your door and offer you handouts on street corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.