Be Safe, Be Seen

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As the clocks have now gone back – ugh ugh there aren’t enough words to say how wrong it is waking up in the dark – The Co-operative Funeralcare have launched their national Be Safe, Be Seen campaign. They donate their special yellow high visibility pin-on badges to primary schools all over the country with the aim of helping to keep them safe after sundown.

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They kindly sent some badges over for us and our friends to help kick-off the campaign. As soon as they arrived both Elfie and Hux wanted to put them on (though one of those people was a little more camera shy than the other). Road safety is so important and is something I’ve always drilled into them so it’s a campaign we’re all really happy to support.

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(Please note my son’s amazing pink and green nails, insisted on when he saw me painting mine red)

Here are some really great tips from The Co-operative Funeralcare to discuss with your children this winter and a wonderful video to help them better understand road safety:

  • Looking out for and encouraging your children to be aware of hidden entrances or driveways when crossing pavements.
  • Making sure your children walk on the side of pavements away from the traffic.
  • When crossing the road your child should always choose a safe place and time to cross. It’s always safer to cross at a pedestrian or patrolled crossing.
  • Avoid crossing between parked cars as drivers won’t be able to see children who do this very well.
  • It’s important to stop at the curb, look both ways and listen to traffic before crossing. Pedestrian crossings can still be dangerous if care is not taken.
  • All pedestrians should wait on the pavement until all the traffic from both directions has stopped as this is the safest time to cross. Islands are often provided in the middle of the road, so children should treat each half as a separate crossing.
  • Children should avoid playing near busy roads as they can often forget their surroundings and become unaware of the dangers on the road.

For more information on The Co-operative’s valuable work educating children on road safety, do pop along to their website and have a read.

This is a Netmum’s sponsored review.

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I am a member of the Netmums Blogging Network, a unique community of parent bloggers from around the UK who have been handpicked by the Netmums team to review products and brands on their behalf. I may have been paid expenses and have been supplied with a product sample for this review, but retain all editorial control. All my Netmums Reviews will display the Netmums logo within the post.

Gifts For Me, I Mean Her: The British Edition

I bloody love being British.

I’m very proud of our country and the lovely lives we are able to have here: the NHS, our schooling system, the British companies I work for and with, the epic brilliance that is our capital city of London, the beauty of our countryside. Despite thinking I was always a bit wanderlust-y I can say with certainty that there is nowhere else in the world I’d rather live. Crap weather, imperfect politics and all.

As I get older I find I like to do lots more British things. I’ve just been on a weekend break to the Lake District for example (with my wellies and my wax jacket!), and you could not pay any money to part me from my weekly stroll around my favourite British supermarket (Waitrose) with a cup of English Breakfast and the Times in my trolley. I’m taking Elfie out for her first afternoon tea next weekend and I really enjoy a jolly old moan (I also enjoy saying ‘jolly old…’).

I’m so British you can call me sodding Mary Poppins. Though I don’t have her patience with small people, unfortunately.

So this year I’ve decided to go very patriotic in my approach to Christmas shopping. I’ve decided (weirdly, maybe) that all presents I buy for friends and family will be from British companies. Why? I DON’T KNOW. But here’s my very British rundown of stocking fillers for women (clue: some of you might need a bigger stocking):

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1. My very favourite wax jacket is from my very favourite British countryside company, Joules. But because I can’t afford one of their lovely jackets for everyone (sorry) their bath and body sets are a very acceptable replacements. My favourite is this Blooming Brilliant Weekend Bag at £45, which is not only choc full with treats but is a re-usable tote bag too.

2. If you have any new mothers in your life – STOP! Don’t look any further for a gift for them than the lovely hand-crafted jewellery company Epanoui. I love how everything Hannah produces is specially made by her just down the road from me and I can personally vouch for how gorgeous her pieces are. If I’d just had a baby I’d love nothing more than one of Epanoui’s Heritage Name necklaces (£65). Really stunning.

3. Epanoui again, but this time to their range of linen scarves. Nothing says class like a lovely scarf (really!) and my favourite is the Amelie at £49.

4. If you really really love someone, have a think about splashing out on a Fortnum & Mason’s hamper for them. I bought the Grosvenor (£100) for my parents last Christmas and, despite shedding its straw-like filling all over the carpet, it was very happily received.

5. For something a little different, how about personalised nail varnishes? Enail are a new company who print your own label on your own choice of nail varnish colours (£19.95) before delivering them to the recipient. I love this idea – watch out for a giveaway from them soon.

6. There aren’t many lovelier things than receiving flowers, and with Bloom and Wild‘s subscriptions you can gift someone with a whole year’s worth! Their packages start at £50 for three bunches.

Thanks to Joules for working with MTT!

Everything I Have Learnt About Dating (which isn’t really that much)

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Dating is a bit like shoe shopping.

You don’t always need a new pair of shoes, but you take a little trip round the shops anyway just to see what’s out there. Sometimes you get lured into Office because there’s a gorgeous pair in the window, but after you purchase this gorgeous pair and walk around in them for a while they give you blisters. Or maybe you go to Bicester Outlet Village and buy a pair that, at 80% off, seem too good to be true: which is exactly what they turn out to be as they still cost 100 quid and once you get them home you realise they’re ugly. Or you buy super trendy trainers that nobody will want to wear in a short six months (remember Nike Rifts? Jesus).

Quite often you get bored of the busy shoe shops and decide to browse for your shoes online instead. But then when your shoes arrive at your house they just look completely different to their picture and you have to start that annoying process of returning them.

I really don’t like shoe shopping.

I think this metaphor has gone too far.

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I decided a while ago that I’d had quite enough of shoe shopping dating (I don’t even know which one I’m talking about any more). I’ve done online dating, dated work colleagues, gone out with friends and friends of friends and friends of friends of friends. It has been exhausting, fun, emotional, awful, excruciatingly embarrasing. And because the lessons I’ve learned from my couple of years of perusing the singles market (vom) won’t stretch to a whole book I am using this blog post to impart all the valuable knowledge I’ve learned. YOU’RE WELCOME.

Trust your friends and family’s opinions. Think about it: they know you inside and out and aren’t wrapped up in the OMG EXCITEMENT of a new relationship. There have been a couple of times I didn’t really listen to my friends when they questioned what I was doing dating X or Y… but they were always right in the end.

Don’t worry about what your date thinks of you. If you’re a single mum this fact is probably a much bigger deal to you than it is to them. I worried SO much about this, I really did. But nobody I went on a date with was ever concerned with my two little pieces of baggage – they’d be curious if anything. And if they are funny about it? You’re probably dating the wrong man.

Stop the boozing. All dates I went on prior to September this year involved alcohol in some way, and I have recently discovered that THIS IS NOT A GOOD THING. Getting to know someone over a coffee rather than a glass of wine is a much healthier and more sensible way to start a relationship; you can truly see if your personalities click without Dutch courage to help the conversation along. I’ve cut my drinking by about 50% in the last three months since beginning an (amazing) relationship this way and it has left me feeling approximately 90% better.

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If it doesn’t feel right, it’s wrong. It’s really easy to forget how it feels to be in a good relationship. Especially if you haven’t been in one for a while (or ever). But if you’re doubting either your new relationship, yourself, or the person you are in the relationship with then it probably isn’t right. The best relationships feel natural and shouldn’t make you unhappy or uncomfortable.

People are weird. And sometimes not the good kind of weird.

Don’t compromise yourself for anyoneYou are pretty amazing just the way you are and there is no way someone should make you feel like you need to change. Especially when this someone is supposed to make you feel happy, am I right? If you’re being told you need to be different – thinner, fitter, with different hair, doing a different job, enjoying different hobbies – they are the wrong person for you.

Enjoy spending time alone. When you meet someone new it is really easy to feel like you have to spend ALL your time with them. But my advice would be – don’t. Ease in to it, remember what you want, who you are and what’s important to you. Nothing gives you perspective like a little distance and nothing needs perspective like the early stages of dating.

Listen to what other people say about dating. Because nothing makes you feel better about your woeful tales of dating than other people’s woeful tales of dating. I’d recommend My Potential One True Love for a good read, Thirty Something London for a bloke’s point of view or fellow single mum, lovely Wit Wit Woo.

Hit me with your awful dating stories! I promise it’ll make me feel better..

Cooking With Elfie: Cottage Pie

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Elfie is the epitome of a little darling these days. She’s sweet to adults, kind to her brother and friends, has wonderful manners and the loveliest sense of humour. If someone had asked me when I was pregnant to describe what sort of daughter I wished for I would have described 4 year old Elfie to a tee.

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IMG_2165It’s no secret that we’ve struggled with our relationship in the past – we’re just too similar and end up butting heads sometimes – but since starting school we have become a lot closer. She tests boundaries a lot more, something I actually enjoy as I think it’s important my children discover where the line is and when they can cross it, but she also has learned a lot about respect. R-E-S-P-E-C-T!!

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IMG_2170The upshot of this is that we now get on fabulously, so much so that Elfie’s favourite time of day (and one of mine!) is the ten minutes solo time we get to spend together after Huxley goes to bed at 7. We chat about the day, watch Frozen, do some online shopping and she whispers to me “Mummy, I love you all the way to the moon and back!” It is just AWESOME.

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IMG_2172In certain situations Elfie seems to think the sun shines out of my bum. She told her Grannie that she needed a new car, and not to worry, Mummy would buy her one because she works very hard. And if you ask her what she wants to be when she grows up she will tell you ‘Mummy’s Helper’. As I’m going to wait until she’s at least ten to make her come into work with me and help by getting her to write KPI reports, for now she is ‘Mummy’s Helper’ when I’m cooking. So when OXO invited us to spend some time in the kitchen together recently to test their new Herbs & More range we were delighted to get to it! They sent us a goodie box full of Herbs & More pots as well as aprons for both E and I and a ‘Kitchen Magician’s Wand’ which I haven’t been allowed to touch since.

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IMG_2183OXO Herbs & More pots are perfect for a busy cook like me, adding a hefty punch of flavour into your dishes quickly and easily. Small pots of flavourings and seasonings, you simply add them to your recipes as you go along. They come in five variants: lemon & thyme, roast garlic & parsley, rosemary & red wine, rosemary & thyme and tarragon & chive. For this challenge OXO sent us some recipe cards to utilise our Herbs & More pots and Elfie decided we should give the Cottage Pie a go, so the Rosemary & Thyme pot was for us.

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IMG_2189We had a fantastic time cooking together – I did all chopping and hot duties and Elfie took care of the stirring and measuring. And mess making, obviously. Despite the flour-covered kitchen I think these little moments are so important and we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves – me as the Kitchen Magician and she as the Kitchen Magician’s assistant!

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I did feel a bit sorry for poor old Hux, though. He doesn’t really enjoy cooking and so went rogue on us and spent an hour drawing on himself. He had a ball.

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I’ve included the recipe here as it really was a doddle to follow plus it tasted spectacular. Usually for a dish like this I’d fanny around with seasonings (rosemary from next door’s garden, garlic, red wine, blah blah) but I decided to follow the instructions and let the Herbs & More pots speak for themselves. Because we are rebels we not only added the Rosemary & Thyme pot to the sauce but we also chucked a Roast Garlic & Parsley one into the mash – and I was so glad I did. It was delicious. I’ve already used one of the Rosemary & Red Wine pots in a Shepherd’s Pie (we like pie) and I look forward to using the others in all sorts of dishes.

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And the kids’ verdict on flavour? Hux ate his WHOLE dish of Cottage Pie which literally never happens, and Elfie asked for seconds. I took mine into work and had lots of compliments on the way it made the kitchen smell. JOB DONE.

Cottage Pie
 
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 4

Ingredients
  • 400g lean mince beef
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 sticks celery (we substituted a courgette)
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Rosemary & Thyme Herbs & More
  • 100g grated cheese (I use Gruyere as I’m a posh bugger)

Instructions
  1. Peel your onion, carrots and potatoes and pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Brown the mince in a non-stick pan.
  2. Dice the onion, carrots and celery and add to the pan. Fry for 2 minutes then add the tomato puree and flour and cook for a further minute.
  3. Add the Worcestershire sauce and 400ml of boiling water. Stir and simmer for 20 mins.
  4. Chop the potatoes and boil for 20 mins, then mash with a tbsp of butter and 2 tbsp milk (I use cream as I’m a greedy bugger)
  5. Add the Herbs & More pot into the saucy beef mixture and transfer to an ovenproof dish.
  6. Spread the mash over the mixture and sprinkle your cheese on top.
  7. Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Big thank-yous to Britmums and OXO Herbs & More for collaborating with us on this post. We had a great time! 

My Inspiring Mum of The Year: Emma Cantrell, First Days

The internet has given me many wonderful things. ASOS Premier, Facebook messenger, the DM’s sidebar of shame.

But by far the best thing about the internet is the people I have met online. Typing that out still feels a bit weird: seeing the phrase ‘the people I have met online’ conjures up images of old men wearing dirty string vests in their bedrooms with the curtains shut, tapping away at a big old CPUs and massive monitors. Not women who are like me, women who make me laugh, make me feel inspired and make me want to thank Sir Tim Berners-Lee for the magnificent invention that is the World Wide Web.

One of these women is my friend Emma.

1412886190Now, Emma will protest until she’s blue in the face that she’s not inspiring, she’s just a normal mum and wife. BUT DON’T LET THAT FOOL YOU! Emma is one of the most magnificent women I have ever met and she’s honestly made me sit and ponder my own life on more than one occasion. She selflessly started a charity, First Days, when she realised there was a need to provide and distribute basic equipment – clothing, bedding, furniture – for struggling new parents  in her local area. Throughout 2014 the charity has gone from strength to strength, culminating in Emma’s well-deserved inclusion on the shortlist of Tesco’s Mum of The Year. Oh yes, Emma is a mum, too!

I asked Emma to answer a few questions for me on how she started First Days and the roller coaster ride that has been juggling her own charity and family life. Have a read – feel inspired – and if you ever get the chance to pick Emma’s brains over a glass of wine you absolutely must… she’s a LOT of fun.

You can donate easily to First Days by texting ‘FDCC11 £5′ to 70070 (change the ‘£5′ if you want to give a different amount) – all donations go to help families with young children in need. 

- Tell me a little bit about First Days and why you decided to start it.

The concept is really simple – we collect baby and toddler clothes, equipment, furniture and toys and redistribute them to families in need. The stuff comes from families who no longer need it or businesses who want to donate surplus stock. The families in need are referred by other services – like children’s centres, social services, churches and housing associations.

I decided to start it when friends and neighbours generously gave us bags and bags of their second hand baby things. It was all in such good condition and there was just so much – I knew there must have been people out there who needed it more than me. I wasn’t sure what to do about it – then a friend told me about some research she was doing into single mothers in the area we live – she said that there was a practical need that wasn’t being fulfilled – ends that just weren’t meeting in their tight budgets. I know it sounds cheesy but I couldn’t just sit back and watch this happening whilst my cupboards were stuffed full of baby stuff that we never got round to using. So, I talked to people in the community and applied for some start up funding. I was granted it and First Days was born (my third baby!).

- You must deal with a lot of difficult situations in your day-to-day working life. What’s been the most surprising thing about the families you help since you started the charity?

They are never how you might imagine. I have not come across a mother who isn’t trying very hard to do the best for her children. I was asked to find a play pen for a teenage mum for her 8 months old baby. I could have thought ‘oh she wants it because she can’t be bothered to look after her son’ but what I found was a young girl who was preparing home made baby food and needed somewhere safe to put him whilst she was cooking in her tiny flat. She spent a lot of money on fresh ingredients because her baby’s weaning diet was so important to her. The most surprising thing is that we are fed so many stereotypes about how people in poverty live their lives and the majority – if not all of them – are generalisations and just plain lies.

New mum Emma Cantrell

- What do you love most about what you do?

I love being able to help people. It’s a miss-world-esque cliche but it’s the truth. It is such a struggle for the families I work with to just make it to the end of the week with enough money for food. To know that I’ve showed kindness to people who are feeling desperate is fantastic – to be able to take pressure off is incredibly rewarding.

- And what are the low points?

The emotions. I have had to face my own prejudices, assumptions and judgements. I always thought I was a fair and non-judgmental person but I’ve been really challenged. Once I pulled up at a house, just off a road I’ve driven down many times, where I was delivering clothes to a family who were in desperate need. I arrived and looked at the house. It was bigger than mine and had a garage and my immediate thought was ‘oh. They can’t need much! They’ve got a garage! I don’t have a garage!!’ I went in and quickly realised that the family I was there to help lived in one of the rooms. There were 4 other families living in that house. I dropped the stuff to them and got back in my car and cried all the way home. I couldn’t believe the conditions they were living in and how quickly I had jumped to conclusions. Starting a charity from scratch is all consuming and takes an extraordinary amount of time, money and help from friends and family but – whilst there have been low points – it has been so worth it.

- What’s been the one stand-out amazing moment for you since the start of First Days?

We became a registered charity in July this year, which was a fantastic milestone. It was suddenly something bigger than an idea that grew from my kitchen table. It is suddenly a real, recognised organisation. That was a real turning point for me to look at it and think – wow, I’m a part of this! Personally, recently being shortlisted for the Tesco Mum of the Year award in recognition of the work I have done has been a real honour.

- You have two young children and your own charity; without using that awful phrase of ‘how DO you do it?!’, erm, how DO you do it? ;)

Ha! I think when you’re passionate about something you find the time to do it, I genuinely enjoy the work – which I think is really rare. I am also supported by a fantastic board of Trustees and hardworking volunteers. Don’t get me wrong though, I have a husband who does a LOT at home and I live very near to a lot of family who can step in to help with the children if we need it – things are hectic, sometimes stressful and exhausting but it’s exactly how I like it, for now!

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- Talk to me about your Christmas campaign, #ShareMyChristmas. How can we get involved?

It’s very simple: we want all families to experience the Christmas they deserve. We work with families who have to choose between Christmas Dinner or presents and we don’t want them to have to make that choice for their children. So we are providing children in poverty with Christmas presents to lighten the load for their parents. Getting involved is simple – take a picture of something festive, share it on social media with the hashtag #sharemychristmas and donate by texting ‘FDCC11 £X’ (X being the amount you want to donate!) to 70070. There are other ways to donate on our website too – www.firstdays.net. I am so excited to #sharemychristmas with other families!

- What’s in store next year for First Days?

I have big plans, as always! One thing I’m really keen on is meeting with people who are interested in setting up a similar project where they live. I want to see communities empowered in every town and city in the UK to help one another, in such a simple and practical way. Watch this space!

Hello, Is It Me You’re Looking For?

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I DID IT AGAIN.

I got so involved with work/The X Factor/doing a North of England tour (the Lake District is lovely even in the rain, innit) that every time I sit down to write something here there is NOTHING LEFT. Which is a weird feeling to have.

I actually got home from work with two tired and screaming children a couple of weeks ago and just felt this thing of not having anything left to give anyone at all. No energy to talk, to parent, to email, to read. If I remember correctly to make myself feel better I just had a massive mug of tea – because that’s how I roll these days – and went to bed at 8.30pm after one of those self-pitying weeps that makes you feel much better.

It was a great feeling, though, because it means I am giving everything I have. And I’m all about making the most out of life at the moment (and probably read too many celebrity self-help books, but hey-ho), and with all that lovely stuff that is part of our busy life I go to bed each night knackered but happy.

Happy, apart from I don’t see my friends enough AND I MISS THEM. That means you, Amy. And Bryony. And Lizzi. And Steph. Don’t forget about me!

You can console yourself with the fact I have six half-finished blog posts sitting in drafts currently. You have to look forward to gems such as: “DATING TIPS FROM SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T HAVE A CLUE!”, “HOW TO BE A PARENT”, “WHY I AM NOW A FEMINIST” and “OH GOD NOT FROZEN AGAIN”. One of these posts does not exist, but is a phrase I utter on the regular… I will let you decide which.

One of my biggest problems currently is that I have started reading again. Books by women I admire and aspire to be like when I grow up – Bryony Gordon’s The Wrong Knickers, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and Sali Hughes’s Pretty Honest (also: Graham Norton’s The Life And Loves Of A He Devil). The issue with reading such fantastic aspirational stories is that they leave me a bit stunted creativity-wise. Like if I am writing I MUST make myself as interesting as I can like my new found heroes. Which is about when I crumble under the pressure, make myself another cup of tea and turn to Netflix.

Told you, ROCK N ROLL down in here.

Anyway, after a quick jaunt to the glorious Boden press show today and some time with one of my favourite bloggers I do feel a little bit rejuvenated and ready to tackle more writing. I love my blog so much, I just need to grab my snatches of inspiration when I’m not so tired.

In 2017, maybe? Wait for me, readers!

This weekend I’m heading over to Mumsnet Blogfest to speak on a panel about monetising your blog and am looking forward to catching up with my buddies in the Blogging world – do come and have a listen if you’re there!