Sunday, 2 December 2018

The Girl's project to raise money for the RSPA

I've spoken before about my little 'eco-warrior' 9 year old who truly believes, and will argue vehemently, that animals deserve the same rights and respect as humans. She reads the RSPCA children's magazine from cover to cover and has sent them letters and pictures several times. She is also obsessed with the CBBC programme 'Pets Factor', which is a documentary programme about vets. I can totally see her spending her teens volunteering at the local animal shelter and I have no doubt that she will somehow end up changing the world for animals in the future. She seems to attract animals, like some kind of Dr Dolittle character and we can't walk more than a few hundred yards before another wagging tailed dog will come up for a sniff and stroke. 

Without any prompts or suggestions, she decided a few weeks ago that she would like to make some Christmas decorations and sell them at the school Christmas fayre to raise some funds for the RSPCA. 

Now as passionate as she is about animals, there are times when she can be really quite shy about talking to adults in particular. However, this project has meant that she had to ask the head teacher and PTA for permission, which thank goodness they agreed to. 
She then started designing a variety of decorations using bits and bobs around the house and pinched all the random pinecones that we had hanging about. It was quickly clear that we would need to find some more resources, so off to the woods we went. 

We often visit Micheldever Woods near Winchester, Hampshire, as it's a nostalgic memory jogger of my husband's Grandmother who loved it there. It's stunning when the bluebells are out and I would highly recommend a visit in March. It is also the site of an iron age farm, so there's a little history to learn if you like, whilst you mosey about in the trees.

Once we'd collected a good stash of pinecones, beech nuts and yew branches, lugged them around our walk and finally got them home, she got to work on creating all sorts of reindeers, angels and mini wreaths. There was only a couple of burnt fingers from the glue gun and arguments over whether the Boy could help or not. 

On the day of the Christmas Fayre, I've never been more proud of the way she displayed her wares independently, greeted customers, took money and worked out the change and pennies. She made a total of £30 selling pinecones, and beech nuts stuck with pompoms and googlie eyes that we had hanging around the craft cupboard. The cookies also sold well, especially when her class friends wandered around the school selling them directly from the tray. Watching her glow with the praise she got from her teachers and the other parents made it all worthwhile. 

The next step in the project is to visit our local RSPA shelter to deliver the money and visit the animals. Her teacher has asked if she'd like to share her project and the final amount that she raised with the school in 'sharing assembly', but she isn't quite sure whether she wants to stand up in front of everybody yet. 

I'm looking forward to seeing what my little eco-warrior, animal activist comes up with next! 

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

How to shake a bad day 'funk'

How to shake a bad day funk:
 Let me tell you about my day.....
-I woke up late
-I smashed a glass bottle of milk all over the kitchen floor, which made us later
-I had no time for breakfast or to make a packed lunch
-The back seat got stuck in the down position and I had 3 children to drive to school
-The children sang Christmas songs on the way to school
-There were two traffic jams on my 10 minute journey to work
-There were no spaces in the office car park
-I wasted an hour going on a failed visit for work, because the young person didn't turn up
-There were no parking spaces outside the bakery
-I smashed the screen on my newish phone on the bakery floor
-I burnt the fishfingers for tea 
-I got pomegranate juice on my baby pink wool jumper
I'm sure there is more that I can't remember. Today had the potential to be a total A****. But let's not whinge all evening...time to spin it on it's head. 
It's now 6pm and I'm still standing, in fact I've even had a couple of laughs. 
Do you know about Negative Automatic Thoughts? 
There is a spiral that we get into when we start believing our negative thoughts, so we feel bad, which means we act negatively, which causes more negative thoughts and so on...round and round we go. It can be showed as a triangle with ACTIONS, THOUGHTS and FEELINGS circling around, feeding into each other with no beginning or end. Let's use my bad day example: I wake up late and drop the milk (action). I think 'that is such a bad omen for the rest of the day' (thought) which makes me feel stressed and frustrated and then notice every little thing that goes wrong (feeling), so I strop about in a grump probably rushing and more things do go wrong, perpetuating the whole cycle again. Therapists use this model when giving Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), but you don't need to be a therapist to understand that by changing your thoughts about a situation, you will inadvertently alter your feelings and so on. We have to ask ourselves 'In this current situation, what can I change?' Or 'What personal power do I have right now?' Sometimes we have the power to change a situation and sometimes we can do certain actions to shift the cycle a bit, but a lot of the time the only thing we can change is our own thoughts.

So how do we change our thoughts in order to shift the whole mood and progress of the day? 

1.Challenge yourself:
Shift your thinking and challenge negative automatic thoughts by asking yourself  'What is the evidence that this is true?' Well yeah, quite a few annoying things happened today, but only a few of these were before 9am meaning when I first got into the funk it was only a disastrous hour not day. When I first missed the alarm and then dropped the milk, I automatically thought 'Oh no, here we go' and almost expected a bad day. In fact, when I look at the evidence, of how much went badly and how much went well, I bet I can find more good in the end. It's only when you expect awful things to happen, that they inevitably do because you're almost inviting them. Ask 'What alternative views are there?'- So the car parks were full, yeah and what's new?.....9 times out of 10 our office car park is full, why does that matter more today? When I walked into the office, after finishing my rant about the traffic and the milk, I announced (to myself more than anyone) that I was ready to shift my thinking and then I started looking for exceptions.

2. Look for exceptions-
Start looking for things that have gone right, instead of what hasn't. Perhaps notice and acknowledge that your favourite coffee is on offer or that the traffic light turned green just as you approached. You will have to actively look and seek out these little exceptions, as they won't come easily once your stuck in a funk. My attitude about the day flipped this morning when I spotted a packet of crumpets on the side and someone offered me the last of their butter- no time for breakfast issue solved-tick!
Remembering those crumpets takes me onto the next point.....

3. Wallow in some small pleasures-
A segment of chocolate orange, a feel good playlist, a bunch of flowers for your house, you get the picture. I believe the simpler and smaller, the better. In fact, I'm pretty sure the concept of enjoying small pleasures, could rival gratitude for the positive effect on our mental well-being.

4. Get some perspective
My work gives me insights into a lot of people's lives who are truly struggling, that's why we go and in and support them and their families. I see the effects of domestic abuse, substance misuse, parents who have had terrible childhoods of their own and poverty on a day to day basis. It's not all doom and gloom and I am grateful to witness and aid the changes, but there is something very humbling and grounding about seeing other people's less fortunate lives. But let's face it, you don't have to do my job to realise that there is ALWAYS somebody worse off than you. It may not feel like it at times, but there is. Be grateful for what you do have.

3. Fresh air/ Exercise 
Go outside, breathe, breathe some more and then walk around. The weather locally to me today was horrific, we had wind, rain, storms and the sky outside was like dusk all day. But the cold air hitting my face and the huge lung of air I consumed helped my mood, I promise. This evening, after reflecting on my grumpiness, I realised that since leaving the gym in August and the dark evenings coming in this Autumn, I've hardly done any exercise at all. So I've joined the gym again and the 20 minutes on the cross trainer and rowing machine this evening reminded me how that  rush of feel good hormone feels when you raise your heart rate.

4. Have a success-
Tick something off of your to do list, look back at something you created in the past or start a job that you know you can do well and easily. The accomplished feeling you get when you finish it, will raise your self esteem and boost your happy hormone again. Remember that triangle from earlier? Thoughts-Feelings-actions.....? If you change your feelings about yourself and your ability to achieve, it will effect your next action (probably doing it again), which will affect your thoughts (I've managed to do that), which will in turn affect your feelings about yourself....etc.....etc....continue cycle. 

6.Have a laugh
I heard a teacher in a Secondary school lunchtime today tell an upset teenage girl to go and find her friends and have some fun. Although my initial feeling was 'What a condescending b***h', I have no idea of the girl's story so I can't really judge. However, that teacher kind of has a point. Humour is an awesome distraction for all sorts of situations, we talk about it in our parenting courses all the time.
I wrote earlier in my list of rants that one of the bad things that happened today was the kids singing Christmas songs. I feel bad now! Yes, the mood I was in, it was pretty damn annoying in November. The last thing I wanted to hear was jollity. But then the hilarious 'boy' changed the words to 'I saw Mummy killing Santa Claus' (I know- really?) , I acknowledged that with the mood I was in that was much more likely and we all laughed. It was a genuinely funny moment that lightened the mood no end. 

7. Rant and let go
I've left this until last, because I'm not sure it always helps. I've ranted about the broken milk bottle and broken phone screen pretty much all day and I'm still really cross about the phone at least. We love a good rant in our office though, sometimes the camaraderie of shared annoyance or the understanding ear of a friend is just what you need. Just as long as you don't dump it on the listener and just as importantly make sure that once it's out, in the words of Elsa- Let It Go!

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Body Image and Parenting


I'm not only a parent who happens to love travelling, exploring and writing in a campervan, I also work as a Family Support Worker for my local authority. A few weeks ago, as part of my role, I attended a conference run by our local Child and Adolescence Mental Health Service, which focused on eating disorders and by proxy body image. 

Although the information which I gained about eating disorders for my job, was very useful, I couldn't help but take away a new mindset for my parenting. I'm parenting a 9 year old girl! In today's society and current climate for a million different reasons, that's a scary place to be. But what I took from today, is that our little people are watching us ALL OF THE TIME! They're watching us when we eat the 3rd chocolate brownie and when we berate ourselves for eating the 3rd brownie. They're listening, even if we think they're not, when we moan about how tight our jeans have become or when we make fake excuses about going to the pre-booked yoga class. 

We can complain as much as we like about social media, TV programmes, popstars etc and the influence they have on our little people's minds, but ultimately, it's their mums and dads that have the greatest influence. 

One of the guest speakers at the conference was a lady who you may have heard of called Harnaam Kaur, she's a social activist and motivational speaker who often visits schools as well. Harnaam had a lifetime of bullying due to her weight and facial hair caused by polycystic ovary syndrome. In the end she worked out for herself that the only person who can stop the effects of the bullying, solve her depression and bring happiness was herself. Harnam chose to forgive the bullies and chose to love her body and accept it for the way it is. If you ever get to hear Harnam speak, then I would recommend you do, or maybe just look her up on youtube.

We only get one body and without it, where would we be? As parents, our bodies have already done the most tremendous feat, just by making, growing and raising another being. Let's give our bodies a break, stop the hating, shaming and guilt. Let's give other people's bodies a break, stop judging, comparing and bitching. The tag line of the 'Everybody' campaign, which ran the conference was 'My body is brilliant because……."- Answer it now! In your head or in your journal, but in the comments below would be amazing!  I may be a little late in sharing the campaign and posting these thoughts, but ultimately they still matter regardless and I hope we can all take the thought away to just be a little kinder to ourselves. 

Mummy and boy

Itchen Valley Country Park

My little boy is not so little now, he's nearly 8! But every now and again, he reminds me how little he is and I feel a little hand slip into mine when we're all alone.

Recently, we had to deliver the girl for a birthday party at 'Go Ape', so whilst she swung through the trees with her friends, my 'little boy' and I had a little wander around Itchen Valley Country Park.

 We used to come here a lot in our early years, when we had whole weekdays to kill and managing little ones was so much easier in the fresh air. The nostalgia hit me as we made our way through the play trail and I saw the structures that he used to need coaching and spotting on had somehow become too easy and babyish. There are new play structures on the trail now and they've cleared whole areas of trees, which now look kind of bare, but I was reassured it's a rolling programme of forest management. There is a new story telling chair hidden amongst the trees now and we spent a while spinning yarns and fantasising about tales of piskies (Cornish pixies) and small people, which followed us throughout our walk.

There are lots more spaces and opportunities for den building too. many of which are half built by others and ready for the next explorer to come along and add to or destroy, depending on their mood. I love the way all the children work together to build them, without even knowing. There is something really exciting about coming across a half built den in the woods and crawling in to explore, knowing nothing about the person before who made it, but guessing from the little clues they left behind.

Whilst we stopped at the visitor centre to have a peak around the new café, buy a sneaky ice cream and ask about the rapidly depleting amount of trees, we noticed the amazing new play area for under 6's. We really wanted to go in and play, but unfortunately we were just too big (cue another tug at my 'children growing too fast heart strings'). We took a few photos though and would definitely recommend it to any families with littlies.

 All in all, it was great to re-visit a spot which we'd spent so much time enjoying in the past and we re-lived some of our happy early years memories. Although the park has had some considerable additions over the last couple of years, we felt they added to the natural, child-led play ethos of the country park. It was also a genuine pleasure to spend 1:1 time with the boy doing something we both love, a gentle reminder, I guess, to do that more. And of course, we had to try out some of the younger children's activities, just to get a photo and evidence they're fun...…..

Thoughtful dreaming...…... 

Thursday, 8 November 2018

How to holiday 'Hygge' style

I love the term 'Hygge' , which is a Danish word,pronounced hue-guh, used when acknowledging a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary as cosy, charming or special. There is no direct translation in English, which I guess is why us Brits have embraced the concept and you can see mentions of it all over Pinterest and Instagram. 
Our October cottage holidays, which we do every year with 'the inlaws', fully embody my take on the hygge theory: 

1. Time together with loved ones and no distractions-

Whilst on holiday we have no where to be on schedule and no time limit to activities, except the parking meter running out. We play games (Dobble and Uno are favourites), do puzzles (they never get finished within the week!), craft together and spend every mealtime eating together at either a table, picnic blanket or around a packet of chips. 
Being together for a whole week means negotiating, collaborating and compromising about the varying needs, wants and abilities of the other family members. All important life skills for children to learn and all the better to practise in the laid back setting of a holiday. I'll be honest, the boy isn't very good at the yet! But he's learning and we're trying our hardest to be sensitive to his age and development, but there were a fair few tantrums and demanding situations.

2. Being at one with nature-

Whether staying on the coast, in the countryside or the top of a mountain, cottage holidays are in locations where it's obligatory to spend as much of the day stomping or pottering outside as you do cosying up inside. We always make sure we take a walk of some description daily, even in poor weather, as the snuggling up with a drink and fire is even more pleasurable after getting cold and wet. It has been known, more than a handful of times, when following my husband or father in law's instinct for wayfinding, that we'll end up not entirely sure where we are. However, I love this quote- "Some beautiful paths can't be discovered without getting lost". And as we tell the children in these situations, "we're not lost, we're exploring". Whether it's a beach, a forest, a meadow or a cliff top, walking in nature is mandatory for a hygge holiday.

3. Moments of mindfulness-

Sitting staring at an inspiring view, watching the sunset (or rise- if that kind of thing floats your boat), gazing into an open fire or at a flickering candle flame or daydreaming during a long drive all happen frequently and naturally during a hygge holiday. 

4. Delicious, guilt free munching and sipping- 

Hygge is a Danish concept because of their long dark winter evenings, where traditionally families would need to find ways to survive the winters without becoming gloomy and depressed. One way of emulating the hygge mentality is by embracing the simple things in life, a strong, good quality cup of coffee in a beautiful mug, a plate of creamy brie and crunchy crackers, a spread of afternoon tea and scones, savouring a locally made Cornish pasty.
 Part of hygge is also the routine or ritual that you develop in making the delicious food. We spent hours on Sunday afternoon in the cottage, as a family, chopping vegetables and peeling potatoes whilst chatting and sipping bubbles and the result was a slightly late roast pork. Another perfect example of hygge holiday food, is returning from a seafront saunter to the smell of a slow cooked casserole rich in beef and red wine.  And of course, some of the guilt from eating and drinking too much is eased and your appetite is increased from all of the sea air in your lungs, so savouring the glass of bubbles, rich wine, fruity ale or simply a sweet cup of tea is a must. 

5. Cosy garments 

Holidaying on the coast in October, the staple wardrobe is usually walking boots, comfy jeans, woolly jumpers, rain coats and fluffy scarves or deep red/mustard yellow skirts, chunky boots and soft jumpers. However, this year we had a freakishly warm week until Friday, when the wind at Sennen Cove nearly blew us away. For most of the week the children were paddling in the sea and diving in the harbour, so there was a couple of times I regretted not bringing flipflops for a change. 

The Danes are known to be the happiest nation on earth, so they must be doing something right.  So whilst on holiday, embrace your inner comfy and let the warm and fuzzy feelings flow and if you can bring some of that 'hygge' home with you, even better.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Pender Cottage

The cottage can be seen to the right of the shop
 Pender Cottage
As much as we love campervanning and being outdoors, I have to admit, we're all a little lame when it comes to being cold and wet. So every October half term, we hire a cottage somewhere rural or coastal and spend the week snuggling, relaxing, exploring, walking, eating and drinking.

It has been a few years since we last came to Cornwall. We  had got to the point 3 years ago when we had spent so much time South West that we needed a change. Last year we went to the Peak District and stayed in Jane Austen country, right on the Chatsworth Estate. It was beautiful and fresh, natural and inspiring seeing stags wandering around, but we all agreed there was a severe lack of sea air and sand. Coming back to the 'West Country' this week has been like coming home. Our cottage, which we rented through Classic Cottages,  could not be closer to Mousehole harbour.

I'll be honest, I'm not a morning person (despite my attempts with the
 Miracle Morning book), so being desperate to wake up and enjoy the sunrise and morning view, I slept with the shutters open. I wasn't disappointed. Snuggling with my morning coffee, hiding from the noise, chaos and expectations of conversation became a daily pleasure whilst enjoying the harbour view from my bed. 

Pender cottage has just the right combination of cosiness, beach vibes and clean fresh luxury. The little touches of nautical art, individual pieces of furniture and thoughtful blankets and chairs positioned for seaside gazing are the icing on the cake. We especially appreciated the personal touches of games, books, scones and fresh flowers. 

Mousehole is a tiny little fishing village and the roads are incredibly narrow. I found it terrifying driving into the village in the campervan, especially when I met the regular Penzance bus coming the other way and there was nowhere to pull over. Parking is on the quayside, as the cottage has no parking of it's own, which is equally as tight and you just have to hope you don't reverse over the harbour! It was however, re-assuring being able to see our vehicles from the cottage window and the personified campervan still got it's own holiday view, despite not being used to it's full purpose this week.

In moments of need for peace and quiet, from Mousehole you can walk along the coast in either direction, towards Newlyn or Lamorna and I can guarantee that the sky will treat you with awesome colours if you happen to be out at dusk or dawn.

The Ship Inn is 10 yards away and having visited for food twice and drinks at least 5 times, I can personally recommend it. Just make sure you get there early enough for a table during busy weeks.

We've considered implementing squatters rights and we've tried browsing the local estate agents for properties within our budget. But alas, it's no good, we'll just have to come back next year.
So long Mousehole. So long Pender Cottage. So long Cornwall...…


Tuesday, 23 October 2018

St Micheal's Mount (AKA Mont St Michel)

We've gotten in the habit this trip of renaming some of the Cornish places and towns- Penzance: Ken's Pants, Porthleven: Port and Lemon, St Micheal's Mount: Mont Saint Michel. I've been corrected several times today and looked at rather strangely for calling it the French name, but I'm afraid it's stuck! I've been lucky enough to visit Mont St Michel in Normandy several times in the past and I love pottering about in the lanes of the village, before ascending up to the large abbey at the top and appreciating the views. This, however, was my first time visiting the English version and it didn't disappoint. Only 20 minutes away from our holiday cottage in Mousehole, we can see the castle on the hilled Island from the window of our cottage, but the access to it is from the small town of Marazion near to Penzance. The tidal Island can be accessed by foot when the tide is out or by a stream of continuous passenger boats which on a busy half term day, we only had to wait a couple of minutes to catch. As we arrived the tide was coming in, but there was just enough time to walk across and appreciate the wide length of beach, then on the way back the boat pilot told us th
at the footpath we used a couple of hours ago, was now under 5metres of water.
 In true National Trust style, there was numerous friendly volunteers and staff to greet us, sell us guide books and excite the children about the legend of the castle's giant. For half term, there were story tellers reciting the story of how a local boy named Jack had tricked the giant into falling into a large pit that he dug, he then threw the giant's tiny heart off of the Island, but missed and it landed on the path leading up to the castle. A heart shaped stone can still be found on the path, much to the excitement of visitors who spot it (but only if my children haven't covered it in leaves).

As per expectations, there was a children's trail guide to keep them engaged and spot things along the route through the castle, learning without even noticing!

I also usually set the children a challenge of give them some questions to answer by the end of the visit.
The views from the top of the castle, both looking out to sea and looking back towards land, are stunning and it's easy to get caught up imagining the stories and history of times gone by. The castle has been used as a spiritual centre, military stronghold, thriving port and a family home in the past, so there is something to capture the interest of everyone. My children were fascinated by the lives of the current residents and wished to see where they live, sleep and eat now and the logistics of living on an Island cut off regularly by the tide. All in all we had an exciting and inspiring day involving beaches, boats, castles, armies, giants, sea views, gardens and treasure hunts. What more could you want?