Playing Out – A Thing of the Past?

I came across an article on Mail Online, which showcased photographer Robert Frank’s pictures documenting early 1950s London. They’re so striking; I think they’re fantastic. It made me look for further examples of his work and during my Internet travels I came across another photo by a different photographer (Weegee) that also really struck me. This one was from the 1930s and was taken in NYC, but it, and one of Frank’s, did have an element in common: children playing out unsupervised.

Summer, the Lower East Side by Weegee (aka Arthur Fellig)

Summer, the Lower East Side by Weegee (aka Arthur Fellig)




Robert Frank photo from the early 50s showing London children playing out

My mum was horrendously paranoid about, and overprotective of, my brother and I, yet we were still allowed to play out. In my case, this usually consisted of a few of us riding about on our bikes, which, as I lived in Streatham in South-West London, often meant cycling around various blocks of terrace houses. I had to check back every 20 minutes (so probably a bit different from the playing out of my mum’s generation), but despite her anxieties I did get to enjoy this freedom – and loved it.

I do worry about many things relating to the kids, but I know I’m not nearly as anxious as my mum was.  However, after looking at these photos and thinking back to my own childhood, I said to my husband that I couldn’t imagine for a moment letting our eldest play out in the streets. He agreed that it wouldn’t happen. I certainly wouldn’t let her (or my younger two) sit in front of the TV or play on games consoles for hours on end instead, but I can’t foresee ever allowing them to just go out and be left to their own devices. We live in what I’d class as a fairly ‘safe area,’ yet I don’t see other children playing out either, so I know it’s not just us.

It makes me feel a bit sad.

The Missed Party Invoice

When did kids’ parties get so complicated?

You’ve probably seen the news story doing the rounds today about the £16 invoice sent to the parents of a boy who was a ‘no show’ at a friend’s party at a dry ski slope.

I’m sure like many others, I thought that this was totally outrageous. However, from firsthand experience, I know how stressful it can be (or how stressful I make) organising a child’s birthday party, and how costs can start to spiral even when planning something rather more modest than a party on a ski slope.

Did she just flip out and send the invoice in a moment of post-party madness?


Elsa keeps the children entertained. That helps!!

Here are my top five party organisation headaches (I think they call these First World problems):

1) Too many guests turn up on the day

You’ve carefully calculated, done the correct number of party bags, the right amount of food and the right number of layers on the pass the parcel; then you get a couple of extra on the day. I always do plenty of food and extra party bags just in case. However, if you’ve hired an entertainer or the party is at a particular venue you may have to pay for a certain number of children/places.

For a Frozen-themed party we booked ‘Elsa’ from My Little Princess Parties (they’re great by the way). We provided the cake, party food and party bags, but all the entertainment was laid on by Elsa at a cost of £199 for two hours. This covered up to 25 children. More than 25 kids and there was a charge of £5 per extra child. Over 30 and an extra entertainer would have been required. Thankfully we had exactly 30. Phew!

2) Too few guests/lots of cancellations

What if you play it safe with numbers and then get loads of last minute cancellations? For one party, I got four cancellations on the day and one no-show. I was hugely disappointed on my daughter’s behalf and was pretty stressed as I didn’t want the party to be a complete flop. I didn’t tell her about the cancellations. It was the right thing to do. She had a brilliant time anyway (there were still plenty of partygoers despite my worries), and it was only afterwards that my daughter started dissecting the guest list and realised that not everyone had made it. She was fine.

From a cost point of view, if you’re doing an activity-based/venue party, you’ll probably get charged for the number you specified. Just suck it up. You were expecting to pay that anyway.

3) Party duration 

One of my biggest mistakes was having a fourth birthday party at home, which was three hours long. It was just way too much for 38 (yes, 38) young children. For a select number of friends, who are a bit older; fine, but for younger ones, it’s mayhem. Two hours is plenty.

4) How much to spend on party bags 

Do you go with a massive bag of tat and tonnes of sugary treats (which incidentally the kids love and the parents hate) or go for fewer, more quality items? Oh the  dilemma. A mixture I reckon. Kids are hugely disappointed if the bag’s really sparse, even if there is something in there that’s really nice. Parents are hugely disappointed if there’s a tonne of plastic mini toys in there that will be broken within minutes and then litter their house. If mine are anything to go by, they get extremely attached to tat and it’s almost impossible to throw these items away.

5) Will I look like a complete weirdo if I send out save the date emails before the actual invitations?

I didn’t send these out for my own wedding yet for two consecutive years I have sent ‘save the dates’ for my eldest’s parties. In my defence, you have to book December parties well in advance and people do get very busy at that time of year.

Family New Year’s Resolutions

We’ve had a good year with lots of fun and laughter, but there are definitely things we could all improve upon.

I’ve never made New Year’s resolutions before, but here goes… I’ve also optimistically made some on behalf of the children. In fact,  two of these were mentioned by Santa himself in the girls’ Portable North Pole messages on Christmas Eve. Is it too early to say he’s already taking note of behaviour for next Christmas?

He's taking note already for Christmas 2015 (maybe)

He’s taking note already for Christmas 2015 (maybe)

My resolutions

1) Don’t say no when I could say yes. I’m not talking about being a pushover and saying yes to every request from the children, but if they want to do baking after dinner, I shouldn’t automatically say no just because I don’t want a load more washing up late in the day

2) Stop checking my phone for emails and Facebook notifications when the children are eating their meals. Awful habit. Will resolve to not even take my phone to the dinner table

3) Switch off from work and not check email all the time. Instead check every couple of hours when not working, so that non-work time is properly focused on the children

4) Don’t sweat the small stuff. Perhaps the kids wouldn’t be preoccupied with tiny details and pretty insignificant things if I wasn’t

5) Cut down on booze, unhealthy snacking and comfort foods so I can lead by example. I can’t tell the children off for asking for too many treats if I’m making lots of unhealthy choices. Credit where credit is due, they’re very good with fresh fruit and veg

All three girls’ resolutions 

1) Not mess about at the dinner table

2) Listen!!

3) Put one thing away before taking another out

4) Watch a bit less TV

Youngest daughters’ resolutions  

1)   Pleases and thank-yous used to be automatic, now not so much. Get back on track with those

2)   Not have tantrums about the minutest of things (wishful thinking on this one)

3) Speak properly and not in ‘whinge’ language

Eldest daughter’s resolutions 

1)   Stop bossing younger sisters about

2)   Not interfere in things that don’t concern her (mainly about her sisters)

Happy New Year all!! 

Christmas Bits and Bobs

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas, but the run up is a long one. We had nursery and school fayres in mid-November, and the shops have been Christmassy since the start of October. I think we’re in danger of losing some of the magic. However, there’re certain things that we do that are simple, which the kids really enjoy and that don’t break the bank.

The advent calendars

The Nutcracker Advent Storybook Set2

We are starting to get a collection. My eldest daughter Sofia was bought a big felt one that you hang on the wall and has 24 little pockets to stuff treats into. It’s already a tradition, and it’s an exciting thing when it comes out of the loft. Then came the Victorian Townhouse 3D calendar, which I got from a friend who was a Phoenix Trading representative. Fantastically, they have three in the range now, so each year, for the past couple of years, I’ve got the Townhouse, Department Store and Bakery for the three girls. Amazingly we haven’t had arguments about who has which!

Then this year came the birthday present keepsake for Sofia from The Bristol Parent: The Nutcracker storybook set and advent calendar. It is truly beautiful. There are 24 little books, which retell the complete story. Even better, they have little cords attached so you can hang them on the tree. This will be coming out year after year, and I’m hoping that it’s something she can eventually pass on.

The Christmas books

We already had Santa is Coming to London, and as a Londoner I loved it. However, we now live in Surrey. So when out on my one and only (quite short, due to school run) Christmas shop, I was very excited to see the Santa is Coming to Surrey hardback for the bargain price of £4.99. Reading about local landmarks with a Christmas theme equals much excitement!!

He also visits Leeds...

He also visits Leeds…

Sofia was bought the wonderful Usborne book Christmas Decorations to Cut, Fold & Stick as a birthday present. She absolutely adores it. She has just turned six and was able to do it completely independently. I will be buying another one next year!

The arts and crafts

Paper chainsThe twins’ nursery fayre was a bit short on Christmas decs, so we got going on making paper chains with random coloured strips of old wrapping paper and drawing paper that we had in the art box. They loved doing it so much I bought this great festive paper chain kit from John Lewis (which is now reduced to clear). Lovely quality, thick paper; dotted lines to show where to cut and little sticky dots to hold the links together. It also includes a penguin design. Ahh Monty.


Paper plate angelsA cute activity that the girls really enjoyed doing. There are quite a few variations on the ‘paper plate’ angel. This is probably the simplest.

Take one white paper plate, cut out a V-shaped section, which is just under a quarter of the plate and attach at the bottom. Then decorate.


This a three-year-old’s work-in-progress. The glitter hasn’t been added yet and it has a weird facial expression, but apart from that…

Glitter pine conesThis has to be one of the easiest (and cheapest) craft activities ever. Forage for a few pinecones, daub with PVA glue and dunk in glitter. Then simply attach a sparkly pipe cleaner or ribbon and voila a Christmas tree decoration.

Remembrance baubleSofia goes to an after school club that’s run by one of our local churches. The other week we were asked to email over a picture of someone that our family would like to remember. A week later the children (with some help I’m guessing) had made them into a bauble. These are now adorning one of the trees that they’ve put up in the church. I thought that it was a really lovely idea.


Your child could also draw a nice picture to go in there.

A quick Google has thrown up a pack of four create your own baubles for £9.99, but eBay has quite a few options also.

More tree decs - we visited a Christmas fayre and there was a nice DIY craft stand. For £2.50, we got plain flat wooden decorations that the kids could customise with glitter and all manner of gems and sparkles. Sofia (seen here showcasing her effort along with an angel made from the Usborne book) certainly got her money’s worth. Now pride of place on the tree.


Personalised Christmas cards

My Mother-in-Law bought each of the girls Lets Colour In Kids Personalised Xmas Cards. They come as a pack of five, have each of their names on the front, and as the name suggests, they need colouring in. They are a bargain at £1.80 a pack.

The National Trust visit

I’m always talking about the National Trust. They do Christmas very well. Today we went to Polesden Lacey. The house was beautifully decked out as part of its A Christmas Advent’ event, which celebrates the countdown to Christmas in true Edwardian style.

Twenty-four festive scenes and traditional activities celebrate the advent. We loved looking around the house again but this time with the Christmas theme. Sofia loved doing the trail of all things Christmassy, they all got the chance to decorate one of the trees and also write and post a letter to Father Christmas. Then there was a little present each before a carriage ride around the grounds, pulled by horses that were dressed as reindeer. More details of the many Christmas events going on can be found hereIMG_3700




Woodland walks, ticks and recognising Lyme disease

We’ve had a very busy half-term holiday and have visited lots of places. One place was The Vyne, a National Trust venue near Basingstoke in Hampshire, which was stunning and had so much for the children to do.

IMG_3313 IMG_3309

We met up with family and had a great time exploring the very extensive woodland (where we found our first geocache), the walled garden, house and chapel, and having a nice long walk around the ornamental lake. I’d thoroughly recommend visiting.

The day after our visit one of my daughters told me they had a spider on their arm. I took a look and saw a weird black spot on the inside of her elbow. I tried to rub it off but it didn’t budge. I kept picking, but then was concerned that maybe I was actually scratching off a mole. Then the thing came off. I put it on some white paper and discovered it had legs!! I immediately took a photo. I wasn’t sure what it was and whether it was something I needed to be concerned about,  so I consulted the Oracle that is Facebook, and my friends immediately responded. It was unanimous: it was a tick. Everyone said I should get it checked out, as without using a proper removal tool I may have left part of the tick in her skin and this would be bad. This site has some very useful information about proper removal and dos and don’ts.

Not the best pic, but you get the idea

Not the best pic, but you get the idea

The doctor took my call very seriously and we went the same day. He couldn’t ascertain whether I had removed the whole thing or not. He said I needed to be very vigilant and had to look out for a ‘target/bullseye rash’ which expands radially from the site of the tick bite, and which can occur from two to 30 days after the initial bite. This is a symptom of Lyme disease. Other early symptoms could include a fever and fatigue.


An example of the ‘target/bullseye rash’


A more comprehensive symptom checklist can be found at the Children’s Lyme Disease Network.

He didn’t want to give a course of antibiotics unecessarily as a precaution, but said that if she experienced any symptoms to go back immediately and then antibiotics would be administered. So right now we’re applying Savlon and keeping a very close eye.

Do as I say, not as I do

I’ve actually realised, I don’t always lead by example. The top 10 things I tell the children to do/not do, but which I’m actually guilty of myself :-(


1) Don’t get up from the table until you’ve finished

2) Don’t play with your toys at the dinner table – I check texts and emails on my phone (aka toy) at the table. What a TERRIBLE habit 

3) Finish one thing before you start another

4) Take that pen out of your mouth –  There isn’t a pen in the house that is in tact or doesn’t have drool coming out of it when you try to write. Euggh! It’s not the kids, it’s me 

5) Don’t bite your toothbrush – Similarly, I’m always chomping on my toothbrush and  have to buy a new one every few weeks

6) Put your shoes on whenever you go outside – In summer I’m forever wandering outside barefoot

7) Don’t interrupt each other

8) Sit properly in your chair

9) Don’t shush each other, it’s not nice 

10) Don’t have a snack so close to dinner 

Something for me to think about and which I will address. I hope I’m not alone. Anyone else guilty…?

The Lego Movie: A review

I loved Lego as a child, and now my children have inherited my collection I’m loving it all over again, so I jumped at the chance to see The Lego Movie on DVD when offered to send it to me for review.


The plot:

Emmet, a generic, instruction-following Lego figure, is mistakenly identified as the extraordinary ‘special’ one of a prophecy, who can save the world from the evil Lord Business. Lord Business is infiltrating every part of the Lego people’s lives from making the Lego instructions they follow, to selling the coffee they drink and making the TV programmes they watch. His ultimate plan is to glue every piece of Lego where he wants it so no one can ever move out of place again.

Will Emmet – with the help of his comrades – prove to be the unlikely hero?

What we thought:

A classic tale of good fighting evil and finding your inner ‘special’ qualities (even if they are well hidden), this Universal film is visually brilliant. My five-year-old and twins (who are nearly three) immediately got excited about the sight of all the Lego and found it funny from the start despite a lot of the humour being targeted at adults. It’s a great nostalgia trip for the older audience, but also relevant and instantly recognisable to a young audience.

There’s plenty of action and different Lego realms to entertain as well as a romantic sub-plot and plenty of laughs. Lego cameos from a host of well-known characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Superman, which are coupled with wonderfully-casted voice overs from the likes of Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Will Ferrell and Jonah Hill add to the movie’s charms.

My husband particularly liked the ‘Face Off’ scene with Good Cop/Bad Cop (you’ll have to watch it to understand) and got all misty-eyed over a spaceship the characters built: it was just the same as the ones he used to build.

I thought it was a bit slow to get started and about 10-15 minutes too long, but it made for very enjoyable viewing, had a happy ending and was well-received by my five-year-old who was entertained throughout. The twins were probably a little young for it, so did get a bit restless towards the end, but I would have expected that with any film. Be warned… “Everything is Awesome” will be your new ear worm.

Good, clean, family fun.


The lunchbox (debate) has landed – again

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s back to school and back to the same old news stories. Packed lunches are back in the press.

I do a lot of home cooking with fresh ingredients, avoid salt and sugar where possible and provide plenty of fruit and veg when catering for my children. In fact, tonight they had a minestrone that included tomatoes, cabbage, celery, carrots, potatoes and cannellini beans. However, they are allowed treats, and we do have Fish Finger days when we’re so busy doing other stuff that there simply isn’t enough time before bed to incorporate the school run, an hour-and-a-half of cooking, homework, reading, play, bath and bedtime story. All to say, they have a very good diet probably 90% of the time.


We went on a picnic today with lots of other mums and children from the Epsom and Leatherhead Multiples Club. In my childrens’ lunch boxes there were pitas stuffed with salami and then pieces of cheddar cheese, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, humus, carrot batons, blueberries and…dum, dum, dum cocktail sausages. Salami is fatty and salty and ditto for cocktail sausages. They love them however (as do I) but eat just as much of the good stuff as these more ‘dubious’ items. It’s about common sense and balance.  Would I have have been reprimanded about these items in a school lunch box? I doubt it. However it would have been a massive tut tut if I’d included a packet of crisps or some chocolate buttons. There is an air of double standards and nowhere more so than school dinners.

I find it rather ludicrous that there are so many guidelines about school packed lunches; the dos and don’ts.

Sofia, my eldest, has a school lunch every day. We had a talk about the catering at her school before she started. They talked about all the hidden veg they included in their meals, and it was apparent they provided many healthy items. However, alongside the virtuous stuff, there are puddings such as arctic roll, chocolate brownie and choc ice. There’s also a decent smattering of burgers, pizza and chips on the menu. I haven’t ascertained whether the latter have ever been served together. This would obviously be sacrilege to an Italian (well half Italian) and definitely not the healthiest. I don’t demand that all sweet items or potato-based products are removed from the dinner menu as I know, on the whole, the school dinners are balanced, nutritious and varied. I also know that they are supplemented at home with very good meals most of the time. So why is it acceptable to be reprimanded about the odd packet of Pom-Bears? I’m pretty sure that very few children are being sent to school with nothing but a can of Coke and a few sweets in their lunch boxes. As the fussiest of eaters as a child and very thin, my mum was always delighted if I’d scoffed a Cadbury’s Flake alongside a triangle of sandwich.

My children have some choices regarding food and on quite a few occasions the opportunity to have something they consider a treat – I think it’s important and part of childhood. Do they sit all day mainlining Haribo and Fruit Shoots? No (well apart from when we had ‘movie day’ so that my husband and I could decorate the spare room in a day without childcare)! They LOVE fruit and will always go and help themselves to some from the fruit bowl if they’re feeling peckish (it’s their first port of call for a snack), but equally will pounce on a biscuit if it’s offered. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Common sense and balance…