atworkThanks to all for your encouragement about being not ‘quite’ a stay-at-home. I thought it may be interesting to write some notes about going back to work.

  • Enjoy your time at home and don’t worry about the future as it wastes this special time. Read my previous posts about ‘Why am I a stay-at-home mum’.
  • Use your time wisely at home. Pour your energies into your children but keep on eye on the future (without worrying of course). Can you do courses to aid your occupation or add depth to it? Helping with charities and committees can provide you with new skills and maintain your self-confidence. It is also a way to fill gaps on your CV! I chaired my local pre-school for 5 years and learnt a lot about negotiation, people management, interviewing and it looks good on a CV when there is a gap from formal work.
  • Have some idea of when you think you would like to return to work – you can always review this decision but it helps you to focus on being at home and enjoying your children if it is some years away.
  • Keep clothing, shoes and accessories up-to-date otherwise you need to replace everything at the same time when you return to work.
  • Look for work by thinking about what you want to do as this helps to clarify and focus what you are looking for. You could write out a ‘dream job’ or even consider doing something totally different. Keep your options open and don’t feel you can only do the type of work you did before.
  • Research the types of jobs you are interested in and sign up to relevant job sites. When you start looking for work set aside a regular time each day Monday to Friday to do research, search the internet and write a CV. There is nothing worse than vaguely worrying about it all day. Just do a bit each day and then set it aside physically and psychologically.
  • Write a very clean, simple, well-laid out CV. There is no need for it to be more than one page no matter how qualified you are. Write a covering letter to accompany your CV and be honest about the work break but give it a positive spin.
  • Be confident and relax during your interview. Be prepared for tricky questions such as ‘What will you do for childcare?’ Have some solutions or good answers.
  • Phone and research ideas for childcare. Check your local council’s website for lists of local nurseries and child-minders. Many nurseries take school age children during the holidays. Some schools and many leisure centres offer holiday clubs. Talk to friends and find out what they do. Consider employing a trainee nanny or a teaching assistant if you just need child care during the school holidays.
  • The day before you go back to work, put out everything you plan to wear right down to tights and jewellery and double-check it. Mornings are manic and you won’t have time to sew on buttons or find new tights!
  • Be organised with the children and have all their school kit and clothes ready.

Going back to work has proved okay so far although it has its own stresses but I am so glad I had this time off with my children.

mad hattersThe Concept: This was a party for my daughter’s second birthday so we kept it small with a gentle but delightful Mad Hatter’s Tea Party theme. Guests were invited to wear a mad hat and more ornate costumes if they wished. The theme would also work well for an older child. We live close to Oxford so could nip into the original Alice’s Shop to buy items such as Alice in Wonderland bookmarks and tea bags.

The Invitation: I scanned in the spine of an old book and wrote the invitation as if it was an English classic along with an illustration of the White Rabbit. It was Chapter 2 of course as my daughter was turning two.

Our Party: This was a family party with a few friends, grandparents and older siblings who enjoyed dressing up as the Cheshire cat and The White Rabbit. My older daughter made maps for everyone to hunt in the garden for their treasure and as she was only 4, the maps were certainly in the spirit of Alice in Wonderland – nonsensical and slightly mad! We found our treasure after a fashion (pencils and bookmarks) and returned indoors to play ‘stick the heart on the tart’ – little ones were not blindfolded and it was hilarious to see them still not grasp the idea while parents loved the double entendre. Children’s croquet was set up in deference to the book for older children to enjoy – until the mallets became weapons! I had fun designing ‘playing card’ table mats and place names and adults received a mad hatter tea bag to take home.

Top Tips: For little ones keep it low-key with easy games and not too many guests. Allow older siblings to become involved in the planning and running of the party as it is hard for them to see a younger sibling being the centre of attention. Keep adults amused with a few touches so that parties for tinys don’t become too saccharine. The cake was easy this time – a sponge cake decorated with a miniature mouse and a tea party.mad hatters2  mad hatters3 mad hatters4 mad hatters1This post is part of a mini theme on children’s birthdays. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

cooking birthday1 cooking birthday2The Concept: Cooking is a great theme – the party revolves around food that guests make and then eat so squeeze in as many dishes as possible and choose recipes depending on the age and preference of your child. The youngest age I would recommend for a cooking party would be four years old but this theme will would work well right up to young teens.

The Invitation: Have fun with flour and eggs and photograph the results. Wrap the invitation around a little rolling-pin to deliver to your guests. Invitations are important, they set the tone and the theme – but I am a graphic designer so can’t help going to town.

Our Party: When the children arrived they made caterpillar kebabs from marshmallows. They then concocted their own mini pasta bakes in dinky takeaway containers and any leftovers could be taken away to be eaten at home. These chefs work fast so we moved swiftly on to cookie dough and biscuit cutters, strawberry smoothies and highly decorated cupcakes. The children left happy, floury with a party bag containing a wooden spoon and cookie cutter – aesthetically tasteful and hopefully useful!

Top Tips: Work out what kitchen equipment you will need and have it ready – you need to be organised! Prep up before hand by making the dough for cookies and baking cupcakes in advance. I use this Swedish biscuit recipe. Children can cut biscuits shapes and you can bake them while they decorate the cupcakes. Pizza or pasta is great for a main dish. Have fruit trimmed and ready for smoothies. Have a few simple party games which they can play with one adult if you need time to clear the decks and get ready for the next cooking extravaganza. Have a high proportion of adults to children if very young. Have simple boxes or bags to take home the goodies they don’t manage to birthday3 cooking birthday4 cooking birthday5This post is part of a mini theme on children’s birthdays. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

birthday1Celebrating children’s birthdays is exciting but don’t allow them to overwhelm you. We alternate between birthday treats and birthday parties. One year will be a treat, for instance a visit to the zoo with one or two friends and the following year is a party. With three children this means I’m not laying on three parties a year and the children really enjoy the novelty of a treat with a fantastic picnic and having a special friend to celebrate with.

Parties are kept simple with about 8 friends so no mass class parties! If you keep the numbers small enough, you are not obliged to invite an entire class and my rule of thumb is to invite the  number of guests of the age your child plus one. Birthdays are emotional times with all the extra attention and your child will cope better if there are not too many friends. For the very young, cousins and grandparents are probably enough. Lavish entertainment is unnecessary and I favour having a theme on which to ‘hang’ the activities and love having traditional party games plus one or two creative ‘wow’ factors. Hiring a bouncy castle at the village hall or trooping off to a soft play centre is unoriginal. If you keep the guest list small enough there is no reason why you can’t entertain and host the party without having to wheel in a professional entertainer. In the next few posts I will suggest 5 party ideas to inspire you.

This post is first of a mini theme on children’s birthdays. Feel free to share your ideas as comments.

den buildingIt is a bit of a challenge if you are ‘buying nothing new’ but we had a great time during half-term and seeing that it falls on different weeks in the UK, I thought I would share some ideas if you needed inspiration.

  • Baking is always a good activity even with three mini chefs. Have a go at chocolate brownies – we use the Usbourne children’s book recipe with delicious results.
  • Make family pizza. Keep it simple by buying the bases, whack on some passata and then everyone can add their own pre-chopped ingredients – salami, ham, cheese, red pepper, pineapple, egg and mushrooms.
  • Wrap up warm and go outside to tramp in the countryside or a park as fresh air revives everyone. Build a den in which to eat your chocolate brownies.
  • Have holiday projects for your children, you can read more about this on this link. This holiday I introduced origami for my 9-year-old and we made a new model each day. My 6-year-old was desperate to learn to knit so I am teaching her although she is on the young side. If you teach your child to knit, I can  recommend thick children’s needles of 5mm or 6mm and multi coloured wool. If the wool is changing colour it inspires children to keep knitting. Visit the site Hulu to buy these items. My son was so interested in knitting that I ended up teaching him too and he is really doing well.
  • Bike rides and picnics can happen even if February.
  • Hire a few DVDs and cheat and watch television in the afternoon.
  • Best of all can I suggest ‘The great family sleep over’! The entire family drags their mattresses into one room and all sleep together on the floor. I probably shouldn’t add that Ella (age 4) wet the airbed that she was sharing with me or that when we woke up we felt exhausted, as if we had been camping but least we could sit in a comfy sofa and drink coffee. Why would a family with perfectly decent beds do this? Because it is fun and it was so exciting for the children, creating magical memories.

Just like puppies, children need to be taken outside whatever the weather to run off extra energy, have a change of scenery and  fresh air. When it is autumn, we find many treasures on our walks, in fact Sophie is such a hoarder that she has a fabric bag called an ‘Item Bag’ to collect the leaves, conkers and creepy-crawlies that we find. Another way of collecting leaves which is aesthetically pleasing is to make a leaf kebab. Find a thin, firm stick which is about 20cm in length or grab a kebab stick from the kitchen then as you wander along collect beautiful leaves and impale them on the stick. When you return home, place the best of your autumn haul on a platter and light a few tealights to create an ‘autumn focus’ for the table.

Creating a bug hotel has been one of our most enjoyable autumn activities. You need a small wooden box about 22cm x 15cm x 7cm which can be bought from (6 boxes for £24.99). Fill it with autumn finds such as teasel and poppy heads, pine cones, bamboo stalks tied into bundles and rolled cardboard. You can also drill holes in a small log to make beetle homes. Pack all the items into the box and then tightly fill the gaps with moss and dead leaves. Using a staple gun, staple a mesh over the box so that the items don’t fall out and then position it in a warm, sheltered place. Try and ensure it is out of the rain as bugs don’t like getting wet. Then wait for the following bugs to move in!
Lacewings: Lacewings are bright green with transparent wings. They mostly come out at night and eat aphids on plants. As they don’t survive the winter easily, they will enjoy a nice cosy bug hotel.
Ladybirds: Ladybirds also eat aphids and tend to spend the winter hidden in nooks and crannies of dead wood.
Red Mason Bees and Tawny Mining Bees: These both help to control insects in the garden. They are solitary bees so don’t live in hives with other bees. They like to spend the winter in hollow stems or holes in wood.

I love walking with my children and even better when it includes a little foraging. This is the time of year to collect sloes which are blue-black bitter fruit growing on blackthorn bushes. Sloes need to be collected in October after the first frost, but if autumn is mild or you want to beat the birds, collect them early and put them in a freezer. Sloes are too tart to eat but are perfect in gin, making a tasty, sweet and glorious ruby sloe gin. If you get your skates on, you can make this as Christmas gifts. Below is the recipe I am using courtesy of National Trust.

For 1 litre of Sloe Gin you will need:
– 450g sloes
– 300g caster sugar
– 1 litre gin any brand – cheap gin works just as well
– A 2 litre Kilner jar
– A bottle for decanting

Step 1
Wash your sloes and remove any leaves or stems. Prick as many as you can with a needle or sharp fork. This helps to release the juices. If you have frozen them make sure you de-frost them first.

Step 2
Sterilise your jar with boiling water. Put your sloes, sugar and gin in the jar. Seal and shake the jar every day until sugar has dissolved, then once a week.

Step 3
After 10-12 weeks decant your sloe gin into a bottle and enjoy at your leisure.

Top tip:
Sloe gin gets even better with age, you could make two lots and hide one away for next year. If you do this every year you will always have a vintage supply of this delicious tipple.

‘Jobs about the house’ is what my friend’s son calls chores. When I reviewed chores, I realised my youngest, Ella was getting away with murder. The bigger two were drying themselves by three as a baby had now arrived in the family, Ella is four and stands like royalty with arms outstretched while I dry and dress her. I am remedying that!

Each child has a job that benefits the family and is also learning responsiblity for pets. When the chores increase, the children’s pocket money increases but they are not strictly linked as I want my children to realise jobs are part of family life where we all pull our weight. One friend had a super solution for her older children when they didn’t do their jobs – they could pay their parents to do the chores. The pain of having to pay dad 50p to pack the dishwasher was far greater than having their pocket money docked. Definitely a strategy to remember!

Ages 2 – 4 years
Clear own plate from the table
Dry himself after a bath
Start dressing himself
Tidy toys
Help make bed and tidy room
Tidy shoe rack
Bring in the post
Collect eggs from the chickens

Ages 5 – 7 years
Set the table
Clear the table
Make bed
Tidy bedroom
Wash himself (supervised)
Brush teeth independently once a day
Put out school uniform
Place family’s dirty laundry in basket
Empty lunch boxes after school
Deliver notes to neighbours
Feed the cats

Ages 8 – 10 years
Set the table
Clear the table
Make bed
Tidy bedroom
Put out school uniform
Take bikes out of shed
Put bikes away after school
Water plants in pots
Answer the phone
Run small errands – eg post a letter
Prepare school lunches
Pack dishwasher
Bath unsupervised
Brush teeth independently
Care for chickens
Be responsible for packing correct items for sport and school
Pack own suitcase when going on holiday (mum to check!)

In the second session of The Parenting Course we looked at the importance of spending time with our children (quality and quantity), establishing routines and the importance of play. I was challenged by the question, ‘What helps your children to engage in healthy play?’ Generally it happens in bucketfuls, I get them started and then let them get on with it. But I find I am hassled by the mess and the huge Amazon cardboard boxes that litter our house for weeks. I may see tatty boxes but they see televisions, dog kennels, castles and boats. I’ll strive not to grow impatient and chuck them away but appreciate the magic of imaginary play. And in summer I won’t be grumpy about mud and water sneaking into the house!

If you want to know more about The Parenting Course, click on this link to read my initial post about the course.