A middle class a-fair

Bank holidays are usually bittersweet for me; a long weekend in which you are supposed to chill, but if you are like me the pressure to Do Something Worthy gnaws away at any time not spent in pursuit of merriment or at least spring cleaning.

We were supposed to be camping this week, but our regular inspection of the BBC 5 day forecast has forced us to concede defeat. I make no bones about being a fair weather camper. Roughing it in a field with portaloos and two young kids (4 if you count the family we were supposed to be going with) is just about bearable, verging on fun when you have glorious weather and copious amounts of alcohol. In 22 MPH winds, Baltic temperatures and rain it is about as appealing as attending the UKIP party conference.

As a salve to the wounds of disappointment we decided to camp out in the garden night before last. All the benefits of camping, sleeping under canvas (well, some kind of nylon material anyway), fresh air, without the hassle of packing up the car and using chemical toilets. But er, we still had to put up the tent, which fit with inches to spare…

20130528-105343.jpgIt was good fun, though by 10.30pm when the kids were still awake it was hard to resist the temptation to pack up and chuck the kids back in their rooms. But we stuck it out, you know, coz we’re hardcore.

The bank holiday Monday was spent at the achingly middle class Suffolk Street Fair. It’s events like this that make me oscillate between contempt and intense life envy. The Suffolks are a slightly Bohemian, vair middle class area of an already quite middle class town. The fair consists of stalls from lots of local businesses; a mixture of art and craft, poncey food, and car boot sale tat with “vintage” prices.

We met some of our friends at the fair, with possibly cuter kids than ours – certainly more well dressed than our dress-refusnik girls!

Kids at the street fair
Consulting map apparently. Actually a leaflet on organic locally produced sausages.

Every year DH and I wander round and wish we could casually pick up a locally designed art print or a £50 distressed wire magazine rack, while at the same time scoffing at the “saw you coming” street sellers. See that is the fundamental (and really the only difference between us and the rest of these hipsters, most of them are richer than us. Our part time public sector salaries and lack of period property are the only things that stop us from becoming Guardianista cliches, and means that we get to play the boy who points out that the Emperor is wearing no clothes, and that the shabby chic piece of driftwood hanging from a bit of twine is, well, just a piece of driftwood. Don’t get me wrong, we want to buy the driftwood, we just can’t afford it.

Man selling beer
£4 for a can of larger? Saw you coming…

There is always good food at the fair. It was difficult to chose between the five vegetable tagine, the falafel and fresh pita bread, or Thai noodle. The spicy noodles won out, as they do every year. I wish I knew what spices they used as they were delicious, even if they did cost £4.50.

The sun was shining, and the jazz band was playing. One of the joys of having young kids is never being without a dance partner. It was just Betty and I throwing some moves, but I didn’t care.

Betty and I dancing in the street
Dancing in the street
Punch and Judy
Beating with a stick – that’s the way to do it!


A Punch and Judy show kept the kids bizarrely enthralled, in the way only the iPad usually does. Well, what child can resist watching a scary wooden puppet, with the bulbous nose of the inebrient, whack a dog with a wooden stick and get whacked in return. The children cackled with laughter at 50 Shades of Candy Stripes while cringing lentil weaver parents shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, clutching their recently purchased organic olive oil and wondering how to explain away the gratuitous violence to their kids later. We didn’t stay to find out the fate of Judy.

We dragged the kids away from the bunting clad street, stopping at the fab charity book shop on the Bath Road. Betty chose six Enid Blyton books (she is undoubtedly her mother’s daughter) – ‘vintage’ as per the order of the day, although as DH found out later when he read them, vintage books tend to come with vintage attitudes to race, women, foreigners, poor people, and basically anyone who doesn’t own an island. I. however, found some light bedtime reading, which I can guarantee contains no black people called Sooty…

Statistics without maths book
It says without maths – that’s go to be good right?

All in all a pleasant day. And while we traipsed along the street fair fantasising about owning one of the Regency townhouses, with wooden shutters and shabby chic decor, it wasn’t unhappily that we returned to our rented little new build terrace, with laminate floors and magnolia walls, just with realism, and the feeling of familiarity. We can’t pull off vintage anyway.

 

If you can cope with bringing up kids, anything else is easy in comparison

I’ve been working at my MSc Occupational Psychology for nearly 6 months now, and it is hard, but actually easier than I thought it was going to be. On my course I am the only student to have children, and I have received nice comments like “when I am struggling to fit it all in I think if Dilly can do it with 2 kids then I can do it” but in actual fact I really believe that being a mother of young children has helped me manage this course, for the following reasons:

I already have no life
Some of my student friends are struggling to fit studying in with all they things they usually do in their free time, and the endless weddings and hen nights that take up the weekends of those of a certain age. Maybe it’s not even age, I don’t think I’m the oldest, but I happen to be in a situation where most of my friends are already married. I think some of the students are finding it a shock that they have to sacrifice nights out and weekends away for sitting down and studying. Well, I have kids so I’ve already sacrificed those things. I have already been through the pain of feeling my freedom restricted. Iris isn’t really reliable enough for a babysitter, and even if she was we couldn’t afford it anyway. So for me, most of my evenings are a toss up between studying or watching the West Wing and crocheting on the sofa. Some things have had to go. You can see that my blog is a bit neglected, and I’m having crochet withdrawal, but I have experienced the feelings of sacrifice already and I know it isn’t forever.

Every second counts
What the hell did I do with my time before I had kids? Obviously I worked full time (but I’m not far off that now), but it’s not like I was writing War and Peace. I wasn’t even reading it. We had dinner parties with friends, did a bit of jogging, but again I still manage that now. All those child-free hours, I could have spent doing something useful but with the naivety of youth I just frittered them away. Now every hour is accounted for, and if I am lucky enough to have “free time” every minute is squeezed dry. Because of this when I sit down to do my work I’m very conscious of time. I know how many hours I need to spend on my studying, and how many hours I have available in the week, and there is little slack. If one of the kids is sick for a couple of days that writes off a few evenings of work that I can’t afford to lose so I know I have to keep on top of things.

Less pressure to be top
I did really well in my first two degrees, a First and a Distinction. Anything less in this one is going to feel like a step back. Academia is my thing. I nearly cried when I got 55 in my first assignment. But what with combining a nearly full time job, two kids and other activities with this degree, everyone is just going to be impressed if I pass. I’m nearly coming around to that view myself. Nearly.

It’s not the hardest thing I have ever done
I survived 10 months and more without a full night’s sleep. I have breastfed while suffering from an excruciating migraine, delatching the baby to go and vomit, then returning to resume a prone position while a tiny baby sucked the life force out of me. I have driven through the night to get a baby suffering from chicken pox to stay asleep. I have cared for a sick husband and toddler a week after giving birth. I have given birth. Twice. With no drugs. I have gone to work leaving my children in the care of virtual strangers for the first time. I have raised two charming and clever children. In terms of the hardest things I have done, a part time degree is not even up there.

Everyone thinks I am doing an amazing job
There is nothing quite as motivating as praise from other people, and lots of people have expressed their admiration at what I am doing. My mum and dad have both said how proud they are, as has my husband. And my step-mum went so far as to give me a significant chunk of money towards my course, because she felt I really deserved it. When really, as I have just explained, in some ways it is easier for me than everyone else, you know, what with having no life and all. Blown that myth now haven’t I?

And on top of all that it helps that I love psychology, really want a new job, and am fortunate enough to be fairly bright. My reason for writing this post is really to inspire other people out there to push their boundaries, especially other parents. I worried for ages about whether I could cope with doing this course. Yes I’m a bit grumpy sometimes, I feel like I have no time to decompress, but it will all be worth it in the end. And as with most things in life, it hasn’t been as hard as I feared. So if you are thinking of taking something on, and are wondering how you would cope when you have children, my answer is this – having kids: probably the hardest thing you will ever do. Whether you are thinking of doing a degree, starting a business, writing a book, it’ll be easy in comparison. And by virtue of the the skills you will have picked up just from having kids, you will be even better equipped for whatever you take on.

My Future Listography: careers I’d like

Christmas before last I got a book called My Future Listography, basically a place to make lists about things you want to do in life. I thought it might help me figure out what I want to do. But if nothing else, it makes for good blog prompts.

I thought I’d start with careers I’d like, as that is one close to my heart. I am on a constant quest for the ideal career, but I think the reality is that, as the magazines oh so wisely are telling us, we shouldn’t expect one career (thank God, because if this is it I am doomed), but consider serial careers (one after the other) or portfolio careers (doing lots of things at once). As someone who is extremely indecisive this concept appeals to me. I’ve spent many years wanting to be this and that; a teacher, a criminologist, a Spanish interpreter, a journalist. However, these days I am more realistic about what I actually want to do. Sure I’d love to travel the world, but it can’t be much fun leaving young kids behind. And yes, I love the idea of being a journalist, but working freelance, having to tout yourself about writing about vacuous celebrities just to make ends meet, no guaranteed income <shudder> it’s not really for me. And while the idea of being Prime Minister seems attractive on the surface, but do I really want to go around knocking on doors in local elections, begging people for votes or money, preferably both. And then even if I did become PM I’d have to spend my time going to meeting on European Economic Policy, or the budget deficit. And I probably wouldn’t be able to do crochet on my lunch breaks. I’d have to spend my lunch breaks trying to keep the editor of the Sun on side to stop him printing articles about my political incompetence, or the fact that Iris drew on the walls of the cabinet meeting room.

Nope, I’m definitely clearer about what I’d actually like to do, so here is my plan:

Occupational Psychologist
This is what I hope my next career will be. For those who don’t know, I am studying for a Masters Degree in Occupational Psychology. It’s part time, distance learning, so I won’t finish for 2 years (only just started in January). I’ve no idea what it will lead on to career wise. Occupational Psychology is psychology in the workplace, covering topics such as recruitment, well being, ergonomics and leadership. What I don’t want to do is be a psychologist who goes into a business to help the business make more money. This might be rather naive, but I want to make the workplace, where many of us spend the majority of our time, a better place for people to be, with increased productivity being an added bonus. I thought long and hard before doing the degree, but actually I quite circumspect about how it pans out. Maybe I won’t end up as an Occupational Psychologist, but doing the course has reaffirmed for me that psychology is where it’s at!

Professional Yarn Bomber

Oh yes, if I could get paid to yarn bomb every day I would be very happy. There are people who do make a living out of it, but they are generally bona fide artists, and probably do loads of other stuff to supplement their income. But hey, that’s what a portfolio career is all about. Plus, I very nearly am a professional yarn bomber I ran a yarn bombing workshop for which I got paid proper cash money. And I’m going to be in a book, and I was on the radio. With a burgeoning media career, a professional contract is sure to follow, right?

Radio Presenter

I don’t mean a vacuous DJ type of presenter. I have in mind more a Radio 4 presenter, being asked to present a programme on which I am an acclaimed expert, perhaps my yarn bombing career, Occupational Psychology, or as a self help guru (have I not mentioned that one yet?). I would interview various contemporaries in my field, in a softly spoken and engaging manner, much like Kirsty Young, except less Scottish and more Home Counties, and less soft and more nasal (I’m sure it’s an adenoid problem). I love the BBC, and wish that I had joined it as a fledgling meeja type in the 70s or something (but obviously without the Jimmy Savile sex scandals and endemic sexism) to become one of the doyennes of the institution like Kirsty, or Sandi Tosvik or Jennie Murray.

Writer

Well, I am writing now, so technically I am a Writer. But I’m not getting paid for this. I’m not even getting free stuff to review. If I could get paid just to write my thoughts and opinions like the insufferable Jeremy Clarkson that would be great. Though rather than The Sun my publication of choice would be something like Psychologies Magazine, or the Observer Magazine. I’d be able to research and write about whatever takes my fancy, and then someone would probably offer me a book deal. It would start out as a collection of selected columns, but then soon I’ll be branching out into motivational, self-help books (based on empirical research obviously). I’d also like to try my hand at fiction, in fact I have the bare bones of a draft from when I did NaNoWriMo a few years ago. However, it is true what they say, it is harder than it looks to write fiction, even fluffy chick lit. But one day I’ll get round to it, I’m sure.

Member of Mumsnet HQ

I’d get paid to Mumsnet. Nuff said.

So, I’ve still got a good 35 years of working life ahead of me, enough to get all that done. And in the meantime I am thankful that tomorrow is my day off my current paid work, so I get to do my other part time job, Stay At Home Mum. The pay is pretty poor, and the non-salary benefits are non-existent. There is no training policy, and no promotion prospects. But there’s no commute, and the customers give good cuddles.

The contrariness of motherhood

On the nights when I put Iris to bed, which is most nights, as she prefers me and Betty prefers DH, after finishing her bottle of milk she turns to me and says “Can I have a cuddle?”. Pinned securely into a sleeping bag (a necessity as she is both a stripper and a climber) she turns to face me. Sometimes she doesn’t want to go to sleep or really have a cuddle, she just wants a chat, about the things we have done, the things we are going to do and the important things in her life, like Betty, Grandma and doggies. On the nights like tonight, when she is exhausted, she curls up on my lap, her head on my upper arm, knees tucked into her chest, and her tiny arms wrapped around my waist. These nights actually bode the worst, as infant logic dictates that the more tired they are the more unsettled their sleep will be.

Sometimes this tableau occurs at 7pm, sometimes 8, sometimes 3am. Even at 3am, tired, and anxious about getting up for work soon, I soon succumb to the star nightlight speckled darkness, and bury my face into the nape of her neck. I inhale the smell of sweat and jam sandwiches. I relish the weight of the heavy head in my arms. I feel the rise and fall of the little chest filling with air, and exhaling with faint snores. When I am feeling frustrated at this being our third visit of the night, or desperate to go downstairs and have some grown up time, I tell myself it won’t be long before she no longer wants cuddles, or is too big to curl up on my lap.

As I nuzzle the warm body on my lap I think about its future. I wonder what sort of woman she will become, I worry I am not doing a good enough job for her to reach her potential, I worry about the dangers of the world, and pray she will outlive me in it. I want to cry a little for the future me, who has no 2 year old to snuggle, and for the future Iris, and the time when a mother’s cuddle is no longer enough to make her feel secure.

Eventually, the draw of freedom and personal space force me to relinquish my charge and put her in her cot. Tonight she was out like the proverbial light, but most nights she drowsily clutches Luke, her bear, and turns over with a sleepy “Night night mummy”.

No longer weighed down with a warm infant, I step lightly out of the room and head downstairs where long-awaited freedom awaits. Earlier today, frustrated and exhausted, I wanted my house free of my children, or wished for them to be old enough to be more self-sufficient. Each night I sink on to the sofa with relief that I have survived another day. But for the few minutes after I have released the sleeping toddler from my arms I feel bereft.

Foam party

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I won’t lay claim to this genius idea; that credit goes to Something With The Kid. But this is definitely one worth stealing. Using shapes cut out from craft foam and a pot of water and a paint brush kids can make pictures on patio doors, or even bathroom tiles. Give the older ones some scissors and the foam and they can cut their own shapes out which extends the life of this activity.  The foam sticks to the wet glass, and makes surprisingly little mess, assuming your patio doors are usually as smeared as mine anyway. This is a great rainy day activity and the shapes can be used over and over again.

Yes, those are my little darlings in the picture, and yes one of them is wearing pajamas, and the other a baggy bottomed leotard with a yellow cap. We’re a classy household.

A mini Betty made from baby clothes

Handmade doll made with baby clothes

Recently, after a year long subscription I cancelled my delivery of Mollie Makes magazine. I adored it initially, but just found it got too samey after a while; oh look, more Japanese style embroidery. I also found it seemed to focus less on tutorials and more on showcasing other people’s work, less do it yourself and more buy it for yourself. And the craft projects it did have were rarely things I’d make myself, I mean, what am I going to do with a felt macaroon or needle felted animals. And if I see one more hipster wedding with comedy moustache photo booth and “thrifted” vintage table cloths I might vomit.

Every now and again there might be a project I’d give a go but it wasn’t enough to keep me. However, one of those projects in one of the last magazines I got was a little Mollie doll, which I had to admit was pretty cute, and I’ve had a plan for a while to make dolls for the girls. But then I came up with an even better way to improve the project.

A couple of weeks ago DH and I sorted through mountains of clothes that the girls have outgrown. Much of it is second or third hand anyway, but some of it we can sell at a local NCT sale. Some of it we gave away. There were a few outfits though that just reminded us so much of the girls as babies, and we couldn’t bear to part with them. But I wondered what to do with them. It seemed pretty pointless to just stick them in the attic and get them out every 10 years to look at.

A lady on Twitter makes lovely teddy bears from baby clothes as a momento for you or toy for your child. They are really gorgeous, and you can buy gift vouchers which make a fab new baby present. That was the sort of thing I wanted to do but I’m not really a fan of teddy bears so I thought I would make a doll, wearing clothes made out of baby clothes.

The intention is to do one representing each of the girls. Hopefully I will do a better job of the next one, having made several mistakes and discovering several holes in this one that I had to fix. I used the template from Mollie Makes, issue number 14.

Mollie Makes Magazine pattern

Mollie Makes Magazine pattern

Gap baby dress
Too cute!

I mostly used my sewing machine, but the jersey material was quite a challenge to machine sew as it over stretches as you feed it through. Unfortunately most baby clothes are made out of lovely soft jersey material. But the face, arms and legs were just made from undyed muslin.

;

Newborn baby dress
Betty’s debutante dress

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The leggings are from the first newborn dress Betty wore when visiting nana for the first time. The dress Mini Betty wearing is from a gorgeous dress my dad bought from Gap, and I even did a sort of vest for the body using a Jojo Maman Bebe vest bought by my colleagues, just so I could use as many of the items as possible. All these outfits remind me of my newborn daughter, and now I have immortalised her in doll form. That sounds really creepy doesn’t it? At least I didn’t get one of those ghastly reborn dolls made in her image to cart around in a pram!

Handmade doll made with baby clothes

I can see all the mistakes I made in the doll, as I’m just not that great at sewing. But I really enjoyed making it, it felt really special, and I’m actually rather proud of it. It was a lot easier than producing the real thing.

This isn’t a toy for the girls though, oh no no no no no. This is to remind me of my beautiful little girl, because while she will probably always be beautiful, she won’t always be little, nor always mine. Plus this one is a lot quieter than the real thing.

I mustn’t leave it too long to make a mini Iris either. She’s not even two yet but she is already commenting on the distinct lack of photos of her around the house, typical neglect of the second child.

So, while its nice to keeps old baby clothes as momentos, it’s even nicer to do something with them. If you have enough, a quilt is a lovely idea. I’ve just realised though, that I need to make sure I keep a babygro intact, so I can still have those “I can’t believe they were ever that small” moments.

Baby vest
I can’t believe she was ever this small!

This post has been linked up on Handmade Monday and Ta Dah Tuesday!

DIY domino magnets

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I mentioned that I had plans for the dominoes that I recently bought from a charity shop. Well I got this idea from Lulastic, a blog that is basically a cooler version of mine, with a bit more lentilly parenting thrown in for good measure. Anyway, she had the idea of sticking magnets on the back of thrifted (now there is a wanky word du jour – just trying it out!) dominoes and sticking them to the fridge.

I had some strips of sheet magnet that I ripped off something before I threw it away, can’t remember what, but I left them on my fridge waiting for the right project. This was definitely it. I just cut up the strips and glue gunned a piece onto the back of each domino. It took 5 minutes in all and looks very cool. The kids love it and just make patterns with the dominoes, but I think it will be a good game for Betty to play, when I figure out how the rules myself…

I’m Peppa Pig [oink], this is my brother George [oink], this is Mummy Pig [oink, pop, clink, pour, slurp, sigh]

After nearly crying in despair at the price of my Sainsbury’s online shop last month, I decided to venture to Asda. Now mostly I hate Asda as a shopping experience but our new one isn’t too bad. And, while I love internet shopping, the lure of the reduced section is enough to make me brave the horror of real life shopping with kids. And Asda’s reduced section is huge, even early in the day.

Seeing as Asda’s prices aren’t as eye watering as Sainsbury’s, I decided, as a break from the norm, to buy a Peppa Pig cake making set. Normally I never buy these things as the instructions are usually “add one egg, oil and water” and I realise I have basically just paid for flour and sugar (plus humectant, E646, and other yummy stabilisers) at 5 times the price. But I thought the Peppa Pig one might amuse the kids for about 10 minutes, and the lack of weighing and measuring required stops me having to be a complete control freak. Look, I know I’m supposed to be educating them, but really I just want them to be quiet for 10 minutes.

So yesterday afternoon we had Betty’s special friend round, let’s call him Arthur, on account of him being dressed as a knight yesterday. You know, King Arthur and his Knights? I’m sure there is some kind of story there… I digress. Now Arthur isn’t Betty’s special friend in the “I love you” sense, more in the “I want to be you” sense. Betty is very much a tomboy (urgh, hate that word), she wants to be a boy (in the “I want to be a fairy, I want to be a Fireman sense” so temporary, I think). First time she went to Arthur’s house she came back dressed top to toe in Arthur’s clothes. Each time she goes there we seem to amass more and more of Arthur’s wardrobe, until one day I’m sure Arthur’s mum is going to go into his bedroom and find Betty in his bed pretending to be him and Arthur locked away, tied up in the shed, banging on the door where no one can here him… That is a scary, but very real possibility.

Peppa Pig Cupcakes

So…yes, Peppa Pig cakes! Yes, the kids were delighted to do a bit of baking. The mix comes in a packet to which you add an egg and a few tablespoons of water, which creates a pale running mixture, not unlike wallpaper paste, from which according to the box we will get 12 cup cakes. Now, I don’t want to get into the debate of cup cakes vs fairy cakes, suffice to say, what we made were not cup cakes. This is a cupcake:

Cupcake made by RubyRan on Flickr

I wasn’t convinced that we would get 12 cakes of any description out of the mix. But with judicious use of a spatula and 2 tiny spoonfuls of slop per cake we managed to at least cover the bottom of each cake case (provided in the box).

Peppa Pig Cupcake mix
Just enough mixture to fill 12 cases (ok, I took this photo before the kids had finished)…
Mixing bowl for Peppa Pig cupcakes
…but barely enough left over to lick the bowl – do the producers not understand the point of cake making at ALL?

Into the oven for 12-15 minutes. Now my oven is usually pretty aggressive but even after the the full 15 minutes these cakes looked pretty anaemic, but they were done at least. But they weren’t exactly filled with cup cakey goodness.

Peppa Pig Cupcakes 3
Again, these are NOT cupcakes

Fortunately, the Lilliputian nature of these cakes meant they cooled pretty quickly, so the whining about whether or not they were ready to ice was minimal. The “muddy” puddle icing required just a couple of teaspoons of water. Now, I’m not sure how long it took the food photographers (or digital editors) to create the muddy puddle on the picture, but it took the kids just minutes to create the mini swamps on their cakes and add the fondant toppers printed with grainy images of Peppa of George (though George has never worn a yellow outfit – I know, I have watched EVERY EPISODE – but maybe the blue colouring is slightly more rabid attack-inducing than the yellow).

Finished Peppa Pig Cupcakes
These are Arthur’s muddy swamp cakes

Now for the taste test. Iris refused to eat one, so I tried hers. It was vile. Super sweet with the extra tang of raising agents (that will be the Glucono Delta Lactone then). Betty ate three (well, not at once, but throughout the day). The two older kids enjoyed them at least. I warned DH off them, but to be honest he’s not at fussy as I am. He once proclaimed that he preferred Dolmio to my homemade sauce)…he only made that mistake once though).

So overall pros and cons?

Pro: Easy for the kids to make with minimal parental control freakery
Con: Taste pretty grim (although this could be seen as a pro if you are on a diet and don’t want to be tempted)

Con: Stingy on the mixture means you can barely eek out enough mixture to fill all the cases
Pro: You can let the kids eat 3 cakes and therefore have less hanging round the house going stale

Pro: Keeps the kids entertained for about half an hour in total. Makes you feel like a Good Parent for embarking on wholesome and interactive activities
Con: You have to make up a ridiculous lie as to why you don’t want to eat one of their lovely creations. I suggest “Eating your favourite cartoon character would make mummy sad”, or just take one and throw it in the bin when they are not looking.

So, looking on the side of the box there is an address where you can send your feedback to Victoria Foods who make this product. I think I will send them this review. There is also a competition to send them the picture of your cakes and possibly win a prize. Hmm, if I send them the pictures along with this review Betty is unlikely to win, right? Well, if the (unspecified) is anything like the crap that they keep putting on the Peppa Pig comics it would be no loss. You have to enter the competition by post anyway by the looks of it, so that’s going to happen. [NOTE: You can actually email the competition entry but it only says so in the small print bizarrely]

I should point out that I have not been paid or incentivised in any way for this review. I stupidly bought the thing with my own pennies (£1 at Asda). I’d like to say that I’d I’ve learned my lesson and won’t buy these hideous cake mixes again, knowing that I can whip up delicious cakes in the same time for half the price. But with a long wet summer looming and two bored kids, I can’t promise that I won’t be seduced by an easy way to keep them occupied for half an hour, and satiating their desire for all things character related at the same time. It’s cheaper than the Peppa Pig comic at least.

Which I will probably buy anyway.

I can get nearly an hour’s peace out of a comic.

The Kindness of Strangers

Mumsnet Logo

In the last month I have received via Mumsnet*: an offer of a free holiday home for a week, some dried lavender, Estée Lauder Night Repair serum (that was a MN giveaway). Some ebooks and resources to improve my writing, some yarn to make so more blanket squares, and volunteers to try out a pattern I designed. That is just in the last month. From complete strangers.

When the above Mumsnetter recently offered my family the chance to stay in her house abroad she said “Not sure what I will tell my husband, probably that you are from university” because who would believe that people who have never met in real life could feel the need to do such a thing? It is testament to the generosity of Mumsnetters over the years (and the things that I have done in return) that my own husband didn’t bat an eyelid when I told him that a person from Mumsnet who I knew only by user name had made such an offer.

But my love for Mumsnet is not just cupboard love. It’s about more than the material things I have received. It is about the advice and support I have received in spades.

When I have been up at 3 in the morning crying because breastfeeding was going so badly, Mumsnetters have been there. When I had a home birth, not only did Mumnetters give me loads of advice in making the decision in the lead up, they were there cheering me on and doing virtual knitting in support while I posted between contractions.

I’ve cyber stalked Mumnetters and found them at my workplace, at my knitting group, and conversely I have converted my friends to the Cult of Mumsnet. Some people are very coy about their affiliation with the site in real life, partly to preserve their anonymity, and possibly partly because of the bad press it often gets.

Some of the criticisms are deserved. Mumsnet has gone through periods of turmoil where certain groups of posters have ruled the virtual playground. But these criticisms are true for many online forums, and as with every forum it has evolved, and grown.

A lot of the bad press it gets stems from bitterness and jealously. Liz Jones takes a crack or two at it on occasion, but her dazzling wit and astute observations (sorry, it’s hard to convey sarcasm in the written word) continues to be outpaced by the shrewd and scintillating posters who chose to put their brains and words to good use on Mumsnet rather than waste it on the misogynistic heap of shite that is the Daily Mail.

During the last general election, the media hailed it as the Mumsnet election, and politicians and politicos flocked to the site to woo the votes of its posters. It was mostly media hype, but a nod to the rise to prominence of the female story in the slightly more egalitarian world of the Internet (unless you count the Guardian Forums). But in the same way that the media and government used Mumsnet as a symbol of all women, so too is Mumsnet used as a way to beat all women down. When journalists and comedians mock Mumsnet, what they are really mocking is women’s freedom of speech. Ho ho ho, let’s laugh at the women who think their lives are meaningful and who think they have something important to say. God forbid that mums engage in anything but tending to their children and husbands. It shows complete ignorance and, at the very least, lack of proper research. For you don’t have to look very far on Mumsnet to find women (some men, but it is mostly women) making a real difference in the world, whether it is advising another mum how she can continue to breastfeed her baby, making blankets for the recently bereaved, or taking part in numerous campaigns to bust rape myths, improve miscarriage care, and improve reproductive choices in third world countries.

On a personal note, I truly believe Mumsnet has made me a better parent, you know, apart from all the time I’ve spent neglecting them. If it wasn’t for Mumsnet I wouldn’t have stuck with breastfeeding, I wouldn’t have done Baby Led Weaning with my children, I wouldn’t have worn my second child in a sling for so many months. That’s not to say that those choices themselves make me a better parent, but knowing about these choices, finding that there is more out there than Gina Ford and naughty steps, has given me the confidence to make the right choices for me and my children. And that’s not to say that all Mumsnetters are the sling wearing, lentil-weaving type; far from it. There are many Mumsnetters who would rather poke themselves in the eye with a blunt pencil than wap their baps out to feed their children, or who would rather spend an evening at a Peter Andre autobiography book launch than even to discuss parenting online. There are even people on Mumsnet who don’t have children. And that’s the thing about Mumsnetters, they are so diverse that it is impossible to even try and levy any sort of criticism against them as a community.

Mumsnet Crochet Blanket

If this post sounds familiar, it’s because I have written a paean to Mumsnet before, when I started contributing to the Mumsnet Woolly Hugs Blankets (if you are bored by my writing yet another sycophantic blog post, then tough, it’s my blog!) Once again I find myself with another couple of balls of yarn, donated by yet another stranger, to make squares for a blanket of someone I don’t know. But I don’t need to know her. I just know she has lost a child and needs support. God forbid it should ever happen to me, but I know that Mumsnet would be the place I would turn to in my time of need.

*Warning: do not confuse Mumsnet with Netmums. It’s like confusing Father Jack from “Father Ted” with the Pope. You know, if the Pope said “hun” a lot and used smileys.

Hurricane Iris

No finished projects to report today. Plenty in progress: a sausage dog commissioned by my friend for one of daughter’s friends; a Mei Tai sling for my brother and sister in law; teddies in various states of completion; some fingerless gloves for my mum.

We are all a bit bleary eyed today. The Scots are recovering from, what has been nicknamed, Hurricane Bawbag, and I hope people like the lovely and long suffering Gentle Otter are getting back to normal. We, however, are suffering the after effects of Hurricane Iris. Gorgeous, headstrong and bright; Iris is, like a hurricane, awesome and fascinating to watch yet leaves a trail of destruction in her wake. Instead of upended garden furniture, Iris leaves half eaten toast, Tupperware and wet wipes.

Iris has never been a great sleep. Tough to put down, and easy to wake, she didn’t sleep through until at least 9 months. Even now she will not reliably stay asleep. I think the emergence or a couple of nasty molars is causing her some bother at the moment.

Last night Hurricane Iris struck again, up crying at 2am. Our usual tactic is to leave her and see if she will go off on her own. It was clear this wasn’t going to happen, so I got up and fed her. She seemed in no hurry to go back to sleep. She usually either feeds to sleep or cries to sleep. Very occasionally you can catch her and put her down awake. This wasn’t one of those times. I went back to bed anyway, hoping that she would settle down. Like counting the seconds between lightening and thunder, you can measure how likely Iris is to settle down by counting between the cries. Cry…one…two…cry…one…two…cry…one…two…three…four…cry…this time six. Is it possible she is settling? We relax slightly, hoping now we can go back to sleep. No such luck, looks like we were just in the eye of the storm, where it is momentarily quiet, waiting to come out of the other side. This time it’s DH who braces the storm and tries to work miracles to quell its strength. 40 minutes of cuddles and the storm has finally calmed, or passed on to some other unsuspecting household.