Sunday, 31 May 2015

Dudley Zoo & Castle: Review

For Bank Holiday Monday, Daddy Luke and I took Jake to Dudley Zoo and Castle for the day. Here's how we got on...

The Journey
The Zoo is only a 35-40 minute drive from where we live, sometimes a little less if traffic is good. We had a good run across and arrived nice and early at 9:30am. The attendants were very helpful in getting us parked - and because we hadn't enough change, we were allowed to pay at admissions with our entrance fee and they would take a note of our registration number. I found this to be incredibly helpful, as like many of us I don't often carry much cash or change with me, and when you have small children in tow, this can become stressful.

The Zoo and Castle
We spent a good 5 hours at the Zoo and Castle; it was well worth it. Jake enjoyed the day - he was very vocal and shouted at lots of the animals, some of whom -the giraffes and orang-utans - responded by moving closer towards him, which was cool :)

We began with the flamingos and worked our way around and up to the castle. Jake's favourites were the Giraffes, the lemur walk through (no prams allowed here) and he also really loved the reindeer. He also really enjoyed stopping at parts of the castle and loved to tilt his head back and look up and the high bits.

There were plenty of places to get refreshments around the Zoo and Castle. We took some food ourselves for Jake and some fruit for us but we did have a cup of tea each and the three of us shared a cheese and onion pasty which was delicious.

It's worth noting that if you have toddlers (perhaps 18 months onwards) there are also other experiences that they could enjoy, such as the discovery zone. There are also some small fairground rides, which include a mini pirate ship and some bumper cars. There is also a nice sand-based play area near the farm animals and the camels.

From a parents perspective
In Daddy Luke's opinion, "It was fun and the atmosphere was lively. All of the staff we came into contact with were friendly and helpful. There were chances to rest and stop to gather yourself, and the animals all intrigued Jake".

I liked that there were changing facilities with ramped access so that you could easily get in with pushchairs or wheelchairs. The same was true of the Zoo - it was easy to get around as steps were always coupled with slopes. Although the Zoo is quite hilly - it didn't bother us, and our Mamas and Papas Armadillo Flip XT came into it's own, as it is so manageable and easy to manoeuvre, plus the extra large hood was great when Jake needed to snooze. He was also very comfortable on the padded seat, so he wasn't agitated or restless and we only got him out and carried him when we needed to or wanted him to see something better.

Plus, much of the Zoo is educational too, so you get to find out more about the animals, and the history of the Zoo itself.

It wasn't badly priced and we had a lovely day. We'd really like to go back again in the summer, when I turn 30!

It was a great day :)
The Dad Network
Mami 2 Five

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

My Liebster Award

Thank you to the lovely Harps over on Baby Brain Memoirs for nominating me for the Liebster Award; I am so grateful. Harps is an amazing blogger who shows us life with her gorgeous little boy, Arjun :)

Here is my Liebster Award:
Here are the rules:
  1. Acknowledge and thank the blog who nominated you.
  2. Look for an award image that you like, and post it on your blog
  3. Answer the 11 questions asked by the person/blog who nominated you.
  4. Nominate 11 blogs
  5. Let the bloggers know that you nominated them
  6. Give them 11 questions to answer.
Here are the 11 questions that Harps asked:
1. What’s your lucky number? I don't have a lucky number, but I have always liked the number 17, as it is my birthday.

2. When and why did you start blogging? I began blogging in November 2014, when Jake was just about 2 months old. I began blogging as a way to document thoughts and feelings about becoming a kinda just stuck!

3. What’s been your blogging highlight? Meeting some amazing people on social media to talk to and get great advice. I feel I know some of them so well.

4. What did you/do you do for a living pre baby?What I still do - I work as a full time English Teacher in a Secondary school.

5. What’s your favourite TV programme? Too many to choose from. Some of them are: Scandal, House of Cards, The Blacklist, Hannibal, Game of Thrones, The Mentalist, Bones, Elementary, Castle.

6. How many siblings do you have? 
2 - a brother and sister who are twins.

7. What’s your favourite food? Oooh tough. I love pancakes. I also love Chinese king prawn curry, rice and chips.

8. If you were stuck on an island alone and could only take one thing, what would it be?I'd say my family. Does that count?

9. Summer or winter? Winter. Every time. I love the beauty of the snow, the ice and the warm snuggles.

10. Outdoors or indoors? Depends, really. That's a cop out, but it just depends! I prefer to be outdoors mostly.

11. Sweet or savoury?
Again - depends! I am a sucker for crisps tho :)

I nominate the following 11 blogs:

  • The Dad Network
  • The Dadventurer
  • Beau is Blue
  • Raising the Rings
  • On the Changing Mat
  • Yorkshire Dad
  • My Life My Love
  • Mummy of Boy Girl Twins
  • Motherhood the real deal
  • Me the Man and the Baby
  • Blogging Mamma
I don't know about people's follower numbers - with so many platforms it is impossible to tell!

My 11 questions for you all:
  1. What makes you laugh?
  2. What bad habit do you have?
  3. If you could visit any other planet which one would it be?
  4. What do you wish you could cook at home but can't?
  5. What are you passionate about, besides your family?
  6. Who inspires you and why?
  7. If you could only listen to one CD for the rest of your life, what songs would be on it?
  8. What is your favourite book?
  9. How would your friends describe you?
  10. What 3 hopes do you have for your children?
  11. If you could be any character from a book/ film, who would you be and why?
Enjoy :)

Fathers Day Gift Guide 2015

Father's Day is on Sunday 21st June this year and is so nearly upon us! I am really excited as this will be Luke's first Father's Day and so I have been trying to find something lovely for Jake to give him as a gift. 

Searching high and low means that I have come across some really lovely ideas for all different budgets, and thought I may as well save some of you the hard work! 

Here's our gift guide to 2015's Father's Day....

I am in love with this Instagram shop which is run by a lovely lady called Gemma.
 Gemma's great product is a spotty sensation, and I'm sure it won't be long before she is up and running on sites such as Etsy or NotHS. 

Great for those of us on a budget, Say it with Spots offers a range of mugs, plates, glasses and bowl with personalised spotty messages. I personally love the 'Happy 1st Father's Day' ones. The range start from around £6 - can't argue with that!

These gorgeous personalised 'Best Dad' cards are a really lovely idea and so individual. They come beautifully presented and with a very cute box to store them in. At £13 I think they are a great bargain.

Of course... you could make you're own at home - which would be even more personalised - especially if your little ones can write/ stencil.

A lovely gift for a man is a rugged, masculine piece of jewellery. My hubby wears only one accessory - his wedding ring. He doesn't wear a watch, rings, studs, tattoos or bracelets. I think something meaningful like this engraved piece would be a definite for any dads out there who perhaps want something sentimental whilst retaining that 'blokey-ness' :)

At £49 I think this is a good value product. There are many others out there at a sensible price. Your local jeweller may be able to offer something too. 

If the Daddy in your life is someone who likes unique, individual and quirky gifts - then this one is for you. It is a tremendous keepsake, which offers something so individual and meaningful.  At £14.95 the Gift Box is a handmade, miniature letter keepsake which provides a great alternative to a regular greeting card. All items within your gift are beautifully wrapped with tissue paper and presented in a Little Letter gift box, tied with ribbon.
- a collection of tiny items, all of which have a special sentiment attached to them, (details of which can be seen in the product images). ·
- a miniature letter detailing the special items within your kit. ·
- a miniature envelope which includes a tiny postmark dated 21st Jun 2015 (Father's Day), a perforated stamp and wax seal. ·
- a small but sturdy magnifying glass to read your special message.

As a massive Star Wars fan, I know Luke would really appreciate this matching set for Jake and him to wear. At £19.99 I think that's quite a reasonable price for something novelty and fun. Other styles are available too.
Another lovely gift for a daddy who's sentimental and likes to look back on things he may have done with his little ones. This Dear Dad Journal is sweet, unique and beautifully designed. I particularly like the cover design artwork. At £12.50 it is affordable - and will be entirely personalised by the messages included by yourself/your child. 

Father's Day has to involve something naughty and tasty, and what better than a scrumptious personalised cake from Bakerdays? They have a huge selection of designs to choose form, which can be personalised for the Daddy in your child's life. Plus - you'll get to share some too :)

That's it for my gift guide - 7 x affordable ideas for the man in your little one's life. Don't forget - you could handmake a whole host of these ideas and put your own family's little spin on it.
Happy shopping xx

PS. Check out The Dad Network's Big Father's Day event, over on his blog!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Book Review: Say Her Name by James Dawson

A student at school recommended this to me some time ago, and so I followed up with the school librarian and brought the book home. In amongst being a mum, a teacher with a full marking load and a wife, I have managed to finish this spooky tale....

The Author & Blurb
'Say Her Name' is written by James Dawson who, prior to becoming a writer, was a Teacher for 8 years and specialised in PHSCE. He has also written non-fiction texts for boys which aim to guide them through puberty and relationships. Plus, his teen horror fiction and non-fiction writing led to him being nominated for and winning the Queen of Teen award in the summer of 2014, making James the first "Boy Queen".

The blurb reads:
'Drip...drip...drip... In five days, she will come...

Roberta 'Bobbie' Rowe is not the kind of person who believes in ghosts. A Halloween dare at her ridiculously spooky boarding school is no big deal, especially when her best friend Naya and cute local boy Caine agree to join in too. They are ordered to summon the legendary ghost of Bloody Mary: say her name five times in front of a candlelit mirror, and she shall appear... But, surprise surprise, nothing happens. Or does it? 

Next morning, Bobbie finds a message on her bathroom mirror -five days - but what does it mean? And who left it there? Things get increasingly weird and more terrifying for Bobbie and Naya, until it becomes all too clear that Bloody Mary was indeed called from the afterlife that night, and she is definitely not a friendly ghost. Bobbie, Naya and Caine are now in a race against time before their five days are up and Mary comes for them, as she has come for countless others before... A truly spine-chilling yet witty horror from shortlisted 'Queen of Teen' author James Dawson.'

My Thoughts
The cover suggests a story of blood and gore, in which something is going to try and get someone. I thought that the cover design complemented the story and its title.

Dawson has written this with a young adult/ teen audience in mind. That said, there were moments that were a little spine-tingling for me as an adult and he does use language and punctuation well, to create tension and build suspense. There are moments which do make your heart race just a little bit faster.

Bobbie as a main character was really likable and normal; she was a lover of books and a bit shy around those she doesn't know well, which appeals to many of us book folk! She also has a common sense attitude to life around her and even amidst this horror story, does not aimlessly run around panicking. She is definitely an enjoyable female lead.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars.
I would definitely recommend this to those who like to read books aimed at young adults and teens, or to those of us who enjoy a scare (but still want to be able to go for a wee in the middle of the night). 
Weekend Book Club

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Jake at 8 months - An Update

It has been a while since I posted an update on Jake... so here's how he's doing after turning 8 months old a few weeks ago.

One of the most surprising things that has happened in the last few months is Jake's growth - he has suddenly become very long and his hands and feet have seemed to double in size; they are huge! So many people comment on the size of him (and not just because he's a bit chubby). He is genuinely solid. He is extremely long and at 8 months completely fills his 9-12 month sized clothes. It's funny, I remember the midwife on her first visit to see Jake saying that he was going to be a 'big lad' - but at the time he seemed so tiny and fragile, it didn't sink in. It has now! Here he is, sprawled out across Daddy:

Here he is again being all grown up in his outfit for his cousin's christening last weekend :)

Jake has now developed a fantastic ability to play with things independently, with concentration, focus and determination. He holds toy balls closely with his fingertips; he studies fabrics and textures with concentration and reads 'That's not my...' books with us, touching the feely areas easily by himself. I have enjoyed watching him work out how to move things, find things and pass things. It has been a joy to see him develop in this way. Here he is fully engrossed in his 'That's not my Dragon' book :)

Food is still somewhat of a worry for me. I am forever worrying if we're feeding him too much/ too little/ good stuff/ the wrong stuff. He's now down to an 8oz bottle at 7am and an 8oz bottle at 7pm, and sometimes a 6-80z bottle at around 2pm depending on the day. This has seen Jake cut his milk intake considerably which we're glad about. He eats well with us feeding him from a spoon, but still doesn't seem overly interested in eating finger foods - with exceptions being the odd bits of toast or biscuit. It is frustrating to see so many others his age eating full blown meals with their hands, but I am sure this will happen. Here he is enjoying some Dairylea spread on a rusk!

I terms of physical movements, Jake isn't crawling yet. But he's up on his knees and rocking. He gets around brilliantly with a sort of duck and roll move, with a snake-like slither when necessary. If he can't get something he shouts at it for a bit and then just moves on. He's physically able to grab and lift things. He can bat, throw and push things away and towards you and he has become extremely cuddly and loving, with cuddles and kisses at the ready :)
Here he is almost making steps forward...

... and again giving daddy lots of kisses and cuddles

Vocally, Jake is saying 'Dadda' and 'bababa' quite easily, and noisily! He often babbles away at himself as if telling a little story about his day. It's super cute :)

Best thing recently was seeing his reaction to bubbles for the first time...

These 8 months have been amazing. Can't wait for the next adventure!

The Dad Network
Mami 2 Five

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The No-Plan Birth Plan

"The best laid schemes o'mice an' men gang aft agley"
- Robert Burns

OK, so it is a complete cliché that I, as an English Teacher, would choose the quote that inspired John Steinbeck's title for the novel 'Of Mice and Men' as my blog post opener; but it is a perfect fit for my No-Plan Birth Plan.

Being a first time mum means that you become a victim to loads of other people who want to tell you what to do, when to do it and how to do it - whether it is about breastfeeding, weaning, dressing your baby or giving birth. Whilst the majority of the advice you receive is great and super useful, there are many instances where it is thrust upon you and is unhelpful, scary even.

My Experience During Pregnancy

As I got bigger through the second and third trimester, lots of other women, doctors and the midwife would often ask me questions about the upcoming birth. interrogatives such as, 'Have you written your birth plan yet?' and 'Natural or c-section??' were regularly thrown at me and accompanied with the anecdotal comments of other mums' experience of labour. These little stories would often be one of two extremes: a) it was a 'shelling peas' experience, or b) it was hell on earth. When faced with these questions and their corresponding tales I would inevitably resort to my ever sophisticated vacant expression and shrug; I didn't know.

I mean, I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that you were supposed to plan. To have a baby. Which you'd never done before. Surely this was entirely out of my hands? I plan for a living - and it seemed an overwhelming task!

As time went on, visits to the midwife became comical as we went through the same conversation in which she asked me about my birth plan and I responded with the same old answer, 'I'm just going to see what happens'. Her agitated despair became a little running joke for us, in the end. At least I was original.

Birth Plans

Birth Plans are a great opportunity to have your say. They help some women take advantage of alternative methods and mechanisms, and they allow women to establish whether they want a water birth, a home birth or a planned c-section. They also can bring an element of calm to the delivery, allowing the mother and partner to feel as though they are taking some control. 

You can find out more on birth plans and writing one here.

Why didn't I have a birth plan? 

Well, being the anally retentive control freak that I am (read 'used to be before having a child') and having a job which required me to plan every hour of my working day down into chunks of 10--15 minutes at a time you would think a birth plan would be a given. A must. An absolute.

In all honesty? I couldn't think of one. I could never decide. I didn't really know what I wanted, and then I became scared of wanting something that - in the end - I wouldn't be able to have, I don't cope well when things don't go the way I hoped they would. I often allow these little 'failures' to worry away at me and I didn't want to feel like that when Jake decided to arrive.

However, what I did begin to do was identify things that I *didn't* want, and I wrote down in my notes that I didn't want a c-section unless an emergency, and I wanted to be free to move about.

In the end...

It turns out that I was right. Things don't go as you plan. They don't go to plan and you can't control labour!

I was due 28th August 2014 and ended up going 13 days overdue and being induced. I spent 20 hours in the hospital before labour began - then it began full speed - then it all stopped when I was in labour because Jake turned his head and got himself stuck; he took a dump and then we were rushed to emergency theatre with a full epidural and prepped for a c-section. Terrifying doesn't cover it. Let alone the huge failure you feel when you realise you can't deliver your baby by yourself. In the end, Jake was 'helped out' with emergency forceps, narrowly missing the need for an emergency c-section.

I certainly wouldn't have planned that!

Perhaps my no-plan birth plan was a sign. Perhaps it was fate? In the end - I'm glad that I didn't have a plan - that I wasn't following - to worry about.

You can find out more on birth plans and writing one here.
Mami 2 Five

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Review: Vital Touch Natalia*

Anyone who follows my little man, Jake, will know that he suffers from eczema on and off. At times, it flares up uncontrollably and will be incredibly inflamed and angry looking. We have had to strip back the products we use on his skin, in his bath and when washing his clothes. The Doctors are all very friendly and supportive - but apart from prescribing a myriad of creams, potions and lotions, they seem unable to find a definitive solution for us.

A good while ago the lovely people over at Vital Touch Natalia contacted me and offered to send me some of their Baby Massage Oil and their Baby Special Skin Balm*. Unfortunately, when the products arrived Jake hit a rather nasty flare up of eczema across his entire torso and the creases of his arms and legs - and so I had to postpone my trial until we had gotten his skin under control again. This wasn't because the products are harmful, but rather because some parts of Jake's skin was 'broken skin' and needed careful management.

Getting Started

Eventually, his skin cleared and we began using the Baby Massage Oil and following the 'Step By Step Guide to Baby Massage' which was provided. It was wonderful! Learning to massage and soothe Jake after his baths and before his bed time bottle has become one of the best parts of our day. We've discovered that Jake loves to listen to classical music whilst we do this, and has a particular fondness for his toes and the arches of his feet being massaged; I honestly thought it would tickle him, but he loves it! 

The Products and Packaging

Vital Touch sent us two products and a super helpful step by step guide to baby massage. The booklet was extremely supportive, and reinforced the importance of 'positive touch'. It explains that, 'positive touch is vital for our well being...we all need touch to thrive'. It also goes on to tell us that, 'the consequences of long term touch deprivation are actually profound', and that this can lead to feelings of, 'insomnia, depression, isolation and low self esteem'

I found the guide to be very supportive, as it takes you through how to get started and the different ways and places you can massage your baby. It was insightful, positive and not at all patronising. I now massage Jake daily, and feel very confident when doing so. It is one of our most intimate moments and it has certainly helped us to bond, something I was keen to do as I haven't breastfed Jake since he was a newborn.

The Baby Massage Oil is made from organic sunflower oil and is 100% natural.
The Baby Special Skin Balm is excellent to use on Jake's scalp, when massaging his head and it can even be applied to dry, sore skin - which is perfect for Jake's sensitive eczema prone skin.

Natural and Organic Skincare

In all honesty, before becoming a mum I didn't ever worry about using all natural or organic products and foods. Since having Jake this has changed, and even more so since he began to suffer with eczema. It is a risky business having a child with sensitive skin, as the slightest changes in food or products can cause flare ups. So you do have to keep track of what you're using and notice any changes that occur over time. 

It has certainly been lovely knowing that I can use the baby massage oil and the balm after baths, without worrying about chemicals. Since using these products - it has been over 2 months now - Jake's torso has definitely improved, and we've not had a repeat of the awful flare up we had before. 

I would, and do, now look for more organic and natural products to use with Jake - including clothing.

Fragrance, Texture and Effectiveness

 The Baby Special Skin Balm is fragrance free. But it has a beautifully moisturising feeling and a smooth, buttery texture which feels very soothing on your skin, as well as your baby's. Jake enjoys when I warm this between my hands and fingers, and then work it into his scalp, face and chin. It is especially helpful, as he dribbles a lot with teething and his skin around his mouth and chin can become a little dry and shrivelled. The balm really helps with this, without the greasy or sticky feeling you often get with general moisturisers.We have also noticed a difference with the skin on Jake's scalp - very little dryness and he's never had any cradle cap to speak of.

 The Baby Massage Oil is fabulous. My husband and I call it sunshine in a bottle, because it looks and smells like you've been outside in a warm, sunny field all day; it's bright, earthy and glistening. I think the Baby Massage Oil is an essential. I will need to order more soon, as we're nearly through with the bottle. It is lovely to use on Jake's skin and leaves our own hands supple and smoothed. We have noticed since using the massage oil daily, that Jake hasn't had any other major flare ups and that he really seems to enjoy the process. 

A bit of sunshine in our daily routine

We've now been using both of these products daily for the last two months. It has been an incredible way to include some 'positive touch' in our routine and has helped me strengthen the bond I have with Jake. Here, you can see him enjoying some time with me as we do our massage and listen to our music:

Daddy's Hands

Not only has it helped me, but Daddy has been hands on too and I have been able to teach him how to massage Jake so that when he's home and not working late shifts, he can massage Jake too. You can see them enjoying the process together here - there's no question it's a winner!

I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality, enjoyment and pleasure that our whole family have enjoyed through the use of these products and I would honestly recommend them to anyone who has children, or is about to.

I wish I had discovered Vital Touch sooner, as they offer a whole range of products for during pregnancy and after, as well as products to use with baby. You can find out more here, at their website or you can ask them on twitter - they're very friendly!

It's a winner for us and it has been a beautiful experience using these products. 

Thank you Vital Touch Natalia!