Friday, 29 August 2014

Our Picture Book Party 2014

We were all really thrilled to be invited a Picture Book Party again this year. Last years picnic was so much fun! Walker Books provided a little box of party goodies and books to assist with the party and so we were all ready to go.

For a change I thought I'd tackle my latest on going parenting problem which is basically how I encourage the boys in the house to take a keen interest in books by making them seem exciting to them. I find that Fifi is easy engaged with books and will happily pick them up and read at any moment that it takes her whim. The boys take a bit more cajoling. So this time I thought I'd send Fifi off to her friends house and invite my eldest son's friends over for a bit of a play and reading.

The boys had loads of fun playing with balloons and eating pizza to start and then we settled down for a look at the books. The selection was:

Help! We Need a Title! By Herve Tullet 
Bruno and Titch By Sheena Dempsey
The Zebra Who Ran Too Fast by Jenni Desmond 
Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance by Birgitta Sif 
Vanilla Ice Cream by Bob Graham 

Almost immediately the two oldest boys grabbed Help! We Need a Title! by Herve Tullet. At one point I thought there might be a full scale punch up over the book, such was its appeal. I must admit to be rather pleased about that, I mean, who'd have thought a book could cause such a fracas! Its a book which is quite hard to explain but it basically encourages children to use their imaginations to invent a story. A brilliant idea and very engaging for my creative 7 year old.

Be warned though, this is a book which requires the purchase of an additional plain paper sketch book and some nice colouring pencils. At least it did in our house!

The other book which really captured the boys imagination was The Zebra Who Ran Too Fast by Jenni Desmond. I think they really identified with the story and even the smallest (Ned) seemed to enjoy the lovely artwork. The story is basically about friendship, doing your own thing and being a bit stubborn. Its one of those ones which you can read over and over again and never tire of. 

I was surprised how captivated the boys were by Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance by Birgitta Sif. This is a beautifully illustrated story about a little girl who loves dancing and needs to find some confidence. I read this book later with Fifi and she was enchanted by it too. I think its a wonderful book which I've really enjoyed reading to the children. I think its very important as an adult that you enjoy the books you read with your children and I think it make a real difference to the way you read them. I loved this book, partly because I loved the illustrations, party because I know exactly where Francis Dean is coming from with her shyness.

There are clearly loads of things you can do for activities with Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance. At our party which had a little impromptu disco, but later on in the day we went to the park and fed the ducks bird seed, trying to create her dancing as we threw it for them. I must admit that was the best fun I've had in ages!

We are huge fans of Bob Graham in this house and Spirit of Hope is one of those books which we have read over and over again, so it was rather exciting to receive Vanilla Ice Cream.  This is a quirky story, however it didn't really work for us because the idea is too abstract for the age group for which it was aimed at. As an adult the book it actually works rather well and is nice to dip into as an allegorical story, however, I think things need to be spelt out to kids a bit more. We also thought the book needed a few more

Bruno and Titch by Sheena Dempsey was a fantastic book and the boys really enjoyed it. My two boys have asked to read it several times and little Ned could have read it over and over all day long. Its the story of a guinea pig who finds an owner who really is his new best friend. The books has some lovely illustrations and the story is wonderful. We really liked this book a lot. Its a story which any child who has a met, or dreams of having a pet can identify with and which also made me laugh. I'm just waiting to see what sort of junk models my children make for their pets as a result of this story....

I can't implore you enough to use this idea of a party or picnic as a way of engaging children with books. It works so well because there is a little bit of peer pressure, its exciting and it demonstrates to them that books are fun. All the boys came away without realising how much they had read and listened to. I think my eldest also realised that books can be really desirable and cool.

We had a lovely time and I'm still using these books for activities and will be doing so for a while. Over the past year I've tried really hard to think of add on activities for each book we read either in the daytime or at bedtime and its brought a whole new dimension to the stories. I'd like to thank Walker Books for sending such a lovely selection. Walker Books really do produce some of the best books for children in the UK make sure you check out their website.

This blog was written as part of the Picture Book Party Blog Tour 2014, you'll find some other great posts on these wonderful blogs listed here, but dont forget to check out the website for loads of activity sheets to go alongside the books!

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

On Sudden Hill Blog Tour- Favourite Friendships in Children's Books

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed a wonderful new children's book called On Sudden Hill by Linda Sarah and Illustrated by Benji Davis. It is a lovely book and my children ask to read it frequently. To celebrate the release the publishers Simon and Schuster have put together a brilliant blog tour which i'm thrilled to be part of. You can find all the dates and locations below, its a tour through some really wonderful blogs which I am sure you'll enjoy.

On Sudden Hill deals with friendships and so we asked the author Linda Sarah and illustrator Benji Davis for their favourite friendships in childrens books. Over to them:

Linda Sarah author of On Sudden Hill:

Hello Being a Mummy - thank you so much for having me here!

Okay, Moomintroll and Snufkin have to be up there at the top of this list! (Tove Jansson)

Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet (A.A. Milne.)

Ant and Bee (and Kind Dog) - (Angela Banner)

Wilbur and Charlotte (E.B. White)

Asterix and Obelix (René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo)

Tintin and Snowy (Hergé) (I know I'll think of many more once I've sent this off!) I'm not very good at analysing/thinking about why I like certain things - mostly they just make me grin, or giggle, or both - but I'll try... With Snufkin and Moomin, in fact all the friendships in Tove Jansson's wonderful worlds, there's a huge spaciousness - physically and emotionally - room to make mistakes, stumble, not know stuff, be sometimes confused, or overwhelmed. It's like there's a big sign saying: All Feelings Welcome Here - Bring Your Very Own Special Self! And I think this goes for the other friendships too. Ant and Bee (and Kind Dog) have a lovely, bumbling-along, gentle kind of friendship, dealing with stuff together in a really sweet way. Nothing's impossible, or too much of a problem when you're with good friends. I last read Charlotte's Web such a long time ago, but I've been left with this feeling that it's a friendship full of the best ingredients, encouragement and support and wamth, the kind that make you feel: Yes! I can do this! Friendship that makes you grow and blossom. And humour. Asterix and Obelix, they're funny, adorable, silly, lovely. There's big space in all these friendships for giggles and silliness. And curiosity. Tintin and Snowy, they're just amazingly cool. In fact, I think I love all person-and-dog friendships in books. Dogs are amazing, and Herge's depictions of Snowy are masterful and so observationally brilliant and funny. Perfect!

Benji Davis Illustrator of On Sudden Hill:

My all-time favourite friendship in a children’s book is Frog and Toad All Year by Arnold Lobel.

They’re always there for each other whatever the weather. The simplicity of their interaction is life affirming.

In a similar vein, Ratty and Mole from The Wind in the Willows.

You feel that when they knock on each others door, there’s a friendly face, a comfy armchair and a kettle over the stove (and maybe some biscuits).

It’s really important to give children stories about good friendships, about people being able to depend on one another, to look out for each other. As they grow up and test their social boundaries. I think stories about friendships can give them a sense of security and a way of looking at social situations that feel confusing. I think Linda’s text does this brilliantly. Like the boys in On Sudden Hill I remember being left out of a trio of friends at school, being ignored in the playground, and being deeply affected by it.

Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman is about a magical friendship between the boy and his snowman. I once made a snowman in the front garden and when I woke up the next morning someone had kicked it to bits in the night. I probably half-hoped he might have come to life during the night but there he was all smashed up, his tangerine nose halfway across the lawn. It would have been easier to understand if he’d just melted away (like in the book). It felt really cruel and unjust.

Somebody said the illustrations in Sudden Hill reminded them of Calvin & Hobbes and I think subconsciously there is an influence there, of legging it round outdoors in the long grass. Calvin & Hobbes is a really energetic, rough and tumble friendship, that blurs the line between reality and imagination. At its heart it’s about two inseparable pals.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

#StreamTeam Summer Holiday Singalongs

This summer has been brilliant fun, we've done so much stuff but one of the over-riding highlights so far was our trip to Nozstock a brilliant music festival in Herefordshire. As a result of this the children have really really started to get into their music. The eldest boy now a firm fan of Mr B. The Gentleman Rhymer and the other two children still finding their musical feet enjoying everything from heavy metal through to opera! I secretly think that little Ned is going to be a little heavy metal fan. I blame his father.

Of course you need to harness all this energy somehow and we have been having regular disco's at home which I must admit have resulted in a few injuries as the children are a bit left footed and seem to prefer a sort of whirling dervish style of dancing. In order to try to calm them down I've been harnessing the awesome power of Netflix for some singalong movies.

Without a shadow of doubt my kids favourite singalong film this summer has been Tangled and if you haven't seen this Disney classic I suggest you have a watch. We were sent a series of suggestions on the music theme and I've posted them below:

Most of these suggestions are a little bit old for my little crew, so I've been sticking with the safe Disney musicals. However, I did let the boy 8 watch The Fighting Temptations and he really enjoyed that one, so there are definitely a few new ideas here to check out slowly with them.

If you are anything like me, then Netflix really comes into its own once the children have gone to bed. I rarely have time to watch television so its a real treat to fire up Netflix and pick something new to watch. I'm not good at deciding so its fab to have a few suggestions. I really enjoyed Hair and Sister Act 2 was amusing. Have a look at the suggestions and see what you fancy. DreamGirls is out at the end of the month.

Remember in the old days when you went to the video shop and spent half an hour trying to decide what to get out? Well, Netflix can be a bit like that, there really are so many things I've found it helpful to have some suggestions. So if you have any then do pass them on! I think i'm going to watch Country Strong next.

If you like your music I've also discovered a few documentaries on Netflix which look at musicians. My husband is a particular fan of these and I've found them quite good to have on to keep hi amused whilst I do my knitting. (How sad do I sound!) There is Kurt and Courtney, Beware of Mr Baker about rock drummer Ginger Baker, Biggie and Tupac and one about Neil Young which was most interesting.

I'm utilising Netflix for a bit of peace and quiet from the kids, so if you pass my house in the daytime and you hear a lot of screaming its probably just the children singing along to a movie. Apologies, I'm thinking its good for their lungs and if i'm honest it is good fun.

Disclaimer: I'm proudly part of the Netflix #StreamTeam. Netflix has proven the perfect way for the children to calm down over the summer and its been brilliant, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Big Idea Competition and a competition for readers!

‘All the best children’s books come from a great idea, and a great idea can come from anywhere! I’ve joined forces with The Big Idea to celebrate Britain’s talent for storytelling and creativity. There are so many people who have a seed of an idea for a book, film or TV programme but don’t know what to do with it, so this is their chance to get support from the best. I love sharing and making up my own stories with my children – so I can’t wait to help uncover the next big story idea to be loved by adults and children alike.’    Tess Daly 

As soon as I heard about The Big Idea Competition I thought it was really worth flagging gup to readers of Being a Mummy because it is such a brilliant idea for the school holidays. Open to everyone from 13 years upwards, entering couldn’t be easier, and creative writing ability isn’t a requirement – entrants simply need to outline their original idea in up to 750 words, describing what happens in the story, who’s in it, where it takes place and the type of audience it’s intended for. Just visit the website for creative advice and look out for top tips and inspiration on The Big Idea’s social media channels. 

If you've been telling tall tales to the children this holiday. Or your older children have been amusing you and themselves with stories, then entering into this competition seems to me the logical next step. In fact, i'm going to enter myself. Please note the closing date is the 2nd September so you need to be quick!

The Big Idea is working with six respected judges who have a wealth of relevant industry experience between them:

·          Tess Daly – TV broadcaster
·          Neil Blair –  J.K. Rowling’s agent
·          Barry Cunningham OBE – Children’s publisher
·          Debra Hayward – Film producer
·          Sonia Friedman – Theatre producer
·          Philip Ardagh – Children’s author and literary critic

The judges will work together to choose six winning ideas. The winners will each receive £1000 plus the chance to see their idea come to life, with one overall winner offered the prize of a publishing contract and the promise of their idea being nurtured, developed and written by a well-known author. As Neil Blair explains, ‘The Big Idea is an exciting new way to bring new children’s stories to life by going to the heart of every one of them: the big idea at their core.’

The overall winner’s publishing contract will be in line with industry standards, with a shared royalty on every copy sold. The six winners could additionally see their idea work across a variety of media platforms, including film, TV, gaming, websites, apps and stage, with a commensurate royalty share.

To  celebrate we have a fantastic set of adventure fiction up for grabs!
(THE THIEF LORD by Cornelia Funke, THE SKULL IN THE WOOD by Sandra Greaves, POISON BOY by Fletcher Moss, THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY by Trenton Lee Stewart & THE CROWFIELD CURSE by Pat Walsh)

All you need to do is tell me who your favourite children's story character was in the comments.

Terms and Conditions
  • Being a Mummy Competition closes: Midday 1st September 2014
  • Open to UK residents only.
  • Prize is a selection of books as detailed
  • There is no cash or other alternative to the prize stated and the prize is not transferable and no part or parts of the prize may be substituted for other benefits, items or additions
  • If any item listed above is unavailable, we reserve the right to substitute with an alternative item of similar value
  • Winner will be selected from all valid and correct entries and notified by email or phone
  • Winner’s details will be passed to a third party for prize fulfilment
  • The prize will be delivered to the winner within 28 days of confirmation of delivery address
  • The Editor's decision is final and binding on the entrants. No correspondence will be entered into

New Running Kit with JD Sports

As you all know I'm currently getting up early in the mornings and going for a run. My average distance is about 6 km but sometimes I go for 8 km. I think I probably need to start pushing myself a bit more. I'm aiming at the moment to go faster rather than longer, and I can now do a sub ten minute mile.

Funnily enough, I've not found that many places on the Internet to find information on how to get fit after the trauma of having a baby. There are the odd articles here and there and a few blogs but not much really aside from Run Mummy Run which I think is a bit like Britmums but for mums who run. Therefore I've ended up with indulging myself by looking through health and fitness magazines which you can download free from our local library and the Sweaty Betty website which links to loads of fab bespoke fitness videos.

Anyway, along the way I've come across lots and lots of fantastic and very tempting clothing. I've got a bit of kit which is nearly ten years old and also some I bought cheaply from our local supermarket and H &M. I must admit though, there is no better incentive than some nice sports kit. I've found myself lusting after Stella Mccartney Adidas, Sweaty Betty, Lija and Nike in the same way that I lust after Mui Mui, Prada and Vivien Westwood. In other words its just that tiny bit out of my reach normally given the dire state of my finances, but it would make my life much much better.

I was banking on a massive Christmas list of running kit, but then the kind people at JD Sports noticed how much work I've been putting into all this getting fit and weight loss lark (see #runfatgirlthin for irregular updates) and then sent me a fab Nike Crosstown Running kit. This is proving perfect for the current weather as I was in dire need of some running leggings. You see, its actually rather cold at 6:00 AM already and I thrive in the warmth! To go along with the leggings they gave me a lovely top.
post run photograph taken by the husband who was still in bed- slacker!

Having some lovely new kit has made all the difference to my run this morning, in fact I went further and faster than i've been in a couple of weeks. If you like the leggings you can find them here and the top here. I'm now starting to wonder if I am in fact just incredibly shallow...

Thursday, 14 August 2014

How taking up running has changed my life

It was actually with bone crushing weariness that I decided to go for a run back in May. I'd realised just how big my waist was when measuring it to make myself a new dress from Tilly and the Buttons book. It seemed at that moment that I couldn't just ignore things any longer, something had to be done and I needed to make some radical lifestyle changes.

Before I had children I was very fit, running three miles about three times a week. Working hard in a sometimes physical job, cycling of a weekend and doing 100 press-ups and sit ups daily as a matter of course. Times were different though without the worry of children or being woken up most of the night it was easy to do all these things and they were most importantly fun!

Then things started to go a bit awry, I had real difficulties in becoming pregnant which I guess may have been a way of my body saying that it was stressed in ways I hadn't imagined. I cut back on the exercise and maintained a healthy diet. When the much desired baby came along he wasn't the easy bundle of joy I thought he would be and we found ourselves in and out of paediatric A  and E with a baby who kept holding his breath, passing out and going blue. This had the inevitable effect on my mental health which I think also lead to me comfort eating cakes, biscuits and chocolate. Mummy coffee mornings and  finishing off dinners, so the food doesn't go to waste, didn't really help with that either.

Between children I have made sporadic attempts to get fit, but each pregnancy had sort of put paid to it, especially when I was diagnosed with SPD which made even getting into a car seat difficult. On top of all that shortly after Ned's birth I began to suffer from really bad anxiety. Various things which were out of my control happened and I simply couldn't get myself out of a spiral of anxiety, not helped by some really mean women at our local primary school. The problem with anxiety which is a form of depression is that it creeps up on you and although you are aware that you are starting to be irrational about things you cant do anything about it. Things get worse and worse.

As a mother my main concern is about my children, I want them to fulfil their potentials, to have the best education possible, to be popular and happy and when many of these things are actually out of your control it is very difficult not to worry. The worry turns into more anxiety which in turn makes it very hard to make decisions and be proactive. You give your life to the children  organising their social lives, their home work, making sure they eat appropriately and behave appropriately and are sufficiently entertained and before you know it you are nobody but a mother. Ironically this all negatively impacts on mental health, anxiety and well being and I have found myself wondering, on many occasions, if my family would be better off without me. If I just walked away and left them all to it, maybe a professional nanny could do a better job than me. Perhaps that way we could all be happy.

I'm really lucky, I have a very supportive husband, an incredibly patient best friend, a few other very supportive friends and brilliant parents who listen to me moan about my worries and really try to help me talk through them. My doctor sent me for a course of CBT which really helped. I took up cycling with the baby on a bike seat which gave me a bit of freedom without the worry of driving and which proved ideal for clearing the mind.

Now I try to look at the world in a very different way, all the time trying to searching to find an alternative viewpoint for any negative thoughts about situations. But above anything else I've done to try to deal with anxiety I rediscovered my childhood love of books and started reading whenever I started to worry about things. Fortunately I was given a Kindle and that meant that whilst the husband sleep at 2 AM I'd divert my thoughts by reading another chapter of the latest book I'd downloaded. This worked for me above all else and despite some ups and downs I think I have started to feel more and more like my pre-baby self.

Anyway, that's the background to my desire to be fit and healthy. I'm getting there mentally, so now I'm trying my hardest to get there physically and since May I have been getting up at 5 or 6 AM and taken myself for a run. I have a sports watch (bought for me between babies) so I can track my progress and slowly but surely I'm improving. There were several reasons I started going  out so early to start with, firstly because I was already awake, potentially worrying about things and being harassed by the children. Also, as the main child-carer its one of the few times I have when I am not in sole charge. Most of all though it was because I didn't want anyone to see me, especially parents from the school. Then I realised that actually, its a brilliant time to go, there is no-one about (no traffic pollution), the day is young and fresh and when I return I feel energised and ready to tackle the day. I've genuinely enjoyed it, even when it has been raining and cold.

In terms of progress I have lost about a stone in weight and four inches around my waist, my acne rosacea is much improved and my mental health is much better for the personal space I get. I have a sense of achievement in life, its one small thing which I can control which means a lot to me. I have a way to go yet, but I can fit into a size ten dress, my waist still needs to lose a couple of inches to return to pre-baby size but I feel fitter and healthier and thats a major thing for me.

I know I'm not going to become a running evangelist, but it is a brilliant form of exercise because its very cheap, quick and easy. With a bit of mental application  nearly everyone can do it and improve. I'm lucky because I worked out how to regulate my breathing properly years ago and so I can manage to run without getting incredibly out of breath and getting a stitch. I'm also very determined and so I set myself little geographical goals, a lamp-post here, then one lamp-post further, for example. However, there are loads of little apps you can put on your phone which can help you progress different distances if you did want to give it a go.

Recently I've started combining the running with a weekly Yoga session as I found one which I could just about justify the cost of. This has had even more benefits and I've been really enjoying it as a new form of exercise and a way of helping me cool down after running between 5 and 8K.

This post started as a way of me recording why I started exercising and then moved onto lots of other things. I think I'm going to write some regular updates about my journey, I hope you enjoy them and that they might help someone out there to understand that they are not alone and how some really small lifestyle changes can actually make all the difference. For me, a big part of the solution to many of my worries is actually found in spending some time without children and returning to the person I used to be.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Book Review: The Last Day by Emily Organ

It isn't often that I literally can't put a book down, but The Last Day was one of those books. Written by former parent blogger Emily Organ, I was really thrilled to be asked to review it. Having read the book fairly promptly, I then forgot to review it properly for her. Blame St Albans Literary Festival, its taking all my brain power!

This is the story of an ordinary estate agent who thinks its his Last Day, because of this he makes all sort of slightly unusual decisions. This is a thriller which is perfectly set in the 1980's and this is one of the reasons I loved it. The scene setting is absolutely picture perfect and hte characters believable. At times you feel sorry for the main character George and at times you're frustrated with his behaviour.

If you're looking for a book with a bit of suspense then you really cant go wrong, this is an easy read and you are kept wondering about what will happen which makes it a page turner. With the summer holidays in full swing make sure you download it to your kindle. I loved the book and cant recommend it highly enough.

If you want to find out more about Emily and the book then make sure you check out her website here.


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