Carpet picnics and dens

“Do a den”

Joss asked to build a den last week, how could we refuse?

We are always outside exploring but occasionally the intrepid explorers in us want to have a PJ day and what better way to bring the outdoors indoors than with a den and a carpet picnic?


Armed with a drying rack and plenty of blankets, a sharing platter and snacks a dull grey day starts to look altogether more interesting! Deserving of an Outtakes mention for odd socks and the fact that this could be anyone’s child given the cut off the lunch looks canny anyway!





Research Skills for Bloggers

As you know in my work and studying a big part of what I do is social research. I find the relationship between research and blogging to be a close one; research helps my blogging and blogging helps my research. I find new topics, organise my thinking and plan using my research skills, and in my work I find blogging forces me to give my personal opinion, to work fast and be reactive to key issues that might increase my influence in the blogosphere.

Research skills relevant to blogging are about:

  • Systematising
  • Defining a question
  • Analysing data (anything can be data, we’re not just talking statistics here)
  • Unpacking complex issues
  • Observing and
  • Arriving at conclusions and understanding their limitations

Five research tips for bloggers

  • Make media alerts work for you

This is something I’ve always done for work but didn’t think about doing for my blog until recently. So my blog focus is a) parenting, but more specifically parental mental health, eco-parenting and child development. Once you can narrow the focus of your interest in this way and understand keywords in these areas you can bring new blog post ideas directly to your inbox by harnessing the power of alerts. I use google alerts but there are lots of tools out there. I have alerts set up for mothering and mental health and working parents. This week these alerts brought a story from the media directly to me, the headline that ‘Working Mother’s no longer Feel Guilty’ so within an hour I had a ‘hot topic’ at my fingertips and could blog in time to join in with the discussions across social media. Alerts help me to be reactive and drive interesting content relevant to my readership. If you’re interested in policy and commenting on institutional approaches to your blog interests you could set up alerts from relevant government departments. I like to get Department of Health alerts in the area of mental health for example. Getting the keywords right can involve a bit of trial and error but once you get it right you have live issues arriving straight to your inbox saving you research time and maximizing the effectiveness of your reading time.

  • Ask questions of data and stories

Ever see a media headline and just run with it? I am really interested in media literacy, asking the right questions of what we’re told rather than accept the journalist’s interpretation. This was highlighted really nicely this week.


My quick view of this graph told me that gun crimes fell following the introduction of the ‘stand your ground’ law. But take a closer look, the Y axis has been flipped so what looked like a sharp fall actually represents a sharp rise.

Don’t forget to ask:

  1. Who created the message?
  2. What opinions or biases might they have?
  3. Why this headline? What is it trying to achieve?
  4. Might others understand this differently than me?
  5. Is there anything that is omitted from the article? Could I do some more reading around this to see what’s missing?
    • Find new sources in untapped areas

So you usually read fellow bloggers, mainstream news and online magazines. What are you missing? How about reading new sources to find ideas for new material, what about an online journal in your area of interest? It might be quite academic or heavy but have a message you could write in a way your readers might like. I am really interested in motherhood and there’s a great free academic resource called Mamsie an online journal with a lot to say about my area of interest, an untapped resource that I now love to browse for new ideas.

    • Define your question

This is all about critical thinking, so you want to write an engaging blog piece, how can you unpack your topic for your reader? Do you need to define the issue for them? Maybe you need to explain the history of the issue, what is the main idea you want to bring across? Are you wanting to open up a debate, start a conversation or convince someone of your argument? Do you have enough evidence to back up your argument, or a new idea that hasn’t been talked about yet? If you’re writing a piece you think you’re going to want to promote then defining your research question can be a useful starting point.

    • Draft and restructure

Though scientific in its approach I actually see research as a craft, refining and redefining, drafting and restructuring to help the flow of an argument I see a lot of potential for creativity. Mindmapping is my favoured way of looking at an issue, of drafting and then restructuring my points. This mindmap came out of my prep for my recent post on working parents, it didn’t take long but cut my drafting time as I knew what I was going to say before I started blogging:

What about you, do you apply non-traditional blogging skills to your blogs?

Nature’s Path Gluten Free Cereals Review

As you know I am big on ethical and sustainable products; Nature’s Path are a family-run, independent organic food company that believes in “leaving the earth better than we found it”. I like that.
Nature’s Path cereals are gluten free, I wanted to test them because A) I consider myself to be a cereal afficionado (oh yes!) and B) I have been interested to know more about gluten-free.

We were sent a lovely pack of products to try from the range:


My favourites were the Trail Mix Granola Bars, lots of lovely textures and a big hit of cinnamon which I love! I love cereal bars and reach for them when I’m dashing around, they are a really generous size and great for an on the go breakfast for my work days.

The Maple Sunrise breakfast cereal was AMAZING, sweet but not too sweet I really liked the blend of quinoa, corn and flaxseed and this was a big hit with hubby too. Again lots of different textures gave a great long lasting crunch, remembering that these are a Free-From gluten free product this would be a real treat, I have a friend with coeliac disease who says many gluten free cereals are boring, this is not one of them!


Mesa Sunrise was a surprise, I expected malted flakes but these are just honest to goodness flakes, the corn/flax blend is really tasty, these were my faves for an everyday cereal.

Our household fave, porridge! Another work fave, the quick porridge is so handy. I loved the apple variety, more lovely cinnamon!

And finally the Nice and Nobbly Granola, chunky, tasty and fruity this was a great cereal but would make a brilliant fast gluten-free crumble topping too!


These definitely passed our taste test, the Nature’s Path range is varied, tasty and brings a different take on gluten free, available in most supermarkets and the website has some great recipe ideas too.


Disclaimer – we reviewed these cereals and were sent the products to try, all views are my own

Wooden Lolly Stick Washi Tape Plant Markers

Quick and easy why use plain sticks when you can add a flash of colour?

We’ve been daisy picking today and my mind wandered onto some of the new varieties of plants we bought this year, clearly the herbs are easier to identify but geranium ringo rose looked great so it’s worth remembering the name for next year and marking them up now.

Take a handful of lolly sticks, apply washi tape in a straight line top to bottom, cut and then trim any excess and round the corners, then take a perma-marker and write your plant names directly onto the tape.

Working Mums, an Expectation of Guilt?

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A recent Mumsnet survey found that only 13% of working mothers (of 900 surveyed) said they felt guilty about spending time away from their children and almost half (48%) said that having a paid job made them happier. A third of stay-at-home mothers admitted they would prefer to work and 52% said staying at home was tougher than going out to work.

Only 13% felt guilty, did we expect that to be higher? When the press reported on these stats they said ‘only 13%’ so clearly they expected it to be higher.

What is mother’s guilt?

It sounds pretty universal, not working mother’s guilt, but something all mothers feel, I reckon that should be parent’s guilt though, it’s no less easy for Dad to leave a poorly tot. The idea that it can be assuaged by working less or spending every waking moment with our children seems unlikely, I have found that my mother’s guilt can’t be assuaged by putting in more hours at home, it’s bigger than that, it’s part of me. Is guilt the right word? Is it not more about a natural and instinctual responsibility which can feel like a burden, it’s always there, hard to shrug off, whether I am looking at my phone and hearing Mam, Mam, Mammy, or at work knowing she might be having a tough day the feeling is the same. Can I be available 100% of the time, should I want to be?

Why should we feel guilty about working?

Maybe we don’t feel guilty because we’ve realised that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side? I am honest enough to say that on whingy whining days I am relieved to get a break and sometimes see work as an opportunity to get that breathing space.

How often does a mother say she feels guilty and follow that statement up with ‘I’m a bad mum.’ So when we look at reasons for feeling guilty, maybe not being able to breastfeed, leaving them with someone else, letting them watch TV, feeding them junk food are we really saying we think we’re being a ‘bad’ parent? I list off the reasons I think I’m a good parent and they start to pale into insignificance, I am fun (I am!) we get out every day for a walk, I plan activities, I cook good food, we read books together, I make her laugh, she is a hoot so sees me smiling a lot, I am there for her in the night when she needs me – I also work, should that in some way negate all of those great things?

Who’s judging who?

I looked up a definition of guilt –

“Guilt is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that violation. It is closely related to the concept of remorse.” (“Guilt.” Encyclopedia of Psychology. 2nd ed. Ed. Bonnie R. Strickland. Gale Group, Inc., 2001. 2006. 31 December 2007)

So it’s an emotional and cognitive state, which means I can have some choice or control about feeling it, right? There’s some strong language here, moral standards and violations of them, whose moral standard? It seems to suggest they’re my own.

Is there really a working mum vs stay at home mum divide? I don’t know that we are really comparing, you know, my guilt is greater than your guilt.

My recent blog post highlighted that I don’t think there is, we’re all working parents regardless of where we put the hours in.

There’s still this whole nebulous mix of media, business, politics and science, all of these voices that tell us that various choices damage our children, which of those should I listen to?

I’d say I feel most judged by myself and I can choose to tune out those voices

Earlier this year stats were released that show mothers feel a double guilt when they work, one towards their children and one about their ability in the workplace.

I can spot a working mum in an office environment at 100 paces, she comes in early, eats at her desk and ten minutes before she has to leave she looks pretty antsy, she has to get away on time to collect her brood and can’t afford for the telephone to ring and hold her up. She’s organised, well rounded and sees work as a way of providing, of broadening her horizons. She will get her work done on time and has realised that she has more mental capacity than she thought possible, forget baby brain, those planning skills and time management that see her get a meal on the table, clothes in the wash and the next day’s lunches prepared before others have taken their coats off serve their purpose in the workplace too.

There are tough days, days when I have struggled to see whether J is teething or it’s something I’m missing – am I doing the right thing sending her to the childminders? Should I stay home?

Negotiating with Dad over who needs to be at work and who has a meeting that could maybe wait. Guilt? Maybe, but we’re only human, we’re predisposed to want to care for our children when they’re sick, sadly there isn’t an answer to that one, sometimes we have to go and as we are usually leaving them with someone who loves them then maybe we could loosen up on the guilt?

If those figures are to be believed then I think it’s brilliant, it shows we’re starting to question the role of mothers and challenge the ‘ought to feels’. If guilt is in the gap between our ideal self and our actual self then maybe we need to be less tough on ourselves, we make many decisions along the way but choosing to be a parent wracked with guilt doesn’t sound like a terrible progressive step to me, and I suspect no child wants to grow up feeling like it has in some way ‘bound’ its parents.

Misheard lyrics

I love when people totally mishear lyrics, this list by Clash Music is brilliant, of course at number one is Hendrix’s Purple Haze, “scuse me while I kiss the sky” often heard as “scuse me while I kiss this guy”

It seems we have our own little mishearer of lyrics, thinking about it, some of the words in songs are so complex that children must pick up the rhyme and rhythm way before they understand the words, hence this beauty of Joss’ that I’ve tried to write word for word – ladies and gents, I give you, the Grand Old Dupalork!


This cracked me up as I had been having a rough day and needed a good chuckle but I was so proud to hear her have a bash, it took place whilst she was wearing these excellent pipecleaner glasses Daddy made, couldn’t get a good pic though as she was marching up and down again!


What about your little ones, any good misheard lyrics from nursery rhymes?

Wot So Funee?

Never to young for a rainy day craft box!

At school I loved a rainy playtime, stuff came out of the cupboard that you only got to see on a rainy day, the novelty factor was high!

I started a craft box for those days when Joss and I needed a distraction.


It’s something new and different from the usual or for grouchy days where something she hasn’t seen for a while takes her interest and calms her. Teething days can be especially tough as she seemingly goes from one dangerous activity to another because she feels frustrated! On days like that I find it hard to concentrate so I have stuck a list in the box lid with ideas for messy play:


It includes the ingredients for playdough and mentally prompts me to remember something I read a while back, that children are the opposite of gremlins and find water calming so if she starts to get a bit ‘gremliny’ there are some bath activities on there too!


Anyway, what’s in the box?


I buy the contents from charity shops, discount stores and supermarkets, if you’d like to stock your own here’s our rundown of the things we like:

Felt pens, pencils and crayons
Pipe cleaners
Pom poms
Tongs and small pots for picking up pom poms and sorting
Googly eyes
Nice pieces of scrap papers
Blank card
Shredded paper
Sponges and paint rollers

And what we currently have:

We’ve been doing a lot of painting recently

But we’ve also been exploring, mainly pom poms and pipe cleaners at the moment, pipecleaners pushed in the holes of a colander are a big favourite, as is picking up and sorting pom poms with tongs!

What’s in your rainy/grouchy day activity box?

PND and Breastfeeding: Why is bottle nursing not talked about? A guide for expressing, donor milk and formula feeding mums

I struggled to write a post about my breastfeeding journey, I’ve tried many times but it’s something I have yet to fully make peace with, I decided to post something positive and instructive instead, something that would have helped me. I am not saying this is an alternative to breastfeeding or comparing the two, but it is a method of infant feeding that is not really talked about and I would have liked someone to have told me about it earlier.

Our journey

They say ‘never give up on a bad day’ – I gave up on the worst day, day six, just as the baby blues should have been lifting I hit rock bottom.

My journey in a nutshell went awry because a) Joss was not terribly interested in feeding, b) I didn’t sleep for three days solid and started to lose touch with reality and c) we struggled to access good support for PND.

Truth be told I was pretty unwell with an infection and a serious bout of mental ill health, when I should have been resting I was experiencing manic highs and frightening lows. There’s a narrative to all of this that I will blog about when I make more sense of it, but generally I stopped feeding Joss because I was terrified, frightened and not coping.

This one precious photograph is so special as it reminds me she had six days of my milk, its the only one I have, a keepsake if you like.


Formula feeding was not easier, I was anxious about hygiene, sterilising, and scrubbed my hands til they were sore, but I knew how much she was taking in, and that was very important to me.

Whilst wrestling with my guilt I came across the idea of bottle nursing, associated with attachment parenting. It took time to feel that I hadn’t failed, I had tried and it didn’t work out, we do the best we can for our children and whether by choice or necessity we nurture our children in different ways.

I chose to see nursing as something that was not exclusive to breastfeeding.

I chose to tell those who said nothing compares to mother’s milk and that they just tried harder than I did that my journey ending at day six broke my heart and my spirit

But I have to point out that I am pro breastfeeding and defend mother’s rights to feed in public just as fervently as breastfeeding mothers do and it upsets me when mums row over feeding, you never know someone else’s back story, what’s in the bottle or how they came to this place (this is important as I did receive some very negative comments, being told J and I couldn’t go to a Christmas party with friends because it was for breastfeeding mams only really hurt)

So what is bottle nursing?

It’s feeding on demand close and instinctual bottle feeding, in a nutshell its emulates breastfeeding with a bottle of formula, pumped milk or donor milk. It is feeding on demand rather than on schedule, often by mum, or mum and dad alone, with skin to skin contact, changing sides as a breastfeeding mother would do support eye development, and maintaining physical closeness.

Why bottle nursing?

The benefits are many:

  • Skin to skin with baby fed close to its mother
  • Lovely eye contact
  • A calm time to nurse and rest
  • Closeness and smell to build a strong bond
  • Perhaps deciding that only mum, or only mum and dad feed baby to build and maintain a nurturing bond

Deciding to feed in this way was not without its challenges, insisting that only Dad and I feed Joss was hard, the grandparents perhaps found that tough and friends would offer to feed her so we could have a cuppa etc and it probably seemed odd that I turned that down, but it was important to me to see formula feeding as just as nurturing as breastfeeding, a special time for us to enjoy, so often I would take myself away somewhere quiet to feed Joss and spend some quality time together.

In time when she could feed herself I still tried to insist on feeding as quiet time together, I think that this photograph shows that bottle feeding is no less close than breastfeeding


I wanted to share my experience in the hope of helping others to understand this option for infant feeding, it was not what I expected but the benefits for both of us were great.


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