Here they come!

 

8 Tips for non resident parenting – Here they come!

I thought I’d end the month with some posts about being a separated (or non resident) parent. In this first post I wanted to share my check-list for making sure that the boys are going to make it through the weekend alive.

1. Make the call

When I first separated four years ago I didn’t understand the importance of talking to my boys about what they wanted. Like many other newly separated parents I chose activities I thought they would enjoy without thinking to ask them A great recommendation by their mum was to have a regular call with them in between days to pick up ideas about what they were interested in doing.

2. Work from a list

As soon as I hit thirty I quickly realised that the my short term memory wasn’t up to the task for being a parent. Inside my wardrobe door is a list for practically everything. My boys weekends list starts; 1. Chocs; 2. Clean clothes; 3. Charge tablet, and so on… In addition I have a separate shopping list for days that the boys are with me to make sure I’ve got the right cereals and a ready supply of bottled drinks they can help themselves too etc.

3. Stick to the plan

Another mistake I made when I first separated was to fill every weekend with exciting activities; cinema, bowling, or something similar. It was months before I started to realise that a regular routine filled with lots of breaks to relax and chat was much better received. After all the boys only see me at weekends so they’re more interested in having time with me than racing around from one activity to the next.

4. Play dates and mates

As a separated parent it’s much to easy to ostracise yourself from other parents to avoid awkward conversations. I was lucky enough last year to have a fabulous play ground mum approach me and  arrange some play dates for James. This has been really popular with James, but just as importantly gives me more time to bond with George. I can’t recommend this enough.

 

5. No cure like a good nights sleep

Simple as it sounds, eight hours sleep the night before can really pay dividends when you’re about to have little ones buzzing around you with a hundred and one questions. There is only so much coffee can do after all!

6.  Carry out some recon

A few minutes spent on the internet the weekend before gain produce some amazing finds. Rather than rinse and repeat the same activities, you can find out about local clubs and one of festivals that are taking place nearby, and maybe even find money off entries or refreshments.

7. Become a  subscriber

Following number 6, I found that if i subscribed to distribution lists for local companies I got notified of other local activities, and savings that I wouldn’t normally come across by scanning the internet. Better still many local companies reward subscribers with special members offers.

8. Budget

All important. Consider how far you are from payday and what’s left in the month’s budget buying those theme park tickets, or computer game.

Whether it’s the weekend or a week night you can guarantee that the you’ll always forget something, or you’ll encounter a life emergency! Hopefully something from the list above will help you out, and if so I hope you’ll feedback below.

The Dad Blogging Community

As I start my blogging new year I thought I’d start by promoting some of the amazing blogs in the dad blogging community.

I first started blogging to keep a journal of the time I spent with my two boys at weekends after I had separated. A few quick searches revealed very few dad blogs. Google mostly redirected me to Mumsnet and the Mumsnet Bloggers Network. I thought that it was going to be a one-sided experience with a limited audience, but as time has passed I was really pleased to uncover an enormous community of dads blogging, but at the time there was far less promotion and exposure.

Recently I read a great article on the blog that accompanies The Money Shed about working from home and how it separates the sexes. Jon at The Money Shed asked why it was that there were so few men working from home compared to women, including blogging, affiliates, and marketing content. The conclusion was that being a mother was more likely to mean being at home and being more suited to the work-from-home environment. Another reason that I’ve often heard is that a mother and particularly pregnant women are more likely to be spending more, and are targeted for marketing, product reviews, and promotion by brands. My own experience is that women are much better at networking and communicating, two of the most important skills in keeping the momentum behind a good blog, and building a community.

After putting up the blog and my initial posts I joined twitter as @weekendparent1. Every basic blogging guide tells you that social networking is the best way to engage with your audience, and this brought me to  @Onedad3Girls, @DadWhoBlogs, @FloydUK and @DiaryoftheDad. I soon realised that I was in good company with lots of regular blog content and even a shared podcast.

As far as forums go the dad blogging community has lovealldads.co.uk; offering a showcase of dad blogs, and blogging awards for bloggers in the dad community. It’s not the only UK dad blogging network but so far it’s one of the most popular I’ve found, promising a dad blogging festival in 2015, which will be an incredible experience.

As I’ve spent more time on twitter I’ve found that the US dad blogging community is already very well established with lots of good ideas for UK dad bloggers. Personally my favourite thing about US dad bloggers is the sheer diversity of content, such as the divorced and single dads who are blogging and tweeting; experiencing fatherhood through a slightly different perspective.

I could happily spend the entire evening singing the praises of other dad blogs that I’ve enjoyed following including ideas4dads.net and  papatont.com. With a growing community and even a dad regularly appearing on Britmums in @dadblogUK it seems like there’s a growing audience for dad bloggers in their own right, so watch this space!

London Day Trip

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London Day Trip

The weekend before Christmas the boys and I travelled to the South East of England to visit family in Essex. Now that the boys are a little older I decided to leave some time between trains to see the sites in London. I’ve always enjoyed spending time walking through London and I had hoped the boys would too.

Our train out of the midlands travels into Euston underground and we took the connection to Green Park station. George adores the underground and loves the enormous escalators full of people, and strangely dressed buskers. His personal confidence can be a problem as he runs ahead without looking to see where George and I are, and he tries to edge as close to the speeding underground trains as he can.

Coming out into the sunshine at Green Park we walked through the park to Buckingham Palace to watch the guards and take photos. I have really vivid memories of my first trip to Buckingham Palace. To me it was a really big event. For George and James they couldn’t have looked any less interested. Even the sight of two burly royal guards, and a procession of Horse Guards didn’t spark the slightest interest. I guess they didn’t have Minecraft in my day, so we were easily impressed by real buildings!

From there we can walk along the Mall to Hyde Park which has a Winter Wonderland theme park at the moment. There are stalls, rides and a German Christmas market as well as an ice rink and big wheel. I had tried to book ice skating beforehand but it was booked up weeks in advance. In any event the boys were more interested in the giant wooden statues and stalls selling cakes and sweets. Definitely a bigger hit than Buckingham Palace.

With two hours left before our train, I let the boys decide how they would like to spend their time. Without a moments hesitation they both asked for a trip to Hamleys. Another underground trip and we arrived at Oxford Street, and a short walk brought us to the magical giant toy store. I think this is our third visit to the store , and If you’ve not already been, then I can’t recommend it enough. There are endless interactive displays on each of the floors; radio controlled helicopters flying overhead; a Nerf shooting range; magicians. The boys think it’s magical. The prices are usually a little higher than high street, so I usually set a strict limit on what they can have, or offer to order online as soon as we’re home.

Also if you’ve not visited before I couldn’t recommend highly enough that that you DON’T visit the weekend before Christmas. Absolute chaos! Hundreds and hundreds of families running round looking for last minutes gifts. To the credit of Hamleys there were staff on each set of stairs and throughout the store ushering visitors into orderly queues, and preventing little ones from getting trampled. Better still the gigantic animated  Christmas display at the front of the store was breathtaking.

After that it was back to Liverpool Street and out to the wilds of Essex.  Little legs were exhausted and tablets went on (Minecraft obvs!)

Let me know about your adventures around the capital with your little ones, and top tips for family friendly places to visit. 

For opening info for Hamleys Toy Shop:-

www.hamleys.com/
188-196 Regent Street, London W1B 5BT

 

A taste of my own medicine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This weekend poor George arrived with a chesty cough.

My normal go to medicine is Lempsip hot blackcurrant sachets. When we arrived at the store I could only find Beechams equivalents. A man’s look at the packaging didn’t tell me whether they were appropriate for his age group. Panic!

At this stage James had already started to wonder off into the frozen desserts section and George was having a continuous coughing fit. I made a snap decision and grabbed a medicine that my friend swears by… Covonia.

Covonia is the cold and flu equivalent of electric shock therapy. No soothing painkillers and decongestants hidden in a hot sweet blackcurrant drink. This is a Mentholated Cough Mixture based on liquorice with a distinctive strong taste.
We got home and got busy with homework and before I could serve up the medicine, the cough seemed to have passed. It wasn’t until later that night I was woken by George having another large rasping cough, one after the other.

I gently woke him and offered him the old fashioned bottled. *URGH!* still half asleep he gave me a pained look rolled over and went back to sleep.

The rest of the weekend George tried his best to hide his cough and I caught him looking at me at the corner of his eye,  checking to see if I was coming to poison him again!

Do you give your children the dreaded menthol medicine, or are they’re any other remedies you can recommend?

Tree Top Juniors at Go Ape Cannock Chase

 

 

There’s nothing George and James enjoy doing more than climbing, so for James birthday the three of us treated ourselves to a day at Go Ape in Cannock Chase, Staffordshire.

Cannock Chase has the longest Tree Top Adventure & Forest Segways course in the UK. It’s set in the beautiful Cannock Chase forest which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and receives awards for tourism.

As George isn’t yet ten we joined the Tree Top Junior Course, which is designed for young children. For anyone not familiar with the Go Ape concept; it’s a network of tree-top high wires, crossings and zip wires set high up off the ground. You and your children are connected to a secure safety wire at all times, so even if you fall from the obstacle you’re climbing, you only swing a metre or so away.

This was our first trip to Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. The views of the forest were amazing, and the facilities were good too. The area is very popular and we were lucky to come early as the car park soon filled up.

One of the best things about our day was the staff. They had already impressed me when they let me changing my booking at last moment by telephone with no trouble. That was nothing compared to the friendliness of all the staff the whole time we were there. Not one member of the team failed to introduce themselves to the boys and make them feel welcome, even though it was a cold damp Sunday morning.

I couldn’t recommend this activity strongly enough. We were entertained for hours and spent the rest of the afternoon in the busy cafe, laughing about how hopeless I was at the zip wire.

If you’re planning a trip then make sure you arrive early, with plenty of change for Cannock Chase car Park, to avoid any stress.

Photos together: Say Cheese… Please!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Say Cheese. Please!

At the weekend I started to flick through my old photo albums. I quickly noticed that they start off full of lovely pictures of James as a young child smiling happily, but then suddenly they come to a stop.

When George was born he became the centre of attention even though most of his photos are blurred. Photograph such a hyperactive boy has always been more of an art than a science. He just won’t sit still for five seconds, and I’m always amazed when I see him in a school portrait! Occasionally there are some really beautiful pictures of a charming boy with blonde hair, blue eyes, and mischievous grin though.

So where James go? For the last two years James became very photo shy. At first I tried to persuade (bribe) him into joining photographs with his brother, but these never come out as well as a ‘natural’ photograph. As a result he’s either missing, or has a deep frown.

Fast forward again to 2014 and James has started to find some confidence. I’m now allowed to take the occasional photograph, once I’ve cleared it with him first, and he’s check them after! With that in mind I set myself the task last weekend of photographing the pair of them together, side by side, smiles on faces. We went bowling together, to the local park, and sat for an hour in George’s favourite: Costa! More than forty photos later, and I’ve got a phone full of assorted face pulling, frowning, blurred characters, and frantic hand waving… not one single shot of the pair of them looking at the camera, happy, and still.

Without saying ‘Tempest Photography’ can anyone please tell me the secret?!

Birmingham Library

Yesterday Birmingham Library celebrated it’s first birthday and so James, George and I decided to do some exploring.

Birmingham Library

James and I are both book lovers and so we were eager to see everything that the library had to offer. George on the other hand thought this was the worst idea for a day out ever imagined. Some negotiation took place and a trip to The Entertainer was agreed as part of the day.

When we arrived all three of us were instantly impressed. The boys recognised the destinctive decoraction on the outside of this enormous building from the television reports last year of it’s opening and were keen to explore inside.  The entrance hall is huge with an open plan cafe on the ground floor and tall illuminated escalators going off in all directions like something out of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Our journey started with a trip to the children’s library which is on the lower ground floor area. As well as a large collection of books and displays it also includes a Digital Gallery displaying animations and creations from local schools.

Further along on the ground floor we found the glass walled Ampitheatre from which you can look up into Centenary Square.

Having taken a look at the guide to the floors I decided that next we would take the lift to the ninth floor where there is a Skyline Viewing area. You can see from the photo above that the view over Birmingham was amazing, and for someone who has lived and work in Birmingham this was particularly interesting.

Birmingham Library

Next stop was the glass elevator on the seventh floor. Alex was absolutly hypnotised! Continying past the elevator brings you out to the Secret Garden which I think was the best part of the trip for all of us.  There is a garden terrace with plants and flowers, including seats for reading, all outdoors overlooking the whole of Birmingham. You can walk around the perimeter of the building and take in all of the views of the busy city below, including the canals, the towering office blocks, cathedral spires, and the football stadiums.

Birmingham Library

On journeying back down to the ground floor reception we switched between the lifts, elevators and stairwells just to satisfy George’s curiousity about the building. By the time we reached the ground floor the three of us were exhausted and thoroughly entertained and decided to head off for some food.

I accept that our review has missed out the most the important thing about the library which is the amazing resources that it holds. I’ve also not mentioned the The Shakespeare Discovery Room or the Book Rotunda. However to James and George the real feature of the  day was the amazing building itself which I’d encourage eveyone to visit at least once.

Birmingham Library can be found at Centenary Square on Broad Street by the Rep Theatre and Birmingham Symphony Hall.

The library opens 8am-8m monday to friday, 9am-5pm satureday, and 11am-4pm sunday.

Entry is free and there is free wifi throughout.

Facilities throughout the library were very good but I would encourage any visitors to consult the free downloadable visitors guide at :-http://www.libraryofbirmingham.com/article/visitorguide/visitorguide-summary

If you’ve visited the library or any other local midlands attraction then let us know what you thought.

 

Stress Free Parenting

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The stress that comes from parenting can sometimes feel overwhelming. This weekend I spent a couple of hours shopping at the Bullring in Birmingham. Almost every shop I went in, I saw very capable parents who looked like they were on the edge of a breakdown as their little darlings ran off into crowds of shoppers, refused to leave a shop without a toy they’d just seen. 

Stress is a very natural human emotion for parents, to make us more alert when are little darlings are in danger. Once the immediate danger has passed are stress levels should return to normal, to prevent us burning out and becoming cognitively impaired. Worse still when stress remains with us for long periods we risk health problems, such as high blood pressure,  heart disease, and depression obesity. 

Here is the weekend parent guide to stress free parenting:

1. Sleep and lifestyle

Recent studies have shown that adults spend at least eight hours a day in front of technology; ipads, smartphones, and television all cut into the time we spend sleeping. When your little darling comes to wake you up at five am for breakfast, or to read a book, you’re going to need all the energy you can get. Improving your sleep, cutting back on caffeine, and eating a healthy diet will make you more alert and improve your ability to make clear decisions without becoming stressed.

2. Take another look;

Step back from the situation and assess why it is you’ve become agitated. Is there a danger to you or your little ones? If it has passed then the stress you’re feeling is subjective, and you need to demonstrate to your darling that you are back in control, just as you would expect them to do if they had lost their temper. If this is something you struggle with then look online for coping strategies to practice reducing your stress levels.

3. Acceptance 

No parent has ever resolved a stressful situation by interrogating their son or daughter about what they should have done differently. Your little darling knows that he or she is not supposed to run off, but repeatedly telling them will only add to everyone’s stress level. Let them see that you accept what has happened is in the past and that you both want the same thing, an enjoyable day together.

4. Think of the Positives

Just as dwelling on a mistake is clinically proven to make us depressed, the opposite is also true. If you don’t do so already you should take a few moments each day to think about things you’re grateful for, or things coming up in your life that you’re excited about. You’ll soon develop a store of stress-free, positive feelings to draw upon then next time you’re confronted with a difficult situation. 

5. Time to Yourself 

Make sure that you give yourself a few dedicated hours each week to do something for yourself away from your children. When you give up all of your own time and interests it becomes difficult to distance yourself from the stress of the situation, and you won’t be able to recharge. Once you’ve got away for an hour or two you’ll have a fresh perspective and things won’t feel like they’re getting on top of you. If this sounds selfish then try doing it in very small periods to start. An hour a week with their grandparents while you and/or your partner do something you enjoy; a dance glass, or just time to update your blog!

What do you do to manage the stress from being a parent?

 

5 Top Tantrum Tips

Tantrum

5 Top Tips for Tantrums

We’ve all seen experienced them and we’ve got the battle scars to prove it. I’ve lost count of the amount of times George has thrown himself on the floor after being refused an ice-cream or some other injustice. I know that there’s nothing I can do to change his personality (and I wouldn’t if I could), but there are some pitfalls that I’ve learned to watch out for:

1. Count to ten

Unless your darling is in immediate danger then take the opportunity to assess the situation. When I say the first thing that comes to my mind it’s likely to escalate the situation, and prolong the pain.

2. Ignorance is bliss

Giving George attention because he’s thrown himself on the ground shows him that tantrums are a good way to get my attention, and re-enforces his behaviour. Ignore, ignore, ignore!

3. Indoor voices

Whilst shouting at your darling might get a shocked silence once or twice, it will soon wear off. When I decide George is calm enough to talk, then I try to remember to use a controlled tone so that he will have to pause and listen to me in order to hear what I’m saying.

4. Don’t dwell

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen a tantrum end, only for a bewildered parent to try and explain why they were right and their little darling was wrong. Starting a discussion about why we’re not stopping for ice-creams five minutes before lunch, will only remind George what he’s missed out on and likely start things off again.

5. Prior planning prevents poor parenting

Afterwards have a quick think about the situation that led up to the tantrum. Was your darling more hungry or tired than you realised? Is there a different route through the park that doesn’t take them past an ice cream van?

Tantrums are an unavoidable part of parenthood, and there’s no single cause or remedy for them. With experience all these things now start to come to me more naturally and sometimes George realises now that he’s more likely to get attention by staying on his feet.

What other great tactics do you use for calming your little darlings?

Book Review: How to Train Your Dragon; A Hero’s Guide


Book Review: How to Train Your Dragon; A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons

This summer George and James are taking part in the Staffordshire Libraries Summer Reading Challenge.  If they can each get through six books they’ll receive stickers and a medal from the library, as well as completing their mythical reading challenge charts.

James’s first book got us off to a flying start. All three of us are fans of the breath-taking ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ films but I hadn’t realised that there was also a series of books. A Hero’s Guide to Deadly Dragons is the first one that we’ve come across and it was a big hit.

The imaginitive story follows the memoirs of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third before he became the hero we know and love. As a young boy he struggles to make his mark, and in a Hero’s Guide, Hiccup is lost in the Library Labyrinth, in a time when books have been banned.

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James (9) thorough enjoyed reading from cover to cover. George (6) had a lot of fun sounding out words that he knew, and marvelling at the illustrations. The loudest laughs probably came from me, especially when Stoick the Vast is drawn into the skirmish

At the end of the book is an enthralling guide to the dragon profiles, sword fighting and the world of the marauders,  to accompany the story and give even more depth to the charaters.

Other books in the serise include How To Speak Dragonese, and How to Twist a Dragon’s Tail.

Learn more about the Staffordshire Libraries Summer Reading Challenge here.