Friday, 19 September 2014

written: an open letter to first time mamas everywhere

When I was expecting Ben (and probably Daisy too, if I'm honest), I read so many blogs, books and magazines that gave me conflicting advice; if you eat this when you're pregnant, your arm will fall off; if you don't use cloth nappies, you'll single-handedly destroy what's left of our ozone layer; if you don't breastfeed, your child will grow up to be a sociopath... the list was pretty endless. So, in honour of all my friends that have just announced that they've got one in the oven, I've written an open letter that includes five of the things that I wish someone had told me - but if you're looking for advice on placenta recipes, you're pretty much going to be out of luck....

Dear Mama,

First up, let me give you a frickin' big high-five; you only went and made an actual human being! Admittedly, depending on what stage of pregnancy you're at, it might be the size of a biscuit crumb / fingernail / grape but still, you're building a person - you're like Dr. Frankenstein, but, y'know, less freaky. Fist bump!
Now we've got the celebrations out of the way, I'm going to dispense some advice. I know, I know, since you announced you were t'up the duff, you've had nothing BUT advice; from well-meaning Auntie Jean to that one friend who ALWAYS thinks they know best, nobody is ever backwards in coming forwards with advice for a pregnant lady. But the thing is, I'm going to give you a few pieces of information on the things that REALLY matter; like what biscuits are best to eat one-handed while feeding and where to buy leggings that accommodate the biggest of bumps and don't give you a camel toe (because, let's be frank, you've got enough to worry about without showing off your lady-bits).

1. Leggings are a more than acceptable wardrobe staple for pregnancy.

I've had lots of friends who swear by pregnancy jeans, but I just couldn't bloody well stand them. With their stupid elastic panels that made you feel like you were being slowly suffocated from the waist up, to the fact that the only place they fitted properly was round the ankles, by the time I had Daisy my thoughts on maternity jeans had gone from indifference to hatred. I also suffered terribly with hot flushes, which meant that denim was a complete no-go - remember that episode of Friends with Ross and the leather trousers? That was me, but I was fatter, and crying. Leggings were their softer, cooler, easier counterpart, and the best thing was that I could literally just wear them all the time. Work? Leggings with a dress or tunic. At the weekend? Leggings with an oversize t-shirt or long top. At home? Pyjamas... but you get my drift. You can buy special maternity leggings, but just try buying a normal pair in a size up and wearing them under your bump first - I challenge you to tell me this isn't more comfortable that squashing your thighs into hot, sweaty denim. Some people are sniffy about leggings, but when you're smuggling a beach ball, being comfortable is the most important thing.

2. You won't need three novels in your labour bag. Or a crossword book. 

Packing a labour bag is like packing for a month long mystery holiday - because you know literally nothing about what's going to happen, the temptation is to just put everything you've ever touched into a suitcase. This is pretty much what happened when I was expecting Ben; I had a suitcase, a holdall, a pillow, two dressing gowns and a pair of slippers - and my labour had three false starts so we spent almost three days just loading and unloading the car. When I arrived home with him, a good 80% of everything in the suitcase hadn't even been touched; from the sixteen bottles of Lucozade and the healthy 'energy' bars to the book about Kate Moss and the three back issues of Elle magazine, I didn't use any of it. Instead I spent most of the time sucking on the gas and air, laughing and weeping intermittently. My top essentials are:

  • Comfy pyjamas or nighties with a button-front top. I'd pack three - chances are you won't need any more than that, and you can always have someone pick you some up from home.
  • Your favourite juice or flavoured water - hospitals are HOT, so ditch the sugary energy drinks and just go for something refreshing instead.
  • A book or magazine, or if you have one, tablet, kindle or iPad. You might need some sort of boredom-buster until things get going, but put it this way - you won't be working your way through war and peace.
  • Straws - if you're having an active labour (and quite a lot of people do), you might find yourself in a variety of positions that make drinking from a cup or bottle nigh on impossible. Find the longest, bendiest straws you can and you'll be well away. Plus, you can always ram them up your partners nose if the mood takes you. Result!
  • A camera and charger or spare batteries. 

3. Your labour probably won't go according to plan - but that's OK!

I know a lot of parent bloggers who have very different ideas about how labour should be; some like homebirths with no intervention, while others like the safety of the hospital and the chance to get off their faces on every form of pain relief for miles around. The thing is, you can plan and plan and plan for L-Day as much as you like, but the chances are that things won't go as you expect; if you're keen on a natural birth with no pain relief, and you end up with an epidural, don't worry. If you're adamant you're going to have a homebirth, but end up having a C-Section, it doesn't matter. If you don't get time to have the pain relief you were so set on, then chest-bump to you lady, because I didn't manage to be that hardcore. If things don't go according to plan, don't beat yourself up about it; however your little round-cheeked milk monster gets into the world, you should just concentrate on the fact that you MADE A HUMAN BEING. Like, from scratch. You're spectacular. Come here, give me a high five.

4. Breast isn't always best. Except when it is.

Crikey, I could write reams and reams on the subject of breastfeeding; not because I'm a huge boob expert, you understand, but because if anybody has failed spectacularly at breastfeeding, it's me. *Stands up and waves* I wrote my own story about breastfeeding here, where you can read in detail about why I didn't manage to feed either of my children for more than six weeks, so I'm not going to rehash all that - I'm just going to say that you should decide on a feeding method that works for you. Yes, breastmilk is the best option, but no, your child will not grow another head / turn out to be a sociopath / hate you forever if you ditch the boob juice for formula - I formula fed both of mine, and they're both (fairly) well adjusted, bright, happy children who are ill incredibly rarely *frantically touches wood*. I spent a long time feeling guilty about my decision to bottle feed which was ridiculous; they were both much happier with bottles, as was I, which ultimately made me a better mother - seriously, I've done a bit of both, and nobody gives a shit how you feed your child, as long as you're both happy. If you do decide to breastfeed and it works out well for you, that's great - just don't let ridiculous corporations or people tutting force you into feeding your baby in a public toilet. You have every right to breastfeed in public, regardless of what anybody thinks - whop that boob out and be proud!

5. Not using cloth nappies doesn't make you an environmental criminal.

Again, another guilt inducing subject that gave me sleepless nights. As someone who is fairly concerned about the planet, I'd decided that I was going to cloth nappy Daisy as soon as she was big enough; I stocked up on various sizes, found liners and boosters, sorted out the bucket and the cleaning liquid.... and we used them for a week. I had roughly three different brands, and could not get them to stop leaking - one time it was like a leakage in a shit factory, and I couldn't find the source, it just kept on coming. It could have been that I wasn't putting them on right, or packing them in the right way, or that the covers weren't tight enough around her legs, but either way we gave up and switched to disposables - Nature Babycare for a while, but they were pretty pricey and in the end we swapped to a supermarket brand which did the job perfectly adequately. Do I feel guilty about the environmental impact? Yes. But not so much that I would have kept Daisy in nappies that weren't working for her, just to limit my contribution to landfill - my priority was her being happy and comfortable, and she certainly wasn't either of those things in nappies that constantly leaked. There are other ways of offsetting the carbon from using disposables, such as using the car less and walking more, composting household and food waste and about a hundred other things - so it's not all bad.

So there you have it, My only piece of advice to you is to follow your heart, and your instincts and do what feels right and makes you and your baby happy. There are more than enough people out there waiting to tell you what to eat /drink /do, so I thought I'd give you a heads up on the really important stuff like, y'know, camel toes and shit.

See you on the other side, Mama!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

super duper gender neutral bedding

From Top Left: Triangle Bedding : Wilkinsons // Arrowhead Bedding : Urban Outfitters // Cushions : IKEA //
Diamond Bedding : H&M Home // Zig Zag Bedding : Wilkinsons // Geometric Bedding : H&M Home //
Colour Splotch Cushion : Urban Outfitters // Monochrome Cushion : IKEA // Spot Bedding: H&M Home

As I mentioned a few days ago, we're going to be shuffling the kiddos together into their shared room over the coming months, and while we're not really in any rush, I've started gathering little bits and pieces slowly, so we don't have to pay out for everything in one go.

The bedding in particular was giving me a proper headache; I'd featured a star print set by H&M Home on the blog, but when I went back to actually buy it, it was sold out. Gah! So then began my long and tiring search for great gender neutral bedding that was a) not too loud b) not too age directed (I don't want to have to change the bedding again when they get a bit older) and c) was ideally not over £25. It was a challenge, to say the least, but I finally decided on the triangle set and zig-zag set, both from Wilkinsons, pictured above. As well as being beautifully geometric and suitable in a mixed-sex bedroom, they were also both only £9 each - and I guess if I'm honest, that was the real clincher!

Monday, 15 September 2014

found: ena and albert

Last week I stumbled across the most amazing shop on Etsy called Ena and Albert; full of huge, bold and brightly coloured statement necklaces, crafter extraordinaire Therese makes every piece by hand from polymer clay in her sunny Sydney studio.

I've played about with polymer clay before, most lately when I made collar clips over on Fritha's blog, but my experiments with making beads have never been very successful; everything ends up a bit squashed and lopsided, and not in a cool, arty kind of way either. Just in a 'my-two-year-old-made-this' kind of way. Therese's beads are the complete opposite; smooth, spherical, textured, colourful and perfect - I love the different shades and tones, the colour combinations that make me think of sugary candy treats and the fact that they're so unapologetically bold.

Head over to the website to take a look behind the scenes, or flex your credit card at the Ena and Albert Etsy shop.

Friday, 12 September 2014

frugal friday: diy kimono

I love a good printed jacket, so all this talk of kimonos recently has been right up my street - colourful patterns, hippy-esque fringing and enough fabric to ward off late-summer breezes, but not so much that you swelter under the September sun (the weather down here has been brilliant all week, lucky us!). The only thing I wasn't keen on was the price tags - I couldn't find any in the charity shops and even on eBay they were going for quite a lot, so I had a look online to see how tricky they were to make. Answer - very. There was talk of seams and tucks and darts, and after about half an hour I gave up and decided to search for DIY instructions. I found a great tutorial for turning a scarf into a kimono on A Spare and a Pair, but I didn't have any of the materials required (plus my scarf already had fringing), and patience is a virtue I don't own - so I cobbled together my own kimono using my old scarf and some black thread. And, err, that's it.

To make this incredibly quick and easy kimono, you will need:

One scarf with fringing (you can find these in the charity shops for pennies - I actually saw this very one in my local Sue Ryder a few weeks back!)
Some cotton in the same colour as your scarf
A needle or sewing machine

1. Take your scarf, and iron out any creases.

2. Lay it on a flat surface, then fold the top third section over and pin in place on either side - this creates the sleeves.

3. Stitch alongside the pins, for roughly two inches, then sew back over your work to strengthen it.

4. Erm, that's it.

It's nowhere near as fancy as some of the other tutorials I've seen, but if you're a fan of quick and easy projects, you can't get much simpler than this! Happy Friday, frugal fans!

Monday, 8 September 2014

read: home by beci orpin

I first discovered artist and designer wonderwoman Beci Orpin on Instagram a couple of years ago, and her feed instantly became my favourite; explosions of colour, ideas for craft projects and snippets of everyday life made it a winner. Both of her books went on my wishlist straight away, and I was very happy to find myself clutching her second one, 'Home', in my sticky little paws on my birthday this year.

I love craft books, and I've got an awful lot of them; half of our giant IKEA Expedit unit is dedicated to great tomes on art, photography, crochet, sewing, and basically anything to do with making things and living a creative lifestyle. The one thing that always makes a project book a hit in my eyes, though, is when it's more than just a list of patterns and directions; I like to see how the artist or maker displays and uses the finished product, and that's what I like most about this book. Each project has clearly detailed and well photographed instructions, and is finished off with a couple of images which demonstrate ways to show off your latest make - from hanging handprinted napkins along a piece of bakers twine to making a wooden house for your jumping jackette, Beci provides ideas that would probably never cross your mind.

The projects themselves are great; ranging from useful items such as rope baskets, box shelves and bead trivets to decorative lovelies like the paper patchwork, forever cactus (I'm definitely having a go at this after yet another plant shuffled off to leafy heaven this weekend) and colourful fridge magnets, there's pretty much something for everyone. The best thing is that nothing is complicated; the processes are simple but really effective, and a lot of the things can be made in an hour or so, so they're ideal if you're looking for something to satisfy a quick burst of creativity. There are bigger projects, such as the cosmic moth lamp, braided rug and painted chairs, but these are still easy to do and would be great for passing the time on a rainy Sunday afternoon. What's even better is that there are a series of templates at the back, so you don't need to worry about drawing out shapes or printing things off of the computer.

The one thing I can't not mention, because it made me love this book more than any of the others in my collection, was the way you get a mini-tour around Beci's home - and this is some serious interior porn. Think rescued and upcycled retro furniture, shelves groaning with eclectic displays and explosion after explosion of colour; this is one book that I never get tired of looking at, and it's so inspirational. If you haven't already got it, put it on your wishlist for Christmas!

Sunday, 7 September 2014

sunday style: bring on the autumn

From Top Left: Denim Shirt : New Look // Ballet Pumps : French Sole // Boyfriend T-Shirt : ASOS // Midi Skirt : ASOS //
Camera Bag : Accessorize // Blue Wool Coat : COS // Tapestry Bowler Hat : Accessorize // Printed Blouse : New Look //
Chunky Boots : New Look // Full Midi Skirt : ASOS // Studded Belt : H&M // Slogan Sweatshirt : H&M
The end of summer has been all over blogland lately, and to be honest, I've been a bit in denial; I'm definitely a summer gal, I love the sunlight filtering through the curtains at 5am so I get to wake up slowly, and watering the garden in the balmy evening breezes. I love days at the beach, racing through the dunes and finding sand in your bag for weeks afterwards, I love the smell of suncream and sweetpeas, homegrown strawberries and the heady scent of lavender. In short, I am not winter's biggest fan.

But on the plus side, the colder weather does mean I can unpack all my chunky knits and coloured tights again, light my favourite scented candles and start making things ready for (dare I mention it....) Christmas. There is something pretty nice about settling down on the sofa with a big blanket and a good craft project (with, erm, the New Girl box set playing on TV), and there's always the possibility of trying a few new things style-wise as well.

This week's Sunday Style is all about the things I'm going to be wrapping up in once the weather gets colder; my beloved midi skirts paired with tights rather than bare legs, brightly coloured coats and chunky boots that keep toes warm. I'm looking forward to getting all my shirts out again, and teaming them up with some cool collar clips (I've got about six pairs from Ladybird Likes on my Christmas wish list!), and I'm actually really loving sweaters and t-shirts with slogans on them (I got this one on eBay for 99p last week!).

What are you going to be wearing this winter? Any top tips for keeping warm and staying stylish?

Friday, 5 September 2014

frugal friday: fashion and style

It's no secret that I love clothes and accessories; I studied fashion journalism at university and have worked in retail for most of my life, spending my days messing about with displays and dressing mannequins. I've been someone who frittered way their student loan in H&M, and someone who spent the last of their wages on a vintage dress rather than buying sensible food for the week but now, in a rather stark contrast, I'm someone who prides themselves on getting as much as possible for as little as possible. So in celebration of my clothes-loving-penny-pinching ways, I've dedicated today's Frugal Friday post to shopping on a strict budget.

The Wonderful World of eBay
My love affair with eBay began when I was seventeen, and bought a Gucci messenger bag for the princely sum of £56 plus p&p. Fourteen years later, I'm a bit more COS and Urban Outfitters than I am designer brands, but I've picked up a wealth of tips and tricks along the way that have helped me enjoy quite a lot of bargain hunting successes....

1. Use Smart Search Terms
Using the right terms can be the key to finding what you're looking for, rather than having to sift through loads of stuff you don't want. Be specific, and rather than just typing 'winter jumper', try things such as 'chunky winter jumper', 'cable knit jumper' and 'aran knit jumper' - people call things by different names, so it's worth trying more than one phrase. Another good tip is to add a well known high street brand to the end of your search terms; for example, looking for 'chunky winter jumper Topshop' will find more current styles than just 'chunky winter jumper', so you'll eliminate all the old, misshapen woollies from 1986 in one go.

2. Save Searches 
I don't know whether this is just me, but I've got a list of things that I'm always looking for when it comes to clothes and accessories; until recently, I was desperate for an acid wash pencil skirt, and I'm constantly on the prowl for vintage knitwear, retro t-shirts and brightly coloured coats. I started saving searches after Hannah from Seeds and Stitches mentioned it was a great way to keep track of anything that might appear on eBay, and now I don't know how I lived without it - you can save all the settings; size, colour, brand, everything, and once you've ticked the little box, they automatically send you notifications when the good stuff comes in. So easy, it's like having a second-hand personal shopper!

3. Use the 'Auction Only' Selection
Choosing to only search amongst items that are for sale under an auction automatically removes all the expensive items, and the things listed by businesses. For me, this is more about shopping ethically, as one of the reasons I use eBay is to reduce my consumption levels - yes, I want a pair of jeans from Topshop (they do the best fit for my pencil-like bottom), but no, I don't want to pay £45 and no, I don't want Phillip Green to be running off with my hard earned cash in his sweaty little paws. So by searching amongst the auction listings rather than the 'Buy it Now' items, I'm going to find myself faced with lots of pre-loved jeans in good condition for bargain prices, rather than brand new ones listed by companies who by in bulk and sell for a profit. Hurrah!

4. Check Sizes 
When it comes to buying online, you can never be too careful when it comes to checking sizes and measurements; sizes vary from brand to brand, so what's a twelve in one shop might be more like a ten in another, and vice versa. There's also the fact that if you're buying something that's been worn, it's fairly likely that it's been washed (hopefully!) so the item might have shrunk slightly - and there's no telling whether they've had the waist taken in or let out. The best idea is to ask for specific measurements, especially when it comes to chest, waist and hips, and clarify shoe sizes as well; there's a lot of debate over whether a size 6 is a 39 or 40, and I've ended up with beautiful leopard print boots that flopped around like nobodies business before because I didn't think to check.

5. Query Postage
Postage fees can range from incredibly reasonable to hugely eye-watering; to save money, ask to combine postage if you're buying multiple items from the same seller, and if they're local, ask if you can pick it up at a time that's convenient to them.

6. Be Patient
I never, ever bid on anything until the last ten seconds or so - bidding before only pushes the price up, and makes competitors aware that you're interested. You need to take them by surprise so they don't have time to counter your bid - this is also a good idea because it allows you to enter your maximum bid without leaving you enough time to bid again and go over your budget. I used to be a nightmare for increasing the price, simply because I didn't want to be beaten!

Buying New on a Budget
Sometimes, mostly for the kiddos birthdays and Christmases, I buy them things we wouldn't usually be able to afford, such as clothes from places like Boden - this is also true when I'm looking for something specific and can't find it second-hand. Buying new doesn't always have to mean spending a fortune, though....

1. Sign up for Newsletters
Signing up for newsletters might seem like a one way road to junk-mail city, but from my experience it's definitely worth it. Admittedly, you do get sent information that you probably won't care about, such as new store openings and whatnot, but you'll also receive money off codes, exclusive access to flash sales and you'll be first to know about in-store reductions. My personal favourites are Boden and Beyond Retro, who regularly hold special events and price reductions on their websites.

2. Look for Discount Codes
There are sooooo many sites which list discount codes that you'd have to have been living under a rock not to know about them; from percentage discounts to free delivery and returns, it's a pretty safe bet that a quick search will turn up something to save you some money.