It's the last day of the month so time for the usual exclamation of the fact that the month has gone so quickly. But it really has. July, like the rest of the year, seems to have passed us by in a blur. I cann't believe that tomorrow brings us the beginning of August and therefore ever nearer to September and Mads starting school. In fact, this time next month we will only be a few days off her beginning the next chapter of her life. Of all our lives.
We made a little pact at the start of the Summer that we would enjoy a lovely Summer with our girl, free from structure, before we settle into a life of school runs and a more rigid routine. We have certainly done that in July, enjoying a long weekend in Stockholm, some quiet family weekends and some impromptu days out. Indeed, I filmed a week in our lives last week, which I am now doing once a month- I think it will be lovely to watch them back when the girls are a little bigger.
I was originally going to use a photo that we took in Stockholm for my 'Me and Mine' photos this month, we climbed up to a viewing point and while we were there a kind tourist asked if we would like a photo taken. The problem was LL had literally minutes before fallen asleep in the buggy, we actually didn't want her to sleep as it was getting near bedtime so we woke her up and got her out for a photo. Cue a rather grumpy little lady who didn't particularly want to look at the camera!
The beauty of Mr E working from home, well indeed both of us working from home, is that we can have impromptu afternoons out as long as we both catch up in the evening. So yesterday I decided that we were due a trip to the lavender farm, where we took our family photos for this month. We have visited Hitchin Lavender the last couple of years, yesterday being our third year, and I love that it has become a little yearly tradition of ours.
However this is the first time we have managed to capture some family photos while we have been there, someone kindly took one for us last year, but this year we were organised and took the tripod with us. I took SO many photos which no doubt I will share next week, but here is my little family in July...
This is my favourite one. I just absolutely love it, I just love the happy giggles and the smiles on the girls faces.
Even though I have a remote I still don't use it for some bizarre reason, so I kept setting the self timer and running down the narrow lavender path, jumping over Mr E to get in place in time. I can't believe I didn't get stung by one of the many bees buzzing around going about their business.
We were really lucky that the lavender field was so quiet, with only a couple of people taking photos right next to us, they then left and we were the only ones there bar the odd member of staff.
I really am so pleased with these photos, obviously with two small children you never know how they are going to react to going somewhere specifically to take photos, but they were both having so much fun and really enjoyed running up and down the lavender, and at the end we didn't want to go home so sat and had an ice cream and a drink in the little coffee shop. It's such a beautiful place and has become such a lovely little tradition for us, so I am pleased I have finally got some family photos of us there too.
**** This month I am sending you to go and have a look at Alex's beautiful blog. She has just had her new little boy Logan a couple of weeks ago and so her Me and Mine photos for this month are no doubt going to be beautiful.
A couple of months ago I started filming one week out of our month. I absolutely love doing them, in fact I wish I could do them more, but they take so long to film and edit that I think it would end up being a chore for us all. However once a month is absolutely fine and I love that I capture snippets of our day to day life through video.
Last week was the week I decided to film and to be fair it wasn't a normal week for us at all. We are involved in a new campaign for Cath Kidston and on Wednesday a team of seven people filmed us at our home all day. Cath Kidston is a dream brand for me to work with, so it was such a surreal and exciting day, and I am really excited to see the footage when the campaign comes out. I was really nervous before hand as obviously normally you don't have a team of people filming you in your home but the team were all so nice and friendly, and we all loved having them there for the day.
Then I also went on a spa day with my good friend Alison and fellow Space In Your Case colleague after she was invited to test out a Clarins facial. We went to Ragdale Hall, which I have been lucky enough to visit a few times now, although it was Alison's first visit, and I had a really relaxing and lovely break with her.
Other than that it was business as usual, just day to day life, apart from Sunday I got to go on a Mummy/Daughter date with my number one girl. It is exceptionally rare for me to get to spend any one on one time with either of the girls, especially Mads, and I had the most wonderful afternoon with her. We went to the cinema to see Inside Out, the new Disney Pixar film and it was fantastic- I definitely recommend it if anyone is looking for something to do on a rainy day. It was one of the best films I have seen in ages and I actually am embarrassed to admit I cried- at a cartoon!
I really do love filming and editing these weekly videos, they are definitely my favourite to do, although they take so long to edit. I love it though, I find editing them and finding music to fit so much fun and actually quite therapeutic. I was getting really into making it the other night and then realised it was 1am- oops. Still I love that we will be able to look back on them all when the girls are grown up- I wish I had started them sooner. I still can't get used to speaking on camera, especially when I am out in public (we tried doing it in the cinema and the couple behind us gave me the strangest look) but hopefully that will get easier!
This is the longest one I have made, I wanted it to be shorter but I didn't realise how much I had filmed. Hopefully you will get to the end and if anyone has any constructive feedback, I would really appreciate it. It's all still quite new to me!
Whenever anyone meets Mads for the first time there are a a list of phrases that I can almost guarantee that they will say, that generic ice breaker list that you generally say when you meet a young child, more specifically a girl for the first time.
'Wow don't you have the most beautiful long curls?'
'What's your favourite film- is it Frozen?'
'Don't you look beautiful in your outfit today?'
'Whose your favourite Princess- is it Elsa?'
'What's your name? Oh it's Mads- that's a beautiful name?'
I love people taking the time to talk to my daughter, strangers taking a moment to talk to her when we are paying for our groceries in the supermarket, or old ladies talking to her when we going about our day to day errands in the post office. It's well meaning, kind and a nice thing to do, and it's a shame it doesn't happen more nowadays. But unfortunately any one of those phrases doesn't guarantee the most welcoming response with my slightly shy four year old- you see she doesn't do the whole 'girly' thing. She doesn't want to be beautiful, she wants to be cool. She doesn't like princesses, she loves superheros. She doesn't really want to confirm to the typical stereotype that's been placed on her, she wants to find her own way.
For more than a year or so, Mads has shunned the traditional 'girly' things little people aged four are 'supposed' to like. It started with clothes- her declared hatred for pink which is still strong even now. 'Pink? Yuuuuuuck' she used to say when I pointed out clothes that were any shade of pink, instead she went for bright, bold primary colours and blues. Skirts and dresses that were laid out for her in the morning were often greeted with tears in the eyes and a wobbling lip 'I don't want to wear a skirt Mummy, I want to wear my 'boy jeans'- which quite simply weren't 'boy' jeans at all, but just a pair of bog standard blue denim skinny jeans.
I remember a while ago one of my closest friends got married and I was bridesmaid. I needed to be with the bride on her special day, but at one point Mr E rang me to say that Mads was absolutely hysterical about putting on her pink frilly dress and white pumps. Literally hysterical. We got cross with her for it, she was playing up on a day when we needed her to behave. But the reality is I wouldn't feel comfortable in something that wasn't 'me' so why should we have expected her to? Since then we have started letting her choose her outfits- slogan tee's were in, as were the odd outfit from the boys department, bright bold colours, and caps and hats, and all the pretty frilly stuff was out. Nowadays she will wear a skirt or a dress, sometimes even asking to wear one, but it really depends on what she deems suitable. Skirts and dresses are ok on her terms. And I am ok with that, I love her quirky sense of style, how she expresses herself through what she wears, and how she is learning to shine just by being herself.
After the clothes came the expressions. Beautiful was not a word that she wanted associated with her. 'I don't want to be beautiful Mummy, I am cool.' Or even sometimes 'My sister is beautiful, I am cool.' She turned her nose down at being called 'cute' and 'pretty'. Again as she has got a bit older she has started to understand a bit more. Sometimes I forget and I say 'Oh you look beautiful Mads'. Because she is. She's my beautiful daughter. I want her to grow up feeling secure and confident, just as my Mum and Dad did with me. I want to compliment her, make her believe that she is able to do anything. I want to make her feel confident about her appearance, her abilities, her skills and her achievements. But she will still turn to me and say 'I am beautiful AND cool.' And that's good enough for me.
She has boy friends and she has girl friends. Granted her friends are mainly boys, but that's more to circumstance than her choosing. She has a best friend at nursery who is a girl and I often hear of stories they have created in the play ground. She was most excited about her new school because she learnt the uniform was blue, and once she cried because she received a princess party invitation and didn't want to go to a princess party, she wanted to go to a superhero one. I used to think of this as perhaps 'just a phase' she was going through. But now we are learning to except that if that is the way our little girl wants to be, then that's just our Mads.
And now Mads oblivious fighting back of gender bias has spread through to almost every aspect of her young life. Princess toys, pink plastic rubbish and pretty, sparkly necklaces that have been bought for her by well meaning family or friends in the past have been tossed aside for Toy Story characters, Spiderman, cars and aliens. And we are just embracing it. My Mum will buy her slime, or Trash Packs or any other strange looking things in the supermarket when she buys her a little treat every now and again. Mads isn't hugely aware they are for boys and not girls, bar the advertising she sees on TV.
She just likes what she likes.
And I like that she is passionate. I like that she knows her own mind. She is my beautiful little girl, with her long unruly curls and her long eyelashes framing her big blue eyes. But she is my beautiful little girl who is unique, feisty and who is happier not conforming to the typical things that some aspects of society tell her to like at this point in time. And I LOVE her for that. One minute she's running around pretending to be Spiderman while telling her little sister she is Spiderbaby, and the next minute she's playing with my ear and telling me that she 'loves me so much and that I am her best friend forever.' She's truly one of the most affectionate little people I know, always wanting to be close to us, and always giving kisses and cuddles and sitting on our laps non stop.
I never went into parenting or motherhood thinking I needed to follow rules. If my daughter is happier being this way, then so be it. I never want her to grow up feeling like she can't be who she wants to be, that she has to conform. To me she's a perfect mix. That perfect mix that makes her who she is. So while she wants to be dress up as Woody instead of Elsa, I'll be right beside her being Buzz. I'll always respect, support and be proud of her choices.
And if you happen to see my little girl and say 'What's your favourite Princess?' and she pulls a funny face at you, she's not being rude.
She's just being her.
My beautiful AND cool daughter who just happens to really, really dislike pink.
I took this photo of her yesterday and I just adore it. I love that you can see the freckles starting to appear on her nose.
Everyone has a travel bucket list, those far flung isles that you dream of flying away to, or those places slightly closer to home that you haven't yet got round to visiting. I have a fair few, some I doubt I'll ever visit unless there's a lottery win in my future and some I've been lucky enough to tick off over the years before having the girls. One of those places, in my Top 5 places that I have always wanted to visit is Sweden, more specifically Stockholm. I don't know what it was about this Nordic city that meant I was desperate to explore, but for a long time now I have dreamt of going, so imagine my excitement when we finally booked a weekend away there as a family. We decided that these weekend breaks won't be so easy when Mads starts school so it seemed like a perfect time.
I love a city break. I am a huge fan of sitting by a pool with a cocktail and feeling the sun on my shoulders, in fact when I'm on a 'beach' holiday that's pretty much all I like to do, (although that has changed a lot with the arrival of two little people!) but I do love a city break too, and I don't think that has to stop just because you have children. Yes the boozy lunches, long lay in's and late nights enjoying the not so ordinary food and drink a different city has to offer have stopped, but visiting a city and experiencing new culture's and exploring the sights with the girls is actually great fun.
And so a couple of weekends ago after a stressful check in at Ryanair at Stansted, we found ourselves on a short two hour flight to Stockholm Stavska airport. Then it was an 90 minute long bus ride to the city of Stockholm. We packed lots into our three days and according to the app on Mr E's phone walked 26 miles, the equivalent of a marathon- here's the first part of our trip to Stockholm in words, photos and a video...
We were really impressed when we arrived at our hotel, The Best Western Premier Hotell Kung Carl, a family run hotel situated by Stureplan Square, right in the middle of an upmarket shopping area in Stockholm. We were really impressed with our family room, (the girls loved the bunk beds) and the hotel in general- it was really eclectic in terms of it's interiors, mixing old with modern, and lots of Swedish art and antiques.
The quirky reception area and bar in the Hotell Kung Carl.
Planning and plotting what we were going to do, Visit Stockholm kindly gave us a big pack full of information, but I also spent ages looking at the Visit Stockholm website before we left. I like to be prepared on a city break and know exactly what we are doing, so I spent a while before our trip sussing out where we should go.
We headed straight out to stretch our legs and get our bearings. Stockholm is full of green areas, more about that later, amazingly so in fact, and we sat in a little park and had some juice and shared an ice cream. Love this photo of my three.
I think the key to a good city break is letting them loose every now and again. I know my two get fed up if they are constantly in the buggy, or being told to hold our hands. A little green space where they can run around does wonders.
I love this photo of the two of them snuggling back at our hotel. They had bunk beds which they loved and because they were so worn out from all the walking and later nights, they slept soundly even though they were in the room with us.
First thing Friday after a yummy hotel breakfast we headed to Junibacken which is in the Djurgarden area of the city, a very green island (Stockholm is made up of islands) housing a lot of the cities museums and attractions. Junibacken is without a doubt the best family attraction we have been too since having the girls. It's based on the books of Astrid Lindgren who wrote Pippi Longstocking, but to be honest children don't need to know the books to have an amazing time. It's interactive, fun, full of play zones like slides, swings, things to climb on, and at the end you go on the Story Train which takes you on a magical fairy tale ride. There's also a Moomins play area there too which excited us all a little too much!
The restaurant at Junibacken was circus themed and we all loved it, the food was great too. The girls had pancakes finished off with Moomins chocolates, while myself and Mr E had meatballs. When in Sweden after all...
We bought them each a little present from Junibacken, of course Moomin related. Mads got some collectors cards (she loves any sort of card) and LL got a little cuddly Moomin.
Super chuffed with her Moomin.
The next stop of the day was to the Spirit Museum which Mr E wanted to quickly look at. Luckily even though it was obviously for adults, the girl's still had fun looking around at all the spirits and taking part in some of the interactive elements. There was a great Absolute Vodka exhibition on there.
A photo of the amazing Grona Lund theme park as taken from the ferry we were on. We actually went here on Saturday so more on that later, but it's a fantastic small city theme park on the edge of the water. It's kitsch, retro and kind of reminded me what Coney Island in New York would be like, although I haven't been there myself.
As I mentioned above Stockholm is made up of fourteen islands meaning that the ideal way of getting around is by boat, it's as normal over there as hoping on a bus, and the ferry transport system is really easy to navigate as a tourist too. After visiting the Spirit Museum we hopped on the Slussen ferry to take us over to the Old Town part of the city. Here they are looking out the window at the Grona Lunc park above.
Beautiful Stockholm taken from the boat. It really is this beautiful everywhere you go and it's so clean too.
The 'Old Town' (Gamla Stan) part of the city houses a lot of the historic buildings in Stockholm and was the original city centre. It's a beautiful labyrinth of rust coloured houses, old stone buildings and cobbled streets. The Royal Palace is there plus a whole host of galleries and museums. We stopped off for an ice cream the size of our heads in a little tourist area of the Old Town.
I absolutely love this photo of the two of them. I must admit out of all the areas of Stockholm, the Old Town wasn't our favourite. We appreciated the beauty of the cobbled streets, but we must have stumbled right into the tourist area and it was a little too busy for me as I am not keen on crowds. We did go back somewhere different on the Saturday and loved it, but I took this photo as we went down to the waters edge to escape the busy streets.
When we decided to go to Stockholm, I must admit to being a little worried about eating there. After all everyone has heard the stories about how it's one of the most expensive places to live. And there's no denying it is expensive- BUT you have to know where to look. I stumbled across K25 on a Swedish blog before we left and it looked right up our street- it's basically a big, stylish food hall serving all different types of food, including Mexican, Sushi, street food, Italian etc. All these different businesses have little areas, but it's all kitted out with industrial and edgy interiors. We were pleased to find it was just down the road from our hotel and so we went to try it out. It was perfect and the food was really reasonably priced. (Top tip- always ask for child portions as even if they don't advertise them the Swedish are exceptionally child friendly- our meals were about 100 SEK each (about £7.50) whereas two kids meals were 60 SEK (about £5) for both.)
Here is a little video that I made of our time in Stockholm...
I took so many photos that I still have Saturday and Sunday to talk about, Saturday was our favourite day by far, so they will be up either later this week or early next week. We absolutely loved our time in Stockholm so can't wait to share some more...
NB: Visit Stockholm very kindly invited us to Stockholm and gave us Stockholm Cards which entitled us to free entry to a lot of attractions plus free transport around the city. They also gave us complimentary accomodation, all flights and other costs were paid for by us.