Family - Adventure, featured

Who will win the ultimate healthy (ish) Halloween challenge?

Let’s get two seasonal heavy weights to go head to head for the ultimate Halloween battle … Pumpkins vs. Apples.

Challenge one: Halloween lanterns

 

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I grew up in Scotland where we carved our Halloween lanterns out of turnips, not pumpkins. Just to confuse things further, turnips are what the English (I now live down south) insist on calling swedes. Confused? Me too. If I do my groceries online I always end up with either 1 tiny swede/ turnip, or enough to feed a herd of cows. My dad, a farmer, considered turnips only fit for two things – cattle fodder (lucky cows, I love turnip) and Halloween lanterns.

I do like the lumpy shape of turnip lanterns, but they are way harder to carve, whilst the pumpkin arrives helpfully already hollowed out. One nil to the pumpkin.

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Challenge Two: the sweetness test

There’s only one way to do this properly. Pumpkin Pie vs. Toffee Apples. Turnip is not going to score highly in this category, unless you’re a cow of course. Both of these were a disaster. I’d share the recipes, but you wouldn’t thank me. My pumpkin pie (shop bought pastry and a tin of pumpkin puree) was pretty grim, and the toffee didn’t set on my apples, but in terms of a sweet, sticky, gooey mess, the toffee apples got the kids vote.

Does anyone actually know how to get the toffee to set all hard and shiny like when you buy them in a shop?

One all.

Challenge Three: other family activities

I’ve utterly failed to come up with any other fun activities involving pumpkins – any suggestions welcome! But who remembers bobbing for apples as a kid? Why did we think shoving our heads in a bucket of icy water was fun? I’m sure our parents thought it was HILARIOUS. Tried to get my kids to give it a go … “muuuuuuum, no waaaaay.”

That’s a no score draw.

But making apple juice is a great family activity. We are lucky enough to have a few apple trees in our garden. We bought a press a few years ago and make enough apple juice to freeze. Top tip – half a teaspoon of ascorbic acid powder in the bottle stops it going brown.

Apples just nudging ahead here.

So who wins the seasonal challenge?

It’s really no contest when you’ve seen the Trumpkin …

gDmiQb4(image from Reddit.com) 

Books, Family - Adventure, featured

The most helpful guide to an amazingly tidy kids room

If you’re like me, half term is over and the house is in utter chaos.

Not that long ago, everyone was Kon-Mari-ing their houses and folding socks into sushi rolls and checking if their frying pans sparked joy. I had to try it. My review of Marie Kondo’s book is below, and I gave it five stars, but that was before I tried it with the kids ….

Me: Can we throw out this broken Kinder egg toy?

Teenage DS (with just a hint of sarcasm): No. It sparks joy.

Me: What about this puzzle with a missing piece?

DS: No. I once did that puzzle when I was three. It brings back happy memories.

Me: What can I throw out?

DS: I don’t like this sock. (Waggles foot). It feels crunchy.

Me: Have you tried washing it?

For this type of challenge, you need a no-nonsense system. Less zen maybe, but something that works. I’m a big fan of Jules and her approach to decluttering. So I’ll hand over to her …

It’s Child’s Play:  A Nervous Parent’s Ten-Point Guide to Decluttering Kids Bedrooms

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Can’t put off decluttering your child’s bedroom any longer?

Daunted by the inevitable crying, door slamming and shrieks of “That’s so unfair!”   – and that’s just from your partner?

Take heart!  My ten-point guide takes you from start to finish – without breaking up your happy home or losing your mind in the process.

Point One: Kids Stuff Gets Old Quickly

Children outgrown stuff at warp speed.

Clothes they wore last year are now only fit for Teddy, while the toy they couldn’t live without six months ago lies forgotten under the bed.

It quickly adds up.  So, you need to get clear of what is and isn’t relevant to their lives now.

Anything that isn’t is out of the door.

Point Two: One Room/Many functions

Children bedrooms are often mini “homes within a home”.

One, possibly small or shared, space may need to offer a sleeping area, a quiet place to study, room to play, storage for clothes, toys and books, and somewhere to entertain their friends.

It’s a big ask. Make it easier by checking if anything – sports equipment for example – be stored elsewhere.

Point Three:  Involve Your Child

It may seem easier to “just do it yourself” – a bit like cleaning out the hamster cage.

But get your child onboard and you are more likely to see lasting results.

Older children especially won’t appreciate you sending their stuff to the charity shop.

Plus, you’ll be teaching them an important life skill.

Point Four:  What’s Your Problem?

Understanding the problem is halfway to finding a solution. So get clear from the start.

Had your child moved on from their Barbie phase – but their room is still full of tiny pink outfits?

Is their bookshelf filled with books they’ve outgrown, while the latest Harry Potter sits on the floor?

Do school days get off to a grumpy start with a game of Hunt the Homework?

Point Five:  What Are (Your Childs) Goals?

Emphasising what they will gain, rather than what you lose, can make a massive difference to attitude. What do they really want?

A peaceful place to curl up and read?

Hosting sleepovers without having to lie their brother trashed their room?

Or having the floor space to set up their Scalextric?

The aim is for a room filled with stuff that is in current use, that allows them to use the room how they wish.

Point Six: Pre-sort.  Do This On Your Own!

Start by sorting all their stuff into “like-with-like” – books, clothes, Barbies, cars, lego, whatever.  Don’t squander precious time or good humour doing this with your child.

If you and your child have already decided they have outgrown Stickle Bricks, My Little Pony or pony books (See Point Four) put these to one side to take to the charity shop.  No need for further discussion!

Point Seven:  It’s Decision Time!  Do This With Your Child

Deciding what makes the “keep” pile can be an emotional minefield.  Dodge meltdowns over whether Mr Potato Head stays or goes with a pre-agreed set of criteria.

Working one pre-sorted category (ie board games) at a time, ask:

  • Have you played with/read/used it in the last six months?
  • Does it fit?
  • Is it in usable condition?
  • Does it have sentimental value? (Panda, I’m looking at you)
  • How much can you fit in the cupboard/on the shelf? Choose your favourites. (And no, they can’t all be your favourite.)

Point Eight:  A Place For Everything…

You will now be left with things that your child plays with, wears or read, and it’s time to put it all away.

A place for everything and everything in its place might be Old Skool, but it’s got a lot of wear in it yet. So find a home for each category of stuff that you sorted and decluttered

Stuff should be stored at a child height.  If they need a pogo stick to reach it, it will end up on the floor.

Point Nine: Containers And Labels

By now you are probably sick of the whole project.  But if you can muster strength to store stuff in tubs or use dividers in drawers, this will really pay off.

It also creates a natural limit to how many little plastic gifts from Birthday Bags your child can keep without making you the bad guy.

For maximum benefit, stick on some big clear labels. Picture labels are good for young children, maybe they could draw their own?

Point Ten:  Keep It Going!

Result! You and your offspring are beaming with pride at the state of the room, with your child convinced it was their idea all along.

But if you don’t want to be back to square one by Bonfire Night try these tips

Implement a daily “pick up”.  Ten minutes with a timer – race each other – will keep things from unravelling 

Put regular mini “declutter dates” in the diary, three or four times a year.  If you do it regularly, it won’t be a massive chore.

And finally, parents – lead by example!  It’s the only way.    

 

Thanks Jules! I told you she’s good. I’ve recommended her Facebook group before but here it is again make me clutter free

So here’s my review of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever by Marie Kondo.

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Japanese decluttering expert Marie Kondo challenges everything we have been taught since childhood about tidying. She believes that “little and often” doesn’t work. Her method is simple: a thorough discarding must be done first, in a very particular order. Only then can you look at storage solutions.

Although she admits to be obsessive about tidying, her self-depreciating style and quirky anecdotes make this an easy and enjoyable read.

There are very few references to feng shui in the book, but an underlying influence is visible. Once finished, your wardrobe will have the dark colours on the left, and the lighter fabrics on the right. This is not negotiable under her method. She can even make your socks happy – apparently they don’t like being rolled up into balls – they like to relax in sushi style rolls.

Particularly helpful are her techniques for discarding items that we would normally struggle to part with – gifts for example. If you accept that the purpose of a gift was to be given, then under her approach it has fulfilled its purpose, so you can let it go without guilt.

Similarly, an unworn but beautiful pink sweater has served its purpose of teaching me that pink is not my colour, so I can let it go.

One criticism is that everything discarded is thrown out – an acknowledgement of recycling options would be more environmentally friendly.

This is the decluttering equivalent of a diet plan book. With over three million copies sold, and huge facebook fan groups, for many people (including me, apart from the rolled up socks) it clearly works.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family - Adventure, featured

STEM, Confident Teens, And How To Help

Today I have the wonderful Caroline Walker on my blog.  Caroline runs ConfidentTeens, an organisation which supports teen girls to value and believe in themselves. Their empowering programmes enable girls to build self-awareness, inner confidence and bigger ambitions for themselves, so they are able to best navigate their teen years and beyond. Following last weeks blog on introducing STEM activities for young children, we now look at teenagers, particularly girls, and STEM.

Encouraging girls to consider STEM careers

With 2018 marking the centenary of (some) women winning the right to vote we can celebrate the progress that has been made for girls and women in many spheres of life in the UK.

However in the area of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) careers there is still much to be done. It is striking that in 2018, women make up only 14.4% of all people working in STEM in the UK, despite being about half of the workforce.

And we can trace this imbalance back to subject choice at A-level and university. For example in 2016 only 1.9% of girls choose Physics A-level, compared to 6.5% of boys.

The contrast between male and female participation in STEM subjects beyond GCSE is stark – according to WISE (Women into Science and Engineering) only 33% of girls who take maths and science GCSEs programme progress into any form of Level 3 core STEM qualification, whether that is via A-level, advanced apprenticeship or vocational qualification routes. This contrasts to 80% of boys from the GCSE cohort that progress to a Level 3 STEM qualification.

And this matters to the UK economy. WISE estimates the STEM worker shortfall to be approximately 69,000 per year. Without significant change, this means the UK’s vital STEM industries are under threat. WISE also estimates that 50,000 talented girls are lost every year from STEM jobs. So if we can encourage girls to consider STEM for their GCSEs and afterwards, we can all contribute to addressing this shortfall.

And there is an impact on a personal level as well; girls are missing out on more lucrative careers. For example, women with maths degrees earn 13% more than other women graduates five years after university; women with degrees in economics, requiring high levels of maths ability, earn nearly 20% more. Over a whole career, that is a massive financial difference.

I believe there is a link between the low levels of self-esteem amongst many teen girls and this low take-up of STEM subjects at A-level and beyond.

And research bears this out, even with girls who are expected to get high grades at GCSE there is an issue of confidence. In a recent study of all the girls surveyed who were expected to get grades 7-9 in maths or sciences (equivalent to A-A* previously), 50% said they agreed with the statement: “I often worry that it will be difficult for me in physics classes.”

By addressing issues of confidence and resilience, we can encourage girls to consider STEM subjects in their A-level choices. In turn this could lead to STEM degree choices and their future careers.

These three ideas encourage girls to build their confidence, and consider STEM options and careers as a result:

1. Raise aspirations

Many young people see STEM careers as the more difficult choice. So our starting point is to encourage higher aspirations so that teens consider all careers, including – but not limited to – STEM careers.

Goal-setting can form part of the way we support young people to raise their aspirations. We can start with a one month goal, and developing a step-by-step plan to achieve that goal. Once this

habit is established, three month or one year goals could be introduced. What’s key is to encourage your teenager to reflect on their achievements and progress, and celebrate this – and not just focus on the next goal.

It’s so important to encourage young people to believe in themselves – and their futures – though consistent and positive encouragement and supporting them to develop and learn.

This is well expressed by Hilary Clinton:

“To all the little girls who are watching, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams”

2. Encourage curiosity for role models

Teenagers gain ideas for their careers from family members first of all, as well as from popular culture. We can support them further by encouraging a curiosity around a wide range of role models and careers, and encourage them to find out how individuals have overcome set-backs to achieve their goals.

It’s key that as adults we need to be aware – and address – any gender stereo-typing in our language when discussing different careers.

News stories can be a resource for inspiring role models, for example the female pilot, Captain Shults landing a plane after an engine exploded in Spring 2018, and the comment from newsreader Kate O’Donnell:

“Part of me hopes that many, many girls – and boys – heard that audio of a woman, in command of an aircraft, handling an emergency with calm focus and competence. In the age of Disney Princesses, Mean Girls and Barbie, we need those voices”

And expanding on the ideas of role models, perhaps there is an opportunity within your social network to arrange some work experience for your daughter, to give her the opportunity to see a STEM career in action?

3. Encourage a Growth Mindset

I believe supporting a growth mindset in teenagers is an invaluable factor in encouraging them to consider studying STEM subjects, and for their career choices.

A Growth Mindset is believing that we are all capable of developing new skills. What’s key is the effort we put in ourselves and the strategies we use in our learning and development. In contrast, a Fixed Mindset is having set ideas of what we are good or bad at (for example “I’m rubbish at maths”). With a Fixed Mindset we focus only on the end-results, with an emphasis on what other people say, rather than on our own resources, efforts and views.

By supporting young people to have a Growth Mindset leads them to relish challenges and be open-minded to their choices. Dr Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset” fully expounds this concept, and gives useful insights into the language and approach we can use to encourage a growth mindset in young people.

Unfortunately there is no magic formula for addressing the shortfall in girls taking STEM subjects, but by raising aspirations, promoting a wide range of role models and encouraging a growth mindset approach we are supporting teen girls to believe in themselves, their capabilities and the possibilities for their future career – and that that could include STEM.

At Confident Teens we run Confidence and Resilience programmes in schools for teen girls, supporting girls to develop their self-belief, resourcefulness and skills for handling the pressures of the teenage years. For example, one 13 year girl fed back after participating in a programme “I’ve learnt how to value myself and everything about me” To find out more visit ConfidentTeens

 

Biography

Caroline Walker

 

Caroline Walker’s first career was in marketing, initially in the corporate world before running her own marketing business. In 2014 she was struck by how much pressure teen girls face whether that’s exam performance, their appearance, getting on with friends, worrying about their future and so much more – all lived out in the unforgiving glare of social media. Caroline retrained and established Confident Teens, an organisation supporting teen girls to be confident, resilient young women. Confident Teens runs confidence and resilience programmes in schools to support teen girls to develop pride in their individuality and develop their own strategies and skills for handling different situations.

Family - Adventure, featured

How to make every day an exciting STEM adventure

I was lucky to go to a senior school which focussed heavily on the sciences with more science than arts classes at A level, so I’m thrilled that the importance of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) is getting more profile generally, particularly for girls. Thanks to our school, many of my female school friends are very successful doctors.

So I’m thrilled to have the amazing Suzie Olsen on my blog today. Suzie is a systems engineer in Phoenix, Arizona. She currently works on the search and rescue system for the US Coast Guard. She is also the author of Annie Aardvark, Mathematician and creator of the blog STEM Spark. Suzie’s spark is to encourage students, especially girls and minorities, to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). She lives with her husband and child, performing STEM experiment after STEM experiment with her own kid. Please do check out her website – it’s fantastic.

I asked Suzie to pull together three easy STEM activities we can all try with our kids. Enjoy!

 

STEM Adventures are Everywhere

In my book, Annie Aardvark, Mathematician, the main character Annie loves math so much that she decides she’s going to have a math adventure while she forages!  She finds different things to count as she hunts for her daily meal, ending with ten ants.  Annie exclaims, “What a fun math adventure!  I can’t wait until my next one!”  And just like Annie, you and your children can have a fun STEM (science, tech, engineering and math) adventure anywhere you go! Below are a couple of different ideas for your STEM adventure.

Engineering Adventure

Whether in the city or nature, there’s a couple of different ways to have an engineering adventure.  The first is look for a problem to solve: is there an area in your neighborhood that needs improving or fixing? Is there an animal having an issue with collecting food?  Is there human or animal congestion where you are at? Is trash gathering in one place on the ground?  Try engaging your kids in an impromptu brainstorm on different ideas on how to fix the problem, and then decide which idea is the best one for fixing the issue.  Give it a twist by qualifying during the brainstorm how the best idea will be judged (such as “What’s the most fun way to fix this problem?”) If possible, try building the solution, put it in the problem area and test it.  Did it work? Did it reduce or eliminate the problem?  (This process is called the engineering design process.) Another fun engineering adventure is to collect different materials from where you and your kids are, like trash, sticks, stones, forks, plates, and so on and try building a mini-house out of these materials.  Can you get the house to stand alone?  And if so, how long does the house stand?

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Science Collection Adventure

A flower or leaf collection is a fun way to have a science adventure when you and your children are out and about.  Your child could carry around a reusable bag and every time they see a leaf or flower they don’t have, they can gather it up and put it in their bag.  Then once home, you and your child can dry the leaf and flower and glue it into a scrapbook.  You can research online together the name of the flower or tree that the leaf came from and then label it in the scrapbook.  Of course, be wary of poison leaves (like Poison Ivy) or flowers (like Oleanders) and make sure you have permission before plucking a flower or leaf off a tree (anything found on the ground is probably okay).

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Math Counting Adventure

Whether taking a walk around your neighborhood or hiking a trail in the mountains, children can count the objects they come across, just like Annie did in her first math adventure.  If it’s a familiar or frequent route, try creating a pre-made checklist going from 1 specific item up to 10 specific items they must count (or just impromptu count whatever they see).  Items you can have your kids count while they’re on their walk include rocks, flowers, weeds, birds, lizards, other types of animals, insects, leaves, clouds, people, airplanes/vehicles, buildings, trees, and so on.  There’s no limit of what kind of item they count, so as long as they’re having fun hunting for that item and counting it!

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Wherever you and your children may be, I hope you have a fun time on your STEM adventure!  Happy STEM’ing!

 

 

 

 

 

Books

Sometimes all you need is a few words

Today I’m thrilled to have author Sharon Grigg on my blog.

As part of my 2018 book challenge, I’m reading more poetry – not something I typically read. Sharon’s coffee break companion is a compilation of short stories and poems. I thought this one, Sky, was beautiful, plus it has a link to a prophecy in Eternal Seas, but you’ll need to read my book to find out why!

 

SKY

When it’s dark and quiet

While my World sleeps

I sit and stare

Feel the magic in the air

The sky at night

A true delight

Moodily cloud covered

Or sparkling clear

I love to see the stars that shine

Constellations I can barely name

And the moon

Waxing, waning, crescent or full

The sky at night

A true delight

Peaceful and free

Alone with just me

The colours behold me

Blues of every shade

Sapphire and twilight

Prussian and midnight

Deep purple to maroon

All gone too soon

As dawn creeps in

Bringing new light

The darkness fades

Stars hide away

Birds begin to sing

New light on everything

 

To celebrate the six month anniversary of the release of Coffee Break Companion you can pick up a copy for just 99p for the week of 28th August to 3rd September 2018.

6 month offer

Blurb: Grab that cup of coffee (or tea if you prefer), maybe add a splash of something stronger, settle down and enjoy your break with this gripping collection of flash fiction and poetry that will send shivers down your spine. With an added bonus of a longer story at the end that will fill your lunch break. What are you waiting for? Dive in! Everything from a discovery in an Ice Cavern, to a tornado. Mermaids, and Dragons. Mystery and Horror. This collection of flash fiction and poetry has something to capture anyone’s imagination, with a final chilling thriller that will leave you gasping for air.

Author Bio: This is the first published book by S.L. Grigg having previously written a popular blog on mental health, and having articles published by Mind, the mental health charity, and NHS England. Working for NHS England from a home in Bromsgrove, England, S.L Grigg lives with a partner and two adult children. S.L Grigg has studied everything from Science and Law, to Journalism and Pilates but writing has always been the greatest passion in S.L.Grigg’s life.

 

SLGrigg CBC

Sharon Grigg, who writes under the pen name S.L Grigg, made it her new year’s resolution to publish her book ‘Coffee Break Companion’ during 2018. After bouncing back from mental health problems (BPD), following the death of her husband from a brain tumour in 2009, Sharon was struck down with kidney and other health problems, believed to be linked to having the Essure sterilisation device she had implanted back in 2008. In September 2017 she underwent major surgery to have a non-functioning hydronephrotic kidney removed at the same time as a full hysterectomy to remove the essure device. Just two months after setting her goal Sharon launched the collection of dark, short stories and poetry on Amazon. Many of the stories were written during Sharon’s battle with mental health. 41-year-old mother of two, Sharon says “For me publishing was never about, money or fame. I just wanted to be able to hold a copy of my book and say, ‘I wrote this’ and now I can.”

Links: http://www.facebook.com/SLGRIGG76 http://www.slgrigg76.wordpress.com

Wherever you are in the #World this link will take you to your local #Amazon site so you can pick up a copy of my #firstbook #selfpub #newauthor #indieauthors #free on #Kindleunlimited – https://t.co/3AYfZ79zLl