| Fashion, Lifestyle

*That* Zara Dress (and a Natter)

Top UK lifestyle and fashion blogs, Jaclyn RuthHello, it’s been a while hasn’t it? I mean, yes it’s been a while since I last blogged, but it’s been forever since I did this. Just sat down and nattered away with a big ol’ catch up style post.

I keep saying that these spontaneous chatty posts are what I want to do more of, and yet I keep shying away from actually doing them. Probably because it takes a fair bit of mental energy to take all of the thoughts buzzing about in your head and regurgitate them into real words on a page that actually make sense and don’t bore the hell out of people. And mental energy is something I just seem to be really lacking at the moment. The type of blog posts I want to write on the regular, are also the ones that seem to take the most out of me. The ones that take the longest to sit and type. And the ones that I really just need to be locked in a silent room for at least a day with no distractions to complete. Which, we all know, isn’t an option when you have a busy life, a two year old, freelance work to keep on top of, new career plans to make (more on that in a bit), housework to do, clothes to sell on eBay, and friends and family to keep in touch with. All while trying to actually get some sleep, remember to eat and avoid fainting spells in the middle of the biscuit aisle in Tesco because you’re so damn exhausted and would give anything for a chocolate digestive.

But hey, I know I’m not alone in any of that. We’re all guilty of taking on too much and then reaping the rewards of burn out. And lately, between fitting all of life’s tasks in to an already exhausting day to day, and my health taking a bit of dip over the last few months leaving my energy levels at an all time low, and my anxiety at an all time high, I just feel like my entire life is a case of mental and physical burn out.

Ever since Evie started nursery in March, I’ve been making tracks to get my freelance career back on track (both with work to keep me going for now, and future planning for the direction I want things to go), but with only two mornings a week (plus the odd day at the weekend when schedules allow), it’s not been easy balancing the planning with the pitching, and of course the actual doing, plus the admin and invoicing while still making time for things like meal planning, housework, house DIY, baking, and blogging. I’ve also reluctantly probably been prioritising my social channels a little more than the blog lately, specifically Instagram, in a bid to grow my following in that department and ultimately have a place to showcase all of my creative work when the time comes. After years of fighting the personal vs professional indecision with regards to social, and always maintaining that my blog is my main outlet, I’ve sort of succumbed slightly. I’ve realised that if I want to nurture any sort of career in a creative field (and I don’t just mean as a blogger or content creator) then ultimately I need a decent social media presence to support it. As a result of both of those things, I’ve not been very good at keeping up with my – one blog post a week – goal this year. At the start of each month, I write a list of blog post ideas in my bullet journal, and usually at the end of each month, I’m not even able to tick a single one off. I’m definitely not lacking in ideas, I have SO MUCH I want to write about, and every day I’ll start mentally ‘writing’ another in my head, but I just can’t seem to find the time or energy to get them from my head onto this beloved platform, and to form them into finished stories.

I suspect a mixture of both those lengthy, wordy, thought provoking, brain spills, and those quicker, chattier short and sweet check ins are probably what’s best for me, and the most do-able option for this blog, but now that Evie no longer naps in the day, and with my husband working a lot of weekends, I’m really struggling to make it happen. I don’t mean to make excuses, because hey we’re all busy. And I know there are so many of my peers out there who DO manage the juggle and manage it really well, still able to stick to a consistent blog and social schedule, while doing work and parenting too. But I just don’t think I’m that person. I can multi-task, but I don’t really like to if I’m honest. I much prefer finishing one task to the best of my ability before moving onto the next. I tend to give my all to whatever thing is consuming me at any given time. Therefore when I’m at home with Evie, I prefer to just BE with her fully, and generally resign myself to not picking up my phone or opening my laptop (also because banging away on a laptop is a game it’s very hard to say no to with a toddler) unless I really have to. I’m not saying that’s the right way, it’s just my way. I feel more present as a Mum if I’m not thinking about trying to finish off a blog post, document our day on Stories or edit a few pics in between activities. On the rare days I have help, that’s when all of those things are allowed back in and I feel like I’m ‘doing it all’ but of course the reality is, I’ve just cut out the parenting aspects of my day instead. If I’m working, I prefer to be fully in the work mindset so it makes more sense that those tasks are limited to my two child free mornings, evenings and occasionally a day at the weekend or a grandparent visit day. Ultimately, I know it IS possible to fit it all in because others are doing it effectively and my constant ‘I have no time!!’ complaint isn’t entirely true. I definitely don’t have as much time as I’d like to dedicate to creative and work related projects, but I’m also probably not utilising the time I do have properly. For example, I really just need to be a little more disciplined and dedicate a couple of hours each evening to writing and planning.

BUT (and it’s a big but), I also don’t want to push myself at the expense of my health or well-being. I don’t want to force myself to write blog posts every evening in an exhausted state and both produce sub par work, and drive myself to insanity. We’re almost programmed nowadays to believe that we need to be constantly busy to be deemed successful (and not just in a career sense), to always be juggling and spinning plates, to have at least three side hustles running alongside a main hustle, to never take parenthood for granted or moan about our lack of sleep (because those hours between 5am and 7am are PERFECT for driving your GIRLBOSS business forward right?), to never acknowledge that we actually even need sleep or feel exhausted, and to make time for beautiful picture perfect family outings every weekend which we document thoroughly on social media while radiating positivity at all times.

And really, it’s not all that healthy a mindset or lifestyle to aspire to.

You’ll remember that at the start of the year I wrote myself some goals for 2019, and while career was one of them, it wasn’t the main one. Health and happiness was. And I’m having to remind myself of that every so often, when the pressure to create, and earn, and document life, and hit targets, and grow, and plan, and be a happy smiley Mum at all times, sees me falling into the trap of not prioritising myself and letting my health slide once again.

Anyway the point of this post (if there is one) is not to excuse my lack of posting lately, or to explain why I’m currently more present on Instagram or even to acknowledge how becoming a parent impacts on your life. It was simply to provide a bit of a ‘clean slate’ – to catch you up on everything that’s been happening lately and allow a starting point for me to blog a bit more consistently about the things I want to blog about. Because I MISS it. I miss writing on this blog. I miss pouring out my thoughts and sharing the ups and downs of my life and I really, REALLY want to try and dedicate more time to doing it on occasion. I’ll never be someone who can guarantee a new blog post every Monday and Wednesday at 8pm on the dot, but I can certainly try and show up a little more often and not only use Instagram as a way of sharing my day to day. Because as much as I love that app, there’s only so much you can say in a short caption, and I’m definitely guilty of only sharing certain aspects of life over there, whereas here on the blog, getting honest seems to be my USP.

So let’s dive on in with a catch up shall we?

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Ok let’s talk about the outfit first because, yes, I’m wearing THAT Zara dress. The one that absolutely everyone on the planet owns. I’d love to say that I bought it before I knew it was going to become one of those IT dresses, but I was probably influenced by a few people on Instagram myself before I decided to make the order. The thing is though, it’s just a bloody good dress. It’s black and white polkadot for a start, plus it’s a great – easy to throw on but still flattering – shape. It’s not too short, not too long, is floaty and forgiving while still offering a bit of shape (so you don’t just feel like you’re wearing a tent), and it feels like one of those dresses I’ll wear for years to come. I do feel that Zara dresses are probably slightly overpriced (this one was £40) as I don’t think the quality is that much better than the likes of H&M where a summer dress would be more in the £24.99 region, but I’ve already had so much wear out of this one that I can justify the spend.

I’m not normally one to fall for the hype, especially on high street clothing, and it does bother me when I know everyone has the same item as me, but if you love something you love it, right? And I do think that we should trust our own style and choose the pieces we know we’ll love and wear constantly, regardless of their social media status.

I actually wrote a post a while back with my thoughts on buying into much hyped clothing collections. It was discussing the Alexa Chung for M&S range, which at the time people were flocking to and it was selling out faster than you could get a picture of your much coveted items on Instagram. Funny to think about that now, as that range is almost a distant memory, and with Alexa going on to design bigger and more successful collections, I’m sure nobody much cares about her past M&S designs now. But you know what, I still love my pink blouse. It was the only piece I bought and I just adored it – the colour, the nod to Victorian style, the fit, everything. I wore it non stop that season I bought it, wore it through pregnancy when it surprisingly accommodated a growing bump pretty well, and then wore it after pregnancy when I wanted to feel like myself.

It might have been super hyped at the time, but now it’s just a much loved item in my wardrobe and has more than earned its cost per wear. And really, that’s all that matters isn’t it? I’m hoping my Zara dress will go the same way. I’m enjoying styling it up in different ways – from Converse and a light denim jacket on warmer days to a biker jacket and boots when it’s cooler.

What about you, do you try and avoid the hyped fashion trends/ IT clothes or do you unashamedly fall for them every time?

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I feel like I owe you a bit of an update on where I’m currently at with freelance work, as it’s been a very long time since I discussed that side of things. Obviously when I re-branded as Jaclyn Ruth at the end of last year, I brought everything under one roof and made my blog and freelance endeavours all part of the same platform, rather than aiming to keep them seperate as I always had done previously. In doing that, I planned to write more on the blog about working for yourself, talk about the things I was doing and how I was juggling it alongside being a Mum, and sing more about the projects I was proud of.

That hasn’t really happened for a few reasons. The first being everything I talked about at the start of this post, and the fact that I’m only averaging one or two posts a month, and so far the urge hasn’t really been there to blog about freelance life. The second reason is that. yes although I do take on the odd bit of work, and have been slowly building it up again since the middle of last year, I still don’t work that much in comparison to many, and have to be pretty realistic about what I can achieve. So there’s a big part of me that feels like a fraud if I refer to myself as a ‘working Mum’ or try and make out that I’m juggling motherhood with a career, as the reality is that I’m still primarily a stay at home Mum, 5-6 days a week. And the third reason I’ve not been shouting about work very much is that I’m currently attempting a bit of a career shift and wanted to wait until I knew for sure what my new direction was going to be, before I began talking about it.

Since having Evie, moving to Manchester, and overall my life moving on quite a bit, I’ve felt less and less connected to the type of work I was doing prior to my ‘maternity break’. Although I tweaked my services slightly when re-launching this website (to accommodate my new life as a Mum and fit the limited hours I had to dedicate to work), I think pretty soon after taking on a couple of projects, I realised that the passion I’d had previously for brand work – brand building, PR, social media, online content – just wasn’t there anymore. And I figured that as work is currently very much secondary to being a Mum and I’m usually sitting down to do it already mentally drained and exhausted, it really needed to be something I could get excited about and enjoy.

Cue a lot of soul searching and planning, a few pep talks from peers and online pals, some creative workshops to ensure I actually liked the things I thought I was going to like, and I finally feel I have a strong direction career wise. Although it will no doubt be a slow process, I’m looking forward to making tracks towards something that excites me and that I’m passionate about.

So as of March of this year, I decided to stop taking on any PR/social media or editorial work for freelance clients and start trying to re-brand myself as a stylist! It’s been something I’ve been thinking and dreaming about for a good few years now (ever since my wedding to be honest where I was almost 90% ready to launch my own wedding styling business) and I’m really excited to start heading in that direction. While wedding styling is still a long term goal, for now I don’t want to pigeon hole myself into one genre, and am keen to begin with styling that feels natural to me and that I can build up easily as a result of existing blog projects and the type of work that comes my way currently. So I’m focusing on food, prop and interiors styling for now, with a view to expand into wedding and events in the future.

I realised (after talking to the lovely Nancy during one of her workshops, whose work I really admire and who did a similar rebrand/career shift only last year) that without knowing it, I’d actually been ‘styling’ for a good few years through my blog. With every paid collaboration I’d taken on through the blog where I’d been required to style up a product or create and shoot a recipe, I’d effectively been building my styling portfolio along the way. I also feel like this is a freelance career that can sit alongside my blog and social channels more seamlessly and allow for the lines to be blurred on occasion. Whereas being a blogger myself and doing blogger outreach for a brand always felt like two different roles which were fighting against one another with one alter ego needing to be hidden from the other.

Obviously at the moment I’m still in the very early stages and just focusing on building my portfolio, getting as much experience as I can (even if it’s unpaid in the beginning), reaching out to, and working alongside experienced stylists and generally getting myself out there and making brands aware of my new direction. You’ll probably see a few changes to the website over the next few months as I try and make my work page a little more styling focused and perhaps if I get the time/feel the urge further down the line I’ll write a more in depth post about switching your career up in your thirties and all that comes with that.

In the meantime of course, I do still need to try and earn the odd bit of dollar and while it feels right to pass on any PR projects that come my way (as for every one I take, it’s pushing my new career plans further back), I will still be writing, and aiming to take on the odd blog or social media collaboration to pay the bills. Right now that’s a simple way for me to earn some money around my day to day life without it taking too much time away from my long term goals or infringing on them in any way. You may therefore see the odd sponsored post on here or on Instagram, but I stand by my previous statement of wanting to ‘inspire not influence’ and when I mentioned last year that I didn’t want to my blog to be my full time career or to prioritise paid posts over personal ones, I’m absolutely still of that mindset. I’d like to think that my blog will become more of a personal space to share my thoughts and musings and ‘AD’s’ would be few and far between, so that if you do see a collaborative post on here you can be assured it’s something I’m really passionate about or something that feeds my new career direction. My Instagram however, I aim to make a little more work focused, and to use that platform to house creative projects as well as sharing my style and snippets from my life. It seems to be the way online content is going nowadays and I’ve decided to embrace it rather than fight it. You may start seeing more ‘ad’s’ over there, especially as I try and move my styling forward and get recognised by brands in that department, but I hope you accept them in the manner they aim to be received – as a way for me to work around my daughter and build my new freelance career.

I’m hopeful that all of these aspects of work will feed one another and eventually feel like a cohesive online business but it’s just going to take some time to get the blend right. I’m also still very keen to start a podcast (I had my nails done last month and the nail artist basically told me my voice was made for a podcast and that might have just been the push I needed), I’ve got the idea, lots of content ready to go and know exactly what I want to say, but it’s just the technical side that’s stopping me as I’m pretty clueless on how to actually go about it and make it at least semi professional when the reality is it will be done from my kitchen table. If anyone has any tips/advice/know-how on making your own podcast, the equipment I’ll need and how to get started then please do get in touch!

And then there’s still that book idea that I really just need to get a wriggle on with and START, because I live in fear every day that today will be the day that someone else brings out the exact book idea I’ve been thinking about for at least two years!

So that’s my work plans right now. A whole lot of ambitions for just two mornings a week right? LOL.

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Ah where to start with this one? I actually don’t think I’ve ever really discussed my health on the blog or gone into any of the issues I’ve had with it over the last few years. Maybe it’s just always felt too personal, I don’t know. I suspect though that it’s more because I’ve never really given in to my body telling me there’s something wrong, and have spent a whole lot of time just ignoring signs of ill health and carrying on regardless. I could say that in the last six months things seem to have got a lot worse, but really I think that’s only because I’ve finally started paying attention and trying to get to the bottom of things and suddenly it all seems more apparent as a result. Anyway for the last five years or so, I’ve had ongoing problems – mainly stomach and bowel related, but also exhaustion, low energy levels, migraines. I’ve been back and forward with GP’s, had all the blood tests, had endoscopy’s, been referred to dieticians, been told it’s stomach ulcers, it’s IBS, it’s stress related, it’s this, it’s that. Basically I’ve never really had any definitive answers about what exactly makes me feel so ill all the time. I have recently been given a – completely off kilter – ‘diagnosis’ which could be a loose explanation for a lot of what I’ve been dealing with, but equally, could also not at all be related in any way. So that’s excellent isn’t it? I don’t quite feel ready to discuss that one with the internet yet though so for now we’ll just shelf that and continue to discuss the minefield that is suspected IBS.

Is there a food I shouldn’t be eating? Is there something I’m missing from my diet? Am I intolerant? Am I not absorbing a key vitamin? Is there something about my make up that makes me so exhausted all of the time? Is it my mind and its tendency to get so very anxious that is the root cause of all my problems?

Basically, I don’t know. And no-one seems able to tell me either. IBS includes such a wide breadth of issues. Irritable bowel. I mean that can literally mean so many different things to so many different people. There’s A LOT that can affect my stomach, and it’s actually very rarely related to what I eat as you may at first think. Hormones are absolutely excellent at messing with my bowels for at least three weeks out of every month (thanks for that), if I drink even a sip of alcohol these days I can pretty much guarantee a whole day written off as a result, and then there’s all the nuances of every day life from worry, to stress, to tiredness that wreak havoc on my immune system and send my stomach churning for days. And the unavoidable side effect for me, to dealing with all of this, and feeling unwell for at least half of any given week, is that those low moods that I can’t seem to bring myself out of and the level of anxiety that sometimes makes me feel like I can’t leave the house, start coming to the forefront more and more.

I guess since becoming a Mum, I’ve done that classic thing of putting Evie first and not looking after myself. And at the end of last year I realised that actually I couldn’t go on like that anymore. My diet was horrendous. I’d go whole days without eating at all and rushing around non stop with Evie. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I didn’t drink enough water. I rarely ever did anything for myself. I felt low all the time. I was averaging a migraine a week. And getting bouts of stomach issues at least once a month. It sucked, and I started 2019 utterly fed up with feeling so constantly out of whack and unable to enjoy my life to the full.

I’d love to say things are better now, but as I write this, my stomach problems are currently the worse they’ve been in a while and most days I’m battling constant dizziness, nausea and a complete and utter drain of all energy levels. And, since Evie started nursery it’s been a string of colds, flus, stomach bugs and virus’s, all hitting one after the other with no let up, so much so that I honestly can’t remember the last time I woke up and felt well.

I’m hopeful though that it’s that old – get’s worse before it gets better – adage, as I guess the positive is that in the last five months I’ve been making tracks to try and get to the bottom of it all. I love the NHS and am so so grateful to have it, but I really don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere with the GP’s. They just continue to order more of the same blood tests over and over and when they come back clear, send me on my way with a vague IBS diagnosis and some contradictory advice of either – ‘avoid probiotics’ or ‘ eat more kefir’. So I’ve kind of started taking things into my own hands a little. For the last couple of months I’ve been back on the FODMAP diet (a diet created for IBS sufferers to highlight the foods that you should and shouldn’t eat, where you spend some time cutting out all of the possible food groups that you could have an intolerance to, before slowly re-introducing them one at a time) – I tried it once before a few years ago but didn’t take it entirely seriously and as such didn’t get a definitive result – which I’m hoping will give some answers as to the foods best to avoid.

At the current stage I’m at, I’ve not felt a huge improvement in symptoms (which is frustrating as you can’t start re-introducing until your symptoms level out) and because I’ve cut SO much from my diet (As well as the FODMAP groups, I’ve also personally been cutting out dairy and gluten in case it’s that I’m intolerant to, and obviously with no dairy means no chocolate, and with no gluten means no cake so I’m pretty much sugar free now too – gah! See the chocolate digestive remark at the start of this post makes sense now hey?) I feel as if I’m suffering even more with low energy and fatigue as I’m essentially running on empty all the time. Not to mention that being on such a restrictive diet (there are even rules about garlic, onion, certain vegetables) basically means no eating out, no takeaways, no cafe visits, and as such I’m finding it very difficult to socialise, to travel, to live spontaneously. I’ve had to plan all my meals, make my lunches in advance and come up with new recipes for anything sweet that can give me energy. I’m desperate to get to the re-introduction phase, but also slightly terrified about adding things back into my diet after so long without them, and the repercussions of that. So yeah, it’s been a pretty boring set up over here for the last little while. But hopefully it will be worth it in the end.

Should it not give me answers though, I’ve already made the decision to visit a functional medical doctor (shout if you have any experience of this – good or bad), who can hopefully shed some light on my symptoms should a change in diet not make any significant difference. And I’ve also decided to start taking my bouts of anxiety a little more seriously too – I’ve always brushed it off as just being an anxious person, and telling myself that what I feel isn’t nearly as bad as what others with ‘real’ mental health issues are facing, but actually I think it might be more than just being a nervous individual, and if I can find a better way of coping with it then I want to explore that.

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As you can probably tell, I’ve had to start getting used to a slower pace of life recently. There’s been no big travels, or non stop adventures over here. Just a family life plodding along and a fair bit of monotony keeping us right. I’ve started attempting to manage my fatigue rather than fight it, and where possible use any free time I’m given (when family come to help out or if my Husband is off one weekend) to just rest, rather than trying to fit in a million jobs.It’s a slow process but I do think in the long term it’s better for all of us as a family to live a bit less frantically all the time. If I can, I try and spend a Sunday meal planning, and batch cooking (especially lunches) for the week ahead so I don’t have that panic of not having anything FODMAP friendly to hand, and baking the odd wheat free, dairy free, sugar free, taste free 😉 cake that can satisfy those cravings come 3pm.

Having gone veggie this year too, it’s been proving even more difficult to come up with varied meal ideas, but the positive is that’s it’s forced us to start cooking almost everything ourselves and avoid almost all processed sauces/pastes/jars. I’m now much more aware of what goes into my food, and have become the person in the supermarket checking the ingredients list of everything I pick up and discarding anything with too long a list. I’ve become a pro at homemade teriyaki/ sweet chilli and satay sauces, can make energy balls in my sleep and have a good few cake recipes up my sleeve which have absolutely nothing bad in them.

We’ve watched a lot of TV (Game of Thrones, Line of Duty, The OA, Fleabag are current favourites), extended our Sky Movies subscription (if not for us, because Evie asks for Moana at least 20 times a day) and tend to keep our family outings more local, but for now it’s what’s working for us. Until I can get on top of my health, I don’t really feel up to much more than that.

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Onto a more positive subject however, Evie is at a brilliant age right now. I mean every age has been great, they all just keep getting better, but I’m so enjoying the little person she’s becoming at the moment. She talks non stop, is so inquisitive and asks questions all day long. She knows her own mind, has an answer for everything and is so strong willed it’s a challenge at times. She’s the bossiest little thing and spends most of her days telling us off, but she’s also HILARIOUS, and a true comedian in the making. Or maybe I should say actress – she’s definitely got that skill for sure.

Right now, we’re going through a real phase of imagination, and every game is dreamt up from the depths of her overactive mind. Half the time I don’t even fully know what exactly it is that we’re playing. She’ll chat away to herself, lost in her own imaginary world of being a top chef, or collecting sticks for a campfire, or patching up baby’s sore knee and so on. It’s wonderful to watch. She loves being outdoors, wants to run around the garden all day, is pretty damn good at kicking a football around and would spend hours splashing about in water.

And I know every parent thinks their child is clever but honestly, she amazes us everyday with how smart she is. She’ll complete a brand new jigsaw straight out of the box in five minutes flat, remembers every single word of every one of her bedtime stories and will sit and ‘read’ them back to us through memory. She can count out objects and name every colour under the sun. She has given every single one of her toys a name, from her beloved Monk- Monk right down to the tiny plastic teddy that came free in a Peppa magazine. She’s wonderfully creative and the house is filled with her paintings and drawings and Play-Doh creatures. And her confidence is growing daily, I think helped a lot by those two nursery mornings each week. The girl who we once thought would be shy, quiet and cautious, is now anything but – a whirlwind of energy, non stop chatter to anyone who’ll listen and a fearless streak that has my stomach in my hands sometimes.

I could go on, but I’ll leave my Mum boast there for today. She’s a joy though. there really is nothing better in my life than getting to be with her daily and see her grow and develop before my very eyes. It’s a privilege.

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Well if you’ve got this far, I really commend you. What a lengthy post that turned out to be. So long it’s been since I last poured my thoughts onto the internet that I’ve come at you with five months worth of honesty in one fell swoop. Thanks for reading if you have done, I *think* we’re all caught up now, so maybe it’s your turn to share something with me? Tell me what’s been going on in your life, let’s chat in the comments like we used to in the world of blogging circa 2012.

I’ve rather enjoyed writing in this way again so here’s hoping I can continue and start sharing my jumbled up thoughts more regularly.

One Comment

Lewis Craik

I can totally identify with the first part of the blog, I have so many blog ideas and half written posts on my phone, as I barely get an hour at my computer a week these days. I’m up late with Henry most evenings, but he needs to be cuddled, so no laptop. It is really putting the brakes on my freelance aspirations. Hopefully it will only be for a few more months now though. I’m definitely feeling a bit run down with it all.

I think it was about the first year st nursery that Owen seemed to bring back every big going, it seems to have tailed off now though. Hopefully for you it is an age thing, rather than a time thing. I’m dreading him getting chicken pox, as I haven’t had it yet. It’s also more nerve wracking with Henry around too. The poor wee mite has picked up my cold. At least all the exposure to germs at nursery mean that Owen is the only one who has escaped it.

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