This is not a definitive guide to leaving your children home alone or finding the right age for a teen babysitter. Each parent’s experience of leaving their children home without an adult will be different and precise laws do not exist. However if you’re wondering whether your children are old enough to be left alone so you can go out for the evening, read on. I have two children in secondary school so my plans and experiences might just help you think it through.

No babysitter - are the kids old enough? Think it through, can your children be safely left, how will they feel? On Falcondale Life blog. Child's bedroom.

Babysitter Law

If you try searching the Internet for the law on this, you will struggle to get a straight answer. According to the NSPCC if a child is “at risk” then you’re breaking the law. This police website indicates that if the person babysitting is under 16, then the parent is still responsible, even if absent. Apart from that if you search the web you will get a lot of Netmums gossip or American law which does not apply in the UK.

If your older children feel alright about being left alone in daytime, then nighttime is the next thing to consider. At what age do they no longer need a babysitter when you go out for the evening? What if one is old enough, but they need to care for a younger sibling?

They may be alright, but it’s not the same for them as for an adult. These are children caring for children, and it’s not just inexperience which can be a hurdle, but also immaturity. Inexperience is something that can change quickly, but all children need time to simply grow up and mature. It’s not easy – or kind – to rush that.

No babysitter - are the kids old enough? Think it through, can your children be safely left, how will they feel? On Falcondale Life blog. Child's bedroom.

Things to consider

• How many of them are there? Even if your eldest child is a big 15 year old, if s/he is looking after two or more smaller ones, how is s/he going to keep track?

• What is the age range? There are pros and cons here. One teenager caring for one much younger child is going to have a very different evening to one teenager caring for two arguing tweens. Or perhaps the tweens are fine and it’s a smaller tot who runs them ragged.

• How do they get on with each other when you are not there? This may be your ball and chain. If you know that your kids fight horribly, then you’re not going to be able to leave them as much as other parents with kids of the same age.

• How mature and responsible is your oldest child? How do you answer this question and how might other people answer this question? It’s time to think about how other people see your child.

Gradual Change

As they grow old enough to be left a little more, then take things in stages. There is no throwing a switch from “too young” to “old enough”. No two children are alike. There are lots of grey areas and stages of development. Here are the steps I tried.

1. Leave them alone after dark for an hour or two. It’s amazing how different they feel when it’s dark outside. They need to be alright with this.

2. Leave them until just after bedtime. Go for an early bird dinner or a drink and come back early so they have not been in bed long, or only the eldest is still up. This is because they won’t be as relaxed knowing there’s no adult babysitter in the house, and they may struggle to get to sleep. Creep in the bedroom and let them know you are back!

3. Go out like normal, let them deal with bedtime alone and you come back later. However do tell them when you will be back, and stick to it. They have a big capacity to worry. Text if you are going to be delayed. I know they will probably be asleep but there’s a good chance they will wake and check their phone if you are not back.

Tips

We found that after step 2, our children were terribly excited that they had been trusted to an evening alone and were quite happy for us to try it again the next week. But we found it was too soon! After the second time they said “can we not do that again for a while?”. It turned out to be just a little stressful. Even something successful takes a while to get used to.

Write down what you want them to do while you are out such as times for lights out and whether anyone needs to do a chore before bed. Make sure they know how to leave the house in an emergency and where the key is. Most children don’t even know what the smoke alarm sounds like – do yours? Teach safety – I don’t need to tell you how, but I liked these tips on safety and these tips on talking it through with your child. Write down your contact info – even if they have it. Promise to check your phone hourly. It seems obvious but when I feel comfortable with a situation, this is the sort of thing I forget to do.

Maybe try an arrangement where the eldest child is allowed to stay up while you are out, as they would do if they were being a babysitter in someone else’s house. The children may be happier knowing someone is awake.

Be prepared for things to go backwards. It’s possible that after months of being able to go out without a babysitter, your child may just get the jitters. Perhaps there is a cause or perhaps it’s just a stage they are going through. But you may have to arrange for them to sleep over somewhere or get in a visiting relatives at some point again in the future. It won’t be for always.

What has worked with your family? I’d love it if you would share your tips in the comments!

Cuddle Fairy

 

Capturing Moments

Mother of Teenagers

 

 

#4 of the Judging a Photograph Series

I read some so-called advice this week about the best photography equipment to buy for a safari holiday. I strongly disagreed with it. The “advice” said to take two telephoto lenses and to buy the longest zoom that you can afford, preferably up to 600mm.

Don't talk so much crop on Safari on Falcondale Life blog. What lenses to take on safari. Photography tips.

This is stuff and nonsense. Unless you’re planning on ignoring the lumping great elephant at the waterhole immediately in front of you, and perhaps you want to shoot birds instead, then you don’t need to remortgage your house and build your biceps to carry a massive telephoto. All you will end up doing is shooting the kind of extreme close-ups that you can get in a zoo. It will not be special. Don’t crop out the environment; instead make the most of the landscape. Tell the story.

You WILL get close to the animals (in some cases, frighteningly close). If you don’t, the rangers aren’t doing their job properly. Either that or you’ve picked a season where everything has migrated the heck out of the park.

Lenses and Cameras for a Safari – Tips

Much more important equipment for safari is a second camera body. Pick two very different lenses and attach them to your DSLR before you leave the lodge in the morning. Do not remove lenses from camera bodies once out on the road as the dust is evil and will get everywhere. You risk more from dust than from the lions! Keep it sealed shut.

You won’t have time or space in the safari vehicle to prat about with a tripod. You will need to shoot hand-held a lot, so I recommend image stabilising lenses. You might get some use out of a monopod and save a couple of f-stops that way.

Don't talk so much crop on Safari on Falcondale Life blog. What lenses to take on safari. Photography tips.

How We Took Photos on Safari

When we went on safari (pre-kids!) my husband and I took identical camera bodies and swapped and took turns with them. Our two main lenses were image stabilising. One was 28-105mm and the other was 75-300mm (both on full-frame SLRs). These turned out to be perfect choices and nothing was too close or too far away. We never had any need to argue over who had which camera and lens, because there was always a great shot to be had at different focal lengths.

Next week I’ll show you how one of these photos was judged in a contest, and how easy it is for photo competition judges to fall into one simple trap!

Read about the camera we used on our safari trip here

The Judging a Photograph series can be read from the start here or continue to read the next blog post about this here. Read the previous blog in the series by clicking here.

Photalife

Sponsored post – we were given Chalkola Chalk Pens to review but all words and opinions are my own.

Chalkola Marker Pens, review and giveaway with discount code on Falcondale Life blog. Non-toxic wipe-off pens for smooth, non-porous surfaces like windows, chalkboards or even the fridge.

We’ve had some great fun this week with Chalkola pens. My teenage and tween-age children have both enjoyed these fun chalk markers mainly because I’ve let them draw on the windows! Chalkola pens easily wipe off glass and are ideal pens to decorate windows and mirrors or even the fridge. Of course they’re good on chalkboards too and I tested them on the kitchen cupboards with good results. They’re a versatile alternative to a dry erase marker.

I’m pleased these pens seem to get my kids drawing instead of reaching for their iPads. It’s fun to draw on something they are not usually allowed to draw on. It’s like being given a licence to vandalise – but with no chance of getting in trouble because the Chalkola pen wipes off easily with a damp cloth.

Chalkola Marker Pens, review and giveaway with discount code on Falcondale Life blog. Non-toxic wipe-off pens for smooth, non-porous surfaces like windows, chalkboards or even the fridge.

15mm Markers

Chalkola Marker Pens, review and giveaway with discount code on Falcondale Life blog. Non-toxic wipe-off pens for smooth, non-porous surfaces like windows, chalkboards or even the fridge.

Drawing fun for the family

I’ve also been drawing. I wasn’t sure how interested the children would be so I began a springtime scene on the big living-room window. As soon as the girls walked in and saw what I was doing there were squeals of excitement and they joined in. They didn’t pick up the TV remote for the rest of the evening! Next day they were keen to carry on and covered the patio doors in hearts for Valentine’s Day and lots of other things too.

Chalkola Marker Pens, review and giveaway with discount code on Falcondale Life blog. Non-toxic wipe-off pens for smooth, non-porous surfaces like windows, chalkboards or even the fridge.

Chalkola Marker Pens, review and giveaway with discount code on Falcondale Life blog. Non-toxic wipe-off pens for smooth, non-porous surfaces like windows, chalkboards or even the fridge.

Chalkola Marker Pens, review and giveaway with discount code on Falcondale Life blog. Non-toxic wipe-off pens for smooth, non-porous surfaces like windows, chalkboards or even the fridge.

The light coming through the window makes the colours luminous. The garden outside looks brown and dead at this time of year, and now we have a spring scene it brightens the whole place up. I think these pens would be ideal for a teacher who wants to decorate windows in a classroom or they could be used in a café. It would be simple to change the décor with the seasons. With the Chalkola pens it will be simple for us to decorate the windows at Halloween and Christmas too.

The different size nibs in the different packs would appeal to chalk artists of all abilities. You can rub your fingers over your dry picture with little damage, it sticks on well.

 

Chalkola Marker Pens, review and giveaway with discount code on Falcondale Life blog. Non-toxic wipe-off pens for smooth, non-porous surfaces like windows, chalkboards or even the fridge.

21 Markers including metallic pack

Tips for using Chalkola pens

Chalkola pens are non-toxic and washable; they should wash out of clothes although I haven’t needed to test this. For first use, shake the pen then pump the nib on a surface for about half a minute until the ink flows. You won’t need to do this again. When you are drawing on a vertical surface like a window they may drip or run, so have some damp kitchen towel handy. We also used damp cotton buds for fine adjustments to our pictures.

The caps simply pull off but we did accidentally unscrew the whole pen once or twice when we forgot to just pull. Chalkola recommend that you do not try them on anything slightly porous like a wooden table in case the colour soaks in.

Chalkola Marker Pens, review and giveaway with discount code on Falcondale Life blog. Non-toxic wipe-off pens for smooth, non-porous surfaces like windows, chalkboards or even the fridge.

What are the Chalkola pens like to use?

Chalkola have recently launched their new metallic pens with a finer point and we used these to draw a mandala on the fridge. The metallic sheen looks good on the fridge, especially the gold and silver pens.

Chalkola Marker Pens, review and giveaway with discount code on Falcondale Life blog. Non-toxic wipe-off pens for smooth, non-porous surfaces like windows, chalkboards or even the fridge.

Chalkola Marker Pens, review and giveaway with discount code on Falcondale Life blog. Non-toxic wipe-off pens for smooth, non-porous surfaces like windows, chalkboards or even the fridge.

Chalkola Metallic markers

To be honest when the pens arrived they didn’t look remarkable. They look like any packet of markers. However they are uniquely effective and fun art materials and we are so pleased to have been given them to review.

Discount Code

Readers of Falcondale Life can get a 15% discount on Chalkola products using coupon code 15OFFSTR. The pens are available with this code either direct from the Chalkola website or from Amazon; take a look at 15mm Marker or the new 21 Markers including metallic pack.

GIVEAWAY – PRIZE DRAW

You can WIN one of the newly-launched packets of 21 Chalkola pens. The pack contains 16 colour markers plus six more metallic colours. Simply visit my Falcondale Life Facebook page, and LIKE the Chalkola giveaway post and COMMENT on it. (You need to do both to enter). I’d love it if you would like the page too and share so your friends can enter!

Chalkola Marker Pens, review and giveaway with discount code on Falcondale Life blog. Non-toxic wipe-off pens for smooth, non-porous surfaces like windows, chalkboards or even the fridge.

Chalkola Marker Pens, review and giveaway with discount code on Falcondale Life blog. Non-toxic wipe-off pens for smooth, non-porous surfaces like windows, chalkboards or even the fridge.

Terms and conditions

1.    There is one prize of one packet of 21 Chalkola markers
2.    The closing date is Monday 27th February 2017 at 10pm
3.    The competition is open to UK residents over 13 years old excluding employees of Chalkola and their relatives.
4.    Enter by liking AND commenting on the Chalkola giveaway post on my Falcondale Life Facebook page – click here to find it
5.    One entry per person.
6.    The winner’s name will be available on request and may be published on Falcondale Life and social media accounts.
7.    The winner will be chosen at random with the help of an online random generator.
8.    The winner will be contacted by a Facebook message and a reply to their comment. The winner has 21 days to respond with shipping details, after which another winner will be chosen instead.
9.    The promoter is Chalkola and they will be provided with the winner’s details and will send out the prize.
10.  Entrants may be invited to like the Facebook page but liking the page is not an entry requirement for the giveaway.
11.   By entering this prize draw entrants confirm that they have read, understood and agree to be bound by these terms and conditions.
12.   This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed, administered by or in association with Facebook.

Read about planning activities for children here

My Random Musings

 

 

 

When you are really delighted with one of your photos, you want other people to love it too. If you submit your amazing shot for critique or judging or enter it in a competition, you quickly find people will take sides. One or two will adore it, most will appreciate it, and a few will gloss over it. Rarely, someone pans it. Sometimes even a bland response is very hard to take. In camera club, despite the gentleness of most judges, there are shocks and upsets. It takes a while to get used to this, but when you become tough enough to take all the ups and downs then you can really start to enjoy things.

Judging a Photograph #3 When Perfect isn't Good Enough. Pasque flower in a photo competition. Different experiences of judging.

There’s no absolute right and wrong way for judging a photograph and different judges are entitled to their different likes and dislikes. Yes, there are important rules of composition, exposure and so on. But the final “like” or “dislike” is still personal.

Pasque Flower

My photo of a pasque flower is a good example. It is Perfect – it must be, because a judge said so! It won first place in the first competition of the season. The depth of field is exactly what I wanted with the flower head and foreground leaves in focus, the rear leaves and stem just knocking out. The background is completely out of focus and has no distractions. It’s a perfect specimen with wonderful hairs all over, back-lit to show off the texture. The crop is good, the white balance is good, the contrast is good, and nothing is too dark or too light. There’s a hint of spider’s web and the veins in the stem are visible. It would make a nice greetings card – “get well soon” perhaps.

If you’re wondering what went wrong then read on.

Judging a Photograph #3 When Perfect isn't Good Enough. Pasque flower in a photo competition. Different experiences of judging.

Judging it differently

Six months later I entered the same photo in another competition, competing against the same photographers at the same club. Different judge. The photo didn’t get a placing or even a highly commended. Why? There are a few answers to this.

Firstly there are a lot of flowers and insects photographed in this way for camera club competitions all over the country, and there is an element of “oh no not again” when judges see this sort of thing. There’s no action and nothing very unusual to it.

Secondly the other photos in this particular competition just had something which appealed more. In fact, the standard was higher overall for this competition.

Lastly this judge liked pictures of people the best and two of my portraits got at least a commendation.

Knowing that such a photo can go from the top of the charts to near the bottom is actually quite liberating. There is no ideal formula in judging and you’re allowed to like what you like. Be free!

Last week’s post on judging a photograph can be found here

The Judging a Photograph series can be read from the start here or continue to the next in the series here.

 

Photalife

Traditional French crêpes are something we have all heard of and perhaps tried.  It’s not like an English pancake on shrove Tuesday although it is thin and sweet. Less well-known is the savoury Breton galette which looks similar but darker with a totally different flavour. It has toppings like egg and ham. That’s a basic description but how are traditional Breton galettes and crepes made?

A farmhouse cookery demonstration

Whilst on holiday in Finisterre last year our hostess Monique, a farmer in Brittany, gave us a fabulous demonstration of Breton crêpes and galette making. Monique prides herself on her traditional skills and many of her extended family gathered around for the event, it was quite a party.

Monique has a whole kitchen island dedicated to her cast iron crêpe plate called a “billig”. It’s a serious matter! This billig has been seasoned for six months before it’s considered good enough to make a proper galette. To prepare the billig she uses a damp cloth and egg as it heats up.

How Traditional Breton Galletes and Crepes are Made on Falcondale Life blog. Buckwheat flour and sea salt for Galettes and plain flour with added sugar for the crepes. See the blog for a recipe.

The galette is made with black buckwheat flour which has a slightly bitter flavour. It’s seasoned with Guerande sea salt which is only suited to savoury food. Guerande is a large town further down the south Breton coast, famous for salt marshes. Monique also added water and egg. She did the quantities by eye, using her experience to get the measures right.

How Traditional Breton Galletes and Crepes are Made on Falcondale Life blog. Buckwheat flour and sea salt for Galettes and plain flour with added sugar for the crepes. See the blog for a recipe.

At the same time, Monique mixed up a batter for crêpes using plain white flour and a pinch of table salt. To this she added eggs, milk (which I think was not pasteurised) and melted farmhouse butter. She included quite a lot of white sugar. There’s no sugar in my shrove Tuesday pancakes in England, and I know that sugar can make batter quite difficult to handle, so that caught my attention.

Cooking on the billig

Monique had a traditional wooden spreader (a rozell) in her right hand and a ladle full of buckwheat batter in her left hand. She quickly poured on the batter and pulled it neatly over the surface of the billig with the rozell. Once the edges curled up, she flipped it using a wooden paddle and then rubbed a huge lump of butter over the whole surface. She added ham and egg and folded in the corners to make a square. It looked very neat.

How Traditional Breton Galletes and Crepes are Made on Falcondale Life blog. Buckwheat flour and sea salt for Galettes and plain flour with added sugar for the crepes. See the blog for a recipe.

How Traditional Breton Galletes and Crepes are Made on Falcondale Life blog. Buckwheat flour and sea salt for Galettes and plain flour with added sugar for the crepes. See the blog for a recipe.

How Traditional Breton Galletes and Crepes are Made on Falcondale Life blog. Buckwheat flour and sea salt for Galettes and plain flour with added sugar for the crepes. See the blog for a recipe.

How Traditional Breton Galletes and Crepes are Made on Falcondale Life blog. Buckwheat flour and sea salt for Galettes and plain flour with added sugar for the crepes. See the blog for a recipe.

Then I had a go. Immediately I made a hash of it, I couldn’t spread the batter quickly enough and once it was turned over it looked like a dish-rag.

How Traditional Breton Galletes and Crepes are Made on Falcondale Life blog. Buckwheat flour and sea salt for Galettes and plain flour with added sugar for the crepes. See the blog for a recipe.

How Traditional Breton Galletes and Crepes are Made on Falcondale Life blog. Buckwheat flour and sea salt for Galettes and plain flour with added sugar for the crepes. See the blog for a recipe.

How Traditional Breton Galletes and Crepes are Made on Falcondale Life blog. Buckwheat flour and sea salt for Galettes and plain flour with added sugar for the crepes. See the blog for a recipe.

My husband did a bit better, which was irritating of course. Then the other guests had a go with mixed results while we ate some of the proceeds.

How Traditional Breton Galletes and Crepes are Made on Falcondale Life blog. Buckwheat flour and sea salt for Galettes and plain flour with added sugar for the crepes. See the blog for a recipe.

How Traditional Breton Galletes and Crepes are Made on Falcondale Life blog. Buckwheat flour and sea salt for Galettes and plain flour with added sugar for the crepes. See the blog for a recipe.

Buckwheat pancakes are certainly an unusual flavour. We had tried them in a couple of cafés and had a very salty meal. Monique’s galettes are streets ahead of anything we tried elsewhere but in my family only my husband is a big fan.

Sweet crêpes

Next we moved on to the sweet crêpes. As I expected, the sweet batter was tricky to spread. They cooked in no time and were light and delicious. We were glad we had skipped breakfast as we filled up on crêpes and chocolate sauce. My children were in their element.

It was a great experience to have this time with a French family learning a traditional skill from their region. I was a little reluctant at first because of the language barrier, but in the end this was one of the highlights of our holiday. By the end of the morning I was speaking fluent Franglais and no-one minded. From now on I always want a local masterclass on my foreign trips!

Recipe

If you want to have a go with a French sweet crêpe batter, try this traditional recipe. French pancake day “La Chandeleur” is 2nd February but I think these are great on any day.

Ingredients

500 g of plain flour
250g of butter
250 g caster sugar
1 litre of milk
6 eggs
A tiny pinch of table salt

Method

Set the butter to melt. Mix the flour and sugar. Mix in the eggs, then the milk. Lastly add the melted butter and stir thoroughly. Cook thinly in a hot, heavy pan which has been wiped with a damp cloth and butter. Serve hot with a chocolate sauce.

Read more about the quirky traditions of La Chandeleur here.
A traditional recipe for a buckwheat galette can be found here (you can paste it into google translate if you struggle with the French).

Traditional crêpe recipe from here, adapted with tips from Monique.

Lou Messugo
Cuddle Fairy