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Thank a soldier today – it's more important than you realise

When you are away on tour and you are miles away from home, getting a letter is a truly exhilarating experience. It makes you feel instantly closer to home and your loved ones. It is an ordinary thing to read a letter or a message, and when you are working in extraordinary and dangerous circumstances, ordinary can be a wonderful thing.
When I was in Iraq in the 1990s, there were no mobile phones or computers. We would wait, and wait, and wait to get mail. When it arrived it lifted everyone’s spirits. It really is hard for me to articulate what a huge boost to morale it was.
And you know, you don’t even need to know the soldier. I used to get letters from complete strangers talking about what was going on at home – seemingly mundane details like what was in the charts etc. – but it was such a comfort.
Now there is a website, called Thank You Soldier, where you can send a thank you message instantly to a UK soldier. No need to sign in, create an account or register. You can just send a thank you message, which can be read by soldiers serving at home or overseas instantly.
Never underestimate the power of a thank you. On the 60th anniversary of D Day my wife and I went to Normandy. At a battery we met a veteran who had attacked that very spot on D Day (as it housed guns that were firing on the British landing on the nearby beach). My wife shook his hand and said thank you, because her granddad had landed on that beach, and he had survived that terrible day, thanks in no small part to the efforts of him and his fellow soldiers. The veteran started to cry. My wife started to cry too and apologised for upsetting him. “You didn’t upset me,” he replied “it was an honour for me to serve my country and I am humbled that you thank me for it.”
Thank a soldier today.

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Kids Find the Presents? 5 Plausible Excuses to Keep the Magic Alive this Christmas

Childhood is a precious and short time, and I believe that our job as parents is to let our troopers have as much enjoyment out of it as possible. That’s why it is best to have an armoury of plausible excuses to help us out of sticky Christmas situations -such as your troopers finding the presents, or being told that Santa doesn’t exist – and keep the magic alive as long as possible.
Please let me know of any good excuses you have!
The golden rule to remember is that each of these excuses must be given with absolute and total conviction to be effective. You must believe it to make it believable.
1. If your trooper’s friend – or older sibling – tells them that Father Christmas doesn’t exist and its you that buys the presents
Excuse: Depending on our trooper’s age, you have a couple of options:
– For younger troopers, laugh heartily and seem really incredulous. “Really? No Father Christmas?” You can also rely on any other adult to join in. “You’ll never guess what so-and-so said. No Father Christmas!”
– For older troopers use the power of reasoning. Say that they must know that you’re not buying the presents as you’re really not keen on their noisy toys (trust me, this will resonate with any trooper) so if you were buying, you’d have chosen something different.
How to avoid the situation in future: unfortunately, this is unavoidable. A natural part of growing up is to realise that Father Christmas doesn’t exist.

2. If your trooper sees their present in a shopping bag or hidden in a cupboard

Excuse: Tell your trooper that you bumped into Father Christmas when you were out shopping. He told you that so many children had been good this year he was finding it hard to get around to everyone. He asked you if you wouldn’t mind bringing back some of your presents. Be sure to say you are very sorry you didn’t hide it better but you’re not used to hiding presents.

How to avoid the situation in future:
easy to say but try and shop only when there are no troopers about, such as in the morning when you’ve just dropped them off at school. Wrap them as soon as possible as it is easy to pass off wrapped presents as being for cousins, friends etc. Always be sure to keep a list of what you have bought though.
Find one excellent place to hide presents – in a house the loft is a great choice (although do not leave it until the night before Christmas to try and retrieve them). Or at your parents’ house. They have a lot more experience than you.

3. If you weren’t able to get your trooper the thing they really wanted

Excuse: – If your trooper is very young, don’t worry. I have spent many a Christmas feeling terrible that I didn’t get that ‘must have’ toy to find out on Christmas Day that my troopers are very happy with what they have. I know it sounds like something out of Dickens, but you’d be surprised.
– If your trooper is older and you have the money, but the items were sold out. Get a friend to write a note from Santa (your trooper may recognise your handwriting) to say that there was a huge demand for this toy, so the Elves were unable to make one in time. So you have left the money with you to buy one in the sales. In the meantime, he hopes you have a lovely time with the rest of your presents.
– If you just don’t have the money. From birth, some relatives will give you money to buy presents for your troopers. I save this for moments such as these. In the absence of these savings, consider asking grandparents and other relatives to contribute. Even if this means they club together and the special present comes from the family and not Santa (which is not as bad as it sounds, as you’re not getting the credit for any of it). Look into getting a used one at a reduced price. If none of this is an option, take a deep breath and don’t let this affect your opinion of yourself as a great parent.
How to avoid the situation in future: in the case of the must have toys selling out, try and find out as soon as possible what they want. Our kids start their Christmas list after Halloween. If they ask for anything, I tell them to put it on their list and Santa will decide. I also ask other parents at the school gate what the ‘must have’ toys are – some parents have a radar for such things.
If at all possible, save the money you get given for your troopers into a present fund and perhaps contribute it to yourself throughout the year.
4. If your trooper asks you why the ‘real’ Santa they met at the school, play group, supermarket etc is not the same (or if they recognise the person underneath the Santa disguise)

Excuse: Santa really can’t be everywhere all at once, and right at this busiest time of year, he is most in demand. Because he doesn’t want to disappoint children he lets people pretend to be him, but they must pass a test. When they pass this test and Santa knows that they are a good Santa at heart, he sends them a white beard from the North Pole. This contains a little bit of Santa magic.
How to avoid the situation in future: again, this one is unavoidable. In December you literally cannot move for Santas. In fact, on more than one occasion I have actually had to play Santa to my own kids! For younger troopers this is a fantastic and exciting experience. For older troopers, keep this excuse up your sleeve.
5. If your trooper wakes to find you, or your partner, leaving their presents at the end of their bed
Excuse: If your trooper is fully awake (as opposed to just waking a little, in which case you can just pretend you were tucking them in) and can see the toys, the only thing to do is to say you heard a noise in their room and came in to find that Santa had been. This will of course mean that you will have a trooper awake at some ungodly hour. Unless you can successfully get them back to sleep, in which case, please let me know how.
How to avoid the situation in future:
The only way to prevent this situation for sure is not to leave presents at the end of the bed. In our house we leave them under the tree.
If you have any other excuses to get out of these sticky situations, please do let me know. A parent can never have too many excuses.

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Recipe for a Silent Night – food tips to help kids sleep on Christmas Eve

Watch Out Watch Out, There's a Humphrey AboutThis blog was written in conjunction with Rachel Jessey, a qualified nutritionist, member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy, and a specialist in infant and childhood nutrition.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…
Where is that house?
In my house, the troopers are so excited they can barely sleep. Just as it should be. But what I don’t want to do is add to that natural stimulation by giving them foods that could leave them feeling bad tempered and exhausted but unable to sleep: Tired But Wired. Take it from one who knows – this is not a smart Commando Dad move.
Instead, I make sure on Christmas Eve my troopers eat a diet rich in the wonderful amino acid, tryptophan. These foods are readily available and include beef, chicken, turkey, milk, yogurt, eggs, salmon, tuna and bananas.
Tryptophan rich foods keep trooper’s blood sugar levels balanced and moods stable throughout the day, and when eaten in the late afternoon and early evening it can help them sleep. It does this because their bodies use it to make serotonin. This basically slows down nerve traffic to their brains, making it easier for them to relax and go to sleep. Of course this doesn’t mean that they will drop off at 6pm on the dot – they are still going to be very excited – but you are doing all you can to make them as calm and relaxed as possible. Put it like this, if you let them have access to all those lovely Christmas treats that are inevitably going to be in the house – fizzy drinks and chocolate for example – you are doing the dietary equivalent of throwing petrol on the flames of their excitement. Expect a short flash to bang time*.
To make sure the maximum amount of typtophan makes it to your trooper’s brain, you’ll need to serve it with a carbohydrate rich food. Here are some great Christmas Eve choices:

  • Boiled eggs and wholegrain soldiers
  • Scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast
  • Porridge with chopped banana
  • Yoghurt and berries


  • Banana (perfect as it contains both tryptophan and carbohydrate)
  • Warm milk and a wholegrain biscuit
  • Cheese and crackers or oatcakes
  • Peanut butter on wholegrain toast


  • Chicken stew: perfect Commando Dad choice as it is easy to make and can be prepared beforehand. If you don’t eat meat, make this a thick vegetable stew with pulses, such as lentils or kidney beans.
  • Beef chilli served with brown rice. Again, a great choice to prepare beforehand – even the night before. Very easy to cook. I make it without using chilli as the other ingredients give it plenty of flavour. I then add heat to my own portion using tabasco.
  • Prawn stir fry with noodles: another good choice as it is so quick and easy to make. Dried noodles just need to be soaked in water for a few minutes and you can stir fry any veg you have. I regularly stir fry cabbage, carrot and little onion. If your troopers don’t like prawns (give them the opportunity to try them though as I am yet to meet a trooper that doesn’t) use chicken. Soybeans or soy products can be used for a vegetarian option.
  • Fish, steamed vegetables and brown rice. I cannot say enough good things about fish. It’s quick to cook, even straight from the freezer, bursting with nutrients and the kids love it. I don’t have a steamer, I just steam vegetables in a sieve over a little saucepan of boiling water.

But the benefits of tryptophan don’t end with relaxation and elevated mood. It can also regulate your trooper’s appetite. With all of these benefits, why wouldn’t you want to get more of these foods into your trooper’s – and your – diet?
I know first-hand that diet can have a massive effect on the morale of the whole unit. If you don’t already provide your troopers with a diet rich in fresh vegetables, lean protein and fruit, make diet adjustments now and observe the results for yourself.
The key thing to remember is that your troopers learn by example, and will mimic your behaviour. Lead from the front. Want them to eat the right amount of healthy nutritious foods? Then you need to do the same. Start now.
*Flash to Bang Time. In the army, the time it takes for the fuse to detonate the bomb. Here used to mean the time it takes from the stimulus (already excited troopers eating sugary and processed foods) to the response (BANG).

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Top Five Tips for Buying Presents for Babies

Are you buying presents for baby troopers this Christmas? Follow the golden rules I have used to navigate my way successfully through several Christmases with my three little troopers.
1. You don’t have to buy anything. Christmas isn’t about buying presents because you feel you ‘have’ to. There are a number of things that you really do have to do for your baby: feed, clothe, love, protect and teach them. Please note that buying presents is not on that list. If you find yourself motivated to buy presents because you feel motivated by guilt, or what other people might think, or feel under pressure to buy specific toys because they are in fashion, STOP.

The only exception to this rule is if you have older troopers that believe Santa brings gifts – if you don’t buy a little something for baby, then it may appear the have been ‘naughty’. It can be something small though – Santa knows that the most important thing to give a baby at Christmas is a lot of love and a couple of gentle kisses.
However, if you really do want to buy your baby gifts – and in this current climate it’s great to support the High Street – or if relatives are asking for suitable present ideas, bear in mind the following advice.
2. Buy, or ask for, what you need. If your baby trooper requires any kit, from clothes to cots then why not make this their Christmas gift? This will be genuinely useful to you and your baby trooper. In the absence of guidance from you about suitable gifts, you may end up with a host of cuddly toys and Christmas outfits with a severely limited shelf life.
3. Go for bold colours and interesting texture. Babies aren’t attracted to pastel colours – parents are. If buying anything for baby from toys to clothes, go for big, bright and bold colours. Baby troopers also love texture, but make sure not to give them anything with sharp corners if they have the dexterity to put their hand to their mouth. Baby troopers love to taste their world and will try and put everything in their mouth. In the early days of developing this skill the sometimes miss and hit themselves in the face. Make sure their toys are soft enough to cause no harm
4. Toys with (gentle) noise. Loud and sudden noises can startle young baby trooeprs. But all troopers love toys with noise, regardless of their age. Go for something easy on the ear, like a soft rattle or a tinkling bell. This has the added advantage of being easier for your ears too – too much noise can be overwhelming for the whole unit.
5. Hide, or donate, surplus gifts. Contrary to popular belief, troopers really can only play with so many toys at once. This is especially true for babies. If your baby trooper gets a hoard of toys at Christmas, hide some of the evergreen ones that you believe they will get fun out of in the coming months (depending on their stage of development): soft toys, rattles, more interactive toys etc. These can then be brought out of hiding throughout the year, which means your baby trooper will have a steady supply of new toys. Let your baby trooper play with the age-appropriate toys they have been given, and let them decide which ones they like. The ones that don’t get played with can be kept safe and donated to charities that provide presents for underprivileged children next Christmas. In my opinion there is simply nothing better that you can do with them.
Family Album

The days are long but the years are short

It may not seem like it now, but you have a really short time with your little troopers. There’s not much more than 1800 days between birth and age five.
When you’re in the thick of parenting, multi-tasking, running here there and everywhere it is easy to forget how quickly the time slips by.
It sounds like a cliche but it really does seem like only yesterday that this picture of Samuel was taken.
Seize the day.

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Christmas Gift Idea: a Family Bauble

It’s Christmas!! And time to make the Sinclair family bauble…
See below for last year’s brilliant effort, created using our thumbprints. My wife had actually asked me to cover the fingertips on one hand of Sam, Jude and Liberty with paint and rest a bauble in it, so that it would look like they were holding them. Unfortunately I got the wrong end of the stick, but I hope you’ll agree the beauty below still looks rather great:

In my august opinion, baubles are great for a number of reasons:

  • They make really great Christmas presents, especially for grandparents.
  • They are a great keepsake for years to come (even now we’re playing the ‘is my thumbprint bigger than it was last year? game).
  • Making them is a nice and christmassy family activity, and as we go to a ceramic cafe, no cleaning up is required. My crafty friend tells me it is possible to make one with foil, paper, painted thumbs and PVA glue, but I am leaving that one to the experts.

If you do make them as gifts though, be sure to make yourself one too. The one above was actually meant to me my mum’s christmas present last year but when it was completed the little troopers couldn’t bear to part with it. You have been warned.

The Book

How I got a Publisher for my Parenting Book – Commando Dad: Basic Training

Apparently, it is virtually impossible to get a publisher. I’m glad I didn’t know before I tried, or I might have been put off. As it is, I got two offers on my book. This is how.

  1. I wrote the book. Well, the first version of it any way. After four years of thinking about it, talking about it and getting my friends to agree it was a good idea, I was no nearer to actually writing it. People were now starting to ask me whatever happened about the book. I found it hard to say nothing, because I never did anything with it – far harder than I would have found it to say that I had given it my best shot, but no publisher was interested. So for 10 Saturday mornings in a row, I sat down with my wife and wrote a chapter. We promised to send what we’d written to our cousin Annie every week, a promise that kept us honest. I found that having a pile of papers that I could point to and say ‘this is my book’ had a miraculous effect on galvanising me into action. I had a book. It was real.

2. I wrote a book synopsis. In fact, the synopsis was so good that it actually made me change the book. Trying to make it as appealing as possible to publishers, (by answering questions such as who would buy it, how it was different from what was already out there etc.) made me look at my book more critically. I included three chapters of the book in the synopsis.
3. I didn’t bother with an agent. Oh, I know you are supposed to, because that’s the way of doing things. But when the penny dropped that I was supposed to go through the Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook and send out a lot of manuscripts to a lot of agents, the majority of whom, by the simple law of averages would reject it I decided not to. I didn’t want to feel that I was a failure before I had even begun. And stamps are expensive.
4. I did my research on publishers. The problem with agents was that we didn’t know the difference between the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. So I thought that by far the best bet was to target suitable publishers and ring them up to find out the agents they care about. Then I’d just target those. I had already researched publishers – on and offline – that had released books specifically for dads, written by dads. I had a list of 8. I called up 4, and two of those asked to see the manuscript. The two that reviewed the manuscript made offers. In less than a week.
5. I spoke to the publishers about what they thought my book would look like. The first time you speak to a publisher it is an exciting and amazing experience but I had watched too many documentaries about famous bands signing to labels to get carried away in the moment. Act in haste, repent at leisure. As my criteria for Commando Dad: Basic Training had always been ‘would I pick up this book?’ and ‘would this book have been useful to me as a stay-at-home dad?’ I prepared a set of questions to find out if their vision for the book was the same as mine. So for example, I asked them what they thought it would look like, how big it would be, how many pages it would have, how much they’d like to sell it for etc. I also asked them to send over a draft contract, which is very, very telling.

In the end I chose the publisher that seemed to have a similar vision for the book to the one I had and was amenable to listening to the opinion of a complete novice like me. The book’s not out until May next year – just in time to make a great present for Father’s Day – so I have yet to see how it will sell, but I can honestly say that together we produced the exact book that I have been seeing in my mind’s eye for years.
This of course is the short version – each of these bullet points could make a long and probably boring blog all of their own, and we haven’t even got into the ‘what to do with a contract’ territory, but the main points are here. I am happy to elaborate if anyone wants me to.

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Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree!

Today is the one year anniversary of us moving into this house. If you remember, this time last year we had deep snow, and it wasn’t until that snow disappeared in January that we discovered we had a real life Christmas tree lurking in a pot in the garden.
Well, it’s the time of year for Christmas trees (again) and yesterday afternoon I managed to drag it into the house.
The first surprise was how a tree that seemed mid-sized in the garden became a veritable giant once it crossed the threshold. It touches the roof. The second surprise was a nest lurking in the branches. We had a quick family conference about what to do which largely consisted of us all clambering to have a look, and everyone saying ‘aaaah’. My wife Tara then Googled it to discover that it must be removed right away as it might contain mites. We all took a step back. Then she went on to read that we should have given the tree a really good shake and prune out egg cases. We all took another step back. Tara stopped reading.
We had two choices – we either dragged the real Christmas tree back out into the garden and dug out our little green plastic one from the loft, or we took our chances. The kids looked at all the decorations and the big impressive tree standing right there. Jude said: “Dad, do you actually know exactly here the plastic Christmas tree is?” “No.” We took our chances.
And here’s the result:

Thankfully, we didn’t come down to be greeted by lots of little insects that have been woken up by the immense wattage generated by three strings of lights. We’re keeping an eye out though!