Special summer moments

As August comes to a close, it feels like summer is well and truly over. ToddlerGirl asked me if it was autumn today as we headed to our local park – with grey skies, a faint hint of rain in the air and leaves swirling around us, I had to admit it felt like it!

But what a summer it’s been… We had a wonderful family holiday to Majorca at the beginning (which seems a lifetime ago now) and have enjoyed a few day trips out here and there. Perhaps not our most active time – we’ve been doing a lot close to home and in our garden, thanks to me being heavily pregnant – but 2014 will always be a stand out summer. It’s the summer our little girl turned three. And it’s the summer we welcomed her sister into our world.

Special summer moments

One of my favourite memories will be a simple family afternoon out to the beach. Our ‘new’ family of four, adjusting to life with a little baby and a toddler. The act of getting out the house together has been a pretty major achievement in these first three weeks. Our beach trip was no different; we congratulated ourselves on making it out by lunchtime and then managed to spend an hour driving around one of our nearby coastal towns trying to find a parking space! ToddlerGirl was woken from napping by her grizzly sister and, hungry, hot and tired, began a fairly epic tantrum when she realised she could see the sea but couldn’t actually get to it! Not the most fun start and definitely not what we’d had in mind.

If at first you don’t succeed… carry on driving up the coast! Bribing ToddlerGirl with some crunchy carrot sticks (crisp snacks, not the healthy kind) we made it to a different, more staid but altogether calmer, seaside resort. Of course, by the time we arrived BabyGirl needed feeding, as did we, so we ended up having a ‘car picnic’ facing a brick wall in the car park – although, funnily enough, ToddlerGirl quite enjoyed this, amusing herself by turning the hazard lights on and off and pressing other, random buttons on the dashboard.

Two hours after setting off, we made it out of the car and onto the beach. Hooray! The sun was shining, it felt glorious to breathe in the fresh sea air, I was carrying BabyGirl in the sling and revelling in being hands free, and best of all, the four of us were out together.

Beach art

The sunshine sparkled on the sea and ToddlerGirl was happily engaged in finding stones to throw into the water, cheering when they sunk with a satisfying ‘plop’. We found a jellyfish and some clever beach art. We ate ice cream. We soaked up the normality of Getting Out Of The House. It didn’t matter that we had spent so long getting there, or that it wasn’t the bucket and spade, picnic on the beach outing we had originally envisaged. It was one of those summer trips I will always remember, a moment of complete contentment amidst the sleep deprivation and the learning how to juggle two children’s needs.

At the beach

There is something about getting to the coast that I find so good for the soul. We headed home, batteries recharged. Then ToddlerGirl and the husband sat at the table to make a brilliant beach collage picture, inspired by the tips from Steph Tilley over on the Centre Parcs blog for preserving summer memories. The finished artwork has pride of place on our noticeboard and makes me smile every time I look at it, remembering our lovely afternoon.

It was BabyGirl’s first trip to the beach (although she slept through the entire stay!) and it was time for us to be a family and have fun with ToddlerGirl. A truly special summer moment :)

This is my entry to the Center Parcs and Tots 100 August challenge. If I’m chosen, I would like to visit Longleat Village.


Playtime Pinspiration: Coloured water play

Create a coloured water station in the garden for your toddler to explore. Mixing the colours and pouring the water into various containers will keep them entertained for ages.

Playtime Pinspiration - Coloured Water Play

This brilliant Playtime Pinspiration comes from the Happy Hooligans’ colour mixing laboratory. I spotted it a while back and pinned it for the summer, as I knew it was something I wanted to do outdoors…! It’s part of my giant summer sensory and messy play activity list and I’m so glad we got a chance to do it. ToddlerGirl had a lot of fun and, by taking the activity into the garden on a hot summer’s day, there really was minimal clean up involved afterwards.

The set up is very simple. All you need are a few containers for the water (I used differently shaped Tupperware boxes plus a couple of old water bottles and a jug) and the coloured water itself. I just used our normal food colouring from the kitchen cupboard but you can also get liquid watercolours, which Happy Hooligans suggests as they produce a more vibrant colour. I did have to shake in quite a few drops of colouring so that it showed up but this wasn’t a problem.

ToddlerGirl was very excited when I explained to her what we were doing and helped me set up her workbench in the garden with the containers lined up along the top. We made up four different containers of coloured water: yellow, red, blue and green. They looked gorgeous in the sunshine and I’m not surprised that ToddlerGirl couldn’t wait to get her hands on them!

First, she just had fun pouring the water into the various containers, letting it slosh over the top. Then she noticed that when she mixed the colours together, they made a completely different shade. We have talked a little about colour mixing before when painting but not for a while, so it was interesting to see that this activity triggered her memory of our previous conversations. She informed me that yellow + blue made green and red + blue made purple and then gave a little demonstration, which I loved!

Coloured water play for toddlers

She did manage to get through the first batch of coloured water much more quickly than I anticipated, so I ended up doing a couple of trips back to the kitchen to replenish the supply. I’m not sure how to avoid this as it seems inevitable that some of the water will get lost in the pouring and mixing. To keep the activity going, it is either a case of topping up the water as you go or, to make it a bit less work, perhaps having a couple of larger bottles of water ready for when the first lot runs out.

The Happy Hooligans version of this activity uses a lot more implements and utensils than I had to hand, including things like droppers and syringes, as well as a wider variety of bottles. I would definitely try to collect up more items like this to use the next time we try this as it would give a lot more scope for exploring the transferring of the liquid.

You could also use the activity as a basis for talking about measuring, from the gauging of filling a container without the water overflowing to actually making some marks on the containers and challenging your little one to fill to the marks etc. I think ToddlerGirl is ready for this, so I may try chatting about it a bit next time.

For there will definitely be a next time! This activity was a real hit with ToddlerGirl and very easy for me to set up and supervise in the garden. Thank you Happy Hooligans for such a fun Playtime Pinspiration!


A moment of meditation

When I was younger, I had a special spot in our house that was my little private escape. It was the windowsill of our spare room, which looked over our cul-de-sac and, in the distance, gave a lovely view of the South Downs.

I would take myself off to this spot sometimes just to sit and think and look out of the window. This was usually at dusk, which was – and probably still is – my favourite part of the day. I loved to see the colour of the sky changing over the hills as day turned into night. I loved how still everything would become, as if the world was preparing for sleep just like me. I loved to lean out of the window and smell the night air, especially on a hot summer’s evening when the faint fragrance of flowers and pine reminded me of holidays abroad.

And I would have to write it all out. My diary must have been filled with endless pages of descriptions of dusk. If I read them now, I would probably smile at the earnest efforts of an 11 year old budding writer. Whole paragraphs were devoted to the nuances of pink and purple in the sky and the shadows forming on the Downs, as I tried to find exactly the right words to capture the magical feeling I had as I sat there. (No doubt borrowing heavily in style from whatever book I was reading at the time!)

I was reminded of all this earlier this evening. With the husband out and ToddlerGirl sleeping peacefully, I stepped out onto our back porch on my way to the kitchen. I could hear the sounds of cars in the distance, the pop of balls on some nearby tennis courts and the last few birds tweeting their way back to their roosts for the night. Behind all this, though, I could feel the same stillness that used to captivate me so much as a child. I sat down to soak it up, letting my mind clear completely for a few minutes.

I’m not usually very good at turning my thoughts off. This is probably why I suffer occasionally from insomnia. Meditating is beyond me, as I find it impossible to stop my inner voice sneaking back in as I am trying to relax. But, sitting outside, sensing the dusk deepening around me, I could feel calm spreading over me. My thoughts were silenced for a few moments at least and I was perfectly content to just sit there for a while, not doing anything.

Not doing anything. That’s a luxury I don’t have very often these days running around after a hyper toddler. Even during my downtime, the temptation is to multitask – checking in on my phone or laptop at the same time as watching some evening TV. Or reading a book in bed until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer.

Life can be so crowded but there is something very cathartic about simply stopping it all, however briefly. Enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the dusk after a warm summer’s day.

Maybe my 11 year old self was onto something that I have forgotten in my busy adult life…


Liebster Award :)

Liebster Award

I’m chuffed to have been nominated for a Liebster Award by the lovely blog, What Katy Said.

I think the idea behind the awards is great: a way to get to know other bloggers better and to discover new blogs. There is more information about the Liebster Awards here but basically, if you accept the award, you should:

◦Link back to the blogger who tagged you
◦Answer the questions they set for you
◦Nominate ten other blogs and write ten questions for them to answer (and let them know about their award!)

So, here are my answers…

Q1: If you were a biscuit what biscuit would you be?

Hmm, I’m not very good at these type of questions! I asked my husband and he said it would have to be something with nuts in it, charming! I was thinking a chocolate Hobnob spread with Philadelphia cheese, as it’s a mixture of sweet and savoury and a little bit weird perhaps…

Q2: What was the last (non-kiddie) movie you watched?

Edge of Tomorrow – Tom Cruise in a kind of sci-fi Groundhog Day type film. The husband and I got out to the cinema for a date night a few weeks ago, thinking it would probably be our last cinema visit for a while once the baby arrived! The film was great; I love going to the cinema.

Q3: Have you ever broken a bone? How did you do it?

No, I’ve managed to keep all bones intact so far… Although I did used to want to break one as a child to get a cast that everyone wrote on!

Q4: What does a normal day in your life look like?

Well, we don’t have a really set routine but this year, up until a few weeks ago, a normal day would likely have been 6/6.30am start with my daughter. She always comes into bed with us, sometimes goes back to sleep, otherwise is bribed with cbeebies on the tablet for half an hour or so! Then breakfast, some mad running around to get out the house (as I’m never organised enough to prepare the night before). Recently, probably also some clothing battles with my threenager girl… Some sort of activity in the morning, an attempt at a nap around 12ish (only if she fell asleep in the car and could be transferred onto sofa!), a breather for me, then lunch and probably a quieter afternoon at home or maybe seeing friends. Tea around 5.30, then bath and bed at (hopefully) 7.30pm, sometimes later depending on the nap. Exhausted sighs of relief from us parents and some grown up time :) Bed for us too late every night, despite best intentions!

This has all changed with the birth of our second child two weeks ago… There is no normal right now!!

Q5: What TV program represents your childhood?

Hmm, things like Going Live!, Cities of Gold, Dogtanian and the Three Muskahounds (“Juliet! Juliet!”) – and Philip Scofield in the broom cupboard with Gordon the Gopher.

Q6: What has blogging taught you?

To jump on any time available to write and not worry too much about what comes out to begin with – it can always be edited and rewritten, but it’s better to get something down on the page than stare at a blank screen waiting for perfection to strike! (Definitely my problem pre-children.)

Q7: Do you cook? If so what is your signature dish?

Sort of… I cook standard family meals for us but nothing with a real ‘wow’ factor. My favourite dish to do for house guests that looks a bit different but is actually very easy is Mexican lasagne. It’s basically chilli layered in a dish with tortillas and lots of cheese!

Q8: Who was the last person to make you laugh? Why?

My little girl generally makes me laugh at least a few times every day – even on the days when she is also driving me nuts! Today, she’s been playing with a huge Happyland dinosaur we hired from the toy library and feeding it some tasty morsels in the form of her Happyland people arranged in cups, which made me chuckle!

Q9: What is the naughtiest thing you have ever done?

Ummmmm, is it a good thing or a bad thing that I can’t really think of anything off the top of my head?? All that springs to mind is skinny dipping on holiday in Greece many moons ago. I’m sure there must be other things…!

Q10: If you could go anywhere in the world where would it be?

Ooh, that’s a really tough one. Travelling is one of my favourite things to do (although I haven’t done as much since becoming a mum). I would love to do the Inca Trail in Peru, go on safari, see the pyramids, revisit Australia and New Zealand… But, actually, top of my list right now would be the west coast of Ireland, where my gran used to live. She passed away earlier this year and I miss her so much. I always loved visiting her in Ireland, she lived in an amazing spot. I haven’t been there for years and feel a little homesick for the area. I’d love to take the girls there one day soon…

Q11: What is your dream?

A happy family life with me working from home doing lots of writing would be pretty great. And, the ultimate dream would be to have a book published one day…

Here are my questions (sorry, my sleep deprived baby brain could only think of six!):

  1. What inspired you to start blogging?
  2. Where and when do you write your blog posts?
  3. If you were stranded on a desert island, what three items (other than loved ones!) would you want to take with you?
  4. What is your favourite book – and favourite children’s book?
  5. If you had a day to yourself and could do anything or go anywhere, what would you do?
  6. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

And I nominate The Knott Bump and Us, Mud Mud Marvellous Mud and Becoming a Stay at Home Mum :)


Easy-peasy pipecleaner butterflies

Take two pipecleaners and a length of ribbon to make a simple and sweet fluttery butterfly summer decoration…

Easy peasy pipecleaner butterflies

Somewhere in me there is an artistic crafty person trying to get out… I’m sure I can’t be the only one looking longingly at craft projects on Pinterest thinking ‘I would love to do that’? It’s not that I am lacking the creativity; I have a definite creative side, it’s just that unfortunately, my (lack of) artistic skills and patience don’t always allow me to express it via anything other than writing.

So I was probably overly pleased with myself for making my lovely pipecleaner butterflies!

They really are pretty and just incredibly easy to do:

  1. Take two pipecleaners in different colours (the fluffy ones work best) and a length of ribbon.
  2. With the first pipecleaner, make a sort of infinity figure of 8 and join the two ends in the middle. The two loops may need a little squishing upwards to create the effect of the top two wings.
  3. Wrap the end of the second pipecleaner around the middle of the figure of 8 to secure and then bend to make a loop for the first wing, using half the length of the pipecleaner.
  4. Secure this by wrapping the pipecleaner around the middle again and then shape the remaining portion into the second lower wing.
  5. Wrap the end of the pipecleaner around the middle to secure.
  6. Tie the length of ribbon around the middle to secure the pipecleaners together and provide something to hang them with.
  7. Shape the wings a little more if necessary; they may need a little squishing upwards or downwards to give a real ‘wing’ effect.

I made two of these and they are a lovely summer decoration in our living room. They are a bit too fiddly for ToddlerGirl to make at the moment but an older child could have a go. She was very interested in the whole process, however, and held the ribbon to pass to me when I needed it!

Now they are hanging from a shelf and she loves to look at them. Every so often, we take them down and have fun waving the ribbon and ‘fluttering’ them around the room and pretending to fly like butterflies ourselves, which is an easy little activity to get moving if we’ve been stuck in the house for too long!


Why I’m no Pinterest perfect mum…

I love Pinterest. The virtual pinboard is just a genius idea, allowing people to easily collate links and images from across the web for all sorts of things. I mainly use it to source and save play ideas for ToddlerGirl and have found some really inspirational blogs as a result.

Why I am no Pinterest perfect mum

There is a downside, though. Pinterest pressure can be a very real side effect. There I am, merrily pinning away, when one of several thoughts can hit me:

  1. Wow, these mums are like superwomen. Where do they find the energy to set up these amazing activities, let alone photograph and write about them? Their children must nap…
  2. Why am I pinning all this stuff I’m never going to do? I hate sewing, can I really see myself ever attempting to make this (admittedly very cute) felt food?!
  3. Look at all these ideas for home organisation. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. And we don’t even have a pantry/playroom so I don’t know why I’m pinning these beautiful storage labels.

Sometimes, these Pinterest perfect images can be overwhelming. I am left feeling like a completely inadequate mum as I survey the chaos that is our house; or fight back the urge to scream as ToddlerGirl tantrums for the umpteenth time in a day; or give up and plonk her in front of cbeebies as I have failed, yet again, to set up an amazing sensory play tub for her to investigate.

On those days when I feel like I’m holding it all together by a thread, Pinterest is not an amusing diversion, it is something to judge myself against and come up lacking.

Of course, here I am on my blog writing about all sorts of things to do with my life at home with ToddlerGirl – including some of the fun activities we get up to. Yes, sometimes I do have the time and energy to devise a great afternoon’s entertainment for us both. And, if I blog about it, I do share it on Pinterest. Suddenly I realise that I might be contributing to somebody elses’s Pinterest pressure. There may be mums out there with the mistaken impression that our daily life is filled with imaginative activities and creative crafts.

They say the camera never lies but of course it does; it lies by omission. Certainly in the pictures I post, I’ve tried to take them to hide the mountain of mess just out of shot! And for every blog post about an activity we’ve enjoyed, there are many, many other occasions where we’ve tried something that ToddlerGirl wasn’t at all interested in, or where it ended in a tantrum, or where I just haven’t bothered at all because daily life is keeping us busy enough.

If that’s true for me, what’s the liklihood that it’s also true for the majority of other mums whose pictures I come across on Pinterest? In my rational moments, I can accept that there are very few people who skip through life without any stress or pressure points, without any days when it’s about all they can manage to get dressed, do the dishes and put dinner on the table.

I would hate anyone reading my blog to get the wrong idea about our life! I try to be honest about our tough spots, and honest about what works and what doesn’t with any activities we do.

Just in case, here’s what we’ve been up to today:

  • A trip to our local soft play, which didn’t happen after ToddlerGirl fell asleep in the car. I decided to keep driving to keep her asleep and enjoyed a peaceful 45 minutes in air conditioned comfort listening to the radio instead – and felt that the morning had actually turned out better than I had planned!!
  • Ten minutes of cbeebies, which turned into an hour…
  • An attempt to set up a princess paddling pool for ToddlerGirl in the garden. The red food colouring I added to turn it pink just made the water a bit murky. I used washing up liquid for some pretty lame bubbles. I didn’t have the energy to think of any more princessy elements to add so just stuck in a watering can and bucket. And ToddlerGirl ended up spending a grand total of maybe 15 minutes splashing around anyway before wanting to dump the contents of her sand pit into the pool, coat her body in wet sand and wash it off…!

Ho hum. So there you go, I’m really not a Pinterest perfect mum by any stretch of the imagination. But that’s ok because I reckon nobody is really – or that’s what I’ll keep telling myself, anyway!


My daughter in five words

One of the blogs I follow on Facebook recently asked the question: How would you describe your eldest child in five words or less? Of course, I was immediately thinking of words to fit ToddlerGirl. The trouble was narrowing them down to five!

There are so many things I could say about my lovely little girl but, in the end, I settled on these…

Energetic
This is the word that immediately springs to mind for ToddlerGirl. She has been very active since a baby, crawling, cruising and walking early. She’s happiest doing, preferably outdoors. Her energy is both exhausting and fabulous!

Curious
Or I could say ‘into everything’. I think it goes hand in hand with how active she is; she always wants to explore round the corner or look inside the draw/box or examine the out of reach item. Now she’s talking, she asks so many questions every day. It can also be an exhausting trait but one which I hope she keeps through her life.

Tactile
The flip side to my little bundle of energy is how cuddly she is. As a baby, she was happiest snuggled on one of us (not in her cot!) and she reached out her hands to touch whoever was holding her virtually from the moment she was born. If she’s sitting next to us, she needs to put a hand on our arm or will stroke our arms. I love how cuddly she is.

Strong willed
Oh, so strong willed… This trait was there as a baby, I think it propelled her into motion. But we have really noticed it since hitting toddlerhood! It can be hard work, she rarely accepts a boundary without question. We have had to be consistent and firm with our limits, learn endless calm and patience, and really rack our brains to deal with such persistence from her without everything ending in a tussle. But it’s not something we never want to squash out of her as, if she can temper it with self control, I think it will be a valuable character trait as she gets older.

Vibrant
She is so alive, so full on, so expressive. Whatever she does, she does with all of her self. I love the way her face lights up with the sheer joy of being and doing.

This month, ToddlerGirl will be three. I can’t quite believe it. Where have these past few years gone? It’s fascinating to watch her personality develop and unfold; seeing the things that have been there since she was a baby and getting to know new aspects of her character as they unfold. I am so proud to be her mum. I look at her every day at the moment in amazement at how grown up she has become – she really is a proper little girl now. At the same time, she’s still my baby, still has so much growing and learning to do.

And she is impossible to describe in five words or less!

How would you describe your little one in five words? It’s quite hard!


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