Sunday, 30 October 2011

Just pottering

Sometimes it's best to allow plenty of time for a toddler to simply be a toddler and potter around.  

I'm all for doing things with your toddler.  I try to have a planned activity of some sort each morning and afternoon, whether that's a going out activity - walking the dog, going to Toddlers, going swimming, grocery shopping or the library, or a staying in activity - watching some TV, baking, sticking, painting.  I also have a range of quick 5 minute things to do such as hide and seek, bubbles, nursery rhymes and stories, for those moments when you can sense that the toddler is losing it a little and needs some direction.  

But I think it's vital not to over plan, and to be flexible.  I think that it's really important to allow plenty of time for children to just be.  Not to do anything with or for them unless they specifically ask.  I know many toddlers who are ferried from organised activity to organised activity - tumble tots, baby sensory, baby signing, music classes, swimming classes and about 4 different mother and toddler groups, and the rest of the time when they are at home CBeebies is on.  I think this is great.  They are obviously learning a lot of social and other skills while out and about.  But when do they learn to use their imaginations and just play with their toys?  

I bring this up now because the other week when Little C got up from his nap he wanted to play in his bedroom and he wanted me to play too.  He was playing with his cars and I got the Megabloks out and said I was going to make a building.  After watching me for a few minutes he instructed me to build a car-park, and said that I would need to make the door big enough for his Landrover.  He then proceeded to spend the next hour driving all his cars into the car park and park them there, including little conversations about where they were going to park.  Needless to say I didn't bother about the sticking activity I had planned!  For the next few days any time that we were at home he asked to get the Megabloks and cars out, told me that I should build a car park, and then played on his own for about an hour.  Then the cars were put to one side again for a few days while he played with other things.  

This week, as Little Sis is getting more active and beginning to pull herself up on furniture, I pulled the soft stool into the middle of the sitting room so that she could use it to stand up.  It didn't take long for it to be commandeered as a car-park and for the last few days at any opportunity Little C has taken all his cars, one at a time, out of the box, and parked them in various configurations on the stool, chatting to himself all the while about where they will park.  If I had every day filled up with paid-for, time-limited activities, when would he have had the chance to play like this?

Big C got a new electronic gadget three days ago.  I looked at part of the packaging and decided it would make a good post box.  When Little C was in bed, I got out the stanley knife and made some adaptations.  I then found a couple of envelopes from the recycling box and hey presto there's a post box.  Little C has been posting letters in there, then he's been investigating it with his torch, shining the torch in to and out of the slot.  He's investigated what other items can fit through the slot (not many of his cars it seems).  And finally, today, he asked if he could draw on it.  He's decided it needs to be red, because post boxes are red.  Again, I'm not convinced that he would have had the time to learn so much all by himself if we went to more organised activities.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Water Play

We have a visual timetable.  I've made lots of laminated little cards for every conceivable activity and they go on our weekly timetable.  I've blogged about this before.  Currently Little C has a sticker chart for saying Please and Thank-you (this was very successful, so we've made it harder and he only gets the stickers if he uses the words without a reminder, or to somebody outside our family).  When he gets ten stickers on the chart, he gets to choose from six activities, and his choice fits onto the next available slot on the calendar.  Today he chose "Water Play".

Here's how we did it today:

While the two of them were having their snack I set up the kitchen.  I put a big tub and a washing-up bowl in the middle of the floor, and laid out four old towels around the outside.  
In the tubs I put bath toys, a sprayer/mister, a couple of jugs, some bowls and cups, a sports bottle, a bucket and an empty plastic milk bottle.  I filled four of the containers with water, and put a couple of drops of different food colouring in three of them.  We had red, yellow and green water.

I then got them down from their snack and undressed them down to vests.  I sat them on the towels, and told them that we needed to keep the water within the towel area so it would be easier to clean up.  We then got stuck in.  I showed them pouring and spraying, mixing water colours and so on.  After a few minutes I stepped back to allow them to get on with it, and I sat nearby, reading the paper.  Close enough to be there if needed, but far enough away that they could explore freely.

Little Sis just grabbed things and was surprised every time that she got covered or spattered with red water.  
Little C learned about pouring.  I think he poured every single container from one to the other.  Then, when I took Little Sis for a nap, he practised spraying.

This activity kept them both absorbed for over an hour.  Cleaning up was very easy.  Little C put all the items back in the tub.  We rubbed the floor with the towels and put them into the washing machine ready for the next load.  I put the bath toys back in the bathroom and everything else in the dishwasher.  Job done!

(and what were the six activities he could choose from?  Baking, Walk in the Woods, Watch a video, TV time, Wet Play, Train Set - I'm always fascinated by his choices...)

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Star gazing

I live in a little village just at the northern edge of the Central belt of Scotland.  Above our house, on the north side of the village is a hill.  It's our hill.

Tonight I walked up there and around the meadow with the Waggy-tailed-one.  It was a bit chilly but the stars were beautiful, so I took the opportunity to lie down on a bench and stare up at them.  The Waggy-tailed-one snuffled around me, despairing at my sanity.

I couldn't see any black spaces up there.  Any dark areas, when you looked at them, turned out to be full of fainter stars, and any dark areas between them, more stars, even fainter.  I picked out the Plough.  It's the only one I really know.  I looked at sparkling stars and wondered whether they were planets or satellites.  I saw movement, and wondered whether these were satellites or planes.  Then I saw a shooting star.  Lying there, on a bench with the mist forming on my breath, looking at the enormity of space, I almost felt I could feel the earth turn on its axis.

I heard an owl hoot nearby.  I felt the moist, hot breath of the dog on my cheek.  Above me the beginnings of clouds began to gather softly over the hill.  What a beautiful world we live in.  Time to go home.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Book Review - "A Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley

This is one of those books that you see referred to in countless other books.  One that people assume you've read if you do any reading at all... along with 1984 and Animal Farm, Catch 22 and most of Dickens.  So I thought I'd better get on and read it.  After keeping my eyes open for it for a long time, I finally bought it on Green Metropolis - the best second hand book market on the web in my humble opinion.

The world portrayed in this book is both fantasy and horribly familiar.  It makes you question your very existence, and the amount of "conditioning" we are subject to all the time.  The manipulation of the population to like sports which involve spending, as this supports the economy - you wonder if this is why so many people like football - along with the millions spent on players, the costs of the latest football strip and the ever increasing costs to get in.  Leisure has indeed become capitalist and commodified.  And what about people being pre-conditioned to be happy with their social status - where does our current society and education leave us with that?  We seem to be edging ever further from social class mobility, and increasing charges for university, while still expecting everybody to go in order to get any sort of decent job is only going to make things worse.

I read this book with a sort of macabre fascination, wondering what would happen next and how it could ever come good in the end.  Without wishing to spoil it for you if you've never read it... it doesn't.

This is one of those books that anybody who thinks about anything must read and ponder.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Going on an Adventure

What a lovely day we've had.  We decided to go on an adventure.
While Big C took the Waggy-tailed-one out for a walk this morning and Little Sis napped I got the house tidied up and moved the car-seats around.

We drove into Glasgow...

We caught the underground train...

We went on a boat...

We went to the new Riverside Museum - it's fabulous, mostly a museum of transport, but there are other bits there too.  How horrified was I though, to find exhibits from the 1980s... in a museum!  There were toys just exactly like those that I used to play with... in a museum!!!!!  I'm not old am I?

Then back on the boat...

Back on the train...

Back in the car...

Picnic tea on the sitting room carpet...

Fabulous day!  All the way home Little C was telling us that he wanted to go back to the museum and go on the boat and have an adventure.  We've told him that there will be many more adventures to come... We can't wait!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

My beans

Don't have time to post a full post today.  I've been swimming, dropped some stuff at the charity shop, had lunch, put the little ones to bed for a nap, mowed the lawns, washed a ride-on toy.  I'm preparing for a meeting tonight, baking some bread, and making a fish pie.  Then I'm getting the little ones up from their nap, feeding the baby, taking the dog and little ones out for a walk, getting the fish pie out of the oven and serving it, feeding the baby and going out to my meeting, which is an hour drive away.  Busy day!

So anyway, I thought I'd go for a visual post instead.  Here are my gorgeous beans!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Film Review - Jane Eyre

I went to the cinema on Saturday night for the first time since Little C was born 27 months ago.  I wanted to see Jane Eyre and as it isn't the sort of film that hubby would enjoy decided to ask a couple of friends to join me.  I was very excited to be going out - felt like a real grown up again!

While the experience of going to the cinema was rewarding and enjoyable, I have to say the film was disappointing.  It was directed by Cary Fukanaga and starred Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.

I had no love for the main characters and therefore didn't care what happened to them.  I'm a girl who cries at everything, but this didn't move a single tear - I just hadn't got to know the characters enough to empathise.  I didn't like the way that they kept flicking back and forth between parts of the story, I found it distracting and annoying.  I didn't like the way they filmed walking bits as though the cameraman was also walking, it made me feel sea-sick.  As you can tell I wasn't very impressed.

My disappointment was made worse by the fact that Jane Eyre is my favourite book (I'll tell you more about why in another post in the future).  I do love the BBC television adaptation from 2006, which is directed by Susanna White and stars Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens (bizarrely I think Michael Fassbender and Toby Stephens have the same voice, was this deliberate?)

I'm no film connoisseur, I just know what I enjoy and what I like.  For film reviews and other bits and pieces from somebody who knows what they're talking about, check out "Film Tinted Glasses", my lovely niece's blog.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Finished Project - Hooded Towel for Toddler

A superbly easy Hooded Poncho towel for a toddler:

I can finally put this project to bed - it has been on the go for quite a while.  The initial cutting and sewing part took very little time at all, but because towel is thick, and I didn't want to risk it in my nice new sewing machine, I did it by hand and the joins were a bit frayed and untidy, so I sewed on some binding to tidy it all up.  This is what took the time, it's just been sitting in my sitting room with a needle stuck in it for weeks half done, while I catch the odd half hour in front of the TV once the children have gone to bed.

What you need:

  • 1 hand towel and 1 bath towel.  They don't need to be the same colour, though if they match it looks better.  Mine weren't quite matching, and they were also a bit stained/faded in places (old towels) so I threw them in the washing machine with a batch of baby vests etc. and some Dylon machine fabric dye in "Ocean Blue".
  • Matching binding and thread.
What to do:
  • This is the easy bit for me... Click on this link to "Sewing/Needlework @ Suite 101" where a lovely lady called Barbara Thompson has all the instructions beautifully illustrated.
  • I then sewed binding on to the inside joins to tidy it all up.
I'm pretty pleased with the result, though Little C doesn't like having the hood up very much.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

"How to be Free" by Tom Hodgkinson - Book Review

This book is very interesting.  I love Tom Hodgkinson's other book, "The Idle Parent" (a must-read for any parent).  

While I love many of the ideas and tips in this book, I found his ranting against Protestantism, Puritanism and Henry VIII a little off-putting.  He basically blames them for all the ills of society.  While there were many great things about Catholicism and the Medieval times, there were also many ills, and I don't think they are quite the balm that they are represented as.

However... I love the principles that make up the backbone of this book, the hints and tips which will ultimately make us happier people.  Watch this space, as I think I'll make a series of blog posts exploring the principles one by one.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

A good idea

Paint pots for toddler painting.

Rather than using conventional paint pots (which you have to buy) for painting with toddlers, make use of what you find in the recycle bin.  Yoghurt pots or fabric softener lids are good, but egg cartons are even better.  Don't put a lot of paint in, you can always top up and since toddlers don't remember to wash their brush each time, it's going to end up sludge coloured pretty quickly anyway.  A plate or a foil quiche tray is good as a mixing palette.

The best thing - at the end of the painting session you only need to wash the brushes and the apron - the paint pots and mixing palette can be thrown away ... unlike the work of art!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Busy Mum's Magic Recipe

Home made soup.

Warming, filling, healthy, hearty, delicious.

Grab the bits and pieces, start them off, fill the house with tempting aromas, come back to yummy lunch.

First off - saving veg:
When I  dig up a whole load of veg all at once that'll never get eaten, I'm never sure how best to store it.  So I peel and chop and throw it in a freezer bag and into the freezer in the garage with a label.  I don't know how well the structure would survive defrosting, but when it comes time to make a soup or a stew I just head down to the garage and grab a handful of whatever I want - it means I always have home-grown veg to hand.  This is also a useful trick for when you see fruit or veg "reduced for quick sale" in the shop, just slightly past it's best.  Peel, chop, throw out any manky bits and freeze for purees, pies, stews or soups.

Now here are two soups I've made this week.

Roast butternut squash, sweet potato and red onion.

  • Peel a butternut squash, a sweet potato and a red onion and chop into large chunks.
  • Place on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and roast for 45 minutes at about 180C.
  • Put into a blender in batches with a little stock and blitz.
  • Transfer to a pan, stir in as much stock as you like for the consistency that you want and reheat to serve.
  • Lovely with a swirl of creme fraiche or double cream.
Veg delight.
  • Peel and chop half an onion or a couple of shallots (whatever you have lying around), and saute in a little oil.
  • Throw in any bits of frozen root veg from your veg saving (see above) and add any bits from the bottom of your fridge or from your garden - today I used a handful of turnip and a handful of potato from the freezer, two carrots from the garden and half a butternut squash from the fridge.  Also add a small handful of lentils if you like.
  • Pour on enough stock to cover the veg.  Bring to the boil.  Reduce heat and leave to simmer for at least an hour.
  • Remove from the heat and allow to cool a bit.  Blitz with a hand blender (watch out because it will probably splash and may still be hot).  Add some more stock if required for the consistency. 
  • Reheat to serve.
I love the way that these soups take hardly any effort, but I am creating something delicious, I know what's in it, and my children love it.

Little C dunks his bread in, leaves it on the plate to cool down and then tucks in.  Once the bread has finished he sets to work on the spoon.

Little Sis, still only seven and a half months can't get to grips with the spoon yet, so I just give her plenty of dunked bread, which she smears all over her face with gusto.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Beating the Supermarkets

I would love not to shop in a supermarket.  I would love to shop locally, but I don't do it nearly as much as I would like to.  Why?

Shopping involves a toddler and a baby.  Before any trip out they need to be well fed and nappy changed.    Then I need to get them togged up in socks and shoes, jumpers, coats etc.    My nearest shop is 3 miles away, so any trip involves a drive, so I need to get them out into the Landrover and strapped in.  Then on arrival at any shop I need to get them out of the Landrover.  Then, I need to attempt to find a parking space, get from the Landrover to the shop/s and get around the shop with them.  This means that I'll either be carrying one and holding hands with the other, or I'll have one in the sling and hold hands with the other, or I'll have one in the pushchair and one in the sling or one in the pushchair and the other one holding on to the pushchair etc. etc. I then have to negotiate narrow aisles, doorways, things stacked all over the place, and somehow still have a hand free to pick things up from the shelf and carry them to the check-out!  Inevitably this means you can't buy as much in one go, which means that you have to go through the whole pantomime again a couple of days later.  

For a while after I had Little Sis I was trying to do this.  Since the village where the shops are has pushchair friendly walks, and mine doesn't, I was even trying to tie in a walk with the Waggy-tailed-one at the same time.  Suffice to say, after a couple of months of near insanity as I tried to negotiate my way with a baby in a pushchair, a toddler, a dog and a couple of bags of shopping, through wind and weather, then tried to work out the logistics of which should be put in the vehicle first - which would stay still on the pavement while I put the other in, the dog or the toddler? - to say nothing of the overloaded pushchair falling over, and the difficulty of managing to push a pushchair through narrow aisles, hang on to a small toddler and hold a shopping basket all at the same time... I gave up and went back to the supermarket.

In the supermarket, much as I hate to admit it, they make things much easier.  They have parking right outside, even with designated parent and child parking spaces nearer the door with wide spaces for getting children in and out.  They have specially designed trolleys so that I can put the children in and have two hands free for shopping and plenty of space to put the groceries.  They have everything I need under one roof - which local shop sells kitchen roll when you need it?  Why do local shops only seem to sell branded products that are much more expensive?  I only need to do a shop once a week.

Aaahhh!!! I feel as though I'm selling out on myself.  I can't stand the homogeneous supermarkets, the death that they deal to small retailers, the marketing treadmill that you step on as soon as you get to the door... Please... any suggestions how I can do my shopping without resorting to the supermarket!!!???

Friday, 7 October 2011

"Be the change you wish to see in the world" Gandhi

I want to be part of a community where people look after one another and our surroundings, without necessarily expecting there to be something in it for them.

So it was about time I gave a bit of thought to my community.  
I spent a short hour on Sunday afternoon hacking back the undergrowth from around the village hall.  It was a small thing.  It didn't take long.  It was physical labour outdoors so I enjoyed it.  I got to know some new people.  I think I need to do a bit more of that.  As well as the "Many hands make light work" scenario and the fact that any job is more fun if there are a few people doing it.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Macmillan Coffee Morning

Friday 30th September was Macmillan Coffee Morning.

Here we are again with the whole community thing.  If you want your community to support you, then you should support them.  Plus, where can you go wrong with a hall full of friendly people, a sit down, a cup of tea or two and some cakes?

Macmillan Cancer Relief are a great charity.  They look after people suffering with cancer and their families.  They provide advice on telling friends and relatives that you have "The Big C" and on filling in forms to make sure that you get the benefits you're entitled to.  They sit and listen to both the people who have cancer and their loved ones, giving them space to talk about their concerns.  They provide information on cancer and the treatments.  And Macmillan nurses are wonderful expert nurses working both in hospitals and in the community.  

Entry to the coffee morning was by donation, with as many cups of tea or cakes as you wanted, plus there was a stall selling bits and pieces and cakes and marmalade.  I was more than happy to donate £5 for me and Little C and to buy a jar of home-made marmalade.

It was lovely to see Little C chatting to little old ladies, Little Sis grinning away at everybody, and for me to have a sit down and a cup of tea that I didn't have to make.  It wasn't even out of my way, as we stopped by on our way home from the supermarket.  I'm trying to give up the supermarket, more on that in another post in the future.

So our next community event?  There's another coffee morning coming up this Saturday for Dollar Scout Group.  I think I may well be there!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


Another cheap and free idea for entertaining a toddler.  I just provided a range of items from the recycling box - pizza boxes, lightbulb box, milk bottle lids, pictures from magazines, loo roll tubes, yoghurt pots etc., some PVA glue and a brush and set him loose.
He spent about an hour quite happily gluing things to a pizza box.  I pottered around the kitchen and occasionally stepped in with some support or direction, showing him for example how to:

  • brush the backs of things with glue in order to stick them on, not just placing them on and then gluing the top
  • hold things still for a while to let the glue start to dry so that they stick on

While we didn't make anything that resembled anything, and there was no clear outcome for production in mind, I just wanted him to experience playing with glue and learning what works and what doesn't.  He was pretty happy with the result anyway, which is all that matters.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Big Ears Little Ears

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra have just piloted a trio of concerts for mums (or dads, carers, aunties, grandparents etc. and babies).  The idea is that mums with young babies don't get out much, and might  miss a bit of classical music and culture.  So along the lines of the "bumps and babes" daytime cinema showings, this is a concert for the mums, but where it's perfectly okay to have a small screaming thing along with you.

little ears
Firstly the price was very reasonable.  It was £6 for the adult and a baby under 18 months old, and then £5 for every additional adult or child over 18 months.  The Programme was a reasonable forty-five minutes, and included some incredible classics like Mendelssohn's Hebridean Overture, some Romanian dances, and some lullabies sung by mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill.  This was very well thought out.  The music was planned to either soothe the babies or get them jiggling and enthusiastic, as well as speaking to the parents.  There were brilliant lullabies and also a fabulous song about trying to get your baby to sleep in the middle of the night, and you actually got to feel like a grown up while listening to real grown up music.
big ears and little ears

In addition the concert was at 11am, so a good time to watch and then continue on for lunch and an afternoon nap.  Lights were left up so that you could see what you were doing with the baby, they made it very clear that while they would prefer the adults not to chat during the music, it was absolutely fine for the babies to "join in" as much as they wanted.  They operated an open-door policy so that you could leave the auditorium (for nappy changes or to deal with complete melt downs) and re-enter at any time.  

I really enjoyed the concert.  I was delighted when an acquaintance spotted me as she came in and came and sat with me.  Little Sis was quite happy to stare at the orchestra, to sit on my lap and jiggle or to feed and go to sleep.  So all in all it was a real success and did exactly what it was designed to do.  

Little C didn't quite "get it", but it wasn't aimed at toddlers.  It would be really great to see the Scottish Chamber Orchestra do another series next year aimed at small children - say from 2-10 year olds (in addition to, or alternating years with the baby concert).  They could introduce each instrument - tell them something about it and let it play - children's introduction to the orchestra? - include things like the duck song, Peter and the Wolf, the Carnival of the Animals and so on.  It would appeal to mums with pre-schoolers who would like to introduce their children to the pleasures of real live music from real instruments, as well as to school trips.