Sunday, 31 July 2011

7 cheap or free activities for a toddler

1)  Paint a box - painting doesn't have to be restricted to paper, and for young toddler, using something different frees up any expectations (from the adult) of producing a "picture" and allows the toddler to just experience the paint and mixing of colours.  We used a big cardboard box.  A few weeks ago I cut geometric shape holes in the sides and made it a little den in his bedroom with a cushion in the bottom.  This week I asked him what colour he wanted to paint it, and the reply was red and blue.

2) Jump in puddles, kick autumn leaves or make snow people/animals (depends on the weather!)

3) Wash up - provide a step-stool to stand on, some not-too-hot water, an apron, plenty of bubbles and some plastic bowls and jugs, a whisk and a wooden spoon to "wash".  This is even better if this is actual washing up after a baking session, but they'll often spend more time on the washing up than the baking!  Be aware that your floor will be awash after this session, but it's usually the impetus I need to get the mop out.

4) Feed ducks - take your stale bread and find a park or pond where there are ducks.  Be wary of swans, they are big and can be vicious.  Most towns in the UK have signs up asking you not to feed pigeons or sea-gulls as they can become a nuisance.

5) Harvest - if you grow your own then you probably already do this.  Get your toddler involved in gathering food.  Whether this is as simple as growing a couple of strawberry plants in a container or going blackberrying, or whether you involve them in harvesting runner-beans, lettuce, mint, peas, blackcurrants and raspberries, carrots and potatoes.  Alternatively, you could ask a friend if they need help gathering their apples, or you could aim for the wild harvest and find blackberrys, wild raspberries, wild cherries and more.

6)  Magazine or junk mail collage - Collect a finished magazine or some junk mail and encourage your child to tear it up.  Then get out the glue and stick to a piece of paper.  For younger toddlers go for PVA and encourage them to spread the glue onto the paper and then lay the magazine pieces on however they feel like.  Older toddlers can be encouraged to sort the pieces by colour and to make a picture.

7) Playpark - From the small and rarely used play park in a village or on an estate, to the well maintained and enormously popular, there are playparks all over the place waiting for you to discover them.  Try to get friends to come to, because toddlers learn how to use the equipment by watching what other children do.

Friday, 29 July 2011

"The Man Who Invented History - Travels with Herodotus" by Justin Marozzi

Book Review:
The Man Who Invented History: Travels with Herodotus
I didn't choose this book myself, though I am trying to read all the books we have in the house, so I would have got to it eventually, but it's the first book that Big C has finished in ages, and he enjoyed it and recommended it.

The best things about this book are: 

  • that I learned loads
  • that I definitely want to travel to Greece, Turkey and Egypt and see more of the places described
  • that I want to read more about the History and mythology of this part of the world.
It's basically a travel book, but it's hinged around the writings and travels of Herodotus, which means that there is a lot of history and also a real sense of fun and adventure (it seems that Herodotus had a habit of spicing up his "Histories" with entertaining anecdotes).

There were several times as I read the book that I wished I had both a dictionary and an encyclopedia, and Big C said that he wished he had a map to refer to when he was reading.  Justin Marozzi has an enviable vocabulary, and he also refers to a wide variety of subjects.  I may well return to this book more slowly in the future, and with the reference books to hand.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

The boy's birthday

Apologies to begin with that I abandoned the blog yet again for a holiday.  We've spent a week in Devon with my family and friends.  We've had a lovely time, but the days just seem to rush by.  We managed to spend a week in a seaside resort without once making it to the beach!  As for train rides lasting over eight hours with a baby and toddler in tow... regular snacks for toddler are essential.  I found the trip down relatively easy, though neither of them slept.  Little C was good as gold.  The return journey, after a week of disrupted sleep routine, when all three of us were tired, was less successful, but we all made it back in one piece and on time - without upsetting any of our fellow passengers, so it can't be all bad.

Anyway, skip back a week and a half to the birthday:

My Little C has turned two!

He came downstairs to find this from mummy and daddy and Little Sister - 
and these presents too - 
and spent the day playing with them and making cake - 

For birthday tea it was just the family, and we had Little C's choice of sausage and chips from the chip shop, followed by our home-made cake - 
What a lovely relaxing day!  I think all the demanding what cake/party/presents they want comes later, so for now we're just keeping it simple and enjoying his delight at his "Happy Birthday".

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Aims and Targets

In case you're wondering how I got on with my targets from a couple of weeks ago, well... let's just say I'm still working on them!  Actually no, I'm doing pretty well.  I've been catching up quite well with the housework.  My filofax is once again organised (thank goodness - I feel a bit lost without that being in order).  My desk can once again be found and I have nearly cleared my in-box.  Oh, and  I have finally booked the Scout Training Course venues which I should have done ages ago.

I'm not making any aims or targets for the coming week because I'm away on holiday for a week as of Wednesday.   Just me and the kiddies down to Devon for the week to see my family and friends down there.  

I guess I should probably resolve to stay cool, calm and collected throughout the 8 hour+ train journey with toddler and baby in tow, including finding a seat and entertaining the toddler as he gets more and more tired through the journey; managing nappy changes in train toilets; managing to get from one train to another across a large and in-the-middle of renovation works station with buggy, toddler, baby, back-pack and large bag... can you tell I'm a little nervous about the prospect??  I'm determined that it will be easier than it would be to drive the whole distance though, so I have snacks and activities at the ready and we're all systems go.

I think I should probably also aim to make sure that tomorrow goes fabulously well for Little C.  It's his second birthday.  I can't believe he's two already.  More on that before I go on holiday.

One little target and aim I do have though is to lose some weight and get fitter.  I'm happily back to my pregnancy weight (she's 5 months old so that's not too bad).  However, my pre-pregnancy weight is a good stone heavier than I should be, and a stone and a half heavier than my ideal weight - the weight I was back in 2004 when I cycled from Land's End to John O'Groats and was the fittest I've been since I was 16.  I'm not going to actually disclose my weight here, but suffice it to say that I've set myself some rewards.  When I have lost half a stone I will go to the hairdresser (big event, I normally hack my own tresses).  When I have lost one stone and am down to what I should be, then I'll splash out on a new outfit.  If (and it's a big IF) I get down a stone and a half to my "Wow I'm pleased with myself" weight, then I will set myself a new target by entering myself for a triathlon.
How am I going to do it?  Not by dieting, see my post about "101 things to do before you diet".  I like food too much for dieting, so it'll never last.  Plus, I have a toddler and we do baking, and enjoy it.  And baking is always sweet and yummy.  No, instead I'm focusing on moving  more.  I've been out jogging or on the exercise bike almost every evening for the last few weeks, and I feel much better for it.  I also go out walking with a buggy and a child attached somewhere, and occasionally put on a "Fitness and Fun for Mummy and Me" DVD which I either do with toddler or watched with much astonishment by toddler and baby.  Smaller portions, and just a little more self-control when it comes to the chip shop, sweets, chocolate, late night snacks and cakes will also help.  It might take a while, but it will come off.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Mummy Ramblings

A few random thoughts from mummy-dom:

  • Really, nothing beats that feeling when baby is snuggled in next to you in bed, sucking at the breast and looking into your eyes with their deep, deep ocean eyes.
  • The other great thing about breast-feeding - you get to this point, coming up to five months in, and you look at your baby and know that everything there is your effort.  I mean, I know that genetically Big C put in his half, and that he's certainly involved in her mental development, but physically, so far, it's all me.  I grew her from a little seed for nine months until she was a fully grown ready-to-be-born baby and then since then I have fed her and grown her and fed her and nurtured her, and wow she's fabulous!
  • Little C now has both a toilet seat and a potty.  The toilet seat we've had a while and he's sat on it a few times and has even produced a "number 2" to many congratulations and much whooping from mummy (who had been patiently sitting there with  him for nearly half an hour).  The potty I just got this morning.  He's beginning to be more aware of the sensation of needing to go, and going, and to help him equate this to what actually comes out, he's nappy-free in the garden at the moment.  I thought a potty to go in might be a good idea, especially since he wasn't entirely happy when it came out on the lawn yesterday.  He didn't go to the potty to do it (number 2) today though either - and don't even go there with the disgusting-ness of this - before I even had a chance to get a tissue to pick it up and dispose of it, in swoops the dog and wolfs it down... yuck!!!  That's twice in two days she's done this - I didn't let her lick me for quite a while I assure you.  Anyway, Little C is not even 2 yet (birthday on Monday!) so I think he's doing pretty well to have some sense of what's going on down there, and am not intending to rush him.
  • Love his language at the  moment.  He's doing brilliantly.  He constructs amazing sentences and has a great vocabulary, and is even having a go at plurals and tenses.  He hasn't quite got the hang of me/you/he yet though, so we had a conversation earlier like this (he's talking about his toy bin lorry):  Little C - "You got it from Grandma"; Mummy - "That's right, you did get it from Grandma, you need to say 'I got it from Grandma'.  Can you say that?";  Little C - (thinks for a moment) "He got his bin lorry from Grandma.  Grandma sent it to him in a parcel.";  You've got to love him for the effort he put in!
  • Bubble bath - Not bubble bath, but bubbles in the bath.  I brought one of those little pots of bubbles that Little C had in a party bag along to bath time tonight, and while Little Sis splashed vigorously and Little C poured water from one container to another I started blowing bubbles for them.  Little Sis was instantly wide-eyed and entranced, totally focused on the bubbles floating above her, while Little C started rather dangerously bouncing around the bath trying to catch them all.  Definitely one to repeat.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011


Another book review - this one is:

"Sarum" by Edward Rutherford.

I first got this book ten years ago in 2001, and it was second hand and a bit battered back then.  I've just read it for what I think is the third time, and a paperback more than 1300 pages long, I guess you can imagine the tattered state its in.

The story begins with pre-historic man roaming the tundra in the time when the land bridge still existed between mainland Britain and Europe.  A hunter and his woman settle along one of the five rivers which make up the area around Salisbury.  This tale is then woven around their descendants and others who arrive and settle in the area, from the descendants of Saxons (the Shockleys), the descendants of a Roman pen-pusher (the Porteus family) and descendants of a Norman knights (Godefroi).  Factual events and people are interwoven with fiction and guesswork to create a truly readable and historically fascinating read.

Book Crossing logoBy the fact that I've read it three times you'll guess that I've really enjoyed this book.  I'm now going to pass it on through the Bookcrossing scheme, and put his other books ("Dublin", "London", The Forest", "Russka" and "New York") on to my wish list to see if they are as good!

Monday, 11 July 2011

Easiest recipe ever - cheesy pastry shapes

This is the easiest recipe ever.

All you need is some shop bought shortcrust pastry, some margerine, Marmite and grated cheese (I used Cheddar and Parmesan).

Roll out the pastry.  Spread with margerine and Marmite, sprinkle with grated cheese, then fold and re-roll.  We repeated this process about three times.

Then use the shaped cutter to cut out the pastry shapes and then re-roll and cut some more.

Lay out the shapes on a floured baking tin, and then spread about half of them with a bit more Marmite and sprinkle with a little more cheese.

Bake at 180C for 20-30 minutes.

Yum, melt in the mouth deliciousness, and it's all easy enough for a toddler to get stuck in with.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Can't you sleep, Little Sister?

My evenings this week have vanished.  Projects hang in the air like so many spinning plates, hoping that I might return to them in time to stop them crashing to the ground.

Little Sister has discovered that being awake means fun time.  That awake time should equal mummy time, and that mummy time should equal breast.

This means that my previously brilliant, self-soothing, sleeping through the night and great naps kind of girl has taken to sleep refusal.  I've been putting her to bed, and as soon as the thumb is in the mouth (usually a sign that sleep is on the way) heading out for a jog with the dog.  I've been coming home to find a frustrated husband who can't console his little girl.  As soon as I appear she smiles, giggles, latches on and that's her attached for the night pretty much.

You might suggest that I should get him to take the dog out (he has tonight), but firstly he does his walk in the morning, and secondly, I need the fresh air and exercise as much as the dog does!

Tonight I decided I would wait until she's properly asleep before going out, but she cycled from thumb sucking to shouting and back again several times without actually going to sleep.  Big C took the dog.  She's now getting herself upset, so I'll go and settle her again, hoping that this time she'll actually go to sleep and stay that way, as she's getting pretty tired (as am I!).

Monday, 4 July 2011

Aims for the Week

If you're interested, yes I managed to achieve the third thing (the mountain of laundry and ironing from the holiday) on my list for last week. 
So now on to this week:

  1. Clear my desk
  2. catch up with my filofax organisation
  3. book some Scout training course venues
  4. do at least ten items of housework on my list for the week

Sunday, 3 July 2011

A moment in time

I just took my camera for a quick five minute stroll around the house at 7pm and snapped the things that caught my eye:
home made washable baby wipes waiting to be topped up with solution (camomile tea)

I'm surprised the wheels aren't smoking with all the riding this gets

the paddling pool - abandoned for now after being used as an "outdoor bath" for the afternoon

veggie patch - not as productive as I'd like this year, but I had a baby in the Spring!
I'm just pleased it's weeded and tidy.


worn out

it's been a sunny one, we've had the sun-cream out

Friday, 1 July 2011

The poetry of spice racks

I think you can tell a lot about a person by looking at their spice racks.  I'll describe a couple and you'll see what I mean.

First, there's the spice rack that has barely been touched since the day it was received as a wedding gift.  The occasional foray into the Mixed Herbs or even occasionally into the Ginger, Cinnamon or Mixed Spice on occasional domesticated baking days.  I have to say that I think there are one or two spice racks like these among my sisters and parents.  The spices and herbs are rarely refreshed or used, and are just there because that's what you're supposed to have in your kitchen.  Check out this Michael McIntyre clip for a more eloquent way of describing it - I love it, it's so true!

Second, there's the spice rack belonging to a child of the war era (my in-laws).  A fabulous cook, the herbs and spices are well used.  The rack is customised to personal cooking, with home made labels.  However, the range is limited to spices for baking, and a few herbs.  Adventurous and experimental cookery are definitely not the name of the game here.  There are no exotic spices, and definitely no garlic.

Finally, there's a spice rack like this:
This spice rack oozes character.  As you can see the conventional spice rack with space for 12 jars just doesn't cut it.  I want my spice rack to inspire me to culinary adventures.  The contents are a cacophony of smells and heady aromas.  Opening a jar takes you instantly to the souks of Istanbul, to the herb patch in the garden, to a favourite restaurant.  The names are evocative - Ras el Hanout, paprika, saffron and cinnamon - I am transported to the early explorers and the huge trade built up around these valuable commodities.  It may look chaotic (and poor Big C would have to hunt to find what he wants) but there is an organisation in place, though throwing jars back on the shelves as I cook with a toddler means that it frequently needs to be tidied.  Top shelf - bicarb of soda, baking powder, cream of tartar, food colourings, vanilla essence, bouquet garni, birthday cake candles etc.
Second shelf - short jars arranged alphabetically, and paper cake cases
Third shelf - tall jars arranged alphabetically and tomato puree
Bottom shelf - big tubs and pots, Calpol, Marmite, stock cubes, Tobasco, mustards and gravy granules.

I love my spice rack.  It takes central place in my kitchen and I think it tells anybody who sees it that I love to cook.  I'd love to see photos of other people's spice racks, so post a link to a photo below, and we'll draw some conclusions about what kind of cook you are...