Messy play and muddy walks – fun in the country

I was challenged to write a post about messy play with my children (if you enjoy it please vote for me here, I’d be super duper grateful)- how I did laugh. It would strain my capabilities far more to find some non-messy play to write about in this house! Life with a three year old is basically one of containment and crisis management. From the time he discovered an open bag of flour on a low shelf to the time he realised you could colour the kitchen floor in with a green sharpie (don’t. Just… don’t. The memory still makes me shudder) I spend my life cleaning up messes and trying to stop the laundry basket overflowing to the point where the entire landing  becomes the laundry basket.

From playdough jam tarts (green is such an appetising colour, no?)
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to baking (licking the bowl is the best bit, right?) our every day lived experience is messy play.

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With that in mind I actually didn’t need to set up a special messy play session, however, living in the countryside, muddy walks are actually our default position when we need something to do. We usually do three or four a week when the smalls are up to it, but The Girl is Les Miz at the moment and The Boy is currently suffering from ‘Old legs’ (a consequence of shooting up 2cm in the space of a week I suspect) so we’re confined to barracks far more than normal.

When we head out we have a litany of songs to sing (as well as full, head-to-toe waterproofs, I’m not silly. Also useful when he spills his thermos of hot chocolate down his front, which seems to be unavoidable), favourite of which is “The Hippopotamus ” by Flanders & Swann.

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Here he is actually sitting in a muddy puddle. Go figure.

Here’s The Boy bellowing as he stomps, unfortunately (?) not the most impressive mud we’ve encountered, but c’est la vie.

We also like to give voice to a series of other relevant ditties (song and rhyme), a list of which follows, but do let me know if you have any more suggestions as we’re always looking to add to our repertoire:
– The sun has got his hat on
– It’s raining, it’s pouring
– You are my sunshine
– Rain rain go away  (noticing a theme here? We are in England after all, home of the changeable weather front)
– There’s a worm at the bottom of my garden
– Incy wincy spider

And when we resume our walks we’ll be launching into some nice seasonal favourites too, like Frosty the Snowman, Snowflake and Nick Cope’s fabulous It’s a Snowman Kinda Day.

The straight back home for a nice hose-down in the back garden!

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Motherhood moments

I’ve been having a tough time with parenting recently. The Boy’s behaviour has been trying: very aggressive and abrupt and his listening skills are nil. He keeps hurting the baby and it breaks my heart, but the hardest bit of it all is keeping control of myself. I lose my temper and shout and feel ashamed afterwards, but I’ve been working really hard on stopping that; after all, I’m supposed to be the grown up in this situation. Things had just about reached their worst and lowest point – I was crying to the Man on Monday at the thought of being left alone with both of them, when suddenly things started to turn around.

Now, I don’t fool myself, I know we’ll experience some lows again, but while we’re having a reasonably positive time of things, I want to list some of the stuff that makes my heart sing about being a mother, because there are so many moments full of sweetness and it’s not always easy to focus on those when you’re struggling.

  • The ease with which you can make a baby laugh – nibbling or kissing every little bit of them, catching hold of their toes, repeatedly lunging towards them with a silly noise: it’s so uplifting to be able to make someone giggle like that
  • Telling jokes with The Boy – how delightful that he’s finally old enough to understand knock knock jokes, even if the reason he;s laughing is possibly just because the joke has the word ‘poo’ in it. Let’s face it, to a three year old the word ‘poo’ is the joke.

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    Happy being-sung-to face

  • The look on The Girl’s face when I sing to her – a trusting happiness as she gazes at me that completely takes my breath away.
  • The way that, when The Boy is wretched poorly he turns back into my baby again, snuggling in, having cuddles, wanting me to smooth his hair and hold my cool hand against his hot little forehead in a way that makes my heart ache as I remember how my mother did the same for me and that vivid memory of the feel of her hand on my skin, the sweet powdery smell of her perfume and the plaited gold links of her bracelet gleaming.
  • The Girl is babbling, just nonsense consonants mostly, but every time she wants my attention it’s ‘mumumumum’ until I look at her. I’d forgotten how precious it was to hear those first utterances of your special-to-them name.
  • The Boy offered a piece of his advent calendar chocolate to his sister entirely off his own bat. Why did I not realise that watching the children you love show love to each other was one of the most moving things you can witness?
  • The way a bit of ribbon or a plastic tub can entertain a baby for an absurdly long time and the excitement they can experience doing so. Who knew a pot of Bottom Butter could incite one to bounce up and down on one’s knees and squeak with the thrill of it?
  • How you can send a three year old upstairs to get a pair of socks and half an hour later he still hasn’t returned but you can hear him conducting a complex social interaction between his wooden engines, ‘doing’ all the voices with great enthusiasm.
  • The sheer intoxicating moreishness of their smell when they’re all sleep-drunk and warm. Milky, yeasty, sweet and mine.

Sorry if this post is a bit of a mish-mash, but then I wrote more for me than you. I’d love to know what moments have made your heart melt this week though…?

The lazy person’s guide to a quick & easy Christmas wreath

I love getting ready for Christmas, not so much the presents and gifts side of things, but the food, crafts, decorations and generally making everything pretty and festive.  Part of that, for me, is making a lovely leafy wreath for our front door, but I have far too little time to mess around with the whole spagnum moss malarkey, too little money to buy ready-made and too much middle class snobbery taste to want anything plastic.

IMG_7346.jpgYears ago I bought this plastic ivy wreath from Ikea, I think it was intended as a table decoration, but I use it as a quick and dirty jumping off point for my front door wreath.

IMG_7347.jpgYesterday the smalls and I went for a foraging walk with a pair of secateurs and I stocked the buggy basket with anything that looked useful – Ivy strands, holly sprigs, clusters of rosehips, unidentified red and yellow berries (possibly Rowan?), black ivy berries and elegant sprays of eucalyptus.  I made sure to get lots of red, because I love how they pop against our dark blue door and I also grabbed some of these lovely fluffy clematis seedheads as a contrast to the spiky holly.

Well I tucked the loose sprays and clusters through the plastic ivy, secured with a length of green gardeners wire where necessary, then tied on a couple of ribbons – I love the trailing gold tails mingling with the ivy sprays. Ta dah!

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And with the leftover greenery I made this dinky little Christmas bouquet.

Christmas bouquet

What to put in a reusable Christmas advent calendar

Many moons ago, before I had children (and therefore no time to sew, boo hoo) I made The Man this beautiful patchwork advent calendar. It took me a long time and I honoured its promise by filling it with expensive sweets for him. Now we have children and I object to just stuffing them full of chocolate or toys so we needed to come up with something special to put in the pockets in the countdown to the 25th.IMG_7338 (2)

Had we been religious we would have put a little figurine of each of the characters in the nativity so The Boy could, over the days, construct the full scene – shepherds and donkey and all. In an effort to avoid too much hypocrisy we chose not to do that this year, so what to do instead? Something meaningful, something special, something relevant…

Well, we couldn’t quite get away from the chocolate element – we have a bag of coins and (having learnt from the great advent calendar raid of 2014) we will only be filling each pocket the night before, but we’re adding a little something extra: a Christmas thought.

These are little slips of paper I wrote something on. Some are instructions, some are thoughts, some are treats or challenges. If you care to see them I’ll do a transcript below. Remember these are aimed at a 3 (nearly 4) year old so you might need to adjust up or down if you want to borrow the idea. If you do then please let me know what you include. I’m going to need to do this again next year, after all.

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-Time for a Christmas disco – play Christmas music and dance with Mummy & Daddy
– Work extra hard on your listening today
– Sing a song to someone who needs cheering up
– Christmas treat! Cake & hot chocolate at a cafe with Mummy
– Christmas scavenger hunt: go for a walk and see how many Christmas things you can find
– Remember, when you feel angry, jump up and down and tell a grown up
– Look for something beautiful and tell Mummy & Daddy about it
– Tidy up without being asked
– This is a ticket for a Christmas story – give it to a grown up and they’ll read it to you
– Make something beautiful today for someone you love
– Learn a Christmas song to sing
– Find someone at preschool who you don’t know very well and ask them to sit with you at lunch or story time
– Find someone who’s sad and try to make them smile
– Voucher for a Christmas song – give this to a grown-up and they will sing to you
– Draw a lovely picture for someone you love
– Learn a joke to tell at dinner time
– Help Mummy with the housework today – ask her what you can do
– Say something nice to everyone you talk to today
– Ask Mummy to put the popcorn on – it’s Christmas movie afternoon today!
– Read or tell your little sister a story (ask for help if you need to)
– Daddy will take you shopping to buy Mummy’s gift
– Ask a child you don’t know very well to play with you
– Wrap it up – time to get your presents looking pretty
– Christmas tomorrow – make sure you go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep!

 

6 reasons to celebrate breastfeeding

I was offered the opportunity to take part in this blog hop about Christmas and breastfeeding, but I’m not sure what I can say about breastfeeding that is Christmas-relevant. I could state that it’s a gift and a blessing, in this season of blessings and gift-giving, but that would make a mighty short post so I thought I’d take a slightly sideways approach and write about celebrating breastfeeding. So here are all the reasons I can think of to celebrate the wonderful act of breastfeeding – please let me know if I’ve forgotten anything!

1 – free
Babies cost: everybody knows that. That’s why being able to feed them for free is so great, for as long as it lasts. Before you know it they’ll be throwing a shit fit on the floor of Tesco (or the supermarket of your choice) because they want every pot of jam in the confiture aisle and you’ll be fondly remembering the days when their nutrition cost you nothing.

2 – cake
All that money you’ve saved on artificial baby milk? Now you get to spend it on cake and other goodies for you because – ta dah! Making milk burns calories. Alternatively you could do what a very disciplined fellow preschool mum told me she did and go on a diet plan whilst feeding and burn twice the weight, but if you’re like me you’re famished and exhausted and only sugar and caffeine keeps you running, so eat the damn cake and be guilt free.

3 – easy
It’s sterile. It’s the right temperature. It provides the exact amount required (except in those leaky first weeks when you’re boobs are still figuring it out). You make it with no effort (unless you count eating extra cake: see point 2). You can make it when you’re asleep and never have to get out of bed. To lazy mamas like me this has to be the biggest point to celebrate – hurray for extra time in bed!

4 – love
Yes, breastfeeding promotes bonding, you’re holding your baby in your arms, but you know bottle-feeding mamas do that too and I’m sure they’re just as bonded to their babies. What breastmilk provides that is completely unique is the hormonal oomph of oxytocin – a super-rush of liquid love that gives you and your baby a feelgood kick like no other so you can relive the moment you met every time you nurse.

5 – multipurpose
Squirt it in gummy eyes, wipe it on sore bottoms , dab on cuts – milk is seemingly magic and so gentle you can inhale it without damaging the lining of your lungs. Wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing this mind.

6 – perfect
Finally let’s celebrate how this milk is perfectly designed just for your baby – no-one else’s. You make the stem cell loaded, microbiome-rich, probiotic, immuno-boosting milk that your baby needs depending on their exact needs at that exact time. Easily digestible, full of fat, magic milk.


 

The code word for the Celebrating Breastfeeding Christmas Extravaganza is candle. 
With special thanks to our sponsors for providing the amazing prizes: ARDO, LoveyUsh, Milk & Mummy, Lorna Drew, Mummy Makes Milk,Thrupenny Bits, breastvest, Mothers’ Love Cookies and More4Mums.
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Make your own cheapie fleece liners for reusable cloth nappies

I have made a massive, bargainous, money-saving, effort saving attempt this week. I have made my own fleece nappy liners and it has cost me less than £2 for 12 – it’s £7.50 for 10 if you buy them ready made – and they’re so bloody simple and easy that I am making the effort to do a blog tutorial so others can benefit, even though it makes me seem like a total hippy saddo.

Whilst The Girl has been joining us for meals for a few months now, it’s only been recently that she’s actually started eating any substantial amount of solids and – please excuse the tmi – she’s now doing substantial poos to match. Cloth nappies have many benefits, but scraping actual grown-up-person shit off before they can go in the machine is seriously not one of them. I used the disposable paper liners with The Boy, but they were notoriously rubbish: crinkling up into his butt crack and utterly failing at their designed purpose. On a girl this is exacerbated even further by the extra creases it can work its way into.

Liners are useful for a number of reasons and whilst the biggest reason – clean up after a poo-nami – may seem to make a ‘chuck it down the loo’ dispoable the obvious choice, fleece liners may have the edge in other ways: more likely to stay in place, thus catching the poo. You can then just rinse it in the loo; protecting expensive natural-fibre nappies from bottom creams, thus maintaining their absorbency and protecting delicate derrières from wash-roughened sodden cotton inserts.

I was in a well known low-cost supermarket branch two days ago (starts with an ‘A’ ) and, I dunno, think they might have been running a baby event or something, but they were flogging a fleece blanket for £1.75 (marked down from a pricey £2.something) and on the spur of the moment decided to grab one to make fleece liners.

By God it was complicated. I had to trim off the hemming (why do they hem fleece blankets? It’s not like they fray or roll), then use an insert as a template and cut it up into pieces. Done. Bish bash bosh. I may have been lying about the complexity level. No sewing, no fancy stuff, no messing. 12 inserts for £1.75. That’s roughly 15p per liner. Bargain!

If it’s not too inestimably dull I’ll let you know how they work out.

Stupid stuff I beat myself up about on a daily basis

I think we all have this, don’t we? Us parents, anyway. Things we promise ourselves we’ll do better, or at all, and then we don’t prioritise it and it just becomes a niggling worry eating away at our sanity until it keeps us awake until 3am fretting over whether anything is actually going mouldy in the bottom of the washing basket, only to go back to sleep promising you’ll definitely, 100%, absolutely do something about it tomorrow, but you spend all night dreaming you’re trying to do it whilst endless obstacles prevent you until you wake, three hours later, too exhausted to do other than the very bare minimum to keep everything ticking over.

Or is that just me?

1- The laundry basket having, um, well, laundry in it.  With a family of four, including a pukey, newly-weaning baby in cloth nappies, a three-year who magnetises mud and has had a slight continence regression and a husband who cycles to work and spends his spare time tinkering with car engines, the laundry is plentiful, varied and never-ending. The only way I could ever possibly get to the bottom of it would be to make them all move out.  Families make washing. If I can ever learn to accept this my life would be infinitely less stressful.

2- My son’s ’show and tell diary’.  This is a handy journal to help join up what’s going on at home with what’s going on at preschool, but I never remember to write in the damn thing. I do, however, collar the supervisor or The Boy’s keyworker at the door most mornings and have an intense Q&A session with them about the latest biting incident or the fact he’s learnt to, I dunno, write his own name or whatever. I will not get social services knocking at the door because I haven’t stuck in his latest piece of ‘art’ work.

3- The fact I didn’t cook broccoli with dinner last night.  I did, however, feed them shepherd’s pie with grated courgette in – and chopped carrot, too, for that matter. The fact there’s no vegetable also on the side of the plate does NOT mean my kids will get scurvy. Even if they got scrmabled eggs on toast for dinner for a week they would still not get scurvy, rickets, or any other kind of malutrition-related illness. As long as I don’t feed them generic fast-food and milkshakes week in, week out, they will grow up strong and healthy.

4- That I have a friend coming and haven’t cleaned up yet. She’s known me for 21 years now. She knows I favour the chaos-theory style of living. She will be fed and entertained (if you can call being sent to retrieve a rogue three year old from t’other side of the park and forced to critique Strictly with me ‘entertained’) and will not judge me if I haven’t hoovered. Plus we all know I’ll run around cleaning like a blue-arsed fly on Saturday morning whilst the baby is asleep and The Boy is zombified in front of a DVD.

5- That I still don’t have a job lined up for when The Girl starts school (four years hence I might add), or any work experience to switch into broadcasting like I want to, or a life plan in general other than ‘keep myself and my children alive until they’re old enough to do it for themselves’.

So there you go – five of my current brain farts. What kind of stupid stuff keeps you awake at night?

John Lewis versus Sainsburys – battle of the Christmas advert 2015!

I remember last year well. My belly was swollen with child, my Boy was not yet 3 and, therefore, still rather sweet than otherwise, Christmas music was playing on every speaker and the John Lewis Christmas advert with the penguin was on repeat on my laptop for The Boy’s amusement.  Not so this year. We’ve watched the ‘Man in the Moon’ just twice and then he completely lost interest and hasn’t mentioned it since.  Yesterday we were notified of the new Sainsbury’s ad and, oh dear John Lewis, you’ve lost your crown. Mog the cat in all her CGI glory, thankfully resurrected for Christmas 2015 – walking tree and all.

It’s only 10.30am but we’ve probably seen it five or six times this morning already and the only reason we’re not still watching the damn thing is because I wrestled my laptop back off The Boy in order to write this post!

In my humble opinion JL is flogging a bit of a dead horse. OK, so it’s a girl this year, not a boy, and it’s a Man on the Moon, not a penguin, but there’s still a child with an imaginary friend, a saccharine Ellie Goulding-style cover version of a golden oldie, a touching sentimental act and lots of Christmas sparkle. I have no issue with sparkle (I’m not a Grinch or anything) but I felt like this year’s ad was just a tired remake of the 2014 one, with some rather clunky product placement to boot (check out the scene with the scooter) whereas the Sainsbury’s ad was something completely new and different – from John Lewis and from their own, rather excellent, 2014 offering.

I’ve embedded all four of the adverts below so you can compare and contrast for yourself, but I think you’ll agree the Mog one has something special about it in the same way Monty the penguin did last year. Plus, yaknow, it gets The Boy’s seal of approval. Think the penguin still wins overall, though – I just had to view all the vids to get the embed code and I was made to watch Monty the Penguin twice more before I could finish. So Sainsburys may have won this year, but JL win over the last two. Can’t say fairer than that. But next year, John Lewis – you’re going to have to bring it.

2015

2014

Monty the Penguin – still our favourite. What do you think?

Review: Cosmic Kids Yoga Youtube Channel

Cosmic Kids Yoga website
I may have mentioned once or twice than The Boy, like many (most?) three year olds is a tiny bundle of seriously high-energy, wired over-tiredness, a ticking time bomb of half-understood emotion and high spirits just waiting for a thwarting of his will to completely lose.his.shit.  Preschool have suggested some strategies, The Man and I have done our research and read up a few parenting books and tried all kinds of different ways to help him regulate his emotions and behaviour. Banning television has helped, to a point, and I thought mindfulness might be a useful skill for him to learn, but when I tried it we actually ended up with our biggest meltdown ever – turns out the difficulty of teaching your own children anything starts pretty early.

Anyway, one day I was doing my early-morning yoga (Erin Motz 30 day yoga if you want to look it up) and, as usual, the kids were fascinated: using me as a tunnel, bridge and all-round climbing frame (yippee). Having spotted some childrens’ yoga on the menu I asked The Boy if he’d like to have a go at one and he jumped at the chance.  We had a few trial and error fails (awful American accents, patronising instructors etc) but then I lit upon Cosmic Kids Yoga Youtube and I knew we were onto a winner.

The instructor, Jaime, is warm, friendly, straightforward and English – actually based in South Oxfordshire! Her enthusiasm is never failing, her approach is beautifully aimed at younger yogis without being condescending and, for a free-to-view channel, the production values are extremely high, with lovely animations and high-resolution viewing. They even have two age-group categories so there are film-based sessions for older kids (like this Harry Potter one below) and animal stories for 3-6 year olds.

The Boy, not known for his long attention span or focus, frequently does two or three of these in a row (that’s half an hour to 45 minutes of peace and quiet!) and even, occasionally watches the Cosmic Kids Zen Den, which focuses on mindfulness and meditation.

I love the way there is a wind down session at the end when Jaime helps kids deal with big emotions like fear or worry , and even discusses listening, focusing and concentration – all Big Topics, Chez Oxfordshire.

I really cannot recommend Cosmic Kids Yoga highly enough. I have not been asked to review them, I have received no money for doing so. I just think they’re the bee’s pyjamas, the dog’s knees, the cat’s bollocks and I had to do a review.

Portrait of a stay at home mum

The Man is currently off sick with a chest infection, so he’s cocooned in a duvet on the sofa feeling sorry for himself whilst The Girl, who’s just had a nap, bounces up and down on his lap. How To Train Your Dragon, a family favourite, is playing on the television because it’s filthy weather outisde and we’re all a bit run down. The Boy has taken it into his head to dress up as a knight and is fighting imaginary dragons in our (tiny) sitting room whilst The Girl laughs at the floorshow. I am running in and out to check everybody is OK whilst also making leek and potato soup for lunch from our allotment produce.

This afternoon we need to put the finishing touches to the papier mache dragon head The Boy and I are making for his Halloween costume and I have to construct a tail for The Girl and dragon wings for The Boy.  I also need to get the pizza dough made for dinner and meringe ghosts for the Halloween party tomorrow (I will almost certainly do a tutorial post on this).  I also need to stay on top of the washing up, find somewhere to hang the wet washing so it can dry without getting in anybody’s way (a hard task in our bijou residence) and clear up from all craft activities. I doubt I will get round to the hoovering. This is all before the BIG DRAMA of dinner and bedtime.

What do stay at home mums do all day? I’m not entirely certain because it never feels like anything actually gets done, but my family are healthy, happy and well fed and the kids will have costumes for their party tomorrow. I have even managed to wrangle a blog post out of it, though whether it actually gets posted the day I wrote it is another matter. (The answer to that is a big resounding no. I wrote this over a week ago and am only just editing it now. Oops. Saw that one coming!)

portrait of a stay at home mum

just some of the emotions experienced on a daily – nay – hourly basis…

Does this post sound a little smug? Perhaps it is, but that’s mainly because I feel a constant need to justify my position as a SAHM, even though my baby is only 7 months old and I am actually self-employed as well. Look at me, I exude through every action, I am worthy of respect, I do have value, even though I earn very little money. But who places a value on raising the next generation?