Summer activities for your sand and water table!

Monday, 31 August 2015

So, we have this:

Kindly bought for Jellybean by her lovely grandparents, and we have played the-heck-with it all summer (I know that sentence doesn't work). Anyway, as well as sand, we've done a few different things, so I thought I'd give you late-summer-sand-tray ideas:

1. Ball sorting

Water, spoon, bowls, balls.

That's it.

Jellybean really enjoyed this on a rare hot day as a way of cooling down. Plus it was super easy!

2. Nature soup

I got this idea from Meri Cherry and it is awesome. Basically, it is water, some flowers, cut up limes, herbs, sticks, and stones. Essentially, what I could forage from my garden (and fridge).

Mr Fish has to be within close reach at all times.

Jellybean had fun sieving/scooping up the things in the water and she told me it 'mells nice' which was, er, kind of true.

This one was really fun to set up. It's nice to have her playing with natural stuff from time to time. Which is funny as the following idea is the total opposite ;)

3. Fairy Soup

Inspired by the nature soup thing, we made fairy soup: water, pink food colouring, flowers, and lots of sparkly goodies (a friend summed it up as 'precious things' which kind of describes what it looked like).

My niece was SO into this. She made endless cups of 'fairy tea' while my daughter dumped handfuls of sequins onto my patio (where they now live).

Nothing says 'summer' like bright blue toenails. 

Admittedly this was the hardest one to clean up but definitely the prettiest activity of the three and kept them both occupied for a whopping forty-five minutes.


Anyway, it was nice to have a change from sand (even though sand is great) and I've realised how versatile this little table is. It has a plug for easy messy-stuff-removal and I can see us using it loads even in autumn/winter. You can buy it here if you're interested (I promise this is not a sponsored post, I just really like the table!)

Looking forward to reading some more summer craft ideas on the Mumsnet summer crafts linky! I want to squeeze every last drop of enjoyment out of summer once it stops flipping raining.

The highs and lows of life with a toddler

Monday, 17 August 2015

I have a toddler. In case you didn't realise. A TODDLER. Five minutes ago she was a baby, laying on the floor, wriggling around, being fairly hassle-free. Now she is much taller and constantly climbing on the furniture.

That is life, though, and time flies, and soon, my girl will be two. Two!

You might have a quick flick through my blog or my Instagram feed and think that my life is filled with crafts and baking and exploring and singing and what have you. It kind of is, but it also kind of isn't.

I have come to a place of peace with this: that the people whose blogs I idolise follow (you know the ones. The super-mother ones. The ones with the beautiful photography of the beautiful children in their beautiful homes making amazing crafts and being just-the-right-amount-of-quirky types). And yes, that sounds a bit snarky and yes, I do roll my eyes a little bit when I see another mason-jar-and-striped-straw post. But actually, I really love those blogs. I love getting inspiration. I love nosing into other peoples' lives. And I like it when I see people being creative and sharing beautiful moments with the world.

I do not for one minute believe that their lives are the sum of their Pinterest pages. The things I write about on this blog - the crafts and the recipes and the ideas and stuff - are usually one small moment in one quite long day.

For example, take today.

We got up early this morning. We took a nice walk in the buggy to the library. We had a chat along the way about the things we could see. We spent a long time looking at books, snuggled on the sofa in the library. We chose some to come home with. We came home, Jellybean had a sleep, and then we made banana bread. Jellybean did a drawing which she told me was 'a gingerbread man with hat on'. Then we (and I kid you not) enjoyed our lovely book based on Wheels on the Bus but set in Guatemala with its accompanying CD. We have played multiple games of hide and seek.

Do you hate me? I kind of do.

The thing is, you don't get to see this: I scraped my hair back this morning even though it is desperate for a wash. Jellybean got angry at another kid in the library for picking up a book she had previously discarded and I had to intervene before smacking started happening. While I made banana bread, Jellybean came down with a fit of rage due to hunger, boredom, and sudden hatred of the sound of the cake mixer, and I had to desperately give her things (food, colouring pencils, my phone) in order to keep her occupied so I could JUST FINISH IT. I shoved everything in the sink afterwards because I couldn't face the washing up. And Jellybean demanded that flipping Wheels on the Bus CD be played again and again and again and again.

'The Papis on the bus all bang their drums ... aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrgh'

And when Chris came home from work I practically pushed the pair of them out of the door to go to my in-laws house 'Oh you need to use their printer? Why don't you take her with you, that will be nice!' whilst secretly thinking I just want to have a shower, pluck my eyebrows, and secretly judge the pushy parents on Child Genius IN PEACE!

That is life with a toddler.

Pictured: the one millionth ant we had to stop and admire this morning.

It is utterly, grindingly exhausting. You never stop, ever. The eyes in the back of my head haven't quite developed properly yet so I'm constantly checking her in case she's gotten into the cupboards or is halfway up the stairs without me realising. Wherever she goes, she leaves a trail of wreckage, toys and books and wetwipes and crayons, and I expect her to help me clean those up, which sometimes takes a LONG time to get done (and involves a lot of foot stamping).

It's also beautiful. Life at its finest. She is fascinated by everything; the entire world is interesting to her, from a double decker bus to a tiny little ant on the floor. She greets new and exciting things with a gasp and an 'Oh, WOW!'. Her enthusiasm is completely genuine. She learns new words, it seems, every couple of minutes, and listening to her gathering her thoughts about something and attempting to form sentences is quite amazing.

I get to watch her conquer things she couldn't previously do (even if they are things like learning to unscrew the lid to my mascara). I get to see her express herself creatively. I get to witness her freedom that comes from being unafraid of judgement, this utter excitement and joy about the world and her place in it. She dances, she sings, she runs, she jumps. She gives life 100% of her energy and she does it without any fear.

That is inspiring. That is a privilege to be a part of.

And although it is not always Pinterest perfect, sometimes, for fleeting moments, it nearly is. At times, it is pure joy. And I wouldn't change any of it.

So you will continue to see crafts and book reviews and lots of photographs of us doing fun things on my blog because her enthusiasm for life is infecting me, and because I couldn't blog about all the times we sit on the sofa and watch Bing while I gulp coffee, because that would be boring ;)

Now to go and do the washing up. Or maybe one more episode of Child Genius first ...

Summer activity - Ice cream and cookie playdough!

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Ahh, summertime. Ice lollies, paddling pools, swimming, long walks, laying in the grass with a tall, iced glass of lemonade and a good book, paddling in the sea ...

Oh, wait. We live in England!

If, like me, you are in charge of small restless people that need constant exercise and demand to go to the park/beach every five minutes even when it's obviously chucking it down outside, I have a few ideas for things to keep them occupied. Because when you have a kid, something screen-free that keeps them from climbing the walls = treasure greater than the finest diamonds.

So I had the idea that I would make some nice smelling playdough and use the ice cream scoops I bought for mega-cheap on sale in Sainsbury's the other day, and that we could maybe pretend that we were making ice cream. And then I found these little sparkly jewel things in Store 21 and thought, well, there you go - sprinkles!

I also imagined I'd set up a small table in the garden and that my daughter and niece could play out there on a warm summers' day, but in fact, we are inside and my toddler has a horrific cold (and has probably dripped a bit of snot in the playdough). So there we are.

My niece took to this immediately and started up a one-woman production line of jewelled cakes and cookies:

Whilst my daughter happily squished the little gems into the playdough whilst being watched like a hawk in case she tried to sneakily eat one:

I think with activities like this it's all about the presentation. Something about a bowl of (ridiculously cheap) sparkly plastic, a bunch of stripy straws and some spoons really captured my niece's imagination, whereas if I had just given her playdough I don't think it would have sustained her interest for so long.

Unfortunately Jellybean became so uncontrollably snotty (and had a bit of a temperature) that I decided to let her loll on the sofa and watch Spirited Away again after a few minutes of squishing. And within about five minutes of it being on, my niece went from disinterested in this weird film to open-mouthed in wonder, because, you know, Spirited Away.

Image from somewhere on Pinterest!

'Auntie Megan, are you crying?'
*Sniff* 'No ...' *sniff*


Then we made some ice cream, which was the whole point of the exercise in the first place, and then I had to pick a million little plastic gems up from the floor whilst balancing an emotional and kind of ... drippy toddler on my hip.

This is what happens in our house when we do crafts: a bit of chaos, a bit of 'MUMMY SAID NO THROWING' and a bit of a break in the middle to watch telly.

I made the playdough because I've been making it for a while now and it lasts forever when you make a batch (and is also cheap). The best recipe I've come across so far is this one by The Imagination Tree. Takes ten minutes max, and it lasts for six months in an airtight container. I used peppermint, lemon and strawberry flavourings (which I got from Sainsbury's) and their matching colours.

Whether you make playdough or buy it, though, I think the key to making it interesting is definitely all the extra bits and bobs you can put with it, and I will be having a think about what to add next time to our play dough table. This time, we used:

  • A rolling pin
  • A baking tray
  • Plastic bowls
  • Ice cream scoops
  • Straws
  • Sparkly plastic jewels (these are kind of similar)
  • Cocktail sticks (for niece, not for toddler!)
  • Cookie cutters

Most of that I just grabbed from the kitchen, making this a fairly inexpensive activity. So there we go. Go break out the playdough!

Or at least watch Spirited Away.

You know you want to.

Book review: The Good Girl by Fiona Neill

Friday, 7 August 2015

I recently received a free copy of this book from Penguin (via Mumsnet) to review. I was a tad excited about this! I've just finished reading it, so thought I would put my thoughts down while they're still fresh.

The Good Girl follows the Field family, shortly after they have uprooted themselves from London to the coast of Norfolk. The reasons for the move are initially unclear, but they start to unfold as the book goes on. Also unfolding are the characters themselves, their flaws, their weaknesses, and their secrets.

The novel alternates points of view chapter by chapter, switching between the third-person perspective of Ailsa, mother, wife, and headteacher, and the first-person perspective of Romy, her sensible and intelligent seventeen-year-old daughter. I really liked the change in writing style. It gave me the sense that Aisla was almost holding back, revealing more as the book continued - I found it hard to warm to her at first, actually, and found her prickly and judgemental. I empathised more with Romy in her chapters. Romy is interested in neuroscience, like her father, and is vastly more intelligent than I am, but I feel the author captured the voice of her youth well.

There are other interesting characters, too: Harry, the father of the family and neuroscientist, able to dissect a behaviour and relate it to brain function; Luke, the oldest of their children and a bit more of a wild child; and Ben, the youngest at nine years old, with unspecified developmental issues and excellent spying skills. You also have Rachel, the somewhat unreliable aunt, and the Fairports, their, er, unconventional neighbours.

As the story goes on, you start to realise that something huge must have happened to prompt the move from London, and you are given this information in bits, and it feels satisfying (but not over the top) when you finally realise what the reason was. The whole book feels tense as you read, knowing you are eventually going to find out the truth.

The book deals with the issue of the internet, pornography and social media, specifically what happens when one mistake becomes very, very public. Aisla and Harry seem utterly unprepared for the influence that this technology might have on their family, particularly the developing sexuality of their children - despite how much Harry understands about how human impulses work. The consequences of this are pretty haunting and left me shaken - and questioning my own social media use, the narcissistic nature of Twitter and Instagram and Facebook, and why we feel the need to share so much. As a blogger, this obviously hit pretty close to home. I liked the way the author was able to deal with this without it being in any way cheesy or heavy-handed. As this all unfolded, I started to warm more to Aisla, and to empathise with her - and, yes, to be a bit fearful of how I will cope when my own daughter is a teenager!

There is a lot of neuroscience in this novel - passages of conversation about how the brain works. I found this fairly interesting, but towards the end I started glossing over those parts. They are an interesting (and important) part of the story, however.

I really enjoyed The Good Girl. From about midway through I was so hooked that I couldn't stop reading it. I feel it would make a brilliant addition to a book club, especially given how current the main subject is - in fact, I'm now contemplating starting a book club, and if I do, the Good Girl might be the first one I suggest!

The Good Girl is published by Penguin, and you can find more information here. Thank you again to Mumsnet for sending me a copy! 

The Seriously Awkward topic of teenage domestic abuse.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

What do you imagine when you think of domestic abuse? A middle-aged woman trapped in a marriage with two kids, escaping to a refuge?

I did. That was my initial view of what 'domestic abuse' looked like. Even after I had left an abusive relationship as a teenager. I figured that I was one of the only ones, the rare unlucky ones whose first relationship turned sour.

Which makes the above statistic incredibly shocking to me.

Young people aged 16-19 are more likely to experience abuse from their partners than any other age group.

Domestic abuse is horrific and shocking no matter how old you are. Experiencing it as a teenager was a shock. I felt totally unprepared for it, not at all warned about it. I didn't know the signs. Had I known, maybe I would have had the drive to escape long before it turned particularly nasty.

But I didn't. I don't remember their being one single discussion at school about violent or abusive relationships. I don't remember receiving any leaflets from PSH-C-whatever lessons about it. I don't remember seeing the issue tackled on TV.

When I went hurtling into domestic abuse, then, I didn't really understand it for what it was.

Did you know that when a child turns sixteen they lose their right to protection from children's services? This isn't just in the area of domestic abuse, either. Young people aged 16-17 are more likely to go missing or become victims of violent crime than any other age. They are also at high risk of domestic violence and sexual exploitation. Yet, they are the least protected by law from abuse or neglect. Teenagers that need intensive support do not receive it - simply because they are slightly too old to qualify for it.

I look back on myself at that age and feel a mixture of emotions: pride at how far I've come, sadness at my naivety, a little bit of regret at my silly decisions. I truly believe that teenagers now are under more pressure than ever before, and I can see that in my past self. I wonder what adults thought of me as I wandered the streets with my then-boyfriend, wearing an outfit I felt uncomfortable with but pressured into wearing, putting on a show of confidence and arrogance that I didn't really feel.

Do you remember how you felt as a teenager? Did you feel like I did - like I knew everything there was to know and nobody could tell you otherwise? It is scarily easy to lose your way at that age, even with a loving, supportive family.

If you have an uncaring, even abusive, family? Then you're even more lost. Especially when you turn sixteen.

Because when you turn sixteen, you can't be protected from neglect by child cruelty laws. You can't always get the same mental health support as younger teens. You can't be fully protected from sexual exploitation by predatory adults. There is a serious lack of consideration for older teenagers by the people who set these laws.

This is wrong.

The scars of my own abusive relationship took an incredibly long time to heal, and I will always feel a bit of regret for the person I used to be, and for the pain and heartbreak I felt at that vulnerable age, suspended between childhood and adulthood, life altered for the worse by one wrong decision, trapped in a situation that I had no idea how to escape from. I don't want to go into detail because it would be unfair on others, but I can't express this enough: domestic abuse can have a huge, devastating impact on a person.

The thing is, you might see a group of teenagers and think badly of them because of the way they dress or the way they speak. You might feel threatened by them. Why? Because they're just acting like teenagers? There's a chance that those teenagers fall into that age group, and there's a chance that they are suffering in some way and are unable to receive help for it, and there is a chance that they feel more stressed and anxious than you do.

In the end, I was able to escape the situation. I am now happy. I have a wonderful marriage and a gorgeous daughter. It worked out well for me, in an almost unbelievable happily-ever-after sort of way.

It doesn't work out that well for others. There are young people trapped, in domestic abuse, in a neglectful family situation, and they are not supported adequately in terms of law.

I am happy to be a campaign ambassador for The Children's Society, whose Seriously Awkward campaign hopes to highlight the glaring lack of protection by law for 16-17 year olds. I hope to blog more about this in the future, and to continue to lend my support for them (I'm even hoping to dig out some Seriously Awkward photographs of my teenage self for your enjoyment...)

In the meantime, I ask that you would sign their petition. The Children's Society are aiming for the government to conduct a full review of relevant legislation, and ensure that vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds are protected from risk of harm and exploitation.

I can't really tell you how much this means to me. It would really mean a lot if you could sign and share the petition.

Thank you for reading, and I look forward to blogging more about this soon!

July Round-Up: jobs and things.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

July has passed by in a whirl of colour and noise and activity and a little bit of stress and a lot of excitement.

Today, I lay on a picnic blanket, enjoying the sight of tree branches swaying gently in the wind (along with my washing hanging on the line), and I had a mild moment of lamenting how fast time goes. We spent the whole morning in the garden, drawing roads for toy cars with chalk, playing with skittles, building sandcastles, reading books. I hung up the washing and my daughter danced around my feet with the peg bag shouting 'I help! I help!' and I thought 'in three years, Jellybean will nearly be starting school.'

Now three years sounds like a long time but given how fast the last two years have gone, I know they will fly by. I started to think about how I will long for days like these, quiet play in the garden, just the two of us. Then I thought about the fact that we may not be in this house, enjoying this garden: that is the issue with renting, the lack of ability to tie down proper roots in one building, not allowing yourself to get to attached to a particular place.

This panicked me. Just for a bit. I thought about how much I want to just cling onto now and not let it go.

Then I rethought it. I have been fortunate enough to have many 'I don't want this to end' moments in my life, and all of them have ended or changed in some way - the crazy, heady feeling of falling in love turning into a more mature, deeper kind of love; holidays in beautiful places ending; the last day in a job that I enjoyed. But all those things have been replaced by even more I-don't-want-this-to-end moments. 

And that is how it is. Some things change, some things end. But God gives us things to enjoy and to be thankful for.

The point of life is not to cling tightly to the gifts we are given, to claim ownership over everything we touch, to get attached to things and places; the point is to look at those things given, give thanks for them, and think how can I share this and who can I share it with?

I share these beautiful times with my daughter, my husband, and our family and friends, and I am so grateful for every last bit of it.

Blog-type stuff

We've been doing lots of crafty stuff over the past couple of weeks, especially as I've had my niece for longer than normal as the schools are out for the summer. I've got some posts planned about this. Anything that drags my niece away from Minecraft for a few minutes is a good thing indeed ;) so I'm trying hard to keep her and my daughter occupied. There's a seven year age gap between them so trying to keep them both happy with the same activity is interesting, but it's definitely doable.

Painting stones: more relaxing than grown-up colouring books. I have decided.

Anyway, expect some summer crafty type posts soon!

Blog type stuff part two

I have also been sent a couple of books to review this month. Yay! I've finished one already, which I will be reviewing shortly. This particular book made me really want to start a book club. I've been into non-fiction for the past couple of years, so it would be nice to get back into novels.

I might start pestering my friends about it ...

Camp Nanowrimo

Check this out:

A couple of years ago I thought 'I'd like to do Camp Nanowrimo one day, but I don't think I've got it in me.' This year, I thought something along the lines of 'Meh, I might as well try it.'

30,000 words later and I am done! I have learnt a lot from it, so it was well worth doing. As much as I thought I'd feel relief when it was over, I actually kind of miss that focused writing time.

Still don't think I've got it in me to do actual Nanowrimo though. As in, 100,000 words. *faints at thought*

Job-hunting-type stuff


This month has seen us both completing application forms, sending out CV's, preparing for interviews, doing I-have-nothing-to-wear-oh-help-me panicking (alright, that last one was just me). And while I haven't been successful, Chris has! He starts his new job on Monday, after seven years working at his previous job (which he thought was alright, but not that exciting or fulfilling).

His new job definitely is exciting and fulfilling and I am so proud and excited for him.

It also means we are a bit more sure about what direction we are headed in as a family. Which is nice.

Picture round-up

Hope your July has been jubilant and that your August will be awesome. ;)

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