Wipe-clean Dinosaur Activity Book & first steps towards writing!

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by how much small children have ahead of them. They will learn to read and write, opening up a whole new world of communication. They will learn how gravity works, how to add numbers together. They will learn how to turn ingredients into a meal, how to play sports, how to ride a bike, how to swim. They will learn how relationships work, how to express themselves clearly, how to manage their own emotions.

My daughter is constantly learning. Her brain is like a sponge. She watches me closely to see how I do things, and then tries to do them herself. Even if she's not quite there yet. Recently she's become a bit preoccupied with writing: shopping lists, birthday cards, party invitations, names of family members and friends.

Of course, it's all scribbles and lines. But she gets the concept of writing. That she can make marks, and those marks mean things.


There are lots of ways you can support your child in their first attempts at writing: by offering lots of opportunity to draw and paint, by playing with things like playdough to strengthen their grip and threading beads to improve their fine motor skills. Children work out a lot of things in their play, without realising they're doing it. It's a natural process of growing up.




We've also started looking out for these wipe clean books. We were sent one recently by Sarah Keeler of Usborne Books. It is a particularly good one for Jellybean because she is very into dinosaurs.

I am impressed by how much they cram into this book - each page has multiple activities. Jellybean has had a go at drawing numbers, connecting the dots to complete pictures, counting, spotting and circling insects, completing mazes, and drawing footprints. There are eleven double-page spreads in this book and each one has at least four things to do.




It's teaching her pen control in a really low-key, 'let's do this fun thing' way. I'm always looking for things like this to do with her while the baby sleeps, so this is perfect.

There are lots of Usborne wipe-clean books to try:



Sarah Keeler's page has a good selection that you can find here!


I asked Jellybean what I should say about this book and she said 'say that ... we love it!'

Which sums it all up really!

I received this book from Sarah Keeler, independent Usborne book seller in exchange for an honest review. If you are interested in purchasing this or any other Usborne books, check out her page. Also, be sure to check out her VIP group, where she runs competitions and holds special offers on lots of lovely books. Thanks Sarah! :)

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Let's not talk about the election

Thursday, 1 June 2017

I wrote an impassioned post about why you should vote in this next election (BECAUSE YOU SHOULD VOTE, FOR GOODNESS SAKE, JUST GO AND VOTE, WOMEN DIDN'T HURL THEMSELVES UNDER HORSES FOR NOTHING) (sorry, some of that post seems to have escaped into this one) but I deleted it.

Because I'm just finding it all incredibly depressing.

I posted a thing on Facebook about young people not voting and how over-65's vote and therefore they are the main age group for deciding the future of the country, but I think it came across as slightly ageist (even though I didn't see it that way, but I am a bit of an idiot really) and then I ended up deleting it because I felt bad.

Anyway, a discussion ensued (!) and it became obvious why people don't want to vote: because they don't know who to choose.

So, that's that.

I still think people should vote, and I know which way I'm voting, but I am not in any way optimistic that the way I want things to go will happen. Frankly, I think we all know how it's going to go down.

(But then again Donald Trump is President of the United States. So, technically, anything can happen. We could end up with Phillip Schofield as our Prime Minister and I wouldn't really be surprised.)

I wake up at 5.30 every day with the baby, who regards himself as King of the House first thing in the morning and likes to loudly declare that by screeching and babbling at the top of his lungs, and the only thing on is BBC News. And all I'm going to hear for the next week or so is election stuff. 'Jeremy Corbyn has promised the actual moon on a stick this morning if Labour win the general election - Theresa May has branded him a 'ridiculous bearded loon' - but more on this after Kermode's Film Review!'*

Basically: we will all vote for something and then something will happen and then more things will happen that are generally out of our control and we can just hope for the best. In the meantime people will talk a lot and some people will become nearly feral with anger about the whole thing.

That's about as optimistic as I can manage.

Meanwhile, I've compiled a list of conversation starters. As you know, British people find small talk quite painful and therefore we rely on moaning about politics and the weather in order to connect with people. Listen: the political climate in our country is dreadful and the weather is the weather in June - it will either be raining, or we will be experiencing a totally unexpected and unbearable heatwave. Let's talk about something else. Here's some handy openers:

  • 'What are your feelings on chocolate bars? I'm quite partial to a KitKat Chunky. I used to like Twirls but I'm not sure about Cadbury since the American takeover. What do you think?'
  • 'Did you see the traffic on the way here?'
  • 'Did you watch Pointless yesterday? I got three pointless answers. THREE.'
  • 'Read any good books lately?'
  • 'Did you hear about (insert local scandal here)?'
  • Or, if you really want to freak someone out, 'How are you? No, seriously - how are you?'

On a serious note, it is very important to be politically engaged and whatnot. If you're still undecided about which way to vote, I recommend the I Side With quiz to help you figure out which party you align with the most. But it is also important to stay sane, not read any articles by any biased newspapers (which is all of them) and not to keep checking Twitter to see what people are saying about it.

Good luck ladies and gentleman. May the odds be ever in your favour.



* (PS. Kermode's Film Review is really the saving grace of the depress-fest that is BBC One in the mornings. Frankly I'm contemplating watching back-to-back movie rants every day until the election period is over. If you're feeling a bit overwhelmed with politics I suggest you watch his classic Sex and the City 2 review. You're welcome!)




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A little blog update! Partnering with LionsHome

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Good morning!

I've been missing for a couple of weeks - mostly due to sleep deprivation, and frankly, that's a whole blog post in itself - but mostly because of the perpetual juggle of two small children and general life 'stuff.' (Essentially the baby has decided he no longer wants to sleep during my prime blogging hours - 5am and 7-8pm. Gah.)

Anyway, I'll hopefully be back on schedule with a full post on Thursday, but I've got something to tell you first!

My blog is now in partnership with LionsHome Blog Network! LionsHome is a website that aims to inspire people to create a beautiful home, in the form of inspiring articles and a helpful shopping platform, where you can filter through items from a large number of companies to find the perfect 'thing' you are looking for. They also have a bloggers network on a variety of interesting topics including lifestyle and motherhood, which is where I come in!

So this is a quick post to say hello to my newest bloggers network *waves* and to let you know I am still here, dealing with sticky floors and teething babies and playing Shopkins and what have you.

See you on Thursday!

Nailed it: counting the good stuff

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The whole point of this blog is that I try to be as honest as possible. I know that sounds a bit cliched, but then, who would admit to kind of ... image-managing their lives? Not many people. I do try to get a balance. I don't want to moan constantly, and I like capturing happy little family moments on Instagram. (I'm also quite careful in what I feel is appropriate to post about, but that could be a whole post in itself). But I like to keep it all in balance. The thought of selling my life as a kind of brand makes me feel a bit sick.

I'm also a bit hyperbolic and I like to poke fun at my weaknesses because for years, I couldn't do that. I've kind of gone the opposite way now. This combination means that sometimes people think I feel really rubbish about myself all the time. I don't. I feel rubbish about myself for a normal amount of time.

I had to have a little check though when a friend approached me, all gently and seriously (in the manner of someone approaching a startled deer) to tell me that she thought I was doing really well and I shouldn't put myself down so much.

I mean ... I think it was a case of crossed wires. And maybe a bit of exaggeration on my part. Most of the time I actually think I'm doing alright with life in general. 

Which brings me onto the point: 

Sometimes you have to remind yourself that you are, in fact, capable.

***

I remember a clear and shining moment in my pregnancy: my daughter was running around my feet demanding that I make up a story for her. Meanwhile, the baby was somersaulting around in a way that made me feel like a human washing machine, I was walking with an extreme limp due to PGP, and I was cooking a quite complex dinner involving a) vegetables and b) lentils that my daughter actually ate and enjoyed afterwards.

In that brief moment, I thought, 'I'm nailing this! I can do it!'

It's very important to appreciate these moments and do a quiet, probably inward celebration about them. Because life demands a lot of you, and it makes you feel like you can't keep up, and that everyone else is doing way better than you are at being an adult. We live in a world where people celebrate their successes quite publicly, which is fine, but it means that we forget that, most days, people are just quietly getting on with their lives - sometimes doing well, sometimes not so much.

We forget that we can just be normal, and boring, and that is good.

Normal and boring is what most people are when they're not posting on the internet.

But we can be good at normal and boring. We are good at normal and boring. So if you've gone off to your job again wondering what the point of it all is, or you're at home washing the third load of laundry for the day and feel a bit like banging your head against a wall at the never-ending-ness of Clothes Maintenance, here is my tip: just think about all the things you did well today.

I did it a lot while I was pregnant and feeling totally useless. Like:

Remember when you prepared dinner even though your leg felt like it was going to fall off? That was good.

Remember when you got your daughter ready for bed in between throwing up everything you ate in the last twenty four hours? That was quite impressive.

Remember that time you went to the hospital on short notice and had to get a taxi there and back, and therefore had to juggle your toddler, your unwieldy bump, the car seat, your maternity notes, a tube of wee, and a bag full of drinks and snacks and sticker books? That was good. (A bit manic, but good.)

Remember that one time you got to the bottom of the washing basket?

Remember when you were a good friend today even though it wasn't the most convenient moment for you?


So it is. Today's bad things include the fact that the house is a mess, I haven't got round to a) applying make-up b) doing my hair or c) shaving my legs (despite the fact that I have my legs out). I haven't put on any washing. I haven't hoovered in ages. I haven't finished tidying my daughter's bedroom (a frankly stupid and pointless task). I haven't phoned up about that important appointment (yet). My daughter is currently eating plain crackers for lunch and watching Peppa Pig on our portable DVD player as opposed to eating vegetables and doing some kind of educational task.

However ...

I did do a little bit of tidying.

I did manage to shower (!) and put on clothes that don't smell of baby drool.

I did sort out the old laptop to pass onto my Dad which made him very happy.

We may eat a healthy meal involving salmon for dinner.

So really, not bad.

Not bad at all!

Another thing I didn't get round to doing was taking a decent photo for this blog post ...

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Running on empty

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Hello! Today is kind of a life update post:

It is 6.21am and I've been awake for an hour as the baby decided he was so awake that he wanted to wake the rest of the house with him. He is now snoring on me and I am too awake to go back to bed.

I've got the guilt again.

The 'I'm-not-doing-enough' guilt.

I went to bed last night completely done in. It's been a long week with different issues cropping up, and the result is exhaustion (and mouth ulcers. Lovely lovely stress-induced mouth ulcers). I felt like my bones ached when I attempted to put the kids to bed.

And then somehow this happened:


That is me, hair scraped back, make-up-free, chapped-lipped, and far too tired to ensure the kids were asleep in their actual beds.

Some days are just like this: you feel like a hamster on a wheel, running the same circles all day and never actually getting anywhere. You start to get wrapped up in our own little microbubble of stress. The big picture feels really unclear. And when you go online, scrolling through Instagram and Facebook while the kids both snore incredibly loudly next to you, instead of relief you find masses of people that seem to be achieving every goal and doing All The Impressive Things and checking off everything on their list and generally being a much more productive and useful human being than you are.

So here's what I'm going to do over the next couple of days: I'm going to step away from the internet (after posting this, obviously). Instead, in my spare moments, I'm going to catch up on some reading. I'm going to attempt to tackle the laundry bomb that has gone off upstairs. I'm going to make my daughter tidy up her bedroom. And then I'm going to play and be silly with the kids. And then when Jellybean is next out, I'm going to get the baby to go to flipping sleep and then write all day long because I want to, not because I have bloggers guilt.

Okay?!

Okay.

That's it really. Just keeping it real, in case there's people out there like me who are not currently achieving all the things they want to, and can therefore relate ;)

I'll see you in a few days, hopefully!

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Pursuing Peace - The Fine Art of Breathing

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Do you ever feel overwhelmed?

Like, this is too much. There's too much happening. I can't possibly do everything I need to do. I cant be everything I need to be. I can't cope with the bombardment of information and noise and ... stuff.

I get you. But before I start stripping back my own life, I thought it would be good to revisit the basic principle, of

stopping

and breathing.

***

Things aren't the way I want them to be in my house. There are a million jobs to be done. Upstairs usually looks like a bomb of stuff has gone off. The bedrooms need repainting. I keep tripping over things like the baby bath and piles of paperwork and toys. There's an inch-thick layer of dust on our bedroom windowsill and cobwebs on the ceiling. I can't remember the last time we actually made our bed in the mornings. We just kind of flop into it at the end of the day. I can never find things - like the nail clippers. Where the heck have they gone? Also I keep finding piles of random objects like coins and hair clips and play food in strange places (thanks, Jellybean).



The other night, it all got on top of me and I went to bed feeling defeated and exhausted.

***

I switch on my son's dream sheep (yes, that's a thing). A lullaby plays, along with the soft, muffled sound of a heartbeat. The baby feeds, eager from waiting a bit longer than he normally has to. The house has that quiet air of 'just before sleep' about it.


My daughter potters in holding a book entitled 'The Art of Hand Shadow Puppets.'

'Mum,' she says, 'Can I read you my exercise Bible?'

(Every book that contains information of some kind is, in Jellybean's mind, a Bible.)

(We'll get there.)

She clears her throat and makes a funny clicking noise with her tongue, as if she is about to impart Official Information. I think of what follows as her 'Hermione Granger' voice.

'Now, this book ...' (click) 'is about ... volcanoes. And Jesus.'

She takes me on a surreal and slightly disjointed journey through the properties of volcanoes.

The baby stops feeding, and pushes himself forward. I automatically stand him upright. (It's his favourite position. My arms hold him that way without thinking now. Is he going to become bow-legged? I hope not.) He looks around with such a wide-eyed look of happiness - and wakefulness - that I start laughing, and after a beat, he laughs as well.

I think, this is perfection. My messy room, my unmade bed, the piles of clothes on the floor waiting to be eBayed or donated, the dust settling on the surfaces. This is where perfection is. Our daughter with a smear of toothpaste on her cheek, wearing just her pyjama bottoms, book in hand. Our son in his babygrow, cackling with laughter, and Chris leaning against the wall looking at us, while I look back at him, and we communicate something without having to find words for it.

Sometimes the joy of it all takes us both by surprise.

Perfection in a messy bedroom in a terraced house on an ordinary street.

***

Bad times wait for all of us.

Bills will drop unexpectedly. Jobs might be lost. Our bodies start to break with time and circumstance and genetics. We hurt each other. We face grief in a multitude of ways. The world breaks around us. We continue the age-old struggle to relate to each other. We get tired. Life just ... piles up.

Everything in life tells us to protect ourselves. To hide ourselves in a bubble of possessions and insurance and image. To be distracted from injustice and the dark parts of the world. To stick our heads in the sand. 

And yet, bad things come. We cannot stop them.

The only thing we can do is use our lives wisely. To determine not to allow this overwhelming life noise to determine our choices. To stop and count our blessings. And love abundantly, not just people that look and behave like we do.

And once again, count our blessings. And breathe.



Print from the amazing Amanda Lewis aka Sketchy Muma. Go look at her beautiful work and have a little weep at the loveliness of it all.

***

I'll be talking a bit more practically next time about finding little moments of calm in a busy day ... and encouraging calm moments for children. Join me if you fancy the challenge!

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Dangerous excursions down the stairs

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

It is early evening, and I am pottering around upstairs before the bedtime rush, switching on lamps and removing some of the obstacles on the floor in the hallway. Jellybean is sitting at the top of the stairs humming to herself.

'I'm gonna go down on my bottom.'

'Okay, good.'

'I'm gonna go REALLY FAST.'

I stop with an armful of folded clothes. Jellybean has that look on her face that suggests she knows she's asked for something that she knows isn't allowed but she's pushing it regardless. She's ballsy that way.

'Er, no. Not really fast.'

She sighs. 'Okay.' She pauses. 'I just go a little bit fast-ish.'

As a parent I have certain pressure points. Things that make my heart skip a beat and make my feet feel a bit funny. Those things include, but are not limited, to:

  • Our stairs with the stupidly hard floor at the bottom
  • Small children eating whole grapes
  • A large dog running towards us at speed at the park
  • Monkey bars

It's not that I am totally against those things. I like grapes and stairs and dogs, and, well, I guess I'm not bothered either way about monkey bars. There's just something about those things and my kid that make me feel a little bit queasy. I can't hide it, either. As much as I'd like to be Laid Back Mum, I can't. I see a little kid running around with a grape in their mouth and inside my brain an alarm starts ringing and red lights start flashing. 'DANGER!'


Children need to take risks, otherwise they never learn to manage them. I get that. I read a good article recently about how we can inadvertently teach girls that it's cute to be scared. I vowed when I read it that I would bite back my 'be carefuls' more often. So when she makes an obstacle course and flings herself across it or leans right back on the big girl swing, I don't say 'be careful'. I just think it. I say 'wow, that looks like fun!' and hope for the best. The last thing I want is for my kids to feel too scared to attempt anything beyond their comfort zone, and the little things you reinforce time and time again, seemingly inconsequential, can add up to a message that I never intended to teach them. I never wanted to see myself in the role of 'Muu-uuum.' You know, the person that they roll their eyes at.

However. Some things are just out of bounds. I grew these people in my belly: I went through horrific pain to get them, and I spent (and am still spending!) their babyhoods trying to protect them, stopping them from sticking their fingers in the plug sockets and picking up chokeable objects, and so on.

The least they can do is allow me to be all paranoid about stairs and cut up their grapes for them. If necessary I will pull out the ultimate Mum card: 'Because I said so.'

They can consider it payment. ;)

Pursuing Peace

Thursday, 30 March 2017

I keep thinking about peace.

'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.'


Even as a Christian, I find myself not feeling particularly peaceful. Don't get me wrong - there's a peace in me that doesn't fit with my anxious personality. When the bad things happen, there's part of me that knows that everything will be okay in the end. Not just okay, but good.

But the feeling of peace doesn't come easy. I keep wondering why.


I spent a lot of time last year getting angry over things I can't control. Over world events; over politics; over darkness and despair that seem to creep insidiously into our lives, dividing us where we were once united. I hate that. And I'm tired. I'm 28 and I'm tired, and not just because of the babies. I'm tired of getting sucked into this perpetual doom thing. I'm tired of that feeling of endless frustration where you see injustice happening and you just can't do anything about it.

I also notice around me that peaceful people are few and far between. We're all way more connected and open, but we're also immensely busy and stressed out. There must be a way to counter-balance this. It feels ridiculous - almost selfish. We have so much, and yet we spend so much time not appreciating it. (Or at least I do). Everything seems to be kind of fragmented and rushed. I get stressed, a lot. I seem unable at times to contemplate the bigger picture.

I keep wanting to just ... strip things back. I want to pause. I want to have less, and appreciate more. I want to have a peaceful family life. I want to have a peaceful home (not necessarily a tidy one - but one that feels like sanctuary, especially to my children, when they start venturing out into the world and need somewhere calm to come back to). I want to have a calmer state of mind. I want to figure out what it means to be a peacemaker - to bring peace where it lacks.

I want my children to see what it means to stop, to have gratitude, to take in a deep breath, to behold, to seek to bring calm, to be centred in the midst of a storm.

Maybe pursuing peace in whatever way that looks like in real life is the only thing you can do in the midst of turbulence. Maybe it's a small act of rebellion in a world that encourages us to freak out when we read the headlines every day, a world that tells us to consume more things and buy more stuff and hoard, a world that pushes us to distraction, to bounce from one thing to another before we have a moment to think.


So ... over the next few months, I'm going to be blogging about this. Some of the things I'll be looking into include:

  • Having a more peaceful home life (and being a less shouty stressy parent)
  • Finding moments of peace in stupidly busy day
  • Letting go of things we don't need anymore
  • Buying less stuff
  • Dealing with brain bombardment
  • Being an active peacemaker

There might even be a sneaky video or two along the way if I can pluck up the courage ;) I'll also be talking about it a bit more on my Facebook and Instagram accounts, so if you're interested, follow me there!

Until next time ... shalom.

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Learning to read with Usborne Phonics Readers

My daughter is growing up.

She's becoming more and more interested in letters. 'What sound does THIS letter make?' 'What is 'S' for?' She knows the letters that spell her name, and she sees letter shapes in random objects. I love it. I love seeing her grow and change, something in her brain propelling her forward, some irresistible pull for knowledge causing her to seek answers, wanting to know how the world works and how she can understand it. She knows know that writing means something - that it has a function, to tell a story, to explain how things work.


It is a funny feeling, as a parent. Pride I suppose, like nothing else. I'm more proud of her than I am of anything I've ever achieved myself. Seeing her learning the very basic foundation of how language works is wonderful.

We have been sent some Usborne books to review by Sarah Keeler, and the book I want to talk about today is Fox on a Box. The Usborne Phonics Readers books have been created with a language expert, with the latest research of how to effectively teach reading in mind throughout. The idea is that children who are very new at reading can sound out words and gain confidence in their own ability to read.


We're not 'there' yet. We are a long way from being 'there'. Jellybean is an autumn baby, which means she won't be starting school until next year. Until then, I need to make sure that her own natural inclination towards learning isn't neglected - specifically in terms of recognising letters and numbers.

Right now, we use this book in the same way we use other books - to enjoy a good story. What I like about this book is that it doesn't explain everything that happens through words - there is enough of a 'gap' between the text and the pictures to enable a discussion about is happening. This is a good way of seeing how much Jellybean understands about how stories work.


She really enjoys the light-hearted story, and particularly enjoys the way the pages fold out to reveal more of the story. Each page has a little yellow duck hidden on it, too, which means there's plenty for her to enjoy before she gets to the stage of being able to read it herself.


If you are a parent looking to help support your child in their journey in learning to read, I definitely recommend the Phonics Readers books. There is also an explanation of what synthetic phonics are at the start of the book, which is really useful if you are unsure of how they work.

There's a wide range of stories to choose from, too, in case you are worried about having to read the same one fifty times in a row! You can view some of them on Sarah's website here.

Be sure to check out Sarah's VIP Facebook page, too, for special offers and competitions!


Read More:



Unputdownables 2016 - Toddler Edition!

The importance of bedtime stories, and a book review

Introducing Usborne Books + a sticker book review

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