Sunday, September 2, 2012

Just Add Water

Today was a lovely, warm, sunny summer day that has been so rare this year.  We made the most of it with a visit to Alnwick Gardens.  It is a beautiful place to visit at any time, but best visited when the weather is warm enough that the children can enjoy the water fountains and dry out quickly afterwards. 


I wonder if you can guess what happened here?

There is even watery fun to be had with the pretty  colour changing sinks in the bathroom


Staying dry behind a wall of water
But not staying dry for long
As the afternoon turned cooler, we headed up to the beautiful upper gardens, where there was more water fun of the less drenching, more plodging variety and the children enjoyed paddling down the many watery paths.

Baby girl footprints


Monday, August 20, 2012

Culture Swap

As mentioned previously, we are taking part in a worldwide culture swap, where we swap parcels with other families from around the world that have items and info in them about our country, area where we live, customs, traditions, way of life etc etc...

I thought it would be a fun way to learn a little more about the world, from some real families who have children of similar ages to our family.  The families in our group represent India, Switzerland, Quebec and St Thomas

It has also been really interesting trying to think what it is about us that people might like to know and we have found it surprisingly hard to think about things that were specifically English or British to put in our parcel.  We are used to England being a multi cultural place and being able to get all sorts of delicacies in the 'World Food Isle' at the supermarket as well as having many specialist supermarkets for different nationalities, as well as restaurants offering just about any cuisine one could imagine albeit often anglecised versions.  In the same way, we presume that our British brands are available pretty much anywhere these days.

We found that the tourist information didn't give a very realistic idea of what our town is like and while we love living where we do, the tourist video did not represent how we live, but rather how someone stopping over for a few days might enjoy spending their time, which I suppose is the whole point.  We do not spend all of our time eating, drinking, climbing and playing golf!  Though do use the lovely park that is shown.  Its worth a watch and will make you want to come for a holiday, if only to see those seals!  

So in our parcel we included:
  • Some introductory notes about our family, about our typical day, the sorts of things that we like to do, the area where we live and the house we live in.  The children really enjoyed doing this and helped a lot with the typing and selecting photos to go in
  • Some info about our coins and notes, a laminated sheet showing our coins and some of our lower denomination coins attached
  • Some info about our flag, about how the UK is made up of its component countries and about how we have a different flag for England and also the Union Jack to represent the United Kingdom
  • A union flag
  • A cupcake set with some stereotypically British decorations - although cupcakes are a recent (American?) thing and our fairy cakes, which are generally smaller and decorated in a far more amateur and kamikazee way with icing and sugar strands are more traditional. 
  • Some tea - and I'm sure that british tea is available anywhere these days and 'proper tea' usually comes in great big boxes rather than individually wrapped sachets.  But we liberated this tea from a local restaurant and so thought we'd include it.
  • Some cadbury's chocolate, which is now owned according to a quick check on Wikipedia by large worldwide company Kraft, but never the less originated in Birmingham, UK.
  • A Team GB lego character to commemorate our recent involvement in the hosting of the Olympic Games
  • Some leaflets about all of the wonderful places that we can visit in our local area, hopefully giving a good flavour of our history and what the terrain of the area around us is like.  
  • A postcard with a map of our area.
  • A pencil from our town's museum
  • A book (not shown) by a British author.  This was a late addition after one of our recipients asked for a book by Enid Blyton.  Each package has a book in, there is an Enid Blyton adventure book.  A Flower fairies book by Cicely Mary Barker, who I have just discovered from reading her short autobiography in the back was educated at home. It has the most beautiful, magical illustrations in that I have loved since I was child and they are so representitive of our countryside.  A book by Michael Bond about  that famous marmalade loving bear, Paddington who was found at Paddington station.
    The final book is a Brambley Hedge book by Jill Barklem, who I have a feeling I may have met on more than one occassion as i attened craft fairs as a teenager in the 80s.  I remember her sitting at the stall engrossed in her illustration work and I bought postcards which I framed and put on my bedroom wall.   These books about families of mice show the most beautiful attention to detail in their illustrations and reflect wonderfully the changing english countryside through the seasons.  

All will be on their way to their different parts of the world tomorrow and we hope that they will be enjoyed as much as we have enjoyed assembling them. 

Monday, July 30, 2012


I think its amazing that right opposite this

live these

Photo taken by pointing the camera through some binoculars.

and despite living very close to them, much to my embarassment, we have never actually stopped and parked up to have a proper look. 

Today we did just that and walked down the pathway to the viewing platform.  Sheltered below road level, it was easy to forget that we were surrounded by chemical plants.

We watched for ages, peering through binoculars, wondering if the brown things in the distance were large rocks or seals, until one at a time they turned or moved and we could see that they were indeed seals. 

On our walk back we also spotted these, some butterflies on a chrysalis on a wire fence.  There were two butterflies, the one on the right only part way out and only one crysalis.

Back at the carpark, a quick check of the sign saved us the effort of googling to figure out what they are. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012


I was a picky eater as a child and teenager and as an adult will now eat anything (except fish and certain animals that are too cute and fluffy or feathery to be eaten).  I only started to become a not picky eater when I started to take an interest in my health and when I started to cook for myself.  Suddenly I discovered that vegetables didn't have to be boiled to within an inch of their life until they were pale, tasteless, mushy and probably devoid of any nutritional value anyway and could instead be served steamed, hot, colourful and flavourful.  It was a revelation to me trying my first American salad and discovering that green stuff could be crispy, refreshing (and probably highly calorific) food to be enjoyed and not just scraped around the plate, sad, warm, soggy and limp like british side salads tended to be. 

Having survived a mostly vegetableless childhood and learned to make better decisions in adulthood, I tend not to push the children with their food choices and to offer plenty of healthy food and hope they one day take it up.  I know the misery of being told just one more bite before you get dessert/pocket money/to go play with friends etc, it made no difference to how I viewed food.  It might have 'worked' for that mealtime in that I'd have had a few mouthfuls, but then the next time it was served would be a similar battle.  The adult's hope that once a child has tried something they will realise that they actually like it, is never going to become a reality when they are eating it under such duress. 

So in our house, food is offered with no strings attached and even if the children make the same food choices that I did, at least they havn't had the added trauma of mealtime battles.  Although I will confess that it near broke my heart last time we ate out when they chose hotdogs and beans from a lovely, imaginative and varied menu. 

I also disagree with encouraging children to finish their plate as I think it makes the ignore their cues for when they are full.  Given that the children have  never been forced to eat or finish food, it really ticked me when my son looked so worried and apologetic that he could only eat half of his ice cream sundae and was too full to eat the rest.  I was glad that he was eating  to his hunger cues and can't say the same for me, as I ploughed on determinedly with my 'nutty about nuts' long after my body was telling me to give up.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

One to One Time

Something that I don't get to do very often is spend one to one time with the children and its a real treat for me when I do.  Its a chance to really connect and do things at that child's pace.  Today I got some special time with the littest while the boys went swimming.

We went to one of my favourite small market towns for pottering about (which also has one of the best swimming pools) and mooched around the shops for a while.  Or rather, I followed her around while she strode with a real sense of purpose.     

We went to a proper toy shop, which is always much more fun for me than visiting the soulless bigger chain ones (where we inevitably come away empty handed) to choose a gift for a friend.

We also bought  a puzzle to work on over coffee and cake.

and invented a new game that provided hours several minutes of entertainment.  Hide and seek the coin in the playdoh - highly recommended for when you need an extra 10 minutes to finish your bucket cup of coffee


On the way to the playpark we admired these gorgeous cakes in the window of a famous tearoom.  It was fortunate that we'd just had cake as I might have bought one of each otherwise.

She struggled with climbing in her long dress.  Thankfully I had a backup outfit.

Much better!

I'm looking forward to doing more of the same with each of my boys very soon.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Bath Bombs

A few months ago, on a rainy afternoon, we dropped in to a local shop that makes their own bath time goodies and the children were able to have a go at making some bathbombs.  The process was so much easier than I imagined so I thought we'd buy more of the ingredients so that we could have a go at home.

I finally got round to working out the quantities that we'd need (and went rather overboard - we'll be making them as presents for many Christmasses and birthdays to come!) and we had a lovely big box of bath bomb ingredients delivered this week.
We had a go this morning, mixing our potions of sodium bicarb, citric acid and other magical ingedients until we had a mixture roughly the consistency of damp sand.  We made three different colours and fragrances, using child safe essential oils of mandarin, lemon and lime.  Then we packed them tightly into our iced lolly moulds and left to stand for fifteen minutes. 

The hardest part of the whole process was getting them safely back out of the mould. 

We made these for fun, but as with everything, there was much learning to be had too and lots of opportunity to practise skills. That the wet ingredients had to be mixed in very slowly so that they didn't set off the fizzy chemical reaction before the bombs even made it to the bath. That they had to be just the right consistency to not crumble. That plastic's capacity to expand when heated was very helpful in getting the bathbombs back out of the mould.  They got to practise motor skills and dexterity, spooning out the ingredients and stirring quickly without spilling the contents out of the bowl.  They got to be creative in choosing colours and scents that would work well together.  The younger children counted the right number of spoonfulls of ingredients out. The eldest helped to work out which quantities of each ingredient we needed, in order for the ratios to be correct, when we made a different amount than the instructions specified.  They did all this wthout even realising that they were learning.

Of course we had as much fun testing them as we did making them and can confirm that they fizz really well in the bath and smell good enough to eat! 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

5th Birthday Fun

I woke up at 6am, so excited to see Tristan open his little haul of presents.  He is such an easy going little soul that I feel he often gets lost between his more articulate older brother and more demanding younger sister, so I was also looking forward to a day of spoiling him and him being the centre of attention. 

Our present piles always have a theme and I really look forward to their faces when they first go into the room and see their presents laid out.  Of course, since we are night owls rather than early birds, I knew it could be a few hours before the rest of the house got up, so I enjoyed the peace and quiet while debating with myself about whether to risk waking everyone up by putting the kettle on.

Poor Tristan woke up feeling very unwell, but still managed to put a brave face on for opening his presents, enthusiastically cheered on by Toby.  His batman PJs were an early present the night before.

Typical of him, he hadn't asked for anything. Just a birthday with balloons and a cake. He was very pleased with his haul of super hero goodies and I'm really excited to try out a junk modelling kit that we got him.

Our plan was to go to a friend's house, but I was really unsure about whether we'd still be able to go.  It turned out she had gone to lots of unexpected, but much appreciated effort with balloons and banners so we figured that we would try and could always whizz the birthday boy home again if it all proved too much.
It turned out to be a good decision as he regained the colour in his cheeks and spent much of the day charging around with his friends. He was even well enough to have a slice of cake! 

Inbetween packing and posting orders and speech therapy appointments, I had spent much of the day before baking. After lots of advice on icing from friends and having watched a few youtube videos I came up with a half decent Captain America shield.  Having got the icing bug (its just like plasticine!) made a second cake with Spiderman on for his evening tea party.

Birthday boy eventually started to feel ill again and white as a sheet we headed home.  I dived in to the supermarket to throw together a tea party for his cousins while he had a nap.  He woke up feeling much better and well enough for round two.