Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Guest Post - What memories are made of

Today I am hosting a guest post from Debbie who blogs at An Organised Mess. Her post was inspired by my own blog post about my Mum's patchwork quilt

As a child, I was embarrassed to go to school wearing hand made dresses and hand knitted cardigans. The checks on my gingham dress were always different, my cardigans a different shade of red. I never liked being different.

But, I always remember how excited my mum was when my dad gave her a knitting machine for Christmas. I remember how much my mum endeavoured to teach me to use the childrens sewing machine Father Christmas had gifted me. I remember all the night classes my mum did: lace making; decoupage, cross stitch, embroidery, card making- the list is endless.

I was an ungrateful child, as I would imagine many are.

I went for coffee with my mum this week, and as we looked over a Cardiff, she recalled how the view used to be a street, with a factory at the end, and how as a teenager she had been encouraged to work in it, because if you liked sewing that was where you worked. But her mum had discouraged this; she didn’t want her daughter working in a factory.

I guess times haven’t really changed.

But now, as a parent, I am sorry I didn’t pay more attention to the lessons my mum attempted to teach me, from knitting, to cross stitch, darning and sewing. These are not skills I can claim to have.

My mum has gifted me and my children with the most gorgeous gifts, homemade cards, knitted shawls, patchwork quilts; our house is dotted with things she has made for us. Each of my children has a shawl that my mum slaved over. A shawl that every person we met when they were born admired. They are each different, playing to individuality, yet there to be cherished.

My children have many knitted tops, and they are guaranteed to receive comments, about how people don’t knit anymore, but how much nicer hand knit looks on babies.

At home, rooms are scattered with mementoes: A Humphrey’s Corner sampler displaying Seren’s birth date and weight, a ‘Pears’ decoupage in the bathroom, cross stitched book marks, bunting with the boys names on above their cots.

The patchwork quilt, gifted for the millennium. Seren’s quilt, with farm animals and touchy-feely buttons, the first request at signs of illness is for it to used as a blanket.

These gifts make our home.

And I think about how these are real skills, that are learned, and honed, and over time perfected. That the commitment to learning these arts will provide trinkets for the future. I would love to be able to do the same for my children. To hand craft gifts that are covered in love.

My mum has talents and patience to which I aspire. And we have gifts that will no doubt be cherished by generations to come.

Thanks so much Debbie for the lovely post!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

A new project with felt butterflies

I'm working on a new project! It's going to need lots of these:

Felt butterflies
Felt butterflies

They are very simple to do and mean that I can use lots of the lovely different coloured felt that I've received as gifts lately. I'm not going to say what they're for just yet in case it all goes horribly wrong, and then you can forget that I ever mentioned it!

Monday, 27 February 2012

Signs of spring

Having moved into a new house over the winter, it's very exciting to see where the bulbs planted by the previous owner are going to come up. This planter is by the front door, and in the last couple of days, some little daffodils have started to appear. They have also emerged underneath the front hedge and in some of the other pots in the back garden.


The weather has been so warm and sunny the last couple of days. We made a start in the back garden at the weekend, hubby mowed the lawn and I did some clearing and weeding. I've posted before that I'm not much of a gardener, but we are lucky enough to have a lovely garden and I'd really like to do something nice with it. I'll be putting Harry's sandpit out soon, as there is a nice area for it next to the summerhouse, and I'd really like to get hold of some colourful plants for all the pots that we seem to have collected. Any tips welcomed!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

"Is it much more difficult now that you've got two?"

Since having Mia, lots of people have asked me whether things are much harder now that I have two. I'm never sure how to answer.

Of course it is more difficult with two, there are two little people demanding attention at once, and getting out of the house is even more of a mission. There are many times, especially late afternoon, when they are both unhappy at the same time and seem to be seeing who can complain the loudest. Often at the weekend my husband and I will take a child each, and it feels like such a break with just one to focus on. 

But on the other hand, now that Mia is growing up, sometimes it is a lot easier when I have them both. Harry goes to nursery for a day and a half a week, which we carried on when I went on maternity leave so as not to disrupt him too much. In the beginning, I would call Monday my 'day off' because Mia would generally be sleeping or feeding and was pretty easy to look after. But now I can tell that she is getting bored when it's just me. Although she does have a bit of a break from being jumped on by Harry, she also misses the entertainment that he provides. When he comes back through the door her face lights up, and in turn he runs to her before coming to me.

Mia loves watching Harry playing (although he doesn't always love her scrambling for his toys) and the two of them interact beautifully. He plays peekaboo with her, he finds toys for her, he talks to her and he sings songs to her. In return she entertains him - she pulls his hair, "tickles" him and grabs his feet. Now that she is crawling, she chases him about when he's running through the house. As they get older, and the age gap between them becomes less marked, I hope that they will continue to play together and entertain each other.

So although many things are harder with two, some things are also much easier, and entertaining the baby is one of them!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Listography - Top 5 things that make me happy

The subject for the Listography at Kate Takes 5 this week is Top 5 things that make me happy. It goes without saying that my family and friends are top of my list, but here are five other things that make me happy:

1 - Buttons. I love buttons. I love storing them in a tin, sorting them out, examining them and letting them slip through my fingers.

2 - The feeling you get when you have just finished exercising. You made the effort, you got through it, you are experiencing a natural high, and now you can relax for a day or two and eat something calorific.

3 - Putting the last piece into a jigsaw, especially a large complicated one. I don't have as much time for jigsaws as I used to, and if I were to attempt one it wouldn't last long before being trodden on/dribbled on/pieces going missing, but putting that last piece in is so incredibly satisfying.

4 - Ticking things off a to-do list, especially things which I've been putting off for a while.

5 - Receiving a comment on my blog. No, I didn't write that just to get comments, it really does make my day!

That's my list, head over to Kate Takes 5 to see what makes other people happy.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Review: CubbyKit

Post updated 7th November 2012. Unfortunately CubbyKit are no longer in business. Please see their Facebook page for the latest updates.

When I saw that CubbyKit were asking on Twitter for bloggers to review their products, I was very interested. Regular readers of my blog will know that I love to write about the arts and crafts that I get up to with my son, and I thought that the concept of the CubbyKit sounded fantastic. Basically a CubbyKit is a box which arrives monthly in the post addressed to your child and contains three themed and age-appropriate craft activities as well as a selection of other crafty bits and pieces. The themes in the kit are also supplemented by extra activity suggestions on the CubbyKit blog.

We received the CubbyKit which is aimed at children aged 3-4. There is also a box for older children aged 5-6. This month's kit was all about space. Harry was really excited when the box arrived, especially as it was addressed to him, and he couldn't wait to see what was inside. I had to hold him back while I went through to check what was inside and sort out the bits and pieces for each activity. In the order in which we tried them, the three activities were:

3D Rocket Picture

This activity was easily Harry's favourite. Essentially two cardboard rocket templates to decorate and some black paper and glitter to make a suitable background to stick them on to. Plenty of glue and glitter meant that Harry was very happy. 

CubbyKit 3D Rocket Picture
Mushy Martians

The kit contained all the ingredients to make your own playdough martians and a few bits to decorate your creation. Harry enjoyed this activity, but I wasn't so sure about it. The ingredients were supplied in containers which had a tendency to leak. The instructions stated to add a cup of water but I added just a little at a time and I felt that you didn't need nearly as much as a cup. I also had to add a lot of extra food colouring to make the dough green, and I thought that there could have been a few more things to decorate the playdough with.

CubbyKit Mushy Martians
Constellations Wall Chart

Harry is only just 3, and I was probably right in thinking that this activity would go way above his head, but that didn't mean that he didn't enjoy it. I think that we were missing the instructions, but it was easy enough to work out. The idea is to join up the numbered stars to outline the constellations, and although I had to do this for him, he was interested to watch me and understood what I was doing. Then we got out the glue again to stick them onto the background and decorate. Harry loved the stickers and the tube of glitter glue, and it looked really good once he'd finished it. I'll be holding on to it for when he's older, and next time we're out at night I'll point out the stars to him and remind him of the chart.

CubbyKit Constellations Wall Chart

The kit also included a few extra craft materials. There wasn't a lot, but with the left over glue and glitter you could come up with some new activities or embellish the ones that you've already created.

I think that the concept for the CubbyKit is great. I loved that absolutely everything for the activities was included - even scissors and a glue spreader. Harry enjoyed seeing what was inside the box and trying out some activities which were a lot more educational and structured that some of the things that I do with him. I liked the fact that each month the kit will be based around a different topic, which you can build upon in other activities that you do with your child. I also liked the leaflets to accompany each activity which contained interesting facts and suggestions for other activities, for example relevant websites to visit.

I did feel that for the price the kit could have contained a few more of some of the materials for the activities, for example extra stickers for the pictures or more pipe cleaners for the martians. I also thought that the extra materials provided in addition to the materials for the activities were a bit limited.

A monthly subscription to CubbyKit costs £19.99 per month, or £199.99 for the year, giving you two free boxes.

I received a CubbyKit to review

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Guest Post from beep beep designs - Fitting in crafting time with small children

Fitting in crafting around small children

Today I have my first guest post written by my sister Anna, who blogs about crafty goodness and family life at beep beep designs. Anna has two young daughters, and yet still manages an impressive creative output, so I asked her to write a post about how she manages to get everything done. Here is what she has to say:
Jen asked me to write this post about how I fit in crafting around my small children (Laura is three and a half; Emily is 18 months) as, and I quote, 'you seem to be very good at it'. I'm not sure I do anything very different from anyone else, I just love to craft so I always make sure I fit it in when I can! I mainly knit and crochet, and I've recently started doing a bit of watercolour painting and doodling.

The first, most important thing, is that I have been blessed with good sleepers, and I know once we pack them into bed we won't hear from them until morning. This gives me two or three hours an evening. I do of course have other things to do, housework to catch up on, blogs to read and write, cloakrooms to paint, but I can usually spend at least some of that time on my own projects. The evenings are when I do things that need concentration, like writing patterns, or casting on a sock and working the first few rows. Some things you do need to know that you won't be interrupted.

But once I've set things up in the evening, then I can pick up my knitting and work on it whenever I have five minutes. At the moment I have sock knitting in the living room, a crochet cushion cover under construction in the kitchen/dining room, and my painting stuff is near the kitchen table. If Laura is at pre-school and Emily is playing happily, I can knit a few rows. If Emily is napping and Laura wants to paint or stick at the kitchen table, then I can get out my painting and we work sitting opposite each other. Usually she gets bored before I do and I have to tear myself away but it works for a little while.

The other advantage of your children seeing you craft is of course that they want to be like you! Laura loves to sit and 'knit', to cut and stick, to draw and paint, to thread beads. Hopefully in the future we will have many happy crafting sessions together. But for now I fit things in when I can.

Child helping to assemble a crochet blanket

Some lovely tips, thanks Anna! I think that the answer is that you can always find the time to do the things that you want to, and that multi-tasking is key! You can visit Anna at beep beep designs, or else follow her on Twitter @beepbeepdesigns. You could try asking her how she managed to produce good sleepers, because it certainly isn't genetic!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Sleep training clock update

Long ago in my early days of blogging, I posted about our newly purchased sleep training clock and some tips that worked for us. When I wrote the post, we had only been using one for a few weeks, and I was astonished at how well it was working. Having been suffering 5.30am (and earlier) starts to the day for a good couple of years it was incredible.

I promised to come back with an update, and so here it is. This little clock has totally transformed our lives. We worked it up gradually to 7am starts, then last week we tried a cheeky weekend lie-in of 7.15am, and it worked! Harry comes bursting into our room as soon as the sun is up on the clock, and I believe that he is actually lying quietly in bed waiting for it. Of course we have a Mia now too, who is generally up throughout the night, but it would be so much harder if Harry was still getting up early.

If you are suffering with early mornings, I really can't recommend one of these enough. I never thought I would say it, but Harry is a brilliant sleeper now, and it gives me hope that one day we'll get to the stage where we are all sleeping through the night!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

12 things

I've been tagged by Trouble Doubled! This is what I have to do (pay attention please, it's rather complicated):

1) You must post the rules
2) Post 12 fun facts about yourself in the blog post
3) Answer the questions the tagger has set for you in their post and then create 12 new questions for the fellow bloggers you plan to tag
4) Tag 12 people and link to them on your blog
5) Let them know you tagged them

So here we go:

1) Done

2) 12 fun facts about myself:

1) When I set the volume level on an electronic device, it must be set to an even number.
2) My hair needs a cut.
3) I'd rather walk for a mile than parallel park the car.
4) My mum cleans my kitchen more often than I do.
5) I like making lists.
6) I could easily live without a television but I'd struggle without a computer.
7) I don't iron.
8) I won't kill a spider but I'm happy for someone else (i.e. husband) to kill one for me.
9) I'm always early for things.
10) My thumb bends backwards so I can't do a 'thumbs up' properly.
11) I need glasses but I don't like to wear them around the house or for anything close up like reading or using the computer. As a result, when I do put them on I suddenly notice how dusty everything is...
12) I usually forget to wear my wedding ring.

3) My answers to the questions:

1) Do you like being tagged in memes? - Yes I do, it give me something to think about. I'm not very good about doing the tagging myself though. 
2) Ant or Dec? - Ant.
3) Winx Club is an abhorrence to post-feminist thought and should be banned from our TV screens. Discuss. - I have no idea what this is, I think my family must be the wrong demographic! 
4) What is the greatest TV theme tune in the history of TV? - Red Dwarf ("It's cold outside, there's no kind of atmosphere...")
5) If you had to pimp your kids out for cash, would they be child models, a cute all-singing all-dancing supergroup, or up chimneys? - Child models, although not sure they've got the right temperament.They are probably small enough to go up chimneys.
6) Will there ever be a boy born that can swim faster than a shark? - Definitely something worth thinking about.
7) If you could only ever eat one chocolate bar for the rest of your life, which would it be? - Twix. A perfect combination of biscuit, caramel and chocolate.
8) What would be your specialist subject on Mastermind? - The life and times of Peppa Pig.
9) Can you play a musical instrument? - Yes, I can coax a tune from the violin, the piano, the recorder and many children's toys
10) If you were a character in a novel, who would you be? - Hermione Granger.
11) Who let the dogs out? Who, who, who, who? - I have no idea but now have that song going round and round my head!
12) What is your favourite song? - Got to be something by Pulp, probably Common People.

Here are 12 questions to be answered:

1) What is the opening line to your favourite novel?
2) Which film makes you cry?
3) Twitter or Facebook?
4) Do you hoover under the sofa?
5) If you were to come back as an animal, what would it be?
6) If you had to move to another country, where would you go?
7) Marmite - love it or hate it?
8) Disney or Dreamworks?
9) What is your favourite holiday destination?
10) What is your earliest memory?
11) Would you wear your pajamas to the supermarket?
12) What would you say to your 16 year old self?

4) I hereby tag (sorry if you've already been tagged, and please only take part if you want to!):

Friday, 17 February 2012

On gardening

I am not a gardener. I would like to be, but I find it enough to keep up with what is inside the house, let alone what is outside. Luckily I have parents who are keen gardeners, and are very good about helping us out (I suspect that they can't sit still in our house knowing that the garden is in such a state). Since we moved we have a garden which is thankfully very low maintenance, but we have also moved to an area where people are very proud of their front gardens and so we need to be careful not to let the side down.

The weather is starting to get a little warmer, and as I knew that we would be inside for most of the day, this morning I got Harry out to help me in the front garden while Mia had her morning nap. There are a lot of dead leaves on the grass, and my gardener (Dad) has told me that they need to be cleared, so I got us a carrier bag each and set us to raking and collecting up the leaves. I also tidied up some of the rubbish that had got caught under the hedge, including bits of balloon from Harry's birthday (a month ago...whoops).

I can't remember if he picked up three or four leaves before he
got bored
Harry lost interest in the task at hand fairly quickly, but he did tolerate staying out there with me playing which was nice, as last year I wouldn't have managed anything. Even if all he did do was use his trucks to rearrange the gravel all over the front path, at least he got some fresh air.

Our previous garden was very overgrown, and gardening there seemed to consist of hacking things back before the house was engulfed by the over enthusiastic bushes and plants. We have a bit more of a blank slate now, so perhaps this is my opportunity to actually do some gardening for the enjoyment of it. I even have a (currently rather sparse) board on Pinterest for it!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Cardboard box car house

I have fond memories from primary school of making little rooms inside shoe boxes. I can't remember the context, but I loved decorating the inside of a box with pictures cut from magazines, adding in little pieces of furniture and so on. I'm looking forward to doing this someday with Harry and Mia, but I think that they are a bit young for this at the moment.

Play car house from a box

I have however noticed that Harry has been playing a lot lately with a Mack truck from Cars which we were lucky enough to have handed down to us recently. It's like a little house for Lightning McQueen, with a bed, sink, little rollers and brushes and so on. So when a cardboard box arrived in our house this week I thought that I would turn it into a house for his cars.

Cardboard box house for cars

I made a covered section at one end, marked out to form a car park on the top. There is an internal ramp, and a larger ramp up the outside, which folds over for storage. There is a small door at the front and the back, and Harry has stuck pictures of cars from magazines to the outside.

That would probably have been enough, but I couldn't stop there. I used two smaller boxes to make a car wash and drying area in the corner, then I added some pictures for the walls, a mirror from tin foil, a bed and some cushions. In the middle is a little table which they can drive up to, and the cars also have a hot tub and rug.

House in a cardboard box

This was a fun project because Harry was able to get involved with the sticking and suggesting things that he might like to add in. I think that he was a little bemused though ("cars don't need chairs, they don't have bottoms!") but he indulged me, and it has had a lot of play!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Valentine's Day felt heart

Happy Valentine's Day!

I made this little felt heart the other day. I love crafting with felt (you can see some of my favourite felt crafts in my felt craft project round up) but have found that my felt projects don't take very long as they sew up very quickly and then I don't know what to do with them, so I added plenty of embroidery to my heart to slow down the process a bit!

I still don't know what to do with it though! For the time being it's hanging up in kitchen as a little Valentine's Day decoration, but Harry has taken a fancy to it so I'm expecting it to be spirited away!

Valentine's Day felt heart

The ribbon at the top with hearts on it was an afterthought when I saw it on the table. I received a new pack of felt for Christmas, and the ribbon had been used to tie it. It is red with little white hearts on it, very appropriate.

I've recently been buying (or rather, having it bought for me as gifts) my felt from Paper and String and they are a lovely company which I can fully recommend if you are looking to buy felt, they have a lovely selection of colours. No affiliation, just a happy customer!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Listography - Mugs

The Listography subject this week at Kate Takes 5 is Mugs. Now neither I nor my husband actually drink from mugs, as we prefer cold drinks, so we don't have that many. I just counted eight in the cupboard and two with pens in. This seems too many most of the time, except when we have visitors and we have to keep washing them up. Because we don't tend to use them, with the exception of one they are all mugs that we have been given, and they all have a story behind them. So in rough chronological order of acquisition, here are my five favourite mugs:

Natural History Museum mug - I received this mug as a prize in Secondary School after a trip to the Natural History Museum. I can't remember what I did to win it, but I do remember that I received Second Prize and was a little miffed not to come first. I save this for guests to whom I wish to appear cultured.

German Diddle mug - The German text reads "Habe meine Sachen gepackt und komme Dich jetzt bald besuchen!" which I translate roughly as "I've packed my things and now I'm coming to visit!". Diddle is a little cartoon mouse who is very popular in Germany, and the mug was given to me by my German penfriend when she visited on the school German exchange. I always expect guests to ask me to translate it, but no-one ever does.

Tübingen Christmas Market mug - I spent a year in Germany as part of my degree. I loved being there around Christmas time, it was fascinating to spend the build up to Christmas in a different country. The Tübingen Christmas Market wasn't one of the biggest, but it was a lovely town to live in and the mug has scenes from the town painted on it. They sell the mugs with Glühwein in at the Christmas Market, and you pay a small deposit which you get back when you return the mug, or you can keep the mug as a souvenir.

Best Brother on the Planet mug - this is my husband's mug, as a rough guess I would say that it was a gift from his sister. It is very useful because we use it to measure out pasta, it's just the right size.

PMT mug - It reads "PMT. Be afraid! Be very afraid!" This was a gift from my Mum. I can't think why she chose this one?

So there we have it, a tour of my mug cabinet! Make sure to stop by to see everyone else's mugs!


Sunday, 12 February 2012

Exercising when you have small children

I posted the other day about how pleased I was to be getting back into running, and then it all went pear shaped when I fell down the stairs last week. Luckily I wasn't too badly hurt (and even more luckily, I didn't drop the baby) but for a time I had a rather sore back and was struggling to walk very far, let alone run. Now I need to take it easy for a little while and build it back up again, because one thing that I've learned over the last week (apart from how to hold on to the banister) is that I don't want to be in that sort of pain permanently. The trouble is that once you get out of the habit it's very difficult to get started again.

I find it difficult exercising now that I have small children for two reasons. The main reason is sleep deprivation, and the fact that in the evenings a warm comfy bed is far more inviting than going out in the cold to the gym. The other reason is that life suddenly becomes more unpredictable when you have to fit things in around little people that always come first, and of course they can't just be left to fend for themselves while you pop to the gym for an hour.

I recently got some new running shoes. I've been wearing my old pair for ages which were pretty worn out, and it's amazing the difference that some new shoes can make. So I've put together some tips which I've found useful when trying to fit in exercise around my babies, in the hope that not only might they help others, but that they will also prove motivating to me!

Most importantly, I've found that the key way to keep an exercise routine going is to schedule exercise in the same way that you schedule anything else - whether it's going to work, going to a weekly toddler group or going to the supermarket. Some things that also work for me:

  • Be flexible. Keep a gym bag packed and ready so that if you spot an opportunity to get out you can take it. For example if you find that it's 6am and everyone is awake, see if you can fit in some exercise before it's time for anyone or everyone to leave for work.
  • If you have a baby that is happy to sit in the pushchair then get out for a walk. If you are serious about exercise consider purchasing a pushchair that allows you to run behind it. We have one and we've had some use out of it, although you do ideally need somewhere flat and safe to run (we used to go along the seafront). This can also be a way of getting the baby to nap.
  • If you don't have a partner or babysitters then most gyms do offer a creche facility, but it's probably easier to stock up on some exercise DVDs for when little ones are in bed.
  • Don't force yourself to exercise if you really should be going to bed...but if you do manage to get some done you should in theory sleep better (when you have the chance to sleep) and therefore have more energy the next day!
Now I just need to follow my own advice!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Cardboard play biscuits for the toy kitchen

These cardboard play biscuits were part of a challenge for bloggers to re-create crafts that they had pinned on Pinterest. The original blog post that inspired me unfortunately no longer exists but you can find a link to the pin below.

Making cardboard biscuits was a great activity for occupying Harry and I for a short while on a cold, winter afternoon. I love making play food, and Harry loves playing with it, and these cardboard play biscuits. It was not even just about the finished product, as we also pretended that we were making real biscuits, even putting them on baking trays into the 'oven' (airing cupboard) to dry.

Here is our effort, nice and sparkly and rather festive looking!

Cardboard play biscuits

It's a pretty self-explanatory craft, all you need to do is cut out circles from brown cardboard (or painted cardboard if you have a different colour) then cut out 'icing' from coloured paper, and decorate with beads, sequins and so on. They are a lot of fun to make and you can easily use bits and pieces from around the house. They are fairly sturdy when completed too and can be used for all sorts of imaginative play.

I've written about lots of other play food and you can find some links below:

Felt and salt dough pizza - takes a little longer to make but a lovely result
Realistic play food for the toy kitchen - laminate realistic pictures to add to saucepans and plates
Felt biscuits - felt party rings and cookies
Felt sandwich - everything that you need to make a felt sandwich

Friday, 10 February 2012

Sunflower mosaic coaster

I used to be a bit snobby about pre-made craft kits. I thought that I ought to be able to come up with my own ideas rather than follow someone else's. But although they can be expensive, a kit is a lot easier, because everything is included and you don't end up with too many leftovers. They are great for a craft that you just want to try out once without having to purchase a lot of supplies and equipment.

Sunflower mosaic kit

Anyway I was in Hobbycraft recently (a rare treat) and I found a little mosaic coaster kit in the sale. It was very cheap so I thought that I'd give it a go. It was really quick to do and I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out. There didn't seem to be any way of cutting the (very tiny) tiles, so it's a bit blocky, but I think that you can still see that it's a sunflower. You may notice that I like mosaics and sunflowers!

Sunflower mosaic coaster

I've found some great craft kits in Hobbycraft recently, like the ones that I used to make candles and to make soap. There are also some lovely craft kits for children that I find make great gifts.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The never ending cross stitch sampler

I love doing cross stitch, but although I also love having finished pieces on display, I think that you can have too much of a good thing. Additionally, people I know that would appreciate the time and effort put into a cross stitched gift are also more than capable of producing a far superior piece (and indeed have). So for me it is all about the process.

With this in mind, when a few years ago I asked for a sampler kit for Christmas - the Three Things sampler by Moira Blackburn, I deliberately chose a nice big one. Moira Blackburn's designs are influenced by historic samplers, and I really like the inscription on this piece:

Three things there are that will never come back
The arrow shot forth on its destined track
The appointed hour that could not wait, and
The helpful word that was spoken too late.

Not that I am anywhere close to actually stitching that bit yet! I started with the bottom half and I'm doing pretty well, but the top half of the fabric is a big blank. From time to time I have a big burst of activity, but then I worry that I'm going too quickly and I don't want to finish it, because then I would have to start another one!

Moira Blackburn Three Things sampler in progress

UPDATE - I finished the sampler in March 2014! You can see a photograph of the finished sampler here - Moira Blackburn Three Things sampler completed.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

I'm forever blowing bubbles...

I've often heard Mummy bloggers being criticised for just writing about potty training. The truth is that it is such a big thing when you have little ones - when it goes well you want to shout out to the world about it, when it doesn't you are desperate for help, advice and reassurance.

I've only briefly mentioned our potty training adventure, and from reading that you might think that we have long had it all sorted. The reality has been a little different. Although we've been pretty much sorted with the Number 1s for a good while, Harry has refused to do Number 2s anywhere but in the night time nappy or pants. Obviously this hasn't been much fun for any of us, and while we've been lucky in the sense that it generally only happens once a day, it's not a pleasant thing to have to deal with. I've tried not to make a big thing of it - I don't want to make the issue any worse than it is, and from what I've seen online and from talking to friends it's a very common problem.

However a few days ago we had a bit of a breakthrough, thanks to a tip that I read online, so I'm sharing it here in case anyone reading is in the same situation. When you know that they are due to do one - get them to sit on the potty and blow bubbles! It didn't work the first time, but after a couple of false starts we've not had an accident for several days, which is amazing! Of course we've followed up with plenty of praise and tangible rewards.

The only problem is that now we now have a situation where Harry thinks that the only way to produce something in the potty is to blow bubbles...but quite frankly I prefer that to the alternative!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


I've never been very good with hair. My hair has looked pretty much the same my whole life, just long and straight. I swim regularly and also I can't be bothered with a long hair routine every morning, so I just brush it and tie it back in a pony tail. It's never been good hair for styling, it's very thin, doesn't hold any kind of a curl and falls down if I try and pin it up in any way. I do like wearing it loose, but it grows so fast that it quickly looks messy. Also I have a bit of an issue with going to the hairdressers (i.e. I don't) so I have loads of split ends.

This does not mean that I haven't been desperate to start doing something with Mia's hair. Luckily she was born with a fair bit, so I haven't had to wait too long to begin. I bought her a selection of clips and ties for Christmas, but apart from a few half-hearted attempts with clips I've not been brave enough to try. But I spotted some very well groomed little girls at baby group last week and that inspired me to try a pony tail.

My baby looks so grown up!
It's not the best effort in the world, and was only achieved after a lot of wriggling, squirming and complaining, so I'm just hoping that it gets easier with practice!

Monday, 6 February 2012

My Mum's patchwork quilt

When I was little my parents had a lovely hexagon patchwork quilt on their bed that my Mum had made. It was lovely, but many years of use meant that it had become a bit battered, until it finally fell apart. I wanted to keep it, but it really wasn't worth it as it was in rags, and so a few years ago my Mum made me a gorgeous patchwork quilt of my own. Over the years I have been storing it safely until I had somewhere to put it out and display it, taking it out from time to time to admire it.

Homemade patchwork quilt

Now we finally have a proper guest bedroom, which also doubles as a peaceful room away from the rest of the house. We have a proper bed up there, and at last a place where I can spread out the quilt as it should be.

Cathedral Window Patchwork Quilt

It makes me really happy to know that it is there, and I keep finding myself going upstairs to visit it. When I occasionally sleep up there to have a break from the children I love being snuggled underneath it.

I've always loved patchwork, and I would love to think that I could make something like this myself, but I'm not sure that I have the skill, patience or fabric stash. At BritMums a couple of years ago I was inspired to try patchwork again, and I did manage to make a little patchwork phone case.

Cathedral Window patchwork close up

This blog post inspired a fellow blogger to share some of lovely homemade things that she has been given, you can read it here - What Memories are Made Of

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Snow day

Last night, I tucked Harry up in bed as the snow fell softly outside, and we promised him that today we would build a snowman. First thing this morning he came running in, and asked if we could go outside and play in the snow. Unfortunately we had to break the news to him that after the brief evening snowfall it had then gone on to rain for the rest of the night, and we had no snow. His poor, sad little face. So we called up my parents who live half an hour up the road, found that they had received a good amount of snow overnight, and invited ourselves up there for the morning. We were lucky that they had received just the right amount of snow to make it a safe journey up, yet enough snow for Harry to play in happily.

He was desperate to bring along his digger and dumptruck and was absorbed with them for ages. The snow was light enough for him to shovel around and he was tipping it from one to the other.

We brought Mia out briefly for a quick go on the sledge, Harry held on to her tightly as they were pulled around the garden!

Harry admired his snowman, although Daddy and Grandad put in most of the effort!

We don't tend to get a lot of snow down here on the coast, so that's probably it for the year. I'm glad that Harry had the chance for a good play!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Listography - Top 5 Phrases that Drive Me Crazy

The theme for the Listography at Kate Takes 5 this week is the top 5 phrases that drive me crazy.

1 - "Can I play a game on the computer, Mummy? Please, please, please?" We have recently introduced Harry to the games on the CBeebies website. It's great because it entertains him for ages. But normally when he is happily occupied with something I sneak off to use the computer. What am I supposed to do now, housework?

2 - "Oh no!", when spoken by a three year old, this means that something's up, and it's not good.

3 - "I don't mean to be rude, but...." Yes you do.

4 - "It's not rocket science". Always sounds sarcastic.

5 - "All of our operators are busy at the moment". You've managed to find a quiet five minutes to make a phone call, but by the time someone gets around to answering someone needs attention and you have to hang up!

Now grit your teeth and pop over to see what drives everyone else crazy!


Friday, 3 February 2012

Arranging my bookshelves

My husband’s preferred decorating style tends towards the minimalistic and uncluttered. He keeps very few things of sentimental value and finds it easy to let go of personal mementoes. On the other hand, I am very much a documenter of memories and experiences, and although I by no means keep everything I do like to hold onto some souvenirs and keepsakes. Although I also like an uncluttered look, I do enjoy having things around which express my personality. 

My bookcases are a place where I can store both my books, and also keep and display a few of the things which remind me of different phases of my life. I used to own a lot of books, but with the purchase of a Kindle I have reduced their number drastically. Books have always been rather fluid possessions of mine, and I find it easy to pass them along once I’ve finished them.

When sorting out my bookshelves in the new house I was under strict instructions as to what was allowed to be out on display, and I’m very happy with the arrangement that I’ve come up with. I don’t claim to be an interior designer, but one of my Pinterest boards is bookshelves and I have noticed that the bookshelves that I like to look at are those which contain a variety of different items, with varying heights, shapes and positioning of the books and items.

They are two Ikea Billy bookcases. Along the top and scattered about are a lot of old books which have been passed down from my parents and Grandparents on both sides. The Enid Blyton books in particular have been read over and over. I don’t have a huge amount of fiction left, mainly those books which are either not yet available for the Kindle or copies that I particularly like. Next to the travel books is a big basket which contains my collection of leaflets and brochures of places that I’ve visited. I like looking through these from time to time.

Reference books are along the bottom, along with some teenage albums from the 70’s and 80’s – a bit before my time as a teenager but I love reading through them and seeing how teenage life has changed over time. The strange sculpture on the bottom left shelf is the only piece of 3D art remaining from my Art GCSE. The tin postbox contains old and foreign coins and one of the bowls contains pretty marbles and stones which Harry likes playing with. I am also loving my button tin which I received as a Christmas present. I don’t have a massive button collection but the box came with some pretty ones and I’m looking forward to building it up (for the children to play with of course).

There are several photos of me and my husband. We don’t have many printed out of the children, in fact I don’t think that there are any of Mia yet…probably something that should be remedied! Most of the storage on the shelves is also from Ikea. Ikea really can’t be beaten for storage, and everything fits everything else perfectly. The ornaments on these shelves are the only ones that I have really as this is the only place that I display things.

These bookshelves contain all the books that I own, and looking at the picture I can see how few I do actually have! I’ve realised that most of these books have been kept for either reference or sentimental reasons, as I do most of my reading electronically. I must admit thought that the top right hand shelf has a hidden section behind it, with a whole shelf of older child/teenage books. My excuse is that I’m saving them to pass onto Harry and Mia!

Maybe the contents are a bit scruffy and battered, but I do love my bookshelves.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Listography - Top 5 Websites

This week the theme for the Listography hosted by Kate Takes 5 is Top 5 Websites - the websites that you click into daily without even thinking about it. Here's my (startlingly unoriginal!) list:

1  - BBC News. I have this set as the homepage on the PC and I check it pretty regularly on my phone too. As well as keeping up with the headlines I also like the Magazine and Features sections. It moves so fast that there is always something new to read.

2 - Google Reader. This is where I keep up with the blogs that I read regularly. If I find a new blog and enjoy a few of the posts I'll subscribe to it here. I access it mostly through my mobile phone, which is great because I can keep up to date with it around the house, but it does mean that I can't comment on my favourite blogs, so I try to keep up with it on the main PC too.

3 - Mumsnet Bloggers Network. This is where I go to find posts by bloggers that I dip into and posts from new bloggers. I also like to pop into the discussion forums. I usually stick to the Bloggers forum but occasionally I venture into the rest of the forums. Sometimes it's reassuring to see that you're not alone in facing certain issues and worries.

4 - Blogger. I post most days so I'm here most days too. Sometimes I'm on a roll and write a few posts at once, other days I dig out a post that I've already written to read through and publish. I'm a bit OCD with my blog posts and I do read them over and over in preview mode before I post them. Hopefully this means that I catch most spelling and grammar mistakes! I also tend to waffle a bit so it helps to have a fresh view on a post, particularly a longer one, and go back and be a bit more ruthless with the editing.

5 - Twitter. I don't use Twitter as much as I would like, but I do follow a fair number of people and I like to check in to read if not to tweet. I enjoy finding interesting links to follow and nosing at what people are chatting about. I don't really have many people that I chat to regularly, but I spot someone asking a question that I can help with I try to answer or share an experience. Sometimes there is loads going on, other times nothing inspires me. I tweet some of my blog posts but by no means all of them, only the ones that I think might be more interesting to others. I also like the challenge of trying to write something entertaining or interesting in 140 characters!

Be sure to pop over and see the websites that other people frequent!


Mazzard Farm Holiday Cottages, Ottery St Mary, Devon

We've just got back from a lovely little break at Mazzard Farm, near Ottery St Mary in Devon. We visited in January, so it was pretty cold, but we still had a great time. Harry was just 3 and Mia 8 months. I've put some notes together in case anyone reading this was thinking about a stay there.

The Cottage

We stayed in Medlar Cottage, which sleeps 4 and is one of six cottages available. The cottage was lovely, nice and warm with everything that we needed. We were also able to borrow some of the bulkier baby equipment like a steriliser, baby monitor, potty and changing mat, so that saved us some space in the car.

Our favourite thing about Medlar Cottage was that it had large double doors leading out onto the main courtyard. The courtyard is closed to vehicles and we were more than happy to let Harry run around outside while we were able to keep an eye on him from inside (it was pretty cold!).

The courtyard, our cottage was on the far right

Around the farm

Mazzard Farm isn't a working farm (although there are plenty in the area). The cottages are situated around a central courtyard (they don't all have direct access to the courtyard but it's only a short walk around), with gardens, an orchard and a large area of woodland to explore. There are some chickens and guinea pigs to feed and plenty of space to play outside with two play areas. On one side of the courtyard was a garage which was full of outdoor toys and ride-ons. Harry was particularly taken with a digger in the garage, and he spent a lot of time trying to transfer pinecones from the floor into the trailer of a tractor, then driving the tractor around outside. There were also toys and DVDs which you could borrow to take back to the cottage, which we appreciated very much on a couple of rainy afternoons when Mia was asleep and Harry couldn't play outside. The phone reception wasn't good, but the free wi-fi meant that we weren't completely cut off, quite sad how we've become so used to our internet access now that it would be hard to do without it!

Playing with the digger, Harry's favourite part of the holiday

Our last day was a bit rainy, but we hadn't really had chance to explore the outside areas so I stuck Harry into his wellies and we went out for a walk. Sometimes it's nice for us to spend some time together, just the two of us. We followed a little path out into the woods. Harry is a reluctant walker, so I wasn't sure how far we would get, but as usual, when he wants to walk he can go for quite a distance and we had a lovely long walk. At the bottom of the hill we found a choice of bridges across a small stream. I let Harry choose, and luckily he chose the one with the netting around the edges! We've not really walked out much in the forest before with him because of the difficulties in taking pushchairs about, so this is definitely something to do with him again when not encumbered by a baby.

Exploring in the woods

Local area attractions that we enjoyed

We tend to take holidays out of season, and unfortunately as we have discovered in the past many attractions do close or have limited opening in the winter. There were a couple of places that we would have liked to visit which were not open. However one thing about Mazzard Farm was that there were so many things to do in the local area that if we had visited in peak season I think that we would have been spoiled for choice!

We enjoyed a morning at Escot, which is open all year round. It is really an outdoor attraction, so best saved for a dry day, although there is a large indoor play barn for little ones. We were also lucky enough with the weather to be able to spend some time on Sidmouth Beach. The tide was in so it wasn't as sandy as we had hoped, but we are used to pebbly beaches down here and Harry was perfectly happy. It was also nice to walk along the seafront with the pushchair and Harry on his scooter.

We visited the Donkey Sanctuary, which was very well run with plenty of opportunities to meet the donkeys. A couple of rainy hours were spent at the Playdome indoor soft play centre, which both little ones enjoyed very much.

I'd fully recomment Mazzard Farm for a family holiday. For lots more information about their cottages and the facilities, do see their excellent website.

Disclaimer - this was a review stay, however it was for a separate travel review website and I was under no obligation to post about it on my own blog.
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