Thursday 28 June 2012

Flowers in the garden

The garden is looking really lovely at the moment. As well as our vegetable patch, which is currently providing us with a bowl of strawberries every day as well as some first carrots, we've also got a mass of flowers growing. We don't have many flowerbeds, so I can concentrate my efforts over a small area. Earlier in the year I sent Harry out sowing flower seeds, and they've filled up the flowerbed beautifully, along with some sweet peas from my Mum and some daisy things that were already there (I'm not a gardener, I don't know what they are called!). We also put them in all the spare pots that I could find, some of them suffered while we were away on holiday during that heatwave, but the ones in the larger pots have recovered.

Flowers in the garden

There are so many I've even picked some to bring inside the house. We have some pinks by the back door, I only know that because my Mum taught Harry that's what they are. Now he goes around the garden calling all the red flowers 'reds', the purple flowers 'purple' and so on.

Flowers in the garden

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Three super easy pasta sauce recipes for baby led weaning

I have taken a baby led weaning approach to weaning with my two, mainly because they refused to take anything from a spoon and it was the only way to get food into them. These three pasta sauce recipes have been huge hits in our household. I make them with macaroni pasta, which babies can scoop up in their fingers and feed themselves with, and later progress to eating themselves with a spoon. If you are spoon feeding your baby then of course you can also use these recipes, and just mix in tiny pasta shapes. They would probably work just as well as a puree too for younger ones.

I make these sauces and freeze them in small portion sized pots (yoghurt pots are ideal).

Green pasta. This is the absolute favourite meal in our house. It is a very simplified version of an Annabel Karmel recipe and makes about 5 portions. This one is very messy, long sleeved bibs and a bath to follow are recommended. It has a lot of cheese in it, so it's good for babies that are not keen on milk.

1 bag of spinach
2 tablespoons of soft cheese (I've used Philadelphia, the supermarket versions and Dairylea all work well)
A large handful of grated cheese
Splash of milk

Wilt the spinach in a large saucepan. Drain the excess liquid and return to saucepan. Add the soft cheese, grated cheese and milk. Return to the heat for a short while until the cheese has melted a little, then blend. You may need to add more milk to produce a smooth texture.

This is one meal that I tend to make for the little ones only. It is incredibly rich with all that cheese!

Red pasta. My own recipe! We eat mainly vegetarian food, which is why I have added lentils. This makes about 8 or 9 portions.

1 can of chopped tomatoes
Large handful red lentils
Teaspoon of herbs (I use Italian Herb Seasoning)

Place the chopped tomatoes in a large saucepan. Rinse out the can with water and add more water to the saucepan, I find that about two thirds of the can is a good amount. Add in the lentils and the herbs, bring to the boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes, or until it has thickened. Blend.

You could increase the vegetable content of the sauce by adding some extra vegetables, perhaps add some pureed carrots or sweet potato. I eat this too, although it is rather bland so may require some salt for adult tastes. I serve with plenty of grated cheese.

Three simple pasta recipes for baby led weaning

Yellow pasta. Also known as cheese sauce. I'm sure that everyone has a tried and tested recipe for cheese sauce, this is the one that I use, or you can find a more exact one here. This makes about 5 portions.

A lump of butter (about 15g)
Small tablespoon of flour
200ml milk
Large handful of grated cheese

Melt the butter then add the flour and mix together. Add the milk gradually and stir until thickened. When thickened add in the cheese and stir.

This is a really good recipe to make for the whole family. I've also made it with extra hidden vegetables blended in - parsnip or cauliflower work well.

I think that my children would eat these three recipes in rotation if I let them!

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Story telling bottle caps

I love reading books to Harry, I really do. But sometimes I do sigh inwardly at the request to read the same book over and over again, or when I'm ready for bed and the story that he chooses is the longest one on the shelf. I'd also love to have the imagination to be able to make up my own stories for him. I've seen lots of ideas lately online (thanks Pinterest!) for various objects that can be made to prompt story telling, and seeing large numbers of bottle caps scattered across the living room floor gave me the final push to put together some of my own, using milk bottle caps. 

How to make story telling bottle caps for children

Most recently I've seen story stones and story cubes and they are absolutely beautiful. For my take on the idea I've simplified enormously by just using small pictures cut from magazines and greeting cards and gluing them on to the bottle caps. We save the milk bottle caps for recycling, and so we generally have lots about before I get round to taking them away. You could also use small pieces of cardboard, wood, tiles, or anything really with a flat surface. The pictures came mainly from free magazines and catalogues.

How to make story telling bottle caps for children

To make it more personal to your child you could add photographs of family members or pets, or places and objects important to the family such as the house or a favourite holiday destination.

I tried to choose pictures which would prompt some action in the story, for example some pictures of houses and transport. I've also included pictures of children, animals and familiar objects. Some of the pictures could have several meanings, for example a shoe could represent the object itself, or something more abstract such as a journey. A heart could represent not only romantic love, but also friendship or family. I've included a butterfly, which I used as a way to lead a character towards something interesting, and a clock to introduce a concept of time. I made 30, and I could have made many more (and I may yet do so!).

When you are ready to tell a story, choose four or five of the pictures. You can let your child choose them, or choose them yourself at random without looking. Then just make up a story based around the images. You can base your story upon a person or animal that has been drawn out, or make your child the centre of the story. Youwill probably notice that the stories you come up with are repeated by your child in their role play, and if you start giving the characters names make sure that you remember them for the next story (your child will!). While you are telling the story, ask your child to join in and make suggestions.

Harry absolutely loved this activity, and requested story after story. To my surprise I also really enjoyed making up my own stories. I made him select the pictures with his eyes shut, but I could usually see him peeking, especially once he realised that there was a dinosaur in there waiting to be chosen! I'm going to store these in a bag or box on the bookshelf so that they are just as accessible as our books.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Posting activities for older babies

I think that the posting instinct probably kicks in at around 11 months. Harry was a little earlier, Mia a little later (this was probably due to my failing to notice it - neglected second child syndrome strikes again!) As for when it loses its appeal, well I can't answer that one as Harry is still having fun posting things at three and a half!

All you need is a cardboard box or similar, and something (or many things) to post into it. First demonstrate to the baby what to do, and then just let them get on with it. For a younger baby make a larger hole and use larger items to post. I've used the shapes that go inside a shape sorter toy with a large square or circular hole.

Then as they get older and more dexterous you can tailor the size of the hole to the object, and use smaller things to post. Finally you can move on to proper shape sorter toys where the object needs to be manipulated in order to line it up and post it through the hole.

For a toddler the activity also becomes one of role play, where you can pretend, for example, to be a postman posting letters. It's actually surprising for how long such a simple activity can keep them entertained! Just remember to be careful with all small pieces as it is very tempting for little ones to post things into their mouths rather than the intended container.

Posting activities for older babies

Saturday 23 June 2012

Grabby baby

Mia is going through another difficult baby stage - she's into everything. You can't leave anything lying within her reach, as she's also not quite past the putting things into her mouth stage. She has discovered that all our cupboards are full of interesting things, and we have a lot of cupboards. Her favourite at the moment is the craft cupboard, with all those tempting glue sticks, paint bottles and glitter. Harry is becoming increasingly frustrated at his carefully set up toys and games being interrupted and everything being scattered about. He has learned that some activities are saved for when she is having her nap, and so he is constantly asking me to put her for a sleep so that we can play with the Lego or do a jigsaw.

A toddler dealing with a grabby baby

Luckily Harry is quite easy going, and his annoyance is only temporary, it's not long before he's back to cuddling her.

Thursday 21 June 2012

How to make a "Me on the Map" book craft

How to make a me on the map book craft with children

Following on from our recent flag craft, I wanted to find a way to teach Harry a little bit more about geography and his place in the world. I remembered seeing a brilliant idea for a Me on the Map book at Counting Coconuts and so I thought that we could make one ourselves. It's a fun craft to do together with your child whether they are older or younger, and it helps them to understand a little bit about where they live and how that fits in with the rest of the world.

Here's the Me on the Map book that we made together:

How to make a me on the map book craft with children

To start with you need to make a plan for the pages that you want to include in your book.

My pages are:

House - I took a photograph of our house and glued a photograph of Harry and Mia onto the front (I have blanked it out for privacy, we don't really live in a brown cloud!

Street - a map printed from Google maps of our street and surrounding streets with a tiny photo of the house (taken from the index sheet when I had the photographs printed) and a compass sticker.

Village - I cut some pictures from a magazine to represent the things that we do in our village - swings, baby group, the shops and the post office.

West Sussex - A cutout outline of West Sussex in coloured corrugated card with a couple of photos and logo taken from a free local magazine. The blue tissue paper in the background represents the sea!

United Kingdom - a cutout outline of the UK in felt with the individual flags from each country which make up the Union Flag and a larger England flag.

Europe - Very simple, just a printed outline map of Europe.

Earth - A simple cartoon style outline of Earth which Harry coloured in.

How to make a me on the map book craft with children

Each circle is cut from thin cardboard, I used the back of a cereal packet. Some of the circles were made using a template from a suitable object such as a bowl or cup, the rest were drawn freehand to fit in. There is about 1cm difference between each circle. Then I used a hole punch to make a hole in the top of each circle, before joining them together with some thin ribbon.

They can each be moved apart individually, or flipped over to form the book.

How to make a me on the map book craft with children

At the bottom of each circle I've written the description (I've blanked out our village and street name). I think that this is a really good way to help a child to understand the concept of geography. You might also like my post on teaching young children about geography.

Monday 18 June 2012

Preparing for the return to work

So in less than two weeks my maternity leave will be over. In fact technically it already is, I'm now using up the annual leave which I accrued while I was off. I'm very lucky that I am able to work part-time, and with a combination of a flexible employer, my wonderful parents, my lovely husband and a conveniently located nursery we are able to work out a mixture of childcare which we are happy with.

After my first bout of maternity leave with Harry I was ready to go back to work. He was a grumpy baby, and to be honest I didn't mind the break. I just enjoyed being able to sit at my desk without being disturbed, and to have a lunchbreak in which I could eat my sandwiches quietly and check the news headlines on the computer. This time though, I'm finding the prospect of returning to work more difficult. Perhaps my feelings have something to do with the fact that I don't see another year of maternity leave on the horizon...

Mia has had her first full day at nursery, and while of course it is going to take a few weeks for her to settle fully I'm happy with the care and attention that she will receive. She'll also have the benefit of extra time to spend with my husband and my parents. My first few weeks back at work are going to be a bit of a struggle as we get to know our new routine, in particular the mornings where I will be starting work early and my husband needs to get both little ones up, dressed and breakfasted before going to work himself.

I'll still have two and a half days a week at home with both children, and from experience when I had the same with Harry this is a nice amount of time to fill, and doesn't make the week seem like one endless long afternoon. My days off are in the middle of the week too, which breaks things up nicely, and I hope that our time together will be better spent as I make the effort to do fun things.

I do have a few things to get ready before going back to work. I've chosen the photographs to display on my desk and I've sorted out my handbag (not a spare nappy or baby wipe in sight!). Now I'm hoping to spend the next couple of weeks on a bit of a detox so that I can button up my smart trousers comfortably!

Family photo on a bus

Sunday 17 June 2012

Blackstock Farm, Hellingly

Today is Open Farm Sunday, when farms across the country open their gates to the public, often for free. It's a brilliant idea, and has been taking place since 2006. We were spoiled for choice when we looked up the farms open near to us. After spending some time making a decision, we chose to visit Blackstock Farm near Hellingly. Although not the closest, it looked as though it had plenty to see and do and would be worth the journey.

We arrived soon after it opened which was a good move, because it was very busy later on. This meant that Harry was first into the outdoor play area. He had been whinging about having to walk, but as soon as he caught sight of all the ride on toys there was no stopping him. His favourite was a tractor with digger attachment. There was also lots of outdoor play equipment, and a large sandpit with plenty of toys.

Open Farm Sunday at Blackstock Farm near Hellingly

Not to be outdone, Mia was keen to join in so we found her a tractor of her own. I promise she had hair clips in when we left the house, I've no idea what she did with them!

Open Farm Sunday at Blackstock Farm near Hellingly

At 10am the real tractor rides started, and we went on a nice bouncy ride around the farm. It's located in a really beautiful setting and the tractor took us past some of the fields and then out past a little stream with some lovely flowers. Rejuvenated from a sit down we let Harry loose on the bouncy castle, with Mia on the sidelines as usual. She is so close to walking, it won't be long before she can join in with him!

Open Farm Sunday at Blackstock Farm near Hellingly

Then we went for a walk around the farm. There were all the usual farm animals to see, with plenty of chickens and a scary turkey.

Open Farm Sunday at Blackstock Farm near Hellingly

We were really glad that we made the journey over, as there was plenty more to do than just see the animals. A lovely day out, and for free, even better!

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Dear Dad...

So this weekend it's Father's Day. I'm not really one for soppy posts, but when I saw another blogger looking for people to write an open letter to their Dads or other father figures I thought that I would like to join in. So I've compiled a list of just ten happy memories of my Dad from all the lovely ones that I have.

Dad, if you're reading I hope that you don't mind, that you like them, and that you remember them too! Leave a comment, go on!

  • Going into the school in the holidays where he taught chemistry to do experiments - separating salt from sand, developing photographs and doing chromatography with felt tips.

  • Taking me for walks on the Downs after I moved down to Worthing and before I had a job.

  • Helping me make revision timetables for GCSE exams. I did them the same way for all the exams that I ever took!

  • Bringing home computers from school in the school holidays for us to play on, along with the games that he had confiscated from the boys.

  • Teaching me how to use a hammer and nails in the garage and helping me make furniture for my Barbies.

  • Embarassing me in front of my friend by talking about his dangly bits on a camping holiday (the toggles on his sleeping bag that is).

  • Telling me that there were chocolate coins on top of the clouds.

  • Taking me to and picking me up from the pub (he still does from time to time!)

  • Taking part in the bean bag and bucket race at Sport's Day and injuring his knee really badly.

  • Making mulled wine at Christmas.

So many more, but I had to stop somewhere!

Baby with grandparents

Saturday 9 June 2012

A day out with Harry in Brighton

I've been meaning to take Harry out on a day trip, just the two of us, for a while now, but things have always got in the way (mainly terrible weather!). Today dawned bright and clear, and the winds had died down, so I decided that now was the time.

We travelled by train, and our first stop was the Sea Life Centre, which has recently re-opened after being refurbished. For me there are two things which really set this Sea Life Centre apart from the others in the chain that I've visited. The first is the stunning, historical building, which has been an aquarium since 1872 and which I used to visit as a child when it was a dolphinarium (the dolphins are long gone now!). The second is that, because it is so old, some of the creatures have clearly been there for a long time and have grown accordingly. There are some truly enormous eels, fish and crabs!

Then we walked underneath the pier and visited the Penny Arcade Museum, a free museum with a collection of penny machines that you can use by inserting old pennies. Also somewhere that I used to visit when I was little with my Grandma, although as she had her own collection of old pennies we didn't need to buy them! I bought 10 for £1.20 and managed to win some more, so we had enough for a good go. They were mainly pinball style games to play, and Harry was able to operate them too.

A day out with a small child in Brighton

Then we walked up on to the Palace Pier. It was very windy and yet I was amazed to see people actually swimming in the sea! We went into the amusement arcade and I changed some money so that Harry could have a go on the 2p sliding machines. He loved it, and he won a few times so that pleased him (although of course all the money that you win goes straight back in!)

We walked back through the town and past the Pavillion. I was hoping that he might remember it from watching The Snowman but he didn't seem to, hopefully next time he watches the film he will remember actually seeing it! We had a sit down in the park outside, or at least I did, while I encouraged him to burn off some energy by running about chasing seagulls and pigeons.

A day out with a small child in Brighton

I decided that then it was time for me to be a bit selfish so I took him to the Brighton Bead Shop, which is wonderful. I parked him in a corner with a box of raisins (it wasn't very pushchair friendly) and I had a quick run round, sorting out differently priced beads into little plastic bags. I only spent £2 and managed to acquire a nice selection of pretty beads. I have something in mind for them so watch this space!

Our final planned activity of the day was a hike up the hill to the Brighton Toy and Model Museum, which is located underneath the station. It was £4 for me and Harry was free. It may seem expensive for a small museum, but it was well worth it, and we spent longer there than at the Sea Life Centre. There are hundreds of toys and models to see, with an emphasis on trains but also other vehicles, various construction kits and other toys like puppets and toy kitchens. There were two working train layouts, one ran continously and the other was operated by a button. Harry loved just standing on a chair and waiting for the trains to go past over and over again, and he was also delighted by the rest of the museum. (Look Mummy, a car! Look Mummy, a tractor! This tractor has a trailer! and so on).

A day out with a small child in Brighton

I thought that this was the end of our day, seeing as though we were now back up at the station, but Harry announced that he didn't want to go home yet, so I found us a cafe for a sit down, a hot chocolate and a brownie. Then it was back to the station, with a very tired little boy!

A day out with a small child in Brighton

We had such a lovely day, it was so nice to be able to concentrate completely on Harry for once, rather than having to slot him in around Mia. It's definitely something that we need to continue doing with each of them as they get older.

Friday 8 June 2012

Euro 2012 and our flag craft

Originally I wanted to do a flag craft to tie in with the Olympics. But, with over 200 nations taking part, that seemed a little ambitious. The Euro 2012 football tournament seems to have crept up a bit, sandwiched between the Jubilee and Olympics, but with a smaller number of countries taking part I thought that making 16 flags would be a lot more manageable.

A simple flag craft for children

I had intended to draw out all the flags myself, but a quick Google search found these fab flag printables from Activity Village which were perfect. I printed them all out, and we set to painting them. I used an atlas for reference, which was also an opportunity to have a chat with Harry about the different countries and look at some maps. I'm not sure how much he took in, but I'm laying the foundations! Then we looked at each one individually and I got him to work out which colours they needed to be. He surprised me with his attention span, he actually painted all the flags (he was a bit daunted by Greece, but gave it a good go).

A simple flag craft for children

They looked nice when they were done, but because we only used watercolour paint they needed to be blinged up a bit. I delved into my craft stash and pulled out the collage baskets, sequins, glitter paint and glitter, and some bits left over from a craft kit that we've been working with. We threw glue about for a bit, and then after an impatient wait for everything to dry I laminated the flags so that they were a bit sturdier (and so that we weren't showered with glitter every time that we took them out).

A simple flag craft for children

As for what to do with them now, there are lots of possibilities for games to play with them. I'm not sure that we're quite ready for actually learning the names of the countries yet, but we could try simpler ones like matching flags with the same colours or patterns. I will be talking about the countries as we look at the flags though, just trying to get across the idea that the world is made up of lots of different countries. It's also a really good way for me to learn some of the flags myself, as I am by no means an expert!

We are very interested in travel and geography as a family, so this is definitely a topic that I want to concentrate on with Harry, in fact I've put together a few ideas for teaching young children about geography here.

Flamingo Beach Resort, Lanzarote

We've just returned from our second stay at the Flamingo Beach Resort in Playa Blanca, Lanzarote. We had such a lovely stay first time round that we returned for a second visit, and after contacting the manager to request a room in the same area as on our previous trip we were allocated the same bungalow! We just had a basic room, although there is an option to upgrade to a Select room. The only real difference we could see was that the Select rooms have a nicer television, with a DVD player, and bathrobes and slippers. We visited this time for a week with a 3 year old and a 1 year old. The bus transfer from the airport is about half an hour, and we didn't have to stop at any other hotels in either direction to pick people up.

The bungalows are located slightly apart from the main entertainment areas in the resort which I think makes them quieter, they are also single storey so you have no-one above or below you. From what I could see, all of the accommodation is reached by steps although once out of your room you can reach everywhere else via ramps.

Bungalow review at the Flamingo Beach Resort, Lanzarote

The rooms at the Flamingo Beach Resort were large and kept extremely clean, it was even tidied for us most days and fresh flowers put out. The sofa bed in the living room has a pull out bed underneath, so can be made up into two separate single beds. We had a cot for the baby. One thing that I wasn't totally comfortable with was that the children were sleeping between us and the main door, so we actually put the coffee table in front of the door at night and kept the door to the bedroom open. At one end of the main room is a small kitchen, then a separate bathroom and main bedroom at the back with shuttered window looking out over one of the small children's pools. There was plenty of storage space. Our television had BBC1 and BBC2 as well as a children's channel, and you can pay extra for more channels, wi-fi access and air conditioning.

Flamingo Beach Resort, Lanzarote

The kitchen contained a large fridge freezer, toaster, kettle, coffee maker and microwave as well as two hot plates. I think that most visitors will be all inclusive like we were, and the kitchen wasn't particularly well equipped if you were cooking a meal every night. Some of the furnishings were a little dated, but that didn't bother us. On the terrace was a table and four chairs and a drying rack which was very handy. The view from the terrace was lovely, we could see right across the sea to nearby Fuerteventura.

Flamingo Beach Resort review

The hotel itself has a variety of pools of different depths and sizes, and an activity pool with a couple of small slides. There seemed to be plenty of sunloungers although we still saw people reserving them early on despite signs warning that towels would be removed! There is a deeper, rectangular pool for swimming lengths although there were lessons and activities taking place for much of the day which limited it a bit.

The Kid's Club activities from age 3 and above seemed varied, although parents are not allowed to stay and we didn't think that our son would be up for being left. There is also a creche for babies (at extra cost) which we didn't use, but every evening from 5-6pm it was opened up for a play and stay session which both our children really enjoyed. It was perfect timing too, at the end of a long day to keep them going until dinner time.

We were all inclusive, so all our meals, snacks and drinks were included. The restaurant was a buffet, with a large selection of hot and cold food. We eat mainly vegetarian so our selection was a little limited, but there seemed to be varied meat and fish options. There was also child friendly food, with chips, pizza and burgers every day, along with salad, soup, different types of bread, plenty of fruit and cakes and icecream. To be honest the food did get a little samey after a while, but I would imagine that is the same with any all inclusive resort. You can easily take a pushchair into the restaurant and there were plenty of Ikea Antilop highchairs, although they don't have trays which can make it a bit difficult for babies to feed themselves. Luckily the waiters were very efficient and kept it all very clean and tidy.

The only thing that we had to buy was milk for the little ones. Milk was provided at breakfast but it was long life milk. It was easy enough to buy some, although perhaps they would have provided it if we had asked.

The resort also has three restaurants, and a meal in each was included which was booked at reception. We gave El Duque Tapas (carvery dining) and Tex Mex a miss as they didn't have any suitable vegetarian options, but we enjoyed the Italian restaurant La Bambola very much.

We found that the evening entertainment wasn't really geared up to children as young as ours, and also it was far too late in the evening for them. Because it was just the two of us we also didn't get to see what was happening later on, but it seemed to be mainly bingo. This entertainment (along the Kid's Club above) was organised by First Choice. On our previous visit we stayed in January when a different tour company was running the entertainment, and although it was all in Swedish we felt that it was much better for young children, with a clown, magic tricks, nursery rhymes, songs and so on.

Child scooting in Lanzarote

The resort is in a great location. It is minutes walk from the beach and there is a wide paved path leading out along the coast to a lighthouse in one direction and into the harbour, the town of Playa Blanca and beyond in the other. The harbour is about ten minutes walk away, and there is a regular ferry service to Fuerteventura. My son was fascinated by the car ferry, he would stand for ages watching it load and unload. Flamingo Beach is lovely. It is man made with lots of lovely yellow sand and concrete blocks have been placed to enclose it and make it safe for swimming. There are sunlougers to hire and a small cafe, as well as some shops and restaurants on the front. The beach at Playa Blanca itself is not nearly as nice, and the next pleasant beach is quite a walk down the coast. Having walked along the coast in both directions for quite a way, I think that the Flamingo Beach Resort really does have the best location if you are coming for a beach holiday. Some of the resorts further out of the town are a long walk from a beach.

Flamingo Beach, Lanzarote

On our previous visit we hired a car locally for a couple of days so that we could explore some of the rest of Lanzarote. There are some interesting things to see - the National Park has a bus tour around the volcanos and there are some caves to visit. Of course there are plenty of bus and boat trips available to book locally.

Obviously we wouldn't have returned to the Flamingo Beach Resort if we hadn't enjoyed our first stay here. When booking our holiday this year we struggled to find anywhere else that was so reasonably priced, and we found it much less stressful with small children returning somewhere we had been before. We booked through First Choice. If you've booked, it's worth sending the manager (Angel) an e-mail beforehand if you have any special requirements, we found him very friendly and helpful to deal with. You should be able to find his e-mail address through Tripadvisor, where he is very active at responding to reviews.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Water play in the garden

Water play in the garden with a water wall

I spotted an idea for a garden water play structure on Pinterest fairly recently, and it stood out immediately because Harry has a fascination with water and pipes at the moment and it looked like a really fun activity that he would enjoy. The one that I have pinned is from Taming the Goblin and is based on an idea from Sun Hats and Wellie Boots. Both are far, far more sophisticated than mine!

Garden water play structure

Luckily our recycling bin was full, so I was able to collect together a variety of different plastic bottles and pots. We have a trellis wall leading into our vegetable patch which was a perfect spot to use. I attached the bottles to the trellis using string and coated wire (cable ties would also have worked really well). I began with a simple top to bottom structure as it can be easily changed, and also it was more difficult than I had expected! The water had a habit of splattering off in unexpected directions. I think that perhaps I placed my bottles too far apart.

This was really fun, and I'm looking forward to expanding and improving it over the summer!

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Needlework Days - May 2012

Needlework Days at Feisty Tapas is back, and this month I have some progress to report! After not quite managing it last month, this month I have finished the bottom half of the sampler and made a start on the top half. There are still some gaps for the text and dates which will be added in at the end, but apart from that it's finished. It's nice to be starting the top half. It's a bit like having a whole new sampler to work on, as apart from the border it is very different. I'm also enjoying working on the inscription.

Three Things Sampler by Moira Blackburn

I'm afraid that my contributions to Needlework Days may end up being rather samey, as I only work on one piece at a time. This is because I know how easy it is to build up a stash of different patterns and kits, and I would never have time to complete them all, so I hold back from buying more.

This month I'm also sharing a picture of my thread stash, such as it is. I'm sure that fellow stitchers and crafters can relate to the excitement I felt when I purchased this thread storer from Hobbycraft a few years ago. I had such a great time neatly winding all the thread onto the bobbins. I made a lot of friendship bracelets as a teenager so some of the threads come from then. There are also leftovers from various kits, and some of it I'm sure has been "borrowed" from my Mum at various times. Because I tend to work from kits with everything included I don't need to keep all the different colours on hand, so I use these for other little things that I make.

Embroidery silk stash

I'm already eyeing up my next kit, which is a bit naughty because I know that I've got a long way to go on this one yet. I'm thinking about an old map design, as a bit of a change from samplers and because I also love maps. Has anyone else seen any other nice map cross stitch kits or patterns out there?

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

Sunday 3 June 2012

A first birthday

Poor Mia. In what may be a classic case of neglected-second-child-syndrome, it feels a little as though the milestone of her first birthday has been somewhat neglected. Her actual birthday was last week, on the day that we returned from holiday, but because we didn't get home until her bedtime we opted to delay giving her presents until the weekend when we were able to concentrate on her properly.

We had a slight mishap a couple of days ago when Harry decided to give Mia one of her presents early. To be fair he did ask us each individually if he could, but we were busy with other things and so he just got on with it and opened a present for her! We couldn't really tell him off because he was only doing it because he wanted her to have her present.

This morning we had a little cake and sang Happy Birthday before opening presents. We bought her a Peppa Pig ride on, cunningly purchased in the sales at the end of last summer and stowed away. We also re-gave her a doll that we had bought her for Christmas but she was too little for, she's a bit more interested in it now. To go with that she received from my parents a little pink pushchair and both sets of grandparents bought her some lovely clothes. More gorgeous clothes from my brother and some squeaky eggs from my sister made her a very lucky little girl!

Baby girl's first birthday

We've been having a few lessons with Harry about how although it is important that they do both share their toys with each other, sometimes it is nice to give the birthday girl the opportunity to play with her own presents first before running off with them.

Baby girl's first birthday

This last year has gone so quickly and Mia is growing up so fast. We stopped her bottles and night feeds a few weeks ago, and last night she even slept through the entire night until almost 7am (don't be jealous, it took Harry another couple of years or so to manage that from time to time, and he was up last night). She can stand up for quite a long time, and she cruises confidently, but hasn't quite managed those first steps yet. She has a mop of gorgeous messy curls on her head, and she beams with delight whenever she sees us.

She also has a few words, we think that her first word was Ha-ra (Harry) and she also says Da-Da in context, something that sounds a bit like Teddy and Ra-Ra-Ra for Ram's phone (because it plays the Wheels on the Bus go ra-ra-ra.) I love watching Harry and Mia playing and interacting together. Sometimes I can't quite believe how lucky we are!

Friday 1 June 2012

Our summer holiday in Lanzarote

We've always been used to taking our holidays out of season, so I don't know how we're going to cope when we have little ones at school and have to brave holiday resorts in the school holidays, along with the associated higher costs. We've just got back from a lovely week in Lanzarote, at the Flamingo Beach Resort. It was actually our second visit to the resort, we stayed there in January last year when Harry was just 2 and I was pregnant with Mia. It suited us so perfectly and was so reasonably priced that we couldn't find anywhere better when we were looking for our next family holiday. I also found preparing for the holiday much less stressful knowing that we were going some familiar, especially as it was our first trip abroad with the two of them!

We contacted the manager in advance to ask for a room in a similar area as the one that we had last time and he allocated us the same room which was a bit surreal, as everything was just the same yet very different! The holiday was all-inclusive with a fair choice of food, but our little ones are so fussy that they wouldn't touch most of the food, they spent the week surviving on bread and butter, bananas and ice cream! The buffet restaurant did mean that we spent most of the meal taking it in turns to go and fetch food rather than sitting down together, and I had to comfort Mia everytime Ram left the table as she would cry hysterically until he came back! The breakfast was the best meal of the day, with plenty of goodies to fill you up, and the waiters were very polite about the amount of mess that Mia left behind, as the highchairs didn't have trays so most of the food ended up on the floor.

Flamingo Beach Resort, Lanzarote

They were both really good on the flight, it did get a bit desperate at times trying to keep them entertained, but we didn't have any major grumpiness and I actually managed to get Mia to sleep for a while each time by rocking her about a bit.

Mia loved her first proper beach experience, we plonked her down on the sand and she crawled about like a mad thing. She did a few face plants and ended up with mouthfuls of sand, but it didn't seem to bother her. Harry was scared of the sea to begin with, but they both became bolder as the week progressed - Harry went in up to his waist and Mia was quite happy crawling about in the shallow bits. Flamingo Beach is directly opposite the hotel and it is a man-made sandy beach sheltered with concrete blocks so that you can swim without the waves being too big. I loved standing in the water and watching all the fish swimming about. We bought a net to try and catch some but failed miserably until the last day when Ram found some rockpools to trap them in (I am assured that he caught some in the sea as well after I had taken Mia back to the room!).

Lanzarote holiday

I wasn't pregnant this time so I was able to enjoy the all-inclusive alcohol, although a couple of peach schnapps with lemonade (my drink of choice in my younger days) was enough for me. We tried some of the cocktails but they reminded me a bit of the ones that they used to make up at university in bins and ladle out into plastic cups.

The evening entertainment wasn't that great and wasn't really aimed at ones as little as ours but that wasn't really a problem as they are used to going to bed early so we just stuck them in bed and sat quietly in the bedroom - I got through several books on my Kindle. We made an exception on a couple of evenings and put them to bed in our room so that we could sit up together in the living room - well we didn't want to miss Eurovision!

We didn't pay the extra for wi-fi access so we had an internet free week (apart from when Ram went internet hunting with his phone and managed to connect briefly and download the news headlines and his e-mails). We did have a television with BBC1 and BBC2 though, as well as a children's channel which was most useful. I actually didn't miss my phone as much as I thought I would, even less so when I returned to check my e-mail and found that I hadn't missed anything at all anyway! I've still got a lot of blog reading to catch up with though. My biggest problem was that I discovered that I rely hugely on the clock on my phone, so I never had any idea what time it was!

Lanzarote holiday

We went down to the beach everyday and in the swimming pools most days, as well as chilling out in our room during the hottest part of the day. I was even able to spend lots of time just reading and relaxing.

Lanzarote holiday

The little ones went straight to sleep each night, they must have been shattered. In fact on our last evening, Mia fell asleep in her highchair at the dinner table, poor thing! They also slept somewhat better than they usually manage at home, clearly I need to be making them run about more at home and not letting them nap!

Lanzarote holiday

You can read a full review of the Flamingo Beach Resort here in case you are looking for a family holiday destination because we really would recommend it. It's not the sort of holiday that we would have considered before children at all, but with our new family unit, for the next few years at least this sort of thing seems to suit us perfectly.