Tuesday 31 July 2012

Ways my life has changed since I started blogging

I've been writing this blog for over a year now. To be honest I'm very surprised with myself that I've kept it going this long, especially after my previous blogs fizzled out very quickly. The difference this time is that instead of just writing to myself I've discovered that there is a whole world of blogging out there that I wanted to be a part of. I've really found myself part of a community, and although I'm only at the bottom end of the scale I'm loving being a part of it.

I started this blog at the very beginning of my maternity leave, which probably helped because being away from work meant that my life is centred upon my family and home. I'm back at work now, but now that I've laid the foundations I think that it will be much easier to continue.

Before blogging I used to spend a lot of time faffing about online anyway, so at least now this faffing has a focus. I have also noticed many other ways in which my life has changed since I started blogging:

  • I take a lot of photographs. I particularly now photograph everyday things, rather than just special occasions.

  • I don't devote as much time to the baby journals as I used to. Writing the blog has proven to be a much better way to document events in the life of our young family. The main benefit is that photographs can be added instantly, rather than having to wait to get them printed out. My intention is to look into getting this blog, or at least parts of it, printed out so that I have a permanent record to keep (please do let me know if you have any recommendations for companies that can do this!).

  • I must admit that sometimes I organise an activity or trip out for the sole purpose of blogging about it.

  • But because of this we've done lots of things that we perhaps wouldn't otherwise have done.

  • I joined Pinterest around the same time as I started the blog, and I've already done many of the activities that I've pinned. Pinterest is full of ways to entertain children, crafts for children and craft inspiration for myself. I've also found lots of new blogs through it.

  • Related to that, I've also picked up my crafting a lot more. I enjoy blogging about things that I've made, and it inspires me to get things finished so that I can share them. I still spend time crafting in my evenings.

  • I've found that bloggers and tweeters are a lot more honest about sleeping habits than real life friends. I take enormous comfort from reading my Twitter timeline first thing in the morning, particularly at the weekend, and seeing that many other people have also suffered from disturbed nights. Perhaps people are more willing to admit to these things from behind a screen rather than face to face.

  • Talking of Twitter, I didn't see the point before I started blogging. Now I'm there throughout the day, lurking away and trying to pluck up the courage to join in a conversation. I thought it was just a place to shout about what you were up to, but in reality it reminds me of the old AOL chatrooms that I used to frequent in the early days of the internet when hardly anyone was using it.

  • I used to lurk a lot on forums and would never actually take part. Now I'm much more confident about joining in with discussions online and I really enjoy it.

Fellow bloggers, what has changed in your lives since you started your blog?

Monday 30 July 2012

Magpie Monday - 30th July 2012

Now that I'm back at work, I find myself just a few minutes walk from three charity shops. Being out of the town centre they are also very reasonably priced. I'm not really one to buy lots of bits and pieces for around the house, I try and aim for a relatively uncluttered look. But there are certain things that I think really can't be counted as clutter, and books are definitely one of them.

I was extremely pleased with the little haul that I picked up in my lunchbreak at the end of last week. I've been after a simple book about the body for Harry for a while, and this one is pitched perfectly. He is absolutely fascinated by it, especially learning about the skeleton and the digestive system. We've also been reading a few short poems together so I picked up this book of children's poems. Some of them are a bit strange and there's a section on 'Creepy Poems' but I think that he'll like them. Then I also found a book of Number Rhymes which is brilliant, each page is a different number with lots of little poems and activities.

Charity shop haul - books

My favourite book is an Usborne book - Learning Games. It's fantastic! It has lots of little games in it to help children learn their letters and numbers. The book itself contains the backgrounds for the games, and then there are instructions to make themed counters and cards to use with it. The letter ones are a bit advanced yet but I think that the number games look just right, and I've bookmarked a few to try. They are quite simple and could be easily adapted, I might just have a few to share!

Charity shop haul - books

Finally I couldn't resist these two vintage Ladybird books - Dinosaurs and Aesop's Fables. They're a bit battered, but at 10p each I couldn't leave them. I think that Harry will like them but they will have to be for supervised reading, I don't want them to fall apart!

Charity shop haul - books

I will be linking up with Magpie Monday over at Me and My Shadow.

Saturday 28 July 2012

The London Olympics 2012 Opening Ceremony - we were there!

Last night, the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony took place at the Olympic Park in London, and we were lucky enough to actually be there! I posted last week about how, despite not receiving any tickets in the first round and only a few to less popular events in the second round, thanks to my husband's determination and persistance over the last few weeks we have been lucky enough to build up an excellent selection of tickets. He was even able to secure a ticket to the Opening Ceremony just a couple of days ago for his sister to join us. We are also extremely fortunate in my parents, who have effectively put their lives on hold for the next couple of weeks to act as our babysitters!

We booked our parking at Ebbsfleet International for £8 and then caught the Javelin train in to Stratford. It only took about ten minutes, and because we arrived quite early the train was nearly empty. It was a very smooth process, and we arrived right in the middle of the Olympic Park. It was starting to get busy, with lots of people milling about. We wandered around looking at the lanyards that many people were wearing, unfortunately I'm not very good at celebrity spotting but there were lots of people with the title "Athlete" which was very exciting! We were right opposite the Olympic Village, and we could see all the country flags hanging out of the windows.

We had some tickets to collect, so Ram went and joined the queue at the Box Office. The queue didn't seem too long, although it did take a while to get everything sorted. Then we went into the Westfield Shopping Centre for some dinner. The shops had all closed but the restaurants were just letting the last people in, so we were able to enjoy a relaxed dinner in an emptying restaurant away from the crowds outside.

At 5pm the Olympic Park was opened to the public. We weren't first in the queue and had expected a long wait to get through security, but to our surpise the process was really fast and we didn't have to wait at all. The older gentleman in front of us set off the metal detector as he went through, and proudly produced the reason - a gold Olympic medal from the 1964 Olympics! Of course we were suitably impressed, and he allowed us to have a close look at his medal - and even to touch it!

On the other side the atmosphere was buzzing. There were television crews aplenty, and when Ram recognised a BBC presenter he couldn't resist jumping in front of the camera, an event shortly followed by a phone call from his cousin who had just seen him live on television!

London Olympics 2012 Opening Ceremony

London Olympics 2012 Opening Ceremony

We took a slow walk up to the stadium, pausing frequently to take plenty of photos and drink in the atmosphere. The Olympic Park was beautiful and clean, and although busy there was plenty of space to mill around. We had to refill our water bottles so we found the free water fountains, and there were plenty of toilets too which is always appreciated!

London Olympics 2012 Opening Ceremony

Then it was time to enter the Stadium. Our seats were pretty high up which was a steep climb, but because the area in the centre was so big we still had a good view. The first thing that we noticed when we took our seats was the "paddle" attached to the seat in front with lights on the front of it. Of course there was much speculation about what was going to happen, especially where the cauldron for the Olympic flame would be as there was nothing obvious. The set, with its grassy hills, waterwheel and little cottages looked pretty permanent.

Even though the televised show wasn't due to start for a long time, we were still entertained. Four huge clouds were being marched about, and at intervals different animals were brought out into the fields, alongside actors performing little pieces - moving the animals about, playing cricket and having picnics on the grass. 

London Olympics 2012 Opening Ceremony

As 8.12pm approached we were able to see the paddles in action as they lit up to form a huge countdown to a flypast by the Red Arrows - we couldn't see them because we were well under the roof, but we heard them! We also received our instructions, as there were lots of things that we had to do to help create the atmosphere. We were all given 3D glasses which let to great excitement, although of course we found out later that there was nothing 3D in the show at all, it was just to make us part of the scenery!

For the beginning of the show the entire audience area was covered with with huge blue sheets, which we had to push up and down from underneath to create the effect of a sea with a tiny island in the middle. Unfortunately it didn't actually make it to the televised show which is a shame as it must have looked really good! Then the show began.

It was truly spectacular. There was so much going on in all directions, it was impossible to take it all in. It was amazing watching the co-ordination going on below, as the countryside set was slowly dismantled and the Industrial Revolution began, complete with rising towers and the forging of a huge ring in the central furnace, which rose up to meet the four other Olympic rings in the roof of the Stadium. Then the journey began through Britain's modern history with a few surprises along the way - I still can't believe that they persuaded the Queen to take part in a James Bond segment!

London Olympics 2012 Opening Ceremony

The Athletes Parade did take a while, and to be honest if I'd been watching from home this would have been the point at which I went to bed. But actually being there was an amazing experience. Afterwards a group of cyclists circled the stadium with huge glowing doves on their backs - a representation of the doves that were released at the Games in ancient times to signal peace. Then followed the speeches and of course the lighting of the cauldron, which was beautiful and was followed by some spectacular fireworks.

London Olympics 2012 Opening Ceremony

It finished late, and we were a little concerned about our train back to Ebbsfleet. However it turned out that once we'd walked to the station it was only a very small crowd, and we were on a train back to the car within minutes.

We had a brilliant time and I'm so lucky to have had the opportunity to experience it. The show was absolutely fantastic and it's an occasion that we'll remember for the rest of our lives.

Did you watch the Opening Ceremony? What did you think?

Want to involve your children in the Olympic spirit? Why not make some Olympic Rings or an Olympic Torch!

Friday 27 July 2012

How I organised the Lego

I posted the other day about how I was sorting out my childhood Lego, and how I was trying to come up with the best way to organise it. Pinterest seems to suggest that Lego organisation by colour is the way to go, yet all of my commenters were of the opinion that it all had to be mixed up together. Organising by colour doesn't really work for me, as it's not like we have mountains of the stuff, and if you are looking for a brick of a particular size you don't want to have to hunt through a box of each colour. I'm also not sure that I'm quite ready to mix it all up together, as we have lots of small useful bits that I don't want to get lost.

This is what I've come up with:

How I organised our Lego

The boxes are from the Pound Shop, and they are a good size, although I'm not sure how sturdy they will be over time. They are difficult to open and easy to shut, which I've heard is a good system for organising children's toys. I have four Lego categories - bricks, flats, houses (windows, doors, roof pieces, trees, flowers and general sloping bits) and other (car wheels, windscreens and steering wheels, people, and all the other small useful pieces). The Lego train is still out and being played with (constantly!) so I'll have to find a separate box for that and all the pieces of track.

How I organised our Lego

They don't take up too much space, and there is plenty of room for growth. I have a separate folder for the instruction leaflets. Most of them are laminated and held together in order with a ring in the corner.

I also have a box the same size for technical Lego, which Harry is too young for at the moment, and one for Star Wars Lego freebies which we've collected with The Sun which are also a little bit fiddly for him.

So far I've found that it's worked really well. When I'm trying to build something from the instructions I can find the piece that I need quickly, and I'm really pleased to see that Harry is also expressing his creativity by making all sorts of things from the plain bricks - today he made a garden centre and a recycling centre!

Wednesday 25 July 2012

First shoes

Do all babies scream when you take them to be measured for shoes, or is it just mine? At the weekend we took Mia to the shoe shop and had her fitted for her first pair of shoes. I'm afraid that we're not terribly sentimental about these things, and tend to make our shoe purchase decisions based upon price rather than style. Well, it's not as though they wear these little shoes for very long anyway is it!

They are pretty shoes though, and I can't stop myself looking at the little card that they gave us with Mia's photograph on the front, and sighing over the fact that we no longer have a baby, now we officially have a toddler.

First pair of toddler shoes

Sunday 22 July 2012

A trip into my blogging archives

Last weekend I celebrated a year of blogging. But I am afraid, dear readers, that I have not been entirely honest with you all. What what I failed to mention was that this is not my first blog. In fact, I was one of the very early pioneers of "blogging" when I set up my very first website, in about 1998. One of the features on this website I called "Jennifer's Diary", and I wrote an online text diary by updating the page every few days and adding a date at the top. Unfortunately this website (which I believe may actually have been called "Jennifer's World") has long since disappeared.

I set up my first real blog in 2006, when I was first living with my now-husband in our lovely little flat in Worthing. I was delighted to find that it is actually still in existence and can be found here - I had forgotten about most of the entries entirely, and it was a lovely trip down memory lane.

My old blog page

It offers a tantaslising glimpse into my life pre-marriage and pre-children. Considering that I had all the time in the world, the entries are surprisingly short. There are a couple of early forays into vlogging, sadly now lost in the mists of time. Highlights include an exciting tale of drama at the level crossing, a magic cactus and our new tap. With eerie foreshadowing I even included a picture of my cross stitch work in progress, the completed project being blogged about here.

Then, along came a baby, obviously a great time to start a blog, so in early 2010 I had another go. It took me a while to get re-started, and the fairly short-lived result can be found here. This blog was only aimed at my immediate family, the idea being to share pictures of what Harry was getting up to. I knew nothing whatsoever about the community behind blogging, which is probably why it didn't last long. It's a really nice record to have of a couple of months in Harry's early life, including his first steps outside and making his first biscuits.

Then of course this blog came along, and based on previous experience I've kept it going a lot longer than I expected to when I began. Looking back at my old blogs has made me realise how important blogging has become to me, and how much it will mean to me when I'm able to look back at it in the future as a record of this period in our lives.

Do you have any secret blogs from the past?

Thursday 19 July 2012

Introducing children to art - Soutine

I'm very interested in art. As well as studying at GCSE and A-Level, I've visited lots of famous art galleries across the world. If I'm nearby in London I always try to pop into the National Gallery, sometimes just to visit Van Gogh's Sunflowers and Rousseau's Tiger, but my favourite art gallery is probably the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.

So I've been inspired by Red Ted Art to begin introducing Harry to some of the great artists, having seen some wonderful projects linked up previously.

I didn't really know where to begin, so I decided to let Harry choose and took out my collection of arty postcards. It's quite a varied collection, some were bought because I like them, some to remind me of paintings that I've seen in galleries on holiday, and some are not necessarily to my taste but were bought to be used in various school projects. My absolute favourites adorn my desk at work, so if I want to work on those I'll have to bring them home!

My collection of art postcards

We looked through them and I asked Harry to pick out the ones that he liked, and then from those to choose the one he liked best. Harry's favourite colour is green, so it was no surprise when he selected an image that is mostly green - Chaim Soutine - Paysage.

Chaim Soutine - Paysage

I decided that because of Harry's age (he's 3) then probably the simpler the better, so I took out the poster paints and some thick brushes. I showed him how to put plenty of paint onto the brush, and to make big, sweeping strokes. He helped me to pick out paint in all the colours from the original painting.

Child doing artwork inspired by Soutine

When it was dry I took out my oil pastels and encouraged him to add some details. He made lots of little spirals to try and copy the shapes of the leaves in the trees, and also some bigger yellow shapes for the houses.

Child doing artwork inspired by Soutine

It might not look very much like the original, but we had a lot of fun looking more closely at a painting. I really enjoyed looking through my postcards with Harry and seeing what caught his eye, so I will definitely be doing that again soon!

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Our poor neglected vegetable patch

I spent the morning at work looking out of the window hoping that today we would have a dry afternoon. Luckily my wish was granted, and while Mia had an all too brief nap I was able to get out into the garden and see how my vegetable patch was getting on. It's tucked away behind the garage and so I can't see it from the house, and I haven't ventured out into the garden for quite a while. It's in a bit of a sorry state, this is what I found:

A poor neglected vegetable patch

This poor thing is the only remaining sunflower from the four which were lovingly nurtured from seed indoors.

A poor neglected vegetable patch

These incredibly healthy sunflower specimens seeded themselves, there were loads of them but I weeded some of them out otherwise they would have filled the entire vegetable patch.

A poor neglected vegetable patch

Our carrots are doing remarkably well, and we also had our first (and probably only) courgette. We have so many carrots that I made a big batch of soup. (My soup recipe - put a can of chopped tomatoes into a saucepan, add a fair bit of water, a stock cube, a chopped onion, a handful of red lentils and whatever vegetables you have in the fridge. Simmer for about 25 minutes until the vegetables are soft then either blend or serve lumpy.)

A poor neglected vegetable patch

We didn't know what this was until it started producing raspberries.

A poor neglected vegetable patch

I've given the plot a good weeding, hopefully we will have a few days without rain now so that we can spend a bit more time out in the garden! Has your garden suffered with all this rain? Or are you too scared to go out and check?

Monday 16 July 2012

The Olympic flame arrives in Worthing and our Olympic story begins

The build up to the London 2012 Olympics started in this household some time ago, back in March 2011 when the very first round of ticket sales started. We applied for a wide range of tickets, both popular and unpopular events, and to our disappointment we didn't receive any at all. We were then however eligible for the second round of tickets, and with a 6am start we were able to purchase six tickets to events that, although not our first choices, meant that at least we would be watching something.

Then about a month ago, as people began to re-sell their unwanted tickets, small numbers became available. Since then, Ram has spent most of his time, day and night, with the ticket sales screens loaded onto the computer, constantly hitting refresh. His dedication has paid off, and we have found ourselves the lucky owners of quite a few tickets to some really good events, including the football final, track cycling at the velodrome, athletics and swimming finals and the Closing Ceremony. Most of our tickets are in the lowest price band, with the logic that we'd rather see a wider range of events than just a few at the higher prices. We have even sold back nearly all of our original tickets, having managed to replace them with tickets to events that appeal to us much more. Part of Ram's success was been down to a website that constantly polled and checked the availability of all the tickets you are interested in.

There was however one elusive pair of tickets that Ram was still waiting for, having been awake most of last night constantly checking to see if any more had been released. Then, this afternoon, as we waited by the side of the road for the Torch Relay in a damp and drizzly Worthing, he spotted a refreshed page on his phone, dialled in as quickly as he could, and minutes later we were so excited to find that we are now in possession of tickets for the Opening Ceremony!

I'm not the sportiest of people, and I must admit that it's the ceremonies that I'm most looking forward to. But I am also looking forward to the rhythmic gymnastics, because that sounds like it will be quite spectacular. Some of the other events are new to me and also look like they will be amazing to watch. I'm not sure how we're going to manage with the crowds, and I'm also just hoping that I have the stamina to make it through! We will also have used up all our babysitting credits for the next few years at least!

Olympic flame passing through Worthing 2012

If you want to get in the Olympic mood, why not make some collage Olympic Rings, or hold your very own Olympic Torch Relay.

Friday 13 July 2012

The Very Hungry Caterpillar collage pictures using tissue paper

In June, author Eric Carle celebrated his birthday and so I thought I would try and find out a bit more about Eric Carle, the author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar among many other books. You can learn a little more about Eric Carle here. While I was looking for some more information about him, I discovered his own fab website, where he shares the way that he creates his distinctive collages. I thought it would be fun to have a go at making our own Very Hungry Caterpillar pictures.

How to make a Very Hungry Caterpillar collage craft with children

It's really very simple. Just take some large squares of tissue paper (I never buy it, so the stuff that I have around is more than likely stashed packaging material from something). Then paint with slightly watered down poster paint. You can paint one colour at a time and build up the colours as they dry, or I put blobs of different colours together on a palette (we use a margarine tub lid) and let the colours mix as they are painted. I used two shades of green, yellow, and a small amount of blue.

How to make a Very Hungry Caterpillar collage craft with children

I also made a small square of red for the head, with a tiny bit of blue paint mixed in. Use bold brush strokes, and it doesn't matter if the tissue paper rucks up a little bit.

How to make a Very Hungry Caterpillar collage craft with children

When all the painted tissue paper is dry you can begin your collage. We made two in slightly different ways. For my larger collage, I cut out all the shapes that I needed to form the caterpillar freehand and stuck them down on a large piece of white card.

How to make a Very Hungry Caterpillar collage craft with children

For Harry's collage I drew him the outline of a caterpillar, then we cut up the tissue paper into little squares and glued them down inside the outline.

How to make a Very Hungry Caterpillar collage craft with children

When they were dry we cut them out and re-mounted them onto thin cardboard. Then we added finishing touches with a felt pen and coloured pencils - outlining in yellow and adding feet and feelers, then using pencils to make the hairs on the back. They were a bit bumpy, so I covered them with clear sticky backed plastic, and we made a simple frame for the smaller one. Making these pictures was so easy, and I'm really pleased with the final results!

How to make a Very Hungry Caterpillar collage craft with children

Thursday 12 July 2012


I don't know about anybody else, but I'm really struggling with the weather at the moment. Maybe it's the unpredictability - bright sunny skies one minute, torrential rain and hailstorms the next. Or maybe it's just the unrelenting rain, the pointlessness of checking a weather forecast when you know that recent history suggests that it's going to rain every day. It's really limiting our ability to get out and about - I don't want to risk getting caught out in a thunderstorm, and besides the playground is too wet to play in anyway. But of course anyone that spends a lot of time with young children knows what it can be like, especially at that point in the late afternoon, when everyone is fed up of being cooped up indoors.

This afternoon, Mia had been awake from her nap for a little while, and Harry was getting fed up as she crawled about and threw his toys about. The kitchen table was covered with pens and glue, and the living room floor was hidden under scattered Duplo, cars and milk bottle caps. I looked out the window and decided that although it was raining hard, it was steady rather than torrential and a quick trip out wouldn't do any harm.

I packaged us all up, Mia safe under the rain cover and Harry in his boots, raincoat and carrying his umbrella. Lured by the promise of some big puddles to jump in, Harry bounded eagerly along the road and I trailed along soggily behind with the pushchair.

Child under umbrella in the rain

I think we all felt better for some fresh air. Another bonus I've found is that if you take a small child out somewhere, when you get back they are more likely to amuse themselves for a short time, thus enabling you to get on with other important tasks like making dinner (or writing blog posts).

Also, there is an important date looming upon the horizon - this Sunday will mark one year since my husband took Harry away for the weekend, leaving me with a six week old baby that still slept most of the time and so a second dependent was born - this little blog!

Monday 9 July 2012

Magpie Monday - 9th July 2012

Many of the blogs that I read are regular participants in Magpie Monday, which is hosted weekly over at Me and My Shadow. I know that charity shops are brilliant, and I've had many bargains over the years, but these days we don't tend to go into town centres that often, and I never really have the time to browse in shops when I have one small child pulling at me because he's bored and another whinging in the pushchair. So when I found myself unexpectedly child free and at a loose end in Horsham town centre, I couldn't resist a quick trip into the St Catherine's Hospice shop.

I was really pleased with my purchases - all for Harry. The first game - "Pass the Bag"- is one that I remember having as a child. It has lots of little wooden pieces, all in different shapes and colours, that match up to one of four game cards. You can play various games with it, I suppose it's a bit like Bingo. To start with I think Harry will have fun just matching the pieces to the cards.

Charity shop bargains

Another game "Hide and Seek" I didn't recognise, but it's in the same series as another old game that I have from when I was small, and Ravensburger games and toys are always good quality. It's a memory game, with lots of gorgeous vintage picture cards. Harry surprises me with how good he is at memory games, I don't need to make any allowances for him as he is just as good as me! This one might be a bit difficult for him yet, but I'm hoping we can come up with some different ways to play with it.

Charity shop bargains

Finally a set of alphabet and number cards. We don't really have anything like this, and he is showing such an interest in his letters that I think he will enjoy looking through them.

Charity shop bargains

Good quality games for children can be very expensive, and at £4 in total I think I've done pretty well - they will keep us busy for a long time! And now that I'm back at work there are a couple of out of town (i.e. cheaper) charity shops within just a few minutes walk from my desk, so hopefully I will be back!

Friday 6 July 2012

Back to work

I have completed my first week back at work. Circumstances meant that I had to work an extra day this week, so it has been tiring, although in a different way to that of looking after two little ones all week. 

I’ve found the transition more difficult this time. Perhaps because I’ve enjoyed the entire year of maternity leave a lot more than I did the first one. Mia has seemed an easier baby, and I’ve also really appreciated the extra time that I’ve had to spend with Harry. Things have changed a bit at work while I’ve been away, but I have settled in, moved in my jar of Marmite, my hot chocolate and cardigan, and claimed my space with framed photos and postcards. 

In order to fit in my hours I need to start very early in the morning, so two mornings a week Ram will be responsible for breakfasting and dressing both little ones and delivering them to their nursery. When I went to collect them on Monday, two of the staff took great delight in telling me that Harry had come in with his trousers on backwards because Daddy had dressed him that morning. 

It does feel as though the house has rather descended into chaos without me being there throughout the day. The washing is piling up, the dishwasher is full, and my kitchen counters are barely visible underneath piles of clutter. Luckily yesterday my parents were on duty, and so my Mum gave the kitchen a bit of a clean and tidied up some of the toys. 

I am going to miss the activities that we used to do, and there won’t be as much time for crafting or playing (not to mention blogging!). But hopefully it will make the time that I do have at home more precious, and it will also do me good to have a break and enjoy some adult conversation.

Desk at work with postcards

So here’s to a new chapter!

Wednesday 4 July 2012

My new Lego obsession

At the weekend, my parents handed over to me a box of my childhood Lego. This was my share of our family stash, divided up by my brother. The most important thing in the box for me was my Lego train, which I received as a birthday present once upon a time. I remember being quite young at the time, and as the set was released in 1980 I can't have been very old - I was born in 1979!  The set I have is the Lego Train 7710, wonderful vintage Lego.

Box of old Lego

Everything was all together in a big box, so we waited until Mia was down for her nap, then I tipped it all out and let Harry rummage through it. I also received a large folder of instructions, although unfortunately the manual for building the train was missing. Luckily I discovered this fantastic website - Let's Build It Again - where I was able to download and print out the instructions (and then laminate them, as is my wont when it comes to Lego instruction manuals).

That evening I was able to build the train, and I'm really pleased with myself. I'm also surprised that most of the pieces were there, although I had to improvise in places, and annoy my siblings by e-mailing them lists of the pieces that I needed and asking them to search through their boxes.

Vintage Lego train

It had been adapted to run as a battery powered train that went round by itself, but I seem to be missing some of the vital components, something for me to investigate. Since I set the train up, Harry was been playing with it constantly, it is a massive hit.

I also found the instruction booklet for a set of technical Lego that I received one Christmas. I remember being absolutely thrilled with it, and showing it to my bemused Grandma who had no idea what it was. I was delighted to find another website - Peeron - where you can download inventories for all the Lego kits. I had no idea that there were so many Lego resources online! I didn't have many of the pieces for this one, so a bit more tracking down via my siblings is required.

The problem I have now is that I am torn. Most of me wants to keep the Lego in its sets, neatly stored in boxes with the instruction manual and inventory to check against so that I can make sure that nothing goes missing. I already do this with the one Duplo set that we have. But another part of me wants to encourate creativity in my children, and allow them to make up their own models and creations without being limited to the pieces in a kit, especially as we have a lot of plain bricks and pieces that don't go in kits anyway.

How do other people organise Lego? Keep it in individual sets? Just lump it all together in one box? Organise by colour? By type? Or am I just obsessing over it unnecessarily? I'd love to know what you think.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

I Spy Jar

Our I Spy Jar was inspired by Pinterest, and in fact it was one of the first things that I ever pinned. I held off making it for a little while because I wanted to make sure that my children were old enough to handle a glass jar safely under supervision.

How to make an I Spy bottle toy for children

I've seen many different versions of the I Spy jar online, but the one that I first saw was over at Meet the Dubiens, unfortunately the blog post is no longer available.

This is my version:

How to make an I Spy bottle toy for children

I used an old pasta sauce jar. To remove the label from the jar I soaked it in WD40, and it peeled right off. I like to think that our home is fairly uncluttered, but I found it very easy to gather together tiny items to put inside by raiding the toy box, my craft supplies and the bowl in the kitchen that we keep for keys and other junk. I used brown rice for the bulk of the jar (just what we had in the cupboard) and I found that you don't need to leave much space at the top of the jar at all as the contents easily shift around with a bit of shaking.

How to make an I Spy bottle toy for children

My contents are - leaf bead, old heart earring, toy handbag, flower bead, heart cutout, nut, marble, butterfly eraser, pom pom, penny, shell, stone, craft flower, paperclip, plastic cow, silver bead, eyelet, googly eye, blue button, star sequin, snowflake brad, yellow button, tiny clothes peg, doll crown, pink drawing pin, safety pin, flat shell.

Harry is fascinated by it and I can't stop turning it around myself!

Update - it's been a few years now since I made this and it has become one of the favourite toys, still played with long after. It would be great to remake one in a plastic bottle to take on car journeys, and I'd love to print off a little checklist of things that are included to attach to the lid.

Sunday 1 July 2012

Mess in the garden and making mud pies

Our sand and water activity table has been residing in its winter quarters (the dining room, filled with dried pasta and acting as a sort of buffet for Mia to snack at) for far too long. I've been waiting for the weather to get warm enough to set it in the garden, and the other day I decided that it's nearly July, and if I didn't get it out soon I never would. I cleaned it out, filled it with water, and provided a selection of bowls, cups, spoons and so on. It was the first time that I'd tried water play with Mia outside of the bath, and she was thrilled. She didn't mind that I'd used cold water, she couldn't wait to get stuck in.

Children playing at water table in the garden

Unfortunately Harry became frustrated when she wanted to play too and was interrupting his games, so I ended up with a separate bowl of water on the floor for her to play in. Then I felt that we were ready to move onto the next level of messy play, so I brought out some rice pudding flakes that I found when I was sorting out the cupboard. I think they were left over from when my Mum was desperately trying to make something that Harry would eat, and they were rather out of date. Porridge oats would have worked well too.

Children making mud pies in the garden

They both dived in, but Harry in particular was enjoying adding the flakes to the water and mixing them up, so I encouraged him to look around the garden for other things to add, like daisies (no shortage of those on our lawn!), small stones and soil.

I've been collecting ideas for garden activities for a little while now, and I've seen some lovely outdoor kitchens.  We don't have the space (or inclination to devote that much of our garden to mud pie creation) for anything nearly as ambitious, but the next day I collected a few bits and pieces together and told Harry that the back, neglected corner of the garden was his new mud pie kitchen.

Boy making mud pies

I used an overturned square planter for a work surface, and a couple of plastic food trays to collect ingredients from around the garden. We had a baby food bowl which had melted in the dishwasher, a sippy cup that was a bit too leaky and some disposable cutlery from the junk drawer. I put a big bowl of water down too, and Harry was busy for ages mixing up his concoctions. When he had finished I tipped away the rubbish, watered the vegetables with the spare water, and stored all the things neatly inside the planter ready for next time.