Wednesday, 23 September 2020

The return of the witching hour

When the children were small, and at home with me all day, I really struggled with the witching hour. We would often go out in the morning followed by an early lunch, and by 4pm everyone was bored and tea seemed a long way off. I struggled to cook dinner with children screaming and hanging off my legs, and there were often tears all round. Even once they were at school I still had tired children to deal with, but as they got older they were easier to look after, they could get on with their simple homework or play, and I was able to get on with preparing lunchboxes and dinner.

But the last few weeks have felt like a return to those difficult days. The children are exhausted after school. They are returning to a routine which they had all but forgotten, and are coping with new teachers, a new timetable and in Harry's case a new school. The amount of homework has increased, and time management skills need to be honed. As with everyone, the state of uncertainty is having a massive effect. With Covid cases already in the school, sometimes I feel as though it's only a matter of time before we are all back home again. 

By the time we get home from school, both children are often in tears. Mia is in no state to begin her homework, she needs a drink, a snack and some screen time to calm down. Harry is very good about getting straight on with his work, but when he looks at his list, which usually contains several tasks, he becomes overwhelmed and doesn't know where to start. I end up bouncing between the two of them doling out snacks, hugs and advice, and that's before I even think about starting dinner. This stops me from doing everything that I need to do, and so we all get cross with each other.

Luckily once dinner is out the way things are better. The children have a bath and get ready for bed, and then Mia is in a much better mood to get her homework done and Harry can catch up with his screen and reading time. By the time I have read to them and tucked them up in bed we have all calmed down.

It's going to take us a little while to get back into the swing of things so I'm trying to be as patient as I can, and to do the best I can to help with the transition. I'm really glad that the children are able to be back to school, both for their education and to be able to spend time with their friends, but it's going to take us all a few weeks yet to get used to it!

Photo credit Annie Spratt via Unsplash

Thursday, 17 September 2020

Reading to the children

As a baby, Mia was never interested in books, so it was lovely when she let me start reading to her. We started with picture books then moved on to chapter books. We started with some classic Enid Blytons then went onto some of my favourite books from childhood - Charlotte Sometimes and Tom's Midnight Garden. We are currently nearing the end of the Snow Spider Trilogy, after watching the BBC adaptation earlier this year.

I used to read to Harry too when he was younger, but he was a much keener reader and quickly moved onto choosing and reading longer chapter books to himself. So I got out of the habit of reading to him and instead settled him into bed with a book of his own before reading to Mia.

Recently I was filling out an online survey and I was asked questions about reading to my children. Harry was in the same room and I mentioned the question to him, and something about the way he reacted to me talking about reading to Mia made me stop. I asked him, "would you like me to read to you too?" and he went all quiet, then admitted that actually he would like me to still read to him. I was a bit taken aback, and felt bad that I'd stopped!

Child reading on a bed from above
Photo credit - Annie Spratt via Unsplash

So I decided to take the opportunity to introduce him to a book that he wouldn't have the confidence to pick up himself. He's a comfort reader and likes to re-read books that he's enjoyed over and over, and he picks his new books from similar genres. So I found a copy of Treasure Island that he had on his shelf. I chose it because I reasoned that as a children's book I'm confident that it's going to be suitable, but the setting and language is quite different to his usual books.

Fortunately he's really enjoying the story, and I can also tell that he's enjoying me reading to him. So even though it takes me a bit of extra time each evening to put them to bed I'm hoping that I can keep it going with him for a little while yet!

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Why travelling is the most important gift you can give to your kids

This is a guest post.

Travelling is something some parents underestimate the importance of, but never should. Travelling does so much for kids mentally and helps them grow, see the world in different views, and become overall well-rounded people. If you can gift your kids with a trip and some travels as they grow up, it is something that they will thank you for now, and later as they reap the benefits of their childhood travels. 

Here are just a few of the reasons why travelling is important for kids: 

Communication 

Communication skills will be with your children throughout their lives, and travelling helps to significantly boost communication skills. It can encourage and challenge to communicate clearly and confidently with new places people in new places, and they can even learn to pick up on some of the local languages. Languages are incredibly important in our globalised world, and it is more common and expected that people speak more than one language nowadays. So in terms of general communication skills as well as communication skills via language, travelling can have a significant impact on your children. 

Before travelling, encourage your child to learn some of the local phrases by using a language app aimed for students such as Babbel, for example. This way, they can have even just the basics down and develop their communication skills from there. These kinds of apps are great as well, because if they ever decide to study abroad, it’s a great tool to take with them! 

Child wearing headphones while travelling
Photo credit Film Bros via Pexels


It’ll make them more adaptable 

It can be easy (and helpful) for children to get into a routine at home, but travelling encourages them to adapt to new situations and places. Especially as they get older, being adaptable is an incredible skill to have, as it can make them be more flexible, comfortable and confident in themselves through work, school, and life changes. 

If you are travelling with young children, it is helpful to keep some routines the same (such as bedtime, meal time, etc.) so that their core routine is consistent as they are challenged and encouraged to adapt to new environments while away from home. 

Make them appreciate the world and nature 

There are all sorts of incredible places and landscapes around the world, and it is an incredible experience to go somewhere and be astounded the natural beauty of a new place. Getting children outside of the environment that they know encourages them to appreciate the world and nature, including places outside of their own little world. While we can see so much via Google Earth, photographs, art and media, there is nothing like experiencing a place for yourself. 

Group of people gathered around a laptop
Photo credit Mimi Thian via Unsplash


Teaches them geography and history 

It’s one thing to learn about geography and history, but it’s another thing to travel and experience it in person. Before traveling, encourage your child to read up on the history, geography and human geography of the destination so that they feel more connected and educated about the site. This can be especially beneficial if your child is learning about a time in history or a specific place at school, as it can give them hands-on experience with the place, historic sites and amazing culture

Can give them social skills 

The social skills that you learn while travelling are unparalleled to what your child will develop at home. Whether it is asking for directions or assistance in a local language that is not your own, connecting with other travellers and locals, or relying on social intelligence to determine what to do in a challenging environment, social skills are critical for travelling and can significantly impact how well a trip goes. You will probably see your children more comfortable asking for help or expressing their needs once back home! 

With all of this said, travelling really is something crucial for kids to grow. It can expand their horizons and show them new things they never thought of before. Plus, travelling is a fun and educational experience that is full of adventure!

Blank notebook

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

We're all addicted to Animal Crossing

We were a bit late to the game, as it were, with Animal Crossing. During lockdown, people all over the world were losing themselves in an imaginary reality, creating their own peaceful islands and holding virtual meet ups with friends to swap fruit and flowers. But having played the game before, many years ago and before children, I knew that once I started playing I'd be hooked, and I remembered what happened when you didn't play for a few days - a return to an overgrown village in ruins, being chastised for your absence by angry villagers.

But having seen everyone chatting about it all summer on social media I was rather keen to play the new game, and so we finally bought a copy in the last couple of weeks of the holiday. The Switch console had been neglected recently as the children tend to use their iPads for their gaming, and so I thought it would be nice to get a bit more use from it.

Luckily I was the one to play the game first, which in hindsight was a really good move. I didn't realise until afterwards that this new version of the game is set up slightly differently. If there are several players on the one console then they need to share an island, and the first one to play is in charge and the only one able to perform certain functions. I can't imagine the conflict it would have caused if this role had been given to one of the children! There's a multiplayer mode to the game but it isn't very good.

I wasn't very happy sharing at first, as I was looking forward to having my own island to plan and decorate. However it's not so bad, the children and I can pool our money and resources for island improvements, we share our surplus items and we send little gifts to each other. But the problems come with the need to make sure that everyone has equal playing time, and I recently caused an argument by spending my savings to add a room to my house instead of contributing to a bridge upgrade. 

Animal Crossing game displayed on a Nintendo Swith
Photo credit Sara Kurfess via Unsplash

Animal Crossing is definitely an addictive game, despite the gentle repetitiveness. It's definitely much more fun roaming around a virtual island to pick up twigs and weeds rather than spending half an hour weeding my own vegetable patch. Likewise, I spend a lot more time rearranging the furniture in my virtual home than dusting my actual house. I'm not an expert on the science of digital addiction but I know that a big factor is the dopamine hits, which are continually triggered throughout play when you successfully catch a fish or acquire a recipe for the missing furniture item in a set. 

Playing the game is also a way of escaping from the real world to somewhere that you can control and improve, which is why I can see it was such a hit during lockdown. It also offers opportunities to meet up with friends online and play together as well as sending letters and gifts, so it's a fun way to keep in touch with family and friends.

Of course now that the children are back at school they have less opportunity for screen time. So it has become part of my own routine to log under their accounts each day to collect the 'Nook Miles' which accumulate as you spend consecutive days playing, keep an eye on the fluctuating turnip prices and generally make sure that they've been present and active in the game world. I'm also busy on my own account catching sea creatures and selling shells so that I can save up enough money to pay for all the improvements that they want.

We've been having a lot of fun playing this game and I can see it continuing for a good while yet!

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Back to school

Like children all across the country, this week mine return to school. Harry went back for a few weeks in July but that didn't feel like real school, more of a chance to catch up with friends and say a proper goodbye to his junior school. The school run was easy with no traffic on the roads, he didn't have to wear uniform, and he had no homework.

Now of course we are back to school properly, with Mia joining Year 5 and Harry starting Year 7 at the senior school. We had a fair bit of anxiety leading up to the first morning, but I'm pleased to say that so far the transition seems to be going well. Of course they are tired, and I'm sure missing their screens, but they have both settled well and seem to be enjoying themselves. 

There are a few changes - no blazers this term, PE kit to be worn all day on PE days, and staggered start and pick up times that are a little bit awkward at first. Harry spends most of the day in one classroom rather than moving around for different lessons, so he doesn't need to worry about being trodden on by the older pupils because he doesn't see them!

As for myself, I feel a bit lost now that they are back at school. I need to remember what I used to do to fill my time! I've made a list of my September goals, and I'm hoping to pick up my exercise again as well as getting back into the blogging. 

I do have a feeling of unease at the back of my mind. Both concerns about the virus and concerns that at any minute the school may have to close and they'll be back home again, with all the distress that will cause. But for now I'm really pleased that they are doing well and are happy to be back learning with their friends.

Kids back to school standing by door

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Tyre Material: What makes your car tyres powerful?

This is a collaborative post.

Different tyres are used by motorists depending on different weather and road conditions. While some differences in tyres may be noticeable, others may go unnoticed. For example tyre rubber is one compound that is difficult to differentiate but greatly affects tyres’ overall performance and longevity. In this article, such compounds will be discussed, so that readers are well aware of what makes their tyres better and powerful:

Rubber 


The main component of a car tyre is rubber, also known as polymer. Leading tyre manufacturers make sure of the fact that the selected tyre material will get you safe through any weather. Therefore, the rubber compound used to make tyres helps in increasing tyre grip, increases elasticity and reduces downtime. 

Fillers 


Fillers are black carbon or silica that are generally added to the tyre rubber to reduce tyre wear. Alone rubber can crumble, but with fillers tyres become more resistant to wear and helps improving your car’s mileage as well. 

Pile of tyres
Photo credit Robert Laursoo via Unsplash


Plasticiser 


Plasticisers are used to ensure that the car is safe to drive during rainy and snowy seasons. These are oils and resins that make sure that the tyre has improved grip and rolling resistance. Plasticisers may also help in preventing the hardening of rubber during cold weather. In winter tyres, these oils are used more so that the tyres offer better grip and safety during low temperatures. 

Tyre Care 


Now that we are aware of primary components of tyres, therefore efforts should be made to prevent tyre wearing and improving tyres’ longevity. Rubber is a compound that tends to wear out with the passage of time. Improper maintenance and excess heat can accelerate the process of tyre wear. Due to these reasons, cracks may appear on the surface or sidewalls of tyres. Such a tyre can prove to be dangerous, as driving with it can result in tread separation or even a blowout while driving. 

By maintaining tyre pressure, rotating your tyres regularly and investing in wheel alignment one can surely decrease the process of tyre wear. Excess tyre wear can be dangerous to drive along with, therefore always opt for replacing your tyres if they do not appear to be roadworthy. For readers looking for car tyres in Basingstoke, reserve tyres online from Headley Tyres Basingstoke Branch and make sure you’re driving safely.

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

My September goals

This week both the children are back at school full time - Mia starts in Year 5 and Harry starts Year 7 at a new school. They've been at home for a long time, with both learning from home and enjoying a summer break, and it's going to be a big adjustment for us all. Like most people, even though we are getting back into a routine, my life looks quite different than it did back in March when everything turned upside down.

September and the start of a new term always feels like a good time to reassess goals and make plans for the remaining months of the year. So here are some of the things that I want to achieve this September, and onwards.

* A positive transition back to school. A return to routine, with normal and relaxing bedtimes, making time to chat about any worries and anxieties, along with a massive reduction in screen time.

* Getting back into blogging. As well as being the time of year for reflection and planning, with Halloween and Christmas coming up there is plenty of seasonal content to both create and update. I'm going to aim for three blog posts a week and I'll be pleased if I manage two for the time being.

* Picking up the exercise again. Our gym has been shut since April and our membership is currently frozen until the beginning of October. Thanks to a great deal we signed up for back in January we are fully paid up for at least the next year, so cancelling the membership isn't an option. Until we return, I need to get my fitness back by going out for some runs now that I have some free time during the day.

Glass jars in the pantry
Photo credit Nadia Pimenova via Unsplash


* Stock up the cupboards again in case of a future lockdown/quarantine and for any issues caused by Brexit. I was grateful to have prepared a modest Brexit stockpile which kept us going through the first weeks of lockdown - we had plenty of pasta and sauce at least, although the flour and yeast shortages took me by surprise! But we've been working our way through it over the summer, and now that I know the sorts of things that people stockpile, it's easy to pick up a few extra bits each week to make sure that we have enough food and other essentials on hand.

* I've re-discovered the library over the last few weeks and I definitely want to keep up with regular visits and making the time to read. It's almost easier in some ways because our library has very limited opening hours so it helps me to plan in a regular visit!

* General tidying up and sorting out. At the beginning of lockdown the children took over our guest bedroom and turned it into their playroom. They spread Lego and Playmobil out all over the floor and built complicated built train tracks and Hexbug layouts. Even though we don't have any immediate plans for overnight guests it would be nice to have a room that isn't full of dusty plastic, so I'm gradually tidying it up, or at least trying to contain some of the smaller bits in boxes.

* I need to make the time for my crafting. I've been doing really well this year with finishing an incomplete craft project each month, so well in fact that I don't have an obvious project to complete this month. So I'm planning to put my time in September towards my cross stitch map with is a long term work in progress.

* Embrace the school run. Like many people I find the school run stressful, with time spent sitting in traffic and arriving early to secure a parking space. I'll be listening to some new music on Spotify and maybe searching out a few podcasts to listen to so that I can try and make it more enjoyable.

Lots to be getting on with there!

Writing a to do list
Photo credit Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash


Thursday, 3 September 2020

It's September and I'm saying goodbye and hello...

September is now underway, and the children will very shortly returning to school after a break much longer than I ever imagined back in March. It's a big change for us all, and a departure from the new habits and routines that we've developed over the last few, very strange, months. Here are some of the things that I'll be saying goodbye and hello to, some more gratefully than others.

Goodbye to...

* The constant presence of the children. Providing a stream of snacks and entertainment served alongside far too much screen time.

* Late nights and lie-ins.

* The continuous noise of squeaky voices throughout the house.

* Clutter and junk lying around leading to constant tidying.

* Daily refilling of the toilet roll holders.

* Watering and weeding the garden every day.

* Long light summer evenings and star gazing.

Hello to...

* Back to a familiar routine - school runs, homework, piano practice, early nights and the chance to watch television as a couple once the children are in bed.

* Hopefully returning to the gym, or at least attempting a little more exercise.

* Some uninterrupted time for work and blogging during the day.

* Tidying something and it remaining tidy for several hours.

* Constant driving back and forth to school.

* The chance to work on a craft project without interruption.

It has been a lovely long summer, it was difficult at times but fortunately in the main it has been a time to look back on with fondness. We've been blessed with the most wonderful weather and with two lovely children that are old enough to look after themselves for a large proportion of the day, yet will still play happily together and indulge me when I just want to grab and hug them.

We have some big changes ahead. Harry starts senior school next week, a transition which would have been challenging enough at the best of times, and who knows how the next few months will pan out. But for the most part I'm looking forward to the next season of our lives. 

Autumn leaves hanging on a line
Photo credit Chris Lawton via Unsplash

Thursday, 27 August 2020

This month's completed project - Decopatch crafts

This post contains Amazon affiliate links

Every month I have been challenging myself to complete an unfinished project that I have lying around the house. This month was the turn of Decopatch!

A few years ago I bought a Decopatch kit which included everything that you needed to create some heart themed projects. My original kit isn't available any more but you can buy this very similar one - Decopatch Love Kit Décopatch Love Kit(affiliate link). I originally blogged about it here - Trying a new craft - Decopatch hearts.

I completed all the projects inside but I had some paper left over, and also I wanted to find a use for the nice box that the kit was contained in. I had some spare Decopatch paper that I'd bought once in a sale, but I had run out of the special Decopatch glue and that had stopped me attempting any more projects. 

Decopatch craft supplies to use up

So I put together an online order. I bought some offical Décopatch Glossy Glue (affiliate link), I know that you can use different types of glue, but I've used this before and I know that it works well. I also bought myself a cardboard letter J (affiliate link) so that I had a project for some of the red flowery paper.

Decopatch letter J and glue

When doing Decopatch, you take the patterned tissue paper and tear it up into small pieces which you glue down using a brush with stiff bristles. It's very satisfying, the glue dries to a nice glossy finish and the paper is thin so you can easily smooth it down around any uneven edges. I really like this floral paper so it was nice to be able to use it for a project that will be on display in my study.

Decopatch letter J with flowers

To use up some of the extra paper I also covered this mini chest of drawers which has been sitting on my desk for years and was looking very scruffy. It had a dark pattern on it already so I painted it with white gesso paint first to make a neat surface. I painted the fronts of the drawers as I didn't want to increase the size too much and make them difficult to open.

Mini decopatch chest of drawers

I decided to leave the box from the original kit plain in the end and it will make a nice storage compartment for some of my art equipment - paints and brushes and so on. The leftover Decopatch paper has been tidied away in to my folders of craft paper, and so that's another unfinished project ticked off the list!

Monday, 17 August 2020

A slightly different school summer holiday than the usual

Normally I'm desperate for the school summer holidays to begin. I'm always more than ready to say goodbye to the school run for eight weeks, as well as not having to make the packed lunches, wash uniform and PE kits and encourage tired children through their homework.

Of course that was all so different this year. Although Harry did go back to school for a few weeks at the end of term to finish Year 6, it felt more like a novelty than the usual routine, and with the roads so quiet the school run wasn't a problem.

So when the holidays did actually start most things hadn't changed at all. Their online learning came to an end of course, which meant that we lost a bit of the routine which my children definitely need. So I've been making more of an effort than I normally would to make sure that everyone is up and dressed with teeth brushed by a reasonable hour. I'm also conscious of the disruption that they had to their learning last term school year, so I've been getting them to spend some time each day using a times tables app and making sure that they keep up with their reading.

We were due to be spending two weeks at the end of August in Florida on an amazing Disneyworld holiday, staying in a Disney property for the first time and hitting the theme parks. Of course that's off the cards now, but we were lucky enough to book a last minute week in July in an AirBnB in Westward Ho! Even though we didn't do any of the usual tourist attractions that we normally would, we enjoyed walking and visiting the beach, and it was a really lovely change of scene.

Children playing with a kite on the beach

I normally keep our summer holiday free from too many organised activities as the children need the break, so luckily they don't feel as though they are missing out on too much. But we can't just pop to the supermarket for some cake and a magazine as I don't want to go out unnecessarily, and I'm still wary of letting the children visit the playground or spending too much time in other public places. So we are still spending a lot of time by ourselves at home as we have been since March.

One big difference to our usual summer routines is that Ram is now working from home. He has a lot to do so he can't spend much time with us, and he's usually based in his office upstairs, but we've had to get used to him wandering about while talking on the phone and popping in to see what we are up to.  

Child jumping in paddling pool in garden

Of course one great thing about this entire summer has been the weather. Since the children finished school in March it really has been fantastic, and the last few weeks in particular have been perfect. During the heatwave last week we spent the whole evening in the garden after dinner, finishing the day lying on airbeds watching for meteors. It would have been so different if it had rained every day like at the beginning of the year!

I'm starting to get the school uniform ready for September, albeit a little hesitantly in case anything changes. I really missed the second hand uniform sale that normally takes place in July, but luckily as I tend to buy big sizes there was only one item of branded uniform that I needed to order new, the rest I can get from the supermarkets.

Harry will be starting at the senior school in September which of course is a big change for him and he has a few little worries. Unfortunately his year have missed out on some of the transition activities that would have taken place last term. But it's a lovely school, so I'm hoping that they'll go easy on his cohort this year and give them plenty of time to settle in!

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Things I've learned about the children over the last few months

I've seen a few blog posts with this theme so I thought I'd have a think about the things that I've learned over the last few months, particularly when it comes to the children.

Harry struggles with open-ended school tasks. We had a lot of upset if he had an open-ended task to work on, like designing a poster, or sharing his feelings towards a poem. He's much happier when he's given a sheet of maths questions to do that have a right or wrong answer.

Mia prefers creative tasks. She struggled with things that she didn't understand, and got cross when I tried to explain things to her. She loved a creative task, and always put her own individual take on it. 

Harry needs other people around him. I always thought that Harry was happy with his own company, but he was the most upset out of the two to be away from his class. The problem is that he doesn't have any particular friends that he could keep in touch with by text or video call, or meet up with once allowed. Instead he tends to remain on the outside of a group, observing others rather than taking an active role, which is difficult to replicate at home. I was really glad that he had the opportunity to be back in the classroom, if only for a few weeks, just to keep him going until September!

Mia needs time to herself. I thought that Mia always needed company, but she also needs to have time by herself. She spends a lot of time either on the swing or in her room jumping around, and I think that she's doing something which I recently found out is called maladaptive daydreaming. I was the same when I was younger. She's telling a story in her head, and it's easier for her if she's moving while she does it. We spent a few days with family last week and she became very distressed because she didn't have the space or opportunity to do it.

The children really need a routine. Things went way out of shape over the Easter holidays, especially with all the early shock and uncertainty. When term started back up the children needed to log in to their learning platform at 8.30am and it was really good to make sure that we were all up, breakfasted and dressed by then. Now that the summer holidays have started I'm more prepared and there is no screen time until everyone is ready for the day and the children have done ten minutes of times table practice. We also have exercise or outdoor time after lunch, they spend a bit of time in a learning app, and they expect to help me with a few tasks around the house. They also have reading time before bed and Harry has piano practice. 

The children need their screen time. We've never been particularly strict on screen time, but the amount that they use their iPads has gone through the roof. However pretty much all that they do is play Minecraft, which I like to think is a little bit educational. They play with friends, which keeps up their social interaction, and they work together on their builds. This can cause conflict so they need to learn to compromise. It also allows them to escape into their own worlds and use their imagination. When they are back at school properly their time will be limited, so I'm not too worried for the time being.

I need the children to have their screen time. I need time to myself. I need time to get on with housework, work of my own, and to give me some headspace and a break from being needed by everyone. Letting the children have their screen time gives me this (apart from when I'm called upon to deal with arguments and help them to come to an agreement about their Minecraft world!)

To share plans with the children in advance. If we are planning to go out for a walk or some other activity, the children need to have a heads up, and ideally a time set. So if I tell them that we are going to do something at a particular time they are much happier and more compliant.

This pandemic really has been a unique opportunity to spend time with the family and although it's been tough at times, looking back it has definitely helped me to understand the children a little better!

Children on a walk in the countryside

Saturday, 25 July 2020

My next completed project - the Smash Book

Another month and another unfinished craft project completed - my Smash Book!

Actually this one isn't quite completed, as it's an ongoing project. Smash Books were very popular a few years ago and I'm not sure why they fell out of favour as I really like the concept. It's a sturdy, spiral bound journal with a vague theme. Along with it comes a combined pen and glue stick. The idea is that you grab bits of ephemera - ticket stubs, photos, magazine cuttings and so on - then glue them in and add some journalling with the pen. It's a fun way to quickly scrapbook things that have meaning to you or make you feel inspired.

Smash Book and ephemera papers

I started my Smash Book a few years ago - you can see some of my first Smash Book pages here. I mainly used it to display mementoes from our holidays. But alongside I was also collecting a huge folder of bits and pieces, some of them collected over years and years. The folder was full of things that I intended to put in the Smash Book but hadn't got around to, and it was getting fuller and fuller. So I wanted to sort it all out, have a bit of a declutter, and stick in everything that I had so far to make it easier to keep up with in the future.

Some of the pages are quite obvious in their theme and relate to a particular holiday or event.

Smash book pages with tickets and travel mementoes

Some of the pages are just random collections of pictures that I've found in various different places and stuck together in a way that appeals to me. 

Smash book pages with collage pictures

And other pages are a mixture of the two, with both pictures and mementoes.

Smash book pages with tickets and pictures

There are still plenty of empty pages and so I'll still be adding to it over the years until there is no room left, but it's completely manageable now and I'm really enjoying flipping through it and seeing all my memories.

And now I'm actually getting to the end of my list of unfinished projects! I'm honestly not sure what to work on next. I'd like to find something small that I can finish quickly, as I'm using my extra crafting time to work on a very long term project, my cross stitch map. It would be amazing if I could find the time to make that December's unfinished project, and complete it before the end of the year!

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Things I've done recently that I've never done before

The coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot of things in a very short period of time, and life has changed in ways that we couldn't have imagined.

For example, here are some things that I've recently done for the first time:

Seen my parents and not given them a hug (well until our most recent visit that is!).

Worn a face mask. Not very often admittedly because I don't go out very much, but I'm expecting to wear one much more often in the future.

Had friends over to visit in the garden and not invited them into the house. It feels so rude!

Watched genuinely good quality and educational entertainment on YouTube. I've especially loved some of the National Theatre at home productions.

Taken part in a live streamed exercise class (albeit it only once, Joe Wicks was too much for us!)

Signed off an e-mail to my child's teacher with my first name and a kiss. I feel that I have had such a different relationship with the teachers this term!

Met up with friends and family and consciously stood or sat away from them.

Children on the beach 2m apart and pointing

Taken part in a video call with more than one other person.

Made and sent homemade birthday cards.

Bought enough food at a time to last us all over a week. I was so used to doing quick top up shops.

Queued up outside a shop, and then followed a complicated one way system once inside. I'm terrible at finding things. I end up just wandering around, following the arrows and picking things up as I pass them.

Had a video consultation with a doctor. For a child not me, nothing serious, and much easier and quicker to sort out!

Crossed the street or walked far out into the road to avoid someone coming the other way.

Asked my child whether they wanted to go to school the next day or not, and accepted their decision either way.

Taken anti-bacterial wipes to the supermarket to wipe down the trolley.

Stuffed back the cakes and biscuits without worrying about needing to slim down for an upcoming holiday.

Me wearing a homemade face mask

What have you been doing differently over the last few months?

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Free Kangaroo Crossing cross stitch design and pattern

Today I have another cross stitch design to share! I'm busy working away on my travel themed cross stitch map, and as I go along I'm coming up with different cross stitch images to represent some of the things that I've seen and done on my travels. Australia is one of my favourite places in the world, and so I decided to come up with a way to represent the iconic kangaroo crossing road sign in cross stitch.

Free Kangaroo Crossing cross stitch design

The kangaroo crossing road sign design is really simple. The only colours that you need are a bright blue for the background (to represent the lovely sunny and clear sky!), yellow and black for the sign and a tiny amount of grey for the signpost. Both the outline of the sign and the kangaroo use two strands of black thread for backstitch.

Kangaroo Crossing road sign cross stitch pattern

Here is the finished design stitched and ready on my sampler. I added a small border as I will have lots of different images that I want to separate from each other. This design would also be great on a greetings card for an Australian loving friend or as part of a larger Australian themed cross stitch design.

Kangaroo Crossing Australian roadsign in cross stitch

If you liked this travel themed cross stitch design then you might also like these ones:

Thursday, 16 July 2020

The completion of my 100 day project

I had been meaning to start a 100 day project for a little while now. In fact it was one of my Ten Things to do in 2020.  The reason that it has taken me this long is because we always seem to have a holiday booked within a period of 100 days and I didn't want that to be a distraction. At the beginning of April, with one big holiday cancelled and the prospect of having a lot of time to spend at home, it seemed like the obvious time to give it a go. 

I've always wanted to improve my drawing and painting. I had a set of good quality watercolour paints left over from my A-Level Art days, but I never really learned to use them and I hadn't touched them since. I treated myself to a new sketchbook for my birthday last year, and I have plenty of drawing pencils and brushes. So I decided that each day I would draw and/or paint a page in my sketchbook.

It took me a little while to get going as I flitted around with different things. I tried sketching the children but I wasn't happy with the result. With the beautiful weather over Easter I turned to the garden, painting the leaves and flowers and moving on to both realistic and more stylised flowers. I also found a few tutorials that helped me to use the watercolours in different ways.

Watercolour flower experiments


I carried on painting my flowers, and discovered that my favourite colour was definitely blue. I also started trying a few paintings of scenery, like this beach scene.

Simple watercolour beach scene


After the halfway point I revisited my attempts at drawing and painting the children. I started working on an artist's journal about the pandemic, and illustrated it with some pictures of the children doing various things. They aren't great but I was quite pleased with them, I like to think that they capture a moment! I'm not very good with faces so I tend to draw the children from behind or at an angle!

Watercolour painting of a child on a swing


For the final quarter of the challenge I repeated some of my favourite subjects, especially the stylised flowers and a few more pictures of the children. I also worked hard on my artist's journal which helped me to practice watercolour washes in different colours. 

Watercolour child from behind in meadow

I really liked the image of Mia from behind that I used above, and I repeated it with a few different backgrounds. I also returned to painting flowers from the garden as they started to bloom. Here are my marigolds, used to make a pattern that looks like fancy wallpaper.

Watercolour marigold pattern

And the first sweet peas in a champagne glass, trying to capture all the different colours. 

Watercolour sweet peas in a champagne glass

The 100 day project has been a great focus during lockdown and will be a big part of my memories of this period. I've really enjoyed trying something new, and I like to think that my skills have improved. I've definitely increased my confidence - I'm no longer too intimidated to sit down in front of an empty sketchbook or a blank page.

I'm hoping to develop my skills further, perhaps by finding some YouTube drawing tutorial videos to follow. I especially want to be more confident with sketching the children. I'm not sure that I'll be drawing every day, but I'm definitely going to continue, and also perhaps work on some longer paintings that will take several days. 

There's also my illustrated journal to complete, I'll share some of the pages when it's finished!

I'd definitely recommend giving a 100 day project a go, it's a great way to challenge yourself and begin to learn a new skill.

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

A list of things I make lists of

Activities to keep children from being bored
Long term projects to work toward.

Topics I want to write about
Daily tasks to be carried out.

Places that I want to go
Items to knit, crochet or sew.

Books I one day want to read
All the things the children need.

Craft projects I would like to try
Craft supplies that I want to buy.

Posts to write for my blog.
An unfinished craft project log.

Recipes I want to make
With dinners to cook and cakes to bake.

Treats I'd like to receive as a gift
Things to do if I need a mood lift.

Writing a good list is always a hit
But ticking things off is always the best bit!

This post inspired by learning about list poems with Mia while home schooling!

Person writing a list in a notebook
Photo credit Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash

Thursday, 9 July 2020

The start of the summer holidays

The end of term felt like a bit of anti-climax this year. Normally I'm desperate for the holidays to start, but although Harry was at school part-time for the last few weeks of term it still felt like a bit of a novelty with a traffic-free school run, no uniform to wash and no extra homework.

I do feel for Harry, he has missed out on a huge number of Year 6 milestones - among other things his first residential, a day trip to the Isle of Wight, a talent show and leavers disco. But at least he was able to catch up with friends for a few weeks, poor Mia had a one hour transition session with her class last week but apart from that she has hardly seen anyone else since March.

We were very lucky with the remote learning provision from the school, and the children definitely benefited from the routine that gave us. They were up and dressed by 8.30am each day to respond to a morning message, and then had regular morning Teams calls with their classes. I'm very keen to keep a little bit of that routine going over the summer.

I'm intending to get them to spend a few minutes each day using the Times Tables Rockstars app. I also discovered the Quizlet app while doing their French remote learning and it's brilliant. I'm getting them to spend some time daily going through some of the vocab that they were introduced to this term. The other thing I'm keen on is reading, but luckily I don't need to force them to do that!

I'm also trying for some daily exercise, even if it's just a scoot around the block, and some form of shared creative time. This week it's been all about the play dough! I nearly decluttered it all a few months back thinking that they were too old for it, but it has kept them (and me!) happily occupied for ages, and I'm even wondering if I need to buy some more!

Older children playing with play dough

We are still trying to stay at home as much as possible, and there are many weeks stretching ahead of us without the usual places to visit or playdates with friends. Luckily we've managed to book a week away -  even if we can't get out and about on holiday as much as normal at least we'll have a change of scenery. And we will have a few meet ups with friends and family in gardens and down the beach. 

Fingers crossed we will be back to some sort of normality with back to school in September, I think that we will all be ready for it!

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

My completed project for June - two Christmas felt kits

Another month, and another unfinished craft project completed! In case you have missed my previous posts, one of my crafting goals for 2020 was to finish one of my in-progress craft projects every month. I'm well on track, helped by having a lot more time at home over the last few months! So here is my finished craft project for June - two Christmas felt kits.

I received these kits along with two others to review, and you can see my original review post here. I completed the owl as part of the review, and I finished the llama as a Christmas present for my brother, leaving me with a stocking and a polar bear.

This was one of those projects that has been lying about for ages, but was actually really quick to complete, each decoration only took an hour or so! So that left me plenty of time to work on my other projects this month.

Felt Christmas kits from Trimits - polar bear and stocking

I'm loving ticking each project off my list. In a few months I'll actually have finished working on the projects that are physically lying around unfinished, and be able to move onto projects in my head that I have most of the materials for but haven't actually begun!

I think that my next project is going to be my Smash Book. My Smash Book is a bit like a scrapbook, where I stick in ephemera like tickets and postcards, along with pictures of things that I like cut from magazines and so on. I have a big folder of things gathered that I want to add to it, so it's a case of sorting through and grouping similar items together, before gluing them in and adding journalling as necessary. I think that I probably have enough items to fill all the pages, but if not then in future I'll just be able to add to it as I go along.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Free small London Underground logo cross stitch design pattern

I've been busy working on my cross stitch map over the last few weeks. Now that I've filled in all the countries that I've visited, I've been coming up with lots of individual designs to represent places that I've travelled to. Some of them are pictures of places around the world, and others are symbols which represent different countries or cities.

I've shared a couple of my designs already, and so today I'm sharing the design that I came up with for a mini cross stitch London Underground logo. This small version of the logo would be ideal to use on greetings cards, bookmarks or as part of a larger London or United Kingdom themed sampler.

Free cross stitch pattern London Underground logo

This cross stitch design is very simple. The only colours of thread that you need are red, blue, white and black. I stitched the design with the strand numbers as follows:

Cross stitch - 2 strands
White lettering - 3 strands
Black outline - 1 strand

The cross stitch is done first, then the lettering and back stitch around the edges are added. I chose to complete the background in white but if you are working on white fabric then you might decide that it's not necessary.

London Underground small mini cross stitch design and pattern

Here is the design as it looks stitched on my sampler. I'm really pleased with how my cross stitch map is building up, I'd love to have it finished by the end of the year but I still have a long way to go!

London Underground cross stitch design

If you liked this pattern you might also like my other travel themed cross stitch designs:

Free mini Disney castle cross stitch pattern
Free cruise ship cross stitch pattern

Saturday, 20 June 2020

My 100 day project - the three quarter mark

I can't believe that I'm already three quarters of the way through this project! I'm still really enjoying working on my daily drawing or painting and I like to think that I've shown some improvement. I'm definitely beginning to find the style that I enjoy working in.

Here are my previous posts that have shared my progress so far:

My 100 day project - a quarter of the way through
My 100 day project - halfway through

When I first wrote about this project I mentioned that I had been very inspired by this lady's lovely drawings of her life in lockdown. I tried a few sketches of my children at the time but they weren't very good and so I moved on to drawing other things from around the house and garden, lots of leaves and flowers.

Then I recently decided that I would like to make a journal about these strange times. I've always wanted to make an illustrated journal, and this seemed like an ideal opportunity. So I started a Covid-19/Coronavirus/2020 illustrated journal and began attempting a few drawings to go with my writing, firstly some inanimate objects and then as my confidence increased I tried a few pictures of the children.

I discovered that my preferred style was quite simple and cartoon like. I draw the picture in pencil first, then use a pen for the key outlines before filling in with watercolours. So here are my first efforts (and I know I'm bad at faces so I avoid them if I can!)

I'm a bit shy about sharing them as I know they aren't great, but I hope that they capture a moment, which is really just what I was aiming for.

Mia sleeping in my bed to illustrate a page about sleeping difficulties during lockdown:

Painting of a young girl sleeping

Harry on his tablet, wearing his hoodie and clutching his Giraffe comforter. 

Painting of a boy on his tablet

Mia on the swing where she spends ages each day playing by herself.

Painting of a girl on a swing

I had a few goes at the next picture, first trying in pencil, then adding watercolours, then finally in my preferred style for the actual journal.

Rough sketches of a girl painting

Painting of a girl drawing

I know they aren't the best but I'm hoping that as I keep practising and get more confident I'll get better.

I'm a bit shy about sharing the writing in my journal but when it's finished I might post a few pages. I've found it really helpful to write things down, and I'm hoping that it will be interesting to look back on over the years as this period in time becomes a distant memory!

Thursday, 18 June 2020

My garden and vegetable patch update

Over the last few months we have all spent so much time in the garden and it has been really lovely. I've really been enjoying pottering around and pulling out the weeds gradually, keeping up with the watering, and taking time to appreciate the things that I've planted and watching them grow. 

I'm very lucky to have a separate little vegetable patch area at the bottom of the garden which is tucked away behind the garage. We had the raised bed replaced last year so it's all looking nice and neat, although I don't keep things pristine, there are plenty of weeds growing! I made the bunting a couple of weeks ago. It's a lovely private and sunny area, my husband often talks about making it into his outdoor kitchen and hot tub area but I'm not letting it go without a fight!

Vegetable patch with trellis entrance and bunting

Luckily the pole framework was built by my Dad last year as I wouldn't know where to start building it myself! I've got lots of sweet peas planted at the bottom. the plants were so tiny when I grew them from the seeds that I set three around the base of each pole, and now that they are getting bigger it has become a little chaotic and tangled!

Vegetable patch with tomatoes and sweet peas

The tomato plants in the bed are ones that I planted from actual tomatoes in the fridge when I couldn't get hold of any tomato seeds earlier this year. I didn't expect them to grow let alone produce tomatoes so I'm really pleased that they've started to produce flowers, I'm interested to see what happens with them! I have more tomato plants from the seeds that I managed to buy in pots up against the wall. They are doing really well, some of them already have tomatoes growing nicely.

Large purple lavender bush in vegetable patch

This gorgeous lavender bush was planted by my parents last year. It took a little while to get going, but this year the purple flowers are stunning. I really like the extra colour that it adds to the vegetable patch, and I'll be harvesting some to make lavender bags later this year!

Flowering marigolds, nasturtiums and poppies in pots in garden

The only other colour that I have in the garden at the moment is my marigolds. The first batch that I planted from seeds are flowering beautifully. I have some from my Mum which will be flowering soon, and another batch still growing on the windowsill indoors which I'll put out when they are a bit bigger.

I have an old pallet in the garage and I have some vague plans about making some kind of planter with tin can planters on it but I'm not very handy when it comes to woodwork so I'm not really sure where to start!


I'm looking forward to when the flowers start appearing, hopefully I'll have a nice colourful garden this summer!
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