Friday, 11 April 2014

Quick post on crafty makes

Just a very quick post today, as I'm busy getting the caravan ready and the house tidy before we go on hols.  But I wanted to show a couple of the things that I've been making.
two more lined applique pencil cases - these are the first items in my stock box for my craft business, Sunbow Designs.

two wipe-clean reuseable snack pouches.  These are to use instead of small plastic sandwich bags and are a great size for bread sticks, dried fruit, biscuits, a piece of cake etc.  These are prototypes, for us to use.  They were easy to make, so another item to make more of for Sunbow Designs.

two wipe-clean reusable sandwich wraps.  Again, these are to use instead of sandwich bags, you just unwrap them, and you have a lovely little mat to eat your sandwich from.  Again, something I'll be making more of for Sunbow Designs.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

It looks naughty... but it's healthy!

 One ingredient, super easy to make, banana ice-cream

One of the items on our Easter Holiday List was "make ice-cream".  A quick internet search revealed a plethora of no-machine ice-cream recipes, but this one really caught my eye.

I found it here, on  Yes, it's true!  Ice-cream made using only bananas!

First, chop the bananas, it doesn't matter how roughly.  Bug did ours. 
Put the bananas into the freezer for a couple of hours.  
Then stick them in the blender and blend them.  This turns them into frozen banana puree/cream.
At this point you can add extra ingredients like honey, peanut butter, raisins or mini-marshmallows.
Put the banana ice-cream in a bowl and back into the freezer to set a bit further.
I also froze a Mars bar, and roughly chopped this, served on top of the banana cream.  It makes what looks like a very decadent dessert, but is actually one of your five-a-day, with 1/4 of a Mars bar added!
We didn't actually let the bananas freeze for long enough, as I had forgotten to chop and freeze them before we went to the recycle centre, so ours ended up more like chilled banana puree, but it was still very, very tasty and met with approval all round, so this is certainly something we'll be making again.

Sunday, 6 April 2014


he hasn't pushed her over, they are taking it in turns to roll down a hill!
I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring the books “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent” written by Tom Hodgkinson.  I enjoyed a lot of the ideas expressed in these books, and think that exploring them further will help me to explore the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.

Chapter 4 – The Importance of Nature

Nature is a great resource for an idle parent.  In nature the children are learning, they play with few arguments, no whining and plenty of resources to go around, they aren't making a mess indoors which they expect you to clear up, and it's free!  Go to the wildest and most shop-free places that you can find.  The way we have our holidays - near the sea, the woods, the mountains, car and computer free, shows us that we yearn for nature, but we seem to have commodified it into "Holidays" which need to be paid for.  We need to try to get it back into our everyday lives.  Sometimes it takes a bit of effort to break the tether to the screen and get outdoors, but once there, we generally love it.  Tom suggests short trips, days out, freedom.  Camping trips, but not the ones to campsites where everybody spends the evening in their caravan watching TV - ones where a few families go together, and you can sit around the fire and drink coffee or beer while the children play.  At home opt for as much out-doors and as little intervention as possible.  As with low-input gardening, this doesn't mean abandoning the plot to the brambles, you still have to provide quality soil, and pull out the pernicious weeds, and add a bit of water here and there.  So it is with child-rearing, you need to provide the fundamentals, and tend here and there, but where things are doing okay, leave well enough alone.

How does this match up to the ink-spots-and-grass-stains life?

I completely agree with Tom on this one.  Just this afternoon the children were bouncing around the sitting room, so I asked, "What are your plans for this afternoon, you two?" No response.  "Are you going to play outside?"  They've been out for over an hour now, in the drizzle.  I'm not sure what they're playing, but there's a house in the bush down the side of the house, there's a pop-up tent up in the garage, I've seen a rugby ball with a three-year-old attached... Hubby is pottering around getting the caravan ready for next week's holiday and I'm up here writing.  Very easy parenting!

Next week we're off to Arisaig on the west coast of Scotland.  Yes, its a commercial campsite, but it's about as wild as you can get.  Even if fire's aren't allowed on the site (I think they might be), they are allowed on the beach which surrounds the site.  There's a small play area I think, but mostly there's a beach, and rocks, and the sea, and otters, and eagles, porpoise, sheep...  

Friday, 4 April 2014

Making it happen - my pond!

One of the items on my bucket list is to "have a garden with a vegetable patch and a pond".  I've had the vegetable patch for about six years now, and this week can finally confirm that I have a pond.

It has been a work in progress for about two years... maybe more.  I started off by deciding where I wanted the pond.  We had a convenient corner raised bed, surrounded by a wall about 1' high.  So for a couple of years, knowing that this was going to be where the pond would be, I very much neglected this bed.  I'd occasionally weed it, and I gradually moved plants out and put them elsewhere in the garden.

Autumn 2012 I started digging, thinking that I'd get the pond in for Spring 2013.  Winter happened, and not much digging.  During last summer I'd occasionally dig out a barrow of soil, but then abandon it once  more for a few weeks.  By the time I came back it was full of weeds or other plants again.  Autumn 2013 I started digging more earnestly, expecting any moment for snow, frost and other winter weather to stop progress.  The winter conditions didn't really happen, but we did get a lot of storms and rain, so progress slowed once more.

I knew that if I left it much longer then I would once more miss the frog-spawn window, so I got down to it more seriously in February and March.  It's a really big job!  I just seemed to be digging and digging, and disposing of soil in all sorts of interesting places around the garden, and it never seemed to be deep enough.  Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I realised that I was nearly there.  After digging out about 10 wheelbarrow loads in one day, including an unexpected sheet of corrugated iron, I knew that a couple more wheelbarrows would do it.

So I ordered the pond liner, and I ordered some planters and some plants (just a few: some yellow iris, marsh marigold and elodea).  Then I realised what was missing and also dragged a couple of sacks of builder's sand out of B&Q, and a bag of aquatic compost out of the garden centre.  This all arrived on Tuesday, so in order not to kill the plants, I knew the pond had to be completed on Wednesday.

Wednesday morning dawned, and it was only raining a little bit.  I dressed Bug in wellies and splashsuit, made sure that she had her scooter, her bucket, her trowel, and anything else that she might require, got my own overalls and wellies on and headed out for the garden.  Two more barrows full of soil, then another to pick out any stray stones.  We then enjoyed throwing sand into the hole.  We got some free underlay with our liner, so this went in next, and then the liner.  It was massive and manhandling it into place was... ummm... interesting.  So we turned on the hose and went for a hot chocolate.  All this had only taken one hour!

While the pond was filling, we set about planting the planters.  I hadn't bought the suggested horticultural grit, but I guessed filching some gravel from elsewhere in the garden would do the trick.  I did try to pull the liner taut, as recommended, but it didn't really work, so there are some unwanted folds, which I hope won't affect things too much.  Next I waded around the shelf of the pond, trimming the liner.  I cut a little too much in one place, more on that in a moment.  Once the pond was full, I lowered the plants into place, and then started gathering material from around the garden to lay around the edge.  I have sticks, logs, stones and pebbles, a plant pot and a couple of wellies with holes in them.

I quickly realised that the level of the pond wasn't quite what it should be, as I had accidentally cut too much liner away in one corner.  I've put another piece of liner over, but obviously water doesn't respect that and once it gets to a certain level, it's pouring out of that spot.  I've now ordered some Pond Liner tape on e-bay (bargain), and will tape my patch piece in place and build up a little more soil behind it, then I'll be able to fill the pond a bit more, and a lot of the visible plastic liner will disappear.  I'm also going to plant up around the edge a bit more.

I still think it looks a little bare, but I know this is the way it is with a new pond.  Once the plants in the pond get established, and plants start to grow around the edge of the pond, and over into it then it will start to look a lot more natural, and maybe the wildlife will move in.  I'm keeping my eyes open for frogspawn in puddles and the like (where it probably won't survive once the sunnier weather kicks in), to re-home in the pond.

I'm so proud of this.  Not just because it's been a real effort; not just because I've finally ticked something off that's been on my "to-do" list for so long; but also because I can't wait to see the children tucked down by the wall and watching the bugs and beasties that will eventually move in to this awesome nature habitat!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Tutorial - easiest ever skirt

Easiest ever elasticated summer skirt.
Probably the trickiest part of sewing this skirt is measuring and cutting out the fabric.  You are going to cut 8 identical panels.  Unless your fabric has a right way up, you'll need 1m for an above the knee skirt (length about 45cm).  Obviously a longer skirt will require more fabric.  Start with the following: Measurement A - measure around the widest part of your hips and bottom.  Add about 10-12cm (this allows for 1/2 cm seams and a little bit of leeway).  Divide by 8.  This is the measurement of the top of one panel.  Measurement B - take the width of your fabric, subtract 2 x A, subtract about 15cm and divide by 2.  This is the measurement of the bottom of the panel.

You'll probably want to draw a diagram with your measurements to make sure that it all fits.  The fabric is folded in half, and you end up with four panels on each half.  Once you have measurements A and B, you can draw a template for the panel if you like, or you can draw the whole thing on to the fabric and just cut it out.

You will end up with eight pieces of fabric this shape.
Pin them together.  
Then sew all eight seams.  I used a normal running stitch on the machine, and then did the seams again with a tricot stitch in the hope that this will prevent fraying.

Press the skirt.  While at the ironing board, fold and fold again and press to create the channel for the elastic at the top, then do another double fold and press for the bottom hem.  I then added a daisy embellishment to the bottom hem, pinned the hem in place and stitched through the daisy embellishment, and again around the top of the hem fold-over.  Next, sew around your waistband, ensuring that you've left a gap to feed the elastic.

Cut some elastic long enough to comfortably go around your waist without stretching.  Pin one end of the elastic to the skirt with a safety pin, and then attach a safety pin to the other end of the elastic and use the safety pin to guide it through the channel in the waist band.  When you've got it all the way through, tie both ends together loosely.  At this point, try the skirt on.  Adjust the knot in the elastic until the skirt fits comfortably around your waist.  Now stitch the gap you left in the waist band channel closed, and press your skirt.  You've done it!

Here's the finished item.

A lovely summery skirt (and new sandals).  Now all I need is some summer weather and a bit of sun on my legs!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Quick and easy ideas for pre-schoolers - Treasure Map

 Following a blog post in "Childhood 101", we've created an Adventure Box in the sitting room.  It currently contains: walkie-talkies, pretend phones, a compass, torches, small fishing nets, bug viewers, binoculars, leaf/flower/mushroom/butterfly identification swatches, and other similar bits and pieces.
After a few days I realised that it really needed a map or two.  I have plans to cut down an out-of-date superfluous OS map to use, but I thought that some hand-made maps were required too.

This week while Bug was napping I set to work with C to make our "Treasure Map".  We'd been talking about it for a few days, so he had some ideas that he wanted to work on.  I started out by getting him to draw the outline of an island, and then we talked about things that we could include.  I drew a couple of items in (the volcano, river and swamp) and then he got the idea and started drawing things on as well.  He drew in a play park and a rain-forest.  Between us we filled in the spaces on the map and then coloured it in together.

I then talked about how we could make the map look old.  He nodded, but was still horrified when I screwed it up.  After I flattened it out and then screwed it up and flattened it out again a couple of times he got the idea that this was part of the effect, not because I was throwing it away!
Next he insisted that I go and make a cup of tea.  Earlier in the week I had mentioned the use of a cold, damp tea-bag to make the map look older, and since the screwing up effect had worked so well, he was keen to see how this one would work.

Making this map took under an hour, and it was a really lovely collaborative hour - definitely time well spent.  He also came away from it with new ideas about how to make things look old, ideas about drawing different things, a little geographical and map-work knowledge, and of course a treasure map that he is delighted with.  Later that afternoon we took a trip out in the car to visit a museum and park that we hadn't been to before (Calendar House and Park in Falkirk for anybody who lives in central Scotland, well worth a visit), and C took his map with him in the car, so that he could give me directions.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014


I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring the books “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent” written by Tom Hodgkinson.  I enjoyed a lot of the ideas expressed in these books, and think that exploring them further will help me to explore the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.

Chapter 3 – Seek not perfection, or why bad parents are good parents

Tom starts this chapter by outlining a few different cultural variations on how parenting can work, to illustrate the point that there isn't a single "right" way of doing things.  He then goes on to suggest that our construct of the lonely stay-at-home-mum isn't right either.  Far from suggesting that mums should head back to the corporate grindstone as soon as possible (this is Tom Hodgkinson after all!) he suggests that parenting should involve as many people as possible, and be a sociable activity.  That women should not shun work, but seek work which creatively fulfills them, and which they can be flexible with, as required in those early years of parenthood.  Once you make the decision to both work and look after the children, you can enjoy doing both.  We constantly talk about "having to" look after the children... what, those joyful creatures that we chose to bring to this earth?  Surely we can find a way of doing it that isn't a chore.  And the key to that lies in...

...Not trying to do it right.  There isn't a perfect way of bringing up children.  Find the way that works for you and do it.  The best quality a mother can offer her children is her own happiness, contentment and independence - not selfishness, but self-love.  Try to keep a light touch on the tiller and leave the children alone a bit more.  We need more lazy-and-loving-it parenting.  Carry on with your pleasures and  just let the kids tag along, rather than putting their wish for a soft-play trip first and ending up sitting alone with a coffee and a kindle.

Turfing children out into the fresh air not only leads to more time for us to do what we'd like, but it also leads the children to the "fleet of foot, the burning flame in the eye, the natural child, the tough, self-sufficient boy and girl."  In short, being a lazy parent and getting more time for the things we want to do, is good for the children.  (Not advocating neglect of course - there's a clear difference between encouraging independence, and starving and under-dressing your child) 

How does this match up to the ink-spots-and-grass-stains life?

I'm sure that I'm like so many other mothers out there when I admit that I spend an awful lot of time worrying about whether or not I'm doing it right.  This chapter is quite reassuring for pointing out what we really all know, that there is no "right".

I'm a stay-at-home-mum, but I admit that I'm quite looking forward to next term when Bug starts pre-school and I'll have at least two mornings every week without having to look after the little ones.  I have many work plans simmering away because I just don't find the time to make them work (too many hours Scouting I think!).  I do feel much more able now to just let them play while I get on with things around the house, from decorating/personalising the inside of the caravan, to chopping trees down and making fires in the garden, doing the ironing or cooking a roast.  Sometimes they come and join me, sometimes I have to abandon my efforts to go and referee a fight or clear up a disaster, and sometimes I don't hear from them for an hour or so... it's all good.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Happiness is...

A brief lesson from the waggy-tailed-one:

Happiness is... playing with the children

Happiness is... my ball

happiness is... lying on the sofa

happiness is... a cuddle

happiness is... running in the woods

happiness is... the beach

I would love to also have added that happiness is... swimming, but I didn't take my camera on our walk this morning when the daft mutt decided to go swimming in the new pond at the nature park.  Happiness is... also food.

Let's face it, dogs just know about the good things in life don't they!

I challenge you to write your own blog post, and link it to this one (and from this one using the comments) about what happiness is, using your pet to illustrate.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

To nap, or not to nap, that is most definitely the question.

When C was a baby he didn't like to sleep.  We spent hours and hours rocking him, feeding him, soothing him, reading to him, patting him, cuddling him and we just couldn't get him to go to sleep, or stay asleep.

When I started to go slightly bonkers through sleep deprivation I decided that something had to be done.  Now, I know this is controversial, but after unsuccessfully trying many methods, we left him to cry (aged about 9 months).

What a revelation!  Within two days I knew that we had done the right thing.  Far from "emotionally scarring the baby for life" (yes, I did get that on one parenting forum I belonged to), his entire personality changed.  Within two days we had a happy, smiling, curious little boy, instead of the crying and whinging I had thought was normal, just because the poor boy wasn't getting enough sleep.  As an added bonus, I was also now getting enough sleep, so was also doing a lot less crying and whinging too.

I was a convert to the absolute importance of sleep.  C now had a settled sleep routine, and slept (mostly well) from 7pm until 7am and also napped.  At the age of three he dropped his regular afternoon nap, but still napped at least once a week until he was four.  He sleeps well now too, aged four and a half.  He's still a real life child, so of course he'll sometimes fight sleep, especially if excited or in a new situation, but generally will sleep from 7pm to 7am most nights.  When Bug came along things were different.  I'm not sure whether it was her sleep personality or whether I was just much more aware of the importance of sleep, and so settled her down as soon as she showed any sign of being tired, but she was always an absolute dream sleep-wise.  She slept well and regularly, and up until a couple of months ago, was still enjoying a very regular two hour nap in the afternoon, every afternoon.

Then she started to show signs that maybe she didn't want a nap, ("I don't want a nap!" was a pretty good clue), her naps were a little shorter some days, and as she was approaching three I became a little less rigid about keeping the routine, and she seemed to cope okay.  I found that, with C at pre-school all morning, it was delightful to be able to go out and do stuff on an afternoon, without having to wait until Bug woke up, and so her naps were dropped more and more often.  I could see she was tired, so we did try to throw in a nap every few days, but they were getting left behind.

Then, last week, she started to wake up between 5 and 6am, instead of her usual 6.30-7am.  One night I woke up to hear her chatting at 3am.  She was completely naked, playing with her dolls on her bedroom floor.  Hubby said he thought he had heard her at about 1am, but he had fallen asleep again.  She was freezing.  She'd been awake for a couple of hours, and it took a good half an hour to settle her back to sleep again.  When I thought about it, I realised that her defiance, tantrums, reverting to baby noises, hitting and general unwillingness to co-operate had all escalated over the last couple of months.  She was really, really tired.

So we are back to napping.  Forget the afternoon activities for a while to give her a chance to catch up on some sleep, and let her nap.  Who knows when she'll be ready, but I have to concede that for now, she isn't.  My children have once again demonstrated to me the importance of getting enough sleep for children's general well-being, behaviour, development and so on.

There is some interesting information on the importance of sleep for children from:
The National Sleep Foundation
NHS Live Well

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Six ways to encourage happy eating

I've had a few comments from friends and family asking what I did to get the children such adventurous appetites.  Their favourite meals include Chinese food, paella, curries, Mexican food and Moroccan meals.  I didn't really set out with any plan, I just enjoy cooking, enjoy different types of food, and have never cooked anything for my children other than what I'm cooking for me and Hubby to enjoy.  And I guess because I love food and cooking so much, I've also done the following:
  1. Involve the children in planning the menu.  I don't mean that you only cook what they want to eat and end up with chicken nuggets every night, but you could get them to choose meals for a couple of nights a week, perhaps encouraging them to look through recipe books, or watch a cooking programme for ideas, or giving them a handful of suitable options to choose from.
  2. Involve them in the shopping.  I know, I know, sometimes children can be an absolute nightmare in the supermarket.  Now that Bug is 3 she no longer sits in the seat in the trolley, and instead fights with C over pushing the trolley.  I find it helps if I give them their own shopping list of about five items (preferably for the meal they have chosen), with pictures.  I don't always have time for this, in which case I say, "Right, C. The next thing I want you to find is...."  They start asking about different products, or suggesting that we try something, which sometimes even means that I try something new too!
  3. Involve them in preparing the food.  My two absolutely love helping to cook.  C is now so proficient at a couple of recipes that I think he'd remember what to do if I wasn't there.  He's getting good at chopping too, though I do need to leave extra food prep time, as they are a lot slower at chopping than I am, and a watchful eye is of course always required.  Bug's favourite part of cooking is "just having a little nibble".  She'll try anything, so I do need to be careful to keep raw meat out of reach, but she'll have a nibble of onion, mushroom, chilli, and herbs and spices various.
  4. Operate a "try everything" policy.  Whatever you put on their plate, they have to try - but if it's something new or something you know they aren't keen on then keep the portion small and don't get upset if they don't eat it all - as long as they've tried it.  For example, C has expressed several times that he isn't fond of mushrooms.  That's fine.  It doesn't stop me cooking with them!  Unless they are chopped up very small, I usually let him know they are there.  I've explained that our tastebuds develop as we get older, so he always tries them.  Usually he then passes the rest over to Bug, who loves them.  
  5. Small portions.  Children's appetites are unpredictable.  Offer small portions, especially if its something new.  A large portion can look a little overwhelming, and if we insist on them finishing a large portion, then we are also encouraging them to overeat even when they are full up - hello, obesity problem!  Better to offer small portions, with the option to top-up with seconds, or some bread or salad.  Last night I made a mackerel dinner, with a lovely tomatoey pasta dish.  I know they like pasta, so they had a good spoonful of that each, but mackerel was new to them, so I only gave them a very small portion.  C wasn't sure on the mackerel, but he did eat most of his serving, and had some extra pasta.  Bug loved the mackerel and had more of that and more pasta.
  6. Eat together around the table.  Its difficult to encourage children to try something new, to take an interest in food or to join in conversation, if you are all sitting watching the television.  Sitting around the table gives the opportunity to learn table manners, and to actually take part in the meal.  We don't do it all the time, but most evenings, dinner is around the table as a family.