Sunday 28 August 2011

Guest Post: Children's Books

Another guest post to give me a break this summer! 
This time I'm welcoming Cressida from for a post on Children's books.

The Books I loved come alive again

All children have the capacity to love reading – it just hits them at different times.  Aged 8, it’s struck my daughter and we are exploring my childhood favourites.

It’s controversial but I loved Enid Blyton.  There’s a reason kids like reading formulaic fiction, its so soothing.  What I don’t love are the cleaned up versions from the 90s, where the ginger beer is swapped for Coke, and the language is modernised.  They should be treated as the historical fiction that they are, not apologised for.   Although I’ve kept a few of my originals, I’ve been delighted to find the old editions on Amazon for about £2 a copy.
Next I am introducing her to Susan Cooper’s excellent (and under-rated) series – The Dark is Rising (epic but surprisingly down-to-earth adventures), Willard Price’s Adventure series (brothers searching the world for rare species to bring to their father’s eco-sound zoo) and Noel Streatfeild (talented children dancing, ice-skating, acting, and struggling to keep family finances afloat).

And for her ninth birthday, I’m getting her a special edition of the books she’s desperate to read – Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy – as she’s named after his feisty (and non-reading!) heroine – Lyra.

Monday 22 August 2011

Guest Post: Gardening With Children

In order to actually get to spend some time away from the laptop and with my kids this summer I've asked a few people to guest post for me. Here is the first of them:
Emma Button blogs at about how to stay cool, calm and collected despite the challenges of parenthood.

Gardening with children is a great way for them to learn a number of important life skills without feeling like it is structured education. I have grown my own vegetables and herbs and a few soft fruit ever since I first moved out of home and into my first flat – it seemed like a natural progression to teach my own daughter, now two, to grow her own.

You don't need a lot of space to grow your own vegetables.  I've survived for about 8 years now from containers only – you can start growing your own tomatoes, potatoes or dwarf beans with a single bucket or large flower pot.  In my garden, my toddler is in charge.  She has a few pots of potatoes, tomatoes and strawberries that are all hers with which I let her do what she likes.  The rest, I maintain with her help!

This summer my daughter has had to learn the arts of patience and self-discipline in the garden. On most days she is unable to resist the temptation of a nearly-ripe tomato or strawberry but she soon realises the disappointment when the fruit doesn't taste as good as she had expected and that it is now wasted.

Toddlers and young children also learn about the responsibilities for caring for something of their own. They have to frequently water and tend the plants to make sure they don't wilt or overgrow.  I always feel like my daughter has a sense of purpose when she is in the garden and it is a wonderful way to get her to use up some of her excess energy.

Indoors we regularly grow a few pots of herbs on the window ledge (some of them get planted out if they survive long enough for me to remember).  I love being able to share the smells and flavours of mint, chives, parsley and thyme with my daughter, even if she screws her nose up at some of them.  We have also tried growing beansprouts in a moist jar but I think I've lost the nack – I'll have to wait until they teach my daughter at nursery or school so that she can teach me how to grow them.

If you'd like some tips on how to start growing vegetables with your children, give me a shout.

Saturday 20 August 2011

Saturday fun: Innocent Peeled Game

Sponsored Post:

Innocent very kindly offered to send me a voucher for their smoothies if I plugged their new games site! As I love their products (but can't afford them too often) I said yes...

The peeled game is like the Generation Game conveyor belt game where you have to remember the items - but in the right order! I found this quite hard for my little grey cells... There are 3 games in total on the site so go and have some fun this weekend with Innocent smoothies!

Friday 19 August 2011

Flashback Friday: Medieval fun

Eight years ago this bank holiday my family signed up to join the Medieval Siege Society after watching a weekend of fun at Herstmonceux castle. My daughter was then only 10 and half months old and she looked adorable crawling around in her white linen shift.

Since then we have been to many interesting places and met some great people (2 of whom are my son's godparents!). I have learnt many skills including some craft and cooking on an open fire. My daughter is getting pretty good with her longbow and my son has picked up some sword skills even at 4 years of age.

We all enjoy living 500 years back in time and the freedom of living outside for a weekend. I think it has given my children a lot of self confidence. This is going to be our last visit to Herstmonceux this year as we live too far away to take part. Hopefully we will find a group up north we can join instead.

To give you a taste of the things we have done over the last 8 years here are a few of my favourite photos:

My children and a friend at Arundel in May 2010
My son aged 7 months at Appuldurcombe on the Isle of Wight (taken by AuntieP)
The mighty bombard at last year's Herstmonceux

Thursday 18 August 2011

Reasons to be Cheerful XX (#R2BC)

Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart

Somehow having less rainy days makes life seem so much better - and not just because the kids and I aren't stuck at home all day together! But here are the main reasons I'm smiling this week:

1) Old friends

A friend from my high school days was up north last weekend and we got to spend some lovely time together. Living so far from my best friends isn't always easy so it was great that she made it up here. I'll be seeing the whole gang next Sunday (5 ladies, 3 gents and 9 kids!) so that makes it even more fab:

my friend and my kids enjoying Bambi 2

2) Family

Living near my parents is proving a God send this summer. For moments of sanity I've either had their company or let them kidnap one or both of my children for a few hours or even a night. Having time with other grown ups or time without my children is so important for my sanity!

How my parents kept the kids quiet at Brough Castle!

3) Me!

Managed to lose a whole pound this week - not sure how but maybe the Wii Zumba session I squeezed in whilst my parents took the kids out for an afternoon! I've also got a trail for contact lenses to see if I can sometimes have a change from the glasses. Not only that but I've been brave and applied for a part time job which is term time only which would be perfect. Fingers crossed that I can get an interview.

4) The weather

We've had a couple of lovely days up here and its been lovely to be out and about in the local parks. Cumbria seems to be well provided with playgrounds which my kids love to play in for hours. I usually manage to bump into another mum I know so that I can have a natter whilst the kids wear themselves out!

tonight's stunning sunset

Wednesday 17 August 2011

#TheGallery: Black and White

This week's challenge from Tara makes me wish I'd done some more scanning from the old album.... Oh well looks like its back to the one from the family photo album that you may have seen before! But this time with a bit more of a story with it...

Here is my brother and I with our granny Margaret back in 1977 at my grandparents' home at the Isle of Whithorn in Dumfries and Galloway:

So many happy memories of summer holidays and other visits for nearly 30 years in their remote cottage over looking the Irish Sea. They were down a farm track with cattle grids and I can remember aged about 10 being allowed to drive my granny's car on the private road! We had BBQ's in a sheltered cove and braving the icy waters for a dip.

My granny was a hairdresser so when we went to visit she used to give us a new hair do. Mine really dates the picture along with the slightly flared trousers and the buckle shoes. I was about 6 1/2 at the time and my brother was 8 years old.

Car enthusiasts may have no noticed the Morris Marina we are standing next to. This was the family car for a few years. Not sure if it was a crash on the M6 that finished it off but we had many long drives visiting relatives all over the country. Don't tell a dentist but we used to pass the time having competitions as to long a polo could last (no wonder I have so many fillings!). The in car entertainment was a tape deck and we listened to Don Maclean's American Pie.

My grandparents had a variety of dachsunds over the years and we used to enjoy taking them for walks. The last of these was long haired black called Willie (wouldn't call a dog that nowadays!). Here he is with my grandparents and my brother and I:

Hope you have enjoyed this little dip into my old family album. For more black and white pics you need to click on the logo at the top or Tara's name!

Lenovo - Boot or Bust

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I wouldn't want to try this at home! A rather extreme way of proving how fast their laptops boot:

Tuesday 16 August 2011

When September comes....

When September comes my little boy starts big school. He will no longer spend most days in my care but will with the big children at primary school. It doesn't seem all that long since he was a baby:

When September comes my son will be having lunch at school so I will be on my own 5 days a week and won't have his company:

When September comes I won't have my little companion to accompany me out and pinch the froth off the top of my cappuccino:

When September comes activities like home baking will be confined to the weekends:

When September comes I will be able to do all the things I've been putting off until my son starts school. Here is hoping that I:

Not holding my breath on any of them and he doesn't actually go full time until the 19th but I can dream of what will happen when September comes.

Monday 15 August 2011

Monday Review: Truly Girly Den Kit

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When a PR e-mail on family glamping dropped into my inbox and I saw the Truly Girly Den Kit I knew I had to try it out with my daughter! (Don't worry there is a more boyish one too).

My 7 year old was very excited when we opened the parcel and found the cloth satchel inside which contains the kit (in fact it was hard to get her to wait until I'd photographed it before it was opened!):

Once I'd let her open the satchel it was time to investigate the contents:

  • purple tarpaulin
  • purple fleecy blanket
  • a groundsheet
  • a 10m rope
  • pegs in a bag
  • wooden mallet
  • the all important instructions

Our first issue was finding somewhere to try out the tent. It's been a very wet August up here and our garden is very waterlogged. So we decided to take it over to the grandparents' house where they have a bigger dryer garden.

With a lack of suitable trees we made do with the washing line pole and the swingball pole. In an ideal world it would be used out in the woods between trees. However the main instruction was that whatever the rope was tied to is about 5m apart and can cope with having rope tied to it. We fastened the rope securely and draped the tarpaulin over the top and my daughter hammered in the pegs:

Saturday 13 August 2011

Hotpoint Family Portraits Competition

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It's exciting to be asked to be one of the bloggers selected to help spread the word about Hotpoint's Family Portrait competition. As a keen amateur photographer its the kind of competition that I'm going to have a go at entering myself. The competition is to be held across the whole EU and they are hoping to collect photographs from a diverse range of European families.

The idea is to send in your best family picture(s) by the 10th of October 2011 to the competition website at With a first prize of a family trip to New York this Christmas and a photo shoot with Steve McCurry. Here is a video of Steve explaining more about the competition:

The 100 finalists will be selected by a public online vote. A professional jury will then whittle this down to a shortlist of 10. The winner will then be chosen by Steve McCurry himself. 

So what are you waiting for get out there and snap your family and see if you can win... Im off to check the photographic archives to see what I can find! Maybe an improved version of something like this:

Friday 12 August 2011

Family Fun: Lakeland Maize Maze

On what turned out to be the only dry day this week I went with my parents and children to the Lakeland Maize Maze near Sedgwick. We had visited the small maze with my nephew last year so decided to up the ante and go for the big one. The estimated time to complete this is 1.5 to 2 hours so we carried plenty of food and drink supplies (you can buy drinks and snacks in the middle!). You can buy an optional emergency map in a sealed envelope which is refundable if returned unused... There is a safety talk before setting off laying out the rules (no running, no damage, no eating corn etc.) and each group is supplied with a flag to wave in an emergency. Undaunted we set off into the maze with plenty of enthusiasm:

Sometimes it felt like we went on the same paths several times (in fact we did!) but we managed to find most of the different bug stamps to put on the game sheets. We also went under and over the various bridges quite a lot - it is more of a labyrinth than a maze so the normal take all the lefts or rights doesn't actually work...

Showing the scale of the maze

Thursday 11 August 2011

Reasons to be Cheerful XIX (#R2BC)

Reasons to be Cheerful at Mummy from the Heart

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you'll know that some of this week has been incredible stressful but I'm still finding reasons to be cheerful: 

1) My weight

Went down a little bit this week which is good news after the week before! Just need to try and keep weight stable or going down a little bit and then really crack on in September once the kids back at school (why are school holidays so fattening?).

2) Days out

The weather up here had a little window of gorgeousness on Tuesday and I went to the Lakeland Maize Maze with my parents and the kids. The maze is in a stunning location:

There will be a full write up of our visit sometime soon!

3) Blogging

My blog is creeping back up the Tots 100 index so I'm obviously doing something right! I'm lucky to have a great relationship with some PRs and my children and I have been able to review some amazing products this summer. I started off blogging as a way of letting off steam about my life but it has now moved on to a small income stream and made me part of an amazing community.

Boredom Busting Kid's Books

This article maybe a bit late for Scottish parents who are on the home leg of the school holidays, but for us English and Welsh parents who are only half way there it maybe quite timely! One of the most commonly heard phrases probably heard by parents across the land during the long summer break is:

I'm booooooorrrrreeeeddddd!

So I've had a delve through the Usborne books' catalogue to give people some ideas as how to avert this cry: 

Activity Books and Cards

If you are stuck indoors due to bad weather or need something to entertain children on a long journey then there is plenty to choose from. For older children the doodling and colouring books are proving extremely popular and they are pocket sized too:

If they have an interest in creative writing like my 7 year old daughter then the Write Your Own Storybook can provide hours of inspiration. There are also plenty of boxes of activity cards which can fit in a handbag or be left in the car.

Younger children can be kept entertained with sticker books or maybe a dot to dot book:

My 4 year old son is currently loving his wipe clean numbers book. This range is great as the books can be used again and again.

Out and About

If you are able to get outside then there are plenty of books and activities to keep the kids amused. Spotters cards and sticker books can slip into a pocket or backpack so that you can take them on a hike or picnic. My kids love hunting down the creatures and plants that are listed and recording their sightings: 

Of course these books are great for grown ups too and not just for kids!

Summer Reading

And of course keeping your children up to speed with their reading skills over the summer break is very important. With books for all ages up to young adult there is something to suit every child in the Fiction range. For younger children there are plenty of stories to read to them and even books for babies to get their hands on

Crafts and Cooking

If you have run out of ideas for entertaining the children then maybe a craft or cooking book could provide inspiration. My daughter wants to learn to knit this summer so I guess I'm going to have to get one step ahead of her with this:

I hope this has given you some inspiration for boredom busting this summer! If you have a favourite Usborne book then post a comment on here. If you want to get your hands on the books then have a look at my site or ask me about having a party at home and getting some for free!

All books featured in this article are copyrighted by Usborne books.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

#TheGallery: Water

As always Tara has given us an excuse to dust off our best photos and this week the theme is water. So here you go with some of my favourites:

Reflections in a pool of water

Dipping a stick in Windermere

Sunlight on Ullswater

November on Windermere

Winter light on the River Kent
I hope you have enjoyed these and please click on the camera to see all the other entries.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Tuesday Review: Zoobles

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I was one of the lucky bloggers picked to receive a Zoobles toy for review on my blog. My daughter's face was a picture when she saw what I had been sent as she has seen adverts on the TV for these but hadn't been given one. This particular Zooble is called Unga and she has a baby called Bunga. When they come out of the box they look like this:

Having seen the adverts my daughter knew that she had to place the closed Zooble on the magnetic platform on its Happitat and then she would pop open to reveal her baby:

Whilst my daughter was playing with Unga and Bunga there were several grown-ups watching as I had visitors round. One was a young lady in her 20s who was quite jealous that she was too old to have one herself! The older generation were impressed that the set is quite a compact one and self contained. 

My daughter has been quite happy to play with her Zoobles and they aren't taking up a lot of space in house! She got excited about discoveries such as the fact that the Zoobles have feet that pop out. Since she got Unga she had looked into getting some more to start a collection. There do seem to be quite a variety of sets available from around £5.99 to £24.99. 

They are designed for girls aged 4-9 and have only recently been launched in the UK. Most of the major retailers and toyshops already seem to have plenty of choice. With TV adverts on most commercial channels they are probably going to be the latest pester toy for parents of girls of this age. It's a very girlie toy and with its colours and design its bound to appeal to many. 

Monday 8 August 2011

Family Fun in Carlisle

On Saturday armed with the new Carlisle Treasure Trail I set off on the train with my mum and children all set for a day exploring the city. As the trail starts at the tourist information office we followed the nice clear signs taking us there. Having got my kids hooked on my post box habit we were all pleased to find one style I hadn't already photographed (even if it was a replica!) right out the front of the office:

Having solved the first clue we started off on the next part of the trail. The great thing about this trail is it has you looking all around searching for plaques, statues and other interesting things as you go. The kids enjoy the challenge of finding them before the adults! Unfortunately by the time we reached clue 2 the rain really started and we headed to M&S for a coffee and to dry off.

As it was still tipping down when we came out we decided on a plan B a headed over to the Tullie House Art Gallery and Museum until the weather improved. I hadn't been to the museum for at least 10 years and the rest of the family had never been. We had heard about the new Roman gallery and the children were very keen to check it out. It cost just under £10  for the 3 of us that had to pay to get in and it turned out to be really good value for money. We were all given swipe cards that worked on various terminals so that we could discover which part of Roman society we fitted into. The gallery had lots of hands on activities for the children alongside the plentiful artefacts and information panels. One of the favourite ones was the dressing up (as featured in yesterday's Silent Sunday). When we had finished it turned out that we had 2 centurions and a senator in the family!

Then it was up to the top floor and the main museum which takes you on a trip through the history of Carlisle with lots more child friendly activities. They enjoyed dressing up, colouring, having stories read to them and checking out a mini section of Hadrian's Wall:

They also had lots of fun going round and round through a lead mine which had a tunnel carved through the fake rock. All of this took so much time we had to stop for a lunch break. As it was still raining we sat on a bench in the bike shelter to eat our picnic. After we had eaten the kids voted to go back into the museum for more. This time we started in the art gallery which is free to enter. They currently have an exhibition by Mervyn Peake but they still made it attractive to children by having their own little activity area and a trail to take older ones round the artwork:

Then it was back up to the main museum to finish off the sections we had missed. There is a natural history section with more dressing up for the children and animal related story sacks. The occasional sound of a low flying fighter overhead made it seem like we really were out on the estuary! The next section of the museum was a special Gadgets and Gizmos gallery which took you through the history of toys and appliances from home and office. Then finally it was into the Border Reivers section of the museum which was very informative about the centuries of border raiding between the English and the Scots. Once again there was a chance for the children to get hands on and dress up:

It was hard work to get the children out of the museum and only a promise of a return visit and a bribe of a trip to the museum cafe got us out! I worked out where on the Treasure Trail we were so we decided to get a few more clues in whilst the rain wasn't quite so heavy.  Some of the ones around the museum required plenty of team work and observation to spot but we knew we had to find them before taking the underpass to the castle.

The castle is English Heritage owned so we all made use of our memberships to get in. There was a trail for the children to hunt for knights and my daughter had a worksheet of questions to make her look more closely at the things in the castle. They have done quite a bit of restoration in the Warden's Tower so the children could see what life was like in medieval times. The keep was more like a museum with artefacts and information panels.

There is also the regimental museum for the local regiment inside the castle buildings. This was more of interest to the adults than the children though my daughter liked the medal display and the WW1 trench reconstruction. I really must go back without the children in tow! The weather still hadn't improved when we finished so instead of finishing the trail we headed back through the underpass and to the station. We were all intrigued by the stone with the Bishop's Curse inscribed on it:

There is a new 21st century Bishop's blessing on a plaque opposite this to counteract it!

So we haven't solved the Treasure Trail mystery but we have an excellent excuse to head back to Carlisle soon to complete it! We just need to ensure that this time we go on a drier day... The city is a brilliant place to spend a day with or without the children and I'm sure we will make many more trips there.