Monday, 28 October 2013

Half Term On A Budget

With the start of my new freelance job, money has been quite tight this month and so with the arrival of half term we couldn't afford for us to spend a lot of money.  Never one to turn down a challenge I decided to see if we could be creative and do exciting and engaging activities with minimal cost.

Aside from the family day out we had on Friday, which was planned and paid for in advance, we managed to have an interesting and entertaining half term for the grand total of £2!

I used a half term planner to decide what we would be doing in advance, Netmums have a great one here and I made sure that if any preparation needed doing, that I sorted it out the night before to allow us to just get on and do things.

I knew that it was important for us to get some fresh air each day because otherwise by about 4pm we'd all be going stir-crazy.  Unfortunately the weather forecast for the entire week was rain and aside from Thursday, that is what we had!  We tried not to let it put us off and did manage to get out for a little bit each day.

Here are some of the things we got up to this week, hope you can find some inspiration!

Playdoh came in very handy when the weather was a bit too bad to consider going out and if I needed a quick stop gap activity.  The salt dough recipe I got from Nurture Store and it was brilliant as it only used up things I already had in my cupboard - result!

Fresh Air
We tried to go out everyday, even when the weather wasn't great.  Getting outside and playing doesn't have to cost a bean and we found lots of things to entertain us, from splashing in muddy puddles to discovering new things and skills such as tree climbing (or not, in Eli's case!)

We had two themed days which were brilliant - one where we dressed up as pirates and ate food that fitted in with our theme (fish fingers natch)  This is a very cost-effective activity if you already have dressing up clothes.  We used our homemade rocket to have another themed day although we didn't go as far as having space food!

We also organised a few play dates to break up the time.  These are brilliant, free and the kids love them because they get to play not only with their friends but with different toys from their own.

Mixed in was plenty of opportunity for some down-time and for Meg and Eli to come up with their own fun, such as building the cushion mountain and wrestling on it!  I tried to introduce a PJ's and movie day but the kids looked at me like I'd lost the plot so we settled for movie time where we were all dressed...not quite the same but hey ho!

We hope everyone off school this week has a wonderful time, and that you have lots of fun creating your own adventures just like we did!  

Saturday, 26 October 2013

A Barefoot Walk...

On Friday we visited Conkers for the first time, a fantastic family attraction in the middle of the National Forest.

One of the things they have in their outdoor area is a 'Barefoot Walk' which means, quite literally, that you remove your socks and shoes and walk barefoot over different types of terrain.  It's 450 metres and the idea is to take you on a 200 year journey covering the heritage of the local area, so everything from spa water (aka freezing cold pools of water!) to rocks, mud, bark...lots and lots of different sensory experiences for the tootsies.

It is thought that walking barefoot is  good for your health as it can stimulate the cardiovascular system, improving your circulation.  It's also supposed to be 'life-enhancing' but I will leave that for you to decide...

The kids were desperate to give it a go, and not wanting to be the spoilt sport and, I'll admit I was slightly intrigued to see what it would feel like, I agreed to accompany them.

Smiles before we knew what it was going to be like!

I have to be honest and say, I did not realise that walking over pebbles could be so painful!  I can remember running along our back lane when I was 7 or 8 years old, it was all rocks and stones and I never even flinched, when did my feet become such pansies?  The kids didn't even bat an eyelid and were scampering off without a care in the world.  I meanwhile, hobbled along behind them ouching and wincing my way along each part.

The worst was definitely the water, I imagine in the summer it would be lovely and refreshing.  Not so in October my friends, it was COLD.  Eli showed his usual nonchalance about these things and waded straight into the first pool, even though it came well up over his knees soaking his trousers right through.  Meg was a bit more hesitant and walked along the edges of the first few before taking the plunge *ahem*, I also fully embraced the experience and walked through each pool although I'm not actually sure why!!

The mud was actually the best bit, which I wouldn't have expected.  After the icy pools it felt lovely and warm and we spent some time curling our toes and squelching down into it.

All in all it was a really interesting and unique way to experience nature.  Meg and Eli both said it was one of their favourite parts of the day.  I'm really pleased I gave it a go but I might try it again in warmer weather!

I'm linking this post up with Coombe Mill's Country Kids.

Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Let's Play: Rockets!

Never let it be said that I will do anything for the sake of a blog post...the following was purely for the purposes of entertaining my children (and winning the best parent of the year award, or something.)  It should also be noted that we are not crafters by nature!

We have recently been reviewing the lovely resources at Twinkl (a more indepth post on this will be coming next week, so keep your eye out) and whilst perusing their vast array of options I came across their Space pack.  Meg and Eli loved it when we visited the National Space Centre so it got me thinking about how I could best use the pack and be creative.

Naturally, I decided we should build a rocket.  I hunted high and low on the internet to find a tutorial for how to make your own rocket and completely drew a blank.  So I sought the help of my Other Half, pointing out that he was an engineer and should therefore be able to engineer me a rocket.  He enthusiastically agreed and I was presented with an immense plan for creating a frame out of bamboo sticks (chicken wire having been dismissed as too dangerous) and some long-winded and fabulous contraption that would be standing for generations to come.  

I pointed at our downstairs toilet-cum-cupboard of mess and said, 'how about we just use up the cardboard boxes in there?'

And so was born the rocket.

This rocket cost a total of £2 to make, which was the price of the silver spray paint we found in our local Aldi.  The spray paint was awesome, it went on so easily and was touch dry in about five minutes.  We left it overnight to dry out properly and by morning it was perfect.  Our alternative idea had been to buy some foil and cover the cardboard which would have been equally as cost-effective.  We opened up our cardboard boxes and created a flat front panel and then attached side supports with some masking tape.  For the top we cut out a triangle and I painted it red.

To attach the top triangle we used another long and thin piece of cardboard and affixed it onto the front panel.  We have had to reinforce this a few times as the kids have been quite vigorous in their play so there might be a better way of making this stay put...I'll leave that with you.  We used a craft knife to make the door and cut it by eye, hence why it isn't perhaps as straight as it could have been.

The lovely additions you see are part of the Space pack from Twinkl, such as the pieces making up the control panel and the planet information I used to decorate the inside of the rocket.  The window is simply made from sparkly red and silver cardstock.

We also hung fairy lights behind the rocket to act as stars, it's a shame the writing is behind it but you get the idea.

If you have little space fans then I would definitely recommend having a go at making your own rocket, plus having a look at the downloads you can find at Twinkl.  We haven't used them yet but you can also find masks to print and cut out with an astronaut helmet and alien faces as well as intergalactic passports.  I'll update you when we have them laminated and ready to go!

Meg and Eli had so much fun playing in the rocket and it was brilliant to see their faces when they came downstairs in the morning and realised what had appeared in the night.  As Meg so eloquently put it...'sometimes Mummy, you are quite good.

I'll take that compliment!

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Faith and Halloween: Can They Mix?

With Halloween just around the corner I have already seen several social media postings from Christians I know objecting to the celebration of such an event.  I find this happens every year and each time I read them, I let out a big sigh and think about writing a long response.  As a Christian and now, as the parent of two young children, this is something I have thought long and hard about.

I believe there are a number of ways to approach Halloween as Christians.  The first is the one I am talking about above, the vehement opposition of the holiday.  Not allowing yourself or your children any contact with it, not opening the door to trick or treaters and removing yourself from it entirely.  I think this is the one most Christians think is the correct response.  After all, the whole premise of Halloween is a celebration of dead spirits and evil things is it not?

Well, I have to disagree.  Yes, that was part of the concept behind what formed Halloween but I don't believe that it is the general idea of Halloween in this day and age.

The thing is, as a Christian I do believe in a spiritual world, a world of good and a world of evil.  What I don't think is that 'evil' spirits are any more prevalent on Halloween than they are any other time of the year.  Nor do I think that allowing my children to dress up and knock on doors asking for sweets is the same as inviting them to be part of a satanic sect (trust me, I've been told this before!)

Meg and Eli have no concept about 'evil' - what they know is that around this time of year the shops become filled with dressing up outfits and people give out sweeties.  I can just imagine Meg's face if we tried to sit her down and explain the reason why she couldn't dress up...I think she'd probably say, 'okay but can I still have the sweets?'  That doesn't mean that I don't find the idea of dressing my two year old up as a blood-soaked zombie distasteful, I think we have to be realistic when our children are still so young.  I wouldn't sit them down and allow them to watch a horror movie either, it would be vastly inappropriate and I do have to question the logic behind exposing our children to some of the items available on the market.  But at the same time I don't see anything wrong with them knocking on a couple of doors on our street, and asking for some treats.

If dressing them up for Halloween makes them worshippers of the dark side, then what does it mean when I allow Eli to wear a princess dress?  It doesn't automatically make him a girl does it?  It's about the intention behind the act and as long as we are behaving in a way which honours our beliefs then what difference does it make?  As a person of faith I will be ensuring that as my children grow up they are aware of what we believe and why we don't necessarily agree with the whole ghosts and ghouls and bumps in the night kind of thing but as they are currently four and two, that kind of thing is way off their radar and I don't plan to expose them to it any time soon.

Meg, two years ago.
I believe it is possible to participate in Halloween in a way that doesn't compromise your faith, I do not believe that there is anything immoral about dressing up, eating sweets or knocking on doors in your street.  As long as you are not engaging in anything which goes against your beliefs, then it really isn't any different to any other kind of activity.

I also don't think that rejecting it completely serves any kind of purpose.  As a child, I always felt I was missing out on being with my friends.  I didn't learn anything from not being involved and it didn't make me feel any more holy or spiritual for not being able to join in, just excluded and different.  I understood the reasons my parents had but again, I don't think there is anything inherently evil about Halloween if your intentions are innocent and you are mindful of your actions.  In fact, what better way to be part of your community than by putting a pumpkin in your window, letting parents know that you are a safe place for their children to visit and handing out goodies to local kids?  Shutting yourself away and refusing to be involved in actually counter-productive if you want to be seen as a part of your neighbourhood.

I also don't think that the majority of parents allow their children to go out trick or treating and believe they are introducing them to a world of satanism and evil spirits.  I am fairly certain that the vast number of children on the streets come October 31st are simply in it for the sugar rush and nothing more.  There aren't people standing on street corners just waiting to grab our children and sign them up for a life of servitude to the evil ways of the world and it's been a long time since I've seen trick or treaters out we are hardly releasing our children to the wolves.

So, to all those people who feel like informing me that I'm setting my children up for a life of sin and disgrace because I am going to let them dress as a fairy and a pumpkin (probably) on October 31st...I refer you to the above.

Let's not fight shadows for the sake of it.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Book Love: Wife In The North by Judith O'Reilly


Wife In The North by Judith O'Reilly
350 miles from home, three young children and one very absent husband

I won this book in a blog competition and it has been sitting on my bedside cabinet for quite a while now.  I always look at it and think 'another time' but, after losing my reading mojo over the summer I thought I'd get back into the swing of reading with a lighthearted book and this fit the bill perfectly.

I honestly don't think I've laughed out loud so many times at any other book I've read, ever.  I could identify so much with what was written and I really have to hope some of it was embellished otherwise I really feel for Judith O'Reilly!

It's about Judith and her family, who move, at the desire of her husband, from their home in London to Northumberland.  Judith, naturally I think, struggles to adjust and wants nothing more than to go back to London.  It's an entirely true story and is based around her blog Wife in the North which I have added to my must reads list.  It is such a blatantly honest account of how she feels and how she deals with the move that I think you instantly warm to Judith.

I won't give any more of the plot away as I think it's best when you don't know what to expect but I would really recommend it, especially for any mummies out there.

5 stars from me!

Hope you are all enjoying your current reads as much as I enjoyed this book!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

An Autumn Update

People seemed to enjoy our Autumn Bucket List idea and with half term just around the corner (only two more days, yippee!!) and lots of fun planned for then, I thought I'd write a little update sharing some of the things we've been getting up to recently.

We have spent A LOT of our time outdoors.  We've been blessed that, until the end of last week, we hadn't seen much rain just beautiful crisp autumnal weather which lends itself very well to time outside feeding the ducks and collecting bits and pieces.

Conker Collecting
After spending my time at the end of September looking on with envy and worry at people's photos of conkers, we managed to get a great haul over the last two weeks as they have fallen.

Eli appears to have caught the bug and we have spent many a morning on the way back from school hunting them out and bringing back a pushchair's hood-full.  In fact, we now have so many conkers that I have several Mason jars full of them and no real idea what I could do.  Probably time to look at Pinterest for some inspiration!

We have walked and walked and walked.  We've been down to our local lake to feed the ducks (minus Alfie who, unfortunately, has a tendency to get in the water with the ducks and swans and scares them off), we have been on woodland treks trying to spot the different types of leaves that have fallen onto the ground and have invited friends along for the fun too.  

We recently went to a national park close to us and saw the stags rutting too which was amazing.  I didn't get any photos of that but Meg and Eli did manage to get quite close to a deer without startling them which impressed me.  The deer was probably used to the excited squeaks of children though.

Puddle Jumping
I shouldn't lament the arrival of the rain as it has meant Eli can partake in his favourite activity of all: puddle jumping.  It doesn't matter if the puddle is so small only mice can see it...if there's even a hint of water he will jump in it.  It also doesn't seem to matter to him whether he is wearing his wellies or not and we are going through several pairs of trousers a day at the moment just trying to keep him in dry ones.  I think it might be time to invest in an all-in-one waterproof suit!

We haven't got as far as making homemade soup yet, which did feature on our bucket list (I know it isn't technically baking but you know what I mean!) but we have done our fair share of baking.  My favourite bake so far was our smartie fish cake which I will be sharing in a few days time.

I'm sure I will have more to share after the half-term but in the meantime I hope you are all having a fantastic autumn and enjoying the outdoors!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Was Forced To Read

Allowing my inner bookworm to shine here, I recently came across this linky through the lovely Lydia's blog Thoughts of a Librarian.

I don't write enough about books to say that I spend most of my spare time (when I'm not blogging natch) with my face stuck in one.  So I'm going to give this linky a go.  If you aren't a book fan then bare with, normal posts will be resumed tomorrow...

The linky is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and they set a theme of 'Top Tens' each week.  This week it is Books I Was Forced To Read.  I found this quite hard as aside from English Lit at school I've never really had anyone force me to read something...I've probably done that to myself.  For example, if I like the look of a film and then find out it was originally a book, I won't watch the film until I've read the book...that kind of thing!

So this is a mixture of my own determination and the choices of my school teachers.  Enjoy!

Atonement by Ian McEwan

This was one of the books that I forced myself to read once I saw the film being advertised.  It's an amazing book, which had me in tears for a good chunk of the story.  Ian McEwan really catches hold of your emotions and takes you along for the ride.

I watched the film within hours of finishing the book and you can imagine my surprise when the film ended in a different way to the book...or did it?  Apparently in my hurry to get to the end I completely mis-read the end of the story and was distraught for days when I realised how it actually turned out (it had nothing to do with James McAvoy playing the lead...honest...)

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

At the time of reading this in Year 11, I hated the book.  I thought it was gruesome, unnecessary and I was constantly irked by the comparisons made between Jesus and Simon.  I have read the book again since leaving school and although I can see roughly where people are coming from, I find it a far stretch of the imagination to believe that Simon willingly sacrifices himself.  After all, it achieves nothing and in my opinion is just the epitome of the animalism that William Golding was trying to demonstrate.  Nothing to do with Jesus.  

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

This was a book that my mum made me read when I was about 8 or 9.  I can never thank her enough as it's a great story and perfect for any young bookworm to get stuck into.  I love that as I've returned to it in more recent years I've discovered parts of the characters I missed before and my understanding of the story has developed and grown.  I think that is one of the things I really enjoy about it, it's appeal to all different age groups of young girls.

Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

We read quite a few Shakespeare plays in school but this one has always been my favourite.  Is it the headstrong and stubborn character of Katherina who refuses to be broken by the slick Petruchio?  Well, obviously if you've read the play you will know that it doesn't last long and he uses various forms of psychological torments to 'break' her eventually but it is still a great play.

I think it sticks in my mind as I wrote a great essay about it *geek alert* stating that it wasn't sexist but simply relevant to the time it was written in.  I was the only person in my class who took that stance which, when it came to the debate as you can imagine, made it a very lonely place to be!!

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Everybody and their cousin recommended this book to me and as I think came across in my review for the Duck Egg Book Club...I hated it!  I thought it was lacking; I stuck with it because I hoped it would pick up in the middle but really it was just a boring not true documentary style narrative in which I found myself dropping off whenever I picked it up.  As I never walk away from a book I stuck with it to the end but I really could have saved myself the pain.  Nothing happens!

The Client by John Grisham

Another one recommended to me by my mum.  She read and owned all the John Grisham books so growing up I read a great many.  This was the first one I tried out and is by far my favourite.  If you haven't read it, then do!  A good choice for anyone with an interest in thrillers with a legal twist, it will have you hooked from the first page.

The Amelia Peabody Series by Elizabeth Peters

My mother here again, this series is my guilty pleasure.  I even persuaded my 'not really a reading fan' husband to try them out and he is so hooked he's re-reading the entire series at the moment!  

These are mystery novels set in the 1880's and feature Egyptologist Amelia Peabody.  They are full of wry and sarcastic humour and although not a complex read, they are lovely amusing stories in which Amelia is called upon to solve various murders in each book.  If you haven't come across these before then I would highly recommend giving them a go.

The Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer

I will admit that I went against my own personal mantra with these and watched the first film before picking up the books.  I was so vastly unimpressed by the film and yet my sister was waxing lyrical about how amazing the books were that I had to give them a go.

I have to admit that I really enjoyed them.  I don't think the films did them justice or that may just be my own personal prejudice against Kristen Stewart and her wooden acting but as they are essentially, a love story then I think they are very well thought out and well written.  If you are looking for more than that by way of vampires and werewolves then I think you would be disappointed as that isn't the main focus of the books.  

In case you are wondering, I'm Team Jacob.  All. The. Way.

The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier

I can't actually remember who recommended this book to me, other than being told that it would be the best book I ever picked up.  I read it as a preteen and was totally hooked.  I have a vague memory of reading it three or four times and the book I owned having a hard, red cover.

I haven't thought about it until now, and actually think I'd quite like to read it again!  If you haven't come across it before, it's the story of Jan and three homeless friends from Warsaw who travel through war-torn Europe in the hope of reaching Switzerland and being reunited with their parents.

It's a fantastic story of determination and courage and is a great read for any young adult with an interest in history.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I read this as part of a book club and was so dubious to begin with.  I don't like thrillers for a start, at least not when the main premise of the book seems to be murder.  I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it so much and have recommended it to several people since!

What do you think of my choices?  Do they match with any of the books you have been 'forced' to read??

Friday, 11 October 2013

Children's Book Week: All Time Top Five

Thank you to everyone who joined in with the Children's Book Week Linky.  I have enjoyed reading the different reviews and have added some to my 'must buy' list too which is always great.

As I mentioned at the start of the week, I am going to share my favourite children's bedtime stories.  These are from my own childhood and not Meg and Eli's favourites although I may have to do a post on that too at some point!

I love each of these books as they hold a particular memory for me; whether that was my mum taking the time to sit and read it to me 'just one more time' or simply because the story stuck in my they are.  You will probably notice they span a huge age range - I'm not particularly fussy about things like that!

Matilda by Roald Dahl

This has to be by far one of my favourite books.  I can remember I read it so often that by the end it had completely deteriorated.  From Matilda's clever cunningness to Headmistress Trunchbull's downright outrageous behaviour for me, growing up, this was my under the covers by the light of a torch book.  I devoured it and I can't wait until I can read it to Meg.

I recently saw that The Book People have a Roald Dahl set available and I am definitely planning to get my hands on it when I can....I picked Matilda as it was my all-time favourite but to be honest I could have featured most of Roald Dahl's books here.  The Enormous Crocodile is another one of the greats!

One Snowy Night by Nick Butterworth

This is a book I remember most for the audio tape (I guess at that time?!?) that came with it.  I can still hear the voices now and it was one of the first books I reached for when starting our Christmas Book collection for Meg and Eli.  It's such a simple storyline but never fails to warm the heart, especially when poor old mole makes his entrance!

If you haven't read it and you have young children then I would thoroughly recommend making the investment this festive season, it's a real gem of a book.

Burglar Bill by Janet and Allen Ahlberg

I didn't even realise you could still buy this book until I was making this list and I'm so pleased as I think it's such a great book.  As Roald Dahl is for the pre-teens, I think Janet and Allan Ahlberg have it nailed for the preschoolers.  Although you probably wouldn't consider the stories very relevant 'these days', I still smile to myself when reading them to Meg and Eli and we haven't had any complaints yet.

Another one of their best is The Jolly Postman.  But I could only pick five and for humour alone Burglar Bill pipped it to the post.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Jumping ahead in years again to another book that I read to the death.  I think these books stick in my mind so much because of the independence I found when reading them.  I have always enjoyed books and when I could finally read by myself I spent most of my time doing just that!  

I have really clear memories of asking my dad to explain words to me and having to sit and reread paragraphs because I didn't quite understand the meaning the first time around but that just made the book all the more special to me.  It's a brilliant read and not a bad film either!

It probably also helped that I was desperate to ride horses at the time so would often dream of my parents turning up one day with my own Black Beauty.  I'm not sure I ever got as far as considering where it would live in our terraced house!

For my number 5 choice, I have ummed and ahhed and deliberated over so many books, there was just too much choice from the Goosebumps Books (which I promise I never read Mum and Dad) to the Animal Ark Books by Lucy Daniels, which I owned all of, and then so many more for preschool age such as The Tiger Who Came to Tea...I was stumped for which one should feature.

I decided to go with my gut instinct though and pick another one which was part of my preteen years.

Are you ready?

The Queen's Nose by Dick King-Smith

Perhaps you will know this from the *ahem* hit TV series produced by the BBC, or maybe you read the book yourself when younger?

I really enjoyed this book and I can remember the storyline getting a lot of flack when it first hit the big time.  I could never understand why.  It's meant to be fantastical and unbelievable and magical and I really loved it.

We had quite a lot of the Dick King-Smith books in our house growing up but this will always be my personal favourite...I think it was the first TV series I ever became addicted to.  How about that!!

What were your favourite books growing up?  Any that stick out in your mind?