Friday, 31 May 2013

Pirate treasure maps in three simple steps

Soak tea bags in boiling water.

Pour orange water and tea bags into a tray with as much paper as desired.  Remove and leave to dry.


Chocolate play dough cake shop

Today, we took inspiration from the very imaginative little L at Ghostwritermummy and made a chocolate play dough cake shop.  I made a fairly sticky dough using the following recipe:
250g plain flour
100g salt
25g granulated sugar
50g hot chocolate powder
1tbsp oil
500ml water
I added all the ingredients to a saucepan and stirred over a medium heat for about six minutes.  The mixture was then transferred to a bowl to cool.  I ended up adding a lot more flour at this stage, to make the dough less sticky, and kneaded it until deemed perfect by my tiny helpers.
We then emptied the dough into the Tuff spot and the three children set about making and decorating "cakes", "biscuits" and "doughnuts" to display in their bakery counter.
We used real cake cases and edible decorations, which the children loved; I saw a few sneak their way into their mouths!  They had lots of fun pushing the play dough into cases and moulds and then even more fun decorating them.

To make doughnuts, they rolled the dough into a sausage shape before using it to form a ring, which was then covered with embellishments.


Once all of the play dough had been used to create beautiful chocolate cakes, the children declared their cake shop open for business.  They decided that the cakes would cost anything between one and 10 pence.  We used generic coins instead of real money and the children counted out the price of their chosen cake using one coin to represent one pence.

Lots of fun was had with this dough - my first attempt at cooked play dough.  We've put it away for another day, so that we can recreate our cake shop.  Hopefully it will still be as soft and yummy as it was today!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

"Sharenting" and striking a balance

The term "sharent" (which I despise, incidentally), became known to me after reading this article on the Guardian website.  For those who are fortunate enough to not have heard this word before, a "sharent" is a parent who shares details of their childrens' lives on social media platforms or on a blog.  I think a lot of us are guilty of this supposed crime; indeed, my own children are growing up on this blog.

However, this is what annoys me about the word - that it seems to come laden with stigma.  Why should we feel guilty for taking advantage of technology and creating a lasting impression of our children?  Recording stories to share when they are older.  Remembering the little things of childhood that would otherwise be forgotten.

I reject unsubstantiated claims that the stories and photographs that we share today will damage our children in ten or 20 years' time.  I honestly doubt that Jasmine or Sonny would be any more embarrassed by their presence on my blog than I was when my mother presented my boyfriend (now fiancĂ©, soon to be husband) with a fistful of my baby photos.

Including these two gems:-

On their first meeting.

From her hospital bed, whilst recovering from an operation to remove two large gallstones.

Which she had asked to keep and also proceeded to show James.

You see, my mum didn't need the internet to embarrass me.  This is what we do, as parents.  We, either by accident or with gleeful purpose, embarrass our children.  So I will not apologise for being a blatant sharent, nor will I stop it, because my children will deal with it.

What I may have to do, though, is alter the content of my posts, slightly.  Having received contact from a PR this morning, simply to tell me that my blog is public so to be careful what I post, I have thought a lot about this.  Though there was no further information or advice within this particular email, I assume that she alluded to some of the photographs I have included in my messy play posts.

The ones of my children in their underwear. 

Although this is not how I see it; to me, they are photographs of my children learning and having fun, and to lose them is to lose some of the spirit and, I think, point of the post.

I have considered two things with regard to my adding photographs to my blog.  My objective and my intended audience.  The former is simple.  I post photographs that are relevant to my posts and I write posts that share our experiences, particularly through messy play.

With regard to my intended audience, first and foremost, it is my children.  I started this blog for them, so that we can look back on it together, when they are fully grown.  Secondly, I write for family who are interested in what we get up to, and then I write for other parents and bloggers - those who share our interests.  None of the people for whom I write this blog would be affected or offended by the images I post.

So, with those two issues addressed, I am happy with my decisions regarding the current content of my blog.

However, as my blog is public, I cannot guarantee whose hands my images may end up in, so I am now thinking that I should censor my posts a little.  I have the option to make the blog completely private, though I do not want to do this. 

I have already amended my squirty cream post from last night, removing any photographs that may have been cause for concern to my faceless PR friend.  This makes me sad.  Sad about the world we live in, where anyone could view a photo of a child and see anything other than innocence, and sad about what my post has lost.  The photos of my children smiling and enjoying their play spoke louder than any words I could write in their place.

I suppose this is the compromise we all must face, and possibly what gives "sharenting" a bad name.  How much is TMI, and how do we strike a balance?  Those who read my blog will know the names of my children, their ages and their faces, but the reasoning behind this comes back down to intended audience and the fact that I like my blog to be a personal space.

After all, it is written as a gift to my children.

Monday, 27 May 2013

The Rainy Day Box Co.

You know the days.

The rain lashes the windows with interminable rhythm.

Curtains remain closed long past morning.

The children look at you with giant round eyes and pouting lips, on the verge of howling about boredom.

Sound familiar?

On such a day, I was very grateful to turn to the genius Rainy Day Box Co., who have come up with the perfect solution.

Five child-friendly activities, including baking and crafts, inside one box.

The best bit?

They're all surprises!

What child will fail to be excited by a box of surprise treats?

In our box, we found two craft kits - one for 3D peg bugs and another for animal masks - some stickers, a game of Snakes and Ladders and a chocolate butter cookie baking kit.

The children wanted to get stuck in straight away, creating the peg bugs and animal masks almost simultaneously.

We had some trouble with the peg bugs because there didn't appear to be instructions in the box.  However, this may have been an oversight on our part, and didn't diminish the kids' enjoyment of the activity.

Despite not really knowing what they were doing, Jasmine and Sonny had lots of fun gluing and sticking and then, with the masks, spreading glitter EVERYWHERE.

The finished product
The craft activities kept the children amused for over an hour, partly through creation and then, afterwards, by engaging them in imaginative play.

Next up, we made the cookies.

I can't remember exactly how we made them, but I'm almost certain that we simply added 50g of melted butter to the cookie mix and combined the two ingredients to form a gooey batter.

Jasmine enjoyed this activity, though there would not have been enough involved to entertain both children, unfortunately.

The end result were buttery, crumbly cookies that lasted about five minutes.  Well, creation is hungry work!

Finally, we attempted Snakes and Ladders.  Already a favourite with Jasmine, she delighted in introducing Sonny, though we quickly decided that he was perhaps a little young to appreciate the intricacies of such a game.
"When you can learn to stop stealing my piece," said Jasmine, "you can join in again."
Alas, it didn't happen.

However, by this stage, both children were beginning to get itchy about getting outside, so we donned puddle suits and wellies and braved the external downpour.

Overall, the Rainy Day box went down very well with the children.  I do feel that perhaps it is suited to slightly older children, particularly than Sonny.  Regardless, both he and Jasmine had lots of fun.  At just £10 per box, I would say these are great value and would make an excellent gift, or would simply be great to have in reserve for the next horrid weather day.
A very thoughtful, clever, and highly recommended product.

We were provided with one Rainy Day Box for the purposes of this review.  All opinions are our own.

DIY rain shakers

The sun shone for us today.

For the first time in what felt like months.

We took to the beach, where it was still quite chilly.

Fun was had, nevertheless.

Sonny spent his time pushing Diesel 10 through wet sand, whilst Jasmine was brave enough to paddle.


At one point, she drew a map of the island of Sodor in the sand for her brother.

Ice cream was partaken, on the way home.

Then, afternoon complete, we settled into our evening by playing with rice.
Rice of green, of orange and of blue.
The children each had an empty water bottle, which they began to fill with rice.
Jasmine made clear layers.

Sonny, meanwhile, struggled to get any decent amount past the bottle's neck.

Once the bottles had been filled almost halfway, their lids were returned and the rain shakers were complete.

Unfortunately, due to my camera needing new batteries, I had to rely on my phone for photographs, hence why there are so few, and why the ones I did manage to take are of dubious quality.

However, the rain shakers were a huge hit.

The children loved banging and shaking them, tipping them back and forth, rolling them from hand to hand.

I showed Jasmine how to slowly rock her bottle so that the rice tinkled inside, so reminiscent of rain on the window at night.

Jasmine closed her eyes and listened.

Sonny got bored quite quickly and decided to empty his bottle and sift rice through his fingers instead.

Soon, Jasmine followed his lead and they both removed their socks to feel the rice between their toes, as well.

Feet were buried, marks were made, trains were hidden and colours were mixed to create a bright, rainbow rice.

Much fun was had.

For over an hour, the children played with rice, stopping only because it was bathtime.

Our tuff spot is still full now; awaiting continuation of their play in the morning.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

No place for hate

Friday evening, around 8pm.

I'd put the children to bed and returned to the lounge to idly browse Facebook before falling asleep in front of Eastenders.

That was the plan, anyway.

What I found on my news feed led me to a wholly different type of evening.

One centred around incomprehension, anger and debate.

A "friend" of mine had written something about the impending EDL march in Newcastle.

A message of support to a group of people who were planning to convey outrage at the prospect of an Islamic school being opened in the area.

What's worse is that this was not an isolated incident.

The person in question had uploaded several disgraceful photographs and made numerous worrying statements in the two days since the attack on Lee Rigby in Woolwich on Wednesday.  He had even gone so far as to change his profile picture to one that would leave you in no doubt of his feelings.

Additionally, people were "liking" what he wrote, what he stood for; he had messages from new "friends" who had found him online and were drawn to what he was vomiting into his (public) timeline.

I decided to reply; put forward an alternative viewpoint.

My initial response, if I'm honest, had been of such repulsion that killing off his friendship in the form of the unfriend button seemed the only option.

But then I thought no.

If I am so bothered by this attitude in someone, why suffer it in silence?

In the end, I contested his opinion twice, only to be shot down and labelled as "naive" and "liberal".

Undeterred, the interaction inspired me to write the following status minutes later:

"So the thing is this and this is the thing... I wasn't going to say anything. I wasn't going to be drawn into the appalling displays of ignorance and misplaced hatred. But there comes a point when something needs to be said. I was going to unfriend a few people but that is pointless and cowardly. How will our children learn to stand up for what is right if we run and hide and forget and think we ought not to get involved? As Sally so rightly said yesterday, engage with them. Answer back. It's ok not to agree with it, it's ok to tell them that you think they're wrong. What I think is not ok, indeed is totally unacceptable, is to victimise innocent people on the grounds that they supposedly share the same religious beliefs as two clearly disturbed murderers.

I will not stand for terrorism, but I will also not be discriminatory in my opposition. How anyone can be so disgusted by murder that it compels them to glorify retaliation is completely beyond me. Don't sit there and cry for the poor man who lost his life; for the boy who lost a father and the mother who lost a son, whilst simultaneously applauding the scum who think that racist and xenophobic attacks are a justified response.


Finally, to those who have openly expressed interest in deporting every Muslim in the country; what would be the point of that when we would be left with people like you?"

Ok, so it's not the most well-planned or articulate argument ever made, but I wrote it in anger having seen some intensely hateful remarks openly displayed via a social media site.

True to form, the "friend" whose outpourings of vitriol had inspired me to speak out made an unpleasant comment, calling me "just as bad as the murderers" and "a racist to your own country".

He then blocked me.

Yes, he blocked me.

Still, we are all entitled to our opinions and I am glad that I made mine known.

Encouragingly, the above rant of mine is my most liked, shared and commented-on status in the seven or so years I have actively shared on Facebook.

It sparked a debate that made me both question my stance and feel completely vindicated.

I have listened to opinions and responded, I have questioned my feelings and arrived at new, more understanding places.

I understand that, to some people, what I have said comes across as being liberal, for liberal's sake.

Not wanting to cause offence to anybody, perhaps.

Soft, I was called.

But no.

I thought about it, I asked myself how I'd come to the conclusions I did and wondered what exactly had made me so angry.

And, if I was pushed to make my point succinctly, I think the title of this post says a lot.

No place for hate.

It doesn't matter who you are or where you (or your ancestors) were born.

It doesn't matter what you believe in or where you live.

It doesn't matter what you look like or what job you do.

There is no place for your hate.

And dressing your prejudices up in a veil of national pride makes you no less hateful than those you purport to be fighting against.

Thursday, 23 May 2013


It was only a few days ago that the idea of making jam with Jasmine occurred to me.

There have been so many things I thought out of my reach.

As a mother.

As a person.

Self-imposed restrictions.

So today we made jam.

Gloriously sticky apple jam.

To make this jam, we used:

Four large apples
200ml water
10 large tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
1tsp cinnamon

The apples were peeled, cored and chopped before being placed in a pan and covered with the water.  We put them on a medium heat and allowed them to simmer for 10-15 minutes, until soft.

Meanwhile, Jasmine insisted upon washing up!

Once the apples were soft, we added the sugar; Jasmine first measured it out into a jug before pouring it into the pan (off the heat).

We popped the pan back on to the stove and went to check on Sonny, who had been busying himself with his two favourite things - trains and paint!

After five minutes, we headed back to the kitchen to add the lemon juice and cinnamon to our jam, which was starting to thicken nicely.
To finish off, I blitzed it with a hand blender for less than a minute - just enough to smooth out the coarse edges but not enough to completely remove the texture.
We poured the jam into a glass pot, left it to cool for 30 minutes and then secured the lid before adding it to the fridge.
By tomorrow morning, it should be perfect to top our freshly buttered toast.