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See posts about: // Isabelle // Parenting // Family //

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Us // March

Spring has sprung! The last month has seen some lovely weather which has meant we've been out and about lots and making the most of getting some fresh air, as no doubt the rain will be back soon. 

The month was, unfortunately, dominated largely by Simon's broken wrist. After finding out it wasn't healing properly he had to have an operation to pin it, and has been absolutely unable to use his left hand for anything since. That means no driving and very minimal work. It also means that he has been home lots so we've been able to spend loads of time together which has been lovely. Hopefully he will be driving again soon and able to do a bit more as it's been such a long time he's been out of action.

The start of the month saw us come back from Centre Parcs totally exhausted after a great time away. I was straight back to work the next day, which meant the rest of the week was spent catching up with the insane amount of washing since Centre Parcs had no washing facilities. However, at the end of that week we met up with our friends at Belfast Children's Festival for a "Baby Rave" which Isabelle thoroughly enjoyed. She wasn't sure at first, but ended up running around gleefully under the big parachute, which certainly did some impressive things to her hair! The next day we made a rare trip to soft play with our friends which was just lovely. 

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Ripping out the kitchen

I posted last month about my kitchen inspiration for our new kitchen. It's still a few weeks away from getting put in, but we started to pull the old kitchen out this week so that we can get the walls plastered and dried out before the new kitchen needs to go in.

I thought I'd share some pictures of our current kitchen (before we started ripping it out!) so that when it's complete you will be able to see the, hopefully enormously wonderful, transformation.

We HATE this kitchen. We despise it. There is not one thing about it that either Simon or I like, and there never has been. When we moved in to our house 4 years ago it was very much "we love the house despite the kitchen", and we always wanted it out.

It's horrific. It's dark, dark, dark. Dark cabinets, dark counter tops, dark tiles on the floor and walls. It has a stupid sticky out counter (not a breakfast bar, not an island...just a BIT) which cuts off the area for the table. It has (had) horrible wall cabinets which were totally useless - we had our wine glasses in them. And we don't drink wine. It has (had) very little useable worktop space due the the aforementioned cabinets. It has (had) a pelmet the whole way round the top cabinets and across the window which blocked out so much light. And lastly....the cooker. There is nothing to like about it. It is a standard built in oven and hob and I just find the oven ridiculously tiny. I don't know how people use them! The hobs are touch pad operated, and since we have moved in the touch pad sensors have been slightly temperamental...often we just can't turn it on. Usually when we are halfway through cooking, and try to turn a second hob on and the whole thing throws a bitch fit!

So, here you go - some pictures of our dark, not particularly useful, current kitchen. You can see that even though it wasn't dark outside, I had to have the light on while I was working in the kitchen the morning I took these pictures. I forgot to take a picture of the left hand side of the kitchen, but the cabinets were similar to the glass one you can see with our lovely tea set in it. I can't take any pictures now as the cupboards are now gone! The very last picture is just a phone snap of what the kitchen looks like today - a massive improvement already in terms of useable space and light.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Mummy & Me #1 // March

Reading through my usual list of blogs I saw a few of them had linked up to the brand new linky "Mummy & Me", and think that it is a great idea which is definitely worth taking part in! So here is our very first mummy & me picture:

Like all other mummies, I spend my days snapping pictures of Isabelle. When we are out as a family I try and take pictures of her and Simon..........but very rarely get a picture of Isabelle and me. It's actually something I hate, and I have dropped a million hints to Simon to take more (especially since HE is supposed to be the photographer in the family!), yet in the last year there are probably fewer than 10 pictures of Isabelle and me together which is a little bit heart breaking. All the fabulous times we have together will only be remembered with pictures of Isabelle on her own.

I am not a massive fan of taking selfies, so I rarely take any pictures of us myself, although maybe I should change that since nobody else seems willing to do it for me!

The picture above isn't exactly photography at it's finest, is it?! It was just one of a long string of photos in an attempt to capture us both looking, smiling (that's Isabelle's "Palsy" smile, taught to her by her father and uncle when I had Bell's Palsy last year!) and not too fuzzy! Here are a few which didn't make the number one spot...

Nicola... Life Through My Eyes

Friday, 27 March 2015

Isabelle's Spring Coat

Now that it's getting warmer (or it will be soon, I hope!) I can see that Isabelle's winter coat is going to be too thick for her to be out running round in during the spring and wet summer days.

Her current coat has been fabulous. I bought it from Next around November time and she has worn it every day since. It has been a wonderful winter coat and kept her toasty throughout.

It's time for a lighter coat, however, and since I love Next clothing so much for her I went back and bought a new little raincoat for her there.

They have some really gorgeous coats which I had pored over online, but in the shop this one was my favourite. It doesn't look as nice as some of the others do in pictures, but was much nicer in real life. It's a perfect little raincoat, which is beautifully lined. I got it in size 2-3 years so it will be MASSIVE on her for a while, but hopefully that means it will be well worn between now and next winter, and maybe even next spring.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Small World Play: Farm

As I may have mentioned once or twice before, I have a tuff spot for Isabelle which we love using in our sensory play. Generally, we use it to contain mess during messy play, but that is only one side of how tuff spots can be used.

One whole other branch of using them is for small world play. If you aren't familiar with small worlds, they are ways to present imaginative play to children. You set up a scene and leave them to play with the materials as they wish. It encourages role playing, imagination and language development amongst many other benefits - and is actually part of the curriculum here in Northern Ireland for the foundation stage (our first years of formal education which are play based learning). This is how our curriculum describes small world play:

"Small world play is a type of imaginative/role play, which enables children to be creative and spontaneous in dramatic as well as mundane life situations which interest them. It is closely related to puppet play and story telling." Source

I have seen some fabulous small world tuff spots in the past and have wondered if Isabelle was ready for some and whether she would enjoy the concept. She is fabulous at imaginative play and will cook at her kitchen for ages, or play tea parties with her babies. However, small worlds bump imaginative play up a notch and I wanted to make sure I wasn't holding her back by not offering her these opportunities.

In that vain, I set up a farm small world activity for her last week - which coincided with the "F is for..." day of the Adventures of Adam A-Z of Tuff Spots. We don't actually have a lot of materials to include in a small world so I had to keep it simple. I used the farm animals Isabelle received for Christmas and some of her stacking blocks for their various 'houses'. We have some grass samples which made oddly coloured fields for our cows, a tin foil lake for our ducks, and then a big feeding area made of rice krispies and corn puffs. The idea of small world is to present it to children, have a chat about it all and let them play how they wish.

I introduced the farm scene to Isabelle and showed her the animals which we talked about, before I took a step back. Isabelle then decided exactly how she wanted to play with the small world....

By eating the cereal!! The corn puffs in particular, the rice krispies weren't as pleasing obviously. I let her have a few before trying to redirect her attention and she did spend some time feeding the animals, by smashing their faces into the cereal, before she decided it was time to feed herself again! She really wasn't very interested in the role play aspect of the farm at all. I'm not sure if that was because she was so distracted by the food or if she wouldn't have been interested anyway. I suspect the latter! I was a little surprised that she wasn't more interested in the cows, however, as she LOVES cows and we go and visit the local cows as often as we can.

That's OK though - I know that she is still very young to be taking part in small world activities so I am happy to let it slide for a while, and in the meantime I can gather ideas and gather materials for when she is ready. It's also OK because I was going to give her a farm for her birthday, but was wondering if she would really appreciate it and play with it. Now I'm not going to bother and will save it for later in the year or Christmas when she is more interested in that type of play.

I'm so glad we did a small world, and can't wait to explore this type of play further in the future. If you are interested in finding out more about small worlds, take a look at this post on Learning and Exploring Through Play which has amazing ideas.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Kinetic Sand (Homemade) - Tuff Spot Blog Hop

Today we are back with the Adventures of Adam blog hop celebrating the A - Z of tuff spots. Today we are on the letter K, and today K is for....KINETIC SAND!

If you haven't heard of kinetic sand it is sand with "magical" properties. It's mouldable, but it also has it's own motion - it moves all on it's own! I have heard a lot about kinetic sand and seen videos of it, however when people mention it they always say they have bought it. It is readily available on Amazon, however it is quite expensive. Since I didn't know if Isabelle would like its texture I didn't want to spend a lot on it and decided to search for a homemade recipe. I found one here, which I tweaked to form our very own homemade kinetic sand.

To make the sand you will need:
+ 5 cups play sand
+ 2 cups corn flour
+ 1 - 2 cups water
+ 2 teaspoons of washing up liquid

Mix the play sand and the corn flour thoroughly, then combine the washing up liquid with the water. This is where it gets tricky. It is a very fine line between having mouldable kinetic sand and a soppy, gloopy mess. The best idea is to add the water in small increments, starting with half a cup to get going, and mix thoroughly. Decide if your sand is the right texture then add more as needed. My sand was totally dry when I started and I used almost 2 entire cups of water. If you make it too wet, just leave it to dry out for a little while as it does so very quickly.

You can see the texture of the sand I made in the video below. It also shows the weird way kinetic sand works - you can mould it and cut it, but it moves and creeps all by itself. Really weird stuff...but very cool! I was so pleased with how the sand turned out. I was worried my homemade version wouldn't work at all, but I am very happy to report this is one of my proudest makes so far!

Of course, this is a super messy activity so it had to take place on our tuff spot. I mixed the kinetic sand in another tray and popped it on the tuff spot, before letting Isabelle loose. Since I wasn't sure exactly how it would move, I wasn't sure exactly what we should DO with it, so I got out our normal sand toys - bucket, scrapers, spades. Isabelle was convinced it was moon sand, but as soon as we started playing she shook her head and said "No, not my moon sand", so although they have some similar properties she could easily tell the difference.

The spades were great, as we were able to scoop the sand up and dump it down. As soon as it hit the tuff spot it started to creep and move, and it was just fascinating to watch. As the sand is still somewhat mouldable and stiff we were able to build sandcastles with it - although it took a few hard 'magic taps' to get them out of the moulds. Some of the sandcastles stood up with very little motion, and one or two spread out completely so Isabelle and I would make one each at the same time to compare the difference. We chopped the sand up using the paint scrapers, and talked about the colour of each scraper as well. Isabelle also enjoyed digging at the castles I made to destroy them, however she was annoyed that they didn't crumble as easily as the moon sand castles usually do and she soon learnt to put a bit more force into destroying these castles - however, much of the time her efforts were no use as the castles smushed down themselves despite her best efforts!

The one big difference between the homemade kinetic sand and bought sand is the mess. Apparently, bought kinetic sand is mess free as it only sticks to itself and leaves no residue. The same can NOT be said for our home made version. It is messy! That's why the tuff spot was so invaluable for this - the sand spread and left a white residue presumably from the cornflour. As it does leave a residue it needs to be used in an area where mess is no issue. It is still quite easy to pick up for tidy up, however, and the photo below shows I was able to scoop it back into the tray at the end of the activity. Isabelle isn't usually great with wet, messy textures so I assumed she wouldn't much like this. However, she was more than happy to get stuck in to play even when the sand did cling to her fingers. The sand does feel moist to the touch,and it has an unusual texture - not quite that of moon sand, but not simply wet sand either as it feels much more silky. It's so hard to capture photos which do this sand justice!

Isabelle soon tired of the sand as it wasn't her beloved sand (which she asked if we could get out afterwards). I, however, will never tire of this stuff and spent ages playing with it long after she had moved on. The way it spreads, creeps and slobs about is just so interesting to watch. I think older children would be so interested in the motion of this homemade sand. While it is not as dramatic as the bought sand I have seen in motion, it is clear to see it move to keep older children (and adults!) engaged.

I have kept the kinetic sand to dry it out and simply pop it back into Isabelle's sand pit where it will disperse amongst the rest of the sand and just get back to being normal old stuff. But now I know how easy it is to make, I know that I will be playing with homemade kinetic sand lots over the coming years.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Isabelle is (almost) 2

How can it be that it is two years since I was sitting at home on maternity leave, watching One Born Every Minute while bouncing on a birthing ball, waiting. And waiting. And then waiting some more! I can't believe that Isabelle is going to be 2 in just a few weeks - where has the time gone?

Every mother I'm sure will agree that you simply do not notice your children growing. I haven't woken up one morning and looked at Iz and thought "Whoa! You grew!" She changed so subtly that it's imperceptible to my naked eye. It's only when I look back at pictures of her that I really see how much she has changed, in the last year especially. I now look back and laugh that we used to think her hair was so long - it looks so short compared to what she has now!

We don't have any big plans for her birthday at all - no party planned this year (I'm still pleased with how well I pulled off her first birthday party!) for a few reasons. We don't plan on big parties every year for starters, as we don't think they are really necessary. We will have years of parties when she is at school, no doubt, and be wishing for a nice quiet family day. Secondly, and most importantly, we are having our kitchen redone the week after her birthday so we will have no kitchen to speak of! 

We may have a little lunch on the Saturday (her birthday is Friday) for my sister and brother, sister in law and nephews to come and see her, but that's it.

I haven't decided what we will do on the day itself. I would love to take her to the farm as she loves it. However, it's the last day of the school holidays so I think it will be packed and I don't want to have to fight our way through. I haven't thought of anything else though, so I should get my thinking cap on!

I keep wavering on her presents - I bought a big farm for her months ago but I don't think she would quite appreciate it yet, so not 100% sure on that! Her little gifts have been ordered, so I just have her BIG gift to buy - although that's actually coming from all our family. I would like to make her some new playdough and moon sand as well, as she loves playing with both of those above most of her other toys.

So there isn't much to plan, all we really plan to do is have a lovely family day with the best girl in the whole world.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Ice Painting - Tuff Spot Blog Hop

Yet again today I am very excited to be joining up with Adventures of Adam as part of their current blog hop. This blog hop is based around the A - Z of tuff spots, and today we are on the letter I.

Ice painting is something which I have wanted to try for a while, so decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to give it a go. I wanted to use our tuff spot for the activity as I was worried it would be extremely messy as the ice began to melt, and knew that our beloved tuff spot would contain all the mess created. I also like to use the tuff spot for painting with Isabelle so that we have loads of room for paper - and even then I find that we cover the paper so quickly, so I don't know how anyone gets away with just a sheet of A4!

Making the ice paints was really easy - I actually made 3 types to see which would work best. I used:

* acrylic paint
* finger paint
* food colouring
* ice cube tray
* lolly sticks (cut in half)

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

First spring lunch outside!

Isabelle loves being outside, so much more so than being inside. It's great to get her out to the park or for a walk during winter when it's dry, but it's SO much better to be able to allow her to plough around the garden all day long! Sadly, our garden had a tendency to become a winter mud pit, made worse by the dogs, so it's not ideal for playing outside during winter. She does play outside a lot in winter....just elsewhere.

Finally, this week, the time has come when we are able to get back out into the garden. It's no longer a mud pit and we can finally get back out to play!

When we can, we always have lunch outside. We don't bother getting the table and chairs out, usually when we are in the garden we just pop down on the back step which is exactly what we did on Monday. She was so excited to get to sit outside again, so I can't wait to do it every day.  We then played outside for much of the afternoon, and that will be even more exciting after her birthday and once we get all her outdoor toys back out to play.

For lunch we just had a ham and cheese wrap each. We are so lucky that she is a great little eater and will wolf down pretty much anything. You can see in the pictures below the cups I bought from Center Parcs recently - they are my new favourites. Isabelle loves them too and since they are made of melamine we don't need to worry about her dropping them. She loves when we all have one so she can tell us who's cup is which colour.

I just snapped a few pictures and while the first isn't overly great, I was struck as I often am by just how much she looks like me! And in the second, she looks relatively like a baboon!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

My current to do list

Does anyone else just have a constant 'to do' list, which never seems to get any shorter? And does anyone else procrastinate like I do?

Here is my current to do list:

+ Clear out kitchen cupboards ready for removal
+ Sort dry nappy load
+ Sort out Isabelle's toys ready for the influx from her birthday
+ Order her big present
+ Buy my mum a birthday card 
+ Finish book
+ Put craft bits into new storage boxes
+ Clean fridge
+ Take newborn nappies to a friend
+ Make orthodontist, regular dentist, contact lens and hairdresser appointments (more chance of pigs flying than me doing them all!)
+ Mark coursework x 2 subjects
+ Mark other work
+ Plan next lessons
+ Complete PRSD

Just a couple of things then...........

Monday, 16 March 2015

Our Mother's Day Picnic

Yesterday was, of course, Mother's Day in the UK. I'm not a huge fan of Mother's Day - largely because it always falls right beside my own mum's birthday (this Thursday) so it's always a hassle of thinking up gifts! And while I think it's nice to have a day to appreciate mums, and I do like to tell my own that I appreciate her, it turns out I'm not actually that fussed on having the same myself.

I don't need, or expect, huge gifts or expressions of gratitude. I did get two lovely little gifts which came with great thought behind them, but honestly hearing Isabelle say "Happy Smothers Day!" was really all I needed. (Even though she then said it to Simon and Humpty Dumpty....!)

I do, however, like it to be a special day to do something as a family. Simon had organised a picnic and a walk at a local forest park which was fabulous. It was nothing fancy - just ham and cheese sandwiches, some soup and some crisps - but without a single question it is my favourite EVER activity that we have done together. Sitting together and having lunch in the great outdoors was wonderful and hopefully something we will do lots more of in the future. (It's also a tick off my spring bucket list!)

We then fed the swans and had a quick walk before heading off to my mum and dad's for dinner.

Before Mother's Day, Isabelle and I made some cards for her grannies and great-grannies, which I also sent off with some pictures to her great-granny. I know that all 4 grannies appreciate a hand made card, even when it looks like it was made by an (almost!) 2 year old! We had fun making them, and I know they are well loved by all.

What a perfect Mother's Day! Even if my camera died after the picnic...

Friday, 13 March 2015

Sensory Play: Light Box

This was originally posted on Adventures of Adam as part of their 5 Senses Challenge for the sense of SIGHT - which gave me the push I needed to do an activity which I have had on my 'To Do' list for a while: a light box.

You can buy light boxes but almost all of the posts I have read from mums around the world use a homemade version, and that is exactly what we did. I used a large, long and low, plastic storage box  and two sets of fairy lights which I also bought Ikea. The lights were battery operated so I simply spread them out in the box and set the lid on top. I was impressed with how much light the fairy lights gave off, and although I had initially thought about adding more, the two strings were plenty on their own. I have seen people use sheets of white paper on the storage box roof to give an even 'spread' of light, however I liked the idea of having areas which were brighter than others so decided to leave the lid clear.

You can add anything to a light box, however I decided to keep it simple for our first attempt. Isabelle adores water beads and I thought that their translucent appearance would make them perfect for light box play. I also added neon shot glasses, some of her Ikea plates and cups and glow sticks. I had meant to include our sensory blocks, however in all the excitement these got left out. 

I set the light box up on our tuff spot to ensure the water beads didn't spread too far, and set the whole thing in out living room with the blinds and curtains shut. As it is getting lighter and lighter these days, I decided to do the activity after dinner to get the darkest time before bed.

Without a doubt, this is one of our most successful activities ever! Isabelle absolutely ADORED it, and she played for an hour with her light box and materials, and seemed to have a blast.

I had assumed she would be worried, scared or cross about the lights being off but she didn't utter a word about it and went straight to it to play. Having the light box being the source of light for the whole room really changed the look of all her play things and seemed to draw and hold her attention more than 'normal' conditions. The neon glasses glowed, the water beads seemed to twinkle with light, and their colour changed depending on which glass they were put in to. I really loved how something as simple as changing the lights in the room gave everything such a vastly different look. As we usually play during daylight, or with the overhead light on, the light box not only lit up all her toys, but also cast different shadows and generally made our whole session look so much different than normal.

Mostly, Isabelle played with the water beads by putting them into the glasses, cup and bowl. She enjoyed pouring them from one glass to another, and cramming them into the small spaces of the shot glasses. She made 'drinks' for Simon and I, and a bowl of 'snacks' for Simon too (doing this, she sang "Drinks and snacks, drinks and snacks, everybody loves drinks and snacks"!). She pushed the beads about with the glow sticks, and then pretended the glow sticks were straws through which she could drink her drink. (Obviously glow sticks should not be put into mouths, and so her straw use was short lived). I couldn't believe how well occupied she was, just playing the the beads on the lid. 

She then spent ages filling up her bowl, then the glass, and enjoyed sticking the glow sticks into the beads to have them stand up straight. For me, the best bit was hearing her narrate her play. She chatted the entire time she played, giving us a blow by blow of her every move, and chatting with herself about what was going where, and what everything was. Another favourite activity was stacking up the shot glasses, over and over again. I was so impressed with her hand-eye coordination, especially in the diminished lighting.

Isabelle also really loved the glow sticks, and we had our own mini disco with them! I put on some music and she and I had a rave around the living room, dancing and waving our glow sticks like 80s dancers. It was so much fun, and Isabelle even said to daddy "Party's in here!" so she was obviously having a great time! It was the closest I have been to a night club in a long time, and the neon shot glasses only added to that!

Overall, our light box to explore the sense of sight was a big success. I can't wait to explore more activities with light boxes in future, and I have a feeling they are going to be featuring a lot in our play - especially next winter.

You can follow along with all our play activities on Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter

Thursday, 12 March 2015

I hate "The Terrible Twos"!!

I can't have it. I just cannot stand the phrase "the terrible twos".

To be fair, it's one of many very common phrases I can't stand (potty training is another), but this one really gets to me. And, funnily enough, as Isabelle and her friends are heading to the age of 2 it's a phrase which I am hearing a lot.

Why do I hate it? Because of everything associated with it. When people say "the terrible twos" what they mean is that their child is having tantrums, being uncooperative, not listening, not doing what they are asked to do and generally just being a wee bit awkward. Which does actually sound pretty terrible.

So the idea is that toddlers are behaving in a terrible fashion and that we need to put a stop to all this horrible behaviour. We must ignore these tantrums! We must not give in! We shall not yield to these TERRIBLE TODDLERS!

I hate it. The whole idea of it. I hate the thought that toddlers are being 'terrible'. Toddlers ARE NOT TERRIBLE! They are many things, not all which which are good, but calling a child terrible is truly a horrible thing to say. They simply cannot behave like an older child. They simply cannot deal with everything life is throwing at them. They simply cannot express how they feel. That doesn't make them terrible - it makes me feel so terrible FOR them!

I don't think that at 2 years old a toddler really understands why they can't do something, or why they can't have something. They understand that 'No' means they can't have/do it, but they don't always understand the reason why. All they know is that they REALLY want to have/do it and yet they aren't allowed. Imagine how frustrating it would be to not understand why you can't do whatever you want. No of us like being told they can't and we, as adults, understand the reasons.

Toddlers are also at that amazing age where they are starting to understand that they are their own little person. They don't HAVE to say please - we can't MAKE them. So they begin to assert this independence which comes out as defiance to what we ask them to do. Will you help me put these toys away? No. Will you say sorry for hitting the dog in the face? No. I don't see this as a child being terrible or uncooperative, or downright rude. I see this as a child who is beginning to assert their independence, and isn't everyone always banging on about how wonderful it is to have a child who is independent? Yes, it is annoying trying to get a stubborn little human to say or do the thing we want them to - it's extremely annoying at times. But you have to admire their perseverance in a way...

And I know for sure that they can't deal with their feelings. They have all these insane feelings flying about which they don't know how to control and they don't know how to verbalise - no wonder they go into melt down sometimes! Sometimes I get so frustrated I am close to tears, and toddlers get frustrated so easily because they just can't always do what they wish they could, so I understand why they scream and shout. It's a big world. Things are confusing, scary, exciting, frustrating - all big emotions which tiny people can't always handle. Unlike adults they can't just take themselves away off for a few deep breaths and bury their emotions, so they deal with it the only way they can. Screaming. Shouting. Crying.

There is all this chat about ignoring tantrums, and it drives me bonkers. Imagine you were so frustrated that you burst in to tears and everybody ignored you. You would probably think "Heartless sods don't give a damn about me". But yet we are expected to ignore our kids when the same happens to them? I know people say it works, and it is each to their own, but ignoring my child when she is struggling is just not my way of parenting.

Now, please don't for a minute think that if Isabelle screams her head off because I won't buy her a bag of sweets (not that she's allowed sweets) that I will give in because I don't want her feelings hurt. No way! However, I do think that when she is struggling to handle her emotions that I should be there to help. Much of the time that involves me bundling her up in a hug and saying "I'm sorry you are having a tough time right now." Isabelle has a habit, when she is asked not to do something or she thinks she has been 'naughty', of covering her eyes with her hands and putting her head down. Usually an act like this is seen as even more defiance - a child ignoring a parent, a child huffing. During this time I say to Isabelle "You take all the time you need to gather your thoughts", and allow her the time she thinks she needs away from the world to allow her emotions to settle down until she feels ready to move on. I don't see this as a bad thing at all - I think it is incredible that she can take the time she needs to work through her feelings at such a young age!

I very much believe that children need clear rules and clear boundaries to help them. How can we expect them to grow up to respect society's rules if we don't teach them the basics at a young age? That's why I will never allow a tantrum to dictate what I give to Isabelle/buy for her just because she wants it - that isn't how adult life works and toddlers have to learn that. However, Isabelle has plenty of clear rules and boundaries which I can demonstrate to her while I respect the fact that she is a toddler whose understanding of the world, and of herself, is still very limited. I don't expect her to control herself as an older child would. I expect her to get frustrated and cry and scream, simply because she doesn't know how else to deal with her feelings.

I imagine a lot of people will disagree with me and my thoughts on the terrible twos, just as I disagree with many people. Every family has to do what is right for them, but I really urge the parent of a "terrible two" toddler to stop and think next time they think their child is having a moment - what has happened? What is really wrong? Is it really because they can't have that toy or is it because they are frustrated that they are not in control of their own life? And how can you help without dismissing your child's feelings as unimportant and unworthy of your consideration?

Monday, 9 March 2015

Our friend filled two days

I am so incredibly lucky to have a wonderful group of friends with kids the same age as Isabelle, all of whom I met through our local breastfeeding group. I started going when Isabelle was 6 weeks old and still go now and, although we have seen plenty of people come and go, there are a group of us who have remained there the whole time. Even better than that, we love to get out and about with the little people to different places, letting them play together and exhaust themselves, which is exactly what we have been doing over the last two days.

On Sunday, Belfast Children's Festival was held which was basically a big fun day for families. Part of it was a 'baby rave' - a little disco for little people. We all headed along to that (even roping some daddies in) to mixed results - some loved it, some weren't so keen.

Today, Monday, is our usual breastfeeding group day. We had arranged to go to the park first however the horrific weather quickly put a stop to that. When we decided that the kids still needed to be 'exercised', we decided to forgo the breastfeeding group and take our tribe of toddlers to the gymnastics centre instead. It was shut, annoyingly, so instead we relocated to soft play where they ran themselves ragged, making for 6 very tired little people afterwards.

Isabelle loves her friends. She was particularly in love with them today - she was all hugs and kisses to them. She is like that with her cousins daily, but is usually a tad more reserved with her friends. Today, I had to ask her to GET OFF one of the other girls as her enthusiastic hugging wasn't being received in equally enthusiastic measures! When we are at home, she asks where her friends are, and when I say "We're going to see your friends" she starts to list their names and clap her hands. It is so sweet to see how much she enjoys their company. Toddlers tend to be pretty lone rangers - I find they usually play near one another, but quite often not actually with one another. Today, however, the total opposite was true. They all loved having the company and having other tinies to play with.

I didn't take any pictures during either of these things unfortunately! I did, however, take a whack of pictures of Isabelle this afternoon. I was trying to get a good one to send to her great-granny, however Isabelle was far more interested in writing her shopping list and playing waitress. She kept coming up and asking what I wanted for lunch, then diligently 'writing it down' before heading to her kitchen to make it. She was just so BUSY! She is wonderfully insane and totally hilarious.

Oh crayon - you are HILARIOUS

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Our Centre Parcs break

Late last year Simon and I got into a conversation with his parents about what we should get one another for Christmas. A bright spark (me) said that it may be a nice idea to have a little holiday together instead of buying gifts for one another. Fast forward to last week, and we were off to Centre Parcs.

Simon and his family have been to Centre Parcs before several times. They live just over an hour away from the Elveden forest site, and Simon has told me (and I've seen the video evidence of) their trips there when they were younger. We decided to head there for a week, as it encapsulates the type of holiday which suits his family best - active and outdoorsy. The last week in February was decided upon and we booked a 3 bedroom villa to accommodate Simon, Isabelle, his parents, his sister and myself. I wasn't sure what to expect never having been, and after reading Hayley's experience at Bluestone over on Sparkles and Stretchmarks, I was a little bit apprehensive. However, after a week at Centre Parcs I can say without any hesitation that it is fantastic! (Which, by the way, I told Hayley who is now thinking of heading to Centre Parcs herself!)

The accommodation is largely made up of self-catered villas. I was disappointed to see all the villas were attached together, however quickly found that they have been so cleverly built that they are attached just at corners, and that reduces noise between them and means that even when you are out on the patio area it is pretty hard to tell you have neighbours. Inside the villa was great. It was sparkling clean and had pretty much everything we needed for our stay, including a full kitchen, bathroom, TV and DVD, fireplace, 2 toilets, patio with table/chirs/BBQ and a lovely dining area. I was really impressed with the cot that was in the villa - Isabelle hates travel cots (and don't they look so uncomfortable?) so it was lovely to see the cot we had was made of sturdy wood. The living area was a great size with plenty of room for Isabelle to play and the dining area had plenty of room for all 6 of us round the table, including the high chair which was provided too. It was a great base for the week, and the absolute best thing about the villa were the big patio doors which looked out onto the lake. The ducks and geese (which I hate!) who lived on the water would come up to the villa to be fed, and the squirrels were constantly bounding about on the outside table looking for food. We even had a little deer come right up to the window! Isabelle loved throwing food out for the animals and watching them come up, and she loved it even more when we went out and she was able to chase the ducks about.

As it was self catering we ate in a lot, however the restaurants at Centre Parcs were fabulous. There are around 8 or 9 places to eat, along with 4 Starbucks (including one in the pool!) and a take out place. The restaurants varied from French to American and were all really tasty, however the food was quite expensive, which was maybe the only downside. However, the reason I loved the restaurants is because they were the most child friendly restaurants EVER. Each one had a mini soft play area which was amazing for keeping Isabelle entertained while we waited for dinner. It made all the difference between having a happy toddler and a grumpy toddler while we waited. In one restaurant, Huck's, not only was there a huge soft play area, but they also had a kids' buffet which allowed us to feed Isabelle asap, so she didn't have to wait at all. Everyone with kids knows how long the wait can be for food to arrive with a hungry child, so little things like this made such a difference to our eating out experiences. There were great baby changing facilities too, and I had a peek at the baby feeding rooms as well. Which reminds me - several of the restaurants offered baby food jars and a microwave so that even tiny diners were catered for.

So, what did we get up to? Well, despite the fact that you can do every activity under the sun at Centre Parcs - from archery to spa treatments - we actually took it pretty easy. Simon has his broken wrist, and Isabelle is still too young for most of the activities so we didn't exert ourselves too much. We spent a lot of time at the swimming pool which has a huge main pool with a lazy river, and an awesome kids' section with slides. There are lots of slides for adults too - including The Cyclone which is a world first water slide because of its insane angles. I went on it once with Simon's dad and thought I was going to wet myself and I was actually shaking when I got off! Despite that, the pool area is fantastic - and Isabelle LOVED it. She squealed with joy and had a wonderful time when we were there.

We also did a bit of cycling, which is the big 'thing' at Centre Parcs. As no cars are allowed into the complex people largely get about on bike. We hired bikes and a trailer for Isabelle which she loved, despite my worries she would hate it. She would dictate who was allowed to pull her that day, and Simon's poor mum seemed to draw the short straw a few times! Simon hired an adult trike, with the idea being it would be more stable for him and his broken wrist. WRONG. It was a death trap, and he's lucky he didn't break the other wrist! We cycled round the complex a few times, and stopped one day for a picnic as well.

Simon and his family played badminton a few times while Isabelle napped and they also took a boat out on the lake. His mum and sister went to the spa, and we played some crazy golf and went to the beach as well. We spent a lot of time at the park as well, which Isabelle really loved, although she did take a dislike to their swings! Her favourite thing at Centre Parcs was probably the mini trollies in the supermarket - she adored these and sped round putting things in with glee. She was a bit of a danger to society, and almost had the ankles off quite a few people!

There are only two things I didn't love about our week. Firstly, there are NO laundry facilities at all in Elveden. For us, that meant we had to change to disposable nappies for a week and leave our lovely cloth nappies at home. It also meant that we had to take a full week's worth of clothing and bring home a full week of washing, and that by the last few days the towels we had were really a bit gross. I cannot understand why there is nothing for this - the rest of the Parc is so fabulous and this really lets it down. Secondly, the activities are insanely expensive. £6 for 30 minutes of ping pong, for example. All you get for your money is your villa, the swimming pool, the paths to walk/cycle and the parks. Everything else has to be paid for and if you have several kids it would be very costly. So this is definitely not a cheap option holiday, especially as it isn't cheap to begin with!

That said, overall we had a great week. It was lovely to get to spend time with Simon's family, and for them to get to spend time with Isabelle and do so much with her. I was so pleasantly surprised with the whole place and can definitely see us going back many times in the years to come. In fact, we are already looking to book another Centre Parcs holiday later in the year!

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