Things to do in the summer holidays: make a boredom jar

Making a boredom jar

The summer holidays are upon us! I’m trying to be organised this year and plan lots of activities and get-togethers. But there’s always going to be some slack time when everyone gets a little bored.

For these moments, make a boredom jar. All you need to do is write down lots of activities on bits of paper and fill a jar with them!

Paint a picture….go on a scooter ride…write someone a letter…bake biscuits…read a book…post a postcard…make a dinosaur world…

Get your children to write down some ideas too (although maybe tell them not to write down go to Legoland).

I’m keeping mine really simple and cheap. Oh, and if you suggest a craft activity, remember to have all the things ready in the cupboard.

If you need any other inspiration how about checking out my posts on making a miniature garden and magic potions?

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Big blue skies

Ely to Coveney bikeride, Fenland in summer

Someone, somewhere, has switched on the summer switch. It’s amazing isn’t it? After a weekend of basking in the sunshine, a Monday morning has a completely different hue. I had a big to-list waiting for me after I’d dropped the boys off at school, but there’s something about warm, summer days that makes everything feel more spontaneous. So, instead of riding my bike straight home, I took a detour.

I meandered around the labyrinth of quiet housing estates for a while, but then found myself drawn to the edge of town and across to the quiet country road that leads to Coveney, a little village just outside Ely.

Ely to Coveney bikeride, Fenland in summer

On a hot day, it’s great to be whizzing along on two wheels: the wind in your hair and few cars passing you by. You hardly feel the heat, and when you’re used to living in a busy town, the peace of a quiet country road is bliss. The big blue skies of Fenland in summer are a sight to be relished – beauty is to be seen in every direction. From swathes of red poppies, to golden corn, it’s all there.

Ely to Coveney bikeride, Fenland in summer

Ely to Coveney bikeride, Fenland in summer

Ely to Coveney bikeride, Fenland in summer

I felt exhilarated, yet calm. And when I got back home my mind felt more focused and productive than it had for weeks. Getting a bike is really one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Does summer make you feel more spontaneous too?

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Wildlife spotting in the garden, plus a vlog!

Cloud binoculars craft

There’s so much going on in the garden at this time of year. In even the smallest outdoor space you can spot all sorts of bugs, insects and other wildlife. You don’t have to look hard: just pause for a moment and it will come wiggling, buzzing, creeping or fluttering its way to you.

This summer BEAR nibbles have partnered with the Wildlife Trust to encourage children to get out in the fresh air. Each box of yummy BEAR paws contains some cards with fun and inspiring outdoor projects – from building a den and leaf rubbing to camouflage headbands and open-air yoga.

Our little town garden is absolutely teeming with wildlife at the moment. And what do you need to spot all that wildlife? A pair of binoculars of course! One of the little activities from BEAR is for a simple pair of cloud-spotting binoculars.

Making cloud binoculars craft

Making cloud binoculars craft

Tom loved making his and used them to go and look at his favourite garden residents: our bucket of frogs. We discovered them when we were clearing away a pile of old fence panels and buckets. We’d inadvertently created a perfect habitat for them. After we’d cleared everything we worried they’d be unhappy and leave, but they’ve stuck around. We spotted three in there with the binoculars yesterday!

Frogs living in a bucket

Here’s an adorable video about our wildlife crafting session!

Thank you to BEAR nibbles, who kindly sent us our crafting supplies and lots of yummy snacks. 

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Life lately: trying not to let summer pass us by

Seasalt dress and larkspur

You’d be forgiven for thinking the summer hadn’t started yet.  I can’t believe it’s already nearly the end of term. We’re spending so long shivering under our umbrellas, checking the forecast and waiting for the warm summer to begin…if we’re not careful it’ll pass us by altogether.

Round here we’ve decided to just get on with the summer we’ve been given. Life goes on, even if the weather doesn’t always play ball.

July has certainly been a busy month for us so far. Last week we took advantage of the teacher strike day and went to Legoland. I feel slightly guilty that we had such a fun day while they were striking, but I’m not one to miss the chance to bypass the crowds. We had a great day. And you know what? It didn’t rain. It was our second visit, and was much more relaxing than last year as we knew where to go, and what to avoid.

Legoland Windsor

The following weekend I set up shop at Ely market for the first time. My shop is primarily online, but markets seem a great way to meet new customers and up my sales a bit. Sadly, I think we used up all our weather good fortune at Legoland. The weather was terrible and it rain lashed down for almost the entire day. It was a good test of our fortitude as stall holders though. It can only get better, hey?

Marmalade Pie

The next day we went punting in Cambridge – which was lovely. Rain threatened, but never really came. We were on a chauffeured tour as part of a work event, but we’d like to go back again for some solo punting very soon. Hopefully we won’t be the ones who lose their pole (there’re always someone)!

Punting in Cambridge

Punting

I had my birthday this week and was spoilt with lots of lovely presents and, even better, a day off school runs and swimming lessons. Can you guess how old I am? I’ll give you a clue.

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Lots has been happening in the garden too. The new plants have quietly got bigger and everything’s filling out. They don’t seem to mind the rain, although they definitely don’t like the army of slugs which creep out every night.

The garden in July

Verbena

The first of our new raised beds is also filled with peas and dwarf beans.

Raised bed with dwarf beans

You may also have noticed I’ve got a fringe again! As soon as you’ve finished growing one out, it’s time to have one cut in again… I’m not regretting it yet.

Long bob with fringe

So that’s a little bit of life lately. I hope you’re all enjoying the summer so far and the rain/politics/general gloom isn’t getting you down too much!

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Five perfect present ideas for a teacher

Perfect teacher present ideas

It’s nearly the end of term. Time to find the perfect thank you gift for your child’s teacher!

Here are my top five ways to show your appreciation for someone who has worked their socks off all year and deserves a treat….

Stationery… teachers write an awful lot of lists and mark a lot of books. Pretty pens, notebooks and sticky notes will always be welcome and useful.

Perfect ideas for teacher presents

A bottle of fizz… much better than chocolates. Aldi’s Champagne is only £10.99 and is genuinely nice – as is their Crement du Jura, which is £7.49 a bottle. In fact, maybe someone would like to buy me a bottle as an end of term treat…?

Something pretty… a nice scarf, a keyring, a pair of earrings or a scented candle. A little bit of luxury will be welcome after spending a summer locked in a classroom with lots of grubby five year olds.

Perfect presents ideas for teachers, bird keyring

Cook something… biscuits, fudge or homemade jam, perhaps? Wrap it in cellophane tied with pretty ribbons and a label. Or, if you don’t have time for baking, how about putting together a little box of afternoon tea things? Some nice tea or coffee and a box of posh biscuits would go down well.

And finally, the simple homemade card… most teachers would probably rather have this than anything else. Whatever else you buy, or don’t buy, always remember to include this. It will mean the most.

All images are from the Marmalade Pie gift collection, which you can view here. There’s free postage until Friday 15th if you use the code TEACHER at the checkout! 

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What can you do on a bus?

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When was the last time you caught a bus? 

Catching a bus isn’t always the most glamorous way to travel, but I actually rather like it. Unlike driving by car, I enjoy the fact that I can sit back and relax while someone else does the hard work. And I don’t have to find a parking space when I get there.

Ok so a bus isn’t as fast as a train, but I like the fact that it usually takes you closer to where you want to go. If I’m going shopping in Cambridge I can choose between a twenty minute train ride, plus a twenty minute walk at both ends or a fifty minute bus ride with only a five minute walk at either end. So, really, there’s not much in it.

And what do I do when I’m sitting on a bus? As part of ‘Catch a bus week’, Stagecoach asked me to find out. So, one sunny morning I hopped on a bus to Cambridge. Here’s what I did…

Read a book… There’s nothing revolutionary about this. It’s a classic bus activity, and I must have read hundreds over the years. I like making an effort to put away my phone and enjoy a few chapters of my current book. A simple bit of escapism.

Reading on a bus

Do some crochet… making a granny square certainly passes the time. I bet you’d have enough to cover a double decker bus by the end of the year. If you wanted to.

Crochet on a bus

Make lists… Make sure you always carry and notebook and pen. I often come up with my best ideas when I’m out of the house and away from distractions. Jotting things down or writing a to-do list is a great way to feel ahead of yourself before you even step off the bus.

Make a list

Daydream…  You don’t have to fill every second of your bus journey with improving activities. Sometimes there’s nothing better than just looking out of the window and letting your mind slide. Don’t think of it as wasted time. Instead it’s some well-deserved time-out for your frazzled brain.

Daydreaming

And if you do want to fiddle with your phone… then buses are pretty high tech these days. My bus had actual plug sockets, and some even have free Wifi. That certainly didn’t happen in the old days.

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So, next time you’re going somewhere why not try catching a bus? What would you do with your journey?

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The perfect party bag

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What goes into a perfect party bag?

If you ask my children they’d always say, ‘sweets, sweets, sweets, oh and maybe a toy’. And that really is the magic formula. 

Making party bags is one of my favourite bits of organising parties for my children. You don’t have to spend much to make it special.

The bag. If you’re having a themed birthday party then it’s great to tie your party bags in with it. You can buy plastic bags printed with themes, but I prefer to choose buy paper bags which can be decorated and customised. A plain brown paper bag looks fantastic with a nice sticker and the child’s name written on it. Another favourite of mine is to buy little candy-stripe paper sweet bags and seal them up with a pretty sticker. Your children can help too!

Pony party party / treat bags

The toy. I prefer to buy one reasonably durable little toy, rather than fill the bag with lots of little things that’ll break immediately. These could be plastic animals, some wind-up toys, a classic joke or a little puzzle. If you’re not expecting too many guests then Lego minifigures, Beanie Boo keyrings or stationery are perfect – although definitely not budget friendly if you’re inviting the whole class!

Party bag ideas

The sweets. Like most parents I’m a bit of sweet grinch and groan when one of my boys comes back from a party with a massive hoard. Less is definitely more. I tend to go for one miniature packet of sweets, or a fun size chocolate bar. You can make things more exciting by matching your sweets to your theme and making your own little cellophane bags, like I did with these edible Ewoks (aka jelly bears).

Edible Ewok sweet party favours

Keeping costs down. If you’re inviting more than ten children, or have booked an expensive venue or entertainer, then don’t go overboard on the party bags. Keep things really simple and just give each child a little paper bag of sweets sealed with a pretty sticker. Or give everyone a bottle of bubble mixture with a decorated luggage label tied round the top.

Party bags

Leave out the cake wrapped in a napkin. I know this could be scandalous, but I never bother putting cake in the party bags. We just eat it at the party! Hardly anyone ever wants a slice of soggy cake when they get home, do they? A great alternative is to give everyone an iced biscuit wrapped in cellophane when they leave. Much less likely to get squashed on the way home.

Th tilt puzzle, tattoos and practical jokes are all available in the party section of my online shop! 

What do you put in your party bags?

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#OnePerfectThing in June

Blueberries

Perfection often feels out of reach. But however imperfect you’re finding life, you can make an effort to find #OnePerfectThing. Something which makes you pause, smile and feel thankful.

So, farewell June. You seem to be over almost before you’ve begun. This month has been unusually tumultuous for those of us in the UK. The weather has matched the mood. Endless rain and a cold, nasty wind lashing our faces.

But there has been some sunshine, and its rarity has only made it more joyful. I’ve been buoyed up by how many of you have embraced the idea of #OnePerfectThing on Instagram. It’s all about looking beyond the cares of everyday and talking the time to capture a small moment of perfection. Raindrops on roses, a ray of sunshine after the rain…the little things that keep us sane.

Here are some of my favourite pictures from Instagram this month…

OnePerfectThing June

Top row, left to right: @sallytangle / @jennyseaves / @beautifulclutter

Middle row, left to right: @pushing_the_moon / @lindyann38 / @sophosborne

Bottom row, left to right: @trot_a_mouse / @three_sons_later / @katgotthecream

My absolute favourite from the gems above has to be the photo from @lindyann38 – a bunch of flowers gathered from her rain-soaked garden. It really sums up #OnePerfectThing.

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Thanks again to everyone who joined in during June, I’m looking forward to seeing what July brings! 

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When your child doesn’t talk

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When you become a parent for the first time, life becomes punctuated by lots of little milestones. Reassuring little beacons in what can otherwise be an exhausting and confusing landscape.

But what happens when your baby fails to reach one of those milestones? Today I’d like to share my experiences of delayed speech in young children. I hope that this will prove informative and reassuring for anyone going through the same situation.

Both of my boys had delayed speech and neither spoke clearly until they were over four years old. These days you’d never know they’d struggled, but it was a long journey. Here’s what I learnt along the way.

Try not to compare your child to other children. Trust your instincts. I eagerly waited for my first son to start talking, and got sick of people asking me if he was. By about 18 months his lack of speech became more and more noticeable. I was worried. I’d never done this before and everyone else’s child seemed to be talking so easily, babbling ‘Mama’ and more without hesitation. It’s hard not to feel like you’re doing something wrong. Try, whenever possible, to focus on your child. Are they responsive and able to communicate their needs to you without speech? Are they happy and generally well? If so, there’s unlikely to be much wrong.

Speak to your health visitor, nursery teacher or GP. If your child is under the age of two it’s unlikely that anyone will be very concerned by delayed speech. But it’s worth talking to your health visitor. One of the most useful things they can help you with is to arrange a hearing test. When my eldest was two and half, we had his hearing tested and it was found to be completely normal. As part of his hearing test, he had to respond to questions through actions – like using building blocks and colours – and it was reassuring that there were no concerns about his understanding and communication skills, even though he couldn’t actually talk, other than through certain limited sounds.

What’s wrong with my child? Probably nothing. There was nothing physically wrong with either of my children, but for some reason they just found talking incredibly difficult. With my eldest it was a classic case of delayed speech, whilst my youngest displayed disordered speech – he struggled to make the correct sounds and everything became very muddled. You can’t force change, and must be very, very patient. Eventually, with time and support, they will get there. Jumping to conclusions isn’t particularly helpful, especially when it will make you even more worried. You’d be surprised by what is considering ‘normal’ by speech therapists in young children.

Go to a speech and language drop-in. Our local children’s centre runs a speech and language drop in session, where you can call in with your child and speak informally to a speech therapist. This is the most common route to go down and it’s the best way, in my area at least, to get your child into the system. I took both my boys to one of these sessions, and then received a referral to have then individually assessed by a speech and language therapist at our local hospital.

Accept any help that’s offered. My eldest son’s delayed speech suddenly began to improve in the summer before he started school – it was almost as if a switch had been pressed in his brain. It all started to come together incredibly quickly. My youngest son’s speech problems proved a little harder to solve. He’d actually talked much earlier than his brother, but was displaying worrying signs of his speech actually deteriorating, rather than progressing. By the time he was getting close to starting school I decided to accept every bit of help that was on offer. This involved a course for me (very useful), weekly group sessions, one-on-one sessions with a speech therapist and, finally, a week of intensive speech therapy in the summer holidays. It was hard work, but it worked. By the time he started school he had come on in leaps and bounds – a total transformation over about six months. The therapists really did seem to unlock something in his brain, and for that I’m truly thankful. All of this help was provided by the NHS.

Learn a few tricks from the experts. One really useful bit of advice I learnt from the speech therapists is when struggling to understand what your child is trying to tell you, try not to respond by saying ‘I don’t understand you’. Children with speech difficulties often get very frustrated when you don’t understand them and often don’t want to repeat things. Instead, say to them ‘I’m sorry, my ears don’t always work properly, can you tell me that again?’. Another useful approach I learnt was to use puppets or toys to help your child to recognise correct models of speech. Take two toys, one says the word incorrectly and the other correctly. Ask your child to tell you which toy is right. We really did find this very useful and fun.

Patience, patience and more patience. In most cases, it’s as simple as that. I’m not saying it’s easy, and they were many, many times when I just wanted to wave a magic wand for my boys. But in the end they both got there, and these days you’d never know there’d been a problem. This isn’t because I didn’t anything amazing – it was all about taking deep breaths, accepting help when it’s offered and letting them get there in their own time.

I have written this post based on my own personal experiences. I am not an expert and all children are different. I hope, though, that this may help some people who are going through a similar experience. I read a lot online during my evenings of worry, and I’d have liked to have read something like this. 

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A country bike ride and a bit of thinking time

Pashley sonnet on a country bike ride

I don’t normally write about politics on this blog, but even I can’t avoid it today. I woke up on Friday morning feeling shocked with the result of the EU referendum. I wasn’t a fervent supporter of either side. My strongest feelings during the whole conflicting, bewildering campaign, was that I didn’t feel in any way qualified to make a decision of such magnitude. Voting Remain was the only option for me.

I thought it’d be close, but I hope it’d be in the other direction. Ever since the result I’ve felt shocked and confused. There’s only so much time you can spend reading about it before your head feels like it’s ready to implode.

A country bike ride was the perfect antidote. James and I rode from Ely to Coveney along a quiet country road. The flat, fenland landscape is ideal for cycling and you’re surrounded on all sides by cow parsley and fields of lush green crops. Ely Cathedral rises like a beacon in the distance.

Pashley sonnet on a country bike ride

My new Pashley bike was a dream to ride – so smooth and comfortable. I love the way I can sit upright while I’m riding it.  This is a must for me with a bad back and I’ve struggled on other bikes where you can’t maintain an upright position. We cycled nine miles, but I didn’t feel any discomfort the next day – which is a first for me and must owe a lot to the lovely saddle.

Pashley sonnet on a country bike ride

Whizzing down quiet country lanes was a great time to think and talk. Not just about the big issues, but also about things closer to home. I’ve spent a lot of time lately feeling like I’m not achieving as much as I should be – trying to run a home, a business and a blog and not really succeeding at any of them. But a pep talk in the sunshine with the breeze in my hair has given me a little boost.

And as for the current state of this country? I think it’s going to take a bit more than a pep talk to sort that mess out.

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