Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Haircut 100

This has been a week of haircuts. On Tuesday I took Buddy and Daisy to the hairdresser. It was only their second time and as such was still quite a novelty.

Daisy sat demurely throughout her 10 minute trim, loving every second.

But Buddy's hair took nearly an hour. First came the painful 'brushing-out' ceremony. He looks cheery in this photograph but actually his eyes were watering for most of it.

And then came the inevitable cutting of his curls; I could barely watch. I had to keep telling myself they'll grow back, they'll grow back. I love those little corkscrews.

Back at home Daisy found a book about someone who, like Buddy has untamed and tangled tresses. Sarah Dyer's The Girl with the Bird's-Nest Hair is a delightfully eccentric tale of Hollie whose hair becomes so wild and unkempt that a selection of birds set up home in it.

A cautionary story indeed. Thank goodness we didn't see any birds emerging from Buddy's hair as it was combed and cut. But as Daisy so wisely put it, 'I think we went to the hairdresser just in time, mummy.'

On Monday I gave the ivy in our garden a trim, and there was plenty of wildlife living in there. We witnessed many an indignant-looking creepy crawly suddenly exposed, rather unceremoniously evicted from its leafy home. It was a great opportunity to examine close up the spiders and ladybirds of our garden. And by the time we managed to clear up the cuttings most of them had scuttled or flown away to branches new.

Maybe it's because I've got haircuts on my mind, but I now think the little box trees in our front garden could do with a trim. Don't you think they're looking a bit out of shape with all their new growth? I certainly know two little gardeners/hairdressers who'd love to give it a go.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Tapas time

Ferris Bueller once said, 'Who could possibly go to school on a day like today?' I feel similarly about cooking when it's hot and sunny - who could possibly put on the oven, on a day like today? So we've just had tapas for tea.

This is really a huge cheat on my part - or rather me at my creative best - because let's make tapas really means let's raid the fridge for leftovers, put them in small bowls, use tiny forks and no plates - marvellous. Daisy tried tapas-tortellini for the first time today - this is a huge triumph by the way - and during our meal there was constant chatter about which combinations worked best. Sausage and houmous? Olive and cheese? How about cream cheese and bread-stick? OK, so I ate the lion's share of the carrot and cucumber batons but this meal really did get my two children excited about the concept of tasting new things and trying unusual combinations.

As they did so well with the savoury course I rustled up sweet tapas for pudding; fruit, chocolate bread-sticks and vanilla ice cream (unseen). I was very thankful for the tapas tray, a recent gift from my mother-in-law. As Ferris Bueller would say, 'If you have the means, I recommend you pick one up - it is so choice.'

Out of Africa

Outside the south entrance of the British Museum you can find this small oasis of calm; The South African Garden. Today, I enjoyed a sunny lunch break amongst its acid bright blooms and sculptural trees.

It certainly makes a statement of confident otherness in front of the steps, pillars and pomp of the very British Museum.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Draw, make and play... your own way

I note with interest that the strap line on the CBeebies Art magazine is, 'Draw, make and play... the CBeebies way! And boy, do they mean it.

I find this art and craft magazine aimed at children rather unsatisfying, irritating actually. It is too prescriptive and too detailed for my liking. It has play tips and tidy tips, idea tips and making tips, and its design is overwhelming with every page telling you to get stickers from one place, to stick them on another, to cut here, to fold there, to do this, to colour that. It tries to be the canvas for the art activities as well. There's just too much going on; so much text and too many messages. And it also manages to be patronising, for example, one of the pages has a picture of a submarine to cut out. Its text explains, 'Make a submarine to play with.' I'm so glad they told me it was for my children to play with. What would we have done without that handy hint?

Surely this way of making stuff is just a lesson for parents in how to follow a set of instructions. I find it hard to see where the creativity is in that. Daisy confidently takes what she wants from these magazines and tangentially creates just what she fancies. But my five year old (a reluctant crafter at best) is totally turned off by them; getting him to make things has to be achieved by a stealth approach, so this magazine is a big no-no for him. There must be children and grown-ups who enjoy this way of making things but for me it just doesn't leave any space for nurturing children's creativity. At all.

However, this weekend we happened upon one such publication. Having been ignored by both my children, I tore off its 'free gift' bag and spread the contents attractively on our table to see if either of them would bite. And the picture you see above was the result; a rather lovely collage made by my three year old Daisy. Look closely and you can see that everything is pre-cut and pre-themed. All the materials were supposed to be used to make an underwater mobile - with a set of instructions on how to make it, of course. But she took one look at the pile of goodies and announced it was going to be 'an under-the-sea picture.'

She then put her own plan into action and it was a far more creative and satisfying an activity for it. Daisy herself decided how to use the materials. In fact, if you look even closer at the photograph you can see her picture's story - which emerged with commentary as she built up the collage.

'The shark is just about to eat the baby starfish, its mummy is swimming in to save her. There is the seaweed, and this blue shiny bit is the deepest dark sea. And look, these bubble stickers go here and here, so all the sea creatures are doing parp-parps.'

Love it.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Jumble Tale

There's nothing like the simultaneous change of season and a growth-spurt to suddenly render 70% of a child's wardrobe useless. We've recently encountered this very phenomenon - and have finally got round to having a bit of a sort out. This has got me thinking about the clothes sorting sessions of the baby and toddler years. I remember it always resulted in three ever-optimistic piles; clothes too small - to give away, those too big - to store away, and those items just right - always, frustratingly and mysteriously, the smallest pile.

I think we still have this three-pile system (in theory, anyway) but the necessity for those sorting sessions has thankfully diminished; our children's clothes are now sized in years rather than months, which means Buddy and Daisy actually wear out clothes now, not just grow out of them.

If I'm honest, the real incentive for today's sort out is this Saturday's jumble sale at my children's school; there's nothing like a conveniently close event to get me participating. And so, after nursery and school today, we tumbled the contents of their drawers onto the bedroom floor. And the three-pile sort began.

Buddy and Daisy dipped into this game intermittently. Daisy tried on some jeans for the first time since being out of nappies, and she modelled the lovely John Deere tractor sweatshirt pictured above, saying she would definitely wear it now it was too small for Buddy. And Buddy suddenly got a bit sentimental over a long forgotten pair of too-small grey tracksuit bottoms - insisting they still fit him, insisting he'd wear them (I sneakily put them in the jumble pile when he wasn't looking, of course). And together, somehow, we managed it; a great big pile for the jumble sale, a medium sized pile for children of friends and family (you know who you are), and a smallish sort of pile of clothes that fit them at present.

But the sweetest thing about today's sort out was unearthing two little boxes from the bottom of one of the drawers. These boxes contain Buddy and Daisy's first shoes; their first bootee-style shoes and their first walking shoes. If I'd come across these on my own, I imagine I would have had a bit of a cry - tearful, sentimental soul that I am. But as Buddy and Daisy were there it was a far more jolly discovery. They examined the shoes lovingly, they coo'd and ahh'd over their baby selves and their baby toes, and they put the shoes next to their feet to see how much bigger they were now.

When they had finished with them, they made sure I put the little shoes back in their little boxes and back in the drawer from whence they came, 'Not in the giving away pile, mummy. We want to keep them forever.'
And for these outgrown items, there was no sneaky putting them in the jumble pile when they weren't looking. Of course, I want to keep those shoes forever, too.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Listen with mother?

Happiness is .... sunny yellow tulips, a clutter-free table and my radio.

I love my radio; I crave its company when I'm home alone, and I like the atmosphere it creates when the house is busy. With its warm sound and perfect around-the-house portability it's my lovely friend who knows exactly what I want to hear, when and where I want to hear it.

I do shift around the radio stations a fair bit but my children are most familiar with Classic FM (tinkling upliftingly in the background), Thomas the Tank Engine stories on Fun Radio (if we're at home at 4pm) or rock classics on Absolute (air-guitars at the ready). I keep Radio Four for lone car journeys (very rare occasions) when I have the chance to actually hear the reports and discussions rather than my children's very important things they need to tell me that always seem to coincide with any attempt to tune in.

Buddy and Daisy are of course still developing their listening skills and are at the stage where if they are really enjoying something they simply cannot hold in their feelings about it (some people never grow out of that, I know). But happily this is resulting in some wonderfully creative responses. For example, when listening to their current vinyl favourites (we've got a just-about-working 1960s HMV record player), an old Disney film soundtrack and an ABBA Greatest Hits album, they sing along and dance around to the tunes, reminding us to flip-over the record when each side has finished. A recent audio-book craze resulted in them listening over and over to Aliens Love Underpants whilst acting out the whole story along with the narration. Hilarious.

And they simply wow us with their responses to film soundtracks. When we purchased the music from Disney Pixar's WALL-E recently they listened to it in its entirety - captivated. Buddy knows exactly what happens in the film at every incidental or full piece of music and of course shares his thoughts with us - this is when he doesn't recognise EVE - this is when EVE shows she can fly high in the sky - this is when she starts him up again and he loses his memory. If we put on a soundtrack of a familiar film now, it's usually the starting point for some fantastic imaginative play.

So, though Buddy and Daisy might not be ready for Today in Parliament just yet, they clearly love the music and stories radio and other audio technology offer, and long may their enthusiastic response last. And in the meantime I can always find an excuse to drive somewhere during Woman's Hour if I really need to.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Zero to hero

Today, I took my youngest (age 3) to the V and A Museum of Childhood's Wondertots. Its Superheroes session was full of great activities and all the children seemed to enjoy it. And yet it left me cold. I suspect my feelings towards it were influenced by my post-election state of mind. But while I came away feeling flat and uninspired; Daisy came away with a rather nice superhero cape (as photographed above).

After nursery, Daisy proudly showed Buddy her cape and persuaded him to play. It was then that the creative seeds sown in the Wondertots session began to germinate, as my two favourite superheroes swooped in, truly saving the day. First, Superboy and Supergirl sourced their power gadgets; toy cameras caught baddies and sucked them in until they'd learnt their lesson. And they used their torches to hunt out the baddies from under the chairs and sofa.

Daisy became Superflick - the girl who could fly to Mars (using her cape) and make flick books work. She became Superclimb Girl with a special rope (a scarf) attached to her dress to lift her up to the tops of mountains. Buddy remained the amazing Superboy, with incredible strength and the ability to fly using his (invisible) cape. They showed off their super-jumping, super-stealth and super-gadgets until dinner time.

After this we watched The Incredibles on DVD and during the credits Elastigirl (mummy), Dash (Buddy), and Violet (Daisy) showed off amazing super powers in expressive movement and dance.

So, maybe I was unmoved by the powers of the V and A today, maybe I did have the post-election blues, but happily I was completely saved by my children's creativity and enthusiasm. They helped me find the escapism I needed, cheering me up no end. I doubt they know it, but they really have performed some great superhero work here today.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Rainy days and Mondays...

Saturday was a wash-out, wasn't it? And as for Sunday .... even worse. So we stayed in. And had a bit of a baking bonanza.

We baked two dozen or so biscuit bears using an Annabel Karmel cookie recipe, and took our decorative inspiration from Mini Grey's wonderful story, Biscuit Bear. In the past I have chosen the healthy-option for decoration; chopped apricots, raisins, cranberries and fruit-puree 'glue', but this time we went sugar-tastic, it was simply too rainy to be healthy. So our bears were dressed with sugar-strands, silver balls and icing of many colours, just like in the story.

Our biscuits were a little crumbly (melt-in-the-mouth, let's say) and I'm afraid some bears did not make it through this decorating stage. Yes, briefly a few severed bear-heads and limbs lay scattered on the kitchen table. My two children destroyed the evidence of this in a few crafty nibbles, so it never quite resembled the scene of devastation after Bongo the dog shows up in Biscuit Bear - he 'liked biscuits (but not in a way that is necessarily good for the biscuits).'

And so to our banana cake (recipe found a while back in a Guardian freebie booklet called Cooking for Kids) which I had to hastily photograph today before its fruity wonders were polished off. A firm favourite in our family; it makes the house smell divine and convinces us there's wholesome farmhouse goodness in our kitchen for as long as there's an available slice.

We've made it so many times now we've changed its recipe to suit us perfectly. For example, we always add extra banana, apricots and raisins and we reduce the amount of oil by 20ml or so - it's still wonderfully moist. It takes longer to cook than the suggested 45 minutes though - we bake it for at least an hour but turn the oven's temperature to 170C after 45 minutes to prevent the top from scorching.

So, on rainy days (or Mondays), if we're hanging around with nothing to do but frown, we often end up in our oven-warmed kitchen, with Classic FM and some favourite baking recipes to chase away the blues. It works almost every time.