Caravan/travel · holidays

Caravan holidays

So during the Easter holidays we took our caravan down to Dorset for a midweek break. We didn’t take Jessie with us this time as she is in heat and it would have been a bit of a nightmare with her. The weather was forecast to be poor but we decided to embrace our inner campers and go for it anyway. Now my husband spent much of his youth in Dorset and so is really familiar with the area and since being with him I’ve fallen in love with the area as well. For our first trip with the caravan down there we decided to go for a holiday park called Highlands End which we’d visited before to use the facilities in our pre-caravan-owning stage. The nice thing about going on holiday in a touring caravan as opposed to another form of self-catering accommodation is that you can have everything unpacked and ready before you leave home. Before we set off I had already put our clothes in the drawers and wardrobe in the van. Our food was already in the fridge and freezer and C’s toys were already in her toy cupboard. This meant that when we arrived there was only the setting up of the actual caravan onto the pitch to do.

J is responsible for all the external sorting of the van and C and I do the inside. Although if I’m honest her assistance generally involves playing with her toys right in the middle of where I want to be. We are fairly efficient at setting up now to be honest and it’s lovely to arrive and feel your holiday can begin straight away. The weather whilst we were away was forecast to be rubbish rain all week so we had plans to visit the aquarium or go and see the new Peter Rabbit movie at the cinema or to visit the swimming pool on site or just stay holed up in the van watching movies. As it happens the weather was poor on the Monday night and into Tuesday morning but brightened up enough for us to head out for fish and chips in Weymouth for Tuesday lunchtime. It was even nice enough to have an ice cream on the beach. There is something about having fish and chips by the seaside isn’t there? It’s a proper British thing to do and it does taste so much better, and not just because it is inevitably fresher. Our favourite place for fish and chip in Weymouth is the Marlboro as their batter is really crispy and the fish is so delicate.

Wednesday the weather was a bit more hit and miss and we debated a cinema trip but instead I insisted on visiting one of my favourite places, Lyme Regis. I don’t know what it is about Lyme that I really like but it’s just somewhere that makes me happy. We parked in the harbour car park and walked along the front to the base of the hill and high street. For C going onto the beach is what makes it a proper holiday and she loved walking along the sand picking up stones and shells for me to carry in my pockets. She has a little bowl of shells in her bedroom at home which they will be added to. It did drizzle on and off so we had to pop into a couple of shops to keep dry, but thats part of the fun on a British holiday. C is going through a phrase where she’s really obsessed with dinosaurs so we picked up some toy dinosaurs for her and some fudge for myself and J. There are some really lovely shops in Lyme where you could pick up some nice bits for the home but given that we’re about to rip our house apart I had to resist the temptation to get anything.

Thursday we were blessed with incredible weather for the time of year which was perfect as we had plans to meet an old friend of J’s and her two daughters in Lyme. We had some fun times playing on the beach and paddling in the sea, I let J take charge of that one and I supervised from the comfort of the towels. Even though the sun was out there was still a bit of a breeze in the air but we were able to enjoy lunch overlooking the water and then a bit of crazy golf with an incredible view. I can highly recommend the crazy golf in Lyme, even though it’s not the best course I’ve been on, it is in an incredible location. That said, crazy golf was maybe a little ambitious for the two three year olds in the group. One of which had a tantrum and C only avoided a tantrum by picking the ball up and putting it directly in front of the hole before putting it in. But providing you aren’t too fussed about keeping score it’s not too bad a way to spend an afternoon. After all that fresh air the little ones were exhausted but we still had time to try out the new soft play at Highlands End which was the perfect way to end a very busy day.

Friday was time to head home after a thoroughly enjoyable few days away. It always amazes me how a few days away can make such a difference. I feel so much more rested and relaxed and we’ve made some good family memories. C in particular was sad to come home and that was on alleviated by the promise that we could do some baking when we got home. Holiday really makes you appreciate the importance of family time and the simple pleasures that spending some time together can bring.

Life in the Countryside · Parenting

Forest school

Now this is a bit of a bizarre update as it has nothing to do with the cottage garden but it is something which is playing an increasing part in our lives and I think is worth talking about. For those of you that don’t know I work in a primary school and my daughter attends a nursery nearby. Both offer forest school as part of their provisions. What is forest school I hear you ask? Is it the latest parenting trend? We didn’t have forest school back when I was at school, why do we have it now? Well the truth is, in my opinion, that childhood has changed somewhat over the past few years. I worked in a secondary school for a number of years and over that time I noticed that children were becoming increasingly isolated from each other. For boys in particular this was a problem. They would spend hours and hours every day in their bedrooms playing computer games or on their phones and iPads. Alone. Inside. Not engaging with anyone else apart from online. Forest school is basically taking children outside (ideally to a forest of course) and re-introducing them to nature. Frequently there is a fire and a fire circle of logs surrounding it forming the centre of the ‘camp’. Fire based activities tend to include gathering logs (the lighting of the fire tends to be left to an adult) and various forms of cooking. I’ve seen popcorn popped (using two metal sieves attached together at the end of a long pole to hold it over the fire), marshmallows toasted on sticks as well as soup and pasta cooked in a more traditional way.

A common feature of a forest school is a mud kitchen. Now I don’t really remember having much of a play kitchen when I was younger, but that could be old age catching up with me, but we definitely did lots of making potions in the garden. A mud kitchen can take various forms. It can be as simple as some pots and utensils that children can play with or as fancy as a proper wooden outdoor kitchen. Mud kitchens have become very trendy at the moment with various companies charging not insignificant amounts of money for high end personalised ones. Children of all ages seem to really love them and a quick search on Pinterest will bring up a vast array of homemade versions. I have ambitions to create a covered one for C in our garden this summer out of pallets but haven’t finalised a design yet. I’m looking at putting it into the corner of our orchard and so far have out a base of four pallets down which I’m planning to secure together. The walls will pretty much be pallets stood on edge with some shaping and a window cut in maybe. Then I’m going to use the corrugated iron for which currently tops our coal shed as a roof. Ideally I’d like to create a kitchen bench type thing inside using our current kitchen sink and making a hob of some kind. Or at least thats the plan. I’ll start working on it sometime when the evenings start getting lighter so watch this space.

I can’t put up any photos up from my forest school experiences for child protection issues so I’ve added some of my random favourites in just to add a little colour. Forest school at a nursery level involves lot more crafty activities. Some of the ones I’ve seen include:

  • Taping a piece of paper onto a tree and using crayons to do bark rubbings.
  • Painting using mud as the paint.
  • Making a bird feeder by threading cheerios or similar onto a pipe cleaner (great for those fine motor skills too).
  • Using circles of cardboard and strips of sellotape across it to make a ‘stained glass window’. Stick leaves and twigs and other things found in nature onto the sellotape then backing it with more sellotape.
  • Using sticks to draw shapes in the mud.
  • Making faces and collages using twigs, leaves and other things found in nature.

The older children love building dens with ropes and tarpaulin and creating pretend battles. I’ve also seen children pretending to be dogs chasing each other and children digging for bugs and building homes for worms. What really stands out to me though is that forest school seems to be a place where children can just be children. Away from technology and the pressures of our society, children really relish the chance to just be children. The chance to let their imaginations take hold. Whilst it is amazing to see and be a part of, it saddens me. The fact that such activities don’t exist as part of childrens lives unless we specifically arrange it is a pity. Seeing how some children struggle to play outside without the structure we often give them just reinforces to me how much we need to keep making sure kids stay as kids for as long as they can. That they don’t miss out on being outside and enjoying the wonder that is nature. That’s my rant over. I promise my next post will update you more on what the cottage garden trio have been up to.

Life in the Countryside

A Month off blogging

So at the beginning of October it was both my and my daughter’s birthday. Then we were away for the weekend and life just got in the way for five minutes. I knew I hadn’t blogged for a couple of weeks although I’d started to write a couple of posts but never finished them so I decided instead of trying to catch up that I would have a month off blogging. I did post the odd picture on instagram but I stayed away from my blog. And do you know what? It did me the world of good. Let me explain what I mean. I started my blog back in April for two reasons. Firstly I wanted to have somewhere to record the work we were doing in our cottage as I had been taking loads of photos but not really actually doing anything with them apart from just keeping them on my phone. My second reason was as a way to share with friends and family who don’t live nearby what we were up to. I found I was becoming a bit of a bore with updates every time I saw or spoke to people. I’ve really enjoyed writing on my blog but it had sometimes got to the point that I was feeling every time we did something I had to immediately write up about it. Which is a bit silly really as the blog was supposed to be enjoyable and not a burden. So instead I’m going to try and write once or twice a week and not try and talk about everything we do. But first, here’s a quick summary of what we’ve been up to this past month.

Birthdays

Both C and I had our birthdays, she was three and I was 32 (again, I decided that I liked the age 32 so have decided to stay there for a while). C was so much more aware this year about her birthday and was ridiculously excited in the build up to it. Her actual birthday was on a Tuesday and she had her party the Saturday before which actually worked really well as it meant we could spread out the present opening. And boy she really got excited about presents this year. And I have to confess that I did too as she’s reached the age of Playmobil and Sylvanian families and Disney princesses, all the toys that I remember fondly from my childhood. As her party was a pottery painting party I did a multi-coloured layer cake covered in pink icing. I’ve started writing a post about it but for now here’s a sneak preview.


Sheds

We are now the proud owners of three sheds which fit nicely onto our concrete slab next to the garage. Currently they are fairly empty but the plan is that when we do our big house rennovation next year we will use them to store our house contents in. Though they may not be to everyone’s taste as they are plastic, they suit us perfectly as they need no maintenance at all.


The caravan

So we’ve spent our first weekend away in the caravan and I have to say we have, thankfully, made the right choice. It was lovely to have all our stuff already packed in it, with food in the fridge and cupboards ready for the weekend. Although I played no part in the actual hooking up of the van once we arrived at the campsite (that was all J’s role) it was a relatively quick process and it really felt like a home from home. I’m not naive enough to think that it’ll be a breeze living in it, but I think it will be manageable with the added bonus of having a take along holiday home when the house work is done. 


The animals

We have the sheep back in the field and they are living in relative harmony with the chickens (although I think that’s mainly down to the electric fence). We do have one of the chickens currently not laying but as it’s one of the ‘normal coloured’ egg layers then we don’t know which one it is and we don’t really know what to do about it. They all seem fairly healthy so we’re just letting them get on with things as normal and are hoping that it resolves itself in time. Jessie is getting on fairly well with the other animals. That it she doesn’t try to chase them too much although she has been very curious about the sheep. She’s going through a phase of wanting to chew everything as she’s losing her baby teeth (we haven’t found any yet but I think she’s eating them) and is a right old scamp when it comes to helping in the garden – she loves racing around the recreation area and jumping in the raised beds. 


Holiday

We have just come back from a week away in Rhodes, our first time going away in October half term, and it was just what we needed. We stayed at an all inclusive resort on the south of the island in a lovely suite with a private pool and were blessed with weather that was very warm but not too hot and we all had a relaxing time. I’ll do a write up soon about our trip and suggestions for anyone thinking about visiting Rhodes but for now here are some sneaky pictures.


There are lots of other things that have happened over the last month which I’ve probably forgotten, but for now that’s it. The cottage garden trio are still here and still surviving life in the countryside slowly working on creating our dream family home.

Life in the Countryside

One year on: the recreation area

J thinks I sound very poncey (no idea if that’s how you spell it) for calling this the recreation area but we did originally call it the grassy area and that name doesn’t really apply anymore. So this was the area when we moved in.


Now this area was originally a substantial vegetable garden with a bit of general garden space as well. That was of course at a time when everyone had substantial vegetable gardens as they had to grow their own. The area was completely overgrown (can you see a pattern here with the cottage) and the ground was very uneven. So we arranged for the area to be completely stripped back to bare soil and then we seeded it ourselves (wasn’t that fun). It then stayed as just grass for all summer and into winter. 


Then come January we began finalising what we wanted the area to look like. So we had the random bits and pieces of hedge and bushes removed from the corner by the apple tree as the tree wasn’t really accessible and it all looked a bit higgeldy piggeldy (again apologies for the total lack of spelling knowledge here). Then the plan was to install six raised beds and a climbing frame for C into an enclosed bark area. This was brutal and pushed both J and I to the limit at times but we’ve created an area we’re really happy with. You can read about it here, here and here


We have also created a patio as an eating area, our bifolding doors will eventually lead out here. This has a lovely lamppost on it and electricity so I can have my patio heaters here if required. You can read about that here and here

 

We also have a patio at the back of the garden for a greenhouse (still to be purchased) and of course we have the craft cabin.



This is my little space for being me. It still needs some finishing touches to the paintwork inside and out but it is the only place where a can put things in their permanent place as the cottage is going to be totally ripped to pieces. The recreation area is something I’m really proud of. J and I have worked together to design an area which really enhances our lifestyle. It’s the area which most people comment on, even our Tesco delivery guy said he could holiday there! For this area there is very little still to be done. A bit of finishing of the border of the bark area and probably topping up the bark. The greenhouse needs purchasing and installing. Longer term we want to put some decking outside the craft cabin and create a nice relaxing area with sofas. Next week I’ll have a look at the changes that have gone on in the field in the past year. 

Parenting

Preparing to go back to work

So I work in a school and so am lucky enough to have the school holidays off with C which is amazing. But it’s now the end of the glorious six weeks off for summer and time to get back into our term time routine. C is currently with a childminder when I’m at work and has been since I first when back when she was just shy of a year old (she’s now nearly three, where has that time gone). I remember being very nervous before I first went back as I’d felt fairly on top of things whilst at the end of maternity (well as on top of things as you can be with a child). J was working in London at the time during the week so I only had his help on weekends and was likely to be working away for the whole academic year (I worked in a school). I was normally managing to vaguely keep on top of the washing and cook for us all from scratch every day and get C out of the house as well. I felt as though I had just about got us a routine that worked. But going back to work meant that the wonderful time to get things done in the house whilst she napped (she was still napping twice a day then for about an hour and a half at a time at that point, oh how I miss naps). 

Anyway, so I managed to vaguely get myself into a routine for the past two years, which as is always the case with children had to constantly change, but I’m moving schools in September and we now have the dog so we will have to find a new routine again.  I’m generally considered fairly organised amongst my friends (although I would beg to differ) and I thought I would jot down some of the things which I do to help me juggle the balance of being a working mum. 

  • Batch cook, lots. I love my freezer (I have a couple) and often take time to try and fill it. I use my slow cooker a lot for this – a huge batch of bolognese or chilli or a casserole is very easy to cook in there (just chuck the ingredients in there and leave it). I use old butter tubs to store portions in the freezer (I’ll often wait until its frozen and then pop it out and wrap in cling film and label if I’m running low on tubs). That way for the time and effort of cooking bolognese once we can enjoy several meals which are very quick to reheat after a day at work. I’ll mainly do batch cooking on weekends or holidays and tend to try and add to my freezer stock once a week. 
  • Keep leftovers. Most weeks I’ll do a roast dinner on Sunday and purposely cook a bit extra of the veggies and we tend to have leftover from our roasting meat anyway. Then I can portion up a couple of dinners for C from leftovers to keep in either the fridge or freezer. Or sometimes I’ll cook a dinner for J and I one evening and C will have it as leftovers the next day, I have the least time to cook for C once I get home from work (as she tends to east at 5:30pm) so anything that is easy to heat up is great. 
  • All three of us need packed lunches and I try to prepare as much as a can ahead of time. I portion up as much as possible at the weekend into little tupperwares. Things such as crackers, breadsticks, raisins, blueberries and other soft fruit, popcorn, cucumber, carrot sticks, hummus, sweetcorn, peppers, cherry tomatoes, cut grapes all do well being prepared on Sunday for the week ahead. So it’s then fairly easy the night before to make up a sandwich or wrap fresh and add the Tupperwares to the lunch boxes. I also often use dinner leftovers for lunch the following day or cook an extra chicken breast, for example, to go into wraps. 
  • I always pack C’s bag the evening before and have our clothes set out ready for the following day and used to, when J was working away and I had to do bedtimes by myself, prepare Monday to Friday’s clothes for C ready laid out in her drawers. Even though it may only save me a minute or two in the morning (or longer now C likes to try and choose her own clothes) when you are working to a strict time scale trying to get out he door then every minute helps. 
  • Online food shopping has been a lifesaver for me. I tested it out first when I was pregnant and now I would never go back to having to do a weekly shop in a supermarket (especially dragging a child along with me). That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the odd potter about in a supermarket but having to try and fit that into my working week would just be a pain for me and so time consuming. We get our shop from Tesco as we’ve always found our local one very reliable. So easy to just book an hours slot that fits in with your routine and then adjust items in your basket as required and then forget about it. Also as baby brain has made me very forgetful I love being able to have the app on my phone to just add things the minute they ran out. 
  • Meal planning, which kind of goes with a lot of the above. Gone are the days when I could come home, see what I felt like for dinner and just pop out for any stray ingredients. Once I have worked out what we are having on what day it makes it easier to make sure I’ve ordered the correct food on my shop, taken out what I need from the freezer and know exactly what I need to do for dinner when I get home from work rather than flapping (which I’m rather prone to). If we have also planned together what we are doing for dinners for the week then we are more likely to stick to it and can both step in and help with dinner/childcare as required in the evening. 
  • Working together is a huge part of what we do. Both J and I know our daughter’s routine very well and either of us could do dinner and bedtime by themselves if needed. We’re good at keeping each other informed about the week ahead and are lucky to have J’s dad nearby to lend a helping hand if necessary. In the evenings J tends to arrive home normally after C has had her dinner or when we’ve just gone upstairs. Between the two of us we tend to juggle, bath, story, milk and bed with tidying up C’s room and putting away washing, laying out clothes for the next day and any other upstairs chores that need doing. 
  • I’m better in the mornings than J so I tend to take control of looking after myself and our daughter then and J just has responsibility for himself (and now the puppy). We try to help ourselves out by having breakfast things laid out ready and even go so far as having tea bags and sweeteners etc in mugs ready. Again they may only save you a minute in the morning but it’s one less thing to do in the morning panic, especially if your child is anything like mine and has days where she refuses to get dressed and so you have to spend extra time battling so she doesn’t go out naked with just her wellies on (this happens way too frequently).
  • I always make sure I’m up, washed, dressed and make up done before my daughter wakes up at seven but I have gotten in the habit of getting up even earlier than I need to. Why, I hear you ask? So I can have time to have a latte from our trusty coffee machine and spend half an hour either reading the news or browsing Facebook on my iPad or watching a bit of TV or reading a magazine. I find that just having half an hour of calm me time in the morning really sets me up for the day (I’ll admit that the caffeine probably helps too). Then whatever stresses the morning or the rest of the day brings, at least I’ve had half an hour of me time, half an hour of not being a mum or a wife or a worker. It’s amazing what that little time to yourself can do for your morale – I definitely recommend it. 

So those are the things which I do to help get the balance of being a working mum, does anyone else do anything similar? Any inspiring ways to help with the evening madness? Let me know your suggestions, I’m always looking for ways to be more organised.

I have no inspiring pictures to go with this post so I thought I’d just share some I liked!



Dog · Life in the Countryside

Toilets, a puppy and a toddler

C has been toilet training since February (ish) but does still need prompting, especially if there are lots of distractions. Now I’ve been prepared for a regression for C whilst trying to housetrain Jessie and even a bit more of her wanting to go to the toilet outside. What I was not prepared for was the hilarity of today. I was trying to persuade C to go to the toilet after I realised she hadn’t gone since we had an emergency poo stop this morning whilst fabric shopping (again a phrase I never thought would be in my vocabulary pre-baby). The only way I could persuade her to go was to say she needed to show Jessie what she was doing. Cue the situation with C on the toilet, me on the floor talking to her and Jessie exploring with us. Jessie tried to lick C’s legs which caused hysterical laughing and her trying to pull her legs up, which caused Jessie to get very excitable and try to run behind the toilet. Which caused C to giggle more. And Jessie to try to run round more. And so on. There are many moments in my life when I think what the hell am I doing. If you had told me 10 years ago if I would have been happy sitting on a toilet floor with a dog running round me trying to persuade a toddler to go to the toilet then I would have thought you were crazy. But then I guess time can change what you know as happiness. At the moment there’s nothing which makes me happier than spending time with these two lunatics (and J of course).

Dog

Welcome home Jessie

So today was the big day. The day we collected our new puppy Jessie from the breeder. Our last morning dog free started well, the three of us sitting in the lounge watching The Secret Life of Pets (great movie by the way, highly recommend it) and drinking our coffees (well frothy milk for C but she calls it coffee). C was of course wearing the obligatory dress, this morning’s offering was a Belle dress from Beauty and the Beast. In my head tomorrow morning will be identical but with Jessie sitting next to C, in reality I think tomorrow morning will be spent clearing up dog mess and doubting our decision after night of being kept awake from dog whining. We made the decision for J to collect Jessie by himself so that if she was distressed in the car C didn’t have to see it and could have a positive first interaction in her own home. J was due to pick her up at 2pm, although as there was horrendous traffic on the M5 he didn’t end up getting back to us until just after 4pm. 


The plan, which thankfully we managed to execute, was for him to carry her straight from the car to her pee post in the garden for some private time and then lead her into the house through the living room door. There C and I would be waiting to give her cuddles and offer her toys. As soon as C saw her she was ridiculously excited and wanted to hold her lead and give her a walk (she has been ‘walking’ her hobbyhorse for the past couple of weeks with the lead around the living room). Although both were cautious at first C was soon stroking Jessie and Jessie was trying to play with C. We’re trying to crate train Jessie from the start so we are locking her in there when we have our meals, we don’t want a dog who begs at the table. J had watched her whilst I prepped our tea (very lazy tea of fish fingers, potato waffles and sweet corn so I could focus on Jessie too). When I was serving up J put Jessie in her crate and she whined for pretty much the whole of our dinner, which C didn’t like as she kept asking why Jessie was crying. You have to make sure that she stops whining before you go in so she doesn’t think that if she keeps doing it you will come back. 

She was pleased to see us when she was let out, although it has made me anxious for how she will be tonight. Soon it was time for her dinner; she’s currently on three meals a day, 7am, noon and 6pm with each feed of 55g. Thankfully she loves her food. I insisted we took her immediately outside. J stayed outside with her for a bit but she did nothing so he brought her back in. A couple of minutes later she started sniffing around and circling, clearly getting ready. I picked her up and managed to get most of it on the puppy pad. Thankfully J was to hand to clean up. As C has now gone to bed, J and I are watching a film and Jessie is having a snooze in her crate, door open, with J lying next to her. This is the type of evening we’d envisaged having with her. Though i am dreading tonight. I’ll update tomorrow with how it goes.