Random ramblings and TV-inspired activities

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

I'm a loser, baby...

You all know this song, right?

So the radio is on quietly in the kitchen and I am singing along as I flit between rooms sorting out the kids' tea. The lyric comes along: I'm a loser, baby... so why don't you kill me? Except in the pause the inappropriateness of singing this in front of my 3 year old and 16 month old suddenly hits me. My mental process reaches for a substitute word, strikes 'thrill' from the register as also not ideal and before you know it the lyrics hit and I'm singing:

"I'm a loser baby... so why don't you say hello?"

Why 'say hello'? I honestly do not know, other than I clearly am indeed a loser.

But then:

"Hello!" pipes up 3 year old, "Bonjour! Ni Hao!"

I give you The Lingo Show, and a timely reminder to self that kids really do pay attention to what they watch on TV. I quite like the Lingo Show; it's fun, cheerful and just a bit silly. What's going to be the best food for a bug to karate-chop? Will it be banana or orange juice...?

It's well complemented by the Lingo Show Game on the Cbeebies website, which The Girl can mostly manage on her own. Her favourite bug is Wei, the Mandarin-speaker, so that's got to bode well for her future global competitiveness, right? As let's face it, at least one of the kids is going to have to earn enough to support me and Himself in our elder years, as any hope of saving a liveable pension is quite frankly screwed - it's either that or we take the Logan's Run approach. So perhaps if I look at it that way, we're actually investing in our futures by watching Lingo, right? It's not lazy parenting at all...

I'll leave you with the thought that 'Loser' was out in 1993, way back when a second class stamp cost 20p and petrol was 45p a litre. *counts pennies and sobs*

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Poc Poc cakes

Make the banana muffin recipe a la Dora the Explorer. Kid yourself you know it off by heart, and forget to put in the oil. Pour mixture into cases using either the spout of your mixing bowl or a jug.


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Angry Bird Pop Up Book

I'm perversely proud of the fact I have had the same mobile phone since 2004. It is a Nokia, of some description, which has survived various soakings, droppings and assorted toddlers that would see off most whippersnapper smart phones. I do not have the technology to have apps though, and so the Angry Birds phenomenon largely passed me by. Until The Girl wanders off to play on Grandad's laptop, and shortly thereafter loud explosions can be heard. Cue maternal intervention...

So some time after, the The Girl says she would like a pop-up book. It's been a while since I've done any paper engineering, but birds I can do. It's only after I create it, I realise it does bear a resemblance to an Angry Bird. But never mind, eh? At least it wasn't Plants vs zombies... I didn't really want to have to explain zombies to a 3 year old. I would much rather have the conversation that goes:

"Why are the birds angry, Mummy?"
"Because the pigs stole their eggs, darling."


"Why are the zombies attacking, Mummy?"
"Because they want to eat your brains, dear."

If you would like to make your own Angry Bird pop up, take:

2 pieces of paper
Pritt stick
Felt tips
Optional stickers

Fold each piece of paper in half
Take one folded piece of paper, and with the outer edge of the fold facing you, snip a 2 inch or so slit in the paper.
Then bend the paper so that the slit folds up to create a diagonal fold between the edges of the slit and the middle of the page. Do this both at the top and bottom of the slit to create the 'beak'.
Stick the outer edges of the paper with the 'beak' (beak side out) to the other piece of paper to create a 'book' fold.
Add features to create your bird! Open and shut the 'book' to make it 'squawk'!

The bird's beak can also be adapted to become a frog or fish. Or, if you are feeling adventurous, a dragon. But definitely not a zombie's toothless maw...

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Lemon and carrot muffins

This recipe is largely adapted from the Dora The Explorer magazine's banana muffin recipe. The carrot on top is at The Girl's request, as apparently carrot cake cannot be carrot cake unless it has white icing and a carrot on top, as that is what carrot cake is like in Peppa Pig. All hail Peppa Pig, culinary reference point for preschoolers. This particular decorative carrot is made out of carrot, funnily enough, and bits of cucumber skin for leafy bits. Random, but best I could do at a moment's notice.

I do feel a bit like "Great Aunt Loretta" from "Grandpa in My Pocket" with some of these random additions to my cookery, but needs must... I'm not so desperate yet to try anything so nuts bold as a curry trifle however. And I have to say, I really dislike Grandpa in my Pocket, possibly more so than anything else on TV at the moment.

This distresses me, as I am otherwise a fan of James Bolam, but as the Grandpa of the title he seems to be some sort of geriatric vigilante, a busybody interfering in rather a bullying fashion. A "kids of today, I know best" attitude seems to dominate his motivation. He harangues teenagers, his sister (who he seems to detest), random visitors who he deems to be behaving unacceptably... and rather than dealing with it in a way which models positive attributes, like, say, honesty and talking to people to resolve conflict, it's all devious and underhand. Oh, sorry, did I say devious and underhand? Obviously I meant clever and fair... The throwaway comment about "teamwork" at the end of each episode is a bit ingenuous, if you ask me, as Grandpa yet again makes his grandson an unwilling accomplice. ("Not the shrinking hat, Grandpa!" - you can say it every episode Jason, he'll still ignore you.) The whole thing is a bit mean for my taste.

But perhaps Grandpa has just become bitter and twisted as a natural reaction to the manic happiness of the rest of the Mason family. Do they put Prozac in the water in their hometown of Sunnysands? Watching that programme gives me the slightly sick feeling you get after mainlining a full bag of Haribo... but without the sugar rush.

If you, however, fancy indulging your own sugar craving, these muffins are rather yum. And as they have carrot in, you can kid yourself it's one of your five a day. It's got lemon in too, so if you count that, that's two of your five a day, right?

Lemon and carrot muffins


zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Handful of raisins
100g carrots
200g self-raising flour
80g sugar
100ml milk
2 tablespoons oil
2 eggs
Philedelphia cheese (a dollop - 2 tablespoons?)
Icing sugar (enough to get the right texture for icing - 100g?)

Combine the lemon zest, lemon juice, raisins and grated carrot in a bowl.
Beat eggs and add to the mix.
Add oil.
Add flour and sugar and beat well.
Add milk - consistency of the mix should be moderately firm.
Put mix into muffin cases (makes 8).
Bake at 190 degrees for approximately 20 mins.

Combine about 2 tablespoons of Philedelphia cheese with around 100g of icing sugar. This will give you a tasty topping approved by my preschooler!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The Library Experiment

We're regular visitors to the library, even if I have to keep reminding The Girl that we're not there to borrow copies of books we already have. It's a on the list of "cheap things to do with the kids" that gets rotated regularly.

I love reading, and The Girl seems to love books too - Toddler Boy seems to like turning the pages more than looking at what's on them, but I've just about got him to understand they're not for throwing, so there's hope yet. (As you can imagine, the latter can make for 'interesting' library trips...)

By the time we've been to the library and they've looked at and chosen a couple of books each, my nerves are usually shredded and I either decide I can't face wrangling them while I try and choose a book for myself or I plain forget. However, I've now found a semi-cunning plan to address this: I let The Girl pick my books for me.

So far, it's been quite a successful tactic. She picks things I wouldn't, and for the most part I've enjoyed her selections. I give you my potted reviews:

Mendel's Dwarf - Simon Mawer
I remembered Mendel from GCSE Science, hereditary genes and all that... This book was an intriguing mix of the "proper science" with an imagined past of Gregor Mendel interspersed with a first-person autobiographical account from the fictional Dr Benedict Lambert, geneticist, distant relative of Mendel, and dwarf. Dr Benedict is an engaging, but not always sympathetic, character and the story has a few twists and turns to keep you guessing, although I was willing the ending to be something other than it was... It stayed with me after I'd finished it: compelling yet disconcerting.

The Seamstress - Frances de Pontes Peebles
Two sisters escape their hometown in very different ways - one by an unsuitable marriage, the other (willingly) abducted by the cangaceiro, or rebel bandits, that roam the countryside of rural Brazil. I was utterly caught up in the South American world, in the fates of the sisters and their struggles against the societies and circumstances they are caught up in. Vivid, passionate and brave, I really enjoyed this one.

The Ghost Agent - Alex Berenson
My daughter's choices are nothing if not eclectic. I hated this book. In fact, I didn't finish it, and it's not often that happens. I can't tell you much about it, as I didn't get that far. It was written as if it was a book of a film; the kind of film you put Steven Segal in, because Vin Diesel's busy and Matt Damon won't return your calls. It was based on real-life political tensions, largely centered on China, North Korea and America. The central hero would fit in perfectly with 'Team America', but at least in that film machismo and arrogance were being sent up rather than taken seriously. Not my cuppa.

Angel with Two Faces - Nicola Upson
Back to enjoying the books again! This was a lively "whodunnit", set in England in the 1930s. I did find it was only the references to World War I that kept reminding me it was supposed to be set back then, and that the central characters were swept along by, rather than proactively solving, the case. But it was entertaining, and the differing ways in which the two key protagonists responded to a certain controversial issue was certainly thought-provoking.

The Girl's latest pick is Shadow Sister by Simone van der Vlugt. It's a crime one, which is not my usual thing, so I'm waiting to see what I make of that. It's one way of getting out of a reading rut, anyway!

Sunday, 29 January 2012

That's Doctor Ariel, to you...

So when I found out my firstborn was going to be a girl, I took a bit of mild ribbing from some quarters about what I'd do if she was a girlie-girl, given that I'm, well... put it this way, I never played with Barbie or Sindy as neither held much interest for me, but I can hold my own in any conversation about Transformers, He-man or Thundercats (not the new versions, mind!) The joys of having a brother! Although I'm pretty sure that the He-man figures were mine first...

I do remember some princesses featuring in my childhood though... how I longed for the more exotic name of "Melisande" - the princess from "Flight of Dragons"- which after "Samantha" (worryingly, after Sam Fox) I thought was the most beautiful name in the world, ever. And wishing I had long blonde hair, something they both had in common. I was definitely mid-primary school when the name-changing blonde-hair yearnings began.

I'm not sure why Ms Fox passed across my childhood consciousness, but I think just from hearing her talked about in the media, in the way that Jordan is now (only with Ms Price it's even more so). Possibly also Top of The Pops, which tallies with the timescale. So in the context of page 3 girls, are Disney Princesses comparatively harmless?

I have to say I'm really not keen on some of the messages that 'Disney Princesses' in particular put out there - the point of life is to be pretty above all, to be passively rescued from your fate, meet your Prince, get married, keep being pretty, yawn - but my position's been challenged lately, as the Girl's friends are big on all that franchise... So the dilemma then becomes how my principles mesh with the reality of child-raising. I'm not raising my child in isolation from other influences. How can you? But do I exclude her from 'princess parties', grudgingly go along with it, or try and keep some perspective...

I'm aiming for the latter, and taking the line that princesses are probably like a box of chocolate: not that you never know what you're going to get, more that if you have the odd one now and again, in context of an otherwise varied diet it's fine.

And while I'm not a fan of princesses, I will make an exception for Princess Pearl. She of the 'zog' book, from the 'Gruffalo' stable of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. I'd forgotten about her, til we had that story for bedtime tonight. She gives up being a princess to become a doctor - sensible choice in these stormy times - and with a small suggestion from me, the Girl was pretty keen for me to make a 'white coat' for her Ariel toy. Although she's still a bit confused as to why Ariel wears 'silly shoes' that she can't stand up in (that'll be because her hair makes up about half of her bodyweight, dear).

"You don't wear silly shoes, do you Mummy?"

Um. Well, sometimes. Maybe. *cough*

If you want to make a white coat, take:

Some white paper or plastic.
Cut a rectangle of appropriate size.
Cut holes for arms, and put on doll.
Secure with appropriate fastening (yes, I know the rubber band makes it look more like a kimono)
Bodge together optional stethoscope with pipe-cleaner. Ta-dah!

Princesses. Huh. These days, I'm more likely to be carried off by a man in a white coat than a knight on horseback, but hey...

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Three years in shoes

"They grow so fast," they told me, with wistful looks in eye. "Goody," thought I, wishing myself ever further from the broken nights, sore nipples and sundry other joys of babyhood... and feeling guilty for wishing their lives away, but wishing it all the same.

I do have the odd moment of nostalgia, before sanity kicks in. I can remember when her foot was the same length as my little finger, yet now I am the proud mother of a 3-year-old. I really can't get away with calling her ToddlerGirl anymore. The Girl's not really been a toddler for ages, but just lately I look at her and I see how much she's changed. My desktop wallpaper is a picture of her with BabyBoy (who I should probably call ToddlerBoy now, really) from six months back, and even there I can still see something of the baby about her.

But I look at this assortment of shoes, each one a milestone in it's own little way, and I realise two things. Firstly, they're right: they do grow fast. And secondly, I need to sort out the shoe cupboard more often...

Saturday, 7 January 2012

These shoes are made for running...

The difference between being 33 and 3 is that the response to someone who says "I'm going running," aged 33 is "Good for you!". When you're 3 it's "Can I come too? Please!"

I'm not sporty. PE lessons at school pretty much put me off sport for life. Nothing to do with the teachers/teaching, and everything to do with communal changing rooms, teenage girls, and self-consciousness.

Since pregnancy #2, the ligaments in my lower back are permanently weakened. That's the bad news. The good news is that since my osteopath did his thing, I am pretty much pain-free, and although my ligaments are no longer to be trusted, as long as I keep my core muscles strong then they compensate accordingly. So, the silver lining to the cloud of having to pay much more attention to my body than I used to is that as a result I am substantially fitter. I have to make exercise a part of my life in a way it never was before. This can only be a good thing, as hopefully my kids will see that as 'the norm' and perhaps be more likely to continue to enjoy exercise. I don't come from a sporty background at all, and I do wonder whether it is nature or nurture that made me a 'not sporty' type...

But then I look at my kids and think, surely nature doesn't make 'not sporty' types? Because they, like pretty much every preschooler I know, love physical activity - my 14 month old spends his life in search of things to climb, and my 2 year old loves running (okay, often away from me) and jumping (yes, often in puddles). At what point do we lose that? Is it just about developing a sense of self and the self-consciousness that goes along with that? Or is that some days, getting two small kids ready, dressed and down the park seems such a huge effort that it's easier to stick on Cbeebies and pray they sit engrossed while you try and drink just one cup of tea before it's tepid? Because looking after two small kids is sometimes so knackering that you don't have enough energy of your own to help them use up theirs? Is that the start of a slippery sedentary lifestyle slope?

Fear not though, for the healthy living/active lifestyle is already promoted to 2 year olds via your TV! In fact the Government teamed up with kids' programme LazyTown last autumn to launch its own Change4Life programme aimed at 2-5 year olds. For those unfamiliar with LazyTown, it promotes healthy lifestyle choices via its hero Sportacus and the characters who live in the eponymous town. (There's a kid called Pixel who needs to be prised from his computer to exercise, fruit is 'Sports Candy', you get the gist - though I'm not sure anyone's fooled by that 'Sport Candy' idea. It's actually quite fun to watch, and less preachy than it sounds.) But then as adults, most of us know about healthy living and sensible choices, and the trend is still towards a state of increasing obesity.

Perhaps it makes sense then that the Government thinks we can't be trusted to make the right choices. Yet I have very mixed feelings about the school weigh-ins for kids, or "The National Child Measurement Programme" to give it its full title. My eldest will fall due for it at some point next year. I have the right to withdraw my child from it, and I am yet to decide if I will exercise that right. I view it as my responsibility to keep my kids healthy, and a long line of children being weighed, measured and recorded in schools strikes me as an image belonging more to a totalitarian state than the country I thought I lived in. But perhaps that is my naivety...

Regardless, I am trying hard to incorporate exercise into my life, and hopefully as well as keeping me pain-free it does set a good example. And so I've started the 'Couch to 5K', or 'C25K', 9 week running programme. Hence the pleading requests at bedtime from my daughter who would love to come with me... even in the drizzle. Meanwhile I try and remember the words of Phoebe from friends: "I run like I did when I was a kid because that's the only way it's fun".

1 week down, 8 to go and then we'll see if I actually am running 3 miles in 30 mins...

Friday, 30 December 2011

Wrapping paper jewellery

"And so this is Christmas, and the bin-men don't come / Our blue-bin's overflowing, and what can be done?"

Well, we'll just have to wait til next Friday when they will come. Stiff upper lip, chaps! Just step over the piles of coke cans and boxes in your way...

It's not that I think a weekly collection is necessary the rest of the year, but at Christmas they come late anyway and we have acres of packaging to dispose of. I am sure there is some inverse proportion between the age of the person getting the present and the size of the box it comes in. Fortunately, for once, this year what was in the big box - a play kitchen - was more interesting to both kids than the box it came in. Result!

In the meantime it's back to reusing whatever we can... Got too much wrapping paper left over from Crimbo? Turn it into fabulous jewellery!

The idea for this came loosely from decoupage, which I was reminded of walking along the river looking at the houseboats. Which in turn reminded me of Rosie and Jim, chugging along on the Old Ragdoll. Which got me to thinking about Ragdoll Productions. Bear with me, there's an interesting and random fact coming...

For some reason I thought Rosie and Jim was the first thing Ragdoll had done, but it turns out it isn't -but that's not the interesting fact. They've done loads of things, including DipDap, In The Night Garden and Teletubbies, and that I didn't realise that shows I really should be paying more attention to the TV. (Or perhaps the reason it hasn't registered is that I am paying so much attention to my kids. Yes, that must be it.)

Turns out the latest thing that Ragdoll are up to is my beloved Abney and Teal - that's not the interesting fact either, but here it comes - and looking on their website I discover that Shingai Shoniwa, who is the voice of Teal, is also the lead singer of The Noisettes! Who knew? I keep listening to 'Never Forget' and trying to superimpose "That was an adventure Abney!" over the top. It's blowing my tiny mind! Or perhaps that's the fumes from too much PVA glue again...

Fancy getting all gluey?


Old wrapping paper - the shinier the better!
PVA glue
A straw - or a pencil will do
Some string or old parcel ribbon

Cut the wrapping paper into long triangle 'pennant' shapes - the longer the pennant, the fatter the final bead.
Place the straw in line with the base of the triangle, and roll the paper around the straw once. Hold in place and then cover the rest of the paper with glue.
Roll straw to roll up the rest of the paper around it. The glue will probably squidge everywhere, but that's okay.
Slide the straw out.
Smear squidged-out glue over the outside of the bead to seal.
Place bead on-end on a surface you don't mind getting gluey - a plate, or something plastic is good. Not paper!
Repeat to make more beads, and leave to dry. You may need to wipe the straw between beads depending on how gluey it gets.
When dry, thread beads onto string or old parcel ribbon to make into bracelets or necklaces.