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Weekly snapshot: 21 January

Enjoying silence tonight. (So far, anyway. Mini’s got a cold.)
I love those points when the house shuts down for the night, and there is a chance for some brain space.

What to say of the last week?

—-

Peter Rabbit reigns supreme just now. Kind relatives bought Mini the whole set of Beatrix Potter books for Christmas, and we are working our way through them at bedtime.

It’s interesting to try books that I knew nothing of before. Ginger and Pickles run a rather strange shop, and go out of business fairly quickly.

We also have The Pie and the Patty Pan. Were I writing crime fiction, or something detective-y, this might be known as The Case of the Double Oven.

Suffice it to say, I am with the dog character on this: I would prefer not to eat mice pie, either.

Mrs Tittlemouse comes across as very OCD these days, but there are the wonderful characters of Babbity Bumble (the bee whose family has taken up lodging without asking), and the toad who sneezes when offered a plate of thistledown.

Reading more Beatrix Potter means we can also get out the audio CDs. Patricia Routledge and Michael Hordern are the readers, and you couldn’t want for more comforting voices.

Mini is very keen on The Tale of the Two Bad Mice. Maybe it’s the temptation to bash up the fake dinner, discovering that it was only plaster. Somewhat more overt violence for a children’s book.

For my part, I rather like the way that reading more in the series lets you meet certain characters again: the dolls of Bad Mice fame crop up again, visiting the shop which Ginger and Pickles own.

I have also introduced Mini to the Peter Rabbit series on CBeebies. This is generally going down well so far. Mini is less keen on the hectic guitar music for the series, and I have to agree – it’s a bit heavy, for such lovely pictures.

Whether or not we make it through the whole series remains to be seen. If so, I might finally finish Little Pig Robinson (started many years ago) for myself.

===

We have an early birthday celebration at my parents, which also allows for further Eating Up of Christmas food items. Two birds and all that.

To be honest, any offer of being fed that includes a) smoked salmon and b) me not cooking is generally to be seized. Swiftly.

Probably the main present of the day was the amazing views of snowy fields, as we drove out to the Borders. In one area, water had run off fields that slope above the road, forming brilliant icicles on the hedges.

Having driven through all this, the kids were fairly underwhelmed to see almost no snow on the ground outside my parents’ house.

Thankfully, Granny Ro was prepared to put boots on and go hunting for more snow with Mini. At least enough was found for a small snowball fight.

In fact, there was even some on the ground back at home, the following morning. The sledge, which gets more outings on grass on the back garden than anything else, did just fine on snow too, at a nearby park.

(It also worked well for dragging some snow back home after. I’m not sure if there was scientific enquiry, or just a thought to practise throwing snowballs at the fence. Probably more of the latter.)

The previously-mentioned joint project of building a hotel in Minecraft has gone a bit quiet. I’m not quite sure whether they’ve finished, or agreed to go back to individual game time.

In the meantime, Junior has decided to do a bit more work in Scratch, a visual programming tool which allows you to build little animations, and I’m sure much more.

Stop-motion is hanging in there as something to do when there’s ten whole minutes spare before heading off for school. And at other times too, if Daddy’s available for a bit more team effort.

I continue my own roles in this area: a) let them get on with it b) smile appreciatively when required c) leave Dan to figure out the rest when they get stuck.

Dan meanwhile has the opportunity to age by at least a decade. I’m trying out those patches for elbows, for when jumpers have holes in them.

So far, rather suspicious – and the stuff the patches are made out of smells a bit too. We’ll see how we get on. We can always remove the patches and go back to holes in elbows – it’s worked for us so far.

However, I am making some tentative attempts at darning – or at least, fixing a hole in one of Mini’s school jumpers with some embroidery thread.

It’s not quite the same colour. It’s not wool either. But knowing Mini’s abilities to expand holes in clothes, it’s a case of getting in quick now.

Buoyed by the success of last week’s apple cake, I did a bit more Solitary Baking this week. There were some gluten-free muffins, which I’d tried doing before and like.

I also had a go at making some granola, having found a new recipe with fewer nuts, but with the additions of ginger and cinnamon. So far, so rapidly disappearing.
I think that’s a good sign.

I think the kids are fairly happy at the prospect of me continuing this on a weekly basis, if they get cake for after school snacks. So am I really, if I get to eat some too. And there’s fruit or veg in too, so that has to count for something.

In the same session, I had a go at a kind of chicken pot pie. Chicken good, pastry bit not so much.

There was a reason why the recipe showed separate pie tins, and I’ve discovered it. There is actually such a thing as too much pastry after all.

Junior and I are doing a bit of language learning, to tie in with a series of books we’re reading. I’ve found that the textbook I used for it in the past is now online.

It seems that even this kind of practice is cool if you can drag and drop words into the right columns, and do other more interactive stuff.

And if you get them all right, on one exercise, you get a flock of butterflies covering your screen. Which, apparently, is an incentive as far as Junior’s concerned.

The real test is whether Junior can learn enough to teach a school friend, so they can both speak to each other without others knowing what they’re saying.

Nothing like spy requirements to put you under pressure to come up with the goods.

Meanwhile, day by cold (and by turns rainy) day, the light creeps back.

I know, from previous years, that by the end of the month, it’ll be light at five in the evening. It was almost properly light at eight this morning.

I walk round the park before pick up, and admire the allotments. The leeks stand proud like bundled ribbons. The other remaining veg appears to wear hairnets.

But despite the cold, the wet, the relative lack of promise on the ground, the birds are already singing more.

And on days when my hands are freezing, even despite warmer gloves, that’s a good thing.

 

Game on: revisiting games

Some time back, I found myself writing about games. Winning, losing – definitely taking part.

Games seem bigger on the radar again. Junior is involved, but so is Mini. They have their different likes and dislikes.

Mini and I play different games quite a lot. It seems to work for us both.

I like the fact that games have start and end points; we know what the activity will be, how it will run. (These things don’t necessarily feature as simply in everyday family life.)

Mini likes the numbers; the together time. There is a fair amount of tolerance for losing; an interest in playing again, particularly when winning.

Bit by bit, we find some new games to play. We invent some variations on ones we already have.

Games are not just for the two of us. They seem to be something to invite other family members in on.

Adults and kids have different tolerances: for conversation, for gaps between meals, for the appropriate number of toys to dump in a room at a given time.

But they can came together over a game. A game can even (whisper it) allow someone else to do something, like nip off and hang up the washing. Or step into an empty room and breathe. Those kind of things.

So I’ll return to some games again. As a Senior Player, I get to direct as well as to take part.
I even get to stock the games box, and shake things up at times.

Ready for some more games? Eyes down.

Specialist subjects

Do you ever remember thinking about the things you would share with your kids, when they came along?

All those things you love. All those things that you know something about. All those things that you think might even be helpful to them when they grow up.

Well. Some of that happens. Occasionally they even listen to you about something you’re keen to tell them about.

Just like any of us, kids develop specialist subjects, and they expect you to be expert in them.

Whether you are or not.

Mini is all about cars. Car identification: tick. Identifying old cars never previously seen: tick. Ability to continue to identify cars, at speed, even when tired or grumpy: tick.

I have been apprenticed to the school of digger appreciation in the past, so I have learned a little in this respect. Part of me rails against it; part of me is genuinely fascinated by the interest in something that would never have taken my fancy at that age.

So we talk about cars. Turns out I do know something about them now. Driving helps. As does looking at badges of Suzuki vs Seat close up, so we can tell the difference between them. (You’ll be off to check for yourself now.)

We start to introduce some car part terminology: hub caps, exhaust pipes, soft tops. Mini is entranced. I am quite proud of myself. This level of car knowledge I can deal with.

Mini will tell you as soon as a car has different hub caps to its overall make. It never occurred to me to look at hub caps, unless they happened to be particularly shiny and caught my eye, but now we look at hub caps.

We play variants on hand sandwich. Somethings we use hands, sometimes we just talk it through when walking along. There is still bread on the bottom, but then we get windscreens, horns, seatbelts.

Just the kind of things you want in a sandwich.

Mini wants to know ‘how cars go to the toilet’. So we talk about exhaust pipes getting rid of what cars don’t need. And, for good measure (and because we’ve noticed them too), we talk about radiator grilles, and what the car does if it gets too hot.

There is even a particular red Ford GT that we look out for, on our way to the sports centre.

—-

When kids love diggers, you learn to love them too. You spot them when the kids aren’t even there. You might even turn and remark to the person next to you when you’ve seen a particularly cool bit of equipment.

Until you realise that they are just another adult at the bus stop next to you. Then you go quiet.

Actually, I’ve managed not to do that part, just about. And by now, I have forgotten more of my digger knowledge.

Plus Junior has moved on to other things, and I need some working memory to talk about spies, and the MI5 and MI6 buildings, and how much of the spy equipment in books is likely to be possible.

Fortunately, there are also specialist subjects where you overlap. I am discovering that Mini knows a lot of the songs and rhymes that I do. And is keen to learn more.

I can remember telling Junior about the phrase ‘once upon a time’. There was this frisson: I am getting to tell my child about this really wonderful thing. The magic phrase that starts so many stories.

Now Mini is prepared to hear other magic. Like Morningtown Ride, or Golden Slumbers. And, equally, songs like Yellow Submarine, or She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain.

Every now and then, we’ll find another song we have in common. And hopefully sing it together.

(Sometimes I am told off for this. Including for singing along with a song on CD in the car. It’s obviously fine for Mini to sing along with it, though.)

—-

I’ve written before about those points of connection with a parent: where you share the thing they love.

There is a special status to those things. Even in memory, they have some kind of internal glow about them when you recall them.

I am very grateful that there are those points of connection for me with both Junior and Mini. And that Dan has his too.

And part of me can share a smaller glow when recalling things that are my children’s specialist subjects too.

Even when it’s diggers. Or hub caps.

 

Summer ’14: expansion set

You know those board games that are only good for a certain number of players? Or have limited numbers of plays, after a while?

Serious board game makers and players (and I hardly count myself among them, but I have learned this much) solve the problem with expansion sets.

That way, the game allows for more players. More moves. More rules. More complications too.

So here’s some more summer memories – expansion set style.

===

Indoor golf. It’s the way to go. It’s particularly the way to go when it feels safe, funny, good, day after day. As I write this, we’ve played it for three days straight, and I suspect we will do some more.

It works particularly well in a large hall with smooth floors. So well that we have to stop Junior Player from turning it more into something like hockey – or even lacrosse. (Not our paintwork, sweetie.)

===

Playdough. Making feasts. Particularly, making green spaghetti, cutting it up small, putting it in a pan, tipping it on to a plastic tray, and popping it in the pretend oven. For ten minutes.

(Everything is cooked for ten minutes. I checked with the head chef. Except, I think I got away with cooking pretend gingerbread men for twenty minutes, the other day. Mustn’t tell.)

We develop our own specialisms. Dan does well on fancy cakes and pies – particularly ones with an extra playdough cutout on top. Your age, your initial, whatever you fancy.

===

Cuddles the dog. He’s soft, he’s squishy, and he works well on a swing, or down a chute. Or sometimes dropped, head first, from a climbing frame.

(Lest you worry, gentle readers, Cuddles is a soft toy. All is well. Although his coat does pick up fluff at playgrounds quite effectively.)

On the day I am writing this, Cuddles gets his own bed. It’s a doll’s bed, but he doesn’t mind. In fact, we forget to bring him to the park this time – but we decide he is having a nap.

(He might equally be at the dog grooming parlour while we are out having fun on the swings.)

===

Tomato soup has become its own food group. It’s the cure for anything, really. Although, when an iPad is in the background, there are serious distractions. I know, because the
T-shirts have the stains to prove it.

It is also clear that, whatever is in Mummy’s snack box each day, however many varieties there are, they will all disappear. (But they may also get shared with friends at the park. Which is fine too.)

===

We are telling stories. Stories about us. Stories about what we did yesterday.

Stories about what we did ten minutes ago. We are building up a shared language. The subject matter circulates through the sunshine and the heat.

One day, I tell the story about how I put my watch through the washing machine by mistake.

The next day, the story is retold to me. But then I am given a replacement watch. It’s made out of a twig bent round my wrist, but it does the job just fine.

Because we are back at the park, and you don’t need too much precision when you are trying to keep playing for as long as you can.

===

Everything is of note in this new world. That Mummy wears the same earrings every day. That there are lots of taxis just now, and we can sit on the step and wait for the next one to come.

There are giggles. Misunderstandings. Hide and seek opportunities that were missed the first time and embraced the next. Discoveries that bath toys make interesting noises if you apply them to your tummy. Repeatedly.

We talk backwards about the drive being laid and forwards about significant birthdays next year. We learn new vocabulary for piggybacks and we discover that there are astrogators in the upper atmosphere, if only we look for them.

The summer is rich and full, and even the rain gives us something to talk about. Forwards and backwards, like the swing, going on up to the sky and back.

Making: the scooping up blanket

So last time round I mentioned that I had all these leftover handles from the eco bags I’d been cutting up. And they seem just right for the idea of a scooping up blanket.

Dan and Junior Reader are Lego afficianados. To be honest, it’s building anything – it could be K’nex, or Duplo, or anything else that you stick together.

I admire the things they create – they have a much more instinctive understanding of making than I do. Plus they can both think in 3D, which is a challenge to me.

But the downside of these building sessions is that there are lots of tiny bits, spread out. And when it comes to tidying up, it takes a long time, there’s quite a lot of harumphing over the tidying up, and there’s invariably a few bits that are found later.

So how would it be if you used a blanket for the spreading things out stage – then pulled the corners to form a bag? Then (carefully) tip the Lego into its drawers, and you’re done.

The plus side to this plan, as I see it, is the chance to have a nice comfy surface under you as you sit and build.

The question mark is: do you make it as a quilt? And the even bigger question: should the quilt look like Lego itself?

So here’s where I’m at so far on the thinking about this.

I like the idea, and I think it would be very useful. And I have those sturdy handles all ready to use. (More than I need for one blanket. Maybe I’ll make a second scooping-up blanket for something else.)

Downside of a Lego-style quilt: potentially difficult to see the actual pieces on if it looks like Lego too (ie Lego-type colours, similar shaped blocks).

BUT if I did a Lego style quilt, and put a plain backing on it, then you could use the plain side to build on, so you could see the pieces.

And then you’d have the visual joke of the Lego side for other occasions where you might like to have something to snuggle (thinks: Sunday film afternoons?).

Big plus of this: we know the Lego colours already. We know they work together. There’s no pattern matching to do. And the pieces can be Lego shaped, which could be fun to plan.

I think if I do this, I’ll probably aim for using Duplo blocks for sizing, rather than actual Lego sizing, which would be too fiddly to work with.

(After discussion with Dan, that size is probably too small too. Think bigger.)

It might also be an excuse to cut out little bits of coloured paper, and move them around to find a pattern I like. Plus I do have that rotary cutter now, so I should be able to cut suitable sized blocks of fabric.

It’s at this point that I see the addiction of making. It’s not just about solving problems; it’s about thinking about the best way of doing so.

I know that if I do this, it’ll be a lot of work. And I do my sewing by hand, so that could mean it takes a while.

But at the same time, I am really enjoying the sewing. If the teeny tiny quilt gets finished OK, then I’ll have some more skills for doing the next stage.

Plus I’ve got a LOT of quilt-stuffing material from those old pillows. I might as well make use of it.

If I can, I’m going to use the fabric left over from the eco bags, where I think it fits sufficiently with Lego colours. I’ve got time to plan it; maybe to hunt for scraps of material that would work.

But in the meantime, I’ve found the perfect scrap of material for another project – and one I’m going to complete first, I think.

It’s an end of bed tidy thing, sewn, with pockets. More on that next time.