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Alexander Residence: 01/10/10 - 01/11/10

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Virtual Housekeeping

A little bit of virtual housekeeping seems appropriate for a Sunday.  Especially a Sunday where I have been hungover and thoroughly unproductive, and have done nothing in the way of real housekeeping.  Mr A and I got to go out together for the first time in ages on Saturday night (we did have this amazing babysitter and then she got we are a bit stuck).  We had a great time but drank too much wine.  Today, with the clocks going back, was not a good day to gain an hour and a hangover.  It has been a very.... long.... day..... 

So housekeeping.  Firstly huge thank you to What did she say for bigging me up on her blog.  I have lots of respect for Tina, because she takes getting to know her fellow bloggers seriously.  No half hearted comments, she spends time really reading your blog.  She is a woman to get to know.

Secondly thanks to all my new blogging friends on the new to blogging group on BMB, who keep popping in and making me feel loved, it is lovely to feel part of a little community within the huge community of mummy bloggers.  On that note twitter is starting to make a bit more sense, lovely to meet people there too.

I am enjoying having a bit of a weekly focus, so thanks to Tara at Sticky Fingers for The Gallery and Mummy's Little Monkey for blow your own bloghorn.  And to Laura at AWNTYM for the carnival.  Anyone know of any other great things like this to join?  I would especially like to find some writing ones...

And well, if you have just popped by, please leave a comment and say a quick hello, just 'hello' is fine, its just nice to know who has been dropping in.  If you have a blog I will race over and say hello back.
Right going to watch X factor on catch up tv, its been a long day.

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Friday, 29 October 2010

Quite proud of me and Miss L's photography

Here is my respose to the prompt 'seasons' at Tara's The Gallery.

After all the illness in our house this Autumn I was losing all hope of leaving the house and kicking through some leaves.  But we had a lovely stay in the 'van at Ilam, Dovedale in the Peak District last weekend and it felt really Autumnal.  It's a beautiful place and we remembered the proper camera for once.  Miss L has got really into taking pictures.  She went wild on her birthday and shot loads of kid's eye view pics of people's legs and chins.  But she took some crackers at Ilam, and I was quite pleased with some of mine too.

I wish I had had this pic for The Gallery the other week, can't believe how red the leaves were.  Miss L loves this tree.  Its a proper huge climbing tree, the stuff of childhood legend, the leaves reach down to the floor so its like being in a tent. 

Mr A looking particularly evil.  Leaf fight. Can't believe I actually caught them in the air first shot.  Bit shadowy though...

Miss L took  this one of me, and I love the fact she caught the sun's rays.

Mr G taken by Miss L.  Reminds me of how he is becoming so much more independent.

 Miss L's snap of Daddy.  Reminds me the world's a different place from her height. 
An amazingly clear Autumn sky.

So, gorgeous view, but there's always a bigger picture with kids.  Miss L is staging a sit down protest at having to walk.  Mr A going in to negotiate, I'm behind the camera counting to ten and admiring the view while Mr G wails his little heart out. 

(Apologies to any of you who may have seen this post in a former incarnation already, but as soon as I saw the prompt  I knew I had to use it).

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Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Creative writing - this week I have been writing about schooldays...

My latest Open University Creative Writing module is three weeks in and I am gradually starting to remember how to string a sentence together.  This blog was always going to be about me finding the balance, as well as the kids. So here's a little bit of writing I'm proud of.  The prompt was very confusing, but essentially you had to write a passage of prose in which the viewpoint of the listener is implied by what the speaker says, and the way it is said.  A few echoes to my past as a teacher here, but I was never this quick off the mark:

‘In the “real world” Jack, I have to break it to you - this work of conceptual fiction to which you dedicate so many of your waking hours, staring out the window dreaming of lie ins, pints, pasties, pubs, girls and proper work - in the “real world” there are rules too.  One day you will no longer be a caged monkey in my classroom, in this place you term, so endearingly, forgive my translation, “excrement hole”.  One day you will scale the dizzy heights of one of your father’s scaffolding towers, or perhaps scramble under the bonnet of a broken down car, my little grease monkey.  Well then, I don’t think anyone - to paraphrase your language, how shall we describe it ‘gritty realism?’,  ‘pared down prose?’ - well Jack, my dear, in those “real life” circumstances, if you will forgive my application of a thesaurus to your delicate words, I don’t think anyone will give a ‘flying fornication’ or even an “excrement” as to whether your shirt is tucked in.  But they might care that you forgot to secure a guardrail or wear your hard hat.  And if you forgot to test the brake pads, now that would be a small disaster would it not?  And before you say “That’s testicles Miss” can you please leave Sophie’s hair alone, turn to page 46 and give myself and your classmates a chance to discuss something other than your shirt, which given that you say you don’t give a “female dog’s bottom” about it, is taking rather a lot of our time today.’

Not sure where it is going, but I had fun writing it.  Maybe some teaching demons I forgot to exorcise...there was another piece about a dodgy caretaker...

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Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The world according to Mr G

I have been a bit quiet on the Mr G front I realise.  He is generally quite a contented, happy go lucky kind of guy and plays much more independently than I remember his big sister doing.  But I do feel guilty sometimes that I'm missing his new tricks.  Is that second child syndrome?

My friend K looked after him recently while I took her son and Miss L to a party.  When I came back K (she is amazing with kids) pointed out all the new things he had been doing, lining up cars, building a garage for them.  It hit me his play has suddenly become much more ordered.  Bless him, he really is trying to make sense of the world. 

So this picture is in honour of Mr G, only a month off being two.  I really love the way the lines of the rug emphasise the way his cars, happyland spaceship and plane are in the process of being lined up and organised too.  Yep we have a slight penchant for stripes in our house (who knows where Mr G's penchant for order comes from though).

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Sunday, 24 October 2010

Can blogging make you happier?

This week I have been wondering if blogging can make people happier.  This has all been triggered by a tiny scrap of paper above my desk, torn from a Sunday supplement, which outlines 12 happiness enhancing activities.  I don't think it is a coincidence that since I turned my desk to face this scrap of paper and took some notice of it, my happiness has grown.  I'm not running round with a manic grin all day, but I am definitely chirpier about my lot.  It's also happened in the time in which I started my blog. 

Psychologists reckon 40% of our happiness is within our control.  Step 6 of the twelve activities, which I reckon applies most to blogging, is 'writing down your feelings', which either directly, or in a roundabout way, most bloggers do.  Like many bloggers I have come across, I started blogging to blog myself out of a rut, after three years as a full time mum I suddenly got very itchy feet.

Three other activities from the list relevant to blogging are ' step four, practising acts of kindness', 'step five, making time for friends' and step one expressing 'gratutude' something you definitely do by wholeheartedly following other blogs, making supportive comments and replying to comments on your own blog. It's very early days for me, but it's great to meet interesting new people, I hope they become friendships. Blogging can also make you vulnerable, I read Rosie Scribble's post last week about getting scared by a nasty comment, but the lovely comments that followed were reassuring.  (Step seven controversially, is is to 'forgive', hmm not sure that's such an easy one).

Step 8 suggests you to 'immerse yourself in new activities'. One little blog is a whole lot of new activity. Last week I tackled Twitter and got a lovely warm welcome, a few weeks back I learnt how to make a header from tutorial at Violet Posy. Every time I look at someone else's blog I am filled with new ideas either for things to do with my kids or things to do with my blog. I am learning new things with my kids all the time, but they don't always stretch my brain at the level it was used to being stretched before kids.  I feel like I am on a steep learning curve again and I love it.

Step 9, reccomends you 'Savour life's joys'.  Parent blogging encourages you to take time to record children's milestones or misdemeanours, to enjoy a cup of tea and a chance to reflect.  Raising kids, especially compared to the full time careers many parents leave behind, postpone or juggle, can feel like a series of very small things in a sea of mess and frustration. I have discovered how much I like to unpick these small things.

Blogging has huge happiness pitfalls too. Step 3 explains that happy people 'avoid obsessing and don't pay too much attention to what others are doing'.  I think this has huge implications for blogging.  It's easy to be blown away by other bloggers' amazing achievements, (especially as a newbie), and to start comparing lifestyles, stats, traffic, layouts, writing, photography, followers, comments, and feeling inferior.  This week I also read 80% of blogs are abandoned after less than a month.   Crystal Jigsaw's post on competitive blogging throws some lovely perspective onto these issues. 

So I moved a desk, found a scrap of paper, started a blog and found happiness.  Not so simple. There are still rubbish days, phone my husband and beg him to come home early and give me a break from the kids days.  But the scrap of paper reminded me that in life there are little things you can do to make a huge difference to your happiness. Blogging seems to be one of them.

What do you reckon? Has blogging had an impact on your happiness?

P.S.  Step 2 is to  'Cultivate optimism.  Visualise a future where everything has turned out the way you want it and write it down.'  Now that's got to be an entertaining blog post...

Credit: The article was from The Guardian.  The research was by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Professor of Psychology at the University of California.

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Thursday, 21 October 2010

Me and my Twitter L plates

I decided I would go to the BMB twitter party the other week.  But with half an hour to go, no twitter account and no fairy godmother, it was looking unlikely.  Somehow after a lot of tooing and froing between the instructions on BMB and my newly installed tweetdeck I managed to scrape it all together with a few minutes to go and get my suggestion in. Not too inspired, just to plant some bulbs, but I'd used up all my energy on getting there.  It was good to see bulbs made it into the final list, although I reckon I wasn't the only one to suggest it.  Now I am in twitterland I am finding it addictive, but I also feel like the new girl, I have no idea what I am doing or how anything really works.   So it was really nice to come face to face with some other parent bloggers.  I used theBMB twitter group and #bmb to find people.

Beckicklesie and mamummyblog made me very welcome immediately and I had a chat over cake with Laura from AYNTY who let me know about her carnival.  I compared the state of my kitchen with vwallop and then realised babybudgetingtips used to teach us baby signing.  There were several apologies to people who I sent the wrong message to, ooops not sure quite how I managed that, it really is easy peasy.

So I am not sure how much of my life I can actually commit to Twitter, luckily today has been a slow day as both kids aren't too well.  Maybe it gets much faster when you actually know what you are doing?  But it was fun to dip my toes in.  So my little bird icon is there, in the twitter widget on the column to the right, please follow me and tweet away@Aresidence. Oh and if anyone has any tips to help to get the most out of Twitter, I would be dead grateful.  Whilst I have been living this virtual life this morning the house has become a bombsite, sorry even more of a bomb site than usual.  Any tips on that?


Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The little red camper van saves the day

I can't believe it didn't hit me straight away when I saw The Gallery prompt was 'the colour red'.  It's a big red van and its sat on our drive.  And it has nothing to do with Halloween, (sorry I'll try harder next time!) except perhaps the circumstances in which it came to us, which were pretty nightmarish. 

This is not just a campervan.  It represents hope, freedom, new beginnings and huge amount of happiness. We bought Win the campervan at a difficult time, my mum was going through chemotherapy, we had just had Mr G and were reeling with the shock of having two under three, my Grandma had died days before G's birth, Mr A's business was facing a huge sink or swim turning point and for a long time life was a confusing blur.  I am only just starting to realise how much of the last couple of years I have forgotten.

The van is called Win, after my Grandma, whose inheritence money paid for her.  We just wanted to get away, not completely, just now and again, at a moment's notice, whenever life got too stressful.  I think Grandma would have approved.

We had some fantastic trips in her and fell in love with getting out to the country and camping.  But it wasn't quite as stress free as we had hoped.  We were forever having to repack the van if we wanted to move, Mr A is tall and was always bumping his head, Mr G was fine for a bit in his moses basket, but once he outgrew it he was too small and wriggly to sleep up top with Miss L.  So we decided to swap for a caravan. 

Although like Jeremy Clarkson, I had reservations about caravans, I am now a total convert.  We get away once a month for a weekend, even in the winter, more in the summer.  It is the perfect antidote to suburbia (We live in the second biggest concentrations of under 5s in the UK - I need to escape the bugaboo and phil and ted traffic jams urgently).  It keeps our family happy and together.

So sadly Win is for sale, fairly urgently, but Winnie the caravan stays.  Miss L is gutted, she loves Winnie, but Win the campervan will always hold a huge pace in her heart.  She was the first step on our road to recovery.  I doubt a camper will appeal to many parent bloggers of small children, not after what I have said here, but if you know anyone after a VW, get in touch!

Mr G when he was weeny enough to sleep in the boot

Miss L and Winnie the pooh bear, our camping mascot, asleep in the top deck

Mr A at the wheel

Me and tea.  Horrid photo, god I look stressed! I was then.

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What do you think your children will be when they grow up?

Do you have visions of what your offspring might do when they grow up?  I had a glimpse into the future last week.  I was watching Miss L making a bindee bead bird, transferring the tiny beads into the right place in the tray, not in the slightest bit frustrated or in need of help (its taken a long long time to get to this point, four years and four weeks precisely). It hit me how much she has always loved fiddly things and how they don't seem to faze her. I was also thinking that I hope in the future she does something different to me and Mr A.  It struck me, in what felt to me like a light bulb moment how I could imagine her as an artist. Making, sticking, drawing and painting seems to give her so much pleasure. Rather than pots of poster paint, glitter and toilet rolls, her current mediums of choice, I had a little vision of her in her own studio, surrounded by vintage fabric, buttons, ribbons, beads and jewellery making equipment. I love all that stuff, but whilst I could do the creative vision, I never had enough patience or persistence to see my ideas though.
On reflection it all smacks a little of me trying to push my child to fulfil I dream I didn't. Anyway, it felt significant at the time, so I thought I would tell her.

Me: I could see you being an artist when you grow up.
L: What's an artist?
M: Someone who paints, draws, designs things.
L:  No. I don't want to.  I don't want to be an artist, I want to be a rock star.

So there we have it, my dream's are dashed,  (but you go girrrrlllll!)  Or so I thought until a friend bought her a rock star jewellery making kit over the weekend.  Maybe our visions can unite...

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Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Media Monkeys - Kids say the funniest things

Once upon a time, in a faraway place, before I had children, in what seems many moons ago, I taught Media in a secondary school.   My A level groups did a research project called Children and Television, in which they researched the effects of television on young minds.  This often resulted in them making hugely spurious claims of the effects of television.  My role was to challenge them to see young children as more than porous empty vessels to be loaded with violent, sexist, consumerist, mixed up messages about the world. Now I have children, life feels like a daily media research project.  I still credit children with being incredibly media savvy, they can decode messages, and process them in line with what they already know about the world.  But I realise my four year old is going to need a lot of help with that ( 'Mummy stop, look at the terrovision, I want that!').  I realise how important media education and literacy is (I have listed some resources for young children below).  By that I don't mean teaching media is bad, it's not.  In fact much of it is hugely creative and exciting.  It also offers huge employment possibilities, who knows maybe my children will become ad designers or TV producers.  But learning to decode television's messages and make up your own mind, that's what I will be aiming for.  Especially after this exchange with four year old Miss L:

Miss L and gran are beating buttercream for fairy cakes.  Miss L loses her grip on the spoon and smears buttercream across her dress.

Miss L: Mummy is it tough?
Me: Yes, mixing buttercream is very tough.
Miss L: No I mean is it tough stains. I saw it on the telly. For tough stains you need something to put in the washing machine.
Me: ha ha, spluttering on my tea.

I had no idea she was picking up so much from adverts, she rarely even watches programming with ads.  So forget learning to count and write letters for now, we are going to start media education.  Here is an excellent list of five tips to create awareness of advertising and here is a fascinating snippet of research into three year old's brand awareness.  Would love to hear about other people's advertising/tv experiences.

Picture credit The Advertising Archive

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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Goodnight bulbs, sleep tight

     Since we traded our first floor flat in London, for a house with a garden in Nottingham, I have been on a steep learning curve.  Fortunately my Dad took on the role of Head Gardener.  I cannot be trusted with a houseplant, never mind a whole garden full of specimens.  It's no secret in our family that the greenfingered gene, like the map reading gene, bypassed me.  Dad is also encouraging a whole new generation of gardeners, Miss L and Mr G are fascinated.  They loved their veg patch this summer, especially the peas and strawberries.  Digging for potatoes was a huge hit.  We thanked Dad with a Jamie Oliver 'Digging for potatoes is always an adventure' tea towel.  Mr G loves digging.  Even with a bouncy castle in the garden on Miss L's birthday, all he wanted to do was dig.  Unfortunately he also likes to transplant the soil across the lawn, so I am trying to encourage him back into the sandpit.

I hate the garden at this time of year, suddenly the place we lived in for the summer is cold, wet, decaying and uninviting.  So it was really good to be out there doing something positive today.  We rescued the last of the tomatoes, planted some winter lettuce to deter Mr G from digging in the empty raised bed and had a bit of a tidy up.  Dad, star that he is, attacked the hedge and the lawn.  Then we did my favourite bit, planted some bulbs, a bit of spring promise.  Miss L and Dad said goodnight to them, which I thought was very sweet.  We drank lots of tea and chatted.  The perfect way to spend a day.

Granddad you missed a bit. Supervising the lawn mowing. 

After a hard day's work, Mr G just chillin wiv his Gran.

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Get down and cool the seat of your saddle

Texan to British English translation: come in and visit for a while.

Mr A is in Texas with work this week. We miss him alot, but we are getting more used to his monthly trips abroad. It's always a tiring week for us both, fortnight if you count his recovery from jetlag on his return. But our weeks without him always bring everyone closer (and give me even more respect for single parents). I emailed him this picture of the kid's homage to Texas. He phoned to say he has bought them some dressing up gear. Can't wait to see what they look like. We all want a Stetson!

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Sunday, 3 October 2010

Starter kits for super heros

It was Miss L's friend's birthday and he loves Super Heroes. His present was going to have to be something along hero lines, but reading PopCo reignited my mistrust of plastic toy tack. Especially as those things we bought for Miss L's birthday, which were inspired by her seeing adverts on TV, were abandoned after the first play in favour of the more traditional old favourites we had selected for her, like a doctor's kit and play dough set. So, determined not to get sucked in again, I googled super hero pre school and I found some excellent stuff.
First though I discovered some nurseries actually ban superhero play, because it is so physical and noisy. Then I read about some who positively channel it, there were some great examples, like making Ben 10 watches and an alien display. Seeing as Miss L and her friends tell me on a daily basis they are not Miss L or Mr A but a superhero, I guess their pre school embraces all things superhero. When I asked at pre school they did indeed show me a very impressive Ben 10 junk model. So I realised I also needed to choose an 'appropriate' super hero gift. That's when I stumbled on the Super Hero ABC by Bob McLeod.
Last time Miss L and her friends were at the soft play centre we were shocked to discover they were mooching about, asking to go home and squabbling. My friend realised they just needed a creative injection and sent them off lookout for 'the giant's keys'. Suddenly they were rejuvenated. The Superhero ABC stuck me as ideal shot of inspiration, at age four they want to
be superhero but don't fully understand what that means. The ABC has a superhero for each letter along with words, actions and kit for that letter. So they learn exciting new words, get positive play ideas and learn their ABC. Plus there are male and female heroes and they are
appropriate for their age. No guns, weapons, dark situations or graphic violence. These heros rescue people with goo, laughter, rain. I loved night man who is 'never nervous of night noises'. Because we all know superheros represent the good side of life and fight some dark forces, but four year olds aren't quite ready to hear all about the dark side.
We also bought the Super Hero Starter Kit by Klutz. The red cape went down a treat with Miss L's friend, apparently he even went to bed in it. It comes with different masks and stickers to create your own hero. I think there is a place for character suits emulating TV/film superheros, but making your own super hero, now that is much more creative. Dressing up when I was little we never had these suits, we made up our creations. I did this recently with Miss L and her friend and they were so much more involved than when they put on pre made costumes.
Excuse me disaster calls, better go, find a phone box to change into, put my pants over my leggings. Today Michael I am supermum (ha ha!)

Sent from my iPhone

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Friday, 1 October 2010

Can toddlers do irony?

I have been trying to pinpoint recently why life has seemed a bit
easier. I think just 4 and nearly two are both slightly easier ages,
(than newborn and terrible two or nearly three and nine months).
Miss L is really enjoying drawing. She is really good at it. There are
lots of skills she hasn't mastered, scooting, cycling and gross motor
skills have caused her no end of frustration. Her key worker told me
the other day in no uncertain terms that catching a ball is not her
forte. But she has always enjoyed fiddly stuff, my doll's house,
playmobil, drawing. What drives me mad is that she never wants to
draw with me. She will produce masterpieces at pre-school or when I am
not around. She came home from pre-school yesterday and made four
butterfly pictures. But if I ask her to draw a picture, normally for a
thank you or birthday card, she refuses. My OH reckons this is just
her 'artistic temperament'. In fact there is lots of artistic
temperament in our house and creative stuff normally gets quite heated,
too many cooks as they say. I thought it would be the part I would
most enjoy about parenting but I think I am just a frustrated kid. I
have to get on with my own painting and sticking alongside the kids to
stop myself interfering with their work. I watch other kids at
playgroups asking their parents to help them. Miss L would never allow
She's starting to play with drawing numbers and letters. She will let
me help with that, although coaxing her through the frustration that
goes with that is an art. It really took me back, I think I can
remember being her age and being half desperate to learn and utterly
frustrated with trying to coordinate brain and hand. But it's an
exciting new phase and I love it so much more than the terrible twos.
Mr G is picking up new words every day and starting to put them
together. It's magic and I should be writing more of it down. Last
night as he gave his last half hearted shouts of Mama from his cot I
also swear I heard him say 'it's dark'. He also says cuddle and kiss -
he knows how to pull at the heartstrings. He's recently mastered share
and please, generally ironically, while stealing food or clutching a
toy he has just snatched. Apart from it being lovely to hear him
speaking it's also hilarious.
Just trying to make the most of it before we turn another corner,
which might be less straightforward!

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