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Alexander Residence: 01/08/11 - 01/09/11

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Little Legacy #9 30 seconds to calm

My Mum's magical sleep solution was popular a couple of weeks ago, so I thought I would share another relaxation technique she taught me.  My mum was always sharing ideas like this, she gave them out freely like little gifts, to those she met who seemed in need.  She left them on post it notes when I was revising, popped them in letters when I left home.  Our best man got through his speech on a relaxation technique my mum taught him.

When mum offered to teach me this one, I resisted at first, the kids were driving me crazy, the last thing I wanted to do was to stop and listen.  Then she told me it only took 30 seconds.

You really owe it to yourself to take 30 seconds to learn this.  Let the numbers guide you to slightly bigger breaths each time.  I find concentrating on the sequence wipes the mind of worries.  There's something very satisfying in the maths.  And if it doesn't quite work the first time, well what's another 30 seconds out of life?

Breathe in 1 Breathe out 2
Breathe in 3,4 Breathe out 5,6
Breathe in 7,8,9 Breathe out 10,11,12
Breathe in 13,14,15,16 Breathe out 17,18,19,20
Breathe in 21,22,23,24,25 Breathe out 26,27,28,29,30

Tip - if like me, you are numerically challenged, use your fingers to tap out the rising number of counts in each breath.

Little legacy is a remembrance project , a positive and creative space, to celebrate small things handed down by predecessors

More on Little Legacy

Feel free to share a little legacy too, by linking up a post or simply leaving a comment.

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Sunday, 28 August 2011

Silent Sunday

Photo credit Miss L 

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Saturday, 27 August 2011

Listography Seasonal Survival Tactics

Kate's gone on holiday and asked me to sit her listography. I'm a little nervous, but I am told it's well trained and doesn't bite. I hope she brings me a stick of rock back from sunny Wales.


So, seasonal survival tactics. I'm thinking more of surviving the domestic jungle than the outback. I'm drowning in clutter and chaos. The washing pile rivals Snowdon. The peasants are revolting. Since we relaxed the rules and embraced summer no one listens to a word I say.  My children are free ranging on feral.

Yet somehow in a week's time I have to restore order before my oldest starts school. It's a familiar story around the country. Back to school.  But I really don't think you need school age kids to get that feeling as September looms.

This September, for the first time ever as a family unit, we must be clean, presentable, fed and watered before nine am Monday to Friday.  I confess I don't think we have ever achieved that five days running in the last five years, never mind the last six weeks.

So come on, survival of the fittest, what are your tactics?  I'm looking for the systems, life changing apps, fail proof techniques, honed routines, off topic distractions, tongue in cheek remedies, anti S.A.D. measures...whatever you recommend to survive the transition from summer to autumn.

1. Stationery.  September means stationery. No more writing to do lists in red crayon on the back of an unpaid bill, there will be new pens, notebooks and an academic diary.  I will dig out the Dodo family calendar I was given at Cybermummy, from under an avalanche of paperwork. There have been some violations of the cornerstone of family harmony, the family calendar of late. Come Sept the rules will be final. S/he who gets it down on the calendar first gets to do it.  I will write important dates and things to remember on it, and look at it at least once a day.

2.  Holiday. I think I might of just been on one, but that doesn't stop me planning the next one right?  It's my rule of thumb that you should plan your next holiday on your return journey, especially if you are prone to SAD or live in Britain where there's been so little summer to feel SAD about.  If we can wangle a weekend long babysitter and copious amounts of cash, there's a wedding we've been invited to in sunny Spain this Autumn...

3 Gadgetry.  Ideally that gadget that gets people out of bed and to the breakfast table from Wallace and Grommet   Failing that, I am seriously thinking of investing in one of these.

4 Capsule wardrobe - I want what he's got.  
It's not just the kids who need uniform.  A new season means new clothes. I don't do summer clothes very well, I much prefer cardigans and jeans to shorts and vests.   This autumn I will achieve a selection of clothes which mean I can pluck out an outfit in seconds, rather than scrambling round the floor, washing basket and clothes airer. Gok I need you.  It is also my dream comrades, that the rest of the family will finally graduate from their training in dirty washing disposal.

5 Bribery and mother's ruin. Ice creams, Pimms and Haribo worked for the summer. Perhaps September calls for harder stuff. Hard cash for their child labour and gin for mine. Pocket money will be paid consistently, gin will be drunk copiously.

Over to you, please share the wealth.  Looking forward to visiting and making some new friends.

And for lovers of small things and family traditions, life writers, family historians and those who have loved and lost, check out my Little Legacy project, you can link up posts on Thursdays.

Learn more about Kate Takes 5 Listography here.

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Thursday, 25 August 2011

Little Legacy #8 Bilberry picking

Photo credit Wild Eepe
"I went back to the bilberry picking grounds of my childhood this week too. I stood on the rambling hills admiring the 360 views. It is so flat here in the east of the UK, I miss the west. Something else was missing for us too of course, my dear mum. But it was still sticky, sweet magic to return.  We laughed at the way my brother and I used to plead to be allowed to be released from our child labour as we froze on the hillside and she cried out, 'Just a few more berries.' "

Do you know those moments when you leave a story in a status update, a tale in a tweet, or an entire blog post in another blogger's comments?  That's what I did  to Manana Mama's gorgeous post Rambling this week.  Then I realised it was a good little legacy for the week, so I borrowed it back again.  

It was the first time I had returned to the spot since we scattered mum's ashes there back in blustery March.  The wind that had whipped around us was replaced by sunshine, the heather was a purple blaze and the tiny bilberries were bursting bright ready for picking.  I watched as my children stuffed their faces and stained their fingers purple with juice, and glimpsed the magic my mother saw all those years back too.  Her bilberry picking legacy lives on. 

I'm rather proud of making it to eight little legacies.  It's making a huge difference in my life.  As always, companions on the journey are made very welcome.  The space is there if you need it.  There is a linky, but me, I prefer the word space.  Or if your time is tight or you're afraid you'll lose it if you don't get it down now, just leave your little legacy in the comments.


Little legacy is a remembrance project , a positive and creative space, to celebrate small things handed down by predecessors

More on Little Legacy

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Wednesday, 24 August 2011

How do you survive family car journeys?

Want a little sneaky peak into one of our car journeys during our holiday in Wales?

Acupressure Sea-bands facilitated all this in car activity.  Normally, unless I am in the driver's seat, I get nauseous.  I have to stare out the front window, or everyone feels my wrath.  Woe betide anyone who needs me to turn round or read a map.  If I sit in the back it's worse.  But with Sea-bands on, I found I could sit in the back to keep Mr G from sneaking a nap too close to bedtime, by singing along to Rolf Harris and sharing Eskimo kisses.

Why the why why why did no-one tell me about these cool little wristbands sooner?  Like when I was pregnant?  They can also be used for morning sickness and cancer nausea and sickness.  Being drug free they are particularly perfect for children, cancer patients and pregnant women.

I have four sets to give away, 2 adult and 2 children's.  Let me know whether you want to win adult or child Sea-bands.  Competition ends this time next week, UK entry only.

What you get up to in the car on family holidays?

Disclaimer - Seaband gave me an adult and child set.  The kids don't really get car sick so they spent the holiday wearing a very funky Sea-band each as a fashion accessory. 

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Sunday, 21 August 2011

Just So Festival in pictures

Just so festival... is perfect for little ones.  We went along for the day on Sunday, to Barnswood, Staffordshire.  The site is a Scout camp which lends itself perfectly to the event.  Rather than a series of big fields as you would perhaps expect from a festival, there was a collection of small, themed forest clearings.  Each one was a fantastical journey into the imagination drawing on different art forms.  So many spaces to explore, plenty of shelter and lots of gentle stimuli to encourage creativity.

Out favourite area was Tall Trees wood where, after dressing up at the Junior Magazine tent, the kids got to facepaint themselves or their grown ups, to bang drums, play on an old piano and most exciting of all, to take part in outlaw training, a bootcamp for wannabe merry men and women to Robin Hood which entailed stealth walking, hiding in the forest, shooting imaginary arrows and stalking parents.  The stuff of proper childhood.

Wonderland caught our imagination, and reeled us in.  Before we knew it the children were following Alice through the edges of the clearing, twirling ribbons and looking for the caterpillar.  It was magic to see the ease with which they slipped into playing and problem solving alongside the adult actors.

When the caterpillar appeared, perched, with help from some stilts, on a mushroom, Mr G's face was pure wonder.

Whereas Miss L engaged the caterpillar in conversation...

We had a rather lovely half hour in a craft tent, helping to sew and stick buttons and flowers onto a piece of art created especially at the event by and for its participants.

The beach area was fun, Mr G loved the boat and some more pirate role play.

Miss L loved making her own LUSH bath bomb.

It was a wonderfully unspoilt adventure.  I was unbelievably grateful for the complete lack of plastic tat and sweets on sale.  There were no additional charges apart from for food and drink, which was yummy.  The brands involved were low key and very special. The Weleda goody bags were amazing. We had a chat with the just fruit smoothie and no sugar ice lolly seller, a Dad who got fed up of buying sugary lollies for his son, and enjoyed lots of good old fashioned homemade cake.

Fruit Freezies were a hit
We just couldn't do it in a day, definitely going for the weekend next year, making more effort to fancy dress up (although I think the little girls in ballerina skirts, hoodies and wellies look may have been well and truly done in 2011) and definitely spending more time planning what we want to see/do beforehand.  For example we stumbled upon a stop motion animation workshop you needed to book ahead, and we missed the pirate training and the stories round the campfire.

There were moments initially - rather like at Christmas, when they prefer the box to the contents - sometimes all my two wanted to do was the stuff we do all the time at home, swings, jumping in muddy puddles, climbing trees, while I wanted them to take advantage of all the stuff on offer - musicians, storytellers, performers, workshops.  But as the day went on, and the invitations to play pulled us in, suddenly those everyday moments blended into the adventure.

Just so... lovely.  How wonderful to find a children's event with children's play firmly at it's core.

This is not a sponsored post. 
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Silent Sunday


Friday, 19 August 2011

Back to School Jitters

Less than 3 weeks now until Miss L starts primary school.  Here's what I am thinking...

Have you been there?  Any tips?  Or are you going to be there this Sept?

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Thursday, 18 August 2011

Little Legacy #7 Magic Sleep Solution

Last night my 4yo daughter couldn't sleep, she was hot and over excited from the day still.  Tears fell down her scrunched up face.  'I can't get to sleep Mummy' she wailed.  But the minute she heard the first words from the relaxation exercise my mum taught me, the muscles in her face relaxed, and a peaceful smile crept across her face.

It's magic, try it out sometime.  

(In your calmest, most soothing voice, because this magic means you will be cracking open the wine in under 5 minutes...)
Breathe in, breathe out
Breathe in 1,2, breathe out 1,2
Breathe in 123, breathe out 123
Breathe in 1234, breathe out 1234

Breathe in and scrunch your toes.  Breathe out let them go.
Breathe in and scrunch your legs.  Breathe out let them go.

And so you work your way up the body scrunching and relaxing. The older the child, the more you can break down the body parts.   Sometimes it takes two attempts, but more often than not, I find she's drifted off by the time she has scrunched and relaxed her forehead.

What do you do to calm your children at bedtime?  Did you learn some magic tricks for soothing fraught children from your relations?  Do share.

Or do you have a completely different little legacy to share?  For more info on linking a post to Little Legacy see the little Legacy tab above, companions on the journey are always made very welcome. Or leave a comment and tell me about the little legacies you have been thinking about. Have a lovely week.


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Tuesday, 16 August 2011

It can be whipped out in seconds

Around the time I discovered the campsite in Wales had messed up our holiday booking, meaning we couldn't arrive until four days later than planned, I received a rather fortuitous email inviting my children and me to see Mr Stink at The Lowry in Manchester, and to find out more about Dirt Devil vacuums.  A cunning holiday plan B formed in my mind.

We booked a campsite in Cheshire's Delamere forest, and spent the missing four days cycling, picnicking and on a day trip to Manchester.  We also gained a much needed Dirt Devil handheld vacuum to keep the caravan and car clean while we were away.  Best Plan B I ever saw.

The Event

Last time I spent any quality time in Manchester, it was Madchester and I was a responsibility free teenager. I fully admit that accepting I was now a 'mummy blogger', attending an event about vacuum cleaners made my heart sink slightly. But that was eased by a sneaky afternoon glass of wine and being relieved of Miss L, who took part in an art workshop along with all the other blogger's children.

So I met some bloggers I had been dying to meet for ages, and enjoyed a giggle over vacuum cleaner demonstrations. The team from Dirt Devil have a great sense of humour and pitched things perfectly. No one likes vacuuming, it's a fact of life, but these products make it easier.

Recognise a few faces?

The Products

I was impressed by the idea of the Dirt Devil Reach, which you can see James demonstrating above, because it can reach 13 metres, in other words no balancing it precariously halfway up the stairs.  Sadly Mr A won't get to test that feature out, as the Alexander Residence was given a Dirt Devil easy handheld to test instead.

Reminds me of the vintage Adidas sports jacket I had when I was 18.
  Still this came in very handy for us, we liked that:
  • It was light enough to facilitate child labour, the 4 yo loved using it.
  • It's cordless, and on a wall mountable charger, which means it can be whipped it out in seconds to do battle with dirt, or used easily in the car, or in our case the caravan.  It was a lifesaver on holiday. 
  • It kept enough charge to clean up the whole car or caravan.
  • The motorized turbo brush attachment made it more powerful than other handhelds we have used
  • The three nozzles managed all nooks and crannies and helpfully had their own storage holders.
  • It's red, and looks kind of like a space rocket
  • My only concern with this model, from a electricity consumption/environmental perspective, would be balancing making sure it was charged, with not leaving it on charge constantly although Dirt Devil reassure me the charge is minimal.  There are a wide range of Dirt Devil handhelds both with and without cords.  You can also find handy solutions to these kind of 'individual vacuum requirements' on the Dirt Devil website.  

    Dirt Devil are on facebook, the lovely James will offer you help with products on Twitter.  Products are available in Argos, Tesco, in other retailers, and online.  

    The Lowry

    I have a soft spot for Manchester, I grew up in Cheshire when Madchester was in full swing.  It always amazes me when I go back to see how the city has changed.  The MediaCity is buzzing, which as a Northerner, makes me very happy indeed. 

    The Lowry is an inspiring and unique venue, offering a dazzling range of theatre, music, dance and art events with great learning opportunities.  We were given a really warm welcome on arrival and suggestions for what to do during our visit.  While Miss L got stuck into a free Andy Warhol inspired art workshop, I had a brief look at the Pride exhibition. 

    Mr Stink was fun and just one example of the many high calibre shows and events the Lowry has to offer.  Slava's Snow Show is coming in October, a piece of pure theatrical magic, which I saw many years ago in Edinburgh, and can thoroughly recommend.  Or catch the day of free family dance workshops and a performance by CBBC's Alesha’s Street Dance Stars on Sept 3rd.  The Lowry is a truly family friendly venue where you could easily make a day of it.

    Thanks to Brazen PR, Dirt Devil and The Lowry for an imaginative and thoughtfully planned event.  Miss L and I had a fab time.

    Check out this Tots 100 blogger competition to win £200 worth of Dirt Devil goodies.

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    Thursday, 11 August 2011

    Little legacy #6 Darts

    Joan Didion in 'My Year of Magical Thinking' refers to 'vortexes'.
    Those moments when something in the present triggers memories of the

    Me and Miss L went to a blogger's event at Manchester's fabulous The
    Lowry, last week. We sat in the Lowry outlet mall beforehand, Miss L
    refusing to eat because she was fascinated by the men throwing 'mini
    arrows' on the TV screens.

    As I explained the rules of darts, it took me into a vortex, right back to Sunday afternoons with my paternal grandma and grandad.

    A fine spread of triangle sandwiches, tomatoes and lettuce from the garden, homemade quiche, victoria sponge and fairy cakes washed down with tea or lemonade in china teacups.

    My Grandma ran the colliery canteen and my Grandad ran a dairy and was a keen gardener, so food was important to them.

    In complete contrast to the dainty spread, we always watched wrestling or darts on the telly.

    Three little legacies here, the value of simple, homecooked food using the best ingredients. The value of proper teacups. And a reminder of my working class roots.


    Have you had a vortex moment recently?

    For more info on linking a post to Little Legacy see the tab above, companions on the journey are always made very welcome. Or leave a comment and tell me about the little legacies you have been thinking about. Have a lovely week.


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    Tuesday, 9 August 2011

    Writing a children's book - character names

    I have been thinking lots about the name for my character in the children's book I am trying to write.  Actually I say trying, I have a rough draft.  Inspired by reading lovely Rachel from Right from the Start's post on a Lauren Child exhibition, I found a Guardian Interview with Lauren, who is absolutely fascinating and inspiring to read about. I especially like the fact that she wasn't published until the age of 34 (my age now), and there is a great picture of her kitchen, which I now covet badly.

    She also gives great advice:

     "I can't start writing a book until I've worked out what the name is. Clarice,  for example: I couldn't have given her a regular name. I chose Clarice because it's old-fashioned but quite pretty, and unusual. Her middle name, Bean, was to suggest something about her family: that they're just the other side of conventional. With Charlie and Lola, I wanted to go completely in the opposite direction. Charlie was just a fairly common boy's name I liked; Lola came to me at the time when my friends were settling down." Child, who lives in north London with her partner, a criminal barrister, has no children of her own. "A whole chain of people said to me 'I'm going to call my daughter – or dog – Lola.' I guess I'm saying with Charlie and Lola they're everychild – their stories talk about problems most children can relate to."

    So I have been thinking about names appropriate to a girl who wants to go to the moon.  Luna, is too obvious, but I quite like Stella.  Or I did consider my own daughter's name, but then I think it is important to take the story away from my real world now and 'give birth' to a fictional child.  I love Oliver Jeffers for just having 'the boy' though too, but like Lauren, I think my character needs a name.

    Suggestions very welcome. Or please just tell me any children's book character names that stuck in your head? 

    Lauren Child's website is called Milk Monitor and has tips on writing

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    Thursday, 4 August 2011

    Little legacy #5 Jewels

    During a bout of tonsillitis a few weeks ago, I did some big thinking. I read Joan Didion's My Year of Magical Thinking, a very insightful account of Didion's experience of grief. Didion made me think that, after a month of endless ups, downs, illness and corkscrews on the rollercoster known as grief, I was perhaps ready to step off, and step onto the one called mourning. The mourning ride is a bit gentler, still sad, but a more stable place, you can predict where it's headed, even steer your own course. I decided to climb a mountain, to blog about the little legacies mum left me, and I finally felt ready to ask my Dad to bring over Mum's jewellery collection, which I have inherited, to sort.

    It's been comforting to look through mum's collection, and choose pieces I want to wear, it feels like part of her is with me.  I decided to take pictures to make sense of everything, of course there are familiar pieces I will never forget, but it was this picture of her brooches that really fascinated me.  Each one neatly captures a little era of it's own.  I like the bigger picture they make when put together too.  I have great memories of some objects, I can see 50s, 60s, 70s and 90s influences in them, they almost read like a timeline of mum's life.

    (I don't know what blogger does to my photos, but this is nowhere near as snappy as the original, sorry).

    Do you have any jewellery or precious objects you have inherited?  Or do you have jewellery that will form your own legacy?

    little legacy A small thing handed down by a predecessor

    Little legacy is a remembrance project , a positive and creative space, to celebrate small things handed down by predecessors.  I am going to post one every Thursday. If you want to join me at any point, either as a project or a one off, there's more information here and a space to link up below, or simply join in through the comments.  

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    Tuesday, 2 August 2011

    Tips on starting primary school Guest Post by @Needaphone

    Miss L starts school in September.  I don't know where the time is going, the 4 and a bit years since she was born, the months since we applied to primary schools, the weeks of the summer holiday, the sleeps left until the big day.  I asked my very witty twitter friend Claire, who is a teaching assistant, for her tips. Claire blogs at Ninja Killer Cat, and tweets as @needaphone.  My teaching experience is secondary, so it's brilliant to read a primary school expert's perspective.

    Over to Claire:

    Working in an infant school is great, being their inspiration means the world to me, I say this because at the term I received many gifts, but it wasn't the wine or the chocolate that touched me, but the cards, one in particular that had this sentiment from a parent. "... comes home speaking of you fondly, thank you for making her Year 1 a magical time".  I know that this child will make a happy transition into year 2 with absolutely no problems. 
    Here are a few tips to help the transition from reception to year one. Pre Year one is know as EYFS ( Early Year foundation Stage) with a huge emphasis on play and free flow between the classes. There are structured activities within this but it is more relaxed.

    So my top tips from moving from reception to year one are:

    1. Remind them that when they move from nursery to reception they had less play than when they did at nursery.

    2. If they have siblings explain that they will learning things to teach them, and even yourself as parents. We all like to learn new things don't we?

    3. Factor in treats and rewards to counteract the fact that there will be less playing. This doesn't have to cost you any money, even a trip to the park can help.

    4. If it's of real concern, have a word with the new class teacher before they start, sometimes they may have be split up from their friends. This is less likely to happen in Year 1 but never the less it might, this is more of an issue in the transition from Infants to Juniors.

    4. Don't forget they have just had six weeks off, that is enough to confuse and disorientate the adults let alone the children.

    5. Remind them that their play times will be an opportunity to let off steam. I know that at my school time we have 'Golden Time ' where some sort of treat comes into play.

    6. Routine is key, try and keep to a routine during the holidays. They may go to bed later during the holidays, but week by week gradually bring this to their usual bed time, that they will have when at school. Also always  make sure that they have had breakfast before they go to school, and not on the way to school.  It is hard sometimes when you have a line of children behind you making you look like 'the old woman who lived in a shoe'

    6. Encourage the development of characters, they are keen to be individuals, but need the safety net of the herd of the classroom too!

    7. Any child can find it hard to make the transition. I am not going to say its just boys that have these problems. It is the step up in concentrating that can also be an issue, so play games that help with with this situation again from snap - junior monopoly. Perhaps have a toy that will help them go to school and be waiting for them when you pick them up.

    8. Accept it is going to me a little tough for the first few weeks and don't forget the teacher/ teacher assistant is just as likely to be stressed (despite it being their job).

    9. Make them part of the process.  I can't stress how important this is.  Let them within reason, choose their school shoes, bag etc. It really does make them feel grown up, though at the same time it has to be fun, they are only children after all.

    10.  Don't mourn them going into year one , I know its hard seeing them grow up. Try and focus on what joys and achievements this next stage will bring.

    Thanks so much to Claire for the really helpful tips.  I can totally relate to staff being disorientated too.  I stood back from quizzing Miss L's new teacher after our visit, remembering how totally overwhelming meeting 25 new and very needy faces for the first time is for a teacher. I just smiled and wished her a lovely summer.  We still need a few more trips into town for uniform bits, and Miss L will be leading that, even if she does refuse to let me in the changing room like last time.  I'm holding on tight to tip number 10 too!

    Anyone else about to face this milestone?  Any tips to add?  Please make Claire feel welcome, and go follow her on twitter!

    My top teacher tips for primary to secondary transition are coming soon.  As always, guest posts are very welcome, contact me.

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