Our road map out of lockdown

This is a sponsored blog post

Boris has announced that there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel and a new roadmap to get us out of lockdown and hopefully by June it means that “staying home” will be no longer be a requirement . I’m pretty sure that everyone right now is planning to make this summer incredible to make up for lost time and getting super excited……. “Oh the places we’ll go!”

I do like to be beside the seaside

It’s been such a long time since we have seen the seaside so as soon as we’re allowed it’s going to be time for a road trip. We are hoping to head down to Padstow in Cornwall where we can charter a boat to zip along the coast line with the wind in our hair and head out to see if we can spot any puffins and seals. We’re going to embrace “staycations” and explore some of the best places in the U.K. and support small businesses on our travels too.

They think it’s all over

I can’t believe it’s been a year since Arlo has attended his football and swimming clubs. Looking forward to taking him to these activities and getting to meet up with old friends and make new ones is going to be so much fun. Getting back in to these is going to do wonders for tiring him out and having a decent bedtime routine. Over lockdown he’s become very interested in ninjas so I’ll be looking for a little martial arts club for him to try out too.

Were going to the zoo

Arlo absolutely adores animals and we can’t wait to greet our old friends. We’ll be heading out to the West Midlands Safari Park for an action packed day trip and then some we’ll also be back exploring Umberslade and Attwell farms on family days out in the Midlands. I can’t wait to pack up a lunch and surprise him with an outing – I wonder if he’ll remember the route and guess when we’re on our way.

We like to party

One thing we have both really missed is dancing bare foot in muddy festival fields. There’s nothing quite like listening to live music and abandoning all cares to have a little boogie. Arlo’s been a festival baby since well…. birth – I took him with me to see a Queen tribute when he was only a week old. I doubt he remembers any of the things we did as far back as 2019 but it’s going to be so much fun creating new memories together.

Food glorious food

I don’t know about anyone else but one thing I am really looking forward to is enjoying the food someone else has prepared. Whatever we end up doing, there’s something so fabulous about spotting a pub or restaurant in a totally new place and popping in for a cosy family meal. There’s some great inspiration for private dining rooms here so wherever you end up you can find the perfect bite to eat in the best surroundings.

Family celebrations

One things for sure, we have a whole year of birthdays and celebrations to make up for so there’s going to be so many days we spend with family and friends making memories together and just enjoying life post lockdown. After a year of being at home I’m exhausted just thinking about it – but I can’t wait to share our adventures with you. What’s the first thing to do on your list?

Melting rainbows – a baking soda and vinegar activity

This is a really fun project for budding scientists – when you mix baking soda and vinegar a chemical reaction occurs which creates bubbles. This is fun all on its own but when you involve colours things take on a new direction. I’ve previously written about how Arlo’s schema penchant is for transformation and so setting up little science experiments for him to explore is so much fun.

You will need:

  • Ice cube tray
  • Food colouring
  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • A tray
  • A beaker
  • Pipettes

I began by mixing up food colouring and water in an ice cube tray and letting this freeze overnight. I ended up leaving these in the freezer for a while and pulling them out on a quiet afternoon when we needed something to do

The set up was simple – I simply poured baking soda on to a tray and scattered the ice cubes over randomly, and then popped a small amount of vinegar in to a beaker with a pipette. I’ve found that when I only provide a small amount Arlo knows to use it sparingly and takes his time to approach the play task.

Then it was simply a case of supervising the play – as soon as the liquid touched the powder it began to fizz and so Arlo was super interested. He started trying out dripping the vinegar on different colours and then at different angles to see what the difference would be.

As the ice began to melt he wanted to move around the cubes to mix different colours and

Also realised that more powder created better bubbles and so he asked for a spoon to scoop the powder from the edges on to his favourite colour cubes. When the vinegar in his beaker ran out he used the pipette to squeeze up liquid back from the tray and re-use it.

A really simple but effective tray play idea, I always keep baking soda and vinegar in my play resources cupboard and it’s fun trying to think of new ways to play. Our colour reveal in a cupcake tray was another success.

Making a meal of it – the roast beef version

I previously wrote about how I like to make the most out of a roast chicken by stretching out the leftovers to make additional meals and I had so many questions and requests to showcase what I would do with other meats.

This week we had a Sunday roast with beef and so I had a little think about things and decided to plan ahead for this one. First things first, we don’t eat beef too often, I like to wait for a decent price joint with not too much fat and every so often a fabulous offer comes along – this joint was £6/kilogram and I picked up a decent size for £7.

I prepared our roast by searing the meat on all sides and then roasting it – my top tip here is to prepare your roast with the beef cooked more on the rare side. This means that when you use the meat for leftovers it’s not going to end up getting too tough. Obviously this is down to personal taste too – I tend to cook the beef for twenty minutes per half a kilo and then add an extra twenty minutes.

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I added a selection of veg to the same tray as the beef and prepared some potatoes and stuffing whilst this was cooking away nicely. Once the beef is ready I take it out to rest and and also remove the bulk of the veg out and then add some stock to the oven tray placed over the hob to make my gravy, using all the juices and leaving nothing to waste.

We were well and truly stuffed after this meal, and there was over half a joint left over, so plenty for us to be getting some fab meals from. The first thing I’ve been wanting to do for ages is make some steak bakes in the style of a popular high street bakery. On Sunday I made sure to cut up the beef in to slices and chunks to cool it down before storing it safely in the fridge.

I took out a roll of ready made puff pastry from the fridge and cut out rectangles – piling each with cuts of beef and some bits of leftover veg too. Like I said the beef is very pink but I knew this would be going back in to the oven. Our leftover gravy was also saved and so I added some of those before crimping the sides together and scoring them to make our pastries.

These were popped in to a medium hot over and baked for thirty minutes until golden brown …. I made four of these with the intention of having them as an evening meal with some extra veg but as soon as they were cooked both Arlo and I tucked in so they became our lunch – we were going to have chunky beef sandwiches with red onion and rocket but plans often change when there’s a three year old dictator involved.

I still had a fair amount of beef left and so I decided to split up what we had – I was needing a new evening meal option for the evening and so whilst I decided what to do with that I put all the remaining veg and half of the beef in to the stock pot – I love making soup with leftover chicken but when it comes to beef I prefer more of a stew – and for anyone wondering, the main difference is the amount of water you add in to the mix.

I like to keep my stews chunky and so this is where all the leftovers went – I think 3 carrots and a parsnip, some onions plus lovely big chunks of beef and the last remaining gravy. I topped this up with a small amount of stock and left it to simmer. Tomorrow this will be topped up with dumplings and then I’ll portion it out and freeze what we don’t eat to save for another day.

With my last remaining beef I decided to go for something completely different – with our chicken I often do a pasta or stir fry and so with this I opted for chilli beef broth with noodles- a fairly light option given the steak bakes were so filling but a fabulous way to create a completely different flavour profile using the meat and adding in some veggies to bulk out the meal.

So there we have it – this week I managed to get another 17 portions out of our Sunday roast leftovers.

Sunday dinner – x3 portions

Steak bakes x 4 portions

Beef stew x6 portions

Chilli beef noodles x4 portions

I think I’m going to try this challenge out with pork and lamb over the next few weeks and see how I get along.

Mixing potions tray activity – and discovering schemas in play

This was an interesting play set up, I’m so used to having to pretend that shaving foam ice creams are delicious – I wanted to put Arlo’s mixology skills to the test for real. I’ve been reading about schemas recently and figuring out that Arlo seems to have a penchant for transforming things and so I wanted to build on this through our play. It’s not often I can even set up a tray to surprise him because he always wants to get involved with mixing doughs and slimes to set up. In fact I decided to give this activity a go after I found him putting random bits of food in to our drinks at the dining table.

Messy play isn’t just about creating a distraction to do the laundry or filling in the time between meals and then clearing it all up before bedtime – providing children who have a natural interest in mixing things with an open ended activity gives them the opportunity to explore and interact using their imagination. When you take a step back and observe how they play you can learn a lot and then create activities to introduce new concepts and ideas which they will want to engage with. There’s method behind the madness.

You will need:

  • A selection of fruit juices
  • Soda water
  • Fruit garnishes
  • Food colouring
  • Ice
  • A range of cups and glasses
  • Pipettes
  • Squeezey bottles
  • A big tray with high sides

Mum hack: I didn’t want to overload with sugar and so I watered down our fruit juices

I set up the tray with everything ready for Arlo to explore – bowls of fruit, various juices spread out and a little cup of paper straws too – plus his pippettes and squeezy bottles which he is familiar with. I didn’t tell him the drinks were “real” at first and so as expected he dived right in and started mixing me up a drink. He was happy to role play and gave me a delightful blue concoction to sample… I usually pretend to take a sip or taste of his mud pies and shaving foam ice creams and so he found it hilarious when I gulped a blue potion straight down.

This was a complete game changer – as soon as he realised that the drinks were real a totally new approach was decided upon. He slowly went round the tray sampling the different flavours, describing and comparing flavours as if he was a critic for the Times. I found this fascinating to watch and really enjoyed interacting with him as he found words to describe and explain the flavours to me…. “spicy” is the word he used to describe soda water.

Of course there was still mess involved which is why I use a tray with such high sides for indoor play – but this activity really highlighted to me just how Arlo’s thought and decision making processes work. He was a lot more careful and deliberate with his mixing from this point. Arlo’s natural urge to “transform” things means he’s like a little scientist always wanting to learn as much as he can about a new things – he is not afraid to test things out to see how they work and then find new tools and resources to experiment. I think we have come to the conclusion that peas and carrots don’t belong in our drinks which means that this is a success.

We really enjoyed this doing this together and there was nothing left to drink at the end of it. Now I know about schemas I can look back and understand why some of our play activities haven’t kept him occupied for as long. I’m going to adapt some of our existing resources and come back to previous projects with a new approach to see how we can plan to learn some new concepts, and also keep an eye out on his little experiments and let these inspire it activities….. I’m going to have to do something with bubbles soon because he poured an entire bottle in the sink earlier today.

Love bug cookies

These love bug cookies are a twist on our super simple sugar cookie recipe which is the basis for all of our fun themed biscuit bases.

You will need:

  • 200g butter
  • 100g sugar
  • 300g flour
  • Vanilla essence
  • Red food colouring
  • Choc chips
  • Chocolate
  • Edible eyes
  • Heart cookie cutter

You begin by combining the sugar, flour and butter in a bowl with the red food colouring. At this stage you can add vanilla essence or another flavouring of choice. Then roll out the red dough and sprinkle your chocolate chips on randomly before cutting out heart shaped pieces.

Lay all your hearts out on a baking sheet covered with grease proof paper and bake in the oven for about 12 mins at gas mark 6. This varies from oven to oven. Whilst the cookies are baking melt down some chocolate in a bowl and leave it to one side to cool down slightly and then fetch the cookies from the oven to cool down too.

Once the cookies are cool enough to handle dip the top half in to your melted chocolate before carefully placing them down on fresh grease proof paper. Add your edible eyes to the chocolate whilst still wet. If you have any chocolate left then you can carefully use the back of a spoon to draw a line down the centre.

This mixture makes about twenty heart shaped cookies. We popped a couple each in to bags for nanny and grandad and delivered these with a hand made clay ornament as their surprise valentines gift and the rest have gone down a great here.

Plant printing in clay with toddlers

There’s somewhat of a debate when it comes to making beautiful “keepsakes” with toddlers versus letting them experiment and play with mark making. For once I’m firmly on the fence with this. Of course if you have been following us for a while you will know I’m happy to let Arlo run wild and participate in mess making activities with no end game in sight, probably more so than most parents. I also love having a finished “make” and seeing Arlo so proud of his creations and being able to gift them to others has been one of our favourite things to do during lockdown. I wrote all about how different arts and crafts, amongst other things kept us sane here. Valentine’s Day gave us another excuse to get our craft on.

You will need:

  • A selection of natural materials
  • Air dry clay
  • A rolling pin
  • A wooden skewer
  • Heart shaped cookie cutter
  • Tinker bits
  • Grease proof paper
  • Ribbon
  • Card stock

All of the best activities we have done begin with a walk outdoors – it’s nigh on impossible for Arlo to sit down and concentrate on an activity without burning off some energy. We always take out a tote bag and end up bringing home an array of leaves and twigs from every adventure and nature inspires a lot of our craft projects, this air dry clay activity was a simple low prep and last minute plan for a rainy afternoon.

I always provide Arlo with a tinker tray when it comes to playing with dough. As we were approaching Valentine’s Day I had a rummage through the craft stash and found some heart shaped wooden pieces, some sequins and a few buttons for good measure.

This is as simple as it sounds – we rolled out our clay with a rolling pin and then cut our heart shapes. Arlo also decided he wanted to make giant cobra snakes entirely off topic but which we embraced as we had plenty of clay to play with. Some of our snakes did get coiled up in to hearts.

We placed the leaves we wanted to use in to the clay and rolled them in to the hearts with a firm pressure. I had to show Arlo a couple of times exactly how to do this and make a print but he picked it up quickly and began to use some of the tinker items to make his own impressions.

I poked holes in to our hearts and we left them to dry on a layer of grease proof paper. This air dry clay gets whiter as it hardens and makes for a beautiful rustic looking piece all on its own, but we have set some of our pieces aside to paint on another day.

Arlo was happy to thread a piece of ribbon through the hole and I helped him tie a bow and attach it to a piece of red card – which he then “wrote” inside to send to his Valentine (his nanny of course). The clay decoration can be removed form the card and kept as a treasured keepsake and I don’t think this takes away anything from the play experience which Arlo thoroughly enjoyed. We delivered the card alongside some of Arlo’s freshly baked love bug cookies to put a smile on nanny’s face.

How to dye chickpeas for messy play.

I often use rice and chick peas for indoor play activities. They provide the sensory fun element of play but as dry ingredients the clean up process isn’t as daunting as it is with slime.

You will need:

  • Chick peas
  • Poster paint
  • Vinegar
  • A pint glass
  • Sandwich bags

My process for dying the peas is very simple, and I use the same process for rice too. I pop a sandwich bag inside a large glass and then fill it about 1/3 full with peas. Then I squeeze in some paint and add a small splash of vinegar. Then I pick up the bag and scrunch it to disperse the colour around the peas, making sure they’re all evenly covered.

I tend to leave the bags open on the kitchen. side with the peas spread out as much as possible, giving them a scrunch every time I walk past to prevent them sticking together and they do dry fairly quickly. If you’re making a big batch you can spread them out on a tray. I like to prepare a few colours at a time and keep them stored separately in air dry containers to arrange some themed play trays – green for farm land and blue for the ocean etc.

Every so often it’s fun to play with colour and so the first activity we set up with these chick peas was a simple pouring and scooping game. I often use a transparent under bed storage tub for indoor play on a large scale which is about 8 inches deep and it’s great – the peas can be poured at height making a rattling noise. You can use scoops, funnels and all sorts to inspire play and this is more than enough on its own.

We do like to re-use our dry messy play ingredients for as long as we can. My black Halloween chick peas have been with us for three years and are still going strong. Once these neon chickpeas were all mixed together Arlo said they reminded him of a chameleon and so this inspired a whole new game. Arlo went to fetch his toy chameleon and so I went to fetch his favourite book and printed off a colouring sheet from Twinkl at the same time.

I love it when we can link our play to a story and this was a real success. We sat together at the table reading the book and every time a different animal was mentioned Arlo charged through the house looking for his miniature toy creatures, and proceeded to hide them in the sensory bin. While he was doing this I hid the colouring sheet under the transparent base and so when we eventually got to the end of the book I told him the chameleon had camouflaged and so he had to scrape and scoop the chickpeas away to reveal the picture.

He was delighted to eventually reveal the chameleon and then he spent quite a while covering the picture up with chickpeas to match the book cover illustration and decorating his features – pointing out his curly tail and boogely eyes. I sat back happy to see him utilising those fine motor skills and sorting out the colours and counting to himself independently. This gave me another idea and so I fetched a ice cube tray from the kitchen cupboards. Entirely led by Arlo we discovered another way to play with our chickpeas – counting and sorting them out in to the compartments of the tray. He’s getting quite confident now and so I’ve been showing him very basic addition, counting out four and then saying “let’s add one” and asking “how many did we make?” – I don’t sit down with the intention of encouraging reading, writing and counting but when you play like this, there’s often ways you can incorporate learning without even realising.

So there we have it – from one batch of chickpeas we have created a variety of different activities and every single time we do this we uncover more ways to play taking inspiration from different colours and themes. We have been playing with neon and glow in the dark colours this last month as part of our “light and dark” theme and I’ll be uploading more activities very soon. Check out how we used neon paints outdoors here

Painting outdoors with toddlers

Arlo absolutely loves painting, and playing with colours. He hasn’t stopped talking about the snow painting activity we did and every morning he looks out of the window checking for snow. We do of course get our messy play materials out indoors but there’s nothing better than having a giant canvas outdoors. Unfortunately the snow has all gone, but I had an idea and thought we’d kick half term off with something big.

You will need:

  • An old sheet
  • Washing line and clothes pegs
  • Squeezy condiment bottles
  • Water based paint
  • Mark making tools (the broom is optional)

I filled the bottles, using a generous squeeze of paint and topping them up with water before giving them a good shake. This was a very cold day and so my top tip is to use warm water for this. We’ve been playing with neon and glow in the dark colours recently but this is a great activity to try with the three primary colours for mixing and experimenting.

Arlo attacked the sheet with vigour at first, splashing and squeezing the bottles but not long after we began he decided to fetch the broom himself and squeeze colours on to it to apply his colours to the sheet. The wind was strong but this made it all the more fun. He spent quite a while running through the sheet with the broom and laughing at the splashes of colour. I think he was playing at jousting but at this point in time I was taking cover.

The best thing about this activity is that because we have used watered down water based paints, after we have finished I can pop the sheet in the wash and re-use over and over again.

We have been playing with neon colours as part of our light and dark theme recently – check out how we played with dyed chick peas indoors here

The house that chaos built

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If you follow my social media channels you may have noticed that I have been slowly renovating the house from top to bottom. There’s something happening in every room and I constantly change my mind when it comes to colours and so there’s always something new going on. I’m going to start writing about my home because I get asked a lot of questions about the various projects going on. I try and keep my inspirations organised with a multitude of Pinterest boards so you can check that out to see how my eclectic tastes evolve.

Right now my main challenge is getting the things I imagine working in my home organised on a very tight budget. I’m a huge fan of a bargain – from charity shop purchases and Facebook market place – not to mention skip diving….. yes I have jumped in a skip to rescue things more than once – including my fireplace mirror. Not only do I feel great about the money I’m saving but the phrase “one mans trash is another mans treasure” is most certainly true. Rescuing unloved items from ending up in landfill and making them in to something beautiful is my new favourite pastime. This mirror just needed a little bit of glue to stick it back together.

This has become even more of a challenge and passion to me now that lockdown has meant that we can’t go out for “non essentials” – I’ve never spent so much time at home. At first I felt frustrated and trapped inside four walls, but making improvements not only keeps me busy but also makes the space a lot more enjoyable to inhabit, and this is so important for my mental health. I already have a few huge renovation projects in mind for the spring – as soon as the warm weather comes along I can begin to paint outdoors, and when the flowers start to bloom that’s when I get my colour inspiration. My mirror originally had a lick of bright pink paint which delighted me, and you can still see this through the gold leaf in place now which was leftover from a Christmas craft and just had to be used up.

The latest space to get my teeth in to is the front room – it’s a lovely sized room and has always been a blank space, used as a craft/play room full of primary colours but now Arlo is getting older we have outgrown some of the more garish and space stealing toys – I want to make this room a cosy little snug. This is the room I’m going to retreat to when he has his friends come and visit now he’s about to start school – I can already imagine teenage boys taking over the main lounge with smelly feet and computer games so this space is going to be my grown up room.

We have also had quite a few bigger and more projects take place recently around the house Some of the windows and doors have been replaced for practical reasons. I’d love to have had traditional sash windows just like these but we had to stay in-keeping with the style of our home. Having double glazed windows throughout is important to me, as they help keep the heat in, which first of all reduces the energy bills which is a great long term investment and in turn also reduces your carbon footprint. We’ve had them all replaced over the last few years and I’m very pleased with our current energy bills. Check out the govt advice here

In the morning the light streams through the windows in my front room and it’s a sun trap. The cats have already claimed their spots on the sofa and slowly though out the day they relocate to make sure they remain in the patches of sun. During the evening I can close the curtains and listen to the radio whilst curling up with a book in this cosy corner.

We also recently had our doors upgraded. A glass panel at the front had been damaged and required replacing, and our back door was beyond repair too. A new entrance door to your home can really transform the look of your house, the new panel of glass beside my front door brings in natural light to the hallway which is another space on my list to begin decorating…. beginning with a bright purple wall under the stairs. These doors are also durable, energy efficient and virtually maintenance free – this makes me feel safe and secure in the evenings so that I can relax in peace and come up with more project ideas.

Right now I feel as though I’m going to move the grandfather clock in to my front room and change this under the stairs space entirely. Follow my home page on Instagram to see how things evolve. As always if you have any questions please get in touch,

Lavania