Lockdown through the eyes of a toddler

In retrospect

The last twelve months have been traumatic for everyone. As adults we are able to explain feelings of loneliness and isolation, and pick up the phone to communicate with other people who understand. I’m pausing now to reflect on how it’s been with a toddler. The terrible two’s are a real thing, and during this time they learn new things at an exponential rate. The impact that twelve months of limited interaction will have on young children I fear is something which remains to be seen. Although I find it remarkable how resilient Arlo has been throughout at adapting to change. It’s been exhausting trying to keep up with him.

Arlo was two when lockdown first began, and we celebrated his third birthday when the first lockdown drew to a close in June. During the second lockdown I had to complete his primary school application without visiting any of the local schools and I can’t help but pause to reflect on the last twelve months. As an adult it feels like the last twelve months has dragged but for Arlo it’s been a quarter of his life. He probably won’t remember much from before 2020 and so this pandemic has formed the beginning of his living memory.

As soon as the clock struck midnight and I found myself sitting in 2021 a sudden panic set in. This is the year that Arlo starts school and I don’t know how ready we are. This time around, in third lockdown we have been fortunate enough to still be able to send Arlo to pre-school and it’s now after a couple of months of being settled in to a regular routine that I’ve realised just how important that social interaction is for him, and how lockdown and the pandemic had an impact on his behaviour.

Life before lockdown

Arlo has always been a very energetic child. As a full time working parent he was well settled in to nursery during the week and I used to pack a bag and head out every weekend on adventures because his energy levels know no bounds. He’s a bright and inquisitive child but his attention span is about 15 minutes so as soon as you have set up a train track he is asking “what’s next” and pulling out the Lego from the toy cupboard. We used to visit children’s farms, and kids theatre productions. We would go to theme parks and for swimming lessons, and everything in between. The transition to working from home with nursery closures was not easy – in fact it was nigh on impossible. You can’t attend a zoom call with a toddler singing baby shark at the top of his voice. We also didn’t have any trips to look forward to at the weekend. Even our holiday was cancelled.

Between his father and myself we managed to strike up a new routine last year to cope. Most days Arlo would head out for his daily exercise with his dad so that I could get my work done. I would pack some tasks and set them challenges to keep him occupied and stimulated. Fresh air and the great outdoors was invaluable. Nature gave us so many opportunities and themes to explore and so we worked with this.

I found myself networking with other like minded mums and sharing successful ideas. The internet became my most valuable resource and I contributed as much as I could back to the play communities. Everyone’s aware of the toilet roll and pasta shortages but parents will also be able to tell you that paint and PVA glue also became impossible to get hold of as parents up and down the country ordered in bulk to keep the little ones busy. Creative ideas for play based activities started to appear everywhere I looked, with lockdown Facebook groups and Instagram pages firing up.

We coped here by trying to pick a lose theme or topic and focus all of our activities on this until it was exhausted. During our “birds” theme for example we made cookies in bird shapes, painted a bird house, made bird feeders for the garden and then also went bird watching with binoculars and a guide book – not all in one day I might add. I incorporated screen time in to our routine despite being one of those parents who had previously been adamant that an iPad wasn’t going to be an option. David Attenborough documentaries along with some educational apps really worked wonders. Arlo can tell you confidently the differences between a Macaw and a puffin, a magpie and a Robin etc.

We found a Swans nest on one walk and went back every week to finally find that the eggs had hatched and there were cygnets to count, and at home one evening we settled down to watch swan lake together. As theatres remained closed I found that many performing arts shows were available online and this gave us access to new worlds. Just like many others I planned ahead to Christmas and booked tickets for pantomimes and performances, music concerts and discos, never mind all the little clubs and groups we attend. Everything was cancelled. All the things designed accessible to toddlers and designed to give them a broader sense of cultural enrichment. I think I do an alright job of being a mum, but they say it takes a community and this is so true.

We did really struggle with the lack of human interaction – Arlo has always been very sociable, every walk we went on he would pause to greet passers by, in fact we couldn’t walk past a dog, duck or ant without a five minute pause – so he couldn’t understand why people would stand to the side of a grass verge and not pause to say hello, some people wouldn’t even raise their heads to make eye contact. The masks also frightened him at first too. I can totally understand that people are concerned about social distancing and don’t want to be near others, never mind a grubby a three year old with muddy knees, but how do your explain that to a child when all they know is that they’re supposed to say hello and please and thank you because you’ve been trying to teach them good manners?

We had a tough experience when we walked through our local park and approached the play area which was closed. Our local park is full of steep hills and to incentivise Arlo to walk there was always the promise of the swings and the slide, and we would quite often arrange to meet some of his friends – so when we arrived to see the forlorn looking park with tape, padlocks and signs there were tears and tantrums. I had to carry Arlo home like a surfboard (we’ve all done this at one stage) it was just impossible to explain that he couldn’t go in to the park, and from this point on I decided to try and avoid this area at all costs. I also tried to get online to order a slide for the back garden but they were sold out too.

My tactic from here on in was to avoid the more popular parks in our local area and head off the beaten track to places where we were less likely to encounter anyone. I found an old A-Z (the book equivalent to google maps for anyone young enough to not know) and marked out all the local bridle paths and public rights of way. I didn’t realise myself just how many hidden treasures are on our doorstep. This gave us some new places to explore and every walk became an adventure. One thing we had plenty of was time. We could pause to watch a trail of ants for half an hour and I began to take out tote bags so that we could collect all the interesting pebbles and leaves. With no one around and no cause for embarrassment we would sing out loud as we marched along muddy paths.

On our walks we alternated between taking the bike and the scooter, Arlo started with his balance bike during lockdown and managed to conquer some steep down hills with no fear. By the end of summer he was upgraded to a pedal bike. We also managed to turn a corner with potty training too. Having the constant interaction and support from us as parents helped him in these respects.

We found a pond with tadpoles five minutes walk from home and visited regularly over the course of a few weeks to monitor their growth and lifecycle. We would catch some gently in a net to inspect but release them back rather than bring them home (much to Arlo’s dismay) but we taught him valuable lessons in respecting animals and being kind and gentle towards them. Due to his interest in this I did manage to order some caterpillars online and we watched them grow for a few weeks at home. I managed to link quite a few arts and crafts projects to the “very hungry caterpillar” book which went down a treat. We eventually released these on the VE Day bank holiday in to a glorious blossom tree, Arlo handled them delicately and was delighted to see them fly but the goodbye was tinged with sadness as he had grown so fond of them.

I did really worry that Arlo was missing out on social interaction, especially with children his own age and so we tried our best to think of ways to remain connected. Video calls with his cousins were a highlight, and with every project we tried out at home I would encourage Arlo to make something for his friends. He can’t write a letter but he can draw pictures and send gifts so we would pop to the letter box on our walks and then wait patiently for the postman to bring our replies. Before lockdown I can’t remember receiving anything other than bills through the post, letter writing had been replaced by emails and tech but we bought it back.

We would also make batches of cookies and cakes for his cousins regularly. Arlo has become somewhat of a pro in the kitchen now. He likes to count and weigh ingredients and is very experimental when it comes to flavours and food colouring. Before lockdown we used to bake maybe once a week, but now Arlo gets involved at every meal. We had decided to focus on making the most of the time we had – not to worry too much about learning and education – sitting down and trying to get him to write his name for half an hour or recite the alphabet wasn’t worth the stress, but this kid knows how to crack an egg without dropping any shell in to the mix.

Arlo has always loved his food and this remained a great pleasure during lockdown. With not much else to do at home and and trying to keep him occupied we would eat alfresco as often as possible – quite literally we would take the entire dining table outside and he would help carry the, chairs, table cloth and cutlery out to the garden and lay the table. We sat together every evening talking, listening to music and enjoying our garden.

Right at the beginning of lockdown we started our garden project and the effort we put in to this really did pay off. Back in March we planted seeds for all sorts, sunflowers, runner beans, flowers, salad leaves and herbs. Twice a day it was Arlo’s job to head around the garden with his watering can, (helped by grandad) and this would take ages. Every day there was something new to find. From different coloured flowers to the scent of fresh mint. When it was time to harvest our runner beans Arlo spent a whole afternoon popping them from the shells.

We built a bug house outdoors and checked every day for spiders, and would also collect all of the snails around the garden too. Arlo has always had a real affinity for animals, and we missed our trips to the zoos and aquariums. One of my friends suggested “sea monkeys” after our caterpillar project and again we turned to online shopping to order a little kit, setting it up and watching them grow. Arlo would climb up to the tank and sit every day with a magnifying glass watching them flip and twirl. We head to the local pet shop weekly to pick up supplies for our cats, and this became the highlight of Arlo’s week as he could see the fish, and rodents on display. One of the only times he would get to go out of the house, and so he would talk about it constantly.

Eventually I ended up getting him a mouse. In the pet shop one afternoon in September I told him we could take one home. He inspected every single mouse in the building and an assistant kindly helped him decide – introducing him to every single creature. I think she knew just how much this meant to us. AHe chose a funny little black and white thing and at first he wanted to name it after a boy in his nursery class. I steered him away from this and he proclaimed loudly in the shop that the mouses name was Bingo before treating us to a very loud rendition of “bingo was his name O.”

Bingo quickly became part of our routine. Replacing his food and water daily and taking the time to handle him with care. Then cleaning him out weekly too. Arlo has learnt to take responsibility and in turn has been rewarded with a pet mouse who has become tame and responds to him. I proudly watched on the first time Arlo showed me a new trick – he places Bingo on one palm and then stretches out his arms so that the mouse runs up and across the back of his neck and down to the other palm where he holds a treat. He told me Bingo is his best friend.

I can look back at everything we’ve done with fondness but it wasn’t easy. As soon as the clock struck midnight and I found myself sitting in 2021 a sudden panic set in. This is the year that Arlo starts school and I don’t know how ready we are. This time around, in the third lockdown we have been fortunate enough to be able to send Arlo to pre-school and it’s now after a couple of months of being settled in to a regular routine that I’ve realised just how important that social interaction is for him, and how lockdown and the pandemic had an impact on his behaviour.

Routine went out of the window and so bedtimes were a battle, but just now he seems to be tired at a decent hour most weeknights and settling back down nicely. He comes out from nursery every afternoon talking about his friends and telling me about new things. He talks a lot more in fact, using phrases and words which I’ve never heard him mention. Singing new songs and then telling me all about his day because he has had new experiences. We get regular communication from the staff and they share pictures. At nursery Arlo sits down and concentrates on writing his own name, he will build cars with construction toys and will read stories to the other children. He also tells everyone about his pet mouse and wants to take him in to nursery to meet his other best friend.

I can’t help but sit back sometimes bewildered at just how quickly children grow and change. He’s taken this last year in his stride, it’s certainly had its ups and it’s downs but I know we will never get another chance to spend so much time together as a family again. We made the most of every chance we could to get out and about and all of the local businesses, such as children’s farms made a real effort when they were able to open their doors again. At one point last year I cried thinking that Arlo wouldn’t get to see Santa, the first year he understood the concept, but we managed to squeeze in a socially distanced visit. Arlo didn’t even notice, or rather he didn’t acknowledge his visor as now he is accustomed to this – the new normal. I’ve learnt to value the little things and see the world through the eyes of a toddler where new things are remarkable and every little thing matters.

My fireplace makeover with vinyl tiles

(items in this blog were provided for the purposes of review)

The main focal point of my living room has always been my fireplace. There is an old chimney breast behind it which is closed off so this is now a wooden decorative mantle with an electric fire. I’ve changed my mind about what I wanted to do in this space multiple times, as it’s so hard to make a decision when nothing in the room “matches” but I’m finally happy.

SFirst things first I painted the entire unit green – the shade is “wise old sage” from the Frenchic range. I had a sample pot I was originally going to use for something else but one afternoon I just decided to go for it but I felt it was just too plain. I do love this colour and so I ended up painting my kitchen cupboards – but that’s another story.

I love colour so propped up a painting behind the fire place but this didn’t really work, as we headed towards autumn the colours were too vibrant and I eventually took this down before I dressed the fireplace for Christmas. I finally replaced the electric fire in the Black Friday sales with a £50 bargain find from B&Q. It was around this time I also gilded the mirror.

So Christmas came and went, during December I just loved the way this looked – but as I took down the decorations in January I decided to re-think this space again. After our experience with the kitchen floor tiles being so chaotic and messy I thought that my dream of a tiled fireplace was out of the question but I managed to find an alternative with vinyl. Yes that’s right – my new fireplace tiles are stuck on!

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this idea before – I covered the kitchen work tops in vinyl and I run a small business making vinyl cut designs so it seemed like the obvious answer – I measured up the fireplace and the base board and ordered enough to cover it with a bit extra for pattern matching, cutting in and overlaps. This is important because when you’re cutting around corners you do need extra to work with. My vinyl arrived in a huge tube delivered by courier – rolled up tightly and packed to protect it – with extra tissue at each end which was a clever touch to prevent crumples.

The back of the surround was easy to plan as it’s a simple rectangle with square corners and straight edges. I unrolled the vinyl and cut it to size, surprised with the thickness and overall quality as previous brands I’ve used have been extremely thin. To prepare the surface I used an anti bac spray to clean and then thoroughly dried it – then it’s simply a case of applying the vinyl as if it’s a sticker. I used a plastic bank card to smooth it down.

The painted surface I was applying the vinyl to showed the texture of the wood grain, but this wasn’t at all visible through the vinyl because it’s thicker than most I’ve experienced before – the adhesive is strong but not impossible to manipulate, I had to adjust and reposition it a couple of times to ensure it was straight and this didn’t cause me any challenges, smoothing nicely in to place with very few air bubbles.

I used a ruler and a blade to trim the excess from the bottom (I’ve re applied these off cuts to the backing paper to save for a rainy day project). The base board required a little bit more planning because firstly I wanted to match up the pattern and secondly I had some awkward moulding to cut around. This is where it’s handy to order a little extra than you need for your project.

Cutting in can appear like a challenge at first – you can practice with paper and make a template if you aren’t sure. I stuck down the vinyl from the front of the base board exactly as I wanted it to lay and then I trimmed small sections off with vertical lines marked using a pencil and ruler and cutting in to the vinyl with my scalpel – then smoothing these in to the moulding with my plastic card and trimming the excess away neatly along the horizontal with a scalpel.

Once it was all in place I stood back to admire my handiwork – the entire process took twenty minutes and that’s with me pausing to take pictures throughout for this blog. The best thing about this vinyl is that it doesn’t damage the surface it’s applied to, so if I change my mind I can replace it – and re-use the vinyl elsewhere.

The overall finish and appearance is of high quality, there’s no pixelation or image distortion and as such it gives the appearance of ceramic tiles and this is exactly what I was looking for. I’ve got all sorts of projects in mind for the rest of my house and now I’ve got my eyes on some of the more eclectic prints from the range – Dalmatian print next I think – check out the complete Restowrap vinyl range from http://wallpapermural.com

My secret beauty corner

(Some items featured in this blog post were gifted for the purpose of review)

The beginning of a renovation project idea

This cupboard has previously been used for storage in the master bedroom, it sits above the stairs which run centrally through the house, and it’s been handy – this is the place where Christmas presents are hidden. There’s a clothes rail built in just below a shelf which had been put in by the previous tenants but to be honest I couldn’t tell you what else was here before, and Arlo’s never been interested in it.

So one night last summer after Arlo used my favourite “ruby woo” lipstick to make himself a Bowie – esque streak on his face and had destroyed an eye shadow palette. I decided to stash all my make up in the cupboard up on the shelf and he soon forgot about it all, and I decided then that I could use this secret hiding place to my advantage.

The before picture

I have all sorts of pintrest boards – some of which are pure fantasy, I had a scroll through and figured that this was my one chance to paint something bright pink…. I was going to attack the living room with the colour I chose for this space and had the sample pot of paint ready to go and so I got up out of bed in the middle of the night, emptied the cupboard and attacked the back wall with vigour. The colour is called posh purple and it’s from the Valspar range at B&Q and I had used it previously to upcycle a mirror frame.

Feature wallpaper

I immediately loved how the pink was such a surprise when you opened the door, and I kept moving around my bedroom and looking at it from different angles. From here the idea evolved and I thought I had better plan it properly. I knew the exact kind of style I was going for and found a wallpaper pattern to match from World of Wallpaper – I wanted something with a strong pattern which included pink and the birds caught my eye as I was scrolling through the website. I’d never hung wallpaper before but that wasn’t going to stop me. I managed to get this done in an afternoon when Arlo was at nursery.

I had pulled out the high shelf and touched up the edges with a contrasting shade – Steel Teal from the Frenchic Alfresco range – I’ve done my radiator cover and bedside tables in this shade of blue so there are some elements of the main bedrooms interior design incorporated.

At this point in I hadn’t thought at all about a use for this space other than to look nice when I opened the door but then I found a beautiful piece of furniture on Facebook market place. I regularly scroll through looking for bargains I can paint and upcycle – but this piece was perfect just the way it is and so this is not another project.

Vintage furniture finds

It’s a vintage bureau / desk with a lockable lid and two drawers – inside the drop leaf lid there are lots of little drawers and a leather desk surface – this was just what I needed – the dark wood needed no upcycling and the measurements were spot on, as if this piece was made to fit the space – but before I could settle this in to the space I used an off cut of carpet from Arlos new bedroom, which was a close enough match to cover the floor (I might come back to this area with some funky vinyl at some stage).

So then once I stashed all of my make up away and locked the bureau it was just a case of adding some finishing touches. It’s a dark cupboard which is going to be shut most of the time but every time I open the door I want to feel happy and greeted by the explosion of colour. I got a fake plant from Ikea, and some little remote controlled spotlights in home bargains before I began rummaging around my storage boxes to set up my earring display. I had a little ring dish custom made by Little Betty Designs to match the wallpaper and a velour cushion in just the right shade of pink was purchased from Aldi’s middle aisle world of wonders.

Adding finishing touches

The whole time I was decorating I used a wooden chair as a step ladder of sorts – this itself is another Facebook find and an up cycling project waiting to happen and so it just wouldn’t do, the one thing I’ve been struggling to find is the right chair for this space. I needed something which would “match” – which is a challenge when it’s such a clashing style.

Lakeland Furniture was the answer to all my problems. I finally found the vanity chair of my dreams on their website – this green velvet chair has the stitched design on the back of the seat which gives the luxurious effect I’d been searching for. It’s reminiscent of a chesterfield sofa and corresponds well with the style and colour of the bureau. The colour also compliments the wallpaper and so it was an extremely lucky find.

The best thing about the selection of chairs in offer is the variety of different leg styles and colours you can choose to go with the seat. I opted for a gold metal finish in the elegant design which gives the chair that modern touch which suits my style. The green just seems to pop.

There we have it, all of my make up and jewellery now has its own little dedicated space, safe from little hands. If I need to add a little bolt to the door at a later stage that’s an easy enough job – I’ve found that instead of wearing the same earrings every day I have been enjoying browsing my collection and picking out a new set. I’ve also been putting in the effort with make up, from lockdown part two I’ve been challenging myself to play with new colours and looks.

There’s still a lot of DIY going on around the house but with the non-essential shops being closed I’ve been unable to finish anything, but now I am feeling inspired to make a start on those dining chairs. I’ll be setting up a dedicated space on my blog for all of my DIY projects shortly.

Making a meal of it….. how to make the most out of a roast chicken

Sunday roast is a “thing” – it always has been in our household and I just love the comfort of the meal, especially on a cold winter afternoon. With all of the discussions about meal planning and cutting costs of a food shop taking over the headlines recently I thought I’d share the kinds of things I do to really make the most of a humble chicken. Admittedly it’s just Arlo and I with a small chicken so for a larger family it won’t quite go so far without additional ingredients – bear that in mind when planning your meals. I previously worked with Jacks supermarket – getting a weeks worth of essentials for £30 – read all about that here

The main event – A roast dinner

It starts on Sunday with a roast dinner, I cook the chicken simply, seasoned with salt and pepper and then stuffed with a lemon. This isn’t to everyone’s taste but you can swap this for anything which tickles your fancy. Served with roast potatoes and seasonal veg – I try to take advantage of seasonal offers on veg and mix things up every week.

This week we opted for tenderstem broccoli and frozen peas and I chucked in a few carrots and an onion with the potatoes. At this point it’s probably useful to add that my leftover plans work with any kind of meat, these rules don’t just apply to chicken so I’ll add in some alternatives along the way. We are fans of the dark meat, Arlo will have a leg with his roast whilst I prefer the wings so that really helps with options for the breast meat on Mondays.

A healthy lunch for Monday

First things first…. there’s nothing better than a humble wrap or sandwich for a quick lunch idea. This is one of my favourites, I tend to chuck in a bit of salad and some of the breast meat along with dressing. As I was working with Jacks on their budget shop challenge I had bought red peppers from their “fresh five” – the red onion I used was also left over from the roast dinner. I tend to pile all the leftovers on to a plate and pop them in the fridge and nothing goes to waste. You can do the same with roast lamb and beef – adding complimentary dressings to suit your taste for sandwiches and wraps. It’s at this point in time I strip the chicken carcass and separate some of the breast and dark meat away for our Monday evening meal.

Second chance saloon – Leftover chicken pesto pasta

There’s always lots of different options to use up the leftover meat. This week I had fun with all of the ingredients pictured, (red onion, pepper, courgette, tomato and garlic) sautéed it all off in a pan with a little oil and then added this mixture to pasta and pesto.

The Monday meal is the perfect chance to use up whatever you have in the cupboards – so other options we often have include fajitas, curry and even a Moroccan style tagine – If I have a lot of veg from Sunday left over I will pop the whole lot in to a pie dish (including the leftover gravy) and cover it with a sheet of pastry… or mashed potatoes. The more veg you pack in the less meat is required but this isn’t a meal which feels like it’s short of anything.

They think it’s all over – Using a chicken carcass to make a stock.

Don’t Chuck away the scraps!!! – If you aren’t a fan of the dark meat or fatty bits keep them to one side. Once you’ve stripped the carcass of the meat you want to eat in your Monday evening meal there’s still potential and this is literally the easiest thing to do. Set aside the “nice” meat you can eat and bung everything else from the chicken (the entire carcass) in to the bottom of your biggest saucepan with some oil and add fresh garlic and a finely sliced onion. Leeks too if you have them. Fry it all off and add some seasoning. This is the basis of your stock for an awesome soup. This pan might look a bit gross but trust me this sticky residue is where all the flavour is.

This is a job for a Monday afternoon and I like to come back to this for a meal on Tuesday. Once all these bits and bobs are golden brown add in some water – just a small amount to cover the carcass and this gets all the sticky bits from the bottom of the pan. Leave this to simmer for a short time and the last bits of meat simply fall off the carcass. I carefully pick out the bones at this stage – you can strain through a sieve or cloth if you need to. This is now your made from scratch stock and from here you can make any flavour soup you like.l Add in any left over gravy plus your veg of choice and top up the pan with water.

How much water depends on the amount of veg you have. If I’m pinched for time I’ll use a bag of pre prepped casserole mix, if I have any random carrots in the salad drawer of the fridge then this is where I’ll use them – It’s at this stage if you have any shredded chicken meat left you can add it back in to the pan. I bring this lot to the boil over a high heat and then add the lid on and leave it all to simmer down.

You can thicken your broth by adding cornflour and maybe add dumplings so it becomes a stew – this is an essential if I’m doing this with leftover beef. If the meat situation is rather thin then you can add a handful of “soup mix” – which is a combination of pulses such as lentils and barley for added protein to bulk out the meal – check out the instructions on packs as some of these need to be soaked before hand.

I have one more little tip here – if you’re a fan of fresh bread and find you often have half a random baguette which is going a bit hard then makes yourself some giant croutons – slice it all up, drizzle with olive oil and toast it in the oven with garlic and Rosemary whilst you’ve got the soup warming up….. maybe even top with some grated cheese. These make the perfect accompaniment to a home made soup…. which is essentially made from scraps otherwise destined for the bin.

So there we have it – my favourite soup made from leftover chicken – this weeks versions was whizzed up with a stick blender and swirled with cream – we used two portions for dinner, I’ve set aside two portions to freeze and there’s one more left for my lunch tomorrow. So all in all I’ve managed to stretch one roast chicken out for four days worth of meals.

Results – 14 meal portions from one chicken

I love my food so I’m confident enough to say that I didn’t scrimp at all on the portion sizes and I think all of the meals are fairly well balanced and nutritious too 14 portions of food isn’t too bad for a humble chicken.

  • Sunday roast x3 portions
  • Monday lunch wraps x2 portions
  • Monday evening meal – pesto pasta x3 portions
  • Tuesday lunch – pasta salad x2 portions
  • Tuesday evening meal – soup x2 portions
  • Wednesday lunch – soup x2 portions

I quite enjoyed preparing the blog for this challenge, I’d love to work on more challenges like this so let me know if you’d like any tips or advice about family and budget friendly meal planning.

Rainbow Snow Activity

I’ve never seen Arlo have quite as much fun as we did today. We’ve been lucky enough to have lots of snow recently and last night it was coming down thick and fast so I decided to put together this activity for the morning.

You will need:

  • Water based poster paint
  • Water
  • Condiment bottles

All you need to do is add a small amount of paint in to a bottle and fill it up with water. Shake them well and then let loose on the snow.

The spray bottles lasted a lot longer than the squeezey bottles which I topped up a couple of times. We started off tentatively with the primary colours – testing out mixing the sprays to make new colours and trying to be a bit educational – also utilising those hand muscles too.

Then we went crazy with the spray bottles – flinging the paint around and making rainbow colours in the snow – Arlo enjoyed making circles by spinning around.

We invented a new game by address my colours to snow balls and then throwing them to make some really cool splats on the garden shed.

We built a snowman together in the garden and he got his own technicolour coat to match Arlo’s – here’s a short video which shows how our morning went:

For more of our snow and ice activities click below

Construction challenge with ice

I have been filling the tuff tray with water every night in the hope that it will freeze over, as I wanted to make a giant version of this Ice skating messy play tray. Today we managed to get a thick enough sheet of ice to play with – first things first we did some stomping to break the ice up.

Then taking care with the pieces we stacked them up to build a structure. I helped with a basic square shape and then Arlo decided to add in an extra room and a roof to the structure before finding animals to inhabit the space.

It was easy enough to stand up the ice as we had a couple of inches of snow to play with and set up on top of a random hay bale we have in the garden . Arlo ran around the garden fetching his diggers and other tools to continue the big build. His major architectural achievement came from adding in a slide for his penguins.

This was the perfect little small world Antarctic which provided lots of outdoor amusement. We ended up getting a couple of bowls of water to create a water slide and then a tiny little jacuzzi for the polar bears before heading back to our ice cream mud kitchen for more outdoor play in the snow. Check out the short clip below to see how Arlo interacted with it all

Ice cream Mud Kitchen set up

We had snow last night and I knew Arlo would want to play outdoors and so I rummaged around the house trying to think about what we could do – and an ice cream station seemed like the best plan.

You will need:

  • Cups / tubs
  • Spoons
  • Scoops
  • Slime/foam for ice cream
  • Water beads for sprinkles

It’s as simple as this to set up….. as you can see it was freezing cold outside so I made up batches of slime and our water beads with warm water which helped keep his hands warm when playing – keeping him outside for longer. Whenever I create a station like this I always make up an example, demonstrating how he can interact with the invitation to play and also because it’s fun to join in.

Arlo has a variety of tools and resources he likes to use in the mud kitchen including a turkey baster, normal kitchen spoons and measuring scoops. I pick things up in the high street shops and supermarkets whenever I get the chance and have found that plastic is best for this just because they are durable if they get left outside and they are also easy to clean. We have had years of use from some of our items.

Arlo found pinwheels in the garden plant pots and chose to decorate his creations and then we had lots of “make believe” play discussing how delicious everything was before eventually deciding that we needed to have some real ice cream and sprinkles indoors.

The slime from Zimplikids and foam from Kids Stuff Crazy were previously provided as PR samples.

A trolley load of value

(This blog post is sponsored by Jack’s Supermarket)

Introducing a new budget friendly store

Jack’s supermarket is a relatively new kid on the block when it comes to budget supermarkets and I was delighted to be given the opportunity to try out Jack’s for my essential food shop and see just how far I could stretch £30. My local Jack’s is five minutes drive away in Rubery and I didn’t do any special preparation for the challenge other than compile a list of things I needed for my weekly food shop.

I admit before lockdown I didn’t really do much meal planning, and would pop out to the shops every couple of days for whatever tickled my fancy but things have changed. I now like to do a shop which contains enough to keep us going for about a week, I tend to plan our evening meals for a few days ahead and then buy items I need to top up what we already have including baking ingredients and cleaning supplies.

Money saving on fresh foods

Jack’s has a “fresh five” which changes every two weeks and so at the time of my visit I decided to add to the food shop peppers, tomatoes, butternut squash and sweet potatoes – I like to challenge myself and see what I can come up with and so I’m thinking potato wedges, a squash and sweet potato soup and then also a roast veg side dish for an evening meal. Cooking from scratch doesn’t need to be a challenge and often helps save money as you can batch cook and freeze portions.

Here in this picture you can see exactly what I picked up – so much more than I expected to be able to get and I appreciate this might look like a rather random selection but I checked the cupboards briefly before we came out so I wasn’t getting any duplicates. I wanted to get a good cross section of things from the Jack’s branded range to share our experience with you.

Meal planning with a pre-schooler.

I’m not the most organised of planners. I like to try and keep my options fairly open when it comes to evening meals as I never know quite which style of food I’ll want to have, but with fresh foods and a decent stash of herbs and spices in my dry store I have lots of options – we usually begin with a traditional roast dinner.

Sunday Roast

  • Chicken
  • Potatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Frozen Peas

(I add stuffing and other veg I already have at home to our meal)

This roast chicken was £3.21 and I thought I would challenge myself to see just how far I could stretch it out – check out my blog post here to see exactly how I managed to make it last until Wednesday.

Admittedly, using leftovers does require additional ingredients – this is where things like the fresh five and the great pricing on fresh foods really comes in handy. When I save money like this on my shopping and there’s room in the budget I like to have a wander down to the herbs and spices aisle and add in things I know I will use. This week I picked up rosemary, which I used to season my giant croutons when I made a leftover chicken soup.

I was really impressed with the family meals offer in store. The display included everything you needed side by side so it was one less meal to have to think about. This week’s Jack’s offer was a chilli con carne, which wasn’t at all on my list but is a fave meal of ours so I picked up the leaflet with the recipe, which was mainly dry ingredients. I’ve frozen the mincemeat and I’ll whip this out to defrost at the end of the week which means avoiding a trip to the supermarket for one more day. We’ll probably end up having a jacket potato with chilli the next day for lunch too.

Chilli con Carne

  • Mince meat £2.18
  • Kidney beans 30p
  • Tomatoes 28p
  • Spice packet 40p
  • Onions 89p (huge pack)

(I already had rice in my cupboard so I didn’t pick that up)

My eagle eyes love spotting a deal and there were many easy to spot offers available in store – These bags of veg were two for £1.50. I have learnt through lockdown to keep things like this in my freezer stash which can be added to any meal which is always handy when you’re due to do a food shop – the sliced peppers are extremely handy in a pasta or curry and saves on prep time too – I’ll probably add some to our chilli to make it stretch even further and I’m dreaming about chilli nachos already – that’s another meal option for us. When I cook meals like this I do a big batch and pop a couple of portions in the freezer which can come out whenever we need them.


I picked up a few bits and bobs, including porridge oats (75p) cereal (89p) as well as sausages (£1.21) spaghetti hoops (29p) and a loaf of bread (45p) plus milk (£1.09). We have condiments and spreads at home but I hadn’t checked before I came out, so I had a look down the aisle to check out the variety and pricing – making a mental note to come back next week to top up. We tend to have toast, cereals, yoghurt and fruit most mornings – Apples, oranges and bananas are always in our fruit bowl and I was impressed with being able to get a melon for 80p too.

Household items

This is where everything else comes in, and with trying to limit unnecessary trips and wander around the high street shops to seek out the best deals it’s refreshing to see that everything you need is available – I picked up loo roll (£2.59 for x9) because that’s a lockdown essential and then also popped washing up liquid (33p) and cat biscuits (90p) in to the trolley – I have to say our three cats are usually fussy creatures but they seemed happy with their Jack’s branded food.

We’ve had a busy week so far and there haven’t been any remarks from Arlo regarding his snacks either – I chose the Jack’s branded crisps, yoghurts and orange squash – switching things to see if he would notice. These are the kinds of things which Arlo goes through like no ones business so it’s fabulous that they come in big packs which offers better savings and that extra bit of reassurance that you can shop on a budget without compromise.

To find your local Jack’s click here

Moon and stars water colour salt painting activity

This week at nursery Arlo has been following the topic of “moon stars and sun” which works with the terms overall themes of “light and dark, hot and cold” – so to support this learning I’ve incorporated some ideas in to activities we can do together at home.

This does require a little bit of planning ahead but not too much,

You will need:

  • Card stock (paper is too flimsy)
  • PVA glue
  • Salt
  • Water colour paints
  • Brushes
  • A jar of water

First things first create your shapes on card in PVA glue – I went free hand but you can find stencils or patterns online to print off or trace just as easily – simple ones are most effective for this kind of activity and you can involve the little ones if you wish.

Then sprinkle salt all over the glue and leave it to dry for a while. I have a separate container of salt to save the excess and use it in messy play trays and Science projects to melt ice etc. I like to create two sheets of paper (at least) and for activities like this I sit beside Arlo and work alongside him demonstrating and encouraging.

Once your glue has dried the image should Take on a 3D shape like this and it’s ready to paint.

Our simple set up included a palette of water colour paints and a jar of water. Arlo loves to mix colours and wanted to jump straight in – but he had to remember the process of dipping the brush in to water and then the colour and then the salt. He quickly learn that the more water he had on his brush the more colour he could mix and the better this spread on the salt.

We really enjoyed making our stars and moons rainbow coloured – and even though we had two projects Arlo took over both…. and we had a little happy accident where Arlo knocked a brush mix air and made splashes across his page – but fear not. I described these as twinkle stars and this became a new painting technique and he added some extra colours to finish his masterpiece.

These will be left to dry overnight and then we’ll put these up on display. I’m not quite sure what else we’ll try with this theme but I’m sure we’ll have a busy weekend and come up with some ideas to share.