The pandemic stole my identity

Last Thursday evening I did the nursery pick up run, and I had a bit of a revelation. Like most people we have time slots for collection of our children and so I sat waiting in my car to avoid the rain and I picked up the phone and caught up on the group chat with some of my mum friends whilst waiting.

One of my friends had been on a day out with her newborn and toddler, and for the first time in ages had decided to put on some make up and had received some comments which weren’t “positive” for what of a better word. She looked fabulous by the way and felt fabulous too!

This got us all talking and I realised that I couldn’t remember the last time I actually wore make up and I looked at myself right then. I was wearing silver glitter pumps – they’re the easiest to slip on my feet and I’ve worn them pretty much every time I need to leave the house this year, Leopard print trousers which are super comfy but actually part of a pyjama set, a bright red vest, a purple scarf and a comfy oversized hoodie. My hair was in the easy peasy “mum bun.”

I looked in my rear view mirror and I could hardly recognise myself. Since when had I turned in to this?? I’m usually the over dressed glam mum and wouldn’t be seen dead without my red lipstick anywhere!!! Working from home for the best part of 2020 has been a total game changer. Life for us all has changed in so many ways and on paper it sounds lovely being able to stay at home all day, and not struggle with the daily commute and the rat race.

In reality it’s not quite as fantastic. I know that I’m fortunate to still have my job and that for many people there are far worse things happening but at the same time I wanted to acknowledge the impact the pandemic has had on my mental health. It’s a challenge to get motivated on some days and the work/life balance is up side down – I find myself looking at work emails at 10pm in the evening, and a quick task like emptying the washing machine on a sunny afternoon ends up distracting me for an hour during the working day.

On days where I have video calls I quickly scramble for a bit of make up when the fifteen minute alert pops up on my laptop screen to make an effort but that’s about it. I haven’t bought any new clothes this season and I certainly didn’t see the point in dressing up just to sit in my living room…. during lockdown part 1 there were some fun days to dress up and lots of video calls but the mood this time around just like the weather is all a bit dreary.

Last Thursday all of this changed for me and I made a pact with my mum friends to try and make more of an effort. I’m not exactly a make up expert or a fashionista but so far I am loving it – I bought myself an eye shadow palette at the beginning of summer in the sale (one of many random things the internet made me buy). I have been following youtube tutorials for autumnal coloured eye shadow looks. I washed and straightened my hair and I opened my wardrobe and sorted out all of my favourite dresses to prepare myself for this self inflicted challenge

It’s been five days so far and getting up every day has been fun. I have found myself again – I posted a picture on Instagram of my Saturday outfit – I took Arlo to a drive in cinema and met my mum who said it was lovely to see me in my dress for a change and she was honest enough to tell me that my old faithful jeans are less than flattering – so many people made kind comments about my “look” too. It made me realise that the most important person to make an effort for is me.

Getting up and dressed, putting make up on etc. It’s not for anyone else, it really is just for me. It’s a process which motivates me in the morning and gives me confidence. It’s part of a routine which had been lost for months and now it’s back I’m committed to sticking to it…. even if it’s only to sit in my living room. It’s very early days but I already feel more productive. With work, with my blog and with my DIY projects around the house. The familiarity of my make up bag and even the scent of my favourite perfume is comforting.

There’s a lot more to come now that I’ve found my mojo. I’m hoping to pick up my pandemic journal from where we left off and determined to not let the virus write off the rest of my year, not every day is wonderful but I found this quote and I love it

“Lipstick can’t solve all problems, but it’s a pretty great start. Give a woman the right lipstick and she can conquer the world. Just have fun. Smile.”

Over the Rainbow birthday party

Arlo’s third birthday just happened and I can’t quite believe I’m sat here now telling you all I’m a mum to a three year old… time really does fly by!

A birthday in lockdown wasn’t the original plan, but you guys know me by now – a pandemic wasn’t ever going to stop us from having an amazing day. I set myself the goal of making it look like a unicorn threw up and I think we can safely say “mission accomplished!”

When it comes to party planning for us there’s always a few important elements which include: decorations, activities, food, cake and goody bags. Even though the only children were Arlo and his cousins I wanted to bring the same vibes this year.

My theme was “over the rainbow” to fit in with all of the different lockdown activities we have been doing and so it was fairly easy to use Pinterest for ideas and then amazon to search for rainbow party decorations. Getting everything prepared the night before!

I bought a DIY balloon arch kit, paper Pom poms, lanterns and fans which were all simple enough to set up and create awesome splashes of colour throughout the garden, really effective decorations, the colours of which can be adjusted to suit almost any theme.

I also created my own crepe paper streamer decoration using a hula hoop…. which I’ll write a step by step instruction blog about! All in all I think I spent about £60 on decorations – most of which have been stored away to be re-used for future celebrations.

When it comes to food…. a party has to have picky bits but with children you never want to go too crazy…. We had a rainbow platter of fruit and another of crudités with a hummus dip – plus a few bowls of crisps and savoury snacks all laid out on a bright table cloth with a splash of confetti. Arlo started helping himself before the party even started!

As our gathering was small one I also prepared a huge batch of bolognese on the morning of the party and we also ate this too. Normally I wouldn’t do this for a party, I prefer to go for rice salads and chicken wings which can all be prepared in advance and served cold, but pasta is one of Arlo’s favourite meals.

Arlo’s cake was ordered months in advance for his original party from a family friend with the original “On the farm” theme – at the last minute a rainbow was added for the party and Arlo loved looking at all the little details. We love cake in this family and this one tasted just as good as it looked!

In addition I also decided to call on another local business and book in a visit from the ice cream van…. not just any ice cream van either – Loppys creates the most decadent desserts and has fabulous packages/bundles – I think I was more excited about this than anyone – and Lincoln, bless him, managed to hobble out on his Zimmer frame to join us! I pre ordered everyone’s flavours in the morning and the van arrived to serve us our ice cream trays, a giant bag of pick and mix and mixed flavour slushes for the kids. I’ve never seen their eyes so wide before! A lovely little treat and so if you’re local to Birmingham I highly recommend checking them out!

Arlo had a candy land tub, which was drenched in coloured sugar, loaded with sweets and then topped with a fabulous lolly – I don’t think he’s ever had so many E numbers – the sugar in this gave the kids the energy to really enjoy the activities I had planned.

I froze some more animal toys in water balloons over night and the kids were delighted with all the mini beasts they had to collect and find – seeing them work together to find tools and help each other created a new dimension to the play – Arlo learnt the smash method from his older cousins and they also colluded together to ask for tools, salt and warm water to get all the bugs out of the ice.

Lincoln with his broken leg in a plaster cast was designated as the keeper of bugs by the others who made sure to include him which was lovely to see. They kept coming back to this all day!

I used the Tuff Tray as a stage for our tie dye project too:

I must admit that this was slightly chaotic with all the kids wanting to get hold of the dye – luckily we had one adult per child so were able to assist them and make sure everything was shared fairly… I’ll write another blog about this with step by step instructions too – once this was all done and dusted we continued to add in even more colour to the day.

I ordered our holi powder from amazon, we’ve done this before colour and the kids love it – so I made sure to plan ahead and prepare to ensure it lasted longer than a few seconds – I’ll write a blog with all my tips – theres honestly nothing more exhilarating than chucking coloured powder all over the place!

Needless to say after half an hour of throwing colours around we were all covered head to toe and the smiles make it all worthwhile! The kids were enjoying the footloose and fancy free vibes and so I got out a bubble pit for them.

This was a bargain purchase from the middle aisles at Aldi and worth every single one of the 399 pennies – keeping them busy and giving us time to tidy up some of the chaos around them.

Throughout the day we had our new Amazon echo dot playing any music the kids wanted, (they all know how to ask Alexa for baby shark) but I asked for a cheesy music playlist and was shocked that they’d never heard S club 7 before. We of course had to do a few party dances! Gone are the days of spending hours refining a perfect party playlist when you can just ask Alexa!

As the evening drew in I had trouble explaining to Arlo that he couldn’t keep his colours and had to have a bath – and not in a bucket in the garden – luckily I had a unicorn bath bomb stashed away to persuade him – all of the colours washed away and his head barely hit the pillow before he was sound asleep!

Bug Hotel

Welcome to Rainbow Towers! Our bug hotel was an amazon find, the basic wooden box arrived flat pack and had to be glued together which didn’t take too long at all. Then is was just a case of doing a little bit of interior design. I set up a nature tuff tray and we set to work.

The straw, pine cones and bamboo sticks all got the rainbow treatment before being wedges firmly in to the bug hotel and we nestled it in one of the borders of the garden amongst some leaves.

Arlo is absolutely obsessed with bugs and mini beasts after our mini beast scavenger hunt activities and has been delighted to check the hotel and find little creepy crawlies have already taken up residence behind the bamboo straws.

I’ll come back and update with pictures when I dare to get closer!

Nature printing Tuff Tray

After the success of our previous nature themed tuff tray I decided to set this one up again.

Last time I covered the whole tray in brown paper but we didn’t end up using it to full effect, but I’m glad I provided some sheets of craft paper alongside paints squeezed in to paper plates and some bamboo sticks, pine cones and straw.

As you can imagine, on a warm and sunny day Arlo didn’t take too long to get stuck in – feet first! We sat around this tray exploring all the different materials – using the bamboo straws as stamps on the craft paper actually worked out even better than expected, we have some lovely prints on our craft paper which I have saved for a rainy day.

The paint on the bamboo sticks also became a happy accident and we decided to give our bug hotel the rainbow treatment!

So I set to work painting the cones, we all enjoyed painting in rainbow colours too. This is actually quite a good activity for little ones, Arlo had to concentrate and really work the brush and paint in between the spaces for full coverage.

Check out our finished bug hotel here

Reading Eggs – App Review

This blog contains a review of an app which I was granted free access to.

Follow this link to get 30 days access free to try it yourself

I have begun to introduce Arlo to limited interactive technology during this lockdown as part of our home schooling activities, because let’s face it we can’t have PVA glue and poster paint out 24/7.

Reading eggs came highly recommended and I have been granted free access to the app for the purposes of this review. I have also been given a link to share to give my followers 30 days free access to try it out for themselves free of charge (click here).

So where do I start….. the sign up process is very simple, just like most apps it requires an email/password which gives you access to a parent dashboard to follow your child’s learning journey. Then you get going with a really simple user interface.

Arlo is almost three and so we have explored between the 2-4 and 3-7 age categories, and have really taken our time to get to know different features within the app.

The junior category for the youngest age takes you through to a menu where you can choose to read a book, participate in activities, watch videos or explore the lands.

Each of these options opens a multitude of different options for you – and the sheer amount of resources available is impressive. The videos are extremely child friendly and include educational content. The books feature common toddler friendly themes such as animals and vehicles – and a simple swipe interaction. The sheer number of titles available is worth the subscription fee, plus there books available in multiple languages.

The shining star in this app however is the activities. With fourteen different options to choose from, each focuses on different topics such as matching, sorting, colours and the alphabet , whilst also providing children with the skills they need to interact with technology.

Each activity has a pathway with clear levels, and once you complete an activity your child gets the chance to participate in sensory rewarding tasks and games such as colouring in and balloon popping, and then in turn you earn an egg, which you tap open to reveal a sticker.

The constant audio and visual feedback from the app when your child completes every single action is extremely rewarding and positive for Arlo, and I noticed that when we were going through the alphabet that alliteration was used to correspond to the letter we were working with – Amazing, Brilliant etc. That’s a subtle touch but shows the attention to detail within the design

Another thing I like about this app is that words are sounded out using phonics. This is something I do not know much about, but it’s the way kids are taught these days and so it’s fabulous to have the app teach me so that I can then work on this with Arlo outside of the app – for example sounding out “cuh” “ah” “tuh” when we see a cat.

Once your child completes a task/level this is logged in the parent menu and so you can track progress easily. After enjoying playing with the junior menus we decided to explore the 3-7 menus together.

The first time we accessed this section I noticed the difference in style but the menu layout and pathways idea was very familiar. Arlo instinctively knew where to press and how to interact with the screen to play the more complex games.

The first thing we encountered was a little pop up “quiz” – this is designed to check your child’s ability to guide you where might be best to start your journey. Please don’t worry this isn’t a test and obviously Arlo being not quite three was guided to start at the very beginning.

We began with lesson one which was all about the letter m. The same kind of interactions, (swipes and taps) as learned in the junior menus are required but this time the letters of the alphabet take centre stage and here the repetition of the phonics is even more apparent.

We have alphabet magnets on our fridge and a couple of days after using the app Arlo decided to point out the letter m to me on his own accord and this shows to me that through using this app to play he is learning not only about the sound of letters but their visual appearance in a way which is helping his memory recall.

There is a lot more to this app, we have only just scraped the surface with its features, because I limit screen time. For people who also do the same I have to say I really appreciate the menu design – activities are taking us about 5-10 minutes to complete before earning a sticker, and returning you a menu rather than automatically sending you to the next activity. This provides a natural pause for you to end the screen time if you wish.

Follow this link to get 30 days access free to try it yourself

Nature painting tuff tray

A really simple painting invitation to play.

You will need:

  • Paper plates
  • Brushes
  • Paint
  • Collected materials – pinecones and leaves etc.

We have been collecting all sorts of random bits and bobs on our nature walks, from pebbles, to pinecones and leaves because Arlo takes his scavenger hunting very seriously.

So finally putting all of the bits and bobs to good use I covered Arlo’s tuff tray in brown paper (it’s bright blue and I wanted a neutral canvas) and I then gave him a box with all the materials he needed.

I helped him squeeze out all the colours on to paper plates

Mum tip: I always split the paint colours up like this to help avoid the almost inevitable brown splodge effect when complimentary colours get mixed up.

Then Arlo dived right in with a brush and a pinecone. Painting pine cones is actually really hard work as you have to get the brush in to all the little books and crannies. So this kept him busy for quite some time.

We also moved on to painting other found materials – these giant leaves made a beautiful canvas and we all got involved, sitting around the tray and painting with all of our colours.

Not a bad way to spend an afternoon in the garden!

Jam jar candle holders

This is a really simple but effective way to brighten up a garden on summer nights.

You will need:

Jam jars

Tissue paper

PVA glue

Water

This really is a simple craft, preparation is key. Make sure your jam jar is thoroughly clean and free of label gunk, and get your tissue paper cut in to small squares.

We used animal print tissue papers we had in the craft cupboard and then contrasted these with bright plain colours.

Use a lot of glue, in stages to different areas of the glass but be delicate applying tissue as it can tear easily once it absorbs moisture.

You need quite a lot of glue, once our jar was covered I started dabbing the brush in a little water to make sure all the edges were smooth and added extra squares to fill the gaps. The layering of tissue in different areas helps create a more interesting glow.

Once you have finished use a brush to make sure the entire surface is covered with a layer of PVA and then you just need to wait for the glue to dry.

Here’s a video of the entire process – this is literally one of the easiest crafts. Add in a tea light and you have a lovely lantern for the garden ….. please be careful with candles around kids! You can use battery powered candles to be safe.

Toilet roll Peacock activity

This is a really simple craft activity which will be enjoyed by kids of all ages.

You will need:

Toilet roll

Paper plate cut in half

Paint

PVA glue

Bits and bobs

Googly eyes

Small yellow felt or card for a beak

When I say bits and bobs, you can use pretty much anything you have in the craft cupboard. We were going for a rainbow theme to match our window but you could easily divide up the resources and make this a specific colour theme. Think buttons, beads, sequins, lollipop sticks, feathers, pom-poms and tissue paper!

The first stage is to cut your paper plates in half and paint them, I provided just blue and green to make our peacocks tail.

And then you also need to paint your loo roll too. We didn’t waste any time and started to add our bits and bobs without waiting for the paint to dry, we don’t mind getting messy, but at this stage it could be good to pause for a snack or a walk.

Then it’s time to introduce the PVA glue, I pout a bit in a little dish and gave Arlo a paint brush and full access to the bits and bobs to do his thing.

We used glue and a bit of tape to secure our loo rolls to the plates.

Mum tip: for activities like this I sit beside Arlo with my own materials and create alongside him, he likes to imitate and so when I started arranging my feathers he copied me and we were talking about all of the bits and bobs we were choosing and why.

This final thing is to add googly eyes and a beak to your peacocks to give them a face, and voila, there you have it.

The Rainbow Trail

A little project we have been working on recently is to give something back to our local community. I have been using all sorts of inspirational quotes as captions on our Instagram page and I also recently designed a rainbow t shirt for Arlo.

You might have also read some of our scavenger hunt activities which have been going down a treat during lockdown – keeping us very busy.

So here we have our new Rainbow Trail – I have taken some quotes from our favourite films and laminated them with a rainbow. Over the next few weeks we will be hiding these in places we visit on our daily exercise.

We are now allowed to travel further afield for our daily walks and so we will be blogging about our favourite outdoor places to visit now that our amazing adventures can recommence and so if you happen to find a rainbow with our Instagram tag then please do get in touch.

This page will be updated as we hide more rainbows.