Wednesday, 31 July 2013


We took part in MoneySupermarket's #The Charcoal Challenge and were given £50 to throw the ultimate summer barbecue on a budget!  

We organised a get together at my mum and dad's house because they have an ace barbecue so we could spend time with our lovely family as they don't live close by.

On our guest list was Poppet and Littles' Grandad, Nana, Aunty Anna, Uncle Mike, Aunty Jenny, Uncle Peter, (Great) Uncle Ian, (Great) Aunty Christina, and second cousin Adam. Along with Mama and Dada it made 10 adults and 3 little ones. A Great Grandad was also meant to be there but wasn't well enough to leave the carehome in the end and was missed.

This is how we spent our money in order to make it stretch:
  • £20 on burgers and sausages from our local butchers, (12 steak & onion burgers and 18 pork sausages).
  • £5 on two family size bottles of Coca-Cola and one of Fanta, and two bags of lemons to make lemonade.
  • £3 on paper plates, cups and napkins
  • £19 on rolls, tomatoes, peppers, new potatoes, corn on the cobs, onions, mushrooms, a lettuce, a mutipack of crisps, cheesy nibbles, chilli couscous, halloumi, bananas and chocolate buttons and marshmallows.
  • £3 on a 'Princess' ball (this was Poppet's choice!)

I made a big jugful of lemonade with Poppet's help, we are refining our recipe now and it tastes pretty good, roughly following the recipe at the bottom of this page. On this occasion we made it sourer than usual especially for Grandad, but left out a bowlful of sugar for those that wanted it sweeter. Aunty Anna bravely faced her fear of using knives despite her recent trip to A&E after a run-in with a quiche, and was my chief vegetable-chopper. Grandad displayed his barbecue skills that have been perfected over the last 30 or so years, even though he did forget the cardinal rule of always having a water bottle on hand. But he is 53 now so memory lapses are to be expected (only joking dad, there was some impressive barbecuing going on).

Most of the barbecue was spent 'ahhing' at the cuteness that was Poppet and Adam. Born only 6 months apart but living quite far away from one another they only get to meet up every few months. But when they do they are so sweet together, hopefully this is the foundation of a lovely friendship! They chat away to each other but no one else really knows what they are saying. Poppet really likes to stare at him and gently 'boss' him around.

Our menu included burgers and sausages in rolls with caramelised onions, barbecued vegetable and halloumi kebabs, chilli couscous, salad, new potatoes and corn on the cob. The sausages and vegetables were marinated in a homemade BBQ sauce that I got from More Than Toast. For pudding we had barbecued marshmallows and barbecued bananas with chocolate buttons. Below are some scenes of food enjoyment:

Aunty Anna also brought along a pear and cardamom cake that she made especially for the occasion and it was delicious:

The food went down well apart from Grandad still doesn't "see the point of couscous" and Uncle Mike forgot the kebab sticks but the veg and halloumi still tasted good so he was forgiven!

We attempted to involve the little ones in the stuffing-of-the-bananas-with-chocolate-buttons before they were wrapped in tinfoil and put on the barbecue, but most of the buttons did not make it as far as the bananas.

Little slept for most of the barbecue but made an appearance toward the end and got some Nana cuddles. She looked most displeased that we hadn't saved her a burger.

Poppet: 2yrs 6mos
Little: 9mos

Saturday, 27 July 2013

When Life Gives You Playdough Lemons

I've been going through a bit of a homemade lemonade phase recently, it's the perfect drink for this scorching hot weather we've been having - ice cold, refreshing, sweet, sour and just a tiny bit salty. I'm addicted. And Poppet has been avidly watching me squeeze lemon after lemon in our lemon squeezer, pleading to have a go. Helping me pour it through the sieve. Picking out stray pips. Mixing in the sugar. She loves the whole process (and the end result even more!). 

To let her have a go at making it herself without running the risk of squirting herself in the eye with lemon juice (been there, done that), I set up an invitation to play using playdough lemons and my lemonade making equipment. We scented the playdough using lemon essence so it releases a lovely lemony smell as you play with it.

We made a batch of 4 minute no-cook playdough together using this recipe, adding yellow food colouring and lemon essence to the boiling water. And adding more food colouring and lemon essence at the kneading stage too as it wasn't quite lemony enough. It would have been good to add some lemon zest to it as well but I didn't think of it at the time.  It was particularly good playdough, really soft and mouldable. If you haven't tried making playdough yet I would urge you to give it a go, it's 100 times better than the shop bought stuff. Although the colours sometimes aren't as vivid, you can play about with scents and textures which makes it more than worth it.

I moulded it into lemon-like shapes and put them into a bowl along with a real lemon so she would get the idea. I also put other lemonade-making paraphernalia on the tray - juicers, a jug, cups, straws, a little sieve and a knife. 

First she tried to cut the real lemon but soon transferred her attention to the playdough ones and got into the swing of it. She loved the lemon squeezer and the playdough was so soft it oozed out in long strands really easily. This was a good activity for strengthening up her hand muscles which helps get them ready for pencil control later on. This is a really great post on all the benefits of playing with playdough.

She loved cutting up all the lemons and then squishing them through the squeezer, collecting the long strands in her jug to make her 'lemonade'.

She also liked pressing the lemon halves into the lemon juicer and seeing the imprints it left behind on the playdough. Afterwards she had some more fun with making imprints using her magnetic letter set, pressing the numbers in and then picking them out again to see the shape they left behind.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

A Day out at Pitmedden Garden

On Sunday we took an impromptu trip to nearby Pitmedden Garden, picking up a picnic lunch en-route (courtesy of Nana!). We love exploring our nearby parks and gardens because they are a great cheap day out and Poppet loves the wide open spaces and new environments to explore. On this occasion we decided to sign up for National Trust for Scotland membership for the whole family for £5.75 a month. I thought this was great value considering that parking alone is normally a couple of pounds and it gives us free access to over 1000 properties ranging from castles and gardens to nature reserves and museums. We are really looking forward to some great kiddie-friendly days out!

We had our lunch on a picnic bench and then took a lovely shaded walk through the woodland together before splitting up into two groups - Nana, Little and I went to the tearoom for a cream tea while Dada and Poppet went on an adventure!

Poppet was so excited to go off with just her daddy and do some exploring. From what I can gather they went searching for monkeys in the trees, collected pinecones, took some wheat from a field, played Poohsticks, and probably other things that they are not telling me because they were dangerous and I wouldn't approve.

Meanwhile me and my mum enjoyed a lovely cream tea with Little (who was supposed to be sleeping but didn't oblige us).

We had a wander through their Museum of Farming Life and Poppet particularly liked the old farmhouse that you could look round, especially the bedroom upstairs that the whole family slept in - apparently this was "mummy and daddy's bed, my bed, and Little's bed". I do love these recreated rooms to have a nosy in!

We managed a quick walk through the walled gardens but the girls were getting antsy for their nap so we had to make a quick getaway. We will definitely be returning for a proper look round and get there much earlier this time. I love the sound of their herb garden and all the apple trees. On the last Sunday in September they hold harvest celebrations where you can buy fruits harvested from the gardens so I would definitely like to visit again then!

Poppet: 2yrs 6 mos
Little 9 mos

Monday, 22 July 2013

Birdseed & Diggers

I picked up a bag of bird seed from Poundland with the intention of one day making these yoghurt-pot bird cakes but in the meantime I thought it might make a good sensory play ingredient. I put it out with Poppet's digger and truck outdoors on the Tuff Spot during a lull in the sunshine.

We borrowed a digger book from the library recently so Poppet is quite well versed in digger vocabulary - she can point out the 'boom' and the 'bucket' and loves comparing the digger's 'elbow' to her own. She also does cute engine noises when she drives it around.

She enjoyed filling up the digger with seed then emptying it into the truck to drive away somewhere, when I quizzed her on where it was going it was as ever "to buy pizza". Everyone is always buying pizza. Sometimes "man" was "going to shops" and sometimes man was "sleeping" on top of the seed.

This was a lovely little quiet activity that kept her engrossed for a wee while. It was also really good for those important fine motor skills as she tried to pick out only the black sunflower seeds.

She took the truck to make a delivery of seed to her own little garden too. I hope to pick up some more construction vehicles (these ones were just from the charity shop so I am keeping my eye out!) and do this more using different materials as she really enjoyed it.

Poppet: 2yrs 6 mos
Little: 9 mos

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Tea Party in a Tent

I've been taking a walk down memory lane recently, buying Poppet books that I remember reading as a child. It's funny the ones that you remember. There was one in particular I really wanted to find, all I had to go on was a memory of a little girl having a tea party in a bush at the bottom of the garden. The image had stayed with me all these years, and finally after quite a bit of google searching I found the book.

It was called Sally's Secret, and the illustrations are beautiful. It's about a little girl who makes houses in all sorts of places, and one day makes a house in the middle of a bush and has a tea party in it. Our second-hand copy arrived a few days ago. We've been reading it a couple of times every day and I can still see why I loved it so much when I was little. Poppet has been as enamoured with it as I was/am, and it inspired us to have an old-fashioned style tea party in an old-fashioned style tent.


I made a simple A-frame tent using bamboo sticks stuck into the ground tied together with twine, and a large sheet secured with clothes pegs. It wasn't the sturdiest tent in the world and was a bit vulnerable to the wind but it managed to stay up for the day.

It looked charming once it was up and was the perfect setting for an old-fashioned style tea party complete with homemade lemonade, china cups and saucers and ham sandwiches, all served on Poppet's tea set ('her best rose-patterned teaset, with all the handles still on it'). Very Famous Five. Poppet also insisted they both wear 'pretty dresses'. Yeah sure the dresses are pretty but they dyed everything in my laundry pink so they are not my favourite just now! Thanks Aunty Anna.

I left the serving of the tea party entirely up to Poppet. She loved being in charge. My tea cup was kept topped up with lemonade at all times but she ate both the jammie dodgers for her lunch which I should have anticipated happening.

It was a beautiful tea party. One day I would love to recreate the actual tea party from the book - 'some plums and tiny biscuits with pink and white icing, and some real milk and lump sugar for the tea set.' But I don't know if that is for my benefit or for the girls!

Also if anyone knows what this book is, please let me know! It had a little girl in it who I think was called Anna who had no friends and wrote letters that she posted.

Poppet: 2yrs 6 mos
Little: 9 mos

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Cafe Role Play!

 Poppet had spontaneously been imagining her kitchen as a Cafe for a few days, fruitlessly trying to order 'pizza' from Little, so I decided to set the area up as a mini Cafe. This role play scene has been providing some brilliant opportunities for learning through play in areas like language development and emergent writing skills, but more importantly it has been teaching her manners! When I visit her cafe I get ushered to a seat and then my seat pushed in for me! And there is a lot of "please", "thankyous", "there you go's, "bit hot" and "is that nice?" being scattered about in her speech.

Poppet helped me create some menu's for her little cafe (or tafee as she calls it). I have been trying to provide different opportunities for her emergent writing to flourish, for her to see writing has a purpose and that it conveys a message. I am starting to put together a writing set for her with things like old cheque books that I will blog about soon. So in any role play set ups that we do I will try and incorporate writing in some form. There are lots more ideas for encouraging children to write during play here. I asked her what foods we should include in our menu and her answers of 'pizza', 'milkshake' and 'cheese toasties' make her diet sound a lot worse than it is! She made her own little menu as well, making sure she wrote on each side of the piece of paper. I also made a 'Cafe' sign for the kitchen (Poppet wanted to make one too but Little got a hold of it).

Together we set up her desk like a table, dressing it with a tablecloth, a jam jar of flowers, a little basket of condiments, sugar bowl and milk jug and our menus.

Inside her kitchen playhouse corner I made a little 'till' area, using milk bottle tops with numbers written on them as our currency and her little laptop (a christmas gift I very much regret buying her now, it was a bad choice) as a till. High on my list of toys that I would like for the girls is a proper toy till, it would get so much use. 

The finished scene looked very inviting and I couldn't wait to get playing with it myself!

Poppet started off being the customer, so she watched me curiously as I sat her down at the table and pushed her seat in and gave her a menu. She made sure 'Bobo' also had a seat and a menu to peruse.

After that though her favourite thing was to be waitress, going back and forth from the table to the little kitchen, bringing you things you hadn't ordered, 'tidying up' (she's not a fan of mess) and doing the dishes. Bobo is a regular customer at the cafe and she is always very attentive. This is Bobo and I being treated to an egg dinner. In the background Poppet is putting the toast on.

At some point Poppet came to the conclusion that she needed to be wearing her apron for her cafe duties; this is her doing the dishes and restocking her ingredients cupboard.

It is lovely to be able to play with her in this way as it's the first time we have set up a role play scene. She is desperate for Little to be able to join in but unfortunately Little is more interested in trying to pull the tablecloth off the table and playing with the 'money'. Poppet tries so hard to involve her, asking her to 'make milkshake' and trying to get her to sit in the seat, it will be nice for her when Little is more of a playmate but I don't want to wish their lives away! One thing that didn't get much usage, from Poppet at least, was the money side of the cafe. I think she is too used to real money so the milk bottle lids didn't capture her imagination.

Poppet: 2 yrs 6mos
Little: 9 mos

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Flour Play

This was a really simple activity to set up and one that went down really well. 

I put a pile of flour in the middle of the Tuff Spot along with some cars and aeroplanes and by the time I grabbed the camera the girls were already investigating it.

Poppet soon discovered that the wheels made tracks in the flour and she had fun creating roads, then I showed her that you could also trace shapes in the flour with your finger. She loved experimenting with this drawing 'faces' in the flour. Little was just enjoying kicking her feet in the flour and rubbing it in with her hands. Poppet clocked the fun Little was having in her bare feet and really surprised me by deciding to take her socks off too, because Little "got socks off".

Normally, Poppet is reluctant to actually get that messy when engaging in messy play, preferring to use utensils to explore the sensory material on offer, and if she does get anything on her hands or feet is usually pretty quick to ask me to "clean it!". So I don't know if there is something special about the flour that she likes, or if this is a change in her approach to messy play generally. Time will tell!

She really enjoyed the sensation of the flour on her feet and went a little crazy jumping about in it- maybe I have a tap dancer in the making! She has always liked sprinkling it everywhere when we make pastry or anything and it does feel lovely and soft to play with. I'm looking forward to finding more sensory play ingredients that she likes!