Art in August #2 – Painted Clay Dog

Painted clay dog

Painted clay dog

My daughter saw a flyer for a workshop to make clay dogs this holiday and I failed miserably to get her booked on it. As recompense I took her to the craft shop and let her spend the £10 it would have cost on craft materials, including a pack of air drying clay.

It’s been a long time since I modelled with anything other than playdoh and it took a while to remember how. But I very much enjoyed making my pieces and leaving my daughter to do her own without interference.

Today, despite being exhausted after a four-hour trip to the local woods to do a Gruffalo trail, and being full of cold, we managed to find the energy to paint our creations. I’m cheating slightly and saving one for tomorrow, as we have a busy weekend, but this is my dog. My daughter’s is below.

My daughter's dog

My daughter’s dog

This post is part of the Art in August challenge, as described on the Laptop on the Ironing Board blog.


Half Term: Not For the Faint-Hearted

Decorating people at the library

Decorating people at the library

Phew. Last solo day of the school holidays survived. Half term is not for the faint-hearted. I think I’m going to have to build up some serious stamina before the long vacation in the summer, otherwise I won’t make it out alive.

It’s not like I didn’t have help today: a cuppa in bed from my lovely husband, after a night awake with the coughing son; a 9am drop off for the youngest at nursery (so civilised, especially with zero traffic); a trip to the cafe for a promised treat of cake; then craft at the library saw me through to 11am.

A quick dog walk / bike ride to the park, followed by a sandwich and an early collection of the little man, and we were on the way to friend’s house by 1pm.

Look what I made!

Look what I made!

Then five hours of fun and mayhem and shared parenting (the best sort), with a bit of discussion about politics and schooling thrown in, and I just about managed to stay awake to drive us all home after tea, bath and pyjamas. (Barney helped: the strident tones of singing dinosaurs in the dark will do that).

I didn’t fare so well with hubbie’s Friday Night movie, with not even the charms of Vin Diesel (as the slightly creepy Riddick) having the ability to keep my eyes from closing (although I did enjoy his deep sexy voice for a few moments before the world of sofa sleep enveloped me).

Five days of full-time Mummy and I’m exhausted. I’d give my right arm (on loan for a bit at any rate) for half an hour of Homes Under the Hammer and a hot cup of tea. Well, that’s Monday’s lunch break organised, all being well.

Anyway, sorry for another short and uninspired post. I’m off to dream up survival tactics for the summer hols. Night night.

P.S. In an effort to get a few more reviews I will be offering promotions on my books in the next couple of weeks. Dragon Wraiths is free on Amazon (all sites) for the next 48 hours. Links below (for the main sites I sell on). Please share with anyone you think might enjoy as fast-paced fantasy read. Ta. 🙂

Dragon Wraiths on

Dragon Wraiths on

Dragon Wraiths on

Dragon Wraiths on

Dragon Wraiths and Daughter Days

Iron-on Crayon Art

Iron-on Crayon Art

Phew, how do teachers do it? I spent the day with my daughter today, as my son was in nursery. It’s the only whole day I have with her this half term so we crammed a lot in. Swimming for an hour followed by shopping for new school shoes (how do they get so trashed?!), new waterproofs (why do kids grow so fast?) and new school socks (how can five pairs vanish in as many months?)

Then the obligatory trip to McDonalds (yes, I know, parenting shame. I don’t care, sorry!) followed by more shopping to buy another four birthday gifts to see us through March’s parties. An unexpected extra expense of school has definitely been the birthday parties. Although at least we rarely have to make weekend plans!

You’d think my daughter might have been tired when we got home? Oh no. I barely drank a cup of tea before she was onto the next activity: iron-on crayons that she got for her birthday. I didn’t mind, actually, as I like clever non-messy craft. And I knew those t-shirts I bought for her nativity would come in handy. It took a while to explain the concept of colouring a back-to-front design so it would be the right way round when ironed onto the t-shirt, but I’m pleased with our shared efforts. And I didn’t even interfere that much! 😉

Not Bad (and no unsolicited help. Well, not much! :)

Not Bad (and no unsolicited help. Well, not much! 🙂

A break then? Nah. Then we wrapped up a bunch of gifts (with my fast-dimishing patience put severly to the test. Gift wrapping is one of those things that I find it REALLY hard to leave to her: largely because I foolishly fear being judged as a bad wrapper!) There was just time for a quick sandwich before we had to pick up my son.

The day wasn’t over, as we still had an hour at the library to get through. The kids now want to play board games and I just want to crawl into bed. It’s only 6.30pm. I already had huge respect for teachers but the idea of multiplying today by 25 is just horrific. Give me struggling with character arcs and plot holes any day!

Talking of which, I woke at 4.30am this morning in a cold sweat having dreamed I was being chased by dogs. It was a convincing dream and during the hour it took to calm down (until my daughter woke at 5.30am) I had some great ideas for a sequel to Dragon Wraiths.

I’ve wanted to write a sequel since I finished it, but had so many dilemmas about viewpoints and plot. I’m still pretty vague but I feel a tiny step closer, including deciding that it has to be told by Leah again (my preference was to have it multi-viewpointed from the perspective of the new wraiths. But it felt like trouble!) Now I just have to get Class Act finished! But first, sleep. I’m taking my two terrors to the Space Museum on my own tomorrow: something tells me I’m going to need all my energy!

Parenting: Learning Not To Interfere

Mummy's more precise version

Mummy’s more precise version

I read a great post this evening, on the Miss Fanny P blog, about how hard it is to be good at something and watch your children struggle (either because they’re little or because they don’t have the same natural aptitude).

It struck a chord with me because I’ve always tended towards perfectionism, to the point of not even trying something I suspected I’d never excel at. I abandoned playing the violin – even though I enjoyed it – when it looked like I would fail the next exam (it’s not a good instrument for the tonally challenged).

My daughter has inherited that trait, getting super-frustrated and upset when she can’t do something first time (even if it’s doing somersaults on the trampoline or being able to spell ‘friend’ when she only started reading three months ago).

With craft activities, she likes to follow the instructions exactly (ahem, guilty as charged) and gets cross when it doesn’t look like the picture on the box. Even though I tell her that NOTHING ever looks like the picture (at the same time as trying to make my own creation as perfect as possible) she still throws in the towel and storms off sobbing.

I used to have to literally sit on my hands to stop myself from helping – straightening stickers, tidying up ragged cutting, that kind of thing. I still do, if I’m watching, but we’ve both learned that the most enjoyable way for her to do craft is if I’m busy doing something else.

My Daughter's Creation

My Daughter’s Creation

I remember the first time it happened, nearly a year ago. I’d bought a couple of discounted ‘dress your dolly’ kits, for my son and daughter. Only, when I opened the boxes, my son went into a teary meltdown because he wanted a toy dog instead. So I decided (for my eardrums’ sake) to sew one out of some felt I had in the sewing basket. For the next half an hour I sewed and my daughter decorated her dolly.

Oh my, when I saw the finished doll I nearly cried. But my daughter was sooooooo proud and hubbie, who always says the right thing, said it looked like a Vivienne Westwood creation. I realised then that I was stifling her creativity with my anal need for perfection.

I’d be lying if I said I have never interfered since that day, but I do at least try not to now. If all the paintings end up brown and the glitter ends up all over the floor and I have to nod and smile and say “marvellous” at something hideous, what does it matter? More than 70% of it ends up in the recycling anyway, after a suitable period of time has passed. I’m learning that it’s the process, rather than the end product, that matters. Learning and getting sticky and having fun.

In the comments beneath Miss Fanny P’s post, someone included the quotation:

“Never help a child with a task with which he feels he can succeed.” Maria Montessori

I can apply this advice to so many things (and sometimes do, mostly out of laziness!) I’m still guilty of a bit of surreptitious help, to make an end product ‘work’, like with the headbands we made today. But, hey, old habits die hard!

Papier Mache and Puddles

Papier Mache Craft

Papier Mache Craft

We were stuck home today, as the car is in the garage, so I decided to introduce the kids to the concept of papier-mache. I must be mad!

Actually it’s a great craft for kids, involving all their favourite things – tearing paper, getting sticky, making a mess and creating something.

I researched making the paste and found a great website called DLTK’s Crafts for Kids, which had lots of hints and tips. I opted for the cooked papier-mache paste, adding salt (which apparently helps prevent mould) and cinnamon (to improve the smell).

So my ‘recipe’ was 1 part flour to 5 parts water (although mine was probably closer to 4 parts water, as my saucepan was too small) with a bit of salt and cinnamon. Bring to the boil and simmer for three minutes. I had to whisk it to make it smooth and it went pretty solid in the tray as we used it, but still worked fine.

Making papier-mache balloons

Making papier-mache balloons

When I did papier-mache as a child I always used long strips of newspaper, so that’s what I had the kids doing. But then I saw on another website called firstpalette, (where we went because of their penguin idea), the idea of using squares of paper and actually that would have been much easier.

The firstpalette website also suggested using different colours so you can distinguish between layers. The best I could do was separate coloured strips of newspaper from the plain text and, again, that worked quite well.

I’ve hung the papered balloons in the playroom, which has no heat source when the sun goes down, so I suspect it might take a week for them to dry. So much for painting them tomorrow! This might be a craft for the summer rather than the winter. I have to say, though, the kids did brilliantly. I patched up the holes where the balloons were still visible, while the children were in the bath, but they’d done a great job of getting the paper flat and in a criss-crossed pattern.

Braving the wind

Braving the wind

In the afternoon I dragged them out to walk the dog, against strong protest, particularly from my daughter. We almost failed at the first hurdle when I realised hubbie had left my son’s boots and waterproof in a wet puddle in the garage from their walk yesterday. Luckily I had my daughter’s old waterproof and boots so, with two little ones dressed head to toe in pink, we ventured out into the gales and up the hill.

They had a great time, wading through puddles and getting stuck in the mud. Even though the wind was strong enough to blow us over, and it was pretty chilly, they didn’t complain at all. Maybe our dream of taking them up Snowdon this summer might not be completely foolish.

I take a gold star for me, too, because I dread taking the kids out in bad weather, in case I end up having to carry one of them home. I love hiking but I’m not a huge fan of wind (I find the constant buffering more irritating than rain, snow or heat) so it took effort to be seen to be enjoying every minute of our walk.

In fact I take a few gold stars for today, with the craft and the games and the healthy food and for getting through four loads of washing and some ironing. I lose a few, too, for getting a bit shouty towards tea-time, but that’s just restoring balance to the world. All in all it was a nice way to spend our penultimate day of the holidays. I’m still looking forward to them going back to school, though!

Mummy and Daughter Day

Felt animals with buttons

Felt animals with buttons

Today I got to spend time just with my daughter, as the nursery opens earlier than school (thank goodness!) Normally one-on-one time with my daughter doesn’t go so well, because we are quite similar and therefore fall out pretty easily. But today we seemed to be on the same page.

It might have helped that we started with shopping, after I finally returned a faulty Christmas gift. She got to pick out ideas for her birthday present, buy an electric blue skirt in the sale and then choose a new dress for her party. I even managed to stay in River Island for fifteen minutes without once saying “I wish they’d turn that damn music down!” (Although I might have mentioned how much nicer it was in H&M, where the music was set to ‘ambient’ rather than ‘Friday Night Disco’.)

Using a magazine for ideas

Using a magazine for ideas

We failed to find shoes mutually acceptable party shoes in her size, but I did relent on the tiger onesie, even though they only had size 4-5 left and she’ll outgrow it in weeks. That was largely because I wanted to get one for my son! They have tails and ears and are sooooo soft. (I want one!)

After that we tried to go to a soft play centre, which turned out to be closed, so ended up in McD for a promised treat. I’d agreed to have a kids’ meal too, so I could get my son a toy as well, and the lovely lady went through and let us choose which toy. I have to confess, much as I hate to like a huge conglomerate like McD, they offer lovely service, and games and colouring to entertain energetic children while tired parents drink nice coffee and surf the free WiFi.

Magazine weaving

Magazine weaving

This afternoon has been all about craft and learning to sew and weave, as we worked our way through my daughter’s magazine of ideas. I think she’d be better off learning from my mum, who is a whizz at sewing and knitting, and I dearly wish hubbie’s mum was still with us, as she was an extremely talented dressmaker by all accounts. Still, I have the rudiments I learned in Home Ec classes, and we managed to sew buttons on our owl and butterfly without too much bloodshed.

The woven magazine basket was a clever idea, even if it’s probably held together more with sticky tape than skill. At last something to use up all the half-read magazines in the drawer! The craft would have continued, but all my energy and patience was depleted, so now we’re sitting together on the sofa while she learns phonics on one ipad and I write this on the other.

It’s been an encouraging day. My daughter is wonderful, caring and kind, but also bossy, demanding and thoughtless. We fight more than we are friends and I often worry what our relationship will be like as she grows older. I don’t have many close friends or family members and I long for the kind of mother-daughter relationship where we can shop and have a giggle together. Today we came a tentative step closer.

Keeping Cool: 2013 365 Challenge #198

The tools need to keep preschoolers cool

The tools needed to keep preschoolers cool

We  have enjoyed yet another day of 30+ degrees today. In England! It’s unheard of. British weather is meant to be wellies in June and jumpers in July. My kind of weather. But, no. Two weeks of sun, blue skies and hot, hot, hot.

I’d say the standard British line, “Not that I’m complaining” but I am, of course!

I make no secret of the fact that I am Scandinavian in my soul, if not in my genes. I like it fairly cool. Something between 15C and 20C is just fine. If I don’t have to do anything, you can raise it to 22C, as long as there’s a pool for me to cool off in, and plenty of ice-cold fizzy drinks.

And that was before having children! Now? How do you keep energetic preschoolers cool and covered in sun cream? It’s a mystery. Well, I thought I’d compile my top ten favourite ways of keeping the kids safe and happy, and me out the sun (as the children will tell you, “The hot makes Mummy grumpy”.)

1. Paddling pool. It’s a must. With a slide is even better, for prolonged fun, although that increases the need for plasters, cuddles and something to stop the decking being quite so slippery. We have two paddling pools, a big one (with a leak, that needs re-inflating often) and a little one for every day.

2. Non-muddy puddles. We have a dip in our patio (by design, of course! cough cough) where water gathers. Fill it with a bucket of water and instant puddle jumping.

3. Hose-pipe fight. No explanation required.

This is me: hot cross bunny

This is me: hot cross bunny

4. Sand-pit. Our sandpit is in the shade most of the day (or can be made shady with a brolly and pegged-up towels). It is messy: a blind eye needs to be turned to the spreading of sand outside the sandpit for this activity to last more than five minutes without my intervention.

5. Picnic in the playhouse (much-needed shade and quiet time although it can get a bit hot and stuffy)

6. Ice cream. It doesn’t have to be unhealthy – I have frozen blended strawberries and bananas, although I’m not a parent that worries about a bit of sugar, so the shop bought ones are fine. Two or three mini milks throughout the day cools them down and minimises the whining when the ice cream man rings his bell at 6pm

7. TV. Sorry, this is a must. Our lounge is the only vaguely cool room after 11am and regular stops for TV or iPad time keeps us all from going crazy

8. Craft at the kitchen table. Something simple. Today we made crowns and masks (the latter a really easy kit thing that didn’t need much help)

9. Puzzles in the lounge. See number 7.

10. Trip to the supermarket. That might seem odd but a) the car has air con (although probably more effective for me than the kids) and b) the supermarket has air con. I wouldn’t make a special trip, unless they were really driving me nuts, but calling in on the way home from a play date this afternoon, it was genius.

What other tips can you suggest for keeping cool? I think I still have a few days left of the heatwave to survive before British Autumn arrives!


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire climbed out of the Skoda and stretched, cricking her neck left and right to release the tension. Driving north on a Monday had been a crazy thing to do, but she’d followed the impulse without questioning it too closely. That might be a mistake. She shrugged. It didn’t feel wrong.

Reaching in to the passenger seat, Claire grabbed her bag, then – checking she had the keys in her hand – she locked the car door from the inside and shut it with a slam. Time to get to work.


Two hours later, Claire left the salon and shook her head, feeling her tamed bob skimming her shoulders. It seemed frivolous to pay someone to wash and straighten her hair, but it hadn’t been done since she’d had it cut. Pushing away an unwelcome memory, she brushed her hands down her new dress, admiring the way it clung to curves she hadn’t realised had developed with her travelling regime of climbing hills and forgetting meals.

There was one stop left. Claire entered the department store and headed for the beauty department.

“Good afternoon, can I help you?” The face beaming at her looked ready for a stage performance rather than a day behind a cosmetics counter. Claire hoped she wasn’t the woman she was after.

“Yes please. I’m trying to choose a new foundation, I wonder if you can assist me?”

“Of course. Would you like our make-up specialist to give you a demonstration?”

Forbearing to suggest she wasn’t the only one who needed some hints and tips, Claire nodded. Mission accomplished.


Claire pushed through the glass doors, ignoring the pinch of her new heels and the stab of guilt when she thought of the thirty pairs locked in storage not too far away.

Oh well. This is important. And you can never have too many shoes. The thought was automatic, but felt alien in Claire’s mind. It had been months since she’d worn anything other than hiking boots or pumps. Her calves ached with the unaccustomed stretch of four-inch heels. No pain, no gain. The additional height was important.

Claire approached the steel structure of the reception desk. Designed to intimidate, Claire refused to let it do so.

Smiling down at the seated receptionist, she forced her face to relax. “Hello, I would like to see Mr Thurman, please?”

“Do you have an appointment?” The woman wore her expression like a steel mask.

Claire swallowed. “Can you tell him that Claire Carleton is here to see him?”

Without unbending her features, the receptionist reached for the phone, while Claire tried not to fidget. She watched the receptionist’s face, but her inscrutable expression defied interpretation.

Receptionists must make good poker players.

Claire’s stomach churned and she wished she’d had lunch. Gurgling was not going to add to her presence.

After a short wait and a terse conversation, the receptionist replaced her handset and looked up at Claire. A faint hint of surprise registered in her lifted brows. “Mr Thurman has asked you to go straight up.”

Heart hammering like a night club beat, Claire walked to the lift and resisted the urge to check her hair or makeup in the reflective surface to her left. The lift doors opened with a hiss and she walked in, back straight, head high. As the doors closed behind her, she slumped against the glass and inhaled deeply.

Come on, you can do this.

All too soon, the lift deposited her at her destination. Squaring her shoulders once more, Claire strode from the metal box and walked across the office floor. She felt eyes tracking her progress, and heard the susurration that followed her, as heads bent together and speculation ran rife.

Outside the office, Claire paused, before lifting her hand to knock at the door. Damn. Forgot the manicure. Bugger.

Dropping her hands, she curled her fingers in to hide the plain, short nails that jarred with her otherwise immaculate image.

“Come in.”

The terse voice called from behind the door. It sent shudders through Claire, emotions fizzing along her nerve endings.

Claire pulled the door open and walked unhurriedly inwards to take a chair. When she had positioned herself, knees together, hands clasped in her lap, back rigid, she looked up. Pouring three months of hard life lessons into her glittering smile, Claire met the eyes staring at her from behind the desk.

“Hello, Carl.”