Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Things we did this summer

Blimey, this blogging / working / kids' summer holidays balance is hard! Every time I've tried to sit down for a couple of hours and thrash out a blog post I've either been distracted and/or exhausted, or have just found it impossible to get into the right blogging headspace.  It's certainly been a busy old summer so far, this one, for our little family, and despite the somewhat hit-and-miss weather we've managed to keep active and make things fun without breaking the bank or knackering ourselves in the process.

A ladybird on our poppies, flowers in the back yard,
a poster co-produced by the Boy and the Girl working together, and strawberries from our tiny patch

The Boy is on his first proper summer break between school years, and while he's sad to be moving on from his reception year, he seems to be excited about starting in Year 1 in September. The Girl, incredibly, starts her final primary school year in a couple of weeks' time, a milestone I am struggling to get my head around since I'm pretty sure she only started primary school about three years ago. At least it only seems like three years ago... And despite their gender and age differences - and despite me being convinced they would be at each other's throats by week two - they're actually getting on really rather well and it's been a pleasure (on the whole!) to be around them.

The age gap and gender difference has made finding ideas and days out to keep both kids amused a bit of a challenge; thankfully however they're pretty amenable kids and we've managed to find things to do that have either amused both, or amused one and at least been tolerated by the other. Here's a rundown of some of the things we've been up to this summer:

Holiday! Staycation in Whitby
We had a fantastic week's break in this amazing little town. Beaches, walks, history, fossil-finding, fish and chips, Dracula, sandcastle building, seal spotting, more fish and chips... and even some sunshine!

Highlights from Whitby

Another cracking family holiday on England's north east coast - for our money you can't find better in the whole of the country.

Beautiful Staithes

Honestly, if you want wonderful, empty beaches, history in abundance and scenery a-plenty, fabulous eateries and drinkeries and loads for families to do, head for the Yorkshire coast or (just as good if not better) the Northumberland coast. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.

Simple pleasures
In between visiting friends and family and enjoying days out, it's been important to give the kids the space to self-amuse and make their own fun and entertainment. I really believe that children need time to be bored and to find their own amusement, rather than having experiences and toys provided for them. Case in point: on our holiday we visited Robin Hood's Bay as the Girl wanted to see if she could find any fossils. The Boy immediately proclaimed that he was bored, so we suggested that he use his imagination and see what ideas he could come up with. With a little help from his big sis, he set up a 'shop' selling pebbles and spent an hour or so playing 'shops and museums' with treasures he found on the beach - he even 'sold' some pebbles by fleecing Mum and Dad of the princely sum of 14p.

The shop and museum

As we left he announced that he had had a brilliant time and could we come back? Yay for imagination! In other small pleasures news: this summer has also seen the Boy master the art of swinging by himself, a talent of which he is rightly very proud, and both kids have enjoyed hours of fun playing at dens and reading in the sunshine. Speaking of reading...

The Boy has mastered swinging!

The pleasures of a good book
Just before the summer break I asked a friend of mine, who is a primary school teacher, for children's books recommendations. Without hesitation she suggested Beetle Boy by MG Leonard, which sounded interesting; I made a mental note and, when I spotted it in a bookshop in Whitby, I loved the front cover and decided, for the first time in many a year, to pay full price for a paperback (I usually buy preloved or second hand).

Read. This. Book.

I decided to read a couple of pages before passing it on to the Girl, just to get a handle on the style of writing and the story. At 10.30pm that same evening I finally put it down, slightly bog-eyed, having read the entire book in pretty much one sitting. It's a fantastic book, as it's sequel, Beetle Queen, also devoured in one go. If you have late-stage primary school kids that love a good book you could do a lot worse than these two crackers... A couple of weeks later another family friend was asked by the Girl what her favourite book was; she recommended I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, a book that has never been on my literary radar. However, given that the Beetle Boy recommendation was a good one I've decided to take a punt on Dodie, and am three chapters in. So far so good - not my usual type of read but I'm enjoying it and will stick with it as long as I continue to do so.

I Capture the Castle. So far, so good...

Ill health disrupts play
Colds - discuss. What is the point of the common cold? Why has the virus developed? What purpose does it serve on the grand scheme of things? And why of why do I always get colds when the kids and the husband are seemingly unaffected? I'm at the tail end of one of the most aggressive colds I've had in a long time - short in timespan but my goodness, it fair knocked me for six for a while.

Empty tissue box - I have used this entire box in around 3 days. Not a happy bunny.

Unfortunately its arrival coincided with a pre-booked visit to Alton Towers, a place I swore I would never go to because of the extortionate cost and the extortionate waiting times for the rides. However the pull of CBeebies Land for the Boy and general inquisitiveness of the Girl, teamed with what was, I concede, a darn good deal on tickets, persuaded me to take a chance on it and we booked. After an awful night's sleep I managed to get some shut-eye in the car on the way there and back, and was able to keep my energy levels up sufficiently to traipse around said Towers for six hours, but felt like death warmed up for most of it.

CBeebies Land. The Holy Grail for all 5-year olds. 10-year olds? Not so much...

Luckily the weather was perfect, sunny but not too warm, and the kids found things to keep them amused whilst miraculously managing to avoid the majority of the lengthy queues. Most of the snuffles have now dissipated, although I still sound like Phyllis from Coronation Street...

The best days are the unexpected ones
We have the best next door neighbours in the world. Really we do. We love them to bits. They are retired / semi-retired, but are two of the 'youngest' folk we know, and seem to spend their entire free time outdoors and exploring. They volunteer as managers for youth hostels, and they invited us to spend a day with them at a relatively local YH that they were looking after for the week, in Mankinholes, near Todmorden in West Yorkshire. We went, without any agenda or idea of what the day might bring, and spent the most amazing day making and devouring simple food, enjoying brilliant company and walking two miles up to the Stoodley Pike monument. Even the Boy managed it without a grumble. I think one of my favourite moments of the whole holiday was walking along the ridge towards the monument, with the Boy and Mrs Neighbour behind me singing about pirates at the tops of their voices and jumping from rock to rock, and with the Girl and Mr Neighbour walking in front of me, discussing various books in earnest. My heart absolutely sang. Thank you L and V, we love you lots and lots.

The Girl and Mr Neighbour up ahead discussing all manner of literary stuff

Food, glorious food
Said fab neighbours also have an allotment, and have furnished us recently with beautiful lettuce, tasty onions, and a big bag of plump gooseberries, which the Husband made into a delicious fool. Last week they gave us a huge marrow, which I confess I still have to use up and have done nothing with since contracting this cold lurgy. Another lovely friend brought a gift of potatoes, grown on a patch managed by the children at her primary school and surplus to requirements. And a customer of the Husband regularly gifts to him stalks of rhubarb; actually they are gifted to me, as none of my family likes rhubarb but I love it, stewed.

Marrow from lovely neighbours, tatties from lovely friends. Happy days.

And blackberries, foraged this very evening. Husband considering making a blackberry fool, yum...

The rhubarb is grown in the 'rhubarb triangle' (seriously, Google it) and is delicious. How lucky are we to have such generous and thoughtful people around us? We are so grateful for all these culinary gifts. And about a stone heavier.

Fun on a budget
We've made a conscious effort this year, as all years, to limit the amount of money we spend on keeping the kids (and ourselves) amused this summer, partly because we need to as we don't have a huge amount of disposable income, and partly because I truly believe this has made us and the young 'uns more creative with our time. Yes we did Alton Towers, but our Whitby holiday was relatively cheap, and we've filled our days with visits to parks and friends and family and fun at home, rather than going for 'experiences'. I'm currently working two days a week; just four hours each day packing orders for a fantastic local company, and I've been keen to keep this going over the summer, primarily so as not to let the company down, but also because I think the kids have appreciated a couple of hours away from me twice a week!

Bubble blowing, playing field frolics, and crafty afternoons...

It can be hard going for all of us when we're in each other's company 247, and we are incredibly fortunate that various friends, family and neighbours have offered to have the kids while I work. The kids have had a ball and have very much enjoyed their visits to various friends' houses, I continue to earn a bit of money, the company has its continuity, and I will return my kid-sitter's generous assistance by looking after their children in due course. It's win-win-win-win really.

Lots of crafting and creative fun. The Boy and one of our favourite younger family friends discovered pom pom making, almost clearing me out of my wool stash!

We made speckled ones, half-and-half ones, big and small ones... great fun. We've done some face painting. The Boy and Girl spent a great day with my lovely sister, who took them to do some pottery painting (and also took them to McDonalds - a perfect treat for them!).

And some creative buddies (lead by the lovely Linzi from Stitch) and I spent an evening with our good friends 'prosecco' and 'saint agur blue cheese', and managed to master the art of lampshade making! Many, many laughs were had, drink supped and cheese nibbled; the best night.

The fruits of our slightly tipsy labours - and my effort in situe at home

So far so good then! It's been such a lovely four weeks - so many good times with good people. Thank you summer holidays - you've been grand so far. But please give me my old voice back now. Cheers.

Bye for now, xxx

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