Summer Holidays

This summer has been rather amazingly gorgeous in Scotland. Following a delayed and very cold spring , the uncharacteristically sunny days were a welcome treat. After last year’s gloomy wet non-summer, we felt that the only thing that would make our Scottish existence tenable in future would be to escape somewhere sunny for a week or two every summer. So we began planning a trip to Portugal…Then, when it transpired that I would be 8 months pregnant when we were finally free to make our getaway, we revised the plan so that we could have a fortnight on the ‘English Riviera’ of Devon & Cornwall.

By the time our trip rolled around, though we were longing for the break, we no longer felt the need to top up on sunshine and I was not entirely keen on 10+hours of driving to get to our destination.

However, it was our last family of three outing before the baby arrived, we had booked accommodation and we had plans – so off we went to the southern seaside.

We broke our journey with some time in Manchester with Tomandclaireandgrace, which was a perfect bookend to our longest ever time away just the three of us.

Highlights of our time in the south include:

  • Making sand castles on the beach at Dawlish Warren (whilst the doctor roamed out onto the estuary with his bins to spot more birds for the annual tally)

Dawlish sand sculpting

  • A day of blissful birding at the remote (and faintly terrifying to get to/from) Prawle Point

Prawle Point

  • Lunch at the River Cottage Cafe in Plymouth

River Cottage Plymouth

  • Our seventh wedding anniversary, spent on the Bodmin & Wenford Steam Railway, strolling the grounds of Pencarrow House and enjoying a celebratory meal at Rick Stein’s St Petroc’s Bistro in Padstow

Wedding anniversary outing

  • An exhausting but completely entertaining day at The Eden Project

Eden Project

  • A beguiling day spent in the inspiring Lost Gardens of Heligan

Lost Gardens of Heligan

There were many more things to do and see in the area, but being so slow, tiredy and encumbered – and having a four year old to consider as well, meant we didn’t perhaps cover as much ground as we may have done in the past. On reflection, esp after getting stuck in terrible traffic on the first leg of our return journey, it WAS a long way to go. One of the nicest things about coming home was the realisation that we actually LOVE how peaceful it is in our corner of Scotland (Cornwall in particular seemed rather unpleasantly crowded) and feel genuinely lucky to have such beauty and so many wonderful activities/places to eat well in our locale. Since we are in settling down mode, this still strikes me as the best feeling to have brought back from what was still a rather lovely holiday experience.

There’s no place like home…

Growing

Hi friends.  In the silent months since I last really told you about what we have been up to we have just been muddling through.  The lethargy of growing another person has probably made for a rather dull time for the wee guy as I have not been up to much on the weekends since January really.  But then, the weather has kept us indoors longer than usual this winter too – perhaps not a winter of discontent exactly, but definitely of harsh conditions. But while the tiny pre-person has been growing, so has our other little one.  Thankfully, his obsession with Lego and creating new things – and his growing skill in doing so – has meant that those quiet weekend mornings have flown by in a flurry of creative construction.

For helping to put out fires.

We have ventured out at least once a week (if not more) – though not always in the most clement of conditions.  We picked the coldest day for a long time to take a stroll around Cambo gardens recently – at least with full body covering the wee one was happy to go adventuring, and find hidey spots wherever he could, the bamboo was an ideal little cave.

Cambo bamboo

Just as the weather started to warm up, a lovely treasure trove arrived from Nana, including a very handsome cardy that will probably do a couple of winters – it is always such a treat to receive a present from Nana – though I suspect that the dinosaur sticker book was the real attraction in the parcel!

New cardy face

We have been using sticker charts with small rewards for Kaz for over a year now, and for the most part, they result in vastly improved behaviour.  The only time it didn’t work was in an attempt to encourage more milk drinking.  After two days, he announced that ‘I will drink milk when I am five Mama’ and abandoned the sticker chart altogether.  No carrot dangling of reward was going to do the trick!  Latterly, the rewards have become Lego of the very low-price variety.  Which has been a powerful incentive.  (Apart from in the milk department). Some time back Kaz announced that he would like an X-Wing Starfighter as his next sticker chart reward.  This seemed a bit grand, usually the rewards are almost tokens… So we discussed the behaviours we would be looking for (spontaneous use of ‘Please’ and ‘Thankyou’ and staying in his own bed ALL NIGHT – something that is still a bit hit and miss really) and that it would take a LONG time to achieve the reward he was after.  However, after nearly two months of stickering, and MUCH improved behaviours, the day of the X-Wing finally arrived.  He was so excited…after it was earned and ordered, he asked about it every morning, the buildup was just like Christmas.  It took us all about an hour and a half to construct it (largely because we were just guiding him through the process) and for once, it may stay fully assembled – most of the other Lego articles are deconstructed and pooled for extra creative play not long after being introduced.

The X-wing is here Mama!

As an educator, I tried a range of differing discipline styles in my classroom and boarding house.  Mostly I veered towards positive strategies centering on catching and rewarding good behaviour. Occasionally, due to the culture of the institution I worked in, or the nature of the infringing behaviour, there was the inevitable need for punishment as well.  But I have never been a fan of any kind of punishment that did not fit the crime, did not address the actual perpetrator, and did not help to encourage improved behaviour.  There has been a lot of debate in my homeland lately regarding the anti-smacking laws – or the removal of the use of the legal defence of  ‘reasonable force’ in parental crimes of assault against children.   I am not intending to wade into this debate.  From a personal perspective, I don’t intend to ever hit our children, and so I hope to employ other (hopefully more effective) ways of encouraging them to behave in the manner I would prefer.  Of course, this is easily said when the behaviours we are seeking to modify are those of a preschooler.  Ask me about this again in 10 years time!  One thing that worries me about using incentivising tools is that children become – as they get older – rather adept at producing the behaviour for cynical ends.  This is already a little evident in Kazuo’s negotiations.  But each stage – and each new challenge – requires a little more thought about how to bring out the best in this little social experiment we are producing.

What are your thoughts about how to bring out the best in children?

Lake Sojourn

At last our longed for Autumn holiday in the Lake District was upon us.  I took a couple of days off work beforehand to let the little one have some at-home time as well as he seems to be more of a home body every day – and it seems hard on him to have five long days away from home each week.  We set off onthe Friday for three nights in a delightful cottage in Newlands Valley.  Our lovely friends Tomandclaireandgrace (their name has extended a little since last summer) met us there and we all had a lovely relaxing weekend in each other’s company.

Moody mountain moments

We had a magical walk in the woods at Whinlatter Forest.

Osprey land

Complete with a wise man of the woods…

Wise old man of the forest

…some forestcraft shelters…

Wilderness skills

…woodland luminosity…

Magical moments in the forest

…magical doors in the trees…

Hidden treasures in the trees

…places for balancing…

Playground

…and jumping.

Exploring the little houses

At Trotters World of Animals we got up close with some wonderful birds of prey…

Birds of prey demo

… and made friends with a macaw who was very chatty.

Hello Mr Macaw

On Derwentwater we met some geese…

Greylag geese on the shores of Derwent Water

…climbed some very big rocks…

Rock scrambling

…and thought a little of the romantics.

Wordsworthian moment on Derwent Water

‘Be thankful, thou; for, if unholy deeds
Ravage the world, tranquillity is here!’

William Wordsworth.

While the Cat’s Away

This summer the Doctor took flight for parts very southern for a month and the wee one and I had to keep ourselves occupied on the weekends in his absence.  We had a lot of happy adventures.  The time passed rather quickly in reflection, though as we counted the days it did sometimes seem like an eternity.

We had a day at Cairnie Fruit Farm which involved a large strawberry…

…finding our way around the maize maze…

… and some very gleeful moments on the trampoline.

Another afternoon was spent at the Science Centre in Dundee, which was hosting an exhibition of robots – the wee guy is quite the Star Wars fan (without having yet seen the films…that can wait) and he was very excited to meet these two…

…and have a go at manipulating these little robots…

…and have a go at making Iron Man hands on our way out.

This led to some inventive play with the old Duplo blocks when we got home.

We had a sunny afternoon at the beach…

…a lovely lunch at the Cocoa Tree in Pittenweem…

…and picnic tea on the beach after preschool…

…and celebrated Mama’s new job with some cheery flowers at home.

We counted the days…

…and finally Dada came home!  We missed you Dada, we are SO glad you are back…please don’t go away again.

Friends and Farewells

We were lucky in August to have a visit from our dear friends Julia and Jon from the US. Their visit flew by, but we were glad to show them St Andrews at its sunny gorgeous best (a rare sight this summer!).  Here we were perched on the famous pier.

It was Edinburgh Fringe Festival time – so we took the train to Edinburgh for the day and dragged them along to an adaptation of Julia Donaldson’s The Snail and the Whale.  It was a total hit with the wee one – and brought a tear to my eye as it was laced with a charming narrative about a girl whose Dad (forces) was away more than at home.  Something that seemed to be the case in our house this year.  [Though I exaggerate wildly here.]

Sure enough though, it seemed that the very next day we were savouring our fleeting memories of our dear friends’ visit whilst trying to quickly slot in some lasting memories of our own Dada before he hopped on the plane for a month in Oz.  Farewell!!

Olympic Odyssey

Like most of the country, we eagerly anticipated the advent of the London 2012 Olympics.  We managed to secure a few tickets for the odd event, and took an unprecedented ten days off work and other responsibilities to make our own Olympic Odyssey journey south…It was a bit of a whirlwind…and the dust is only just beginning to clear in this post-Olympic haze that is settling over the nation…but here are a few highlights of our trip to London.

Our first event was football – Spain v Japan – at Hampden Park in Glasgow. The wee guy thought it a bit of a lark at first, but when we realised that the concessions didn’t take card and we only had £7 between us for 6 hours of spectator activity, it became a bit of a challenge.  He managed brilliantly, and we were all a bit starstruck being in an actual live Olympic venue for the first time:

Next up was the cycling road race in Richmond Park, which we watched with our lovely friends the Ryan-Pryors who live nearby and hosted us for lunch and a stroll in the park to take in the peleton wizzing past. 

Our final family ticketed event was the Volleyball at Earl’s Court.  The players were fiesty and the spectators even more so.  Somehow the stands were packed to capacity with Polish fans for the Poland v Lithuania match and they made for an electrifying atmosphere.

By this point the wee guy was pretty spectatored out and so we were intensely grateful for the diversions of the iPad.

And when things got just too much altogether, he and I ventured out for a spot of retail therapy, burning off steam and doing a little crazy posing with the Great Britain Hand.

But the real Olympic excitement for Kazuo came on the morning that Dada was off watching Weightlifting with the grandies at Excel.  He and met up with my friend Karen and her lovely girl Kit for a playdate at Coram’s Fields and then headed to Kiwi House for lunch in the BBQ zone.  We plonked ourselves and the tots down next to this fellow – who had just won yet another medal in the Equestrian arena.  Kaz eyed his medal up for a while and Mr Todd invited him over for a little chat – it was a delightful exchange, especially since K was quite forthcoming about his own medal that he had gained at Legoland that week.

It was an eventful week or so and with the paralympics making an appearance at the end of the month, we are glad to have such a wealth of wonderful sporting endeavour to inspire us.

Family Wedding Time

June was wedding month.  Sadly, our circumstances did not allow us to jet off to Michigan to join our lovely friends Tim and Ruthann on the occasion of their flowery country nuptials.  However, since we had missed a few wider-family events in the past couple of years, it was grand to be able to don our glad rags and join with the doctor’s family in Ireland for his cousin’s wedding.

Kazuo was so excited about being SMART for the wedding.  I made him a little outfit to wear and he was so proud of looking neat and tidy.

Weddings are not really pre-schooler friendly events, so it was a quite a big ask for the wee guy to keep fairly quiet (he mostly managed this, though he did echo the wedding vows, which I thought rather endearing, especially the ‘Love you’ part!) and on best behaviour for an entire day.  In the above picture he was hungrily eyeing up the chocolate cookies on the tea tray…but after munching them down, he eventually lost the plot and crawled under the sofa – so we took a little break.

Thankfully Kaz brought some of his friends to keep him company for the weekend.

Dinner was a lovely but rather lengthy affair.  I was so grateful for the diversions provided by the iPad and some new creator Lego – it kept both the lads occupied.

Akira’s very kind family made it so easy for us to enjoy their celebration and we are so grateful for their thoughtfulness.  For the first time ever, I settled Kaz to sleep in the onsite suite we were staying in, and a lovely local girl baby sat so that we could go back in our dancing shoes and continue to join in the festivities.  This bodes well for our future social life!  I’ll not forget the bride and groom…they were charming and elegant hosts and we had a lovely weekend celebrating with everyone, may they have a long and happy life together!

May Highlights

It seems that the weekends have flown by this month.   Summer is not really making much of an appearance.  Though from last year, we are not expecting too much!  But we have managed the odd outing, including a trip to the bird reserve with friends (which involved some batman antics on the beach and lots of fun for our budding little birders), and a stroll on the beach with Claire when she came to visit. This month also heralded the advent of ‘Super Lightning Man’ who makes a regular appearance in our weekly life.

There was also plenty of opportunity for indoor play with puzzles, trains, lego and cars – largely due to the often inclement weather.  We are still holding out for the rain to disappear and for more outdoorsy weekend activities.

London Town

Earlier this month, we ventured south to visit the grandparents and take in some of the sights and sounds of London.  This was our first trip the the capital since returning to the UK in 2010, and the first time Kaz would remember his adventures.  Not unsurprisingly, it was so much easier to spend time in London with a three year old than a one year old, and we had a fab outing.  

Most of our visit was spent in the Museum quarter – in fact we could have stayed there 24/7 and K would have been a very happy boy!

Dinosaurs, rockets, spacemen, machines, volcanoes – the stuff of little boy’s dreamworlds.

We are heading back there in the summer for the Olympics and Kaz is very much looking forward to this trip.  Hopefully we will have more to report and many more outdoor images from our next foray south.

Springing Again

Lately I have been making a habit of taking an  early morning stroll over the hill to the nearest town and this little fellow often kept me company on my way through the woods:

Since then, we have spent more and more time outdoors as the chill that had settled over the winter began to dissipate so we broke out the garlic bulbs and began our first garden in the new house.  It was lovely to show the wee guy how to start off the garlic plants and so we look forward to helping him see them pop out of the ground in the summer.

As hoped last month, the weather has started to improve, and we  have spent some lovely afternoons running on the beach…

and having our first outdoor picnic on the Loch…

Mother’s day necessitated a raspberry tea cake…

…and a picnic on the patio – albeit Scottish-style with sunglasses and coats!

Unseasonable springy sunniness.