Family Visit to Winterville

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We were having a bit of a pants time last week. I had come down with a really, really bad cold and, since I normally provide the get up and go in our family, Tom and Mr Techno had been hanging out indoors with me whilst I wandered around being grumpy and sleeping a lot.

Fortunately I was feeling better by Wednesday, which is also a day off for me and usually for Mr Techno too. We were all getting a bit stir crazy, having not left the house at all on Tuesday, so we decided it was time for a family trip out. And where better to go for a family trip in December than Winterville in Victoria Park?

I somehow completely missed this event last year. Having a 3 month old who never slept might have had something to do with it. But I’m glad I heard about it in time for us to go this year. It’s an ‘alternative’ Christmas theme park – although what makes it alternative seems mostly to be the food on offer which was 1) amazing and 2) not at all Christmas themed. Apart from the mulled cider. Which was much appreciated!

Winterville opens at 3 pm, so we headed out after Tom’s afternoon nap, arriving just after 4 pm. It was already dark, which added to the atmosphere and made the sparkly lights all the sparklier. Since Tom was with us (and I am not a big fan of heights), we bypassed the rides – but there was a pretty good selection for those who are in to that kind of thing.

There was a pretty good Kids Shack, which included a soft play area, a face painting stand, a ‘meet Santa’ tent, and a coffee hut for the adults. Entry to the park had been free, but there was a charge for Santa and the face-painting, so we used the excuse of Tom being too young to save our pennies and headed for the pop-up shop instead. This, sadly, was a complete disappointment – not many stalls, nothing we really wanted to buy and stall holders who seemed uninterested in taking any notice of prospective shoppers. We escaped quickly and headed for the food tent instead.

If the pop-up shop was a disappointment, the food tent was the star of the show for us. There was a really good range of options – from Vietnamese, to pulled pork, to a crab shack. Lots of veggie options too. And a bar with a good range of ales, plus mulled wine and cider and probably a whole bunch of other things that I stopped noticing after someone said ‘mulled cider’.

We grabbed some chicken strips and chips for Tom, and some Vietnamese for us (it was a bit on the spicy side for a one year-old). I can’t speak for the chicken, as Tom very selfishly ate it all, but his chips were tasty and not too salty, so good for young toddlers. Our Vietnamese was amazing – full of flavour and a good large portion. We were pretty stuffed, but managed to fit in some churros on the way out.

Although we mostly focused on the food, the event was worth a visit. I’m hoping it will be back next year, when Tom might be old enough to appreciate a few more of the things on offer (there was a cinema and pantomime somewhere on site as well, but we didn’t even bother trying to find them). Anyway it got us out of the house and helped me over the last of my cold-related hibernation, so was definitely worthwhile.



A Festive Country Weekend

Though London is fun at this time of year, I am always pleased when we get the chance to escape the city for a day or two and get out into the countryside. Mr Techno and I have a great group of friends from our university days, and we all try to meet up a couple of times a year for a country weekend.

Usually we have to rent a cottage, but we got lucky this time as one of the girls’ parents were on holiday and kindly offered us the use of their house whilst they were gone. Her dad is an apple farmer and they have this great, old house in Kent, with more than enough room for all of us.

Mr Techno picked Tom and I up from nursery on the Friday evening and we headed straight down, arriving just half-an-hour after Tom’s normal bedtime. The timing was perfect, as he went straight down to sleep, so we could concentrate on catching up. We are the only ones of this group to have a kid. In some ways it is good – Tom has a lot of very indulgent adults in his life – but it does mean that the others aren’t really aware of the needs of small children. We are lucky that Tom is such a good sleeper, so we do at least get to enjoy adult time!

On Saturday, we were all very excited to go on a proper country walk. In fact, we were so excited that we decided to go on two walks.

The first was a wander around the farmland, which took about an hour. We all went, including the four dogs. Mr Techno and I quickly realised the buggy wouldn’t be able to cope with the terrain, so we ditched it. Tom walked some of the way, and then we took it in turns to carry him.

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Of course, we had to stop off to visit the horses.

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And the chickens.

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And the ferrets. Tom was less sure about the ferrets – they tend to be a bit bitey. He took shelter leaning against Mr Techno’s legs.

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After lunch, Tom went down for a nap. Mr Techno and a couple of the others stayed home, whilst the rest of us headed to Bewl Water for a longer, very muddy walk.

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After all the walking, we definitely felt like we had earned some food. We cooked up a big Christmas dinner. Tom went to bed and the adults enjoyed the food, wine and company. Knowing I’d have to be up early, I flaked out just after midnight, but some of the others were still going strong at 3 am.

Needless to say, Sunday was a rather subdued day. I had to get up at 6.30 as usual with Tom, so had a quiet start whilst everyone else…recuperated. Once they appeared, we had a lovely lazy morning, grazing on leftovers and reading newspapers by the fire. Tom and I did escape outside for a while as well – he had started chasing the dogs around the house and clearly had some energy to burn!

We headed back to London after lunch, thoroughly refreshed by time away from the city with some great friends.

Homemade Christmas Decorations

One day, I will be the kind of mother who plans ahead at Christmas time. All the presents will be bought and wrapped weeks in advance, and we will decorate the whole house on the first of December, with the carefully stored decorations that we have used year after year.

One day. But definitely not now. Because I only decided at the last moment that we should decorate the flat this year, and then refused to actually buy decorations, it has taken us quite a while to get anything up. However, stage one of operation Christmas Decorations is now complete, so I thought I’d share a progress report.

A couple of weekends ago, Tom and I started the process when we went foraging for some decorations. A few days later, whilst I was at work, Mr Techno and Tom went to buy a Christmas tree. They were under strict instructions to get the smallest one they could find. So, of course, they came back with something that takes up a third of the living room And a wreath for good luck.

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With something to actually decorate, and paint and glitter having finally arrived, Tom and I got started on the decorations. We began with the baubles – made from sycamore fruit we had gathered in the park.

We made two colours, gold and red. The gold ones were spray painted, but, because I was put off by the non-eco-friendliness of normal spray paint, I opted for fabric spray paint instead, which claimed to be non-toxic. The sycamore fruit took quite a while to dry as a result, but they looked great.

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Tom wasn’t allowed to help with the spray painting (toddlers and spray paint seemed like a receipe for disaster), but got involved with painting the red ones, which we did with normal poster paint. It took a lot longer, and the effect is not quite as good, but I still think they came out looking pretty decent.

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Once all the paint had dried, I attached tied knitting yarn around the stems of the fruit and hung them off the tree.

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The baubles came out pretty well, but the tree looked a bit plain with just the one shape. Fortunately, I have been saving toilet roll tubes for months, knowing that they would come in handy some day for a craft project. Stars for the tree seemed like a perfect way to use some up*.

We started by painting the tubes red with the same poster paint we used on the baubles. Tom was pretty good at getting the idea that the paint needed to go on the tube, but wasn’t so clear on the idea of covering the entire thing. Still, he did a pretty good job. I did the other three whilst he worked on his one.

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Guess which one is Tom’s…

The next stages are a bit more fiddly, so I waited until Tom was in bed for the night and the first layer of paint was dry. I gave each tube a coat of glitter paint, then left them to dry whilst I had dinner. Once they were dry, I cut each tube into rings – each about two cm wide. This gave me five rings per tube, with a tiny bit left over. I then glued the rings into a star shape, using my little craft pegs to hold them together whilst they dried (normal pegs would work just as well, but I’m a sucker for miniature things!)

I left the stars to dry overnight, then hung them on the tree the next day.

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To be honest, I should probably have painted the inside of the tubes too. Still they turned out pretty well. I’m going to make more over the next few days, with Tom’s help of course. Then all we will need is a big star for the top.

In a way, I’ve quite liked our gradual approach to decorating this year. It’s a little bit like having an advent calendar, except Tom gets to see what new decorations have appeared each morning instead of opening a little door. So maybe I’m not in such a hurry to become an organised mother after all…

*The idea for the toilet roll tube stars came from this site.



Weekly Report: W/c 30.11.2015

What is it about December? The month clicks over and instantly my calendar is full. Every weekend and every Tuesday night (my Tom free evening), is now taken until after Christmas.

We had a pretty busy first week, though we started slow on Monday by meeting up with a friend for a rather windy walk over Walthamstow Marshes and up past the reservoirs by Coppermill Lane. Having had a good long walk in the morning, it seemed ok not to brave the now rainy weather and stay indoors in the afternoon for some screen-free play.

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Wednesday was a rather sad day, because we had to go to the funeral of a friend’s mother. I did have a slight wobble in confidence shortly before leaving, wondering if it was actually appropriate to show up to the funeral of a non-family member with a toddler in tow. The friend in question is one of Tom’s godfathers though and I had no one to leave Tom with (Mr Techno was working), so we went. Tom behaved pretty well, though he did ‘chat’ through a few bits of the service. We stood at the back and I took him out about fifteen minutes before the end when it looked like he might start crying. We had a wander round the cemetery waiting for everyone to come out.

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I think it was the right choice  to go – Tom struggled towards the end but didn’t really know what was happening and we were able to be there to support his godfather, who gave a really beautiful eulogy. His mother was an amazing woman and it was wonderful seeing so many people come to celebrate her life and support her family. A very sad day but also a hopeful one hearing about a life so full and so well lived.

Thursday and Friday were work/nursery days, so Tom and I walked to nursery and back as usual. The wind was pretty strong both days and Tom struggled to keep his balance, so he didn’t want to stay for long in the park on our way home.

We had a lazy start on Saturday, as Mr Techno wasn’t starting work until midday, so we spent the morning at home as a family. After Tom’s afternoon nap, we headed out into the winds to forage up some Christmas decorations for the flat.

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On Sunday, we had our first Christmas party of the month, heading to Oxfordshire to the home of Tom’s great-grandmother (Mr Techno’s maternal grandmother). The whole of that side of the extended family was there and I think Tom was a bit overwhelmed by the parade of great-aunts, great-uncles and various cousins. Though he was very pleased to see his cousin Rose, who is just five weeks younger than him. They get on so well and I’m really excited to see them both enjoying Christmas together when we all gather at Mr Techno’s parents’ house in Suffolk.

We did manage to escape into the garden with the numerous family dogs between courses – a three course meal with coffee is a lot for toddlers to sit through! Some fresh air and a run around ensured good behaviour for the seated parts of the meal. Fortunately, Tom crashed out in the car both on the way there and the way back, as the journey took us about 3 hours.

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A busy week and a very worn-out toddler by the end!

Foraging for Christmas Decorations

I love Christmas. But, slightly shockingly, Mr Techno and I don’t currently own any actual decorations. We always visit family over Christmas itself and when we were both working full-time we were in the flat so little over December that it didn’t ever seem worth decorating.

Last year, for Tom’s first Christmas, we were focused more on getting Tom’s inguinal hernia diagnosis confirmed and arranging a date for his surgery, so decorating was the last thing on our minds. Besides, he was far too little to notice anything was going on. But this year he is more aware, and I’ve already noticed him staring at the Christmas decorations at nursery.

The thing is though, that my inner anti-consumerist tends to kick in at this time of year (in reaction to all the adverts screaming ‘spend, spend, spend’ I suspect). So rather than buy a whole load of shiny new decorations that will only come out once a year, I decided to make some. This has involved ordering some glitter and paint online, so it isn’t spend free, but at least those will be useful for other craft projects too.

I definitely want to include some natural materials in the decorations. When Tom and I were walking to nursery last week, I picked up a few of these sycamore fruit in the park (and then accidentally went to work with them still in my pocket…)

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Aren’t they perfect? Bauble shaped, but not breakable, which is important in a toddler household

Clearly, just eight were not going to do the job, so Tom and I headed out on Saturday to gather more. My original plan was to grab some of these and then head into the woods to see what else we could find. But we woke up to find that Storm Desmond was hitting the UK. While we were lucky in London to escape the extreme weather and flood warnings that affected the north and Scotland, we did have some very strong winds. It didn’t seem entirely sensible to be heading into the woods with the chance of falling branches, so we stuck to the open areas and concentrated on finding more sycamore fruit (this might sound counter-intuitive, but there is an avenue of sycamore trees in the park, with lots of open grass around them).

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Unfortunately, my assistant got rather distracted by a massive pile of mud  – there’s some improvement work going on at Leyton Jubilee Park and they’ve been digging out a new path to the meadow area.

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Despite the burning need to make mud pies, we I did gather a decent haul. Which are now hidden all around the flat as Tom really enjoys playing with them. This is about half the stash!

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Sadly, the downside of lazy internet shopping is that the glitter and paint haven’t arrived yet, so we are waiting to transform these into baubles for the flat. I’ll let you know how we get on!

Life Unexpected