Summer Bucket List

I do love a to-do list. Just not the chore kind. Those lists depress me. A list of fun things to do this summer, though? That I can get excited about. Since we actually managed to do everything on our slightly insane Advent Calendar, I thought we’d try a summer list and see how we fare. So, here goes. Autumn officially begins on September 22nd so that gives us nine weeks of summer. Nine weeks, nine goals? Let’s round it up to ten.

1. Go on an open-top bus tour of our home city
Talitha has been intrigued by the red Bristol sightseeing buses and keeps asking if we can go on one soon. I’d actually really love to do it because despite having lived in Bristol for four years, I feel that I know very little about the city. I always wished I’d done on of these tours back when we lived in Brighton. Maybe we’ll do that one day yet too. Years ago, I sat on the top level of one of these with a friend in Belfast. It was an interesting experience both because of the city’s fascinating history and the fact that it rained pretty much the whole time.

2. Read five novels
Nothing says Summer for me like ignoring my responsibilities in favour of a page turner. I’ve become so lame at reading fiction lately, though, and I’m desperate to fix that. I’m kind of hoping I manage to read more than five but better to under-promise, right? Wish me luck and recommend a good read.

3. See an outdoor children’s play
We’ve been taking Talitha to the theatre since she was 18 months old and she has loved it every time. I’d really rather go see some open air Shakespeare but am accepting that that might be a bit hit-and-miss with Ophelia unless we leave her behind so it might be a safer bet to go for something we’ll all enjoy together.

4. Make blackberry jam
The brambles in our garden (well, the mental overgrowth behind our garden which is taking over our garden) are heavy-laden. I picked a few thinking, “hey, free fruit” but a friend mentioned making jam with hers so now I’m possessed by the idea. We will do it!

5. Build a tepee
I saw a tepee in – I think it was last month’s – Country Living and thought it would be so sweet to make one for the girls to hang out in in the garden. Anyone who knows me well knows that this isn’t the kind of thing that comes naturally to me. I will give it a bloody good go, though. Kids are forgiving.

6. Go on a bug hunt
I tried to make a snail I picked off the courgette plant the other day sound the most alluring thing to hold but my three-year-old wasn’t even slightly interested in touching the thing. She is interested in crawlies but only from afar. I’m hoping that a bug hunt might get her to take a closer look.

7. Barbecue on a beach
We’ve had a LOT of barbecues so far this year but none of them on a beach. So, it needs to be done.

8. Make ice cream
I’ve always wanted to try my hand at making ice cream and now I have the perfect opportunity. My brother and his wife left their ice cream maker with us while we’re moving house and not a day goes by that Talitha doesn’t ask me if we can use it! I’m fully expecting this to be something of a disaster.

9. Go wild swimming
I was going to put visiting the outdoor swimming pool in Portishead on this list since we planned to do it last year but never got around it. Laurence suggested we give wild swimming a go, though, and actually that sounds more bucket list worthy. I will still try to make it to Portishead though.

10. Set up nine outdoor art activities
I’ve been trying to commit to encouraging Talitha’s process art. Mostly it’s involved leaving materials around but I do find that I need to plan ahead to make them inviting, even if it just means clearing the rubbish off her table and laying out some pens and paper. I’m hoping to lay out a few open-ended activities that require a little more forward planning and just see what happens.

So, that’s our list. I’ll let you know if we actually manage it all. What’s on your list?


Winnie the Pooh Party

Talitha turned three last month and, after flitting from Gruffalo to angel to dinosaur themes, she settled on a Winnie the Pooh birthday party. This was the first year she understood birthdays, so it was exciting all round.

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Our friend Helen, from Cat’s Whiskers Face Painting in Bristol, generously offered the main attraction. I’ve honestly never seen anything quite like it – she was so quick and accurate. She also made the amazing Eeyore balloon pictured above.

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I grabbed some printables off Disney and Disney Baby to make a colouring wall and stickers for the party bags and snack boxes. The printable for the Winnie the Pooh Happy Birthday banner is from Peonies & Poppy Seeds.

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A few finishing touches came from charity shop bits and a heck of a lot of balloons, mostly blown up by my father-in-law.

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We put our camping tent up in the garden with a paddling pool and a couple hundred ball pit balls. The idea was that there’d still be a doable outdoor activity should it rain.

As it happened, it was ridiculously sunny and after sitting in there to moderate a game of pass the parcel, I have no idea how they managed to spend so much time in it! It was boiling.

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Talitha was holding on to the promise of a Winnie the Pooh cake. I almost lost my mind making her a Hungry Caterpillar cake last year and that was just for the family! So I considered buying a printed rice paper topper or just putting a little figurine on top. In the end, I decided to bite the bullet, taking this pin for inspiration.

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The day before, I was cursing myself for a dodgy bake job and an icing disaster in the making but it somehow worked in the end. It happens that we’ll overlook most things with copious amounts of royal icing. And, actually, the gluten-free, dairy-free lemon experiment beneath the icing turned out so well I’ll be making it again.

Thanks so much to all the family and friends who came and made Talitha’s third birthday party the celebration we’d hoped it would be. It is so precious having you in our lives.

A Winnie the Pooh party

PS: Thanks to my bro and Laurence for taking these photos. I was a bit preocupied…


What I learned from a fire with a toddler – Paternity Leave Activity #4

Circus Queen’s husband here, reporting on what the toddler and I did at 10 days postpartum.

Another hair-brained activity with the toddler. Find a bit of land, build a fire and cook something. Great idea in principle, but I learned a few things from this experience.

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• Maybe pick a better weather forecast. It was incredibly lucky that we actually found a dry window in what was quite a blustery and wet day.

• Don’t do it alone with the toddler, unless you are Bear Grylls and can build and look after a toddler with your eyes shut. Due to the wet wood, it was a bit of nightmare keeping the fire going, and that wouldn’t have happened if Grandmum wasn’t there to talk Talitha through the whole thing and manage the marshmallows.

• Cook something simple. Don’t take on a stew on your first campfire. I couldn’t have coped with chopping etc. So we just cooked up some bacon and a brew.

• Keep it short. We stamped out the fire and headed home before we saw any sign of tiredness or boredom from Talitha. These sorts of activities can be nasty if they start getting fractious.

• Take marshmallows. Then while the fire is getting hot, they have something to cook and eat from the word “go”.

• Bring your own kindling and firelighters. I want to learn to do it in a more bushcraft way, but maybe when Talitha is a bit older and I know what I’m doing a bit more. Also the wood was so wet, that we really needed dry stuff to get it going.

• Get them helping. Even though she’s only two, she loved picking up sticks and building the rock circle.

You got any campfire tips? Or maybe songs or games?

I’ve enjoyed writing this series and it’s inspired me to start a blog of my own. Follow me on twitter (@lazbash) hear about it when it launches if you’re interested.

ETA: Laurence has now launched his blog, Chasing Wilderness, documenting a search for adventures in the everyday.


A back garden microadventure – Paternity Leave Activity #3

Circus Queen’s husband here, reporting on what the toddler and I did at 8 days postpartum.

I first came across Alistair Humphrey when her Majesty showed me an article he’d written in Green Parent Magazine. She knew his ideas where right up my street and could see that it had captivated my imagination, so she bought his book 10 Lessons From the Road for my birthday. This led me to his blog and more research into “microadventures”.

He describes a microadventure (or #microadventure for the cool hipster blogger) as…
“Simple expeditions and challenges which are close to home, affordable and easy to organise. Ideas designed to encourage ordinary people to get Out There and Do Stuff for themselves”

As I’d got a new a tent for my birthday I thought it would be fun for me and Talitha to put it up. Then I thought it would be fun to sleep in it. Her majesty thought I was nuts – her baby brain must be in full flow to allow it!

Talitha was great at helping

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She loved playing under and on the fly sheets,

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dancing and collapsing in the “bedroom”.

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Bed time came around. We got seriously kitted up. Layers are key to staying warm in sub zero camping. She wore tights, vest, pyjama top (I would strip her down to this incase we bailed back inside), her fleece Tigger suit, fleece hoodie and her fleece snowsuit. I wore thermal socks, long johns and long sleeve top and one lambs wool jumper and another heavy knit jumper (loads of pockets of air). I also doubled up our summer sleeping bags. Ideally we should have shared a sleeping bag, but we’re not yet kitted out for that.

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We went through the usual bedtime routine, seriously expecting her to be awake for hours. But no, she was asleep in minutes. And slept all night. I, on the other hand didn’t. Too much time worrying about her warmth, the cats outside and my own discomfort.

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We woke to a lovely sky and frost on the tent.

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Her first introduction to camping; my first formal introduction to microadventures.

Thanks, Alistair.

ETA: Laurence has now launched his own blog, Chasing Wilderness, documenting a search for adventures in the everyday.


How to take a long bike ride with a toddler – Paternity Leave Activity #1

Circus Queen’s husband reporting here on what we did at birth plus two days:

As her majesty languishes in bed, recovering from her wounds and trying to establish breastfeeding, I am trying to find as many ways as I can to keep our toddler entertained.

Activity number one is a bike ride. Two birds with one stone, fun for Talitha, and I get to keep my fitness up during paternity leave.

The route
I got given a toddler bike seat for Christmas and I’ve taken it out for a few short rides with Talitha since then, but nothing properly substantial. So I decided as the weather was nice I’d go for a longer one. At two years eight months, I was intrigued to see how well she would cope. I didn’t do any research beforehand to see what people said. Just picked a route and decided to go for it.

It was a big loop down to Avonmouth, along the cycle track the far side of the Avon Gorge, up to the suspension bride and back. The nice thing about this route as there was no short cuts to be had, so once we committed we had to push on through and finish it. I’ve just discover it was 21km!

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The clothes
We got wrapped up warm, and this is the most important bit, as the toddler would be just sitting there. Even though it was a warm day, the wind was quite chilly. So she wore a t-shirt and tights as a base layer, a fleecy onesie, a hoodie and, as her outer layer was an all-in-one waterproof thing, to keep the wind out. The more layers the better for trapping warm air. She wore her warm boots, gloves and a woolie headband that kinda fits under the helmet. Although this was abandoned about an hour and a half into the ride.
I just wore some jeans (didn’t want to get all lycra’d up for a family ride), a merino wool long sleeve base layer and a lovely North Face fleece jacket. Millets wonderfully sent us this awesome jacket for review, which is great for just this sort of thing, and also will be part of my camping kit.

I must say it worked a treat, I was never cold, even when the sun went down. I didn’t overheat even though I was sweating pushing my little lump up some hills!

The adventure
We merrily set off singing “The wheels on the bike go round and round” (actually, Talitha didn’t like me changing the lyrics). I promised her that we would look for Bambi in Leigh Woods, so we chatted away about this, and whether we would see the trees, the flowers, Thumper and the butterflies. She loved looking at the view from the M5 bridge and blasting through the puddles. She was amazed by some large muriel sculptures and was delighted to see some geese.

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We passed another rider, and heard him shout “watch out for the mud”. It was a bit tricky, and I had to take it pretty slowly (I was overtaken by at least two pensioners!). We had a couple of little slips and slides, but it was okay actually. The bike seat has Talitha in-front of me, so I was pretty confident that at a slow speed I could keep her from getting hurt.

The handling is a bit funny with her weight up front, and my knees were at a bit of a funny angle but all in all it worked pretty well. Talitha loved it the whole way round, she only moaned about a snack and her head band when we were nearly home. She was sad not to see Bambi, but next time I might go to Ashton Court and guarantee to see some deer.

I’ve learnt something new: Toddlers can go for two-hour bike rides in the mud, and we can have a proper good adventure together.

Now I just have to figure out what to do tomorrow!

Millets sent us the North Face jacket featured in this post for our honest review.

ETA: Laurence has now launched his own blog, Chasing Wilderness, documenting a search for adventures in the everyday.


20 thrifty things to do with your toddler in the summer

All year long, Laurence and I look forward to Summer, daydreaming about holidays and festivals – often ones we cannot afford. Over time since Talitha was born, it became evident than none of us would be happy with me working full time. We’re both convinced that she has a strong need to be with me at this time of her life and he has the greater earning potential at the moment anyway.

That sounds good in theory but it has means we’ve had to get creative to figure out how to live on one salary (and a bit). We don’t have it all sorted but, in hope of making the most of this summer without digging into debt, I’m making a list of thrifty things I plan to do with my two-year-old before the season’s up. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1. Go swimming
Just about everyone else I know takes their toddlers swimming it seems. I’ve taken her a fair bit when we go to Trinidad but as it’s rarely hot enough in the UK for me to feel like swimming, I haven’t been highly motivated. I also don’t drive, so getting to most decent pools presents a bit of a challenge for me, albeit not an insurmountable one. We recently tried taking Talitha in an indoor swimming pool and she wasn’t too happy about the idea so it’s made me realise that it’s been too long. So, the plan is for me to buy a swimsuit I actually feel comfortable in and start taking her swimming again.

2. Paint with water
So simple, so clean, so free. Why have we not done this yet?

3. Make mud pies
I loved doing this as a child. Looking forward to getting the trowels out and getting a good ol’ dig on in the garden.

4. Ride bikes as a family
This is another that it’s surprising we haven’t done. Laurence is something of a more serious cyclist. Talitha would adore going on a ride with him. I, on the other hand, am learning to cycle (yes, along with driving, I don’t do this either!).

5. Make gift paper with potato stamps and handprints
I always have it in my head that I’m going to be super thrifty and creative by making Christmas presents. The problem is that only occurs to me in November or December by which time, if we’re being completely real, it’s too late. I figured we’d get it right this year at least with the gift paper since it’s something we can do really well together.

6. Have a stuffed animal picnic
In the last months, it’s been amazing to watch Talitha’s imaginative play grow and grow. She loves giving tea to her stuffed rabbits and reading stories to all her animals. She also got a toy kitchen for her birthday which has been such a hit. I reckon a picnic in the garden with a few of her favourite stuffed animals and some bits from the toy kitchen would be just the thing.

7. Visit the ducks
There are a few ducks in a stream near the house we’ve just moved into and I’m keen to take Talitha down for a visit. I’d initially written “feed the ducks” there but I’m not sure that’s environmentally a great idea so I think we may just go and say hello instead.

8. Actually garden
Many a year I’ve tried to grow a few things and keep them alive. I’ve planted some bits and bobs this year and Talitha is making me keep them alive! Every day she asks, “Water plants?” Win, win.

9. Explore the parks in our area
I keep hearing about all the parks in our area and I can’t wait to take her out in them now that she’s walking more and more. It would be brilliant to find our own special haunts.

10. Go foraging
I’ve been reading a really interesting book called The Green Witch: A Modern Woman’s Herbal. It contains so much valuable herbal information set forth in a straightforward, common sense way. I want to start putting what I’ve learned from it into practice and take Talitha to gather wild things.

11. Collect and paint rocks

12. Join a forest school
There’s one that runs in our area that is either free or 50p a session. It sounds like it would be great for falling in love with the outdoors.

13. Fly a kite

14. Find free local events
We’re really lucky here in Bristol in that respect. There’s so much on that we could find something reasonably thrifty to go see every weekend of the summer months. One event we’re thinking of going to is the Bristol Balloon Fiesta. But just about anywhere, there are free or cheap local events on if you just give it a look.

15. Walk along a pier
There’s something about meeting the water on a pier. I can see Talitha running up one and loving the view of the waves and the feel of the wind on her skin. I may be wrong but we’ll give it a go anyway.

16. Visit local museums we’ve not been to yet
We’ve done the two obvious local museums so far but there are so many other quirky delights to be found. I remember thinking that museums weren’t something Talitha would appreciate until she was much older but she always surprises me by taking an interest in the exhibits whenever we visit one.

17. Get sensory with bath time
Talitha is going through a phase at the moment where she hates bathing. I don’t know what it is but suddenly, every night, she declares “NO BATH!” and it is impossible to safely give her one so we have to resort to splashing her or giving her a cloth wash instead. I’m hoping these sensory bath ideas re-entice her.

18. Go scooting – a lot
We got her a Mini Micro Scooter for her birthday and, amazing to me, she actually knows how to use it. I want to give her as much opportunity as possible to really master it.

19. Wash the car
It may be an odd one I know but we treat our car as if it’s self-cleaning most of the time and I know it’s the sort of thing a toddler would get a kick out of doing. Now that we have a drive to park in, it’s a safer activity too. I figure, two birds, one stone.

20. Go on a nature colour hunt
Talitha is now pretty consistent with her naming of colours (except that she still thinks red is called “colour”) so I figured we’d give this nature colour hunt a try so she could start matching colours in a beautifully sensory way.

Over to you, what plans do you have for your little ones this summer?