My little man is truly obsessed with dinosaurs. He loves them. He knows so much about them and is quite happy to chat to anyone and everyone about them. At age 3, he can name more prehistoric animals than most adults and will cheerfully correct people when they try and talk to him about dinosaurs.

This is nothing to do with me, really. Aided and abetted by my husband, O has discovered various dinosaur related TV programmes a few months ago.

He now loves Prehistoric Park – a series where Nigel Marven travels back through a time portal to rescue dinosaurs about to become extinct and bring them back to a wildlife park with only wooden fences to keep the animals separated from each other. Did he not see Jurassic Park?!

Who couldn't love this idea?!

Who couldn’t love this idea?!

He adores Dinosaur Train, a wonderful animated TV programme by the creators of The Muppets. The premise is a baby T-Rex is adopted by a family of Pteranadons and, desperate to discover what species he is, they travel through time and space on the Dinosaur Train finding out about lots of other animals. In a totally unrealistic way it’s just fantastic. O has learnt his alphabet – A, apatosaurus, B, Brachiosaurus, C, Corythosaurus… He can explain the difference between carnivores, herbivores and omnivores, why dinosaurs may have developed their key characteristics and how they may have evolved into modern animals.There’s even an amazing paleontologist, Dr Scott, who clears up the science at the end of the episodes – We don’t think Arctic Troodons really played ice hockey…

Now, our whole family loves the programme and has learnt so much. O is just a sponge and remembers everything, including the catchphrases: I’ve got a hypothesis and Get outside, get into nature and make your own discoveries. Impressive for a 3 year old, though sometimes I don’t know whether to burst with pride or cringe when he tells people that when he grows up he’s going to be a paleontologist, and then have to explain what that is!

We have visited museums, got a pile of dinosaur books, figures, toys, jigsaws etc. dinosaur art and craft activites have been done, and more are planned. These will, of course, be shared!

We went to our local park the other day and O spotted some footprints in the tarmac path. I guess, as they were next to the pond, that a  duck waddled across before it had dried properly.

Duck footprints (my idea) or fossilised track made by a theropod hunting a sauropod (O's hypothesis)?

Duck footprints (my idea) or fossilised track made by a theropod hunting a sauropod (O’s hypothesis)?

O however is adamant that they were a fossilised track made by a theropod because they had three toes. Obvious really. Why didn’t I think of that?! We’ve even booked our first ever family holiday for later this year purely so we can go fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. And R, who only has a couple of words, roars whenever she sees anything to do with dinosaurs! We really are a dinosaur loving family now…

And this week I discovered Dr Scott is a real life famous paleontologist who blogs and has a facebook page. I read a bit then thought I should let him know what a difference he has made to our family, and O especially. So I posted a short message on his facebook page saying how great we think he is, then went off to check out what Steve Backshall of Dealy 60 fame, another of O’s loves, is up to.

And guess what, Dr Scott replied to me! And within an hour. He said to say hi to my son. Such a simple thing but how to make a little boy feel special and give him the biggest smile, from ear to ear. And O really believes that every status update written by his heroes is a personal message to him. Not only do I love Dinosaur Train but now I love Dr Scott too!

Book Review: Various Pets Alive and Dead

Various Pets Alive and Dead by Marina Lewycka.

Don't judge a book by it's cover?!

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover?!

This was a book I read for book club earlier this year. I read ‘A Short History or Tractors in Ukrainian’ by the same author a few years ago  and remember enjoying it. (I can’t have it enjoyed it that much though as I generally have an amazing memory for the details of stories I love. I can remember so much about books I read years and years ago but I can’t remember anything at all about ‘A Short History of Tractors’ except that it was quite good.

So when book club chose to read ‘Various Pets Alive and Dead’ I wasn’t sure what to expect. The blurb sounded promising: For twenty years Doro and Marcus lived in a commune, convinced lentils and free love would change the world. They didn’t. What they did do was give their children a terror of radicalism, dirt, cooking rotas and poverty. Their daughter Clara wants nothing less conformist than her own, clean bathroom. Their son Serge hides the awkward fact that he’s a banker earning loadsamoney. So when Doro and Marcus spring a surprise on their kids – just as the world is rocked in ways they always wished for – the family is forced to confront some thorny truths about themselves . . .

I ordered my copy and have to admit that when it arrived my heart sank a little. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover but really, whoever designed the front cover of this book didn’t do it any favours.

I love to read books where I get totally drawn in to what’s happening and actually care about the characters. I don’t necessarily need to like them but I need to care about what happens to them. The best books I’ve read have resulted in hours lost as I physically cannot put the book down and emotionally cannot leave the world in which the story takes place. (I’m not proud to admit that occasionally I had to totally wing my Monday morning classes as I’d got caught up in a book during the weekend and lesson planning just didn’t happen…)

Unfortunately, this didn’t happen here. There wasn’t a single character I liked or even gave two hoots about. They all just annoyed, irritated and bored me. I could go into detail about the issues Serge has with his job and materialism, Doro trying to be a feminist, Oolie-Anna’s issues  and Clara’s hopes and ideals in her career as a teacher and trying to develop a life away from her parents’ influence. But I spent enough time reading about them without wanting to waste more time writing about them.

In her notes, Lewycka thanks someone or other for helping her edit the book and pare down the sub-plots. So there was more that she intended to include? I feel this is painfully obvious as there are many hooks, clues & cliffhangers that feel like they could or should have led to something (the fire?) and are never resolved, or things that you are shouting at characters to notice because they are just too think to notice the blindingly obvious.

And what’s the whole ending with Marcus about? Just annoying.

But enough. Days of forcing myself to read this book, another evening discussing it at book club (though to be far, no-one enjoyed it so we talked about it for less than an hour and chatted about other stuff instead) and an hour or so typing this is more than enough time of my life spent on this book.

Sorry for being so negative but I really feel honesty is the best policy! Not sure I’ll be rushing to read any more by this author…

On to the next book. Hope I enjoy it more!

The only rule about book club is we must all talk about book club!

I go to a book club every month.

I joined it when I first moved back to the area where I grew up after escaping for over ten years. I was 28, I’d been living in Australia with an Aussie guy I fully expected to marry and settle down with and had moved back to my parents temporarily while my permanent visa was processed. Turns out, Aussie guy didn’t have the same expectations as me and dumped me via text within a week or two of me being home. So I cried and felt sorry for myself for a while, quite a while if I’m honest. Then I decided to sort myself out.

One of the first things I did was join a book club. Not the most obvious thing to do perhaps but perfect for me. A reason to go out and stop moping. A way to meet new people who weren’t going to ask me how I was feeling and make me cry again. And books. Reading is a love, a passion, always has been and always will be. So a book club was the most perfect, most obvious thing for me to do.

That was in 2006. I loved it then, and I love it now, possibly even more.

It was a fairly new club when I found it online. (How did we ever cope before the internet?) There are now seven members. People from such diverse ages and backgrounds we would never have met without book club, let alone become friends. (And I’ve said before how tricky I find it to relax and make friends so having a forced topic of conversation was wonderful at first.) We have shared so much since the early days – three marriages, six babies (so far), a retirement, house moves and a successful battle against cancer. It means I get an evening out to sit, drink wine, eat grown up nibbles and chat – a rare event which I love and look forward to.

And of course there’s the books.

Each book club runs in a different way. We take it in turns to bring a short list of titles to meetings then together the rest of us vote to choose the one we’re going to read. The only rule is it has to be something none of us have read before. We all, obviously, tend to put together our shortlists according to our own interests so naturally we have been introduced to books outside our usual choices. I love historical fiction, and thanks to book club I have read books set in the past, present and future, all over the world and outer space. Some have been wonderful, others less so, some absolutely dire!

I want to share some of the joys of book club here. I’ll write reviews of some of the books we read (and not just the ones I love).

Unfortunately for you, dear reader, the evening out with wine, nibbles and chat about everything else will remain just for me and my book club friends…

Supermum? Rubbish!

I feel more than rubbish at the minute.

I have a lovely, lovely friend who tells me I am amazing and wonderful and calls me supermum and sometimes, when she says it, I see myself through her eyes and actually believe her, almost, a little bit.

Supermum? Me? Never? (Though I do love shopping at the supermum's craft fair website and facebook page, where this fab picture comes from. She really is Supermum!

Supermum? Me? Never? (Though I do love shopping at the supermum’s craft fair website and facebook page, where this fab picture comes from. She really is Supermum!

But mostly, like tonight, I feel just rubbish.

I am trying so hard to do so much. Sometimes, I feel I’m getting close to achieving something, and then it all goes to pieces.

I am a woman, so naturally I can multi-task but even I am struggling here.

I am a mum who stays at home with my two preschoolers. I like to spend time with them during the day.

I am a wife and I like to spend time with my husband in the evenings once our beautiful children are asleep.

I am a tutor and I like to be well prepared for my tutoring sessions, necessitating time spent thinking about them, finding or making resources, photocopying texts etc etc.

I am an Usborne bookseller – I like to know what I’m talking about when I’m selling my books so I need to find time to read them. I need to advertise my business to book stalls at fairs and toddler groups, run book parties, attend meetings and training sessions, I need to keep up with my accounts for both businesses…

I like blogging. I like writing all my thoughts and experiences to record them for myself and my family and to clear my rather over worked brain.

I like to, just occasionally, sleep, or have a bubble bath or do something just for me…

Actually what happens is, I have a shower by myself while hubby gets the kids up and, if I’m lucky, dressed and/or breakfasted. Then I am with them from 8-6 – we play, read, do puzzles, go to lovely places with lovely friends or just by ourselves. In amongst that we eat, cook and sometimes do a bit of housework. Often I break up arguments, soothe hurt bodies and egos – and that’s just my 3 and 1 year olds. I get followed everywhere I go and don’t have a minute to myself, especially now the daytime napping is stopping. Then hubby gets home, we eat and the children go to bed. Hubby sits down to relax after a hard day at work and I start doing tutoring prep, online business networking, paperwork etc etc. Often hubby goes to bed in a strop that I’ve not spent the evening snuggled up watching TV with him and I stay up writing newsletters, blogs, doing accounts etc.

I think I just need an extra few hours to a day, or maybe an extra day or two a week to fit everything in!

Any tips or advice, people? I would like to feel a little more in control and able to enjoy my days rather than loving bits of them and then feeling under so much pressure to do so much I stay up til the early hours working and feel tired when I wake up, even though the kids are now finally sleeping through the night (Really hope I’ve not just jinxed that!)

Maybe on the outside, to my lovely friend and others, I look in control but believe me, I’m like one of those plate spinners, I get one part of my life going smoothly and then notice something I should have done and have to rush to do it before it reaches crisis point. Or maybe I’m like a duck.  I may look like I’m gliding serenely but actually under the water I’m paddling madly just to stay in the same place… Maybe if I can maintain the illusion it might some day become real?!

But now, at 23.37, I’ve just realised O is back to preschool tomorrow after half term and I promised I’d finish sticking photos into his holiday diary… Must dash! And then, hopefully, to bed.


Good Friends…

I’ve been thinking about friends and friendship recently.

Don’t get me wrong. I think about my friends all the time but recently I’ve been thinking about friendship in a more abstract way too

I’ve mentioned before how my 3 year old son meets someone new and immediately describes them as his friend and wants to invite them to his birthday party. Normally it’s a child he starts playing with at the park. Last week it was the 60-something year old man he was chatting to while we waited for the garage to finish our car’s service – ‘When I get to know that man better Mummy, can he come round to play?’

He finds it so easy to chat and just accepts the obvious – that everyone must find talking to him absolutely enthralling and want to spend as much time as possible in his company, hear all he has to say and answer his never-ending questions. (Most of the time, people do humour him, which I find so lovely to watch, until he starts telling them things no-one need know outside the privacy of our own little home, not even those of you dedicated enough to read this!)

I watch him and marvel because I don’t remember ever finding it that easy to strike up a conversation either with strangers (or sometimes even people I know fairly well) either as a child or an adult.  I can spend weeks bumping into people and smiling before saying more than hello, then more weeks making polite chit-chat and stressing about whether the person I’m chit-chatting with would want to take things further and maybe, I don’t know, meet for a coffee or something.

Pathetic, huh?! I seem confident in myself in so many ways.  Yet I have never felt confident that people will like me or find me interesting enough to want to spend time with.

It takes me a long time to believe new people, even sometimes friends I’ve known for ages, really do want to be friends with me. I try to be the best friend I can be to them, but feel I fail at that fairly regularly as I try to juggle too many things, fit so much in to my crazy busy life, and then beat myself up for being so rubbish at keeping in touch with people I care about.

So, here in black and white, apologies to my friends, old and new, and as always I promise to try harder to be the best friend I can be and that you all deserve…

Sometimes I feel I’m feel I’m really not setting a good example to my children, and maybe I should be learning from them how to chat and make friends… ‘Good friends these days are hard to find’, as the old song goes – unless, it seems, you’re a 3 year old!

I do love to be beside the seaside…

I studied at the University of Sussex in Brighton. More than a decade ago now but the memories are so fresh it’s like it was yesterday. I loved sitting on the beach with a pint ‘revising’, being a local rather than one of the hundreds of tourists thronging through town.

My husband grew up just outside Brighton. He worked on the pier as a teenager and fishing, swimming and sailing were his regular hobbies.

When we first got together he still lived in Brighton. Well, Hove actually. And we could actually see the sea from his living room wondow so we spent most weekends at the coast, walking along the seafront and out on the pier in all weathers.

Now, we dream of moving back there and bringing our kids up close enough to enjoy being at the beach as an everyday thing rather than a huge treat.

Luckily though, my in-laws live literally on the beach in Shoreham so we do get to visit fairly often, even if sometimes it is just a quick walk down to throw some stones into the waves through raging wind and rain.

This Bank Holiday dawned beautifully sunny and warm so we started packing the car for a trip to Shoreham – buckets, spades, sunsuits and paddling shoes. Then a message arrived telling us to bring coats and wrap up warm, there was a sea fret along the coast. A what? I’ve never heard of that before. In fact, I had to get my husband to repeat it and then spell it, I couldn’t figure out what he was saying – and then googled it too as I thought it might have been a family term that doesn’t actually exist. (Not unheard of!) Apparently, it’s a wet mist that comes inland from the sea. Sounded like a wonderful day ahead…

We drove down through glorious sunshine. As we crossed the River Adur in Shoreham town centre, we could hardly see past the front of the car the mist was so thick.

We sat in Nanny’s garden for a while, eating lunch and waiting, hoping the mist would clear…

And soon enough it did.

We grabbed our stuff and headed to the area of the beach near the Old Fort as quickly as we could. It’s our favourite place because when the tide is out there is sand and rockpools to explore.

Splashing in rockpools en famille!

Splashing in rockpools en famille!

This was the first time we’ve been to the beach since I has learnt to walk and that made it so different. Scary, with two toddlers exploring in different directions but so much fun. Returning to the beach brings back so many memories from my own childhood seaside trips and it’s exciting watching my children making their own memories. Maybe, or are they too young for these experiences to be memories yet?

Looking for deadly sea creatures!

Looking for deadly sea creatures!

O is obsessed with Steve Backshall and his Deadly 60 at the minute. (An obsession I don’t mind encouraging – O’s learning loads about animals and, let’s face it, Mr Backshall’s not exactly unpleasant to watch!) Everywhere we go he’s looking for deadly creatures – deadly worms, deadly woodlice – and we get to be his ‘team’ filming him, lucky us. At the beach he got to wear his Steve Backshall army shorts and paddling shoes, and had a wonderful time wading through rockpools and digging to find deadly sea snails and deadly lugworms!



Snip, snap!

Snip, snap!

R really wasn’t sure about the sand at first but soon enough she was laughing and whizzing off too, and actually saying her new word – splash, splash! – as she too started looking in the water running across the beach. And there was no doubt she knew what daddy had found, even though she didn’t say the name she was doing her little snip snap crab impersonation when he lifted the crabs up for her to see.

Of course, despite the piles of beach stuff we’d got in the car, in our rush to get to the beach we hadn’t actually carried any of it down there. R’s nappy absorbed half the Channel as she wobbled and fell into the water within seconds of being on the beach and dangled to her knees as she waddled around. We’d forgotten to bring towels, drinks, snacks, dry clothes, nappies, wipes, anything remotely useful to the beach so we  were all quickly fairly uncomfortable. But it was still a fantastic first sunny trip to the beach this year – hopefully only the first of many. and I WILL be more organised next time…

Blue skies in Sussex, hooray!

Blue skies in Sussex, hooray!


Sunshine Came Softly…

With the weather being so glorious for the last few days, I have been busy, and out and about making the most of it (along with most of the country, it would seem, and why not?!)

We’ve been in the garden a lot.

I am not naturally green fingered but I do have this dream of having a house with a pretty cottage garden with paths winding through beautiful flowerbeds, flat lawn for the kids to play on, veggie patch, ‘wild’ section with butterflies flitter fluttering from flower to flower. When we win the lottery…

In reality we live in a ground floor flat with a communal garden/moss covered lawn with a 6ft sheer drop into the car park and our own little outdoor space. So I say garden but it is really just a small patio, about 3m x 7m I think. Far from the dream but you would not believe how happy I was to move here and get some outside space though, after living in a small first floor flat for a few years. Space to sit outside, and hang out my mountains of washing, is such a luxury I haven’t tired of in the three years we’ve lived here!

Anyway, we just have this small patio so everything has to be planted in pots.  the first year we were here, we grew potatoes and tomatoes. The tomatoes did really well (which was actually a shame as none of us like tomatoes)  and we got a handful of tiny potatoes. Lessons learned, the following year we grew pretty flowers, did better with the potatoes and tried dwarf carrots. Dwarf?! The biggest we picked was the size of my little finger, most were more comparable to O’s 2 year old fingers. Tiny but they were delicious. Not really worth the time and effort involved though.

This year, as well as a few flowers for prettiness, we’ve decide to try potatoes again with strawberries and blueberries.

Planting with toddlers is a VERY slooooow process. Initially I decided to do it with O while R was napping but she had other ideas! Therefore everything has had to be planted more than once. I ask them to get handfuls of compost to fill the pots and help put the plants in, so I suppose it’s obvious they’ll think that’s what they need to do in the garden now. Obvious really, isn’t it?! So I suppose I only have myself to blame when they decide to dig up and move the plants and every time we go outside R in particular takes handfuls of soil out of the pots to scatter on the ground. We’ve done it together once, so this is just being helpful, right?!

As it was beautifully sunny last week we spent lots of time playing outside after the gardening was finished. Both children love blowing and chasing bubbles – show me a child (or adult!) who doesn’t…  And playdough, which is an outside toy in our family as I can’t stand finding bits of it all over the floor inside. I actually find playdough quite a challenge full stop. I can’t cope with the mixing of bright colours into yukky brown and have to really step back from controlling the play too much and let them get on with just enjoying themselves!

Despite the sunshine, it was not actually that warm though.  Far too cold for a paddling pool yet, but having a car/bike/general toy & furniture wash is always a good way to spend some time with the little people so we took a bowl of water out to the garden. It might even distract them from emptying the plant pots for a while… But they don’t seem able to cope with playing with water though can they? They have to play IN it. How many toddlers can you fit in one washing up bowl of water? At least two, plus a great white shark and a brown seal it would seem! though it was not done easily, and R spent a fair amount of time roaring at O. (She doesn’t have many words yet but, as she has been taught to roar by her dino mad big brother, she uses it to great effect when she is cross or not getting her own way!) They did seem to have a lot of fun though. I can’t wait until it properly warms up and we can get a paddling pool out…

'Too cold for paddling,' I thought. O & I disagreed!

‘Too cold for paddling,’ I thought. O & I disagreed!

Too cold for paddling? Of course not!

Driving a police car at the Surrey Heath Show!

Driving a police car at the Surrey Heath Show!

We also went to the Surrey Heath Show, a local May Fair/Show this Saturday – lots of fun with all the stalls, emergency vehicles, dog show, miniature railway etc. And for once it was actually dry for most of the day. (Two years ago it rained most of the day, and last year the show was cancelled due to the field being waterlogged, so this is a minor miracle!)

203. 06.05.2013, Shoreham

And, as my in-laws live at the seaside, we had a beautiful sunny Bank Holiday on the beach.

More of that to come but here’s a sneak peek:

Hence, the distinct lack of posts on my blog – or any other kind of work being done – recently.

Apologies for that but hey, I’m sure anyone else would have done the same…

Hope you’ve all been enjoying the Spring, now it’s finally here. Roll on summer!