Easy Crafts With Children – Salt Dough Butterflies.

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When a couple of spots appeared on Freya’s legs we thought we knew what was coming – the dreaded chicken pox*.

Mark was promptly dispatched to stock up on calamine lotion and oats while I reached for the iPad to start frantically scanning Pinterest for things to do indoors with a child who, if anything, had more energy than usual.

On the Monday Freya was very upset at not being able to go to nursery (real tears) so we made a batch of salt dough (with added glitter to cheer her up) and thought we’d cut out some shapes to decorate.

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To make the salt dough.

Just in case you want to try it and need a recipe, we use a cup of salt, a cup of plain flour and half a cup of warm water (mix the water in gradually to make the dough). Glitter is optional.

Thanks to our biscuit making activities, Freya’s pretty good at making and shaping dough (she loves getting her hands messy). I gave her several shapes to try but she liked the butterfly one best (she also made a snake) and that’s when I had the idea of decorating our balcony with them. It took about an hour from start to finish (not including my clean up time which took days thanks to finding glitter in every single room).

We remembered, just in time, to put holes in them (using the end of the paint brush) and to prick them with a fork so they didn’t crack up when they dried, which has happened before.

Last time we air-dried the dough and it took FOREVER (three weeks or more) but it was winter so I thought, as it had been quite warm recently, I’d stick them on the balcony (and actually most of them were ready in about four days). I put them on greaseproof paper (because it seemed like the thing to do) on baking trays to keep them flat.

Time to decorate.

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While I hoped we could put a base colour on and then, when they were dry, add some extra decoration, Freya often likes to mix all the colours together and paint at will. I wasn’t that bothered, as it’s for her entertainment, after all, but this time she surprised me by following my suggestion.

We decided to make two different sorts of butterflies; one lot was based on actual butterflies, which we looked up (and learned about symmetry) and the other were what Freya described as “fairy butterflies”.

I didn’t really want her covered in permanent marker so I outlined the real ones while she was asleep and then the next day she helped dab on the spots (making sure both sides were equal) with a cotton bud. Once again I was surprised by how much care she took (my baby is growing up). While I finished those, she decorated the other ones with glitter glue (they sparkle beautifully in the sunshine).

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After they were dry I then threaded the wool and popped them on the balcony. I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with the way they turned out. They were not only easy and fun to make (plus a good learning experience) but they add some lovely colour to our little outside space.

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We actually made about 23 butterflies but I accidentally broke a couple when I lifted them before they were ready.

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* When only six spots appeared and she was still full of life, I took Freya to the doctor who said she couldn’t be sure what it was. She was 50/50 between the pox and a different viral rash. I guess we will never know.

Freya, Freya, Quite Contrary (Why Didn’t I Name Her Mary?).

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At three years and nearly eight months old Freya definitely seems to have climbed aboard the rollercoaster taking her from being a toddler to a child – and what a wild ride it is.

Sometimes she seems so grown-up, especially when she’s in her school uniform, racing into nursery without a backward glance. I always stand still and wait for a few seconds, amid the hustle and bustle of drop off, trying to catch a glimpse of her through the door, just in case she suddenly remembers she hasn’t said goodbye and comes back.

She never does.

At other times there are little reminders that maybe the train is still trundling its way up that final hill before hurtling down the other side.

She often pretends to be a (crying) baby and asks me to swaddle her in a blanket (not that she liked that when she was an actual baby, always preferring her arms free).

“Sing me a lullaby,” she pleads while I cradle her on my knees, with her legs now dangling almost to the floor.

As a pretend baby she’s quite the tinker. Her first words appear to be “poop” and “bum” at which I act horrified, sending her into fits of giggles.

She’s not the only one laughing. I know every one thinks their child is hilarious but some of the things she comes out with have me either in stitches or make me want to roll my eyes.

At the moment she’s taken to calling me “buddy”.

The conversations we have now amaze me almost as much as they bemuse me.

“Is the sky a book?” She asked, after we spent some time looking for animal shapes in the clouds.

I love her sideways (sometimes upside down) take on various things. I probably get as much out of our chats as she does.

However, if I had to pick one word to describe her right now it would be contrary (I knew I should have named her Mary).

No matter what I say she will disagree – even when it’s for her benefit.

Nothing is too small to be argued about, which makes everything a billion times harder.

The other day she was even arguing with the SatNav and was genuinely furious when we decided not to follow her instructions – that would have sent us completely the wrong way.

She’s three going on 13.

So. Much. Attitude.

I mostly try and sympathise or look at the bigger picture and quite often I just take Elsa’s advice and let it go.

It’s just a stage. A hard stage (for her and me). Hopefully it means she going to grow into a confident and assertive child.

The one good thing about sleep deprivation is that my parenting style is more relaxed than I think it would be if I were running at full speed/not so knackered.

Some days I do worry that saying yes much more than I say no is not doing her any favours (especially now she’s at nursery).

Some days I also know I am not the mum I want to be.

I snap at her when I should explain, demand when I should ask. I long for bedtime (only to miss her five minutes after she’s asleep).

When she tells me “You’re the worst mummy I’ve ever had”, ironically usually when I feel like I’ve not done too badly that day, it hits its mark.

Guilt comes trotting up telling me she’s like this because I’m doing it all wrong.

“She’s a reflection of you.”

And then, every now and then, something happens and I see a glimmer of light. A flicker of what I hope she might be like in the future.

We were in a shopping mall recently looking out of the window while we waited for Mark and she spotted a man going through the litter bins.

“Why is he putting his hands in the bins?” She asked. That is a definite no in our house.

I try and answer all her questions as honestly as possible – while remembering she’s three.

“He’s looking for food. He doesn’t have a home, so he doesn’t have his own kitchen, which means he has no food and he’s hungry.”

“That’s really sad,” she said, frowning.

“It is really sad. It makes us really lucky because we do have a home and we have food in our fridge.”

“I know! He could come and live with us,” She said, ready to dash down the stairs and invite him.

I felt a lump in my throat.

“That would be a nice thing to do but we unfortunately don’t have enough room. Where would he sleep?”

“He can have my bed.”

“Your bed is only small though. How about this? When we go shopping we can buy some extra food for people like him who need it.”

I try and do this anyway but I’ve never thought to explain why I’ve put the pasta and soup I’ve just bought as part of our shopping into the wire basket by the check out for the food bank. It’s not enough, of course, and her kindness made me realise that it’s not a very personal approach and that maybe I need to do more.

She seemed somewhat satisfied with that (she told every one we know that she had something sad to tell them and then explained homelessness for days afterwards, so it was clearly still playing on her mind). In the next moment she had taken her shoes off and was refusing to put them back on.

Even as I thought “here we go again’, I smiled.

I’m not claiming any credit for her compassion, as I feel like maybe that has to be something within you, but it makes me excited to see who eventually steps off that rollercoaster (and start bookmarking blog posts like this to see me through her teenage years or maybe four, five, six etc, which friends tell me also have their challenges).

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How did you handle the contrary stage? Did you just hold on tight and enjoy the ride?

Little Hearts, Big Love

Things To Do In Norfolk: St Benet’s Abbey.

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It is a sight that has inspired generations of artists – and it’s not hard to see why.

While there’s not much left of St Benet’s Abbey, I found it easy to imagine it as once was – a thriving monastery that would have dominated this now tranquil area of the Norfolk Broads.

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On a beautiful, if a little cold, spring day, I loaded Freya and my parents into the car and we set off to visit the remains of the site, which is now under the care of the Norfolk Archeological Trust.

As you can see, the Benedictine monastery has mostly been destroyed but the ruins of the 14th century gatehouse and a later addition of a mill are still more than worth the visit.

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While it is not known exactly when the monastery was created, according to the Domesday Book, the abbey was already “well endowed” by the time of the Norman conquest and was once “one of the richest in England”.

Apparently it was the only “religious house not closed down by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries”. You can find out more about its history here and here, if you’re interested (at the time of writing the dedicated website is down). There are also great information boards at the site which really bring the history to life.  On certain days between May and September guided tours are offered.

St Benet’s was abandoned in the 1530s and demolition was complete by 1579 but the Bishop of Norwich remains Abbot, even though there have been no monks on site for many hundreds of years, and conducts an annual open air service there.

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These two were worried about spiders!

It’s in such a beautiful area, close to the meeting point of the rivers Bure and Ant, although I imagine for the monks who called it home, winter would have been particularly harsh.

IMG_6683And while it felt peaceful and calm during our visit, there is apparently the chance of seeing a ghostly monk rowing along the Broad with his faithful dog. While that doesn’t sound too frightening, on the night of May 25th each year it is alleged you can also hear the terrified screams of a traitorous monk killed at the site. I think I’ll pass on that one.

You can reach St Benet’s on foot, by car or by boat, which is said to be the best way – although I think I would have walked from Ludham if there wasn’t a pair of three-year-old legs along for the journey.

While Freya and my parents enjoyed the visit it was very much for my benefit so on the way home we stopped off at Wroxham Barns for some lunch, shopping, playtime and even some lamb feeding too.

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