Cragside

What is it about kids and puddles? Thankfully neither ended up face down in this one. I love Cragside, there is something about it that makes you feel like you have stepped into a self-contained world. There are several car parks around the vast grounds and this time we parked up by the playground. When the children were younger we used to stick them in the backpacks and it was a wonderful trek up from the house through the craggy forest. Now at three and a half and 21 months they like to walk (or scooter) so we drove up and Charlotte was able to scooter along the path by the lake, although you do have to watch out for oncoming cars. It is one way however, which makes it safer. There are also picnic benches and toilets by the playground. If you walk a bit further there are some fantastic picnic spots overlooking the lakes. The playpark is a good size, with a very big climbing/slide frame that is challenging for the older ones, yet still safe enough for my 21 month old to give it a fair old go and also a zip wire. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/cragside/

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Saltwell Park, Gateshead

Free to get in, takeaway lattes, toilets, perfect for scootering, dragon pedalos, a mini train, ducks, playgrounds, this must be the best park in the world




Flower fairies and a one-eyed bear

I had a traumatic trip down memory lane this week that began when my mum announced she was clearing out the attic and had booked a skip. She had been threatening to do this for years but when she finally told me it was on the drive I winged it round to her house, determined to make sure that it really was just old carpet she was chucking in and not any of my old toys that I could recycle for my children. But by the time I arrived the clear-out was already under way. Despite being labelled a “skip rat” by my brother, who incidentally didn’t seem to have lobbed in any of his matchbox cars or transformers, I practically threw myself in to the carnage. It was like my entire childhood from earliest memories to teenage years had been scrambled together in a food mixer and dumped in a dusty pile. There were the rag dolls my gran had made and favourite teddies I’d carried everywhere. In one bag there was the grizzly sight of a dismembered collection of Flower Fairies. I collected up the random arms and legs, insisting that with some DIY hip placements they would be as good as new and my daughters would get as much enjoyment from them as I had. Then there were the classics: a Speak and Spell, next to my Now 23 tape. I even found a postcard from my best friend sent when we were 15: “You’ll never guess who I saw at the airport?? ROBSON GREEN!!!! P.S. “I think I fancy Alastair, but I don’t know????” Some I accepted I had to let go, but I can still imagine the giant polar bear, Snowy, with his wonky one eye whimpering from the bottom of a dirty skip. Maybe I have just seen Toy Story too many times? My dad is a bit soft too, I found him plucking some more teddies from the wreckage and clinging to the remains of his decomposing tent last used in 1979 – saying: “Look at this, it’s a perfectly good tent.” My mum admitted she did see my point and remembered when she was growing up there was a toy repair shop where the children would take their dolls to get mended. Go into a charity shop now and there are mounds of soft toys that will probably never get a new home. So at the end of the day, I headed home with a boot full of manky old dolls, a chewed and extremely retro dolls house that looked like rats had been living in it for 20 years, some paraplegic flower fairies and tapes of bad music that I can’t listen to even if I wanted to, but I was happy. After my good intentioned repair jobs fail and my 21st century daughters have no interest in my 1980s relics, I expect I will put them all into my own loft and in 20 years time will try and throw them in a skip, unless my daughters step in..

Warkworth Castle

making the most of our English Heritage cards. scramble on the ruins, explore the dark passageways or take a walk by the river. Perfect for picnics,but no cafe facilities on site.


Leading by example

ImageThis week I have been reading about the debate over whether it is healthy to discuss weight issues with your child and how parents must lead by example when it comes to healthy eating.

It was all so easy when they were babies to meet up with your friend and comfort yourself with a slice of cake in a semi-conscious sleep deprived state, knocked back with a cup of coffee. But now, at three, they expect their fair share and are not fobbed off with a few raisins and a banana.

I have always been a complete hypocrite when it comes to sweets. My daughter was three before she was allowed an ice cream. I once had a panic attack when a neighbour gave her a packet of Haribo, expecting a sugar rush of hyperactivity – nothing really happened.

I was shocked when I arrived early at her nursery one day and found both my children smeared in chocolate cake. Even at her school where she has just started in the nursery class, she came out smiling last week with a packet of sweets and a lollipop. What happened to milk and fruit?

I know it is ultimately down to me as a parent, as if I don’t give my child sweets they can’t eat them, but as she gets older it’s getting harder because they are everywhere.

It’s not just sweets. My mum gave my three and a half year old a Capri Sun the other day that came in a kids’ lunch box. I looked at the empty packet and found it had nearly 40% of an adults recommended daily sugar allowance.

Peitit Filous – little pots of fromage frais – have 12g of sugar – about  two teaspoons.

And then there’s breakfast cereals. What is more appealing to a child – Honey Monster Sugar Puffs (35% sugar) or the porridge oats with a man in a kilt on the front?

The Government keep banging on about record obesity levels in toddlers and primary school children.  Yes, parents need to stop buying them, but why do they do nothing about the marketing of this massive food industry for children? Sometimes you feel you have to be an expert in nutrition to work out whether something is suitable or not.

A packet of sweets in a plain white paper bag  with a health warning on is surely not as appealing? They’ve done it with cigarettes, why now not food?

I know I should lead by example, but it’s a tough habit to break. Will I now be sitting down to a chat over a glass of water, a banana and raisins? I am not so sure.

Packing

It’s very exciting. The girls are booked in for an overnight stay with
the grandparents and me and the other half are off to paint the town
red, or whatever it is people with a social life do these days.
Well this grand occasion is not actually for two weeks yet, but the
preparations have already begun as I have to make sure that the
children have everything with them they could need for any
eventuality.
Part of the challenge is that my mum and dad will expect me to forget
something, mainly because I usually do. But this time I am determined
to prove them wrong and that I am a competent mother-of-two not their
irresponsible daughter.
Of course they mean well but they seem to forget that for the vast
amount of time in between visits I do manage to feed and clothe my
offspring all by myself, every day.
Whenever they arrive my mum will turn up with her own supply of food,
nappies, wipes and clothes. For example, before we set off got a trip
out she will ask, have you brought them a drink? “Of course I have,” I
snap like a moody teenager, while then trying to distract them while sneaking off
to the kitchen to fill up their drinks bottles.
There is another reason I am slightly hesitant about the sleep over as
last time Charlotte aged two at the time, ended up in hospital.
We were just about to drive home from Liverpool when my dad called me.
I panicked straight away, as my dad never rings me, preferring to pass
on instructions through my mum. “Don’t worry, everything’s fine,” he
said. “But Charlotte is in hospital.”
Apparently she had started screaming and they couldn’t stop her.
They’d got a neighbour round who was a GP and he could’t stop her
either and so she’d ended up in A&E.
Basically it turned out it was the first time they had witnessed a tantrum. They saw
the second one when we tried to drag her out of the toy-laden
children’s ward.
Another potential hazard of the overnight stay is leaving something or
someone behind. Wherever we travel at the moment , accompanying us are
three-year-old Charlotte’s band of pals, and it is getting to the
point where I have to do a headcount before we leave to make sure we
have the relevant teddies, dolls, dogs, rabbits. One favourite, is
currently somewhere on an adventure in the Lake District.
So after the packing, the inventory, the hour car journey down, the
forgetting something and then the wondering if one of my children is
going to be checked into hospital makes me wonder if it is all
worthwhile?
And what will I get out of it? Probably a hangover.

Reward charts

I’ve been reading about “positive parenting” this week and so
following advice that I should be praising good behaviour rather than
just reacting to bad behaviour I decided to try a reward chart.
My book said I should work with my child to establish a set of house
rules and a list of actions that can lead to hard earned reward stars,
like tidying up, sharing, not hitting your sister when you think no
one is looking, etc.  Ten stars can then equal a bigger reward, like a
cartoon.
I wasn’t sure about how impressed my daughter would be with a mere
star, but she went for it hook line and sinker.  And she’s racking
them up, especially when I could do with her watching TV so I can get
a minute’s peace and the scoring system seems to lapse slightly.
In fact it is working so well that after a bad day last week when I
seemed to spend half the morning losing my rag I decided to make one
for me.
I went online printed one off, deciding to go for the pirate theme,
although I haven’t coloured it in.
No shouting equals a glass of red come wine o’clock. Displays of
patience, more wine.  Reacting calmly to annoying whinging earns me a
biscuit and housework is rewarded with chocolate.
The fact that I would probably have had a drink/eaten chocolate
regardless of my star count is beside the point. It still cheers me
up, thinking that I’ve earned it, rather than been driven to it
through stress.
Parenting techniques have been in the news this week with the
Government launch of a £100 pilot voucher scheme for parenting classes
available in high street chain Boots.
I’d be happy to lap up any tips someone wanted to give me. Although I
am a bit dubious over what these courses will actually teach. My
anti-natal class consisting of my partner being told to give me a
Chinese burn while I stared at an imaginary candle to take my mind off
the pain didn’t seem to quite be ideal preparation for childbirth. The
breastfeeding class involved a giant plastic breast being passed round
the room, which just left me feeling hugely inadequate and that I
would never be able to feed a hungry child.
In an age when every piece of equipment you buy from mobile phones to
a pushchair comes with a yellow-pages sized instruction manual it does
seem strange that a child should come with a few leaflets.
But if we were all brought up the same where would be the fun in that
and if we all had perfect parents who else could we blame for our
short-comings in later life?

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