November – blah blah blah 

Autumn leaves My looking back at November post was all ready to publish, the general tone was a bit of a moan about feeling like the whole month had been about everything deciding to break at once and everyone being ill. How our boiler had started to go wrong, dishwasher suddenly completely broke (the worst – I love it so!), a light bulb exploded glass everywhere and we’ve also had a mouse infestation in the loft. All very first world problems, but combined with the three of us alternating colds and various bugs all month I was very ready for November to be over. Especially as all our lurgy meant cutting short one planned weekend trip to see friends and having to cancel going to Jennifer’s for Thanksgiving. I then went on a happy little burble about how much better December would be.

Why did I do that? December then got worse! The boiler replacement (always a horribly expensive thing at the best of times) ended up bursting a pipe and causing a bit of a dramatic leak through our hall ceiling and meant lots of floorboards were ripped up and had to be reassembled. At the same time Will came down with a nasty case of what we think was sinusitis, so I was doing the cleanup/parenting on my own. Thank goodness for grandparents living nearby! I also have no idea how single parents manage with toddlers – I’m doing the Hunger Games solidarity salute thing in your direction if that’s you. I was (not even just metaphorically) on my knees after a few days.

So I’m counting December as actually starting from today when we had a lovely grown-ups only day in London for a celebration of our birthdays. The rest of the month is looking happily busy with Christmas, my 30th, and family catch ups. So a bit better than November hopefully!

Christmas books for babies and toddlers – alternative advent calendar inspiration

In the happy world of Pinterest I have seen many ideas for ‘alternative advent calendars’; countdowns to Christmas that you can either buy or make that go beyond the standard chocolate affairs. One idea I really liked was of sharing a different book on each day of advent. Combining this with my slight fear of the Elf on a Shelf phenomenon (it can’t just me that finds that elf creepy looking?!), I was inspired to think of 24 books I’d share with Felicity that would appeal to babies and toddlers. Lots are about Christmas, but some are just about snow and winter more widely too.  There’s one for every day in the countdown to Christmas from the first of December, but I think this year we may use the list more as a starting point to get some good idea for Christmas and wintry themed reads. I’ll definitely not be organised enough to wrap them up and display them in a suitably Pinterest friendly way, but I have enjoyed getting into the Christmas spirit by discovering some new classics. There are a few of the obvious big Christmas hitters on the list (like The Grinch and The Night Before Christmas), but I have saved some suitable for older children to look at in later years as well. Also, it would be mega expensive if you were to buy all these new – there’s no reason you can’t  get them from the Library to enjoy during Advent. Our local libraries have already got a special section in devoted to Christmas books out and ready to go. Happy Christmassy reading!

Stick Man by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Any list of children’s books has to include a Julia Donaldson in my opinion. Stick Man is our favourite Christmas related one (Santa makes an appearance). The rhyming words are Julia Donaldson’s with Axel Scheffler’s illustrations – the same team behind The Gruffalo. I got a little bit too invested in poor Stick Man’s quest to return to his family, it seems very emotional for a children’s book!  

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore. ‘All through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse’. No Christmas book list is complete without this classic rhyming book. I can still remember the illustrations in my childhood copy so clearly, and there are dozens of different picture book editions to choose from. If doing the advent calendar – surely this is the only choice for the Christmas Eve book?

Lucy and Tom at Christmas by Shirley Hughes. This is another from my childhood – Shirley Hughes is the only person honoured enough to be on this  list twice. Possibly a little bit grown up for younger toddlers, but Hughes classic illustrations are beautiful and capture the gentle magic of a home based Christmas for young children. One to treasure for years and years.

That’s Not My Elf by Fiona Watt, illustrated by Rachel Wells. There are many Christmassy/winter options to choose from in this ubiquitous Usborne touchy-feely series. Including Not My Reindeer, Santa, Polar Bear and Penguin. Felicity is still a big fan of these as they are very easy for little hands to turn pages as well as feeling the different textures on each page.

A Christmas Carol, illustrated by Alan Marks, with sounds. Felicity has always been a fan of a noisy book, and this combines a reselling of the classic Dickens tale,with sound effects. I really want to have a tradition of a reading the original aloud when she’s a bit older (we’ll see how that goes) this is a good starting point.

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. This is possibly a little old for most toddlers, but a great book to save for years to come. Especially when combined with the TV ‘Walking in the Air’ version, which I’m very much hoping will include the David Bowie introduction I remember from when I was little after his sad death earlier in the year. For those not familiar with this 80s childhood classic, it’s all about a snowman coming to life one magical night.

Suzy Goose and the Christmas Star by Petr Horacek. Horacek was a new to me author until recently, but I’m such a big fan now (as is Felicity). Something about his illustrations seems to capture her imagination and I love his slightly quirky stories too. Silly Suzy Goose is one of our favourites, so I’m looking forward to this Christmas story featuring Suzy.

Mog’s Christmas or Mog’s Christmas Calamity by Judith Kerr. Although not usually tolerant of books for slightly older children (the books are quite long), Mog is magic and keeps Felicity absorbed, even reading all the words. So I had to include the Christmas adventures of the Thomas family and their ‘nice but not very clever’ cat Mog.

Winter Garden by Ruth Brown. I’ve mentioned before about our love for Brown’s A Dark Dark Tale. This book is more specifically designed for toddlers but contains the same quality of gorgeous illustrations. It looks at all the creatures and wildlife that visit a garden in winter, perfect for cozying up with indoors whilst looking out at a wintery garden.

Norman: The Slug Who Saved Christmas by Sue Hendra & Paul Linnet. Possibly a bit long for very little ones, but the bright illustrations (and glitter) more than make up for this in Felicity’s eyes. Also a book where the slug is the hero, and snails are used as replacement reindeer, is definitely a nice change of pace for a Christmas story.

The Smallest Gift of Christmas by Peter H. Reynolds. This is a great bit of respite from what can feel like the tide of plastic uber-consumerist Christmas. Disappointed with his one small  present on Christmas morning, Roland wants something bigger. This is obviously not the point of Christmas, as is then demonstrated in a modern gentle morality tale.

Spot’s First Christmas by Eric Hill. For ages she wasn’t bothered, then almost overnight Felicity was won over by the institution that is Spot the Dog. Much like Mog, there is some sort of magic dust on Spot which make him and his groundbreaking lift-the-flap format irresistible to little ones.


Dear Santa by Rod Campbell. This is a Christmas version of the bestselling Dear Zoo, with the zoo animals being replaced with presents from Santa.  We’re already getting a lot of finger points to read this again and again here, even if it is still November!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr Seuss. I’m simply not worthy of providing an introduction to this classic. Like a lot of Seuss it may be a bit long for younger toddlers – though Dr Seuss’ rhymes are great for non-moving little babies – but is such a classic it was one I felt should be on our bookcase.

Dream Snow by Eric Carle. My Hungry Caterpillar needs no introduction. There is just something about Carle’s illustrations that both please parents, and delight and captivate children. So I just had to include this, his Christmas offering, on this list.

Jesus’ Christmas Party by Nicholas Allan. This is a take on the nativity story, from the perspective of the Inn Keeper, who just wants to get to sleep but keeps being woken up by Mary and Joseph, some Shepherds and a very bright star. This is a clever book that retells a the story in such a way that it would work for Christians, but also as a good introduction to the Christmas story for everyone, without overtly concentrating on the religious aspects.

Alfie’s Christmas by Shirley Hughes. Another from Hughes, there’s something about her illustrations that capture the liveliness of children so well. I also particularly like them because they feel like real families rather than stereotypes. Lucy and Tom I remember from my own childhood but I never discovered the Alfie books – so I’m looking forward to looking at the illustrations in this book with Felicity.

First Snow by Bomi Park. This is from a Korean illustrator and I really like it as a change from looking at snow from a very rural perspective – this has scenes set in an obviously urban environment. The illustrations are unusual and stunning and immediately caught my eye as something very different from many children’s books.

Little Christmas Tree by Jessica Courtney-Tickle. If you want a more sophisticated lift-the-flap book then this is an excellent choice. It also emphasises the natural world in its depiction of wildlife gradually decorating the little Christmas tree. A book that is likely to be picked up for longer than other more primary-colour based lift-the-flap offerings.

The Red Sledge by Lita Judge. This is a lovely looking book. I want to get Felicity a little red pixie hood because of it. This book has no words aside from onomatopoeic sounds that help tell the story, so it’s a good book to have lots of fun reading by putting a lot of effort into the telling. There are some wonderfully expressive noises to represent the animals getting up to high jinks on the borrowed sledge.

Santa’s Busy Day (Bloomsbury Publishing). Mirrors are always a big success with Felicity, she’s a big fan of her own reflection! This book has a mirror at the end as we see Santa’s lead up to Christmas. Bloomsbury’s children’s books have really impressed me since having Felicity, so I’m hoping this goes down as well as some of their other board books we’ve tried!

Usborne Touchy-Feely: The Nativity  or Nativity Flap Book (also Usborne). I think one traditional retelling of the nativity is a must for every Christmas book list, even if not for religious reasons, it provides a background to the traditions of Christmas. There are literally hundreds of different versions. I’m still looking for one that I really like in the more traditional picture book format – my ideal one would include non Westernised/caucasian depictions of the family – but these two are very good for this age group (even if Mary is blonde in one – grrr).

Bear & Hare: Snow! by Emily Gravett. I have a big soft spot for the work of Emily Gravett, and this is a lovely feeling (as well as looking) book. In the hardback edition at the least the pages are thick and really show off the lovely almost watercolour illustrations very well. The plot is all about how Hare really likes snow, but Bear isn’t quite sure to begin with.

Twelve Days of Christmas by Alison Jay. I’ve been surprised by how much Felicity loves books that you can sing to her, so I think she’d love us singing the Twelve Days of Christmas accompanied by the gorgeous illustrations. There are lots of other options as well including noisy Christmas song books that when you press the button play the tune, or Usborne do a collection of some of the most well known carols. As with the nativity books, there is something in this genre to suit every taste.

And that’s the end of the list – I’d love to know if you feel I’ve missed off any absolute Christmas must haves for very little children!

24+ Christmas books for babies and toddlers. Book Advent calendar ideas

October: birthday and back to work 

October is now a special time for us as it’s Felicity’s birthday month. A year has gone very quickly and she is most definitely a toddler, she’s rampaging everywhere now and we have even had a few tantrums – eek!

Look - a butterfly!

Butterfly house exploring

We had such a lovely time celebrating her birthday though. The actual day was one of my working days, so Will and I booked the day off and took her to the zoo with my parents. She was very very impressed with the butterfly house, it was small enough that she could toddle round and admire (chase) the butterflies. Elephants were dull in comparison. We’re currently debating whether we should get a membership so we can go back with no pressure to see everything in a day.

Happy birthday baby

First birthday puffin cake

We also had a little birthday party with lots of baby friends, it was a little manic but very enjoyable. I even managed to make and ice a cake half-neatly. My grand plans to make elaborate decorations didn’t happen, but luckily my sister-in-law had crafted an amazing puffin to go on top – Felicity’s favourite book is about a puffin, quite a lot of the presents ended up being puffin themed too.

October also saw my proper return to work, rather than just the odd day. I am really enjoying this, but I have been putting a lot of  energy into getting back into the work mindset, as well as getting Felicity used to her new routine and making the most of our days together. And that’s without making sure we’re all clothed, fed and living in a vaguely clean house. 

My big hope for November is that I can maybe do something that isn’t work/Mama-ing/housework or watching Gilmore Girls whilst slumped on the sofa exhausted. Gilmore Girls is obviously time well spent, even if we’re only averaging an episode a night, but I’m hoping I can maybe get my hygge on with some candles at the same time, or actually pick up some knitting or crochet. Wild ambitions!

Bonding and books – reading with Felicity

I always say to people who ask what it’s like being a parent that it is a world of extremes – you’re either bursting with love or want to jump out the window and run away with the overwhelming nature of it all. A few weeks ago I had a bad parenting day. Felicity was going through a clingy and upset phase, I think down to a mixture of teeth and frustration at being able to toddle a bit but not really walking well. She was similarly grumpy just before she got the proper hang of crawling. We’d been to get her first shoes in the morning, which wasn’t a roaring success – she hates shops if not in a trolley where she can peer about – and randomly having her feet prodded did not endear her to shoe shopping either.

I then made the error of deciding to pop into Toys R Us next door to look at potential first birthday presents. I assumed they’d have a little section, like our Early Learning Centre does, where she would be able to have a little crawl and, you know, play with some toys. How naive. I hadn’t grasped the whole ‘it’s a massive warehouse with too much stimulation with nothing she can actually play with to maximise parental stress and likelihood of impulse buys and therefore our profits’ element of the shopping experience.

By the time we came out Felicity was so tetchy and fresh air starved that I decided I couldn’t face half an hour of screaming if I stuffed her into the car so went to get a coffee for me and a snack for her before heading home. This then meant we were late for her lunch, then she wouldn’t nap and was generally quite cross about what a terrible day I’d given her. I was very tired and stressed by the time she had another meltdown when I gently dared to try to get her to nap as she was overtired and unhappy.

I’m sure a lot of parents can identify with these days when there’s nothing overtly wrong, just timings have been off, the baby didn’t want to do what you wanted/needed them to participate in. After all, they get no say on whether they feel like going shoe shopping. You haven’t quite got the magic ratio of doing stuff/going out/food/sleep right. As a result you’re worn down by constant demands on you and feeling like you’re failing as a parent as all you want is to have five minutes of peace. By this point they’re so overtired peace is the last thing they can give you. These days are fairly rare for us but still draining when they arrive, always on a day when I’m least equipped to deal with it as well!

This particular day did get better though  because after failed nap attempt number three I reached for a book: A Dark, Dark Tale by Ruth Brown. I inherited this copy from my grandmother as she used to read it to me when I was a little girl. I’d put it on Felicity’s book display although thought it would be one for when she’s a bit older. Will had picked it up after she pointed at the cover and discovered she loved it.

If you’re not familiar with the book it follows a black cat around lots of dark creepy places only to discover (spoiler alert) a very adorable mouse all tucked up in bed at the end. I find it completely charming and it’s a great slightly spooky but not really scary book for Halloween as well. I think it’s generally classed as a book for older children although the one sentence every page turn works well for Felicity as the story moves quickly and there is a lot to look at thanks to the beautiful illustrations. She also gets the point of the plot- the first time Will read it and she reached the end and saw the mouse she squealed with delight. She still grins and points when we get to the last page.

All this is a very long winded way of taking a moment to appreciate how magical sharing books can be for both babies and parents. On this day, still sitting in her darkened ready-for-nap-bedroom we must have read that story five times over as she gleefully squealed at the end. Seeing her enjoy it so much immediately relaxed me as she was happy again, and sharing something I’d loved as a child is a special moment of bonding. The whole day went from tiring and stressful to joyful and content.

I wanted to record it on this space as this isn’t something I explicitly realised would happen when sharing books with my child. I think a lot of people would say they read for pleasure, escape and distraction – and children need that too. I obviously had it in the back of my head that I wanted her to enjoy reading. But I also know I’ve been guilty of thinking too much about the utilitarian and educational ‘you can learn a, b and c’ side of things. It was a much needed reminder of the magic of reading.

September, September: Autumn’s here

Autumn fruits

Parents in the UK may recognise my blog title from the month specific song on CBeebies, all about the joys of chillier days and falling leaves. Not actually the most appropriate as it has felt more like Summer for a lot of the the month, although now we’re into October it is definitely Autumn with crisp, cold or misty mornings and hedgerows laden with berries, hips, haws and other fruit.

My poor little blog has been very neglected this last month. I have been working on a few posts but was shocked to discover I haven’t checked in at all since my last monthly round up post. The weeks have just flown thanks to a last minute holiday away, and more settling back into work for me and the childminder for Felicity. I’m very much hoping to get more into the swing of everything when we’re in a proper routine, and catch up on blogging as well as life!

Beachy days

Bucket and spade

Beach crawling
This is the first September since I left full time education that I’ve had the really strong ‘it’s the end of the Summer’ feeling. I think because we managed to time going down to my family holiday home in Kent for a heatwave in the middle of the month we really savoured Summery things. We were incredibly lucky and basically had a bucket and spade holiday a bit late. We swam in the sea and were on the beach for hours every day. Felicity loved it and would have crawled for literal miles if we had let her.

Then all my lovely Mum friends are making decisions about heading back to work (or not) and the routine of mine and Felicity’s weekly meet ups and activities are about to change. Properly feeling like end of the holidays – although maternity leave is definitely not a holiday – September was filled with lots of last days out with the babies, culminating on Saturday with a Mum’s only spa day which was just heaven.

Dahlia

Dahlia festival

Anglesey Abbey

Despite the summery mood we have been embracing the new season with blackberry and sloe foraging, which will soon be transformed into crumble and sloe gin respectively. We also continued our accidentally created tradition of going to the dahlia festival at Anglesey Abbey. We must have been for the last 2-3 years and I think it will be a nice tradition to carry on as Felicity grows.

October is shaping up to be an exciting month, with Felicity hopefully perfecting her walking, her first birthday and getting into our new routines. Also I’m aiming for at least one more blog post than in September!

Some postcards from August

August has vanished under a pile of lovely trips out and lots of sunny days, with a bit of going back to work stuff thrown in. The last half of the month disappeared with crafting for my friend’s wedding. It seems I can do one hobby type thing at a time as from the minute I started making lots of poms poms for the reception venue my blog writing disappeared. Here are some pictures from our August adventures.

Lavender

– We are lucky enough to live near to Hitchin Lavender Farm so one sunny afternoon in early August we spent an afternoon picking some lavender from the fields and taking lots of posey photos of Felicity. She absolutely loved the sensory experience of the amazing smells and all the bees buzzing. There was a lot of excited noises and pointing.

img_4432

– I’m in love with our tree surrounded garden this Summer.

Sharing books with Daddy

– Felicity has really got the hang of books now, and is a little bit obsessed with particular stories, this book about puffins is a  favourite.  I have so much to update on my Reading with Felicity series as well!

Family walk

– We’ve just invested in a proper hiking backpack for Felicity and we test drove it round Wimpole Estate, taking in the art installation examining the work of Capability Brown (we just used the giant mirrors to take a family selfie though).

Alpacas

– The alpacas at a farm day out with our NCT friends got a very impressed response, complete with squeals demanding the buggy be moved to follow them along the fence.

Ickworth

– Another National Trust day out, such glorious blue summery skies at Ickworth in Suffolk visiting my Aunt.

Finally joining in with #ThisLittleBigLife 

So it’s only taken me weeks but I finally managed to take photos for the great new link up run by Sarah Rooftops and Squished Blueberries. Which is all about capturing the special little uncelebrated moments at weekends and on days off. Our weekends have been so manic this Summer with lots of very big events like weddings that it didn’t seem in the spirit to join in before now. Last weekend was completely unplanned though and I actually remembered my camera – so here we go. 

We quickly nipped to Wimpole Home Farm on Saturday morning as we didn’t want the whole day to disappear into a blur of chores and it was a lovely day. This was the first visit where Felicity was really interested in everything. Her favourite animals were the rabbits, pigs and the shire horse. 

Very intentWimpole piggiesLook a horse

Afterwards we enjoyed sampling the National Trust cake and tea in the gardens, and relaxing on the deckchairs. 

Just relaxing on my deckchair

The rest of the day disappeared into a haze of errands and the worst kind of shopping – buying expensive things that are very dull, in this case a next size up car seat. It was so manic I failed miserably to capture any of the small moments, until we got to bath time when we tried out Felicity’s new hoop bath toy. 

Bedtime

Sunday was an equal failure in photography terms as I was very dopey from a particularly bad Felicity night. We did have a lovely barbeque with Will’s parents and I finally managed to cut some of the sweet peas that Will has been growing for me though. 

Sweet peas