Skiing and the first set of IOU Vouchers for Very Lovely Children

Off we were skiing for Christmas.  Ok, off we were to the French Alps because I had promised myself that I would have a snowball fight with my children on Christmas day at least once in my life.  The skiing part was a ruse to convince my husband it was an excellent idea.

It was my first time.  I thought I’d give it a try.  I gave it a try.  I didn’t like it.  I don’t see the point in putting slippery things on your feet, only to stand on a slippery surface.  Don’t want to sound all sensible and boring, but seriously? Give me a couple of tennis rackets to strap to my boots.  Talking of boots, what sadist came up with modern day ski-boots, or as I affectionally called them, the painful coffins of claustrophobic hell attached to my feet.  No no no and a thousand times no.

Being new to the whole going to somewhere colder than here was a brave new world and I couldn’t believe how much stuff was required for a standard family of 5.  Ski jackets alone seemed to take up an entire bag.  Being the utter psychotic control freak that I fondly refer to myself as, I was preparing the packing in November (and I mean more firework night than dark at 3pm November).

The bedroom floor started to resemble an exclusive jumble sale run by a woman with OCD and being someone who is pretty damned good at spacial judgement, I looked at the suitcases and I looked at the bedroom floor and I realised that we could have a problem.

Much pondering and possibly some sucking in of breath in an ‘it’ll cost ya’ kinda way ensued.  The actual clothes were put away first.  I had been told by the seasoned ski season friends that the beauty of chalet living was to dispense with normal clothes and to lounge in thermals.  I, naturally, matched my pale grey thermals with my oversized pair of cream cashmere cable knit socks.  You know, so I looked all hygge.  But this was in 2007.  Suck it guys.  I’ve always been way ahead of my time ;).

Next to go were the imaginary gifts I had planned on buying for the children. Father Christmas might be able to pop over to fill some stockings, but he aint gonna be dropping off anything that mum is going to seriously consider leaving behind because she’s tired and can’t be arsed to try and fit it back in to a bag that is now full of smelly thermals. No way.

And so, as is my way. I came up with something that took me bloody ages to work out, sort, create and then execute.  I created a pack of  ‘IOU Vouchers for my Very Lovely Children’.  I pulled a favour from my lovely printer and had him print up three copies. And I packed them.  All together, they took up less room than my cashmere cable knit socks (man, I miss those socks – moths).

My vouchers for my children

So a pack of cards, each one promising a treat.  If memory serves, it was just over one treat a month and they included: a midnight feast; an ice cream after school; a packet of crisps (don’t judge me…); a trip to a photo booth; a trip to the craft store where they could go nuts and buy stuff (veto on glitter).  And yeah, I was stupid to date them.  I mean, really stupid.

I remember the tour of London on top of a bus had to be cancelled because one of them had thrown up the night before.  I remember it rained on the ice-cream after school day (like 7 and 8 year old kids give a shit what the weather is like – it’s ice-cream!) and the day of dressing up really smart so we can go to the local posh restaurant was a really bad hair day for me – still it ended up being a lovely evening.  As for the price of the theatre tickets… Seriously.  I could have bought a second hand car for the price of 5 tickets to The Lion King that I bought 6 months in advance and weren’t ‘best’ seats.  Ten years on and I’m still incredulous.  Just thinking about how many notebooks I have to sell to get close to buying a single ticket is eye watering….

And so the idea for the IOUs – Versatile Vouchers for Very Lovely Children was born and I was sensible enough to brief an up and coming graphic designer called Ian to do his magic on the design and, they have, I am told, done an excellent job as reward cards over the years.  Whichever way you choose to use them, they were, as is usual with the stuff at 2littleboys, created as a result of needing them for myself… not that I’m selfish or anything.

I SO won the snowball fight on Christmas Day 2007.

 

Do pop over to the MotherShip site if you’d like to buy a set of your very own IOU Vouchers.

 

Reward cards for Children

 

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My versatile coconut curry (and it’s REALLY easy)

I’m not really known for my cooking.  As in,  I’ve spent most of my adult life as a ‘won’t cook’ as opposed to a ‘can’t cook’.  I’m a firm believer that if you can read, you can cook – you don’t need much more than that to bang out a perfectly edible meal.  We’re not born with an innate ability to produce stunning dishes from our kitchen; I’m guessing it’s practise, but what do I know? When I can be arsed to cook,  I tend to bung a load of stuff together and watch with either horror or satisfaction when it all doesn’t work or it all comes together.

I’ve been getting back into it this year.  And I’m enjoying the cathartic side of chopping, stirring and feeding.  I’m also finally starting to use the freezer properly. It’s no longer just an expensive to run transition stage between my fridge and the bin.  But then, I don’t think I’m the only one to fill their freezer because of this thought:  “Uggh, the meat and fish in the fridge are about to go out of date but I can’t face throwing it all away, let’s put it all in the freezer to defrost and eat another day but I know I’m never actually going to get around to doing”.

I’ve revisited a recipe that I used to use many years ago when the children were younger and I’d forgotten how easy it was.  I thought I’d share.  It’s not exact science (which is probably why I like it so much!).  It’s also really really versatile.  To keep it simple to read, I’ll just write the recipe here and then add notes at the bottom for exactly why it’s so versatile.

This feeds 5 of us with spare.

2 large shallots or 1 large onion (finely chopped)

2 cloves of garlic

1 Blue Dragon Thai Red Curry paste

1 teaspoon palm sugar

A splash of soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 or 2 cans coconut milk (you can get lower fat version)

vegetables chopped up into pieces that usually take about 8 minutes to cook (I use anything/everything I haven’t got around to using in the week… green beans, an aubergine that’s a bit squidgy, broccoli, red peppers…)

3 or 4 salmon fillets

200 ml of basmati rice

fish coconut curry

How to cook:

Fry the onions on a low/medium heat until they’re soft but not brown.  Add garlic and stir for a minute or two.  Turn the heat up a bit, then add the paste, giving it a good stir around – I like chasing it around the bottom of the pan as it melts.  Add the palm sugar, then the fish sauce and soy sauce.  Give it a good stir, then add the coconut milk followed by the veggies – if there are so many vegetables that over half of them aren’t under the milk, add another can of milk.  Bring the pot up to the boil.

Put the Basmati rice onto a medium/hot heat*.

Cover the curry, turn heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes (just check the vegetables to see if they’re cooking nicely).

When they’re nearly cooked, line the salmon fillets, skin side up in the pan and push them into the sauce so that they’re covered.  Cook for about 5 minutes. I usually peel the skin off whilst they’re floating on the top of the milk (fussy like that). Peek at the inside of one of the fillets to check the salmon is cooked through.

Then serve it up with the rice.

*Basmati rice is really really easy to do.  Grab a measuring jug and fill it with the rice to 200 ml.  Packets say to rinse it at this point – I never do!  Pop the rice into a small saucepan then measure out 400ml of water and pop that in the saucepan.  Don’t do anything else to it until you think all of the water is gone, then give it a stir to check.  When the water has gone, the rice should be cooked.

 

So…. versatility tips.

You can swap out the salmon for diced chicken (1-2 inch squares) – just pop them in so that they’re covered by the coconut milk and cook for about 15 minutes.  Take one one of the bigger cubes out and cut inside to check it’s white.

Salmon fillets only take an hour or so to defrost, so if you remember to take them out at breakfast, you can cook for lunch at the weekend. (Obviously same goes if you take them out at lunchtime…. you can have for supper).

You don’t need the fish sauce, palm sugar or soy sauce.  But as they all keep for ages, nice to have in the cupboard.

You don’t even need the salmon – which I think would make this a fully vegan option (if you leave out the fish sauce too).  It also makes it a very cheap option – teach your kids for future meals they have to pay for ;).

You can add some lime juice; it’s really nice and weirdly makes it more summery.

You can use any red curry paste.  I don’t have shares in blue dragon, but the little handy pots are about 80p and can be kept in the cupboard.  It’s also not a ‘catch at the back of the throat’ curry paste.  So younger teens can eat this curry without having to run to the fridge for a glass of milk.

Blue Dragon red curry paste

Enjoy.

My coconut curry

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Capturing the randomness of a child’s mind

I like to think that my thought processes can be pretty random.  I remember very clearly at the age of 13 my english teacher asking the class to write a ‘stream of consciousness’ right there and then. I can only assume that we were studying Catcher in the Rye at the time.  That particular english teacher was one of those 1980’s cool teachers who wore dangly earrings, had mad mad mad almost mad hatter hair that she was constantly trying to control with her whole hand and a weird, contortion of long leg folding to sit on top of the desk rather than a chair.  You see, streams of consciousness; I like the randomness of them and if you’ve read this or any other paragraph of my writing, you can see I’ve run with it…

But however random I get, it is nothing to the near lunacy of little ones. The nano-second it can take them from ‘I want  a balloon’ to ‘ooh, that’s a corner of a table I’m not actually thinking about whilst searching for a twinkly thing I saw 2 seconds ago, but why does that woman have a… no she’s gone’.  You get what I mean.  And during these weird 10 second trains of thought, we, as parents can only look at them as their faces change; from excited, scared, perplexed and then through all of the expressions possible that will usually lead to a gormless stillness that will leave you, as the parent, wondering if they’ll ever be able to read, or write, or even remember their own name.

Creating the ‘This is my…’ range of books was really an answer to my need to capture that randomness.  To keep hold of memories that come directly from them, those gormless, chubby faces with personalities forming and vehement opinions that can change and be just as forcefully argued in the opposite only minutes later.

And so the “This is my” books were created. Originally accompanied by a 35mm camera, the resultant photos were priceless.  They were simple cameras, a little square window for a child to look through and a button to press to take the photo, followed by a pass to mum to wind on.  My children would often not bother with the looking into the little square and the resultant images were perfect.  A photo of his twin brother’s cheek and a bit of an eye; an image of a foot in a padder, now long gone; an unidentifiable mass of matter on a plastic plate.  And that doesn’t even touch on the number of photos of my bum – what an eye opener that was! (I mean, because that’s all they got to see most of the day!).

The book would guide them through which photos to take – and would have questions for them to answer.  And this is where the randomness would come to the fore.  In their first books, I would have to do the writing, so I would ask them the questions.  And they would answer with that honesty, integrity, seriousness and thoughtfulness that only a three year old can muster when asked ‘what did you like the most about your bed on holiday’.

And there I would sit, keeping a straight face to match theirs as they answered questions in their books.  “What did you like about the bed” – answers would include “It was colourful” (and the photograph to accompany that answer shows the most migraine inducing swirl of psychedelia that I’m surprised I didn’t remember it). The proximity of the bed to a television would also be another excellent reason.

Their ‘favourite bit about the journey’ were invariably the ‘snack’ and the photograph of something that they really “like to eat on holiday” was often the breakfast pastry.  And I love that.

Other questions in other books would induce brutally honest answers – no sensibilities when it came to naming favourite gifts at Christmas or on their birthdays.  It was often the piece of plastic tat bought for them by a childless friend (the piece of plastic tat that I had already earmarked to be sent to the charity shop as soon as their backs were turned).

I love every photo and every answer and I have them all because I got to record it all in the books that I had created for just that purpose.  Their photos were brilliant, their answers completely and utterly random and slightly insane, their funny spelling of words and their awkward less than perfect handwriting when they took over the filling out for themselves.  Because keeping childhood memories alive and doing so effortlessly and with laughter is what they always meant to be.  And I’m rather proud of how well they worked out.

I still look back on them, and those books are here with me, just waiting to be handed around on wedding days….

which will teach them for not consistently name checking my gift as their favourite each year.

 

All of the ‘This is my….’ memory books (including Day as a Bridesmaid, Day as Pageboy and other wedding titles as well as ‘This is my Baby Brother and This is my Baby Sister’ versions for siblings) will soon be available here on memorybooks.co.uk, but until then, they are readily available on our MotherShip site: 2littleboys.co.uk.

This is my Holiday Memory Book for kids

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To CheesePlant or not to CheesePlant

I have been in turmoil people.  Absolute turmoil for the past 3 months or so and I have thrown tantrums and stormed from the office to the high street to eat biscuits and drink hot chocolate in a coffee shop on more than one occasion and yes, I inhaled those biscuits and yes, I felt guilty afterwards.  But there’s nothing quite like frustrated indecision to get you onto the biscuits I’d say.

Now you wouldn’t think that something as innocuous as a cheese plant could do that to a grown woman would you?  But boy, have they plagued me.  Sometimes, most days.  Some days all day. The relationship that is Sarah and cheese plants is starting to wear thin.

I liked cheese plants.  We had one in our first flat and we kept it alive for a number of years (which I think goes to show how resilient and therefore how lovable cheese plants can be).  But once we’d managed to kill our beloved cheese plant off, circa 1994, I don’t think I gave the genus another thought.

1aRoll on to summer 2015 and I had a very rare girlcrush on an item of clothing.  It was a Vivienne Westwood dress and, you’ve guessed it, the pattern was cheese plant leaves.  I liked the greens and I liked the cut and I managed to snaffle one at a rockbottom price and realised I couldn’t really walk in it… but still…. I stroke it and look at it in my wardrobe now and again and just, well, love it.

(and that’s fine because if you were to line up photos of me at trade shows over the last 7 years, you’d find that I really do get the most out of every item of clothing I buy – so having one in my wardrobe just for strokes isn’t that profligate).

 

Moving on….

So let’s get to 2016 when I take an idle wander around the floors of a well known department store to see what’s ahappenin’ and I notice that, yes, owls have, indeed, had their day.  The pale pink and grey ‘Pantone colours of the year!’ are moving on and we’re still trending through flamingos, pineapples and Rio stylee stuff.  (please see “Mid Week Rant” for the other trend that prevails).

and there I am, surrounded by flamingos and pineapples

…. and I think to myself.

“It’ll be cheese plants next”

And so, as I liked cheese plants more than I like owls, pineapples, flamingos, toucans and, indeed, unicorns (they’ll be everywhere soon….) I thought…

“I should design some products with cheese plant patterns”

Turmoil.  Because I’ve been drawing spider plants, ferns and cheese plant leaves for months now; moving them around the screen, playing with colours, tweaking, changing layer layouts, taking out elements, putting them back in, putting new ones in, isolating, combining.  And then I’ve looked at the cost pricing of having product printed and worked out the cost-trade-retail ratios and yes, may just make some money here and then I wonder if the artwork is good enough and whether we’ll get a garden centre or two interested and then I start to see cheese plant leaves popping up in a few places.

… and suddenly, I’ve found myself feeling sick in a coffee shop with crumbs down my front thinking “I can’t compete with them.

Last week was particularly bad. I was beginning to question it all, and I mean everything.  The very existence of cheese plant leaf artwork on my desktop felt like a virus in the files.  And it’s taken a lot of soul searching to conclude that I’m going to pop all of those artwork files into a folder and chuck them into the virtual abyss that I have named “Artwork in Progress” and here’s why I’ll probably never do anything with those files:

  • I’m not talented enough to compete with the true artists out there.  If I were, I would spend my life being an artist and making money from my art would make me happy.
  • I don’t want to lose sight of what 2littleboys.co.uk is all about.  We make cool shit to keep kids happy, beautiful stuff to keep memories and the odd funny thing for older people.
  • We don’t make patterns
  • We’ve never followed trends or even capitalised on trends we’ve foreseen before. Why start now?
  • We’re not big enough (or talented enough) to compete with the companies who create beautiful product with patterns and who can create a ‘story’ with their ranges.
  • I kinda like unicorns, pineapples and toucans, but not enough to create a range of stationery around them.  What if the trend after cheese plants was something I really didn’t like?

But most of all, and this is key.  

I don’t want to.

And that’s the joy of being the boss.

But it won’t stop me cringing every time I see a cheese plant leaf on a product. I’ll get over it, because FINALLY, I am exhaling and the turmoil of indecision is over.

And now I’m off to buy some soil, fertiliser, a nice big terracotta pot and a plant to grow in my living room.  I’ve moved on from cheese plants. I’m thinking a ficus.

1b-01

If there’s any company out there who likes some of these designs – don’t copy them, license them…. We’re fabulous licensors and our rates are very reasonable ;).

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Snap Cards Reduced to £3.50

Stock up for down time!

It was after six months of playing Snap using the most hideously designed cards that I finally cracked and created some new sets.  As with everything we sell at 2littleboys.co.uk our products ultimately stem from the need to entertain (or, at the least, amuse) my Irish triplets.

We have reduced the price of three sets of our Snap cards (French, Flowers and London) to £3.50 from £4.99 and hope that by enticing you to buy some, you will encourage your own children or grandchildren to enhance their memory skills whilst playing Snap or Pairs and for them to effortlessly learn landmark London words, names of flowers or even a smattering of french.  Because when they are playing, they don’t know they’re learning!

So go check them out. And then buy some!

Flower Snap cards 300dpi

Our flower snap – because children don’t actually know that most people couldn’t tell a plumbago from a scabious.

French Snap Cards 300dpi

For a little effortless learning of a smattering of french.

 

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and to our lovely shop customers – we have reduced the trade price :).

 

 

Children, Patterns and Looking Up

My first ever ‘proper’ camera was for my 18th birthday.  (At this point, I can hear my teenage offspring pipe in with ‘they had CAMERAS when you were 18.’  Still…. moving swiftly on). My 18th birthday present was an SLR camera, it was black, it was heavy and I thought it was an utterly pointless 18th birthday present.

Yes, I have been and still can be an ungrateful bitch.

So on my 18th birthday, I snapped away until the button could no longer be pressed and took the film to Underwoods the Chemist in Victoria. Using a bewitching form of alchemy, they turned the metal canister of film into actual photographs that they then presented to me in a green and yellow envelope, in the process, they charged an exorbitant amount of money (photographs/process… see what I did there?… no… ok).  And so, from henceforth, the camera came out only on special occasions and gathered dust for the rest of the year.

Snap forward, if you will, a few years and I started to go on holidays.  I took photographs of hills, mountains, the sea, rivers, friends and the odd flower or two.  Oh, and my boyfriend; the ubiquitous selfie with camera balancing precariously on a rock, a table stacked with books, magazines, glasses cases to get to the right height or the car roof with a judicious use of the timer.

I’d then have Boots process the film (Underwoods closed down; I just wanted to show off my age and memory for triviality here) and on visits back to my parents’, I’d show them the holiday snaps and my father would flick through very very quickly and declare that there were not nearly enough photos of people.  “Why do I want to see pictures of mountains and lakes, it looks like every other mountain and lake. Take pictures of people”.  He sort of, kind of, had a point.  But still, I stopped showing him the holiday snaps.

And then I had children. And I took photo after photo after photo.  They were the most photogenic babies you’ve ever seen.  Actually, if I’m honest, my newborn daughter had an interesting look going on first thing.  After an extraordinarily difficult labour, I thought she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.  Then when the photos came back, I realised that, my God she’d looked Fugly).  Still… her head popped back into ummm, a head shape and she, quite simply, gets more beautiful every day, every week, every month… you get the point.

And I’m managing, once again, to get away from my point.

So, the kids grew older, they stopped spending their days in a thankfully vain attempt to damage themselves beyond repair and they eventually worked out that mum was constantly taking photos of them and that they weren’t too sure that they liked it that much.  But the bug had bitten me. I loved taking photos. Husband bought me a better camera and a zoom lens and I was off.

I took photographs of doorknobs, I took photographs of patterns made by mesh, by doors, by window frames, buildings, paving stones, mosaics, pillars, columns, clouds, flowers.  When you’ve got three kids to keep entertained, it’s important to find order in chaos and I suspect that this was what I was doing.  And I think I was doing it pretty damned well.

And then we found little cameras for the children and we would go on ‘mummy adventures’, grabbing a cab into London and becoming tourists and they would snap away. Because you can never see all of London and you can never capture it all on camera. Columbia Market, Borough Market, Houses of Parliament, Smithfields, SouthBank, Soho, Covent Garden, St Catherine’s Dock, Seven Dials, Hyde Park, Regents Park, St James’ Park, Green Park, Barbican, Tower Bridge, Hungerford Bridge and all between.  I’d tire us all out and there wouldn’t be moment of complaint of sore feet and we’d stop for a frozen yoghurt or a hot chocolate (seasonal choices, but way more random than that if I’m honest).  A Pizza Express pizza, or for a special treat, some dim sum in Soho where you can eat the fluffiest cloud bun ever (also known as a char sui bu).  And after lunch we’d keep going.

I taught them to look for beauty in buildings, and patterns in the everyday.  I told them to look above the gaudy shop fronts, to see their London through the ages – the old shop signs left long after the shop had left the building. The intricate details of stone-carving. Warehouse buildings now cafes and boutique shops.  And how moving your own body to different angles, you can get to see things from different angles that then, in turn photograph interesting angles. And they listened and they would stop in a street and look around and take a photo of something that you hadn’t noticed before and suddenly you’ll see an intricate chimney pot, or a detail on a window sill that could only have been created by a highly skilled craftsman many many years ago.

memories of looking up

These 9 images in a box are just some of the many photographs we took on our adventure days into town.  (Although I think top right is from our weekend away to Manchester). And I know that at least 7 of them were taken by my children when they were about this age….

2littleboystaking photographs

So, if you’re looking for a day out, just grab any old cameras or phones, take the kids and get them to look up…. just so long as they’re not standing in the middle of a road. Because then we’re back to that whole “attempting to damage themselves beyond repair.” and you should be past that stage by the time they’re into this sort of thing.

Or, you can always leave them at home, and take a wander around your home town and get to know it just a little bit better.  You’ll be surprised at what you’ve missed.

 

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Children at Weddings #1

I was recently asked by Your London Wedding magazine to respond as an ‘expert’ to a genuine question from a reader about entertaining children at her wedding.

My first thought was ‘wow! those letters are actually real’.  My second thought was ‘wow! they think I’m an expert!”  And then I thought about it, and I thought, well, actually, I know a thing or two about children and I know a thing or two about weddings and I’ve written quite a lot about mixing those two entities and I’m knowledgable enough to know it can be quite tricky (I know, it isn’t rocket science, but still…).  So I said ‘yeah, I’ll respond as an expert’.  And this is how it went…

Q I’m the last of my friends to tie the knot and all my mates have kids. I don’t want to exclude them, but equally it would be nice to keep them busy during the wedding breakfast! What are your suggestions for kid-friendly activities that would work at the table?

 

A I Entirely understand the issues surrounding children at weddings. I took my Irish triplets as toddlers to a wedding. I had prepared them each a bag (a very ‘quiet’ freezer bag) and popped in some hula hoops, raisins, nuts etc and they all sat there in the registry office sucking on the hula hoops and thinking it was such a treat!
Children at a wedding can make for a truly perfect day – the photo opportunities alone make it worth having them around!  Conversely, sugar filled youngsters screaming around the place can make everyone feel uptight.  So, firstly, having some form of outdoor space for them to safely run around to work off some energy is a must.  Perhaps a quiet word to the parents to let them know the space is there as a hint might be useful. By the time the wedding breakfast commences, they should hopefully be a little more ready for sedate activities.  There are numerous sites that offer free printable word searches, puzzles and colouring in activities. You can simply roll some up with a little pack of pencils and finish off with a bow. 
Having had three babies in a year, I have spent the past 15 years designing products to keep children happy when they need to stay still. It can be a hard task, but with a little imagination and time, anything can work, because, let’s face it, if you give a 5 year old an empty brown paper bag, some pencils and a few pointers on what they could do with their ‘gift’, they’ll keep quiet (well more than the brown paper bag will!).

Here is a perfectly good example of a downloadable and printable wedding activity book that I found simply by searching on Google. Free Printable Activity Book

 

Our MotherShip site produces quite a few wedding activity books and tins of activities.  Some of which we can personalise.  So if you’re looking for something a little bit special.  Do pop over to the site to see them.

Here are just a few examples:

Wedding Activity Book for the Table

Activity Tins for Little Guests at a wedding

 

If you have any special requirements or would just like a bit of friendly advice, do get in contact.  Simply use the contact us button on the site.

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