Rocking the art

We’re well into the summer holidays now, so I thought it was time for some arts and crafts. Given the amazing weather, it had to be outdoorsy too, which means ROCK ART! My extended clan ranges from 5 to 15, so finding activities for all can be a challenge but this was a huge hit with everyone (including granny and grandpa).

We gathered the rocks on a hike (we’re currently up in Scotland and hiking daily, to some teenage mutterings). The 5 year old had ambitious plans that left his dad looking like Sisyphus pushing a boulder uphill in Greek mythology. The others had more modest sized selections. Back home, we decorated them using these

  • acrylic pens – I got a multipack plus silver and gold extra. The black ran out first, so next time I might get a spare as it was used to outline everything (I hadn’t realised that).
  • “>modge podge – we used the gloss finish but you can get matt if you prefer.

Several hours of painting and varnishing later, we had a large collection.

We then wrote the details of the local rock art FaceBook group on the back of each rock, to encourage people to share pics of when they found them, and hid them across the area (hike number two with absolutely no complaints from the teenagers). Just search for “rock art” to find the local group.

Here are some examples where we have hidden/ found rocks but there are loads of groups

Aboyne Pebbles & Rocks

Hidden Rocks Chichester

288a290f-3810-4643-9be3-d71a446b6f93

The next morning, I woke to demands of a repeat of the activity – result! More hiking, more art. Happy families 🙂

There was huge excitement as several rocks were spotted over the next few weeks and the finders very kindly shared pictures of their finds on FB, but sadly most of the rocks vanished without a trace. We consoled the kids with the fact that their art work was so good people wanted to take it home as treasure. If you do find any rock art, I would urge you to share a snap with the FB group as it really makes the kids’ day.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Five reasons snakes make the best pets

I love animals. I grew up on a farm with Clydesdale horses in the garden (their grandparents used to be working horses, but these were just “field ornaments”), sheep,  Collies (best sheepdogs, of course), and cattle. My best ever party was when my entire class of 5 year olds tried to milk Daisy, the worlds most patient cow! Then when I got older, the cows became cats. This is my cheeky pony – he keeps me on my toes, and makes the worst days all better.
IMG_4060
So now we have a collection of animals.
But last week DS went for a sleepover at a friends house. Turns out he has a python in his bedroom. I thought this was a computer coding language. Nope. A snake. Not what you want to find out via whatsapp!
snake-pet
I used to have nightmares about giant snakes attacking the house. I’m pretty sure that scene in Harry Potter with Nagini is based on my dream.
Rest of conversation went like this …
Me: “I’m coming to rescue you!”
DS: “Don’t worry mum, it’s quite safe. It’s only little.”
Me: “30cm?”
DS: “About a metre.”
I asked his friend what having a pet snake was like, and he said it was mostly boring as it slept all day. Well in that case, surely it can party with the hamster in the kitchen at night then?
When DS got home, safely, the next day, we made a list of reasons why a snake is a great pet …
  1. You won’t have to look after the class hamster in the holidays, in case it gets eaten
  2. No barking, caterwauling or hamster wheel squeaking at 2am
  3. Cheaper than a horse. Trust me on this one!
  4. You can pretend you’re in Slytherin even if you got another house in Pottermore. You never know, parseltongue might be a GCSE in the future.
  5. Your mother will never come into your room.
Seriously, if you are considering a snake as a pet, please do lots of research. The RSPCA is a good starting point https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/other
But when I am getting rid of the hamster, dog and horse and setting up a reptile house?
No way. Never. No matter how convincing DS is, I know it’s still me who will need to clean the cage. See reason 5.
End of.

How to make every day an exciting STEM adventure

I was lucky to go to a senior school which focussed heavily on the sciences with more science than arts classes at A level, so I’m thrilled that the importance of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) is getting more profile generally, particularly for girls. Thanks to our school, many of my female school friends are very successful doctors.

So I’m thrilled to have the amazing Suzie Olsen on my blog today. Suzie is a systems engineer in Phoenix, Arizona. She currently works on the search and rescue system for the US Coast Guard. She is also the author of Annie Aardvark, Mathematician and creator of the blog STEM Spark. Suzie’s spark is to encourage students, especially girls and minorities, to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). She lives with her husband and child, performing STEM experiment after STEM experiment with her own kid. Please do check out her website – it’s fantastic.

I asked Suzie to pull together three easy STEM activities we can all try with our kids. Enjoy!

 

STEM Adventures are Everywhere

In my book, Annie Aardvark, Mathematician, the main character Annie loves math so much that she decides she’s going to have a math adventure while she forages!  She finds different things to count as she hunts for her daily meal, ending with ten ants.  Annie exclaims, “What a fun math adventure!  I can’t wait until my next one!”  And just like Annie, you and your children can have a fun STEM (science, tech, engineering and math) adventure anywhere you go! Below are a couple of different ideas for your STEM adventure.

Engineering Adventure

Whether in the city or nature, there’s a couple of different ways to have an engineering adventure.  The first is look for a problem to solve: is there an area in your neighborhood that needs improving or fixing? Is there an animal having an issue with collecting food?  Is there human or animal congestion where you are at? Is trash gathering in one place on the ground?  Try engaging your kids in an impromptu brainstorm on different ideas on how to fix the problem, and then decide which idea is the best one for fixing the issue.  Give it a twist by qualifying during the brainstorm how the best idea will be judged (such as “What’s the most fun way to fix this problem?”) If possible, try building the solution, put it in the problem area and test it.  Did it work? Did it reduce or eliminate the problem?  (This process is called the engineering design process.) Another fun engineering adventure is to collect different materials from where you and your kids are, like trash, sticks, stones, forks, plates, and so on and try building a mini-house out of these materials.  Can you get the house to stand alone?  And if so, how long does the house stand?

thumbnail_erik-witsoe-630941-unsplash

 

Science Collection Adventure

A flower or leaf collection is a fun way to have a science adventure when you and your children are out and about.  Your child could carry around a reusable bag and every time they see a leaf or flower they don’t have, they can gather it up and put it in their bag.  Then once home, you and your child can dry the leaf and flower and glue it into a scrapbook.  You can research online together the name of the flower or tree that the leaf came from and then label it in the scrapbook.  Of course, be wary of poison leaves (like Poison Ivy) or flowers (like Oleanders) and make sure you have permission before plucking a flower or leaf off a tree (anything found on the ground is probably okay).

thumbnail_tommaso-pecchioli-637597-unsplash

 

Math Counting Adventure

Whether taking a walk around your neighborhood or hiking a trail in the mountains, children can count the objects they come across, just like Annie did in her first math adventure.  If it’s a familiar or frequent route, try creating a pre-made checklist going from 1 specific item up to 10 specific items they must count (or just impromptu count whatever they see).  Items you can have your kids count while they’re on their walk include rocks, flowers, weeds, birds, lizards, other types of animals, insects, leaves, clouds, people, airplanes/vehicles, buildings, trees, and so on.  There’s no limit of what kind of item they count, so as long as they’re having fun hunting for that item and counting it!

thumbnail_danny-feng-644120-unsplash

Wherever you and your children may be, I hope you have a fun time on your STEM adventure!  Happy STEM’ing!

 

 

 

 

 

Quote

The best time to hand over your keys

When the kids are old enough to drive

DS: “Mum, I can drive at 15.”

Me: “No you bloody well can’t.”

DS: “I can. I’ll prove it to you.”

Quick Google later, and he shows me that you can get a license at 15 years and 9 months. Who knew that? Why so early? His excitement is already unbearable.

I learnt to drive in my parents’ diesel estate car. I took my driving test at rush hour in London. We sat in traffic most of the time, pulling into a side road to do the three point turn and emergency stop before rejoining the traffic jam. The most exciting part was the cyclist lurching across a pedestrian crossing. At the end the examiner asked if I knew where third gear was. I pointed it out to him. I passed.

I still remember the registration number of my first car, A764 CPH. A very sporty silver Metro City.

My first car

Anyway, whilst DS dreams of a sports car, I enjoyed this blog from Fraser’s Fun House

I realised recently that I rarely talk about the girls despite them accounting for two thirds of the Fraser clan – this is partly because they would most probably die of shame – so today I’m going to dedicate a whole post to them! A recurrent topic in our house lately is the length of […]

via Growing Up: Learning To Drive — Fraser’s Fun House

Why glamping is the best solution for muddy hooves

I used to camp loads when I was younger. I had a little tent that I backpacked round the world with, free camping by glaciers and lakes. Then when the kids were younger we got a family sized tent with a carpet and I shouted “shoes off” every 15 minutes in an attempt to keep the mud out, only to be defeated by a New Forest pony with very muddy hooves that popped in to say hi.
But, as I’ve got older, I find it harder work, and the tent has been in the attic for a couple of years now.
So when I left it too late to book a hotel or B&B for a big family gathering during Victoria week in Ballater, I googled campsites a little nervously. Then I stumbled across a nearby glamping site that actually had spaces, Howe of Torbeg. Camping with a bit more luxury and less mud. I’ve never glamped. I’m not a camping purist, I just never got round to it.
It’s actually only been open two months, and, as it turns out I was one of the very first people to book. Although the owners have lived here for five years, levelling the steep slope enough to build the huts on was a massive construction project. And they’ve done it beautifully. Four cute as a button domed wooden huts.
glamping in Scotland
Ours even had a proper, very comfortable, bed. And I used to think my tent carpet was luxury.
glamping not camping
DS was on the floor on a midget sized mattress. His feet stuck over the end, but he slept like a log anyway.
Each hut has its own fire-pit and picnic bench with uninterrupted views over the valley. They sell baskets of logs and charcoal, plus you can hire crockery and cutlery sets for a few pounds which definitely beats paper plates.
Having said “we’ll never use all these” as we collect the huge basket of logs, we do. It’s too lovely an evening to retire early. DS collects fallen branches and twigs from the woods.
If you worry about campsite facilities, don’t. The shower block was immaculate, better than many hotels I’ve stayed in. Again, for a few pounds we added a towel pack rather than bring our own.
Even my non-camping sister, staying in a nearby hotel with her four-poster bed, was impressed. Next year I think I could persuade her to join us. Even if just for one night. My tweenage nieces are definitely up for it. At worst I get “best aunty/ sister” points for taking them for a night.
The positives?
  • Fun
  • Beautiful setting
  • Spotlessly clean
  • Far easier than camping
The downsides?
  • Literally none from my perspective.
  • There was virtually no internet so I expected some teenage grumbling. I was wrong. I confess I was surprised by that, but not going to complain.
  • In future, I predict a downside will be getting a space. Book early!
I’m now tempting myself with a treehouse and DS fancies staying in a double decker bus … Why are there never enough weekends in a year?
But does glamping still count as camping? Even allowing for the glamorous bit, our little hut is so close to being a holiday cottage I’m not sure. I’ve decided glamping is where you still need to walk outside to get to a bathroom and may encounter patches of mud. Does that mean our grandparents glamped all year?
outside toilet glamping
Have you glamped? What did you think of it?

Why the kids packing has hilarious results

“What? You’re packing for him?” My mother is outraged. “You packed all your own stuff for a holiday from when you were nine and it was perfect.”

Perfect? Really? I have no recollection of ever packing myself, or being praised for it.

I’m always puzzled when I see people dragging vast suitcases at the airport. What have they got in there? I can’t imagine taking so much stuff for a week on a beach? Skiing, yes. Camping, yes. But a week in Spain? I’m not actually sure I own that much summer clothing. I’ve even packed my espresso machine and my bag is still smaller. Actually I would trade a pile of dresses just to make space for the espresso machine if it came down to it.

I’m a member of a great decluttering group on Facebook who were lamenting the challenges of packing. They were shocked when I said my last trip was ten days and I travelled hand baggage only and that included my horse riding helmet. And a pair of boots. And my espresso machine. So I guess I pack light.

Anyway, it’s all granny’s fault that the kids are packing for themselves this year. I’m off duty.

“Everything’s packed mum.”

DS Trip 1

  1. One t-shirt
  2. A quill pen and bottle of ink
  3. A wooden treasure chest

It’s all very neatly packed in a 5 inch metal dinosaur tin. Even by my standards, that is extremely light packing.

IMG_8423

Apparently this is enough for a week.

DS Trip 2

  1. Chopsticks
  2. Mouse for the home computer
  3. Pillow. Apparently this is not negotiable, it is coming with us. Does it count as an item of hand baggage itself? Otherwise I’m going to be impersonating a pregnant lady through check-in.
  4. Flip flops. We’re off on a family trip to the north of Scotland. I add a raincoat.

Niece 1

  1. Cropped vest top – striped
  2. Cropped vest top – ribbed
  3. Cropped vest top – sparkly
  4. Denim mini skirt

Yup this is for the Scotland trip too. The midges are going to have a field day. I almost comment on the scant size of the clothing but then realise I am turning into my mother, so bite my tongue.

Top tips for light packing

My three top light packing tips would be

  • Pick a colour scheme so you can mix and match.
  • Throw things out/ give to charity when you finish. I don’t bring flip flops home at the end of summer as they are inevitably on their last legs by then. Ditto t-shirts and sun dresses that I know I will replace next year.
  • Accessories allow you to change the look. I love my jewellery pouches. I actually have two – a larger one for city breaks and a smaller one for outdoorsy trips.

 

IMG_1759

Large jewellery pouch from Stella & Dot. I love the separate compartments.

 

Would you trust the kids to pack for themselves?

What’s the strangest thing you (or they) have packed? I once took an anchor instead of a suitcase on a flight. That got strange looks when it arrived on the luggage belt in Turkey.

Sure fire solution to happy hiking with teenagers

It’s only the first week of the school holidays and DS has a full schedule of gaming planned. Tactics for detaching teenage DS from his gadget need to be more cunning. A spot of googling later, and I have an idea.

Me: “Shall we go for a walk?”

DS: “Nah.”

Later.

Me: “Do you fancy trying orienteering?”

DS: “Meh.”

Later.

Me: “Have you seen the App called Geocache?”

Quick text to the grandparents to announce my success. Turns out they know all about geocaching. I’m going to assume I’ve had my head under a rock for the last decade but, just in case anyone else managed to miss it, Geocaching is a global online treasure hunt. No gadget detachment required. And it’s free to join in.

All you need to do is download the App onto your phone and off you go. Perfect.

So off we went.

Then back home we went.

You also need a pen and a stash of small toys/ trinkets.

Second attempt.

DS is thoroughly enjoying himself. His nose is two inches from the screen so he may be missing the scenery, but he has map read, used a compass (albeit a virtual one), and hiked for four hours without even realising it. Virtual trophies mean the gaming addiction of always needing to reach the next “level” has kicked in. Currently Geocache are running a “Hidden Creatures” event where you get a Bigfoot for finding one cache, Unicorn for five caches, a Kraken for seven caches etc. So instead of just doing two or three caches, we’ve done seven, including retracing our steps a few times when we (he) lost the path.

This little chap from a great cache is about to travel 600 miles to be re-hidden in Scotland.

Geocache treasure

Grubby hands, great cache

Some of the caches are literally the size of a fingernail. Needle in a haystack anyone?

Nano geocache

No, the cache isn’t the large orange crystal thingy. It’s the tiny black metal capsule.

By mid afternoon, I’m carrying the dog (he clearly needs to up his fitness) and have realised flip-flops were not the best choice of footwear.

DS wants to go on. Iced coffee wins. Plus the dog is actually quite heavy.

Day Two.

I’m feeling quite experienced here and ready for the hike: I’ve got my pen, sensible shoes, and the dog is staying at home. Then DS raises the bar. Premium membership unlocks more challenges. He starts babbling about multi-caches and earth-caches for only £4.99 a month, or 12 months for £24.99. At just over £2 a month, I’m happy to take out a year’s membership based on the enthusiasm yesterday and the fact we can use it next week when we visit family in Scotland. Now he’s armed with the Premium membership whilst I have the Basic (free) one.

So today he logged eight caches, whilst I’m only able to log four. Cue much gloating that he reached the Sphinx souvenir level and I only got to Mermaid.

Geocache souvenirs

Geocache levels – just like any other online game.

Day Three.

I know we’ve only just broken up, but I want to buy new school shoes before they sell out of every sensible/ acceptable (depending on your perspective) style. So we’re doing an urban trail at the same time. This means we need to not look suspicious to “Muggles”. I now understand why people always seemed to be lurking around particular lamp posts in the town centre.

DS misreads a set of instructions as “Need to rummage in bins” causing me to grab his phone. Luckily, I confirm it actually says “No need to rummage in bins.” The bin men, taking a tea break on a bench, very kindly ask DS if he’s lost something as he crawls beneath the bench. Turns out they like Geocaching too.

By the time I’ve lugged the school shoes half way round town, I need coffee. DS discusses Geocaching with the waitress. Seriously, am I the only person in the country who didn’t know about this? And I’m not sure the shoes fit. I think DS was in a rush to find the next cache.

The good things

  • Outside
  • Suitable for all ages
  • Basic membership is free. My recommendation would be this is more than enough if you have younger children. The Premium challenges can take ages – the one in Chichester Cathedral took us about an hour – but for teenagers, I reckon the more complex puzzles are well worth the investment.
  • Stealthily educational, particularly at the Premium level. We did an earth cache which required the identification of various types of rocks in a church wall – is limestone sedimentary (which I misread as “sedentary” but I think I got away with it) or igneous? Whoever created the cache had provided loads of information and pictures.

The downsides

  • Drains phone batteries faster than I drink espresso. We took a phone on full charge plus a spare battery charger pack and totally drained it too. I was worried that it would be heavy on our data allowance (recalling a scary phone bill after an afternoon Pokemon hunting in the park a while ago), but actually it hardly used any. DH says that’s because it’s using the GPS system or something like that. No idea why that would make a difference but I’m happy enough to just nod.
  • Empty caches. This seems to be more of an issue at the Basic level. Sadly, some people haven’t understood the concept of replacing whatever you take out with something of equal, or higher, value. When we found these, DS decided to put a small toy in the cache so any younger child who comes along after us isn’t disappointed.
  • Rubbish hints. Some of the hints are great, often cryptic (“I’m always looking at you, but you can call me rocky”) or sneaking in more stealth education (“find the sycamore tree”). Others just say “It’s on the signpost, LHS” which isn’t exactly a hint, is it?
  • A simple shopping trip will take five hours.

Overall, a massive hit for all of us, except the dog. You’ve probably been geocaching for years but if, like me, you somehow missed it, this is a superb kids activity. And I really need to say a huge thanks to everyone who takes to time to create and maintain their routes.

Do let me know if you’ve had a go. Do you agree with the Premium version really being for older kids/ grown ups?