Guinea love… cute picture warning

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I’ve discovered a new type of love. One that I never expected and that brings me great happiness.

Oh it’s not that painful, all-encompassing love I have for my children, where I am forever scared of how I may lose this beautiful thing.  Or the deep comfort (with flashes of passion) for my man, tinged with a hint of regret that I’m not exactly the person he married (a bit tireder, grumpier, bossier).

No, this is a pure and simple love that came out of nowhere and makes me smile every day. It is the love of a fully grown woman for two cute and cuddly guinea pigs named Thomas and Twiggles.

We decided to get the children some guinea pigs last year. I was raised with pets and I believe they teach children such a lot about love, life, death and responsibility. I’ll never forget the joy of finally taming an abandoned, feral kitten when I was eight. The dedication and perseverance gave me a wonderful friend and furry pillow.

I was fully prepared for doing my share of the work (that’s their share when I can’t be bothered to nag). However, I am pretty strict on maintaining the children’s input in mucking out and topping up food and water, as well as daily handling of the little guys. I’m always glad to get a cuddle too.

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I expected to like them… but not to love them. But, there is nothing like a guinea pig snoozing on your lap to calm you down when you are stressed. There is nothing like the simple pleasure of watching them frolic and graze in the garden. It’s a very simple love, without angst or fear, and maybe that comes from knowing they are only with us for five or so years and we have to make the most of them.

There, it’s official: I heart Tom ‘n’ Twigs


Newsflash: Princesses can climb trees

As the mother of a strongwilled delightful four year old girl, I try to fight the pink stereotypes that threaten to engulf her every waking moment. I try to help her see that 1) ‘pretty’ isn’t the top objective in life, 2) clothes should first and foremost be cosy and comfortable and 3) that girls can take on the world. I’ve succeeded with 3), she takes no prisoners and has a natural authority. Take on the world? No problem, but expect collateral damage.

However, I’ve so far lost the battle on appearance. Like every other little girl she meets, she adores the Disney princess way of dressing. Four outfit changes a day? Well of course, darling, that is standard. She thinks girls should wear dresses all the time. Leggings are permissible if a skirt is worn over, but jeans and sensible trousers are just ‘too scruffy’.

I’m letting her have this phase. Often, disagreeing with her just cements her view and in the end, it is her body to dress as she will. My small stamp of authority is this: the pink/frilly/yucky/frothy numbers are all secondhand or hand me ons. That way, if they get ruined when this princess climbs trees, makes dens, fights with sticks and rolls down grassy hills, then we are all smiling. It’s what we do, not what we wear, that counts.

Activity: transform sad hippos into mini gardens

Do you have a neglected hippo languishing in your garden? This one was in mine, unloved and uncared for…. so sad 😦

It used to be cherished as a paddling pool, then a sand pit, but now it is festering. Time for a hippo rescue.

To transform an old plastic paddling pool or sand pit into a mini raised garden, read on.

You need:

  • A really sad and neglected rigid plastic pool
  • A drill or sharp stanley knife
  • A bucket full of gravel
  • One or two bags of peat free compost – depending on your pool size
  • A selection of shallow rooting plants, try courgettes, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, herbs, salad leaves.

Start by cutting or drilling drainage holes into the bottom and sides of the poor hippo (or equivalent). Just an inch up from the bottom on the sides is enough.

Next, position it where you want it, ideally with full sun – it will be too heavy to move when full. Next, fill the bottom with gravel until it is about 2 cm deep, like this:

Next, fill to the top with compost. Our little hippo only needed one bag. Finally, plant your seeds and plants and give them a good water. Be aware that there is still a possibility of frost, so protect vulnerable youngsters with a homemade cloche (a cut off large water bottle popped on at night will do the trick).

The result: One happy hippo!

We do need to paint his eyes back in though, they look a bit sinister. Happy gardening.

Children and real tools – really stupid or really important?

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Gardening is amazing for children. Fresh air, exercise and learning about their world all make for wholesome fun but it can also do masses for confidence and motor skills. When they are under three, then a bucket and spade can keep them occupied for ages. But as they get a little older, they ‘wanna be like you ooh ooh’, and that means proper, grown up tools.

Sharp secateurs, long handled rakes and juddering pressure washers in the hands of impetuous, impulsive individuals may sound like a recipe for disaster, but if you want your child to stay interested in gardening past pre-school age then it’s time to, gulp, hand over the tools.

The Forest School ethos includes using real tools because they teach children responsibility and risk assessment. Of course, you’ll need to do the safety chat (never run with tools, keep away from others when you are working, don’t leave them on the ground and so on) and feel confident that your child is coordinated and sensible enough to handle something potentially dangerous.

Often, you will see a whole new side to your child when they feel trusted. Part of giving them this responsibility is stepping back and letting them get on with it – helicoptering over them while they work will frustrate them. Yes, your hedge may look a little odd when they have finished, but they will be glowing.

Accidents can happen – my son was given a penknife for Christmas (aged 6). He has cut himself twice and now has a healthy respect for the blade and actually listens to my advice on how to use it safely. I hope he won’t hurt himself again, but he might. You may not be happy with this level of risk, so choose your activities to suit your own views.

If you are prepared to spend a little money, then try slightly down-sized tools that fit small hands better, thus improving the safety and ease of use. Draper’s does a good range of young gardener equipment that is reasonably priced, such as spades and rakes. They feel ‘proper’ – no babyish plastic here but include features such as a wrist strap on trowels.

And at this time of year, with everything growing like a jungle, I need all the help I can get.