Middle of the Summer Holidays Blues

Week 1 of the summer holidays was a fantastic week at The Boss’s parents, kicking off with an awesome 2 days at Legoland. Week 2 was mostly spent at home after Mini Minx tried to slice her toe off. Week 3 was a high-octane visit to Bristol to stay with friends, with a day in Devon’s Diggerland, another day at Windsor Castle and a day in Bath. Now we’re back home again, we’ve hit the Middle of the Summer Holidays Blues when nothing is quite fun enough.

Monday was forecast for constant rain so I checked out Cineworld’s Movies for Juniors. At £1.58 a ticket (even if you book online), they’re a whole lot more affordable than the eye-watering prices for current films. So the minxes were shaken out of bed at 0745hrs and we set off for the heaving metropolis of Dundee by 0900hrs. We laughed through Home and thoroughly enjoyed it.

We piled out just before midday, so I took the zoo over to the nearby McDonalds for lunch because I’d agreed to review it for the Soil Association’s worthy Out to Lunch campaign. They’ve enlisted the help of families all over the country to help them assess whether big chain restaurants:

  • Provide fresh, good quality food you can trust
  • Make it easy for you to choose healthy food
  • Welcome children and accommodate parents’ needs

It’s fair to say that I wasn’t impressed with this afternoon’s visit to McDonalds

Tummies filled with different shades of brown food, we headed to Dunhelm Mill and Hobbycraft to look for fabric. I need to replace some fabric at the bottom of Midi’s dress that she shredded on a concrete slide, and to make a bed-curtain for Maxi. Neither visit was productive in anything other than sending the kids into Fight Mode.

By the time we hit Tesco for a food forage, the 3 of them were determined to strangle each other / push each other in front of traffic or a speeding trolley / pull over every stand of Back to School merchandise in sight (Tesco Managers: I am so, so sorry and embarrassed. Stopping to properly clear up the mess would probably have involved blood. I promise not to bring them back until there’s a safety fence around your displays. Or armed guards. Or I’ve finally got them properly trained). Steering with the Hounds of Hell attached to my shopping trolley would have been easier and less stressful, I swear. Maxi seems incapable of looking at anything without poking it (“Aw crap… Yes, I’d better take that squid too, Mr Fishmonger. 30p each? Better give me its 3 prodded friends too, then”), Midi was on a mission to make one of her sisters cry every time we entered a new aisle (and did admirably, with an 80% success rate), whilst Mini just moaned about how much she hated shopping. Yes. Me too. But you’ll hate it even more if I have to botch-tape you to the trolley, Sweetness…

Finally getting home, Midi threw a monumental strop because I insisted she return to the car to remove a sweetie wrapper. She tried to thump me on the back and trip me up as I swept past her, holding 7 shopping bags. You can probably imagine how quickly she was dispatched to her bedroom… Even when she calmed down enough to say sorry, I made sure that I moved her to tears by explaining how easily she could have killed me, and what the lifelong consequences to her would have been. Harsh? Cruel? Yes, I think so too, and that’s why I made her cry.

Enough eyes for all 3 minxes, surely. Ah... no.

Enough eyes for all 3 minxes, surely.
Ah… no.

Dinner was full of mine and The Boss’s favourite things: sprats fried in coconut oil (I’ve been coconut oil curious for ages, and finally bought some in a fit of ‘oh I can’t afford it, and never will, so better buy it now, then’), boiled samphire tossed in butter, and Madhur Jaffrey’s dry okra. Oh my, it was lovely! And one day, all 3 kids will eat all of it without complaining (“She got more eyes than me! That’s not fair!” “I don’t like the intestines!” “Gimme your samphire, I love it, you got most, it’s not fair” “I hate okra” “I hate okra, too” “Okra – waaaaaah!”).

Right now The Boss is doing the bedtime run; Mini is screeching because he’s daring to cover her eczema-crusted skin in moisturiser and eumovate; Maxi is engrossed in something that’s caught her limitless attention; Midi is hiding from soap and water, and I’m writing to get some peace and perspective on the day, and therefore hiding.

30p of fun. Hopefully

30p of fun. Hopefully

And the squid I had to buy? Well, tomorrow’s craft activity is teaching my trio how to prepare fresh squid for lunch. Well, it might be fun. Wish me luck…

The Trouble With Theme Days

Day 10 of the school summer holidays and the total injuries tally is growing: by Monday the minxes had used 4 plasters, 5 steri-strips and half a bottle of calpol.

We managed 2 wonderful days in Legoland without real incident: a plaster, bit of insect bite relief and poor Maxi’s tonsillitis kept in check with Strepsils and distraction. Pirate Falls fear was a pretty big distraction (she tried to climb out before the big drop. Luckily Grandma was ready and prevented catastrophe with a timely ‘tight hug’). For the rest of the visit to their grandparents’, Mini seemed hell-bent on gouging out most of the skin of her knees falling off bikes. I watched her: she tripped over fresh air!

Then yesterday (Monday) it was rainy, so I went for our usual favourite school holiday at-home day standby: a theme day. I decided on Pirate Day, inspired by the mountain of pirate dressing up clothes the kids had strewn over every vaguely flat surface in the living room on Sunday night.

They had a hoot! I made them seagull eggs and hacked-up pig (bacon and eggs), scunnered Midi by doing skull and crossbones for lunch (a plate with a face on it; baked beans at the head bit that I called brains; 2 fish fingers in a cross at the bottom; then a round bread roll that I said was the skull the brains came from), and let them craft daggers and swords and pirate bandannas with paper, card, tape and scissors. They called me Captain Mummy, I addressed them as Pirate, and we play-acted our way about the house and to the library. Midi swept the kitchen floor unbidden because I’d called her a scurvy swab. So she replied, “I’ll swab the decks then, Captain Mummy. Aye-aye!” What a girl! I started up batches of elderflower champagne and elderflower cordial with Maxi that we’d foraged for the day before, using the explanation that pirates made their own food and drink. Especially drink.

All 3 girls had been happily turning a huge cardboard box into a Viking longship (they think Vikings = cool pirates) and got distracted by something. I bet you can imagine the sheer level of mess in the living room. Well, little Mini trampled over that mess and trod on the sharp serrated edge of a sellotape dispenser and cut herself a deep flapper in the base of her big toe.

I don’t know who was more upset: Mini or a very distraught and guilty Midi who had left the tape dispenser out in the first place. They both needed one-armed Mummy Hugs and kisses while I pressed hard for maybe 10 minutes to stop the bleeding. Gosh, that child is a bleeder, just like her mammy and her grandad! Poor Maxi was very upset but kept away from the commotion and puddle of blood on the kitchen floor and instead whipped Mini up a beautiful, huge card with a cut-out loveheart and a very heartfelt get better soon message – the little love! I love how she’ll express her emotions in written words so quickly and lovingly when she feels she can’t say the right things aloud. Those girls don’t half needle each other, but they also adore one another with such a depth of love that it’s sometimes breathtaking.

Mini’s cut was maybe 5mm deep flap, and the entire way across below her toe pad. I swished with water, applied steri-strips and plasters, and we all snuggled and hugged for an hour on the settee over Back to the Future 2 for comfort.

I tried to rally them with a Pirate Dinner: rum (honey, water and a teeny bit of red food colouring in a washed-out Caorunn Gin bottle) – they hated it; raspberry jelly with chopped up dog (jelly made with fizzy water, and with leftover chopped up strawberry and apricots in it) – they hated that, too. I made cannons (tortilla wraps), cannon-balls (lamb mince kebabs), and cannon-shot (frozen peas, broccoli and yogurt and mint dressing) and that went down fairly ok. They were still a bit upset about their little sister.

Today (Tuesday), though, they definitely perked up when my own mood lightened: I soaked off Mini’s failing steri-strips, put 2 decent ones on and took her to see lovely Nurse Lynne for reassurance. She declared my cack-handed first aid job as very good (it wasn’t – she’s just very kind), she applied a ton more steri-strips and taught me some nifty techniques in plaster origami around toes. So Total Days In The Garrison Without Accident = 1, and the tallies are plasters 6, steri-strips 15, gauze bandage 1, calpol bottles 1 (Maxi’s tonsillitis is very painful, poor girl).

Distracting Mini while her steri strips soak off - true sisterly love

Distracting Mini while her steri strips soak off – true sisterly love

Today’s theme was France because (a) I had bought croissants as a huge treat in the online shop, and (b) it’s Bastille Day. So we had fruit, cheese, croissants and hot chocolate for breakfast; I taught the minxes some dodgy French in a Glaswegian accent; they decided to dress in red white and blue; they made girl figures and fashionable clothes (snigger!) out of Playdo, and they happily drew a thousand tricoleurs. Tonight’s dinner was my very first quiche lorraine made entirely from scratch, a french baton (not so great: I had to stop it proving in the fridge while we went to the nurse, then stick it in a warm oven to hurry it up) and some greenery. I think I’ll be making it again! Maxi complained that it was ‘quite eggy’. Ah…

My first quiche lorraine - easy, tasty and popular. And from the Glasgow Cookery Book..!

My first quiche lorraine – easy, tasty and popular. And from the Glasgow Cookery Book..!

And tomorrow’s theme? Oh me, I’m out of ideas. We’ll see. Staying Alive?


Saturday – hooray!

After Midi dropped such a sweary clanger last night, I calmly explained to her that anyone hearing her use bad language wouldn’t want her playing with their children. She’d have no friends. We’d go on no play-dates. No-one would want to come round anymore in case she taught their kids to swear, too. It really got through to her. A bit too much – we suddenly had a deeply upset and hysterical little 6 yo on our hands. I told her that I wasn’t punishing her or shouting at her: she’d made a mistake, I’d told her not to do it again and why not, and that that was the end of it. Look, Midi – I’m still making your circle skirt!

That calmed her down a little. For once, she’d actually asked me to make her something. It was to be ‘swishy and swooshy’, and longer than her knees. Easy! It took me about half an hour to make. Same as Mini’s Tartan Skirt: just stitch a thick strip of elastic into a circle; cut a donut shape for the skirt; attach skirt to band; hem; iron on owl motif; get kid to swirl it.

Maxi's favourite hammock branch (!)

Maxi’s favourite hammock branch (!)

We decided that Midi really needed to go out somewhere to show her new skirt off, so The Boss made up a picnic lunch, and we asked Maxi to take us on a jaunt around the Glenesk Retreat – she’d visited it recently with her school. She was delighted to be the Leader, and took us round its little Nature Trail and the Museum. After ice lollies, we decided that the ‘overcast’ weather forecast was wrong and that because it was still such a beautiful day that we should go for a walk, so we drove further up the glen to the car park at the end of the road, in Glen Mark, and decided to walk the 2.5 miles from there to Queen’s Well.

The Leader susses out how to open the gate. The Leader orders us through

The Leader susses out how to open the gate. The Leader orders us through

From the end of the carpark, Mini started to whine about being tired. I almost believed her, till I saw her scamper over to a deer gate. Ahhhhh – you’re *saying* tired, but you *mean* that you’re bored! So The Boss and I deployed everything in our Parenting Arsenal to keep those little legs moving. She was The Leader and was to walk in front. She was to set the pace that she wanted. She was to tell us what to do. She was to tell us where to go.

The Leader is on strike

The Leader is on strike

“I can’t do that, Mummy – I’ve never been here before!” she scoffed. Yes dear – see that enormous, wide, stony track? Just follow that. I’ll teach you to read maps later…

Every time she slacked off and decided that she was going to give up, I’d say: “Ah, that’s a shame. OK, you’re sacked. I need a new leader. Who wants to be leader now? Maxi? Midi?”

Looking towards Mount Keen

Looking towards Mount Keen

As they raced forward, Mini changed her mind (every single time!) and ran to the front, to set a fresh pace. Even so, it took us well over 2 hours to walk the 2.5 miles to Queen’s Well. The other pair of monkeys enjoyed the walk: Midi filled her pockets with quartz (I insisted all bar one small piece were returned to the path) and found a heart-shaped pebble that she dedicated to her big sister. Maxi told us in detail about her walk up Mount Keen in June, showed us what myrtle bushes look and smell like, and found a (Victorian?) stone marker that coincidentally had her initials on it. She’s also a keen cloud watcher, like me.

“Mummy, look at those towering cumulus!” she pointed.

“Oh yes! Pretty, aren’t they?” I said.

“Will they turn into cumulonimbus?” she asked.

“No. Not enough heat and energy in the air”, I said, and we talked about the conditions that turn fluffy summer cumulus clouds into towering cumulus, then cumulonimbus. We talked about thunderstorms and looked for funny shaped clouds.

With just a hundred yards to go to our destination, we came across a family of 3 who’d passed us on the way there. I think my body language spoke volumes.

Keep up, Mini Leader!

Keep up, Mini Leader!

Queen's Well! At last!

Queen’s Well! At last!

“I guess you guys aren’t aiming to get anywhere in a hurry, are you?” said the dad with a kind, understanding smile. I ranted for a bit about being as tired as if I’d been walking at full tilt for 2 hrs, not just walking for a mile. “Ah, enjoy it, though”, he said, “They grow up so fast!” That was something we all agreed with.

The mum fished out a little pink rubber duck on a key-ring.

“Look! We found this in the well! It was swimming away. Would you like it?” she said, handing it to a delighted Mini. Mini agreed to take care of it, and return it to its well.

Bye-bye pink duck!

Bye-bye pink duck!

As we finally reached Queen’s Well, I took off my sunglasses. The sky had suddenly gotten quite dark. I squinted at dark rain clouds that had appeared out of nowhere over the edge of the mountain.

Frowning, I warned the kids that the picnic stop was going to be superfast and that we were going to head back right away. Luckily we’d already eaten everything except the boiled eggs and water on the way there. I lectured that if they weren’t done in 5 minutes, that they were to move on anyway. No ifs. No buts. Midi wailed that I was scaring her. I felt a bit scared myself, to be honest. I really didn’t fancy being 2.5 miles from shelter with 3 little girls and no rain-jackets (the forecast had been <5% chance of rain all day). I explained that I just wanted to make sure that they knew they had to get back fast and not dilly-dally; it would be fine.

I'm not uneasy or scared at all. This is my standard 1000 yard stare.

I’m not uneasy or scared at all. This is my standard 1000 yard stare.

As I was strapping Mini to my back in the worst Reinforced Ruck tie in the known Universe (newly washed stiff-as-a-board sling, and I was beginning to flap a bit), I looked again at the massing dark clouds. Rain. Definitely inbound. I warned the family that we were going to get wet. Maybe more than a tiny bit. But it would be ok – we’d not freeze, and we’d just keep walking. We could dry out and heat up in the car. OK, let’s get moving!

<rumble of thunder> Oh shit…

Midi squealed and Maxi whimpered. I reassured them that it was ok, it was far away. If we were very, very lucky, we might see some lightning.

<jaggy fork of lightning> Double-shit.

All 3 girls screamed while I counted seconds. Two miles away. Crap. Do we stay? Is there any shelter within 15 minutes walk? Do we walk? Is it safe to walk? Will we be going near trees? If we wait out the storm, would it get dark? Would we be flooded out? We had no jackets or warm clothes – how would we keep the kids warm? Our fast walking march moved up a gear to an out-and-out scamper.The Boss and I quickly conferred and had both come to the same conclusion: push on and stay warm. If we could keep up a good pace, we’d be back in an hour or so.

“I’m going to kill myself, I’m going to die! This is the worst day of my life!” screamed Midi.

I retied the crappy sling-tie and explained to the kids that we were going to keep walking. I told a panicking Midi over and over again that she *wasn’t* going to die. She wasn’t going to get hit by lightning – we were in a valley and the lightning strikes were on the hilltop. We were going to walk as fast as we could. We were going to get very wet and a little bit cold. We weren’t going to stop. We’d keep moving to keep warm. We weren’t going to waste energy screaming or shouting melodramatically for help or running; we’d just walk fast. We’d be at the car in an hour and we’d drive home for hot chocolate and marshmallows and a hot bath. Walk fast, kids, keep up!

The Boss tried to get the minxes to sing songs about rain and thunder. They were having absolutely none of it and said how frightened they were. Little Mini started to get cold, and as I tucked her arms in the sling, her bum popped out. Argh! I stopped again for a re-tie. I tried to stop flapping and just concentrate on getting a rock-solid wrap. I scanned the countryside slowly for other people. I could see 4 figures about 300 yards away, striding down from Mount Keen. Great. Safety in numbers! I got The Boss to keep an eye on them and check what they were doing in case they ducked away to safety somewhere.

The storm was getting closer, and the lightning flashes more frequent. Every time I stopped to re-tie, we sent Maxi and Midi on ahead themselves for us to catch up with them. That was a struggle! Those little legs were fairly pedalling! The girls scampered hand in hand, reassuring each other the whole way. The Boss glanced at the 4 figures. I glanced at the grey sheets of rain slowly gaining on us. I had to get that sling tied tight before it got wet or I’d never sort it out.

The rain reached us. The girls wailed. I reminded them that we wouldn’t freeze and we weren’t made of sugar – keep up this brilliant pace! We’re nearly halfway there already!

Suddenly the wind whipped up and the thunder got louder. Ah, crap – incoming! Like walking through a curtain, the very heavy rain hit us. It was so hard that it felt like hailstones. Little Mini was wearing a sturdy sunhat, so that shielded her face well. The other 2 were drenched within a second or 2. The Boss and I separated them and led a girl each, while they had their faces down.

March, march, march. Dripping hair in eyes. Try hard not to stumble on the rocky ground. With a heavy 4 yo on my back, that’d be a twisted ankle or broken leg if I slipped crossing a burn. I kept counting flashes-to-bangs. Closer. Ever closer.

Suddenly I smelled ozone. Didn’t that mean that lightning was about to strike close by? Should I drop to the ground? Run? Scream? I dropped The Boss and Maxi’s hands and looked round like a panicked sheep. Nah – not ozone: just smelly stagnant water in a silted-up burn! Still, I sent the girls a little ahead, and us adults walked separately.

I started to sing rain songs as loudly as I could to cover up my own unease. It’s Raining It’s Pouring; Incy Wincy Spider; I Hear Thunder; Rain, Rain, Go Away. The Boss sang just as loudly. Maxi and Midi joined in occasionally, in between flashes and bangs and rumbles. Mini just clung to my middle and nestled her nose into my neck.

The girls raced across the little burns that we’d taken an age over crossing on the way there. I was relieved to get across in 5 swift, sure-footed strides, still dry-footed. (The next bout of heavy rain did for my little Vivos, though – soggy feet!) The girls later admitted that they’d just waded through the middle.

As we ducked around another turn, we realised that we were finally away from the most exposed bit. We were more than halfway to the carpark. Only about a mile to go, and the rest was mostly in the ‘shelter’ of the dips. We weren’t so exposed. We were still ahead of the 4 men following us. I told Midi how cool she and her sister were, walking faster than 4 real, actual, grown men. She chuckled with glee, that turned into a sob at the next lightning flash. I jumped into a big puddle to surprise her out of her fear and panic.

“Well, I can’t get any wetter, can I?” I reasoned with a wink. She sniggered and joined me, jumping and splashing through the biggest puddles.

“This is the best day EVER!” squealed an overjoyed Midi, when I called her a Wetty Girl as we splashed each other in a deep trough of a puddle.

In a fit of euphoria, I pointed out to the girls how green the world looked in the rain; how we never really got to see this because we never went out in rain-showers. How lucky were we? Nevertheless, we were all so very relieved when we finally got to the carpark, 52 mins after setting off from Queen’s Well. What a pace those little girls had set! The 4 men passed us as we got to the carpark. I’d wondered if they’d hung back and made sure we’d gotten to the carpark safely. The Boss scoffed and pointed out how miserable they looked – they were thinking only about their rain-jacket failure (they were all as wet as we were).

Bit wet and glad to be safe

Bit wet and glad to be safe

Really quite wet. But not cold

Really quite wet. But not cold

The Boss threw his rucksack in the car and took the quickest of photos before he was going to help the girls strip off then get in the car. Well, we *were* going to do that. But as the 2nd photo was taken, there was just under 2 seconds between a lightning flash and rumble of thunder, so we abandoned plans and just dived in the car.

The Boss and the minxes stripped off their wet clothes and shoes, while I opted to stay soggy, sloshing water around my feet with every clutch change and brake. For the first time ever, I appreciated the heated seats, that dried my wet bum.

While we waited for the windscreens to de-mist and the car inside to heat up, though, The Boss sorted out the tunes. It kinda had to be AC-DC’s Thunderstruck…

The drive back was fairly hair-raising, too. I’d pootled along there at about 40mph, but with sheets of standing water, I didn’t get out of 3rd gear until nearly at Edzell. Probably just as well: we passed a stopped car that had its front stoved in and its airbags had deployed. I reversed so that we could check that no-one was in there, needing help. As we looked inside, like a car-load of naked, nosy snoopers, a man came out the nearby house.

“Everyone ok? Do you need any help?” The Boss called out the window. The man gave us a grim thumbs-up and said they were all fine. We wished them a quick “Take care” and tootled off. Phew! Must have been very frightening for them. (Both the crash and being approached by a car-load of wet people with no clothes on)

From The Mouths of Little Thugs

25 July

Yet another late start for the minxes – I had to haul them all out of bed by 0930hrs. Yes, I’m mad. Yes, it made them grumpy. Yes, they turned their noses up at fruit salad for breakfast for a second day, and asked for croissants. Ha – like we keep those in stock!! So we walked round to the local shop and bought some butteries and girdle scones. Such a treat – both are just a bit too yum to eat too often.

burn wadingBy 1045hrs, the kids were dressed in UV suits, sandals, sunhats, covered in sunblock, and were being marched to the burn to go guddling for … well, whatever lives in the burn. We’ve not been there since early Spring, so it looked completely different: the big oak tree is in full leaf and the rope-swing that the minxes were full of bravado about swinging on had rotted Pooh Sticksaway.

They messed around for maybe half an hour, then asked to go home. I managed to eke out a few more minutes of being outdoors by persuading them to play Pooh Sticks over the bridge, but I was pushing my luck.

The rest of the afternoon was spent eating home-made ice lollies again, and blowing bubbles. Have I ever told

check out the size of bubble Midi is blowing!

check out the size of bubble Midi is blowing!

you that Midi Minx is a champion bubble-blower? Last weekend in the hotel we were staying in, the girls were having a bath. Midi started messing around with the shower gel, rubbing her hands like an otter washing pebbles. Then she cupped her fingers into a loveheart shape, blew gently, and smiled: off floated the most perfect, hand-sized bubble across the bathroom. It completely distracted me from scolding her about something or other. The Boss says that she’s been blowing bubbles with soap and her hands every night when she’s getting washed for bed, for years. Today, she got tired of blowing bubbles made from commercial bubble mix, and blew her own from shower gel. What a skill! I tried and totally failed.

Maxi spent a happy afternoon curled up on the picnic blanket in the shade with Killer Cat. The other 2 wanted to watch DVDs and occasionally run outside and pester their sister. It finally got so hot that I relented and got out the sprinkler again. Jumping through that kept them happy and cool for an hour.

After dinner, they were messing around in the garden while I finished sewing a nightie for Mini. Midi and Mini were role-playing Mummies & Daddies. They were just a few feet from me, so I kept an ear out while I sewed on the last few buttons. Midi had on her ‘Bossy Mummy’ voice and Mini was playing at being her daughter, along with 3 or 4 dollies.

“F*ck off, kids”, said Midi, in a loud, calm voice, talking to her brood.

The hub-bub of 100 barbecues in the gardens around us fell to a thunderous silence. 400 sharp breath intakes were made.

I guess we won’t be getting invited to any more play-dates.

Fruity Sprinkles

Midi and Mini were out of bed and eating breakfast before Killer-Dirty-Stopout-Cat got back home this morning (0700hrs). I appear to have broken Maxi from last night’s cycle ride, though: I had to wake her up at 0830hrs. I can’t remember the last time she slept past 0600hrs, regardless of the time she’s eventually fallen asleep. Midi’s throat is no better. So with 1, possibly 2 minxes ill, I checked the met forecast and suggested places to visit.

strawberry punnet“I absolutely do not ever want to visit a boring old stone circle”, kiboshed Maxi. Oh. That’s 10 planned outdoor trips put on hold till next week, then… I checked the weather: gorgeous. Checked the fridge: empty. Time to go pick some stobbies (strawberries) then!

I like going to PYO fruit farms. Well, I like going to them when the memory stobby pickersof the last visit has faded. In my head I imagine the minxes patiently selecting Grade 1 ripe, delicious, perfect fruit, then gently plucking it and carefully nestling it in a punnet, to be eaten daintily later. The reality is me furiously trying to keep 6 clompy feet in between fruit bushes (as opposed to *on* fruit bushes) and 30 little fingers desperately grabbing at anything remotely red-coloured, whether it’s a fleck of red on unripe green, or a smear of red amongst hairy, mouldy white. *Usually* said unsuitable fruits are jammed under normal fruit, to lurk there until after they’ve been paid for, or occasionally shoved into defiant little mouths, despite me indoctrinating them that this is stealing.

stobsI keep going back because if you go at the end of the season when the fruits are scarcer and it takes longer to pick, then you get an hour’s outdoor activity that engrosses them, and a (paid for!) healthy fruit snack at the end, for less than most soft play centres and the like.

Today, it worked a treat! I didn’t see the minxes eat a single stobby, and they mostly picked brilliant fruits. Even if they were a weird mix of apple- and currant-sized…

gooseberryAfter filling a punnet each, we walked to the other side of the farm to find and pick gooseberries. Despite directions, we struggled to find them. Well, I can recognise lots of fruit bushes from a distance, but gooseberry…? And we were all a bit mislead when we reached the red gooseberries first. Yep – red. Gooseberries. Who knew?! We merrily set about picking a large handful for The Boss. It took me a fair while to realise that I have no idea at all whether a gooseberry is ripe or not. Hmmm. We’ll see if he complains…

Midi really started to flag (sore throat still), so we walked back to the car. Well, we *were*, till she spotted the go karts and zip wire, and raced off to have a play. Maxi played happily with her, and Mini raced around the 2 storey fort with me.

Don't get a job designing garden furniture, darling

Don’t get a job designing garden furniture, darling

After half an hour of racing and climbing and sliding and zipping and trampolining, the haar rolled in from the coast, so we set off for home. Nice and sunny here! Maxi made herself a strange seat in the garden and read in the shade. Despite being Calpolled to the eyeballs, Midi decided to be extremely obstinate and awkward. I’d just had a great time (!) shoving a week’s summer shop into our little fridge, so found it a doddle winkling my 6 yo out of her tv seat and shoving her out the door to the library. Where she suddenly turned into a whirling dervish.

sprinklerI wonder if the change in mien had anything to do with me promising to unearth the sprinkler…? It was such a hot day and our front lawn was yellow. Living in Scotland, there’s no hosepipe ban here, so I let the kids jump around the sprinkler on the front lawn as I moved it all over the place. There were very few rules: Don’t Get Mummy Wet (never broken – they know the fun will instantly end), and Don’t Sit on the Water Jets (broken every 10 seconds).

I meant to cook up a tasty, nutritious dinner, but let the girls scream their heads off for 45 minutes instead. When The Boss got home and could help keep an eye on them, we bunged pizza in the oven, corn-on-the-cob in the microwave, got the kids to shell peas (hey, that counts as a craft activity! 10 bonus points!) and ate outside. Picnic dinner was followed by cherry and yogurt pudding, then being allowed to play in the garden till 2030hrs because they were playing together so kindly and quietly.

But don’t go thinking that the day ended on that note of sisterly bliss: 10 minutes ago Maxi was threatening to kill herself because Midi wouldn’t return the library book that she wanted to read. One thing this household is never short of is hysteria.

Muddy, Grumpy and Tired Troutlings

“This is the best Mummy-Daughter Day EVER! Yoohoo!” hollered Maxi as she shot past me on her bike. Yessssssss!

We’d spent the weekend mostly being confined to a house or car (visiting much-loved relatives in Liverpool all weekend) and didn’t get back till midnight on Sunday, so today (Monday)’s been a bit of a washout. After The Boss went to work, we got up late (0830hrs), then dawdled around till the double appointment at the GP: Maxi now knows how to take care of her ingrowing toenails; Midi has one grommet left in; she also has a blood-shot eye that’s not apparently caused by anything sinister. Bonus.

We did a quick emergency food shop then blasted through the library. The poor librarian! Before we go in, I always try to calm the kids down and caution them not to barrel in yelling, but every time they last about 10 seconds before exploding in a 6-handed whirl of book-grabbing excitement. When we trogged home, Mini had a 20 minute ‘quiet time’ reading her library books in bed while I made lunch and did a mountain of laundry. Midi reluctantly helped me make up some naan bread mix. We left that to rise while we had an hour blowing away the cobwebs at the swing-park before dinner. The Boss made gujarati beans as soon as he got home from work while I drank some Lovely Cold Wine grilled the naans to go with the chicken-curry-from-a-jar.

Midi’s throat is still sore and her cough is no better from the weekend, so she and tired-out Mini got an early night with The Boss while I took Maxi out for a spin on her bike.

What a lovely evening! The Boss had given Maxi some bike lights for her bike that she footered around with happily. Being able to see her gleaming head and tail lights definitely encouraged me to let her go off further afield without me hovering over her: good for us both! I strode along in the dappled evening sunlight as Maxi chattered away merrily, enjoying the luxury of being able to pedal at her own pace and whizz through muddy puddles. When I reassured her that clothes clean up and not to bother about a few splashes, she zoomed through the mud with more glee. Attagirl!

Alas, our hour of fun came to an abrupt halt when we returned and a sobbing Midi threw herself into my arms – The Boss hadn’t told her where we’d gone, and she’d been regretting her constantly scowled “I wish you were dead, Mummy!” every time she loses her temper. I stroked her hair while the poor wee thing sat in my lap, describing how her head gets “muddled up” when she loses her temper, and how words come out that she doesn’t know she’s saying. She’s certainly my most tempestuous daughter. And her temper is completely from me. God help us both when she’s pubescent and I’m menopausal!!

Post-Holiday Blues

It’s our first proper day of the school holidays here – the previous 7 days don’t count because we were all in Orkney again, having a fantastic time. I did bring the laptop with me, intending to write lots of blog posts both here and on the outdoor blog, in real-time. Alas, my in-laws led me happily astray: I spent my evenings drinking Strubarb cocktails washed down with Wychwood Ginger Beard, and chased with peanut butter pretzels. And blethering nonsense. So: back home with a bump.

Mini Minx is on antibiotics and so her sleep is still iffy (when was it ever not?!): she came into my bed 4 times last night. I’d gone to bed really late (0100hrs. Oops) because I’d spent all day driving so wasn’t tired enough to sleep. End result – today has felt like swimming in treacle. Never mind – we had to hang around the house anyway because the hire car after The Boss’s accident was to be picked up at some random point during in the day. I spent the morning ploughing through laundry, while the minxes went goggle-eyed over 100 episodes of Horrid Henry. Midi’s read so many library books in this year’s Summer Challenge already that she chose to take out a DVD for 2 weeks for free as her prize.

I'm bored, Mum. What can I doooooooo?

I’m bored, Mum. What can I doooooooo?

In a half-hearted attempt to keep the girls active enough to stave off DVTs, I made them come into the kitchen for their snacks and water individually. I really wanted to be a Good Mummy and turf them outdoors for fresh air regardless of the drizzle, but today I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was also too distracted on the laptop, helping one of my brothers book flights, train journeys and a hotel from the other side of the planet (bank problems – Bank of Scotland have been categorically rubbish with him, not sending bank

Not brave enough yet to pull out that good old holiday standby: paint the stones

Not brave enough yet to pull out that good old holiday standby: paint the stones

cards, not returning calls, hanging up on long calls, etc.). We did manage a swift run round to the library, but because the hire car people didn’t show up till mid-afternoon when it was already raining heavily, we got no other outdoor time.The afternoon, therefore, was much like the morning. Except I managed to corral them into doing something creative for a few minutes – I printed out a sheet of paper each with a big empty square on it and the title “The thing I enjoyed most about my holidays last week was when I …” followed by 5 lines of dots for them to write on, and draw in the box. I’ll tell you what they wrote when they finish!

Oh yeah, and I discovered that the best way to keep them out of my hair for a few minutes when I really need to concentrate is to play classical music. I discovered that all 3 really hate Verdi’s Requiem: when I played it they ran from the room howling, with their hands over their ears. And Maxi finds ‘Abide With Me’ (from the soundtrack of the film 28 Days Later!!) “creeps me out”. I guess I need to find Classic FM on the radio dial then, eh?

child in viking horned helmet

She’s bored

Anyway, the general lack of exercise means that it’s my own selfish fault that the girls are not sleeping tonight! Midi has wrapped herself in a blanket and is lying across the threshold of Maxi’s bedroom, like a bright pink spotted Ancient Egyptian mummy – I think she’s trying to see just how long her big sister stays up at night; Mini is scuttling back and forth, demanding to be tucked in, and victoriously waving the Hello Kitty toy that I threatened to throw away if she wouldn’t eat her roast chicken (my comfort food); Maxi, meanwhile, is happily reading today’s library books (Ancient Rome and Ancient Egypt).

child in horned viking helmet

… and so’s she

Tomorrow I hope to get more than a token few minutes sleep and to get the poor kids out and about. They have a play-date arranged with a wee girl who’s in the same nursery class as Mini. I’ll need to run some energy off the older ones first thing, then, before we walk round. And I guess tidying their upside-down rooms just won’t cut it:

(Me: “You are to tidy your floor up tomorrow morning. Look, it’s so messy that I nearly fell over, coming to give you a Goodnight Kiss!”

Midi: “But why, Mummy? Because it’ll take us such a long time to mess it all up again. What a waste of time!”

Me: <thinking> Huh?! Um. Right. I agree. But only if the window faced the back garden…)

The library has a competition on tomorrow afternoon, but I quite fancy checking out some of Aberdeenshire’s Neolithic monuments after a week of touring Orkney’s, instead. I’ll put it to Minx Vote after lunch, I think.

Weekend in Gairloch Part 3

Sunday 19 Aug

Yes, taking the little Storm 300 for the weekend was a much better idea than the Maritsa 500. It took about 1/10th of the time to pack it up, for a start. We tried to get the minxes to help pack up, but first Mini Minx fell asleep on the job, then they got distracted turning their sleep mat into a boat.

So why is it so important to pack up first thing in the morning? So you have more time to have fun! We killed the hour between car-loading and buying more pastries from the shop by counting Mini’s midge bites (Maxi lost count, Midi lost interest) then saying hi to the pigs. I have a bit of a soft-spot for pigs: beautiful, smart creatures. Who also taste seriously yum. Maxi nervously fed the biggest pigs with grass and Midi got a bit confused about why boy pigs have nipples.

Suddenly the sun came out! We had to go say goodbye to that lovely beach. I think that only lasted 10 minutes before the minxes wanted to go paddling. I let them leave their sandals and socks on the sand. “Don’t get wet; we need to go, soon!” I warned. Yeah, right, like they ever listen to me. Literally 5 minutes later Midi and Mini are naked, Maxi is shedding her clothes, and they’re squealing and shouting and having a really lovely time in the hot sunshine. How could we possibly drag them away? Only one thing for it – pony-trekking.

Luckily Mini fell asleep for a post-lunch snack in the car, otherwise I think there would have been tears that she wasn’t included. I thought that given the ages of the minxes that they’d get half an hour on a lead rein only. Nope – they circled the little exercise square once then went heading off on a trek. When they returned, I realised me and The Boss had unleashed a demon. Maxi had talked everyone’s ears off the entire time. Midi had pressed her lips tightly shut the entire time. I asked her why. “It’s my grown-up girl look,” she whispered, “Cos I’m going to school this week! You have to smile like this! An’ it stops me squealing”. Awwww! Midi does make me laugh with her random squeals out of the corner of her mouth. Well, laugh *after* I’ve jumped back into my skin. Please stop being in a rush to grow-up, my funny wee girl.

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Weekend in Gairloch Part 2

Sat 18 August 2012

For the first time *ever* when I’ve been camping, I woke up at 7am (lie-in!) feeling rested and full of life. Wow! Maybe it was because Mini Minx had her little arms squeezed tightly round my neck and was snoring in my ear. What a way to wake up – cuddles and baby’s clean hair smells in my nose. Just lovely. The Boss woke and kindly volunteered to get up right away and put the coffee on. And there the lovely morning came to a screeching halt.

Now, I’ve met midges before: I’m Scottish. But these weren’t ordinary midges. These were FuckinBazzaMidges. Vicious, voracious, vindictive. And they cut about in thick clouds of a few billion. I sprayed Smidge on everything and everyone. To be fair, it stopped them biting, but it didn’t stop them marching on an expedition up my nostrils, in my ears and crawling all over my eyelashes. Argh! So much for the forecast stiff breeze – it was sunny and still and we were a stone’s throw from the sea – of COURSE they’d be out hunting for fresh blood!

A brief reprieve from the rain

We slowly got ourselves together, took the minxes in relay to the toilet block, and… suddenly the heavens opened. Eh? But the forecast was sunny intervals, breeze and warm. It was still, chucking it down, and freezing. I guess the Met Office were still away on their summer holidays and Colin the Janitor’s Dog was still in charge of forecasting. The Boss was a bit of a hero and legged it back to the tent and car with Mini, and drove back to rescue me, Maxi and Midi. We didn’t know that – we were about to brave the torrents, and he pulled to a halt in front of us.

Breakfast of pastry

We sat steaming up the car, wondering what to do. Well, easy: buy some freshly baked croissants and pastries from the campsite shop (see? I told you it was excellent!) and sit happily munching them, waiting to see what the weather will do. (Have you ever burnt your mouth on a croissant? I hadn’t. Till now. An interesting new experience).

The clouds emptied, but didn’t really lift, so we got the minxes dressed, and went out to explore Gairloch. First on the list was the museum, as it had free entry on Saturdays. We ended up leaving a decent donation – what an interesting place! Mini loved turning on the lighthouse and her sisters had fun making flour. I was desperate to read the entire section about wool and knitting, but the minxes were too busy trying to dismantle or handle

“Ts-ips…. nice!”

everything within a minx-arm-length.

We left faster than I’d have liked and hit the fish and chip chop. The woman behind the counter very kindly followed us outside with a big roll of blue paper and wiped down the seats and picnic tables in case we wanted to sit down. The fish was delicious and certainly made a change from ice-cream…

After a mooch around the harbour, we decided to go back to the beach near the campsite. Oh my word, what an enormous stretch of sand! It was still cold and windy (aye, NOW the forecast wind arrives! Long after the midges have departed) so we didn’t spend that long building sandcastles (Midi and Mini Minx) or elaborate huge sand forts (Maxi the Artist). We strolled down the beach, past the washed-up dead seal (oh…) and explored the rock pools, shells and amazingly colourful rocks: thick bands of blue and white stripes, and crazy paving of red and green. Beautiful!

Eventually tiring of the beach we tried the playground on site. I’ve never seen a playground with a slackline before! The kids absolutely loved it, and would have still been there now had they not gotten hungry for our now-traditional camping dinner of Pasta ‘n’ Sauce. Speaking of which, we had the sense to cook and eat it in the big garage-building. We could have used the coin-operated microwave, but (a) it was more fun for the kids with the burner*, and (b) it was more fun watching the German couple having a nightmare microwaving pasta in teeny tiny containers – they giggled more than we did.

Trout Bolt

* Remember: little kids will eat anything if you either call it ‘picnic’ or cook it on an open flame. Anything. Seriously.

I think around about then maybe the little glimpse of sun got to me. Either that or the BeeGees earworm that the local radio had inflicted on me, but I was seen in public doing a BeeGees / Usain Bolt impression. Ah yes, I don’t think I need to practice anymore to achieve full Embarrassing Mum potential.

Weekend in Gairloch Part 1

17 August 2012

In a final, last of the school summer holidays fling, we spent the weekend in Gairloch. The car was packed and ready to go the night before, I fed the minxes and had them in their pyjamas from 1700hrs, so we only had to wait on the The Boss arriving half an hour later and off we zoomed!

4 year old navigator

The rain stopped and the clouds parted as we left Inverness and headed west. The road was absolutely empty, so I enjoyed being Mondeo Mummy (like Mondeo Man but with more hormones). We inherited the car from my brother when he gave us Foster Cat to look after, and he always raved about the ride. Throwing it around the single track lanes to Gairloch*, I saw what he meant – even the minxes were comfy in the back. (*though I have to stress [this being a family show ‘n’ all] that I didn’t speed and was a courteous driver to other road users at all times. Even the biffs. Honest).

Highland clouds lifting on the A835

The view down to Loch Maree through Glen Docharty. Go on, click to see it larger!

The scenery got more and more jaw-dropping as we drove west. I found it hard to keep driving and not pull up at every parking place to gawp at the mountains. I caught sight of Slioch out the side window and exclaimed, “Oh wow, look at that bee-YOO-tiful mountain!”

Maxi looked up from her book: “Where? They’re just hills. I mean, they’re high hills, but they’re not that…OH WOW! LOOK at THAT!”

I love our big old Vango Maritsa 500 tent, but my God I cannot be arsed putting it up and taking it down every time I want to nip away for the weekend. That’s a half hour and an hour respectively when the minxes aren’t properly tethered supervised. Knowing that we wouldn’t arrive at Gairloch much before 2130hrs on a Friday night tipped the balance: this time we took our ancient, trusty Vango Storm 300+. That old tent did us proud before Maxi Minx arrived, and she even camped with us till she was 1. Best of all, it can be put up in around 5 minutes.

We drove through Gairloch town itself just after 2100hrs, straight past 2 people from The Boss’ work. He did the comedy double-rub of his eyes. Had we not been on a tight time-scale I’d have pulled up and made him walk past them nonchalantly, bidding them a cheerful, “G’d evening!” as he passed. But, we had to get to the campsite. I’d no idea if it locked up for the night. And the minxes were getting tired and sleepy…

If you think we’re sleeping tonight, you’re a …. <zzzzzzzz, snore>

Well, shortly afterwards we pulled into the best UK campsite I think I’ve ever stayed at. Amazing scenery, absolutely huge, and no set pitches: so long as you keep 7m away from any other tent, you can pitch where you like. Rather than head for a pitch with a view, we aimed for the pitch that kept our noisy girls the farthest away from everyone else. The ‘calm winds’ that were forecast felt like a steady 30-40mph to me, as The Boss and I pitched our tent by headtorch light. It took 6 minutes to get it erected (we’re out of practice…), another 15 mins to stake it to the ground and do the guy-ropes (they’d never been used, in hundreds of UK and French camping trips – I guess we’d been fair-weather campers after all!), 30 seconds to sling in the self-inflating mats, pillows and sleeping bags and 10 seconds to prise the minxes out their car seats.

I took them to the toilet block to case the place out, relieve little bladders, brush teeth, etc. It was like a scene from a horror film, Revenge of the Crane-Fly. I’m not scared of Daddy Longlegs, but The Boss sure is. And when you lose count of how many of the fluttery wee beggars there are in one toilet cubicle alone, you know there are a LOT… I did the honourable thing and warned him. I think he brushed his teeth outside… We sat up for a bit while the minxes snored almost instantly (Yes!!!! At last!) and watched the ISS go past. And again, 40-odd minutes later. It got a bit cold to be sitting outside in the howling wind, so we sat in the car, him playing with his iPhone and me knitting by headtorch (it was a gift, rather than a Rainbow Knits woolly creation, so that’s allowed). When the ISS went past yet again, we headed for bed.

So, how do you fit 5 trouts into a 2-3 man tent? Well, you put Grumpy and Scared-of-Cranefly Trout head to head in the middle with their feet at each corner, like a bottomless triangle. And you let the 3 minxy trouts doss in whatever position they find themselves in at any given moment. It was surprisingly comfortable and we all slept very well.