Monthly Archives: June 2014

A boy in a tutu

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Next weekend, we’re going to a garden party with the theme of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Now I need little excuse to dress up, especially if that dressing up can possibly involve tutus. But I’d been pondering a little what to do for Arthur… I was working generally around the idea of ‘woodland elf’, but was having trouble finding anything terribly inspiring. And then we went to my friend’s daughter’s first birthday party. And she was given a tutu. And it looked fabulous.

It got me thinking that maybe I was being a little narrow-minded in not including tutus as part of Arthur’s dressing up repertoire. I mean, tutus come in all sorts of styles and colours, and surely I could find one that would be fun for a little boy? Having trawled the internet though I could find nothing that wasn’t incredibly girly or incredibly expensive. But what I did find was a great little tutorial for no sew tutus – the perfect style for a woodland elf too rather than the more manicured ballerina-esque approach.

Using the tutorial as a guide I rustled up a tutu in no time at all. I’m fairly free-form in my approach to making things, but I’ve tried to break down how I did it here in case you feel the need for a tutu in your life!

Super easy tutus (for girls OR boys)

You will need:

Net in your choice of colour(s) – how much will depend on the size of the tutu, for Arthur’s I used about 4m off the roll

A length of elastic to fit round the waist

Basic sewing kit

Step One:

Cut the netting into strips – about 10 cm wide and twice the length you want the finished tutu to be. I used equal amounts of three colours (light green, dark green and brown) which I think looked pretty cool.

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Step Two: 

Cut a length of elastic to fit around the waist. You want it to be stretched quite tight as the process of making the tutu loosens it a bit. I sewed the ends of the elastic together, but you could knot it if you prefer.

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Step Three:

Find something to use as a frame for making the tutu: you want the elastic to be tight enough not to fall down but not stretched too much. I started off with the piano stool but that was actually a bit too big. The handle of Arthur’s walker was a much better size!

Taking each strip in turn, fold it in half, put the loop at the top over the elastic and then draw the two ends through and pull tight. I didn’t manage to get a very good photo of this process but hopefully you get the idea…

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Keep going all the way around the piece of elastic. The tighter the knots the more strips of net you’ll need but the fuller the tutu will be.

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Step Four:

Try the tutu on for size!

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Arthur was a little bit sceptical at first but as you can see from the picture at the top of the post it wasn’t long before he was loving it!

I made one for myself too, following exactly the same process but just sizing everything up. The upturned piano stool was perfect this time.

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So there you have it: two gorgeous tutus ready to party.

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Leigh was feeling left out by the time I was done so I’ll be making him one too this week. Watch this space to see how his turns out, and also for all of our finished costumes! Just a few more bits to do…

 


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Out on a limb

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I’ve never been one for doing the obvious. If there’s been something out there that tests my boundaries, that alters peoples’ preconceptions of me, then that’s the route I’ve always taken.

Tell me I’m shy? I’ll throw myself into acting. Tell me I’m not sporty? Well then I’ll take up trampolining. Tell me I’m sheltered? I’ll forge a career as a teacher in challenging comprehensive schools.

I haven’t done any of these things by halves either. Winning a place at drama school, competing in trampoline competitions at a national level, heading up an English department: all things that involved taking risks, going out on a limb, and pushing myself way outside my comfort zone.

When I was at university I came across a quote:

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

It’s not a new idea, or a particularly original one, but it really resonated with me and how I wanted to live my life. I didn’t want to take the easy route, to do what was expected of me. I wanted to feel that frisson of excitement as I met new experiences head on: I wanted them to make me feel alive.

Looking back on it all now though I wonder if there wasn’t something else I was even more afraid of, something that held me back from doing what I might be truly good at, what I knew in my heart would make me happy.

Don’t get me wrong: I love all the different directions my life has taken me in so far. I honestly feel like I’ve stretched myself, achieved things I never would have thought possible. But I wonder whether doing the unexpected was a way of sidestepping an underlying fear of failing in the one thing I wanted to do but never did.

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to write. I lived and breathed stories as a child, would read beneath the covers until the early hours and tell my own tales to anyone who would listen. In my little village school in Llancarfan I spent a whole week working on my sequel to Ted Hughes’ ‘The Iron Man’. I was asked to write a story as part of my entrance exam for the school I moved to in Birmingham and wouldn’t stop – I spent the whole afternoon in thrall to the characters I had created.

But then not long after that the whisper of self-doubt began. I started to take risks, but wouldn’t go back to the thing that had always made me feel safe. I always said I would – I talked about wanting to be a writer, but was seemingly incapable of actually doing the one thing that could have made that wish come true.

In my twenties I tentatively penned poems and short stories, my confidence growing through nurturing young minds in the classroom. I had ideas for novels, but never moved beyond scrawls in a notebook. I told myself I didn’t have time. That one day I would do it, but that I wasn’t ready yet. I dreamed of moving out of the city, having a child, and finally being able to write.

And now suddenly I’m doing it. Every day. And it’s terrifying me, every single day. In the eighteen months since Arthur came along I’ve written two novels, and since January this year I’ve poured everything else into this blog. I don’t know if what I’m writing is any good, I don’t know if it will ever catch the imagination of a publisher and be read further afield than the small circle I’m reaching out to now, but I am writing.

It’s strange that the one thing I always felt I could do was the thing I never did. That I could pride myself on pushing myself to my limits but resisted the urge to write that was burning in my core. I am very glad that after all those years of wondering I am finally getting the words out of my head and on to paper – and I hope that in the not too distant future what feels like the ultimate risk will bear fruit.

Thank you to Sara at Mum Turned Mom for inspiring this post with her prompt: “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.” (Mark Twain)

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London Fields

Before we moved to Devon, I’d been in London for sixteen years. I lived, worked and studied all over the city, but it was when I moved to Hackney that I knew I’d found my London: the place in that sprawling metropolis that felt like home.

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We still have a flat in London Fields – one of my best friends lives there now, but it’s been ages since we’ve made it over to that part of town. So as part of our adventures last weekend we thought we’d go back to our old manor to take a stroll.

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We wandered through the park, down Broadway Market towards the canal. As an area it’s constantly changing – it has been for as long as I’ve known it – but its spirit remains the same. A vibrant mix of people and cultures, quirky shops and friendly bars, street art and ice cream vans and bicycles and community cricket.

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I know there are plenty of people who turn their noses up at its gentrification or self-conscious variety of cool, but there’s something about Hackney that has got under my skin. It was great to be back, to introduce Arthur to the world we were a part of before he came along. It was almost enough to make me want to move back to London. Almost.

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Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

 

Word of the Week: Transport

Today the word that sums up the week that was is:

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This week we travelled to London and back, and went all over the city in between. In doing so we might have broken records, I think, for the amount of different types of transport we used!

We started early on Saturday morning on the train to London, a little bit sleepy but invigorated by the view and our breakfast picnic.

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Most of the weekend was spent traversing the city by tube and bus, and on Sunday afternoon Arthur went on a miniature train on a ride in Hyde Park: I wasn’t sure what he’d make of it at first but his big cousin Ilya looked after him!

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Then on Monday we set off for a bit of an adventure. We took the tube across to Bank, then hopped on the DLR out to the Docklands. Arthur loved looking at all the tall buildings and even got to help drive the train.

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Then the highlight of the journey: we took a cable car across the river! The views were amazing, and Arthur couldn’t decide whether we were in an aeroplane or a helicopter.

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We stopped off for lunch by the MIllenium Dome, then caught a river boat back into town.

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Arthur was pretty sleepy by this point, so was happy to lie back and look at the view while he had a bit of a feed.

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The next day it was time to head home, so it was back on the big train for the journey back to Brixham. We were all very pleased to see the sea: London was lovely, but it’s just not Devon!

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Since we’ve been back Arthur has been making choo choo noises, looking out for helicopters and aeroplanes overhead and loving playing with the ride-on car he got for Christmas.

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He was particularly excited at his Music with Mummy session yesterday morning: as it happens the theme this term is transport, and with everything he’s experienced this week it suddenly all seemed to make a lot more sense…

 

The Reading Residence

 

G is for gymnastics

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I loved gymnastics when I was a kid. From balancing on the beam and swinging on the bars to hanging upside down in trees and turning cartwheels on the beach. When I was fourteen I became drawn to trampolining – that sense of freedom multiplied by literally flying through the air. Then in my twenties I found a circus school in East London and took to tumbling. There was lots I had to re-learn, but somersaults and back flips were the perfect antidote to having to grow up.

When we moved down to Devon I was thrilled to discover that there was a gymnastics club in Torquay with classes for adults as well as children. My post-baby body hasn’t quite found the strength or agility to go back to tumbling yet, but it’s been brilliant to build up my trampoline skills again.

Arthur seems to be loving it too. He’s moving up this week from the baby group to be with the other toddlers, and is practising his forward rolls any chance he gets. He seems to get a real thrill from going head over heels – just like his mum.

I think gymnastics is a brilliant skill for kids to learn. It’s just an extension of playing, really – but it brings with it such self-awareness, focus and coordination. I think there’s something about pushing your body beyond its everyday range of movements and using your own body weight to build its strength that’s very empowering – and of course it helps keep you fit and healthy too.

So I hope Arthur continues to enjoy it, and I look forward to rekindling my own gymnastic ability too. I might never quite get back the level of skill I had when I was younger but that’s not going to stop me wanting to try!

Joining in with The Alphabet Photography Project over at PODcast.

Farewell Fun 4 Baby (and the flying duck)

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Last week saw another major milestone for Arthur as we bid farewell to his baby gymnastics class: from this Friday he’ll be with the toddlers taking his skills to another level.

We’ve been going to Fun 4 Baby at Torbay Olympic Gymnastics Club since Arthur was only eight weeks old. I remember his first class well – it was the first group we’d been to together, and by the end he was so exhausted from all the excitement that he fell asleep.

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In those early weeks, we focused a lot on getting him to enjoy tummy time. He hated it when we did it at home: would scream from the moment I put him on his front until I rescued him (usually about ten seconds later…). But at baby gym his coach, Mark, propped him up so he could look around, and gradually he got used to the idea.

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Arthur loved the sensory area when he was tiny too: the different shaped mirrors that would distort the reflection of the baby he didn’t realise was him yet, and especially the mirror ball which mesmerised him with its sparkle of scattered light.

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More than anything else though, Arthur loved the flying duck. A baby bouncer suspended from the rings to double as a swing, he would squeal with delight whenever we put him in it. Since his language and mobility skills have developed he’s toddled over himself, pointing and saying ‘Bird! Bird!’ and only ever reluctantly giving it up for someone else to have a go when his turn was over. The last few times he’s flown in the duck the difficulty of getting him out has been compounded by him being just too big! A sure sign that it’s time to move on…

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We’ve really enjoyed baby gym – Arthur’s loved the freedom it’s given him as he’s grown and developed so much, and for me with a childhood spent doing gymnastics and trampolining it’s been great to be back in that environment again. Although there is a basic structure to the sessions, and some clear activities for the children to engage in, I’ve loved that it’s essentially been baby-led – so I’ve been able to watch Arthur grow in confidence and curiosity, branching out and trying new things, and often surprising himself (and me) with what he can do.

I think now though he’s definitely ready for the next level, where there will be more instructions, more challenging equipment and lots more skills to learn. He’s already practising his forward rolls which Mark started teaching him last week: several times I’ve found him in his cot in a downward dog position with his bottom in the air and head tucked under rocking gently and trying to work out how to turn himself over. So whilst it’s farewell to Fun 4 Baby I know there’s going to be lots more fun for both of us as the parent and toddler sessions help him learn and develop even more!

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