Sunday, 31 July 2011

Colour Month? No! Colour Life!

I've had a rethink on the whole "Colour Month" idea.  Why confine it to one month?  Why not one lifetime?  One can live a whole lifetime and not see ALL the colours there are to see, after all.

Roll on, Colour Life!

I have ummed and ahhed about what to write here the last few days ("dithered" maybe a better word - or, if I am to be honest, "procrastinated").  Ever known where you wanted to go, but weren't sure how to get there?  And I don't mean which route to take...well, I do...but I also mean the method; do you go by car, or bus, or train...or should you walk, or run...or hey, why not ride a horse...or a unicycle?  What if you really did know how to get there, but instead of just beginning the journey, you spent time dithering (my word for to today - it sounds so much more fun than procrastinated, or avoided) around getting in and out of your car, maybe taking the bus for one stop only, then walking back to where you started only to trip over the horse on your way to getting out your unicycle?

What if, after all that, you realised you were actually where you needed to be, and all you needed to do in the first place was to open your eyes and see that you were there?  And what you really needed most to do was to put the car keys away, tear up your bus pass and just trust that, you know what?  You are already living the journey.

It all sounds very philosophical, if you let it.  But it sums up a lot of what has been going on around here, for real, in the past few days.  Well, for much longer, even, than that...but perhaps the last few days has seen us reach a turning point.  Or a learning point.  Hehehe. 

Sometimes, trusting that you will arrive at your destination is as hard as taking that first step - whether that step be inside yourself, or against the external stream.  Sometimes, that same fear is so exciting that you HAVE to take that step.  You can't not take it.  Even if you have no idea where you're going.  Because you know it's right anyway.  You know it's where you should always have been heading...even where you've always been, although you never knew the name of the town.

I think the next few weeks will see us consolidate many ideas, dreams and philosophies into something huge.  It may not be to everyone's tastes.  And that's okay.  I can only ask that you choose openness and curiosity over close-mindedness and fear. 

Life, after all, is awash with many colours.  But only a very few of those are named in the rainbow we physically see.  Perhaps the reason no one ever finds that little pot of gold is because it was all around us to begin with, rather than hidden at the edge of a fleeting band of fading colour in the sky.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Life Is Lumpy

"Life is lumpy: let it be."  - Sandra Dodd.

Niamh was napping on my lap, the way she has done since she was born.  I was reading.  And, I am sorry to admit it, feeling a bit resentful of the distinct lack of me-time I've had...well...for a long time.  Feeling ashamedly resentful towards a certain little someone, who through no fault of her own happened to be born into my world, and who without doubt did not deserve the negativity flowing her way.

Things have been a bit flat the last few days.  Niamh hasn't really been into any activities, and I somehow haven't been able to muster the energy to make her world more fun.  Well, I did create a few activities for her, but she wasn't into any of them...and although that's perfectly okay with me, I was feeling a bit hard done-by.  You know how it goes.  I think a slow, sad violin might be playing for me, somewhere...

 Realising I was in need of some mental refreshment, I pulled two well-read books from the shelf before being pinned to the lounge for the duration.  (I say "well-read"...but not necessarily always well-remembered!!)  One was Naomi Aldort's wonderful Raising Our Children; Raising Ourselves, and the other was Sandra Dodd's Big Book of Unschooling.  I flicked open Sandra's first, and the above quote leapt off the page at me.  Really at me.  It got me right between the eyes...and thank god, it buried itself right in.  (Yes, occasionally snippets of information do make it into the inner sanctum.  Usually only once they have solved the infamous "two brothers" riddle and braved the labrynth, though...)

I can't quite describe the feeling.  It was a combination of relief, embarrassment (at my self-centredness), calm, truth, peace, and a whole heap of "well, duh," aimed squarely in my own direction.  I think, though I'm not entirely sure...but I think there was a slapping sound, as it connected.

Without wanting to wax too lyrical (oh, what the hell!), it was like a great big, warm, blankety hug for my soul.  Ahhhhhhhhh!

Life is lumpy.  Let it be.  I'm going to type it again (for my own therapy...skip over it, if you think you've already got it!).  "Life is lumpy; let it be."

Not every day is perfect.  Not every moment is memorable.  Perfection is never perfect.  And you know what?  That's okay!  Fighting it only makes you miserable.  You can choose to be miserable, of course.  But that's your choice.  Hard to feel victimised if you refuse to be the victim...

A lot of Sandra's book spoke to me today.  And I'm grateful for it.  It has helped ease my mind a little, and to clear a little of the fog from the path at my feet.  I'm not saying it doesn't lead up to some pretty intimidating mountains...and it's kind of rocky and unkempt.  But at least there is a path.

The best teacher is the one who recognises that they are as much the student.  The best teachers in the world are those who never try to teach, but who support others to learn for themselves.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

A Colourful Birthday

Phew!  Why are children's birthdays always so crazy?  The last few days have been a bit mad around here...and it's not like we even had a big party to celebrate Niamh's 2nd birthday.

First, a recapitulation of the last few day's activities for Niamh.

Cheerio chicken feeder:

 Someone told me about this fun little activity, so we decided to give it a go - especially since we've had a few rainy days, and the younger chickens had to stay in their little house to keep dry.  I thought these little feeders would be a good distraction for them.  Basically, it's a threading job - you knot the end of a piece of string, and feed a row of Cheerios on.  All went well, for the first one.  Then Niamh ate the rest of the Cheerios herself!  Oh well.  She did enjoy the activity, and I'm sure we'll tackle it again...though next time I will wait until she has already eaten.  (For those of you worried about our poor chickens being neglected, be assured I made them a little feeder and they loved it!)

Then, birthday morning!  Happy birthday to my sweet, TWO year old girl!  How those years have flown by...and I wouldn't have missed a second of them.  Here is the birthday morning carnage:

As you can see, she was rather spoiled.  That's her Daddy, putting together her balance bike, which we found HERE at Hip Kids.  We chose it because it has the option to put the pedal crank on once they have mastered steering and balancing.  Unfortunately, the bike is too tall for her!  Her little feet hang several inches off the ground, which makes the whole point of balancing either a) pointless, or b) really, really relevant.  But she loves sitting on it while we push her around (and that's not going to get old at all...right?).

She received the stacking puzzle she requested, which I found HERE at Modern Teaching Aids.  And she also received a fairy game card pack, which lucky Mama found at a one-off sale.  Included are some lacing cards, a memory game, a picture matching game, a number match game, a game of rainbow "go-fish" and a 50 piece jigsaw which I will put away for when she is older.  The pictures on the cards are beautiful, and she already loves looking at all the fairies and asking what their names are.

Now for the things I made for her.  I have been wanting to make her a sensory tub for AGES since I first saw them HERE at the wonderful Counting Coconuts blog.  I couldn't decide, however, whether to make her a rainbow sensory tub (since it is Colour Month), or a number "2" sensory tub.  Then I thought, why not combine the two?  So here it is, my first ever sensory tub in a colourful number "2" theme:

Inside are:
- 2 glittery green 2's
- 2 purple frogs
- 2 large green sparkly pompoms
- 2 pegs
- 2 large wooden buttons
- 2 small red beads
- 2 medium blue pompoms
- 2 small red pompoms
- 2 large white pompoms
- 2 small white pompoms
- 2 iron-on flowers (which I can no doubt use later in sewing!)
- 2 magnifying glasses
- 2 small yellow pompoms
- 2 long yellow beads
- 2 small pine beads
- 2 small dark wooden beads
...and a whole heap of rainbow rice.

She LOVES it.  She has a blast burying everything, then using the magnifying glasses to find them hiding in the rice.  She has spent hours sitting there so far, just running her hands through the rice.  She is also doing very well with the tub rule - the tub and its contents must not leave her play area.  I can't wait to plan the next tub.  They are seriously addictive!

I also made her an "eye-spy" bottle (the idea of which I also discovered on COUNTING COCONUTS (did I mention what a great blog it is??).  Again, in a rainbow theme:

For this one, I didn't take photos of what went inside - I was too busy getting other things ready for Niamh's birthday.  But I think, for the next ones, I will.  I like the idea of using them to play "eye-spy bingo."

And some more story sticks (or rhythm sticks, if you feel like tapping out a tune):

I chose a wintery, snow theme - not that it snows here - but it is winter, and Niamh is really into snow at the moment, after reading the very sweet WINTER STORY book by author Jill Barklem.

I also made a pair of story sticks, and another eye-spy bottle for Niamh's cousin, which I put into her party bag rather than stuffing them full of lollies:

And now for the all-important birthday party!  We had a rainbow party at the park (thank you, weather gods, for holding back the rain!).  For food, we had red strawberries and cherry tomatoes, orange carrot sticks and mandarines, fresh yellow pineapple, green avocado dip and fresh snow peas from the garden, blueberry muffins, indigo/violet cherries...and a few other yummies like home-made sausage rolls, meatballs, garlic hommus, and rainbow cupcakes.  The cake was a rainbow cake (of course!).

Here are a few photos.   Enjoying a sweet, orange mandarine:

Blowing out the candles ( you will note there are more than 2, but she wanted ALL the candles):

She is now running around the house, waving the pretty rainbow ribbon stick given to her by her Aunty E-K, and yelling, "I'm two!  I'm two!"  So I think she had a good weekend ;-)

Thanks for sharing, and a special thanks to everyone who made Niamh's birthday weekend so special.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Amazing Giveaway at Jump Into A Book!

Hello all

I just had to share the news of this wonderful Elsa Beskow giveaway being run at JUMP INTO A BOOK .  Elsa Beskow is, of course, the author responsible for some of these lovely titles:

The Sun Egg
The Land of Long Ago
Children of the Forest

...and many, many more.

JUMP INTO A BOOK are giving one lucky person the chance to win not 1, not 2, but 19 of these wonderful books!  An absolutely amazing prize, by any stretch.  Please go there to check it out and to enter.

Good luck!

Process, Not Perfection

One of the things I really love about most natural learning methods, and in particular the Montessori method, is the focus on process, rather than perfection.  Too often we expect kids to just "get it" first try - to master a task to perfection without really coming to understand the whole of it...and that, at least to my way of thinking, is the opposite of how learning should work.  A lot of it stems from impatience - on our part, and on theirs.  This is a world driven by instant results, and children pick up on that very early in their development, like the little social sponges they are.

Natural learning methods, like Montessori, Unschooling and Waldorf are like a peaceful breath of sweet, mountain air.  The child sees the world stretching out before their feet and can explore it at their leisure.  They can touch it, taste it, smell it...manipulate it into something that makes sense to them.  No one is telling them to be perfect, to get it right, to be the finish it now.  They are truly liberated, and in so being may move forward purposefully and with curiosity that is self-driven and self-rewarding.  They want to learn.  They want to understand...not because someone is forcing them to pass a test at the end of it, but because learning has become such an intrinsic part of their living that it is impossible to separate from their being.  How can you argue with that?

Children don't always want us to butt in.  They don't always want their mistakes highlighted.  Do you?  I know I don't!  Children don't always want our help.  This has been one of the toughest things for me to handle, because I am...basically...a control freak.  I admit it, freely.  I like things to work.  I like them to be right.  I feel...anxious when I see things going wrong. When I see Niamh not getting things right.  Oh no!  She can't count to thirty?  How will she ever cope with life?!!!  Ahem.  Well, you know what I mean, anyway...

And so it was with utter joy that I watched my beautiful daughter exploring the new activity I made her (inspired by THIS post at Tot School).

Pretty self-explanatory as to how it is meant to work:

I started her off with just 3 to explore, mainly due to space limitations on the table - she couldn't physically reach more than three!

Going pretty well:

And then...the final result...
Yep.  Okay, so it's not 100% wrong.  She did get all the pieces of the pear.  But you know what?  It doesn't matter one bit to me that it's not "right".  The activity wasn't about getting it right, first try.  It was about exploring.  It was about learning that she can twist the pieces different ways.  It was about learning order and disorder.  It was about learning that sometimes, you just get things wrong...and you know what?  That's great!  Because recognising that something isn't exactly right!

Later, she tried a little 25 piece octopus jigsw puzzle.

And how did she go?

Ta-dah!  She was SO pleased with herself, and yelled, "Look, Mama!  I did it!  I did it!  They all fit!"

And that, my friends, is process.  To her, she didn't see the finished picture of the octopus as the goal.  The goal was getting the little pieces to fit together.  And they did.  Exactly the way she wanted them to.

She had so much fun with that puzzle.  She went back to it probably 10 times during the day to play with it.  And each time, she was eager to learn more, and came away happy with her achievements.

And a little later, another go with the fruit puzzle:

She knows it better than I do.  Process doesn't make perfection - it is the perfection we all are seeking.

And perfection tastes pretty good, too.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Montessori...Tuesday? it's Tuesday today.  But I thought I'd share with you a little Montessori/Tot School-inspired activity I made for Niamh some time ago.  She took it off the shelf today, so I took the opportunity to snap a few pictures:

I made these little numbers out of this glittery card I bought at Spotlight.  It has a sand-paper texture, and she can trace each number with her finger.  My intention for making them was to try to link the feel of each number to its shape and name in her mind - eg, 3 looks like this, and feels like this.  To that end, I glued some wooden beads and buttons onto each card.  She can count these to self-check whether or not she has named the number correctly.

She has known her numbers up to 10 for a while now, but repetition is very Montessori, and I am sure it is doing her very good to start forming a picture in her mind of numbers being more than just a squiggle on a page.

The little surprise she gave me with the cards (don't you love when they do that?!) was that she can also use them to do a bit of very basic addition (eg 1 + 2 = 3...she can then count the beads on number 3 to check her work).

Here she is, coming up with addition all by herself:

1 + 2 = 3:

The shapes of the numbers are also self-correcting.  If she puts one on the floor upside down, she can't feel the beads.

Please check out the wonderful TOT SCHOOL blog.  They have so many fabulous ideas for little ones.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Colour Is...

Today, Colour is many things.

Colour is painting with bath paint:

 There is something...hmm, mama-ish? about me that has so far prevented her from actually using these in the bath.  I remain unable to reconcile getting clean with painting in your bath water.  Also, there are no ingredients listed on the paints, and I am not about to coat my child's skin with whatever is in those paints.  Yes, they are made for children...but there is nothing on the labelling which says "non-toxic."  So I shall remain a meanie, and confine her to using them on paper.  Which she loved, anyway.  (Just don't tell her they're meant for the bath...)

Colour is finger painting:

Not a huge hit.  It appears she can tolerate play dough on her hands, but not yet finger paints.  Ah well.  We have taken the first step, anyway...

Colour is stamping with sponges:

Colour is choosing our clothes for the day, all by ourselves:

Colour is sliding on a red slide:

And colour is riding on a red and yellow horse:

Colour is swinging in the cool air beneath a blue sky:

Sometimes, colour is just sitting and watching the world go by:

All in all, a colourful day.

Oh, and I solved our snack station problem.  An old bedside table, with drawers to keep the snacks safely away from the dogs:

She used it several times today to get out her own bowl, knife and snack, which she then took to her table to prepare.  So it works!  And I noticed she already remembers to go and close the drawer.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Sunny Sundays

Welcome back to Colour Month.  No rants today, I promise :)

The brunt of today's colour took place at the park, sans camera, which we forgot to bring along.  But I thought I'd share a few activities Niamh undertook today during those brief moments where she was actually inside.

A little fine motor activity - putting different-sized objects into a container (the buttons are tricky, because she has to twist them the right way for them to fit):

What happens when you let adults loose with play dough:

We did try to share with Niamh, I promise.

A little later, Niamh asked to cut up her own snack.  Brilliant!  A perfect Montessori opportunity.  She had been asking about knives earlier, after sitting on the bench next to the knife block while we dried the dishes.  I showed her the parts of the knives and yes, I let her handle them very carefully.  I think it piqued her interest in knife-handling, because she hasn't really been interested in cutting jobs up until now.  So, following Maria Montessori's "Follow The Child" philosophy, we set her up with a mushroom and a butter knife and away she went.  Here's how a nearly 2 year old uses a knife:

As you can see, she is being closely supervised, but she is managing very well on her own.  She then asked for some crackers and dip.  Here she is, using the knife to make her own snack of mushroom, hommus and crackers:

Using the knife to get dip from her bowl:
I love, love, love the concentration on her face.  She is utterly absorbed in her task.  Don't you just love those wonderful learning moments?  She was so proud at her own independence and her achievements.

Tomorrow, I think I will set her up with her own little "snack station" - something I've avoided until now, mainly due to the dogs being able to get at anything I put at her level.  I think I might have come up with a solution, though, so...we'll see.

In closing for today, I would like to thank you all for reading so far and for joining us on our journey.  I finally figured out how to check my stats, and I am thrilled to bits to see I have visitors from the USA, UK, Turkey, Belgium and even Lithuania!  You are all so welcome.  Thank you for coming!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Helpless Child...

The "helpless" child.  It is something we hear quite often - especially in Western society, and more often than not in the media in all its *cough* glorious incarnations.  I guess one could argue (with legal tenacity, no doubt) that the phrase itself holds true.  Yes, there are some occasions in which children may find themselves without help (ooo, do you see what I did there?).  Deprived of help.  Denied help.  Made to feel helpless.

It is an easy trap to fall into.  We first see our newborns - these tiny, pink and outraged bundles of flailing limbs and bewildered expressions and we say, "Awwww, so helpless!  So tiny!  So vulnerable!"  And these are things we are no doubt meant to feel, as part of the bonding process with out infants.  It's the part of our brain - our "over-protective mummy" button - that turns us into snarling lions if anyone or anything dares to threaten our offspring.

And yet, newborns are incredibly strong.  Tenacious like we could never dream to be.  Stubborn, persistent and fiercely commited to living life in a way we have long-since taken for granted.  Just think how much your newborn experienced in that first hour outside your safe and nurturing that first week, that first month!  Within seconds of birth, the overwhelming majority of babies have the drive to breathe.  Within minutes, to suckle.  Experiments have shown that a newborn baby can find its way, completely unassisted, to its mother's breast and attach itself for that first, bonding feed.  Helpless?  In what sense??

By one year of age, most children can at the very least stagger, if not toddle.  Many can run.  They can climb.  They can say a few words, and understand many, many more.  They can play.  They can recognise images, sounds, shapes, even words on a page.  They have begun to form opinions.  Their cognitive skills are already more advanced than most other adult animals on the planet.  Helpless?  In what sense??

Niamh is nearly two.  It's her birthday next week, in fact.  What a joy - what a privilege it has been to watch her learn and grow these past nearly two years.  And in all that time, I have never once seen her as helpless any more than she sees herself as helpless.  That doesn't mean she doesn't need my help.  It's something else entirely.  It takes great understanding and awareness of self to be able to ask for help, or to recognise that help is required in a given situation.  When she says, "Mama, I need help with this, please," my first thought is not panic, "Oh no!  She can't manage on her own!  Poor, ignorant child!!"  Nor do I feel pity.  "Ohhh, how terrible.  She hasn't learned how to do that yet."  Never, ever have I felt superiority.  "Awwwww, how sweet and cute!  She doesn't know how to do that yet.  Isn't she adorable?"  Nor shame, "Oh no!  My child can't do that yet!  But all her friends can!"

I feel joy.  She trusts me.  She knows she can always ask me for help without fear of any of the above kinds of judgement.  And better yet, she trusts herself enough to ask.  She feels no shame.  She feels connection - I am her guide, and she knows it.  It is a humbling, amazing experience, and more than a little daunting, when I think about it!

So, at nearly two years of age, what can Niamh do?  Here is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

She can grind eggs shells to feed to the chickens:

She can help change a light globe (she can tell you, step by step, what is required, even if she can't reach the light herself):
She can feed the dogs:

She can make her own decisions (she chose to get wet...and eat a a torrential downpour.  She had a blast, by the way.  So did I!):

She can scoop, pour and measure:

 She can crack eggs into a bowl and stir them:

 She can help install skirting boards (yes, she really did hammer by herself, and yes, she really did use the power tools - under supervision, but she still did it herself):

I could go on.  But my point, I hope, is self-evident.  No, she might not be able to vote, drive a car or converse freely on the topic of carbon tax, but is she helpless?  Not by a long shot!

The sooner this society and its inhabitants stop thinking of children as lesser beings, the better.  Children are not blank slates, requiring our help to mould them into decent or even good human beings.  They are born human, and they are born worthy of respect.  Yes, they might lack our experience of years, but they think, they feel, they hope, they desire.  They feel joy and shame.  They feel anger and frustration...and when they do, it is not our place to judge them for it...we who feel these same things every day, and who would be mortified to be put in our place by someone claiming to be our superior for daring to have a whinge about it.

Hmm.  You know what?  This has turned into another rant when I promised you more Colour Month.  Many apologies.  Some things, however, I think are worth saying rather than letting them fester on the tip of your tongue.

And so I will close by dedicating this post to "Lizzie" - the 11 year old girl who "dared" to weigh into the carbon tax debate on ABC local radio...and who subsequently bore the brunt of adult derision with courage, grace and maturity far beyond that of those who belittled her.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Fresh Air

I love ranting.  I'm actually quite good at it, too.  Hint: if you don't like ranting, you should probably look away now...

But I just HAD to give a bit of a shout-out, WTF air-time to the whole "air freshener" industry.  Seriously??  Pumping chemicals into your home, over your food, your benches, your pets, your skin, your hair, your eyes and everything your child touches, eats and breathes in all the seven levels of hell can that be a good thing??  Have those who happily buy and spray these things around ever looked at what goes into them?  Or do they just blindly trust that the evil mix of noxious chemical perfumes designed to cover up the smell of the carcinogens they're breathing in are actually good for them??

I think the advertisements are what get me the most.  Well no, the stupidity of the product itself takes the largest slice of the sycophantically pink and poisoned cake.  But the ads!  Insipid, vacuous women blithely spraying cans of crap over their benchtops, their pets' bedding, their children's toys...  Do people really do this?  Are people really that paranoid about a little odour?  Is this seriously what these companies would have us believe is a GOOD thing to do??  Is this really what we want for our homes and our children?

You know...the cynic in me worries that the reason for this odiferous explosion is that we as a species have finally become so ashamed at our increasingly sedentary and indoor lifestyles that we've decided to cover (literally, ha!) the stink of our chagrine with some paltry memories of how life outside used to be.  Like a retired athlete watching videos of their glory days, over and over, but never setting foot on the track again.

That funny thing is, if it smells like poo, there's a fairly good chance that it's brown and sticky and has come out of a bum.  (Unless of course it's presented in a can with pictures of flowers on it.  Then it's probably just chemical poo.  Which is apparently okay to spray over everything in your house.)

If things stink - open a window, people!!  Pick some flowers!  Burn some essential oils!  Hell, try cleaning once in a while!  (Not that I advocate cleaning, of course.  Just call me Earth Mother Lazy.)  But for the love of this infinitesimal speck of a precious blue gem upon which we are so blessed to tread, stop filling our air, our homes and our lungs with this unnecessary crap!!!  We have nowhere else to go, people!  This Earth is the only one we have.  Your children are the only ones you have.  Expose them to nature, not to a picture of it on a can of poison.  The last thing they need in their beautiful lives are superbugs which are immune to every antibacterial known to mankind, but which also smell like "crackling fire and cinnamon spice."

Okay.  Rant over.  I could go on, but I don't want someone chasing me down with some hands-free handwash and a spray can of chemical lavendar.  If I wanted to inhale that many chemicals, I'd take up smoking.

Tomorrow, I promise I will return to the glorious, rainbow shores of Colour Month.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Colour and Light

You know what?  I'm loving Colour Month.  We managed to pack quite a bit of colour into today, and all of it fun.

First, a little glance backwards at last night's activity - invented by Daddy (okay, well, probably not invented by Daddy, but certainly suggested by Daddy and agreed to by the rest of us).  Balloon rockets!  We have long-since introduced our balloon-obsessed child to the fun of blowing up balloons and letting them go so they fly crazily around the room.  But last night, Daddy came up with the idea of taping the balloon to a piece of straw, which we then threaded through with some string tied between two chairs.  The aim was to force the balloon to rocket along the string as the air came out the opening:

 Our balloon rocket tended to fly around the string in wild circles - which admittedly was just as much fun, or possibly more, than having it go straight.  Perhaps next time, we will make the string shorter - or weight down the underside of the balloon.  Either way, it was a fun pre-bedtime activity!

Today started with our usual inspection of the vegie patch.  We have broccoli!

 And peas!

 Niamh made short work of some pea stalks and freshly-pulled carrots for breakfast:

Then, she decided to tackle a little Montessori-inspired tonging job I made for her a while ago.  I hadn't really intended for her to also sort the different items out into separate bowls (I just thought it would be more fun to have some different things to practice picking up with the tongs), but she did anyway:

You can see in this picture that she has already separated out the little purple pompoms from the buttons and beads.  Here's another, showing her progress (she had switched to using her fingers at this point, which is fine, too, because the small size of the beads etc require her to practice her pincer grip):

A bit later (though you'll notice still in our PJs, cough, cough), Mama got her act together enough to make some of that most thrilling of childhood play-stuffs - play dough!!  I should have thought of it earlier, but I admit it had fallen off the radar because Niamh is a bit...well, let's just say "thingy" about having dirt on her hands.  (I can't say "neat freak" because I have only to look at her play area to know otherwise.  And also, she is MY child, so neatness is not her in her genes.  But she definitely likes clean hands!)  Anyway, I was reminded this morning of the joys of play dough by another wise mother, so I thought today might as well be the day.  The recipe, by the way, can be found HERE.  It has a really soft consistency once you start working with it, and I will definitely be using it again.  I made half the quantity, and added the colouring at the end, once I had divided the dough into four.  It made for a nice, marbled effect in the dough, until you worked the colours through by squishing it.

So, how did my non-sticky-hands-loving daughter like her play dough?  I'll let these photos speak for themselves.  Making play-dough biscuits:

Squish it up!
Making a rainbow serpent (you can see it in front of her):

Using a child-sized rolling pin to make some pancakes:

All in all, I think we spent nearly 3 hours just playing with play-dough.  How old must I have been the last time I did that, I wonder?  And more importantly, why haven't I done it sooner?!  It was so much fun.  And you know the best part - that lovely, nostalgic play-dough smell!  Boy, did it take me back.  It's amazing how powerful the sense of smell is when it comes to triggering memories.  I so hope Niamh made some happy, happy memories today.

A bit later, it was time to bake.  I had been promising Niamh for a few days that we would make more cupcakes, after she enjoyed helping me with the last batch so much.  So I asked her, "What kind of cupcakes would you like to make?"  Silly Mama.  I thought she'd say, "Chocolate."  Or heck, even, "Plain."  No.  My child says, "Purple cupcakes."

Hmm.  As it turned out, she only wanted the outside to be purple.  The insides had to be yellow.  (Hello vanilla!)  But they had to have sprinkles.  And crunchy balls (aka cashous).  Hello Colour Month!

I didn't have enough hands to take photos of her cracking the eggs, helping me chop up the butter or pour out the sugar.  I definitely didn't have hands free to take photos of her doing the old patented, "one for you, one for me" routine with Fionn the dog and the spoon she was supposed to be using to get the batter into the patty pans.

Here's how they turned out (not purple enough, really - I'm a bit disappointed):

And here's how my kitchen turned out:
In case you are wondering - as one friend put it this afternoon - whether or not I have the patience of a, I do not.  I'm afraid I drew the line at the icing stage when she refused to stop shoving fistfuls of sprinkles and cashous into her mouth, and then back ONTO the cupcakes, and evicted her from my kitchen.  She didn't care.  She had already consumed enough cashous to fuel a small country, and was away to burn it all off.

Luckily Daddy was home soon after, and the prospect of an early birthday package gave her some focus. We have been desperate for a table for her play area for some time now, so it was a nice surprise when Farmor's present arrived at the door.  Here she is, helping Daddy put it together:

Using an allen key:

And using the table for the first time!:

Thank you, Farmor.

Phew.  What a day.  And as all perfect days should, it ended, not with darkness, but with light: