There’s a reason why things become a classic.  And a reason why mud makes such a frequent appearance in our favourite children’s books.  From the squelch-squerch of the mud in We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, to just about everybody in Secret Water, it seems that getting stuck in the mud, or covered in mud, or just having fun playing with mud is a childhood rite of passage.  And yet it doesn’t really get that muddy around us very often. A little bit muddy yes, but we mostly get puddles, not that thick oozy mud that your feet sink into, that sends you sliding around like a baby giraffe on ice, that clings to your boot in great clumps making each footstep heavier than the last.

But this weekend we found exactly that kind of mud.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

H had a hockey match in Shropshire and rather than loose him for the day we decided to go and watch (cue lots of “Run Daddy Run!” from the smallest spectators – I’m thinking of getting them pompoms) and then go on and do a little exploring of our own afterwards. And with a 3-2 victory secured we headed out to the hills to go for a walk and settled on climbing up to Wedlock Edge.  

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

It’s a little rocky ridge running down the middle of the valley with quite a steep drop off either side (though sadly the view is mostly behind the trees in the section we walked) and from the car park we headed straight up the hill.  And as we climbed the path got a little squishy, then our feet started to sink in a little bit more, and then more, and then as we continued towards the top of the hill is just got more and more wonderfully squelchy.  

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

It was that sort of mud where you can feel the ground trying to hold onto your boot as you lift your foot, and where you choose your next step very very carefully.  H and I were going warily with the littlest two in the slings but Kitty set too and plodded through with great determination as the mud climbed up the side of her boots. Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

It was skiddy and giggly and just really fun, balancing Kitty between us and trying to make sure that none of us fell over or lost a boot in the process.  All I can say is that after I’d taken these pictures we went through some even deeper and squishier mud and as Kitty’s boots sit in our hallway the only colourful bit visible is the pink bows.

As we came back down the hill Kitty was getting pretty tired and declared “I don’t want to come here ever again!!”, but by the time we’d got to the bottom and found the car and the stash of chocolate buttons she’d revised that to not until the summer, and when we tucked her into bed and asked her for her favourite part of the day there was just one answer:

“Mud!”

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life     

I couldn’t agree more!

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A portrait of each of my children once every week for 2015.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life      

Kitty: Spinning around and around and around until I felt dizzy just watching you.  I was sure you’d look just as tispy as your sister when she climbed out but you were off as soon as your feet hit the ground, running to the swings, and then the climbing frame and the other spinny things and everything you could possibly squeeze into 20 minutes at the playpark.

(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/160, f/5.0, ISO 320)

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Elma: Continuing on a very watery theme from last week! This is the pirate ship in the playground at Bekonscot, you peeped out of the window to say hi, all bedraggled hair and beaming smile.

(iPhone auto settings – 1/40, f/2.2, ISO 32)

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Pip:  I so rarely see you in the buggy; I’m usually carrying you, and if you are in the chariot you’re usually facing away from me so that we can fit both seats on.  It was lovely to have you facing me while your sisters ran around us and you made such funny faces as you tried to wiggle out of your hat again.

(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/250, f/2.8, ISO 320)

 

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This has been the month of growth spurts; at least as far as Kitty, Elma and Pip are concerned. Both Kitty and Elma seem to have shot up recently, Kit especially, when I pick her up from nursery I can see how much bigger she is than her friends, and we need to do another round of sorting out her drawers soon as a whole heap of clothes seem to have shrunk again. Meanwhile I see Elma wearing the clothes Kitty wore when she became a big sister and I wonder whether she’s going to stay the littlest of my three or overtake the lot of us.  And Pip, well Pip is still growing at a rate of knots. We think he might have picked up my genetics for long legs and H’s genetics for a long back.  He’s filling his 12-18 month babygros in the legs even though we still have to roll up the sleeves as his arms haven’t quite caught up.

It’s also been the month of adventures; Kitty, Elma, Pip and I went down to Charlecote on a very very wet morning, and continuing the theme of very very wet adventures we met up with my sister and nephew to explore Bekonscot while H got up at half three in the morning to drive to London to take the Eurostar to Paris for a day in and around the Musee d’Orsay (his Christmas present from me).  

As Elma gets bigger and starts to build up her stamina for walking decent distances it’s meant that I can take all three of them to places where the buggy might not always be the most practical option and I love that we’re not just confined to our local play park when we want to go for a walk.  When we went to Charlecote Elma was on her feet for three hours while we pottered around with only the occasional sit down and we could go into the old kitchen and watch the volunteers light the range, and run in and out of the stables to compare and contrast all the different sorts of Cinderella coaches.

And of course we’ve been out as a family of five, usually to some sort of playpark, although we’ll try to fit in a trip to visit the ducks and a bit of a walk before H and I sign ourselves up to push swings until it feels like our arms are coming out of their sockets.

So this month we’re back in our favourite park, down by the river watching the swans and the geese in the river and wallowing in a smidgen of late afternoon sunshine.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

orI’m clearly still working on getting everyone to look at the camera at the same time 

 

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

or even look vaguely happy about the photos

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

but I keep telling myself month after month that it will improve.  I think we did a bit better this month because I didn’t bother to take my tripod to the park and balanced the camera very precariously on the hood of the buggy, much to the amusement of all the passers by. Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

 

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life   

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

You would not believe how much I’ve had to straighten these photos in Lightroom to make them even vaguely near the horizontal.  

I think that might be my second favourite pictures yet of us as a five.  The first place is held by those August pictures, Pip’s first Me and Mine at 4 days old is a pretty special set of shops and it would take a lot to top that, but I love that in these pictures for the first time you really get to see Pip, not just a tiny scrap of hair peeking out of a sling, and a fair amount of his personality too (that would be his impressive ability to remove his hat on all occasions).

 

My little family, in February:

  Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

dear beautiful

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Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Joining in with {this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single of photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savour and remember.

To see more, check out the comments to Soulemama

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

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I think it has been well documented on these pages that either my general knowledge about geography is atrocious or I haven’t always been completely honest with my daughters when it comes to the location of a number of large mountains.  Now while the former is true, and I did quite genuinely once describe Antwerp as “a Finnish sort of place” in a game of Articulate (yes, I now know it’s in Belgium, and yes, I’ve never lived it down), I do know that Snowdon and Broadway in the Cotswolds are different places, as is Kilimanjaro in Africa and the big hill in the park in Leamington.  What the girls think is another matter.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

And I’m sorry to say the fibbing doesn’t stop there either; in our bathroom is a small square plate of glass that shows you some numbers if you stand on it – Kitty thinks it measures your shoe size and I’ve done nothing to disabuse her of that fact.

By the time you get on to Father Christmas you begin to wonder whether we’ve ever told a truth in our lives, and that’s before we’ve even met the tooth fairy or allowed any mention of the Easter bunny to get into the picture.

H and I prize honesty in our children as one of the fundamental character traits that we want to instill in them.  We’ve always asked them to tell us the truth first, and that we’ll never be cross if they do, even if it sometimes takes a big deep breath and a moment to collect myself so that I don’t go with the immediate reaction of utter vexation that there are now great big rainbow stripes of crayon across the lounge carpet (not that that’s what someone was up to this afternoon while I was sat just out of sight nursing their brother – I knew they were being too quiet). So if that’s the case I wonder whether we should be quite so comfortable with all this bending of the truth and invention.

There are some things where we do stick to the facts; on Christmas Eve we all knew we were stood in the middle of the playing fields watching the ISS zoom over head, and not just because to Kitty that’s far more exciting than Santa, and when she asked how baby Pip was going to get out of my tummy at the hospital I gave her a simplified but still accurate answer (though thank goodness she wasn’t very curious about how Pip got in there in the first place).

I know that it sounds a bit hypocritical on paper but when I think about it I’m actually quite happy being a little creative with the truth from time to time.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

It doesn’t bother me in the slightest that Kitty doesn’t know that we have scales; the longer I can protect her from the side effects of the media’s obsession with every woman’s body size and shape the better, I want her to have confidence in herself first and foremost and to know that she is so much more than a number on a scale or the dress size on the label, and the same goes for Elma and Pip.

And as for those ‘mountains'; well I saw their faces as we reached the summit of both peaks, I saw how happy our make believe had made them, and I wouldn’t swap that for any precocious knowledge of English, Welsh or Tanzanian geography.

Childhood is a time when anything is possible; a time when mystery and the magical can quite happily run alongside the mundane and ordinary, and that’s something I want to protect and encourage, because I know that it will wear off by the time they hit double figures.  They have their whole lives ahead of them to know that Snowden is in Wales and learn all sorts of detailed facts about East Africa, and perhaps when they’re learning all these important facts they might just remember with a smile the time that we imagined a mountain and climbed it before elevenses

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

But I’m curious, where do you draw the line between make believe and being overly creative with the truth?.

Once upon a time when Kitty was still a little baby she was given a Dr Seuss book by her godfather and his lovely lady.  They have excellent taste in children’s books and a number of their presents over the years have made it onto these pages, including Oh The Places You’ll Go! (how tiny was Elma back then) but it’s taken me a little while to explore any more Dr Seuss stories.  They seem to be staples of every American childhood but they didn’t start to cross over here until I was long past picture books so they’re as new to me as they are to Kitty, Elma and Pip.

I’ve heard of the Cat in the Hat and I think I watched the first five minutes of the film once before turning over because I just really didn’t get it, and I’d heard of Green Eggs and Ham in that way where you’re sort of aware of another country’s cultural reference points but without really getting it. Perhaps it’s the same as if you tried to explain The Gruffalo to someone who doesn’t have it: “well there’s this mouse, and he tells fibs to get out of trouble and then they turn out to be true, so he fibs some more and then gets away with it – it’s a children’s classic!”

But I digress, back to the story that every small American has probably read and we should too.  

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

We found Green Eggs and Ham in the library on our last visit and I plonked it in the ‘coming home with us’ pile without even skim reading it first on the basis that it would almost certainly be worth a read, and I’m so glad I did.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

 

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Green Eggs and Ham is just so terribly familiar to any parent of small children.  Because the grumpy grouch is absolutely adamant that he does not like green eggs and ham, not one little bit, not at all, and however much Sam-I-am tries to persuade him to eat it, offering different venues, different companions and even different weather conditions, he will not eat it.  I can’t be the only parent who’s had a conversation with a small offspring along the lines of:

“could you sit down please, it’s time for supper.”
“I don’t like it!”
“What do you think we’re having for supper?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t like it!”

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

 

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

And it did make me chuckle as I read; because of course the grouch hasn’t ever actually tried green eggs and ham and as soon as he has a taste with the aim of getting Sam to go away and leave him alone he discovers that he loves it and he can’t get enough. Sound familiar?

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

In my girls’ defence they are on the whole pretty adventurous eaters and will try most things, even if it has to be presented a few times first, but a little subliminal messaging will never go amiss, especially if it comes with tongue twisting rhymes and Dr Seuss’ distinctive illustrations.

And I’ve finally got the context of the Germaine Greer clip on Dead Ringers from years ago.  I’ve just got one more mystery to solve – is will.i.am copying Dr Seuss?

 

 
Space for the Butterflies: What We're Reading
 

Last week Jess and Rosalie discovered one of Usborne’s baby books, the Touchy Feely Fingertrail Playbook which I have duly bookmarked for Pip’s birthday in the summer. I love Usborne’s tactile books, we have the colours one and they’re always so much fun and there’s lots and lots to discover on each page.

What We’re Reading is a weekly link up of posts about children’s books.  That’s about as far as the ‘rules’ go; it can be picture books, baby books, books for older children or even young adult if you like; just come and join us to tell us what you’ve been reading recently.  The linky is always open for a week so there’s plenty of time to join in, or if you’d rather join in on Instagram or Twitter that would be wonderful too, just use the hashtag #whatweread and tag me (@cariemay on Instagram and @cariemaymakes on Twitter) and then we can all come and say hi.

 

My girls seem to have a bit of an obsession with beds.  Not their own beds you understand, not that would be a moment of great wonder, amazement and worthy of some sort of parade, but with making little beds for their teddies and babies.

Elma will tuck her teddies into her toy pram and dash up and down the hall with them, ostensibly to help them to sleep, and Kitty will rock her baby, give it a kiss and then tuck it gently in.  Sometimes it’s one of her pillows and a jumper, or a couple of blankets off her bed or a cushion off the sofa and the blanket Pip snuggles under in the car.

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And quite impressively one day the girls brought down all their pillows and both duvets and proceeded to tuck up every single teddy they could find in one long snuggly row.

I love popping back into the lounge and finding a dolly carefully tucked up for a nap and then abandoned in search of the next great adventure.

There are days when parenting is really hard, when it feels like nothing you do or say is having any influence whatsoever, when the hours are full of “please don’t”, “stop now”, and “your sister is not a toy” and you wonder whether they’re forever destined to be harumscarums .  But then I see how they treat their babies with gentleness; lovingly and sweetly taking care of them and tucking them up for a sleep, and I’m so proud of them.  I just want to scoop them both up and give them the most enormous hugs, to hold them close.  It’s one of those moment when the fierceness of my love for them comes barrelling through, wiping out the frustrations of a morning in a heartbeat.

Because if they’re loving and doting on their babies that can only be because that’s what they see and know to copy.  H and I have loved them from the minute we first knew they were on their way, but we aren’t their only role models and it’s not just us they’re copying, it’s the rest of our families, our friends and their nursery staff.  From Elma’s first nursery key worker whose name was the first she learnt outside of the family, to a very special honorary auntie who takes the girls for squash and biscuits at the end of church each week.  A whole host of people who love them, cherish them, and will make sure that they’re happy and fed and tucked up snug.  And with role models like that they won’t go far wrong.

 

 

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Kitty was two and a quarter when she started ballet, a little round cheeked toddler hopping up and down the room in her blue leotard and skirt and running, always running.  We’d started taking her to a class just after Elma arrived so that she would have something that was uniquely hers when suddenly the rest of her world was having to be shared with this new squeaky bundle of baby that everyone kept called sister.  She loved it and she’s been in one class or other ever since.  And when we took Elma out of nursery I wanted to do something similar.  Part of it was to compensate in a way for all the group activities that she so loved at nursery, to give her some moments with other little ones her own age, and part of it was for that same reason all over again, to give her a moment in the days when she just has to share Mummy with one sibling not two that’s all hers and all about her being the big girl.

Our first thought was to take her to ballet class; after all I do have a leotard that would fit; and I know she would really enjoy it, but something just made me hold back in signing her up.  If we took her to ballet it wouldn’t be uniquely hers, it would be repeating Kitty, following in her sister’s footsteps (and uniform).  There will be plenty of times in her life when Elma does follow her sister; they’ll go to the same school (God and the Local Education Authority willing), and I’m sure we’ll hand down uniform, they’ll be in the same Brownie pack if they want to do Brownies, they’ll be church nativities with all three of them in and probably church choir too.

And while I was thinking about Elma and the things that she really loves to do and trying to think of a class or a something that would really fit her my sister mentioned taking the tiny nephew to a class at a local gymnastics gym. It was a lightbulb moment.  Elma would love gymnastics, she’s been climbing anything and everything (stairs, cot, changing table, beds, chairs) since she was big enough to pull herself up.  And one google search later I found a gymnastics gym about 15 minutes drive from us with Mummy and Me classes on weekday mornings.

So on one of Kitty’s nursery days we drop her off and then get back in the car and head off to gym for a couple of hours.  I think it might be Elma’s idea of heaven, there’s running, jumping, bouncing and climbing.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

She loves sprinting up and down the air track and practicing her forward rolls, hanging off the lower bar, climbing up to jump off the blocks and walking along the bar.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

And when she’s finished all of that it’s time for parachute games – and then sitting on the air track while it’s turned back on again (it’s bliss, like sinking into a giant pillow!)

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

She has a blast, and I love watching her, helping her and joining in while Pip cuddles in in the sling and usually has a little snooze.

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

I think it is really good for her that she does something that Kitty doesn’t, and good for Kitty too; Little Miss had a bit of a moment when she realised that Elma got to go to gym class and she wasn’t going to be going but I think it was an important concept to grasp that even though she is the biggest sister her siblings are independent people.  There may well be a time when Elma does ballet and Kitty joins in a gym class but for now I like that they’re different, that their classes match up to their personalities and that they are Kitty and Elma not just two little Butterflies girls.

And just for fun, and because one morning we were the first people in the gym, I have a little video of Miss Elma in her element!

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A portrait of each of my children once every week for 2015.

   Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life  

Kitty: It might have been pouring with rain but there’s nothing that can dampen your spirit. You didn’t want to wear your hood up to stay dry, and I think you’d quite happily have taken a shower under a few waterspouts.  Even with the waterproofs by the time we got back to the car you and your sister both had soaking wet socks from all the puddle jumping.

(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/125, f/2.8, ISO 400)

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Elma: You’re some years off knowing what the words actually say, and if we’re being picky the book is also upside down, but that’s not going to stop you from reading the story to your zebra.  And in the matter of continuity from last week, you’re still wearing your fairy wings, just with a varying choice of fairy-appropriate skirts.  

(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/50, f/1.8, ISO 800)

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Pip:  You are so happily fascinated with putting everything within reach into your mouth. Mummy’s fingers, Daddy’s face, all toys and teddies and some good chunks of your sisters’ hair.  You’re going to be ready for some real food in the next few weeks and I can’t wait to see what you make of it.

(Nikon D80, 35mm 1.8 lens – 1/100, f/2.5, ISO 250)

And on a slightly geeky side note, all three pictures this week are exactly as they came out of the camera.  I started to make myself shoot entirely in manual at the end of last year, rather than relying on either aperture or shutter priority and I’m starting to get a much better feel for where to start when I’m setting the camera so that I only have to do a few tweaks while I’m shooting.  To have three pictures that I don’t want to tweak feels like I’m making progress and really starting to get the images I want to capture. In other words, hurrah, I’m almost as clever as my camera!

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