Busy Bags: Matching

I’ve been looking to start structuring Sandy’s playtime ever so slightly and veer him towards learning some letters, numbers and colours. Of course this isn’t something I feel pressured to do and I certainly won’t be pressuring him! He’s shown an interest in this recently so I decided to make some busy bags to develop some new skills.

These bags are also really useful to grab when I need something to entertain them with in the car, when out or when desperately keeping him from running up to a sleeping Roslyn shouting HAAAAIIIII BAAAAAABBEEEEEE!!!!

They are also incredibly easy to make and inexpensive.

Here are six matching busy bag ideas

1. Duplo colour counting (and building)

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All you need are colour matched duplo blocks in stacks of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5; and five cards with each stack drawn on and a number.

I get sandy to match the block towers to the pictures, but in the future once he seems ready I will undo all the blocks and ask him to build each picture. The colour helps him know where or place each one but encourages an association between the number of blocks and the written numbers.

2. Number matching

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This one is so simple all it is is two sets of cards with the numbers 1-5 on each set. One set is larger than the others. Again the goal is matching but also recognition of the numbers.

3. Pizza slices

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This one is fun and could be done with other foods your toddler likes. Just draw a picture of it with pieces cut out, it halved or the whole thing divided and get them to put it back together. Sandy loves rearranging the “patza”.

4. Object matching

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All you need is a bunch of different shaped objects and some card. Draw around them in marker and have your toddler match them.

5. Colour sticks

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Different coloured cards/envelopes and lolly sticks with the colours written on in marker to show the written words that go with the colours.

6. 2d/3d matching

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Take a bunch of objects and draw them on cards to match

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So that’s our matching busy bags. I will be looking at some other types soon so will blog on them when I get the chance!

Easy Rainbow Cake

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Easy Rainbow Cake

Check out this bad boy:

It’s the kind of beast you see on Pinterest right? The kind of project you either don’t do because it’s just too much work, or do and have become one of those sarcastic “nailed it” memes. Yeah?

Well, actually no, because this came from my kitchen not Pinterest and let me tell you I am well used to seeing my efforts pale in comparison to the baking gods and goddesses on there! But this was actually easy! And it did it with two AWAKE children, one a baby no less, so you know I’m not lying.

So here’s how to make an easy rainbow cake:

Ingredients

225g Self raising flour
175g Caster sugar
6 eggs
3tspVanilla
240g butter
500g Icing sugar
Red, blue and yellow food colourings
120ml Milk
Pinch of Salt

Beat 125g butter with 175g sugar and 2tsp vanilla until creamy then beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions. Sift 225g self raising flour and a pinch of salt and measure 60ml of milk. Fold in 1/3 of the flour, followed by 1/3 of the milk, continuing until all mixed.

Split the batter into six equal amounts and add food colouring to each: one red, one blue, one yellow, one green (mix yellow and blue), one orange (mix red and yellow) and one purple (mix red and blue).

Bake in greased 17″ tins at 180 until just starting to go golden brown at the sides and cool fully.

Mix 500g icing sugar, 115g butter, 60ml milk and 1tsp vanilla to make buttercream icing and spread between layers to build the rainbow cake. Then ice the outside and decorate with rainbow sprinkles.

Super easy.

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5 Tips to Get Things Done… With Young Children

I am a doing person. I do stuff. I’m more familiar with accomplishment than rest. It can be a failing in many instances, but it helps when trying to simultaneously raise two young children, do a phd and keep a house running.

I have always been organised and I thought I was pretty good at multitasking prior to having Sandy, but then that little ball of neediness flew into my life and the explosion left wreckage for miles around. It took me a LONG time to recover and get my s**t together quite frankly. I mean, I didn’t even bake again til sandy was nearing one. If I look back on who I was pre-children I would laugh in her face as I saw her typing “extremely organised” on her cv. Now my cv reads “I have two children and you are reading a cv I wrote while they were both awake”, or it would, if I had any reason to write my cv at present.

Anyway, I get a lot of “how do you find the time?” from people, in the nice way, the not nice way, and the genuinely looking for an answer way. So I will provide the answer, or a list of ways I manage to stop the wee ones wailing while I shout “one more minute baby” a few times.

1. At nap time, do only what you literally can’t do when they are awake.

Showers? Hanging the washing? Tidying toys? Nope, they can be done when the children are awake. (For showers stick the baby in a bouncy seat and the toddler in with you). For me, it is stuff that needs focus – reading, writing, planning uni work – or me sitting still, because the babes hate nothing more than the idea that I am thinking of something other than them, or not imminently about to do what they want me to do.

2. Involve toddlers in tasks that need done.

Make a trip to the post office an adventure and combine it with a treat (sandy loves getting a banana at the shop and paying the lady for it) or a stop at the park on the way home. Ask for their help with housework, emptying the dishwasher, handing you pegs for the washing, or give them a cloth to copy you as you clean the windows. Housework and entertainment in a oner.

3. Keep babies moving.

Both of my babies, before they could move, hated being still. They would never just lie somewhere while I worked. So I keep them on the move. Have a place for them in each room. A bumbo in the kitchen; bouncer in the hall; buzzy seat in the living room; cot in the bedroom; playmat on the landing. And put different toys at each then move them when they start to gurn and work in each room as you go.

4. If in doubt, add noise.

There are two things I know I can always get done no matter how troublesome Roslyn is being: cutting the grass and hoovering. Or I can stick the hair dryer on to eke out a few more minutes of peace from her.

5. Combine me time and baby time.

Sandy goes for days with family and while I still have Roslyn to contend with, it’s easy to have me time with her in tow. Go shopping and have them sleep in the sling or pram. Exercise with them there, do yoga over time, interacting with them as you do it, or use them as weights. Or get them sleeping in your arms and have all your comforts around you, films, snacks, books. We all know you can extend a nap with them being on you.

It’s all about being creative and brave. You want to bake a cake with both awake? It CAN work. Just do it in stages, involve your children and be prepared to stop if they need you to. Low expectations help sometimes! You might be surprised how much you can get done…

Scottish Air Show

Sometimes things just don’t work out. This I have come to accept. But it’s still a big old pain in the posterior when it happens and knowing it’s normal doesn’t always stop things hitting the fan. Such is life. And such was our life when we made last minute plans to see the Scottish air show at the weekend.

Normally I plan ahead. I like to get some dates in the diary, some things to look forward to. Even if I don’t know what we are doing I usually know we are doing something and can have unprescribed necessities at the ready. On Saturday we saw the Scottish air show mentioned on the weather and googled it and saw it was in Ayr, but an hour from us. Sandy is really into planes right now so Stuart and I nodded in seemingly wise agreement to go. We could have made a day of it on Sunday but it was FREE on the Saturday so, you know how that goes.

We were meant to be having our friend Emma over that afternoon so reconvened our meeting to coincide with the air show (which Emma later disclosed was mostly appealing because of the fun fair, and I don’t disagree).

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I should’ve known things weren’t going to go well when, on the ten minute journey to collect Emma, Roslyn grumped and groaned in the car. She’s generally good and will either chatter and play with her toys or nod off quite the thing. By the time poor Emma had been squeezed into the not so generous space between the car seats for ten minutes we had already stopped once to settle Roslyn and she was screaming bloody murder so we stopped again. She wasn’t hungry, she most defiantly was tired, but she wasn’t having any of it. She sucked Emma’s fingers and after another half hour of screaming had a power nap. But by the time we got near Ayr she woke again and then the whole “do we follow the sat nav or the signage” debate ensued resulting in going completely off course (due to the crappy signage) and adding another half hour to the journey, by which point sandy’s patience was wearing thin. Paper thin. Like when you separate the two plys of a tissue…

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I may or may not have lost the plot a bit as two screeching children tend to make me do and took it out on a husband who didn’t deserve it because he was the only one there who I knew would forgive me if I did. There’s something about the sound of your children crying. I can cope with crying, I can cope with a decent amount of crying to be sure – which mum can’t? – but when both of them are going full pelt? There’s something in my brain that just snaps, and then so do I.

Anyway. Enough about that. We got out of the car and sandy smiled and we headed for the park by the beach where we made it just in time to se the last three air displays and I managed to patch things up with Stuart. There is this incredible tenacity in us which allows for days to be fixed, over and over again, because if not then what?

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We were pretty late but the short amount of air time we witnessed had the desired effect on the little boy who loves to watch the skies. He sat atop Stuarts shoulders shouting “PAAAANEEE!” Over and over. “PANE! PANE! PAAAANNE!!” He cried, then suddenly, looking to car park below, “CAAAAR!!”, shouted with an equal level of amazement and delight. It was very amusing. He also called the military helicopter a tractor, because he still can’t say helicopter. As Stuart and I reminisced on a day 90% of which was best forgotten that evening in bed we commented on the relative success which was a happy boy watching planes.

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After the show we hit up the fun fair and a brief respite from the unexpectedly chilly wind was given among carousels, little trains and candy floss. We got less than healthy food for dinner as by that point it was clear we wouldn’t be eating at home and then headed back to the car. Roslyn was tired on the way back but wasn’t sleeping and it gave me a false sense of security thinking, she will nod off in the car. Looking back on it I realise the problem now. We were waiting at the lights beside where the car was parked and she started grinning like a loon at Emma. I thought it very cute and odd as she was shattered and usually when she’s so tired she doesn’t smile, just stares. And when is it that she tends to grin like a loon? That’s right, when she’s just woken up. I’m fairly sure she nodded off for all of 37 seconds in the sling and woke up with renewed vigour as we stood at the lights. And as anyone who has a baby will be able to tell you if they fall asleep, even for such a infinitesimal amount of time, you’ve got to wait it out for at least 45 minutes until they will even think about closing those eyes again. Fair enough usually but when the preceding nap which is preventing the one coming was less than a minute long, you are in for trouble.

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And we were. For she cried. And cried. Oh and then she cried some more. It didn’t help that it was very busy traffic wise and the hour long journey actually doubled on the way home. So yes, two hours in the car, stopping so I could swap with Emma and sit beside my two screeching children. Roslyn finally tired herself out once we got some clear roads and with the help of me shoogling her in her car seat for an age finally dozed off into one of those very very light sleeps where she jolted herself awake every few minutes and then dozed back off. In the end I just kept my hand on her face to try and settle her into a more restful sleep but nope, and as soon as we stopped the car to drop Emma off those little eyes popped open and she reprised us with her screeching for the last five minutes of the journey anyway, just cause she could. Sandy didn’t have a fab trip either as he was hungry but tends to find himself averse to any food that Stuart and I have been within ten metres of so refused to eat anything but a few licks of the mayonnaise on the end of his chip. Giving him my phone with his sago mini apps on helped intermittently but he was tired too now, and bored. And for some reason he was pretty pissed to have me sitting in the back with him and kept pushing my saying “noooo mummy” when I was trying to settle Roslyn. Super helpful. But as Roslyn shouted her way through the last leg of the journey from hell he realised he was out late enough to see the moon for the first time since spring this year and he was delighted. Hearing his commentary on it’d position in the sky certainly helped drown out Roslyn a bit which gave us just the sweetness we needed to scrape home all in one piece: “the mooooon! Moona! Moooon! Oh! Moon…gone! Moon away. Gone away. MOOOOOON!! BACK!! Moon away… Back! Moon back!”

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So let us never speak of this trip again and we can pretend the tough days never come, which we may as well as they rarely do these days, something I am truly thankful for!

The Easiest Caramel Shortcake EVER

Here’s a familiar scenario in my house. Somehow the stars align and Roslyn is cheery or sleepy and Sandy isn’t teething and I feel like baking and so I go to do just that. Be it Pinterest or a cook book or google, I find some sort of recipe and it invariably involves caramel and I invariably can’t be bothered with the hell which is making caramel. Love to eat it, hate to make it.

Usually that caramel is on a caramel shortcake and while the rest of making caramel shortcake is so easy it’s such a shame that the delicious golden centre is the only thing between me and regaining my baby weight.

But behold! I’ve worked out a cheat’s way to make it that doesn’t involve boiling sugar, black crusted saucepans or tins of condensed milk (which I don’t think anyone ever just has to hand in the cupboard). So try this out for size, the easiest caramel shortcake ever:

Ingredients:

225g Plain flour
100g Corn flour (replace with plain if you don’t have it in)
100g Caster sugar
250g Butter
Pinch of Salt
10mlMilk
250g Bag of Toffees
200g Dark Chocolate

1/ make the shortbread by rubbing together 225g butter, 225g plain flour, 100g corn flour, 100g caster sugar and a pinch of salt until it comes to a dough. Press it into a floured tin and bake at 180 until golden brown.

2/ make the caramel by heating 25g butter, 10ml milk and 250g toffees in a saucepan until all combined. Pour over the shortbread in the tin and keep in the fridge until set.

3/ melt the dark chocolate and pour over the caramel gently, allowing it to set in the fridge before cutting and demolishing.

Really easy, really tasty, really not good for my belly situation as I’m fairly sure the bag of toffees cheat will work when you need a set but not solid caramel for any recipe.

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Wild Bramble Jam

After our catastrophic failure to collect any wild raspberries last month we turned it around by collecting a bounty of brambles.

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Ok not a bounty but enough for three pots of jam, one for us, one for the parents and the other for whoever claims it. Potentially auntie Emma if she’s that way inclined…

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This time I enlisted the help of my ever loving husband and sandy corraller so a sleepy slinged Roslyn and I could collect the berries. I may have lacerated myself a lot AND got stung by nettles, AGAIN, but it was worth it.

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Sandy loves wild fruit, he gets such a kick out of finding things to eat just sitting there in a bush and still routinely checks the borders of the garden for strawberries. Without getting too green I reckon it’s a good thing for him not to just think if food as the stuff in packets at the shops.

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While the raw berries were a bit tart for his liking on the branches (a problem the strawberries didn’t have!) he loved the end result. We made the jam together while Roslyn napped, to his chorus of “JAMMMMMM! Buh… Burny. Burnt jam. Jam…. BURNY!”

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If you want to make your own just get jam sugar and add the same weight of it to fresh prepped fruit once cooked, then boil and test on a plate to ensure a wrinkly skin appears after it cools a bit to show it’s set. Then store in sterilised jars.

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YUM.

Linlithgow Canal Centre

Taking your toddler on a canal boat? Total winner.

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The weather smiled at the weekend and we took a quick trip to Linlithgow in the afternoon so sandy could see the “boahts”.

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We also had a wee picnic and Stuart found some more blackberries for my jam stash (more on that to follow).

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Linlithgow is a lovely place and everyone we met was so friendly.

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I was sure summer was over but it seems to keep slipping back for encores which I really can’t complain about. Usually I’m all about bringing on the winter but I’ve still some shudder-worthy memories of hellish morning sickness beginning this time last year which are sadly intertwined with cool mornings and dark evenings. So a little last hurrah for summer is fine by me.

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This boy LOVED seeing the boats.

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It’s such a quaint little place with a tiny tea room and museum, well worth a visit on a lazy Sunday.

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We had the canal boat all to ourselves which was brilliant because sandy was well up for swapping seats constantly, so we didn’t disrupt anyone else’s trip.

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Happy little sailor.

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Sandy got to press the button which sounded the hooter…

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…and ding the bell.

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It was such an idyllic little trip and a perfect half hour long for those with minimal attention spans. Naming no names…

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As we sailed along sandy was able to wave to bicyclists, picnickers and walkers and see birds, cats and dogs on the banks.

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All in all it was a fab activity. I’m really enjoying finding all the fun things to do close to home at the moment. We can’t travel at the moment, well, not easily with two under two (or just over!) so it’s great to exploit the fun things in Central Scotland. I’m only going to have all this time with them for a limited time so I’m making the most of being a sort of SAHM. With that in mind I am retuning to my phd now so the joy of maternity leave is over. It feels natural as the summer draws to a close and Roslyn starts to come out of the fourth trimester for real that I return. More on that later though.

Do You All Hate Me?

I’m seeing and hearing a lot of “it’s ok to be a crap mum” stuff at the moment. Blog posts condemning parents who go overboard in entertaining their children, comments like “how did you find time to do that?” and lists of things it’s ok not to bother doing to enhance you child’s day.

I notably saw a post decrying Pinterest and its content such as carving orange peels so the orange looks like a snail and making decorative or themed beds for children.

To be fair, it was quite a funny post, or well it would be if I hadn’t started to feel a bit conspicuous by my ability to do things other than just scrape through each day with two “fed and not dead” children. I don’t know what it is but other mums seem to dislike me for getting s**t done. I manage to keep my house clean and it’s “oh wow. Good for you”. I send out photo thank you cards for presents and it’s “I wish I could be that organised”. I make jam and get the “I don’t even know how to make jam, never mind find the time to do it”, at which point I might choose to omit that the fruit used to make said jam was organically home grown, or worse, foraged.

But now I sound like I’m getting at the mums that don’t have the time to do this stuff, or even worse, the ones who just can’t be bothered. What I really want to stress is that that’s ok, but when you are going on about it, stop and think that maybe the mum that does seem to do it all feels crap because you’ve painted her to be a do-gooding, arrogant, holier than thou competitor, forcing her all into these projects just to make the other mums look bad. I promise you, we aren’t.

I’m a doing person. It’s in the genes. My dad is retired after almost 40 years of seriously intense, all consuming, full time (and then some) work. And you know what he’s doing right now? Using his pension to buy a plot on an island and build a holiday let. As well as recording and producing albums of his own music. Seriously, he never stops. I’m not quite as full on as him, I mean, I do rest, but I certainly got a fair bit of his work ethic in the genetic lottery. Some unwind by having a bath, or sitting in the garden with a glass of wine, others unwind by decorating their kids rooms or scouring Pinterest for fun new activities to keep their toddlers entertained. Case in point: Right now both my children are napping yet here I am blogging about how I never stop doing stuff. Then I’m going to clear out the garden hut.

Basically my point is that there are two reasons I do all these things that warrant other mums getting defensive, 1/ because I enjoy them, and enjoy doing them with and for my children, and 2/ because I can’t not. It’s that simple.

There is a more sinister side to this though, in the form of a collective necessity to underachieve. It starts at school where it’s not cool to be smart. Other children feel jealous or defensive of high achieving children and bring them down because of it. And this transcends school and university and right throughout our lives. I’ve noticed it wherever I go and in no place is it more rife than in the parental sphere. If you want to bond with a group of mothers of young children a good place to start seems to be to gripe about how tired you are, how messy your house is, or how unhelpful your partner has been lately. The best way not to endear yourself to them is to tell them the delightful outfit your daughter is wearing was screenprinted by yours truly.

It sucks that it has to be this way. I get that it must be annoying to find it hard to keep up and see others doing it so well, I truly get that, because I feel the same. Ok my kids may always have well thought out outfits on and I may have made my own sling to carry the little one in, but consider that perhaps I am sitting on the sidelines envying your undamaged mental health? Or your ability to just go to sleep when you want to. Or the fact your maternity leave is just that and not a pile of books and intimidating academics sneering at your wish to have a family and not dedicate yourself fully to historical research.

Long story short, we are all different, and we should be accepting of that. It might be funny to disregard the talents of creative mothers’ projects on Pinterest and desecrate pictures of their work with rude language but it wouldn’t exactly be fair if that same mother took a photo of your messy house or chaotic brood and told you to get your arse in gear. We all do some things better than others and we are all trying our hardest and those results don’t always look the same but they do mean the same, happy kids in happy families. So maybe we can swap “how did you find the time to do that?” For “that’s great, we had a lovely lazy day yesterday at home” and be glad we are all coping in the ways we can, because motherhood is hard work for every mum, not matter how her life looks from the outside.

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Edit – fair comment from a reader that in an effort not for anything to be personal I’ve removed a link to another blog.

Almond Valley

I cannot tell you how much fun it is to have a little boy who is now so active, inquisitive and interested in everything. Ok it does have it’s downsides, such as his having to verbalise every single thought and name every single thing he sees AND have me acknowledge every single thought or repeat the name of every single thing he sees. Not so much fun to be rocking a grizzly Roslyn mouthing “yes, a tractor!” Over and over again. And you know as soon as you satisfy him that, yes, it is a tractor and yes, it is daddy’s tractor, you will soon hear “MUMMY! car! CAR! MUMMY!! MUMMMMMEEEEE! CAAAAARRR” and let me tell you, that boy does not possess an inside voice.

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Anyway, I digress. The point is, whilst this is not ideal for settling babies, it is very much ideal for enjoyable afternoons out of the house seeing the world. And with that in mind I introduce you to one of our favourite places at the moment: Almond Valley Heritage Park in Livingston.

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Here is Roslyn living it up at Almond Valley last week.

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This place is the best. It has so so much to do. Basically we went once because it looked nice. It’s £6.50 for an adult and under 3s are free. After the first look I knew we would be back again and again so I purchased a season ticket which is £25 so after four visits you’ve got your money’s worth. We’ve had the ticket for two months and already been about eight times it’s just that good. And what’s more, we’ve still not even seen or done everything they have there to offer.

For example, last week we were waiting on our friends arriving and pottering around near the front, and they have this whole indoor shale mining museum which in itself is a full attraction. Sandy liked listening to the voices from the past on the telephone.

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And another free added benefit of it? It’s directly under Edinburgh airport which is fab if you love to hear “MUMMY! PLANE! PLANE!! MUMMMMMYYYYY A PLANNNEEE!!” every 3 minutes.

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So let’s take a little gander at what we got up to last week, bearing in mind that this is but a small amount of all there is to do there!

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There is train station and train rides. We never got one last week as we were going on the tractor instead but we are heading out soon again today so aim to be on the choo choo in an hours time!

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Here is said tractor and a boy very much in love with it.

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Sandy was DELIGHTED to go on the tractor ride.

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Roslyn thought it was ok.

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Fast forward a walk though the myriad of animals to view and a bridge over a river (sandy:”wet. WET. MUMMEEEEE! WET!”) and we are at the playpark complete with a MASSIVE sandpit and archaeological dig set up.

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Outside there are trampolines buried in the ground so they can bounce without ridiculous supervision: genius!

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And if that isn’t bouncy enough for you check out what I’ve been calling the big belly!

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Then there is an orchard, a wartime garden, a ring throw game, and a train playpark bit with numerous slides.

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Oh and a blinking go-kart track! With the ability for a mum to pedal the kart with one sprog on the seat next to her and another in the sling…for the win!

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So yep, but a short amount of all to do there. There are also tonnes of farm animals, a pond, tractor driving courses for under 5s, three other playpark areas, a bouncy castle, small animal petting, a soft play indoor and a cafe. So very little chance to get bored. And with that I must be off as we need to leave and snoozy man is still sleeping away. No doubt we will soon be at almond valley with sandy gleefully serenading me with his wild call: “CHOO CHOO! MUMMY!! CHOOOOOOO CHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!”