Category Archives: DIY

7 free ways to stop strops and save your sanity on car journeys


You know those lists about the most traumatic events in life? Moving house, death divorce… With every passing public holiday it is becoming increasingly clear to me that whoever wrote them has never travelled in a car with kids for more than two hours on a bank holiday.

This year (and, who am I kidding, probably every year henceforth until they leave home/we win the lottery/we find a way to monetise them that doesn’t involve having to give birth twice more for the sole purpose of creating the world’s shortest and creepiest barbershop quartet) we’ll be holidaying in the UK. To Norfolk and the parents-in-law for Easter, to a friend’s aunt’s place in Devon in the summer.

So the news that 96% of parents have at some point been unable to concentrate on the job in hand – i.e driving, actually keeping everyone on the road and, crucially, alive – because of the noise their kids are making doesn’t surprise me. The figure comes from a survey by called Driven to Distraction. And while I admire their optimistic attempt to pun their way out of a sombre situation, if you’re likely to spend every holiday for the next eighteen years staring at a bumper sticker somewhere on the M25, it’s not the sort of reading that leaves you whistling ‘we’re all going on a summer holiday’.

They are at least decent enough to leave you with some strategies for tackling the worst offenders – take regular breaks to avoid car sickness, or take handheld devices away from the particularly puke-prone child as they exacerbate motion sickness.

And, apparently, handing kids a tablet computer or handheld device is now almost twice as popular as the old-time car classic I Spy. I know, I know. Uggg. But desperate times call for desperate measures and I’m not averse to using iPad hypnosis in moments of need. There are some good apps for toddlers that you can download for free, too.

I’ve been thinking, though, of other free ways to distract kids in cars. So here, in time for Easter, are my favourites. Tried and tested by the shortest attention span ever held by a three year old.

Scavenger hunt – draw (or steal from google images) pictures of things your kids are likely to be able to spot out of the car window (pylons, articulated lorries, petrol stations, tail backs, AA vehicles… the beautiful scenery that characteristically marks the great British car journey) Put these images onto one sheet of paper for them to tick off as they spot them. The first to tick off all the objects is the winner.

Snacks – these are, of course, essential. But not just any snacks. Pick ones with as little capability as possible to smear, crumble or leave sticky residue. Otherwise your car seat will look like a crime scene for the rest of time.

Avoid the croissant like the plague. The humble carrot stick is your friend, or homemade popcorn. We also make smoothies and stick them in some REVOLUTIONARY reusable ‘ella’s kitchen’ style pouches that we were sent a month or so back (more on this later).

Don’t, whatever you do, present them all at once. Hold them back and whip them out triumphantly one by one as each desperate moment arises.

Drinks – non-spill cups. Not too much sugar – EXTREEEEEEMELY watered down juice if your kid insists he is “too grown up” for water (ahem…) And not too much of ANYTHING if your next service station is over an hour away.

DIY story tapes - when Johnny turned three we got his nearest and dearest to record themselves reading their favourite children’s stories. The CD we put them onto is now a firm car-journey favourite. But for future, particularly tortuous-looking journeys, I’m going to make new ones and simply record them on the voice memo app on my phone.

The cloud game - what shapes can you spot in the sky? Warning: this game has the tendency to get Freudian with cloud-objects becoming increasingly murderous in direct correlation with the length of time spent in a cramped car with your family. On previous journeys of 3 hours and more we have spotted axes, tanks and swords.

Shoebox surprises - the trouble with kids is they simply cannot be trusted not to drop things. And the thing about a) car seats and b) motorway driving and c) cars in general and d) the pitch of toddlers voices is that a) make it impossible for kids to reach the stuff dropped into the inconceivably tiny crevices of c) while b) means you really shouldn’t  help but d) means you’ll probably try nonetheless otherwise you will go crazy at the wheel.

Solution? Take the lid off a shoebox and draw a dolls house/small town/racing track/whatever-landscape your-kid’s-into on the inside. Then supply relevant small toys (mini cars, mini people…) from the kids’ collections at home. The toys are played with inside the box. No spillages. Fewer nervous breakdowns from everyone.

My favourite tactic, though, is sill this, from mumsnet’s advice on travelling with kids:

“Pack EVERYTHING a week before, then get the whole family in the car and set off. At the first argument (around 1 mile away), say to them all ‘Right, if that’s how you’re going to behave, we’re not going.’ Then drive home and unpack!” – StarlightMcKenzie
Any more ideas would be tremendously gratefully received. Especially if they come before Easter. Got any? PLEASE? Thank you…
Thanks very much!



Playing: Nature detective. Not always easy around here, but hey – the challenge makes it fun.


FOUND SOME! No extra points for cigarette butts, sadly.


(Not) sewing: hems – we’re letting them down, ladies. Getting a few months more out of our threads (and still trying to find the time to tidy them up…)


Watching: the washing machine. The twists and turns are keeping her gripped (see what I did there? Like it was a plot? Oh whatever.)


Shaking: an empty Vitamin C tube that I poured a little dry rice into to make a rattle. She loves it. But, if I’m honest, mostly to chew on. Which also has me thinking: weaning. It’s not far off now is it? Can I do it for free? Anyone tried baby led weaning – feeding them proper foods without baby rice, purees or any ‘baby’ products at all? Possible? Practical? Massive faff? Do tell…


Playing: the cloud game. How many shapes can you spot? One, if you’re Johnny. A fire engine. EVERY TIME.


Making: mini scarecrows. Because, as Johnny likes to shout at strangers on buses: “SPRING IS COMING EVERYONE!” And with spring, the vegetables in our patch. And with vegetables, the wee beasties who ate all of them last year. Not this time, beasties, not this time… Quake in your beastie boots. Stanley the Scarecrow is coming for you.


Planting: a sunflower. There’s a festival going on in our neighbourhood at the moment and a lovely lady was sitting in the yard behind our local cafe helping local kids to plant a seed (literally, we do NOT talk in whimsical metaphors here). J chose a sunflower. We have it in the kitchen window now but she had some ace advice for after it blooms and then dies.

Cut the head off and leave it to dry for two weeks. Then shake the seeds out of it. Apparently we’ll get tonnes. Some we can replant, some we can toast and eat, others we can keep for Johnny’s next birthday party and they will make an EXCELLENT party bag – instead of the usual plastic toot, each kid gets a couple of seeds, a little pot and some soil to grow their own. We could even have a party activity of making mini-scarecrows to guard them.

Sunflower seeds. So many possibilities. Who knew? (Don’t answer that…)


This lady stole my idea for the NEXT blog…*

It isn’t easy having a toddler with sophisticated ideas about styling you know**



*Only jokin’ like…

**What?! We were in a BIG rush for nursery this morning… (and baby socks for gloves will be next season’s big thing. Just you wait…)

How to: upcycle. 1 jumper = 3 baby items


I’m all for recycling and reusing, me. And unisex clothes – that’s my bag [in my bag?]. I don’t want Frida to grow up thinking she needs the latest Disney princess gear in order to be a heroine. Far from it.

And yet… there’s something a bit difficult about passing a beautiful little dress in a shop window and looking down and seeing my little girl in her brother’s old blue dungarees. Again. And so it was that I decided to pay a visit to Kimberley at Mini Magpie. The original upcycling Queen, she was making beautiful, colourful, unisex, brilliantly bizarre kids’ clothes out of old jumpers and charity shop finds before Pininterest and Etsy were even a twinkle in your crafty eye.

I took along an old jumper of mine, a nice green wool one that I accidentally managed to hot wash (the fate of all my best woollens) and became just an infuriatingly tiny bit too small and an infuriatingly tiny bit too felty to wear. And here’s where I get a bit evangelical because: Lo! What miracle did she perform? Three, totally free, absolutely lovely, beautiful soft (the material having had all its bothersome new-item-itchiness pre-worn out of it), unique pieces of kids’ clothes for the baby. Like all the best afternoons spent in the company of inspiring women, I came away determined to do better. I need to dust off my sewing machine again, because really, what’s more empowering than doing it yourself?

There is one down-side. My kid now looks far, far trendier than me. Or any of the rest of us. It now looks a bit like we stole her in Hoxton from some hipsters.


“First choose your jumper,” says Kim. “Hopefully you have one or two past their best already waiting to be re-purposed! Choose one with plenty of natural fibre content, ideally over 80%. Examples are wool, alpaca and cashmere. This will ensure the warmth of the finished garment and it will also be more thermal than synthetic meaning the change from cold to hot will not overheat your baby. Please remember some babies are allergic to some animal furs or wools so check your favourite baby is safe!


The jumper – Kim shows me where to start cutting for the first item – a baby snood.

“Choose as large a jumper as possible for your first one,” says Kim. “Men’s sizes are best as they are less fitted.

“Check the jumper for holes or areas you wouldn’t want to show up on the clothes. Don’t worry too much about holes on your first one though, best to use the scruffy jumpers first in case you make a mistake.”

“You will need thread, scissors and some pins.”


The snood section of the jumper is cut out


a short run of stitches is added to create a space through which the baby’s face will fit


The trim is added, to go around the baby’s face


With the addition of a pompom… TADA! Done and dusted.


“Turn your jumper inside out,” says Kim. “Cut the sleeves off straight across the arm at the top as shown. These are the trouser legs.” 

“Cut down the seams of the trouser legs about 1/3 of the way down. Put them together to make sure they are equal.”


Arms cut off, like so, then…

“Put the trouser legs one onside the other so that the good sides face each other on the inside, says Kim. “Sew the length of the crotch. It looks like a U shape, but as you sew around, it appears to be a straight line.”


“Go back to the body of the jumper, or another jumper if you would like to have a contrasting colour,” says Kim. “Use one side of the flat tummy of the jumper to make a longways or horizontal rectangle. Fold in half and check with your trousers’ waist size then trim the excess. Sew the folded over part with good sides facing in into a tube. Peel out into a doubled-over ring shape, then place facing down on the outside of the trousers. Sew around the ring.”


Let the kids go wild with the scraps…


“Now your trousers have a warm and cosy waistband and should be stretchy enough to fit your child’s tummy without elastic,” says Kim. “Experiment with different weight wools, different length trousers and different sized waistband. Enjoy!”




With the remaining fabric from the body of my old jumper, Kim suggested some harem pants… Largely following the instructions for the trousers above but cutting the pattern from the sides of the main jumper body, rather than its arms, like so…


She runs classes, you know. And she’s on twitter where you should definitely follow her.

She also generously shares patterns for free on her website, so if you fancy giving these a go, you can find more complete instructions than mine on her website. What a woman…

Come up and see me, make me smiiiiiile (no, really)


Normal blogging will resume next week.

Because this week, all week, I’ve taken over the fifth floor of the Royal Festival Hall and filled it with children and rubbish.  I’m running my Cardboard Kingdom again along with the amazing Sarah from The Bungaloo and the Land of Kids folk. But this time it’s way bigger and has a waaaaay better view.

It’s day three and already, hundreds of kids have helped to create their version of London – how the capital should be in their eyes, building it from the real city’s recycling and against a panoramic view of it.

Hundreds of kids, nine days, a tonne of rubbish, sharp scissors and me and Frida. What could possibly go wrong?! We’ll be there all week – come and see us! Tomorrow, we’re building London Zoo. So pop in and make a tiger or two? And, of course, It’s freeeeeeeeeeeee…


Sarah made this bus out of a cardboard box. She is a GENIUS.


Day one


Day two