Thursday, 26 April 2007

Bread hedgehogs

We have had fun today making these little hedgehogs out of bread dough. Most of them didn't look like hedgehogs when they were baked - they tucked their noses under and their eyes had an alarming tendency to fall off - but the girls liked eating them anyway!

Everything in the garden

It's all starting to look good out there!

An alpine phlox (douglasii I think).

Bridal wreath spiraea:

One of many aquilegias in the garden:

A gentian:

Not in the garden but I love these ranunculi:

Elsa's bag

I made this bag for Elsie to give Elsa as her birthday present. We filled it up with crafty bits & pieces. Elsie chose the materials, and we were both happy with it when it was done.

More pink food

We love meringues. Every time I cook something that requires an egg yolk I end up making meringues with the leftover white as I can't bear to throw it away. They're so easy, assuming you have an electric whisk, no way I'd do this by hand. For each egg white you use 65g of caster sugar. Stiffly whip the egg white, then whisk in half the sugar until it is glossy. Fold in the remaining sugar, then pipe or dollop it onto baking sheets and bake in a low oven (100C or so) for about an hour. Ideally then you turn off the oven and leave them in there to dry out, but we often just eat them straight away.

This weeks' batch were pink (of course), but we also really like a bit of cocoa in there to make them chocolatey, and just golden caster sugar makes them a very pretty fawn. Here's one of the little pink ones next to a shop bought meringue.

Sparkly thread and organza

Last year I asked for a new sewing machine for my birthday, so I could easily put in buttonholes and zips and that had more than three stitches. We bought a Husqvarna Viking and it has been wonderful for everything I've needed so far. One of the reasons for buying a new model was that I really wanted to have a go at free machine embroidery and I couldn't lower the feed dogs on my old machine which makes it a bit of a non starter. I've been collecting threads and fabrics and ideas, and finally got around to starting last night. And it was so much fun!

Slightly weird feeling - and should the foot really be hovering a couple of millimeters above the fabric? It certainly makes free movement very easy but I am not convinced that's quite as it should be. I'll have to phone the shop. I stopped when the thread started breaking on a new reel of cotton - it's probably easily fixed but after the third time pulling out the bobbin case to fish out knots of gold thread I decided enough was enough for one night, but I shall be back for more tonight!

Fairy doors

Last half term when we were in Hailsham we spotted some little doors at the Mill that were meant to be stuck onto skirting boards to let the fairies come and go. I thought it was a good idea but five pounds for a bit of pink cardboard? Not a chance. Yesterday I got around to making some for the girls - I was planning to paint some thick card but decided in the end to use pink funky foam. I think wood would be more effective but it is better that I am not let loose with a saw, and I couldn't quite bring myself to ask Bear to cut out fairy doors on his only real day off in the week. I stuck on some glass cabochons for windows, and sewed on a tiny bell from my jingly trim so the fairies can let the girls know they are there. Elsie and Millie chose their numbers and we decided to put in letter boxes too.

Elsie put hers on the skirting board under her chair, and I put Millie's out where she could see it easily. I was pleased with them (and I think they might show up in Elsie's party bags) but they'd be better if I had some better hinges - some of those tiny doll's house hinges maybe. I can't draw and it's no good pretending I can.

Now I just need to plant some evidence of a fairy visitor one night ...

Oh the cuteness

Recently I got my act together and phoned the Saffron School of Dance to see if they had any spaces for Elsie and Millie to start classes there. They have been pestering me for ballet classes since reading Angelina Ballerina, and one of the girls at work recommended this as a friendly little place to try. Elsie did start at a local class in a village hall just after she started school last year but it was all too tiring on a Friday afternoon so we didn't last more than a couple of weeks.

I'm glad we left it a while because Elsie is loving her new ballet classes, particularly since she now has the same uniform as the other little girls, bar the wrap which I couldn't quite bring myself to buy - she's a hot little mortal and never keeps a cardigan on for more than five minutes at a time anyway. She let me put her hair up and wore a pink hairband to keep it out of her eyes and when she held out her skirt and ran in to the class with the others she looked so grown up and so at home I must confess to a little tear. Rewind to last Autumn when she would come out of each class feeling fed up because she "couldn't do it". I'm so glad we changed teachers.

Millie had her first class last week and wanted to wear her ballet shoes and fairy dress. This one is a mother & toddler class which means I have to join in (though sadly not dressed up as a fairy). We used to go to something similar before Elsie started school but the timings just don't quite work now with that one. We were annoyingly 5 minutes late since I had an argument with a radiator that fell off the wall just as we were about to leave for school (!) so it was a bit daunting for her to walk in to the studio, and she hid behind me for a little while, but once we started with "Bend your knees, bend your knees, now Mummy lift you UP!" she was fine. Her favourite part was twirling around my fingers, and jumping from one end of the studio to the other to the Tigger song. She says she wants to go back this week which is just as well since I've had to pay for the term!

Friday, 20 April 2007

Tiny omelettes

I struggle sometimes to think of new and interesting morsels to tempt Elsie at lunchtime. She likes to take her lunch to school when I am not working, and loves her lunchbox and napkins, but she tends to get bored quickly so I try not to pack the same things over and over. Last week we visited Steamer Trading and I found some cute silicon moulds that seemed perfect for baking tiny lunchbox treats, Anyway, I had some leftover spuds so I decided to make some mini tortillas with a bit of beaten egg and some parmesan. They turned out really well!

Elsie ate lots of them last night, but only one at lunchtime today. I think an overpackaged squeezable yogurt monstrosity that Bear bought last week proved just too tempting for her ...

But is it art?

Here is Elsie's sculpture. Apparently it is a machine for feeding the lawn ...

Tie dying

I had a plan to try out tie dye over the Easter holidays, but it didn't happen for one reason and another. This week we were all back at work and school and nursery and rushed off our feet, but yesterday afternoon I decided to stuff the housework and have some patterny fun. We found some instructions online to help with the folding and rubber banding, and the girls chose the patterns they wanted for their T-shirts. We used Dylon Radiant Pink cold water dye - very, very pink it was too!

I dyed some old cotton pillowcases at the same time to use for bags, skirts etc, but in the end Elsie liked two of them so much she has claimed them for her bed! We followed the instructions for the weight of fabric to dye, but to be honest I think we could have done loads more and still achieved intense pinkness. Definitely an experiment to be repeated, though I'll try to keep some of the results for my own purposes next time.

Barbie, eat your heart out

Sometimes when I'm feeling a bit down, the best thing to do is to cook. And what could be more cheery than a screamingly pink cake covered with edible glitter and shiny pink balls? Add an angel and a de-horned unicorn and that's as good as it gets.

(Yes it was pink inside, but the photos made it look inedible. Far from it ...)

Neighbours of Duxford

We were a bit restless after we got back on Friday so to cheer us all up we climbed into the car and went to visit the planes at Duxford.

Both girls felt like ice cream, and climbing in the playground, and then we decided to ride on the land train up to the Land Warfare hall - not to look at the tanks, you understand, but instead to see the muddy boots in the entrance hall there. "Them dirty", announced Millie, and then they both ran down the hill towards the American Hangar.

While we were wiating for the train back again two Spitfires (or were they Hurricanes?) took off and started doing aerobatics, gracefully soaring up and down and flying past with that lovely characteristic sound. Elsie and Millie were very excited to see them and have decided they would like to go to the next airshow. We shall see.

Friday 13th

We drove home from Mum & Dad's last Friday, and the girls were really really good, considering it was a two and a half hour drive on my least favourite stretches of road so I wasn't at my most patient. The only slightly rotten bit was the traffic leading up to the Dartford tunnel but we sang Bob the Builder and Wheels on the Bus at the top of our voices and it all went reasonably smoothly. As we approached the tunnel I suddenly realised the date, which gave me a slight irrational pause (I am not great with tunnels or bridges), but then I saw the poor people stacked up in long slow moving queues coming over the Queen Elizabeth bridge and realised that if there was any bad luck flying around, they had sucked it all up.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

The Pumpkin Patch

Oh, how I love this shop. It's a little gem in a very unlikely location - right in the middle of Hailsham is a tiny shop selling a vast range of quilting/craft fabrics, wool, needles, ribbons, buttons, you name it. I wouldn't have thought of this little town as a hot bed of quilting activity but this shop seems to be doing well. I don't think I've ever gone in and been the only customer there! Sadly they don't do mail order, and there's nothing like it near us at home, so every time I come down here I have to be sure to escape to the Pumpkin Patch and then try not to buy everything in the shop. This was some of my haul this time.

I love this jingly trim. Can't wait to make some bags - it really rings like tiny bells!

Ever useful ricrac. Boden have some little girl skirts with stripes of ribbon and ricrac on very simple A-line background - I'm sure I can do something similar with these.

I couldn't resist the bunnies even though Easter is gone now - there's always next year.

Monday, 9 April 2007

Easter Monday

OK, I know it's an unrealistic representation of life in England but we had the best Easter Monday - relentless sunshine, lunch at Badgers, and Morris Men in the Square at Alfriston to round it off. We'll gloss over the traffic there & back ...

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Wood anemones

We are keen visitors to NGS Open Gardens and most weekends from spring to mid summer find us scouring the pages of the yellow book to find someone else's garden to poke around in. Usually we come away inspired, sometimes a bit envious, occasionally even a little downhearted - how come these people can grow lots of plants that I have no luck with?

There are a few essential elements though - there has to be tea, ideally a plant stall, and it's no good if a garden is described as "eccentric" - romantic, wild, cottagey, yes, but sorry, I don't go for zany in a garden. We did visit one that had some very odd topiary and a flowerbed shaped like a paint splat complete with an upturned pot of paint at one end - all in a tiny garden no bigger than ours; not really my cup of tea.

Today, we found a gem. In Arlington there is a farm that opens each year to allow people to walk for miles through bluebell filled woods. I've never seen anything like it, it's quite breathtaking. Anyway, it's still a little too early for bluebells, but today the garden of the farm that owns the wood was open for the NGS and we went along. The garden was very lovely (and being continually developed) and the teas were something else. But the highlight for me was seeing the woods filled with a sea of white anemones, stretching into the distance, and with my two blonde angels wandering through and dipping sticks in the ponds.

A Bear of Very Little Brain Goes Home

We're on holiday at my parents' house for the second part of the Easter holidays. They live on the South Coast near Eastbourne and there are lots of touristy things to do here so the girls are never bored.

One favourite activity from before we had children was to visit Pooh Country in the Ashdown Forest. I adore Winnie the Pooh. I love the books and the illustrations. I came to the Silly Old Bear late in life - I don't remember reading him as a child and we didn't have the Disney film to watch either.

I'm in danger of overexposing the children to him but so far they seem as keen as I am - Millie calls the characters Winnie-a-Pooh and Mr Bobbin. They are now big enough to handle the expotition from carparks to exciting places, so when we came down at half term we walked out to the Enchanted Place and looked at Roo's Sandy Pit, but it was far too muddy to go anywhere near Poohsticks Bridge (and this is the driest part of the country ?!). This Easter the weather is brilliant, and it has been quite dry for weeks so we brought along travelling Winnie the Pooh from Elsie's class and took him to get reacquainted with the places of his youth.

Yes, this really truly is Poohsticks Bridge. You have to bring sticks with you though as there are none at all nearby - they're all in the river!

Here is the view down the river where Eeyore floated along after Tigger bounced him in.

The girls hoped they would see the animals in Hundred Acre Wood, but we decided there were probably too many noisy people around and they were hiding.

There is a memorial to AA Milne and EH Shepard on a high but sheltered spot on top of a hill - this is Gills Lap (Galleons Lap) and it is so very peaceful you can believe that it is indeed an Enchanted Place.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Happy Easter!

We finally got the Easter decorations together in time for dinner on Maundy Thursday; we're going to my parents' for Easter itself so this was my last chance to make a bit of an effort. Millie was fascinated by the hot glue gun I used to attach ribbons to the various eggs - though I wish I could figure out how to use the flipping thing without leaving cobwebby trails of glue all over everything. We had cut some hazel twigs from the garden the day before and they opbligingly uncurled their leaves just in time for dinner.

We put the felt eggs into a bowl I painted years ago when I had a decent workspace, and introduced a few cheery chicks to help set the scene.

I decided we should have a real celebration dinner (a couple of days early but what the hey), so we had a butternut squash and mushroom lasagne from the Cranks Bible, and I made a small version of Nigella's Easter egg nest cake from Feast - I made it last year and had forgotten just how dense and rich and chocolatey it is. Absolutely splendid, but once a year is definitely enough!

The girls made their Easter cards to take to the family - I cut out lots of flowers for them but the rest of it is their work. They chose the flower colours too and Elsie drew little hearts to be the flower middles. She would have liked to have just hearts on the cards but we had enough hearts last week to last us a while!

Last night (while I was meant to be packing) I made so little bags to hold tiny eggs for the girls for Sunday. It's good to have the chance to do little fun projects after all those long curtain seams. The bags are lilac satin lined with pink heart (!) material, and organza ribbon ties. I was rather nervous in case I broke a needle sewing in the beading, but it worked out fine in the end. I might do these as party bags when we get to Elsie's party time again - assuming she doesn't invite too many small people!

Explosion in a toy factory

This is what our living room looked like when I came down from the girls' bedtime last night.

This is what it should look like.

Oh dear. I'm not sure the carpet is doing us any favours ...

Wednesday, 4 April 2007


Today I have helped to run an Easter holiday craft morning for 36 (36!!!!) children at Elsie's school. We had them doing all sorts of things, including making Easter baskets. All the children had a lovely time, and so did the grown ups but it was really, really hard work!

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Fun in the garden

The weather has been just stunning the last few days, so we've spent as much time outside as we possibly can. Lots of tidying up to be done (and undone as the sand pit gets emptied all over the place) and planning of what to change in the garden this summer, what worked last year and what is now a bit tired.

We have a very pretty clematis Armandii that is breathtaking for two weeks in spring when it flowers. The scent is delicious though you have to get up close to smell it. We originally planted it to cover the trellis, but it has been gradually pushed out by a Hall's Prolific honeysuckle and forced to escape up into the trees and over onto the house next door (whoops). We're going to put an arbour in the dull corner over which it is trailing where nothing will gro in the ground, and that should support it well and encourage it to ramble along the edge of our garden.

I introduced the girls to veg planting as well - they have chosen to grow broad beans and sweetcorn this year so we carefully measured even spacings for the broad beans in our little intensive veg bed. Then I came back today to find that Millie had taken all the remaining beans and was carefully planting them in one big hole. Oh well - we'll have some thinning to do!

A couple of summers back we put up a play house for the girls - I had a great time painting it and making curtains and so on. It is used as a toy store for much of the time, but Millie loves to empty everything out of it onto the lawn and the other day they set up chairs & tables for a picnic tea outside - awww!