Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The activity advent rides again!

For the past few years, like many, many other bloggers I've set up an activity advent for my girls to mark the passage of December days. When they were little I was very strict about keeping chocolate out of it, and about trying to introduce them to international celebrations. These days, not so much. It's more about forcing them to write Christmas cards and make presents for their teachers: "Look, it's in the calendar! That means it's FUN!" I must admit I thought they might have grown out of it but no, they were adamant about having one this year, so here we go again.

Last year I set myself the ridiculous task of posting every day about the small activities. Obviously I didn't keep that up - my health visitor used to tell me off about "Setting myself up to fail" when Tall Small was a baby, but I took no notice then either. So, this year I'm going to aim to post just a few times with more photos in each one.

First off, the calendar itself. Last year's envelope string was pretty but impractical - the envelopes kept falling off and it all ended up looking alarmingly saggy. So, this year, when I spotted little trees on pinksuedeshoe, I got terribly excited. They ended up being a bit fiddly (I have said before that I Don't Do papercraft) but each little tree safely holds a couple of chocolates and a slip of paper with a Christmassy picture and an illegibly scrawled activity.

So far we have had:

1. Make snowman milk - alarmingly addictive, milk with a tiny bit of gingerbread syrup and a marshmallow decorated to look like a snowman's head. The bottles are empty frappuccinos from a coffee shop that shall remain nameless.

2. Give coffee, tea and sugar to Jimmy's night shelter - a local homeless shelter. We do this every year.

3. Make up felt decoration kits - these are from lovely Sarah at paper-and-string (and John Lewis too!)

Tonight we have to decorate some crackers and make little elf houses. And the Brownie Christmas party. And now I have to go and make sparkly stuff for a stall I'm having at the school fair on Sunday. Oh help.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Mass vs weight (dahdahdah)

My girls are back at school after a week of the strangest bug we've ever had. A whole range of symptoms affecting heads, tummies, appetites, you name it but with each "episode" separated by 24 - 48 hours and necessitating an extended number of days off school as we follow the 48 hour rule. I do try to make "off sick" days less interesting than holiday days and I realised my work was done when they told me they were very bored and could they please go back to school now.

Still, we did get homework done, and as a reward I showed them something I used to love doing at school. Yes, I was a girly swot, and I bet your kids are jealous of the "rewards" mine get. "You've been so good! Here, have a maths project to work on as a treat." Oh, yes indeedy.

Anyway, yesterday morning was yr 5/6 science. We've been looking at forces and the teacher found a wonderful video to show them today. Now I have to apologise, well a little bit. This is going to stick in your head but since it's educational, I can't be too sorry. And to all those lovely people who say they like my science posts and wonder why I'm not a teacher - if I was, this chap is the kind of teacher I would want to be. Just inspirational.
After that, time to head back up the road for Yr 3/4 science. They had an awful song about friction last week. Be VERY grateful I haven't shared that one.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Jelly on a plate

Long time readers may remember that I used to perform many and various experiments with my children. That's working with them to investigate scientific questions. Not using them in experiments. That would be wrong.

Time passed and I started to volunteer as a classroom helper for all the science classes at school, and for a while jointly ran an after school science club where the children could explore the fun parts of science that were outside the national curriculum. We set fire to things. We built rockets. We looked at the planets. We made a lot of edible experiments. And I stopped blogging about child friendly science, because there are (quite rightly) rules about writing about other people's children.

Anyway, I have missed it, and as they've got older my girls are starting to want to explore vile and strange experiments again at home, so here we have, just in time for Halloween ... exploding gummy bears!

This one couldn't be easier. Get yourself some Haribos (other scary jelly sweets are available), pop them in water, and wait for 24 hours. Make sure you keep some unsoaked ones for comparison - in many ways introducing the idea of a controlled experiment is for me the most important scientific concept my children gained from this one.

The reason they do this is down to the weird properties of gels - they behave like solids but are actually cross linked polymers (long molecules) that can hold large amounts of liquid; in practice the jelly sucks up water like a sponge. Those water releasing crystals you get for pot plants do the same thing, and anyone who has been amazed by just how full a disposable nappy can get has witnessed gel chemistry in action.

The texture of these is utterly bizarre. The children tell me they taste revolting (I think they start off revolting but that's just me) and some of the lads at school have found that if you leave them longer they begin to disintegrate. This has led them to think of more ideas for experiments - what happens if we let them dry out? Can we filter them? Would they swell faster in warmer water? How about in the fridge? What if we put them in a different liquid? Would jelly beans do the same thing?

I have other ideas up my sleeve in time for Halloween. If I can convince them to join in, I'll let you know.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Aren't smoothies meant to be cold?

Not according to the people at Innocent - well, no, that's not entirely true. Let me rephrase it. Around this time of year there is a campaign to create little woolly hats for Innocent smoothies that will later be sold to raise money for Age UK - it's called The Big Knit and is a lot of fun. I've made a fair few little bobble hats over the years and always look forward to seeing the festive bottles on the shelves.

But I really, really don't like making pompoms. I am not good at getting them even, and more than a few have ended up falling apart because I didn't knot them tightly enough around the middle. And I DETEST sewing them on. I tried some alternative patterns (there are lots free on Ravelry) but am forced to admit that my knitting and finishing just aren't up to tiny hats. Shhh, don't tell anyone.

So, I was fiddling about one day and remembered Annie's Downton hat and a few rows of crochet later: tada! I like to think that if there were smoothies in Downton Abbey, this is what they would wear.

If you would like to make one (each takes about half an hour) here's how. It's worked in UK double crochet/US single crochet and is just one big spiral. I used Rowan Handknit cotton and a 3.5mm hook.

I make a magic ring (to avoid holes in the crown of the hat):

 and then DC 6 into the ring.

Pull the end to tighten and then proceed to work 1DC into the next stitch and 2DC into the following stitch.

Carry on increasing in every other stitch, round and round until you have a circle that's marginally larger than the lid of the smoothie bottle - for me that's about 30 stitches give or take.

Now stop increasing and make the sides of the hat - DC into each stitch until the hat sits on the bottle at a depth that pleases you - for me that's about 6 rows.

Join in a contrasting colour and continue for another 4 rows or so. I knot the new colour tightly to the end of the original colour and weave in the ends later.

It strikes me that this might make quite a cute little hat itself if the sides were shorter. Hmmm.

Finish off, weave in your ends, flatten the crown, turn up the brim and place it onto your bottle. Then make some more! I am contemplating adding little flowers but that would involve sewing them on which can only end in tears ...

PS Hope you had a good summer. We did, which is why I have not been here!

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

My daughter, the queen

Well, wife of Zeus in the school play, anyway.

Regular readers may remember that I have made a LOT of costumes for school plays over the years. This year I made tunics for 15 villagers in the Christmas nativity so when Tall Small came home with a request for just one costume, I was very pleased. Particularly when I read that as Hera, it was suggested she wear a full length gold dress and a tiara. Just the kind of challenge I enjoyed and while I did have to buy the gold fabric (and let me tell you, cheap gold satiny stuff is the very devil to sew) I already had everything I needed to make her tiara. One very pleasurable evening's work produced this:

And another evening of sewing resulted in the full costume.

I was very pleased with this outfit, as was my lovely daughter, though I wasn't prepared for how grown up she would look with her crown on and her hair loose - and I also wasn't expecting her to be singing in a little group of 4, or doing a small dance. She had told me "she only had 4 lines" - talk about modesty!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Shhhh tickety, tickety dum

We have had the best evening in a long time. Weeks ago we saw adverts for a travelling open air production of The Railway Children to be performed by Heartbreak Productions at Wimpole Hall, our local National Trust house. I put off buying tickets, and thought I had made the right decision earlier in the week when the rain was sheeting down and parts of our village (including the school) flooded - which just Doesn't Happen in this part of East Anglia. My mood was as dark as the clouds overhead and frankly I just wanted to stay in bed and hide under the covers. The end of term school barbecue was postponed because nobody felt like sitting for three hours on a damp blanket shaking a fist at the sky and cursing.

But then today dawned bright and sunny and we decided that, blow it all, we were going to have an adventure. We packed a picnic. We set off early to Wimpole and joined a long queue and worried that we might not get in ... but we did. And oh, I am so glad we did.

I have strong memories of seeing the Railway Children on film as a child, and  I have read it to my children and played them the audio version on long summer car journeys but nothing comes close to the experience of seeing it on stage. The few glimpses I had of the audience on the other side of the station platform showed they were just as spellbound as we were. The set was astonishingly clever, the cast were funny and touching, and the audience joined in with making train noises, holding up bunting and at one point donating part of their picnics as presents for Mr Perks' birthday - my shy little girls jumping up eagerly to give away their chocolate swiss rolls with the rest.  As the night grew darker and the birds finally quietened down, the stage shone in the darkness of the garden while Bobbie uttered the heartbreaking "Oh, my Daddy, my Daddy!"; small children were clutched tightly in the arms of their parents and many of us could be spotted wiping away tears.

If the Heartbreak Productions tour comes anywhere near you I urge you to go along. If you were ever a child, and if you have even half a heart, you will have a magical evening.

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Monster Factory

Our house has been renamed by my daughters' classmates. It's nothing to do with the behaviour of my little angels. No, it's as a result of the bright idea I had to make pocket money treats for my stall at the school fair this summer. At Christmas I was asked over and over whether I had anything for 50p, and I didn't - my jewellery is reasonably priced (well, I think so) but it's not that cheap!

But I did have a big box of fimo, and I had been crocheting monsters as presents for a few of their friends so I thought, well, why not make clay monsters? They were cheap, easy and quick to make and I sold about 25 of them in short order. It's never going to make me rich but it covered the cost of the clay.

And that's when I made the fatal mistake of offering to make custom monsters - choose the colour, choose the expression. I seriously underestimated the imagination of your average 10 year old:

The most complex one so far has a purple mohican, curly green eyebrows, sunglasses and a peace necklace. Apparently his name is Cha Ching.

I still have a series of 6 to make for my elder daughter's best friend. And then the monster factory is CLOSED for the summer!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Our moment to shine?

So, the Olympic torch finally made its way to Cambridge this weekend. We decided that really, since we haven't got any Olympics tickets, this was our only chance to feel connected and we would go in to see it. This required elaborate, carefully timed planning as the girls had choir in the morning, then Tall Small had a party in the afternoon and we knew that roads would be closed and we'd have a half hour walk from our parking place into town. I was panicking, I will admit it.

In the end though, the gods of skin-of-your-teeth timings were smiling on us and we arrived at a soggy Parker's Piece in time to take up places right at the barrier where the torch would pass us. And we waited, and waited, and waited some more. Initially the girls were incredulous "We're really going to stand here for an hour and a half?!" but as the excitement levels (and crowds) grew they became happier, and there were just enough interesting people wandering up and down the path to keep them engaged.

The Coca Cola bus in the distance.

Then bang on time, the parade came along and before we knew it the torchbearer was running past us and we were all cheering. Unfortunately both our cameras chose that moment to have epic failures, and the best shot we have is this one: 

Come back! The hand holding the phone is mine. Sadly it turns out I wasn't actually videoing it ...

We did see the beacon being lit, and then after some more dancing about and flailing in the mud the flame was transferred into its little holding lantern and taken off to bed. And that was that. On the way back to the car I spotted the coach it was going to be travelling off in, and whipped out my poor old phone, which is more or less steam powered and by the time it had started a park & ride bus was in the way ...

But we have pictures in our heads, and memories that will last for years; and it taught us all the lesson to look at life through your eyes, not just through the lens of a camera because you can't predict the crucial moment it will let you down! 

Monday, 2 July 2012

Pink and blue

Yesterday dawned bright and clear in Cambridge - barely a cloud in the sky but not too hot. Pretty much a perfect day for which I was grateful and so were Tall and Tiny Small - we were Racing for Life! This was my fourth year, Tall's third and Tiny's second, and we had hats and water and suncream at the ready.

Waiting patiently for the off along with everyone else

I should come clean and admit that we were walking - I don't run, not even for buses, so I always turn up in walking shoes and make no pretence at athleticism - but that's OK, there's always a huge cohort of walkers. Tiny Small jogged a bit - she would have happily run the whole thing. I have no idea where she gets that from. At one point we met a lady in a wheelchair who was fighting her way over the bridge in Kings College, needing only the smallest assistance from many willing hands to get over the steep hump and across the rumpled up floor matting -  the point is, anyone can do it (well, unless they're a man), and it is an event like no other - astonishingly emotional, supportive, and very worthwhile because it can only be the very rare, very fortunate person who hasn't lost someone they know and love to cancer, or know someone who is currently fighting it. 

The route through Cambridge is beautiful - it's a lovely city anyway and when you are ambling along with 7500 women, children and the odd dog dressed in a pink tutu it's hard to beat it. We all had our faces painted and wore our medals with pride for most of the day. We're planning to do it again next year - will you?

The fence at the end where people pin their back signs - lists of the people they are racing to support, or in whose memory they have raced. It would take a stronger person than me to remain composed at the sight.

And in other news: frustratingly, my keyboard seems to be packing up one key at a time. The full stop is very unresponsive, and the d key is not much happier, which with my blog name is a bit of a pain ...

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Double digits

Ten years ago I was panicking in a hospital bed in the maternity hospital in Cambridge while Mr DC tried his best to look excited rather than terrified. It was the due date for our first baby and we'd been booked in for a Caesarean owing to her predicted size compared to mine (I refuse to call it elective since that sounds as if I wanted to have one, took a LONG time to get over the guilt of that!). We waited and waited until finally going up to theatre at lunchtime where I breathed my way through the mahoosive needle in the back moment and tried not to weep (and therefore wriggle) or throw up as she was delivered. We waited breathlessly for the cry, as all new parents do, and then wondered how on earth I was going to hold on to her on the journey to the recovery room while I couldn't feel my legs.

Now here we are 10 wonderful years later.

She was, and is, perfect and gorgeous - and tall! At this rate she'll be taller than me by the time she's 11, but there's still a long way to go to catch up with her father.

Today we have home made smiley faces to take into school, and the now traditional mega card - an idea originally from Chez Beeper Bebe which we have made our own. Ten cards numbered 1-10 with an appropriate number of small gifts on each one, and which was the only thing the birthday girl actually requested. She did receive many other presents, but it is getting harder and harder to shop for her. She says she's too big for toys now. Sigh.

Love you, little big one!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Earning a crust

I've been a busy bee over the last couple of weeks. All the usual stuff, plus eight days or so helping out a curtain making workshop in the village - being paid to sew, woohoo! I wasn't making curtains though -  the lovely ladies there have a semi regular contract to make special gloves that mimic the effects of arthritis and are sold to various companies so they can design their products with arthritis sufferers in mind. You can see them here; they are bizarre to wear and very fiddly to make - right up my street!

I've also been continuing my love affair with tiny beads and pretty stones - here's a piece of rose quartz mounted in a peyote stitch bezel made with silver Japanese delica beads - each weeny bead is a tiny flat edged cylinder so they stack up gorgeously when stitched together. There's always a magical moment with these when you've added just enough rows of beads and tightened them just enough that the stone stops feeling like it;s about to leap out and feels securely held. Every one is a bit different depending on the shape of the stone being enclosed. 

I love them.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Isn't it funny how a bee likes honey?

Winne the Pooh would have been very excited by goings on in our garden yesterday. We're having the outside of the house painted plus insane amounts of other work done (this is what you get for 10 years of virtually zero house maintenance) and I was having a quiet sit down between rounds of tea making and friendly conversation, when I heard a bee buzzing in my living room. The back door was open, so I wasn't surprised. That is, until I realised that it had now been joined by two more, and that in fact the air outside was now thick with honeybees. I shut the door and ran to the front to alert the painter, then went back to watch hundreds and thousands of bees form a swarm in our newly pruned hazel tree.

It's alive!

A wider shot to show the size of the swarm high in the tree. The playhouse has gone to another little girl this morning, and the tatty back fence is soon to be replaced...

I had just found a local beekeeper who wanted to come and catch the swarm and give them a new home when I realised the bees were flying off and the huge mass gradually reduced again until it had disappeared almost as quickly as it arrived. It was one of the most astonishing things I have ever seen, and it turns out it's the third in our village in the last 10 days. Something to do with the sudden dry spell after weeks of rain.

I hope wherever they went they have found a lovely new home. I'm glad they came to visit, albeit briefly.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Flying the flag

Here's a peep at the latest bit of nonsense that's been filling my time - a tiny beaded Union Jack from a pattern found in the latest issue of Making Jewellery magazine. It has a limited shelf life - I doubt I'll be sporting it past the Jubilee and maybe the Olympics, but this one is destined either to be a bag tag - maybe for my dad's bag (still waiting to be posted) or a tag for my keys. It's a bit big for a mobile phone charm but I can see obvious ways to reduce it even further and then, who can say?

Friday, 4 May 2012

A haaaaandbag?

No, a manbag. For my lovely Dad, who saw the one I made for myself, thought about how he carts wallet and glasses and phone (his phone is better than mine and he is nearly 82 - I should rectify this) and decided he would like a bag of his own.

Mine is a two zip hipster (a marvellous pattern) in vibrant Amy Butler prints which will be wonderful in summer and completely doesn't go with the goretex walking coat I am currently living in.

His is thick black suiting material (gabardine?) lined with a mad Union Jack print because he is fiercely patriotic and because it makes me think of sensible waistcoats with secret hidden outrageous linings.

He hasn't seen it yet (so Dad, if you're reading, watch out for the postie) and I hope he likes it. Because I was thinking about him with every stitch I made, and as a result, for once I didn't swear at the sewing machine during the process.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Cauldrons in blankets

What do you call a vegetarian pig? I have no idea either.

In my teens and twenties I was vegetarian. I long ago fell off the wagon, I'm still not quite sure why, but I do enjoy cooking vegetarian food and try to keep the meat intake down a bit for various reasons, not least animal welfare. I've always been mildly wary of meat substitutes - Quorn is pretty much OK as long as I don't try to pretend it is anything else - and the kids wolf down Quorn bolognaise with hidden vegetables so that's a big tick in my book.

Anyway, my sister recently introduced me to Cauldron sausages (NB I am not being paid for this!) and oh my goodness, I may never eat a real sausage again. Seriously. OK, on the plate they don't look like sausages (too straight) but the flavour is gorgeous and as I discovered last night, they make fabulous pigs in blankets.

I precooked the sausages and used Nigella's recipe for the scone dough (the linked one is in cups but it's a very easy basic cheese scone dough), and they have gone in with the girls to school today. We shall see what they think ...

Thank you for all the lovely comments on my ring - I still haven't taken it off and thanks to you my hands are looking better as I have upped the water and handcream intake. Yahoo! If I haven't emailed you or answered in the comment box, I will do very soon. Trying to get back into the swing of things here!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Proper chuffed

I've had a gloriously self indulgent morning at Spoilt Rotten Beads in Haddenham, taking a workshop in art clay silver ring making. I booked it at the last minute, having intended to try and make rings myself for aaaaages - I've made sterling wirework and hammered rings, but the potential for shrinkage and thus difficulties in sizing had held me back from silver clay ones.

Our lovely tutor, Juliet, took five of us through from sizing through rolling and embellishing, drying, filing, firing and finally polishing. She was very calm, most of us were a bit twitchy but at the end of three hours, we had all produced gorgeous rings that fit and sparkled.

I had a tense moment when my band cracked, but with a goodly dollop of silver paste all was well.

I love my new ring. It fits, and thanks to the edges I spent ages bevelling, it is really, really comfortable. I'd like to make another one straight away, but I have a secret squirrel project I need to finish for tomorrow so I'd better get on with it.

Slightly horrified by my wrinkly hands - just be glad I didn't zoom in!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The end of an era

Three years ago we took on an allotment. It was a reclaimed bit of field, and we dug and planted and used gallons of suncream in whipping it into shape. The first season was fabulous - freshly picked sweetcorn, armfuls of cut flowers, endless potatoes and the most delicious beans and courgettes and butternut squash.

The second season started well - our potatoes were frosted in late May, but undaunted we carried on, cultivated the areas we had left fallow the first year and planted crops - which subsequently failed.

Last year, I determined to get to grips with the plot that was by now threatening to go back to nature. I gave in and used Roundup on the most stubborn weeds, something I had promised myself I would never do. Our little patch of paradise began to resemble a derelict building site. 

I started to lose sleep over it. I started to feel like a failure.

So, we have decided to give it up. I went up last night to say goodbye and thank you and to collect the last of our tools. I felt nostalgic on the long trudge up the path to the middle of the windy hillside, and wavered for a moment - until I saw that something had broken down our fence and there was a rabbit lolloping about in it.

I picked the last tulips, hoisted my barrow and headed back to the car. And breathed.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Decisions, decisions

We've lived in our 100 year old house for 12 years now. In that time we've had two children, overhauled the garden, started and abandoned an allotment, left a job (me), started a company (Mr DC), learned to play the piano (me) ... the one thing we haven't done is repainted our bedroom. And it shows, believe me, it shows. We've gone through all the other rooms and are now back to the point where most of them need repainting, but still, our room is a shameful secret, the one where I close the doors if anyone comes to visit and needs to go upstairs to the bathroom.

But no more! We are finally going for it! Someone is coming to remove the old wallpaper and rehang it and paint it for us. And I am very excited BUT it means we have to choose wall colours. I'm not good at this. We have made big decor mistakes in the past and had to live with them (the orange living room had to be seen to be believed) so we're going to be a bit restrained. But still, I am not ready to magnolia my life.

So, shades of cream? Tasteful Country Living style colours with fabulous names? The trouble is, they don;t look the same in the pot as on the wall, and they don't look the same in different parts of the room or at different times of day - you all know this, and the photos make it abundantly clear. As a result, our walls are patched with blocks of colour. And are we closer to a decision? Maybe ...

At the moment, the lightest shade (it's called Wildwood, but let's face it, it's beige) is winning for the "feature wall" (hark at me) with the paler cream for the remaining three walls, but nothing is set in stone.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

An end to lunchbox tedium?

I don't know how many of you watched the Fabulous Baker Brothers a while back on Channel 4. I found them extremely entertaining, though possibly I wasn't supposed to laugh out loud at the program quite as frequently as I did. They reminded me of some of the boys I went to college with. That may or may not be a good thing.

Anyway,  they did have some tempting recipes, and one that really caught my eye was the Sliders. Not the burgers, as past experience has led me to believe that burgers and I will never be friends (I love red steak but cannot countenance a rare burger, and if it's cooked as thoroughly as I need it to be, it resembles a hockey puck and is about as digestible). I have no idea why they're called sliders. I suspect I may not want to know. But the buns - now we're talking.

The recipe is here, and they were easy and altogether too delicious. I can't make these too often because they are small enough that it is far too easy to trough one every time you pass them. But they were very good for lunchboxes and made a refreshing change from Hovis sandwiches. How I loathe making  Hovis sandwiches for children's lunches seemingly every day.     

And as luck would have it, we'll be near Chipping Sodbury in a few weeks time so I might just pop into the Hobbs House Bakery and try the originals for myself!