Two weeks and counting

The summer holidays are two thirds of the way through already! I feel like the summer is slipping away already so I’m going to take a short break from this blog to concentrate on making the most of the school-free days with the kids. See you on the 31st 🙂

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Initial crafts

Summer holidays often find me with a houseful of children of differing ages, abilities and interests. It can be Really challenging to find activities that appeal to them all, are within their capabilities and will keep them engaged for more than a couple of minutes.

I’ve had this craft in mind for some time – originally I was thinking of spending a therapeutic half hour with the buttons and glue myself – but Tuesday was a little rainy and seemed like the ideal time to try it out.

Materials needed: glue (lots of it), buttons (in varying colours and sizes according to taste, but do remove any with sticky out button holes otherwise framing could be a challenge), paper, pencil and a frame.

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To start with, draw around the aperture of the frame to make sure buttons don’t get hidden behind the frame during the throes of creativity. Using the pencil draw the outline of the child’s initial (or let them do this themselves if they are able). Now for the fun bit…use the glue to stick the buttons within the outline of the initial in whatever pattern and colour combination pleases. This kept 4 girls ranging in age between 6 and10 occupied for at least half an hour!

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The background to the initial can be decorated as well, but there is a danger of “losing” the initial amongst all the busyness. The sticking can be incredibly addictive though and at least one of the 4 girls just kept going till the whole sheet was full of buttons and sequins and spangles!

Once the sticking is done, allow the glue to dry and then carefully cut the sheet (if necessary) to fit the frame.

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Place in a prominent position and enjoy!

Easy, fun and you end up with a kiddy craft that you really do want to put on display.

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Ditch the cynicism

I may have missed something but I’m fairly sure that here in the UK we don’t have an equivalent of Thoreau and his Walden. Nor do we have any great pioneering or homesteading tradition – homeschooling? Living off-grid? What?. And whereas it seems that this pioneering, have-a-go, homesteading vibe is alive and well over the Pond, in the UK? Not so much. In the UK it often gets suffocated by layers of cynicism, consumerism and defeatism.

If you compare images from popular culture in the 70’s, in the US there were programmes like The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie. Yes they idealised the past and glossed over the considerable hardships people faced, but at the same time they celebrated that family-orientated, self-sufficient lifestyle. In the UK we had The Good Life. I loved this programme, but however affectionately it was portraying the idea of self-sufficiency (in suburbia!) it still ultimately held the idea upas (ironically) unsustainable.

Isn’t it time we let go of a little of that carefully nurtured cynicism and embraced the idea of returning to a more family-orientated, seasonal, natural, simple lifestyle?

Even if we do live in Surbiton?

Food with friends

A 50th birthday barbecue provided the perfect excuse for a little more baking. Well, you can never have too much cake right?

There were a couple of recipes I wanted to try for Andrew’s surprise birthday bash, and basically ran out of time so never got to do them. There was also the Mississippi Mud Cake that I DID do for the surprise birthday party and which my oldest has been begging me to do on a regular basis ever since then – but I’ve shied away from doing another three tier cake until now, wanting to keep the baking simple whilst I recovered from the trauma, sorry, the challenge that catering for 70 guests proved to be !

But, I’m feeling the lurve for baking again….

So, three different cakes seemed to be in order for this summer barbecue. The Mississippi Mud Cake to please our eldest, a Grasshopper Pie, because I’m curious about the great American tradition of sweet pie baking and who could resist something called Grasshopper Pie? And some sticky toffee cupcakes, because I know one of the guests is partial to a sticky toffee pudding and I want to see how these compare.

Hummingbird Bakery was the starting point for all these sweet treats, because looking through their baking books is just too tempting. I cut the amount of frosting as I find their quantities mean that either the cake base is drowned in the icing which is just too sweet for my tastes- or you end up with a load of unused icing. Apart from that (and wimping out on the green food colouring for the Grasshopper Pie which meant my pie was more khaki than Grasshopper Green) I pretty much stuck to the original recipes.

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I was pleased with the Grasshopper Pie, with its gentle hint of mint, and will definitely be trying more American Sweet Pie recipes in the future

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The Sticky Toffee Cupcake cake base was excellent, moist and chewy. The topping however was a little disappointing, it was sweet and slightly gritty but I didn’t feel it was sticky toffee enough. If I do this again I will definitely add more Dulce de Leche to the mix to up the toffee content.

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Percy Jackson

My 11 year old has always been a reluctant reader, which, as I am a Librarian, obviously cuts me to the quick and causes me sleepless nights and paroxysms (LOVE that word) of mummy failure guilt.

A couple of years ago we discovered the American writer Rick Riordan. It has been, dare I say it, miraculous, the way he has switched my oldest on to reading. The Percy Jackson series, set in modern day America, but drawing on Greek mythology, has fired his imagination and enthusiasm for the written word to the extent that I have considered breaking the rule of a lifetime and writing an embarrassingly gushing letter of heartfelt thanks to Mr Riordan for bestowing his talents on the world. I haven’t done it yet but I fear it is only a matter of time.

Anyway, the second volume of the Percy Jackson series has just been turned into a film and released in the UK and oldest child fairly dragged me to the cinema yesterday to see it.

It was, as he would say, AWESOME.

Official Site

It is a PG but my almost 7 year old (who has been hardened on a diet of Star Wars and Harry Potter) found some of it a bit too disturbing ( the mummified Delphic Oracle in particular). The 11 year old loved it.

Summer Tote

I’ve been looking for the perfect summer bag for years. I want something that looks good, is big enough to carry all the stuff that the kids seem to think needs to travel with them everywhere (Lego figures! Notepads! Colouring pens! All in the bottom of all of my bags), and all the stuff that we acquire as we go around and about (stones! Feathers! Half eaten unidentifiable things). As a result it also needs to be supremely washable. Can I find such a beast – that doesn’t also cost an absolute fortune? Nope.

So I finally decided to make my own.

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The main material is a simple blue ticking, the accent at the bottom is Savonnerie by Moda Fabrics. Lining was a floral remnant I had in the stash cupboard – unfortunately I’m not sure who the manufacturer is. I’ll try and post a tutorial in the near future as this was so ridiculously easy to make even I (probably) can’t mess up showing how it’s done.

Now where did I put my Lego figures?

Idle Days

It’s really hard being a kid these days. There’s so much pressure to achieve-even at Infant School level- it takes a lot of the fun out of childhood. It’s hard not to get caught up in the competitive parenting vibe as well, when the names and telephone numbers of good personal tutors are guarded as fiercely as the family silver, and children are being primed for SATs and the 11+from the age of 7 or even earlier!

One of the things that gets lost in all this jostling for position is an appreciation of the act of creating. It’s not going to get them a high paying job (unless they end up winning the Turner prize or being mentored by a Saatchi) so why bother?

I think it’s important that kids have the opportunity to lose themselves in their art. To have some adult direction, some of the time, but also to have the chance to cut loose and use whatever materials and resources and imagination comes their way. To get gloriously sticky, covered in paint, and glue and glitter, wrapped in wool and bits of material; to sew wonky stitches, knit a hokey scarf that gets wider and wider the longer it grows. Imagine, create, fulfill.

And then we just step in at the end and clear up the mess.

And hose down the children.

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Cake Days part 2

Did I say the children were converted to caramel? A sleepover yesterday prompted the “Mummy, can we bake something?” request, and nothing would do but vanilla cupcakes with chocolate icing. Three little girls, each with their own mixing bowls and strong, STRONG, views on how they should be decorated.
We used Nigellas Fairy Cake recipe from “How to be a Domestic Goddess” but with some guesswork thrown in as my weighing scales decided to give up the ghost and my only measuring equipment was some cup measures. I have conversions from imperial to cups, but not metric, so found myself trying to convert from grams, to ounces to cups. Not sure it came out quite right but the girls view the cake simply as a medium for their artistic creations – as long as it’s edible and holds the maximum amount of topping the rest is irrelevant!

They worked hard on their creations. Oh my. And came up with more attractive designs than I could have

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I didn’t end up with flour in my hair this time. Oh no. This time I answered the door to our vege box delivery lady and noticed she was backing away from me instead of stopping for a chat like she usually does. It was only when I looked in the mirror sometime later and saw the huge dollop of cake mix on my chin that I realised why. At best I looked like I had a serious frothy dribbling problem, at worst rabid.

Cake Days

Lovely as it is to do baking with the kids and to spend several hours cleaning up the mess and washing the flour out of your hair afterwards, sometimes it’s nice to sneak in to the kitchen and do a bit of baking by yourself. Something a little bit indulgent that doesn’t involve gasp chocolate. Or jelly beans, dolly mixtures, or mini marshmallows. Radical I know, but there you are.

So I’ve had in mind for some time that I would like to make caramel cupcakes. The recipe comes from the truly inspiring Hummingbird Bakery “Cake Days” book (Collins, 2011. Isbn: 9780007374793)(hey, once a librarian, always a librarian)

20130806-064503.jpg. The recipe asks for dulce de leche which I couldn’t find for love nor money here in the backwaters of Warwickshire, and was too mean (and impatient) to pay for the gourmet stuff online, so I used some Nestlé tinned caramel instead. It worked brilliantly. The only thing I will say about Hummingbird recipes is that they always seem to be overly generous with the topping mixes. I’ve done their chocolate (of course) cupcakes before and ended up with half a bowl of chocolate frosting left over. I halved the quantity of frosting this time and that seemed just right to me – but then I prefer the cake to the frosting. The cupcakes are moist and light, sweet but not toe curlingly so. Unfortunately, this has converted the children to the joys of caramel so I’m not sure I’ll have flour free hair for much longer…

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Lammas

Today is Lammas, also known as Lughnasadh. An ancient festival, it celebrates the first day of harvest, and offers All sorts of opportunities for trying to get the kids tuned in to the rhythm of the seasons (I do try to follow Waldorf principles, it just doesn’t always work out that way in practice). It being the middle of the summer holidays we had a few house guests to lend a hand with making an oasis for the fairies to play in

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20130801-234157.jpg. (If you look closely you’ll see a couple of tame snails who will provide rides for the fairies). We also attempted bread making which is a more traditional Lammas pastime, celebrating the grain.

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Lammas is also traditional associated with the custom of Bringing Home the Bacon. The custom is still practised every four years at Dunmow in Essex – although it happens in mid July rather than the more traditional Lammastime. You can read an account of it here