Books for Halloween

I would normally be talking about books on a Friday, but what the heck! It is the season for anarchy and turmoil after all πŸ™‚

I love to try and match at least some of my reading to the season. I try to encourage the children to do the same. So, from our bookshelves, a few spooky, or at least seasonally apt, books that we can recommend…

For Young Children (3-6 years)

20131031-064141.jpg A colourful, cheery, lift the flap romp through the contents of the Witch’s kitchen, fridge, pantry etc. Good fun!

20131031-064303.jpg Nicely illustrated tale of what happens when you try to change who you are in order to fit in. A bit of magic and mayhem but not scary – so no disrupted bedtimes πŸ™‚

For Young Independent Readers

20131031-064604.jpg Dahl at his anarchic best. My youngest loved this one but was absolutely floored by the fact that it doesn’t have a neat, everything-is-solved-and-all-is-right-with-the-world, ending. I think it’s great to mix in a few books where there is a darker thread running through the story, where there isn’t a complete, happy resolution – because life isn’t always neat and happy. Sadly.

20131031-065525.jpg Another Dahl book. Because he does it so well. And because there is a real dearth of well written, disturbing and challenging books for this age group. Frankly if I go into another bookshop and find myself staring at shelves upon shelves of stories about lost puppy dogs, troublesome kittens and frolicsome fairies I may be driven to a bit of book burning myself.

Erm, did I say that out loud?

Anyways, the BFG is another Dahl classic. My oldest child refused to listen to it when he was younger as he found the concept of a giant stealing a little girl from her own bedroom far too scary a thought to be going to bed with. My younger child is absolutely loving it. (And oldest child can now often be found listening to, and enjoying, the story from outside his sisters bedroom door – where he thinks no one will spot him).

Older Children

20131031-070707.jpg As you can probably tell from my previous comments, my oldest child gets spooked easily and really does not like scary stories, so we don’t have many examples on his shelves for me to share. Bartimaeus by Jonathan Stroud isn’t a ghost story, it isn’t scary or spooky, but it does feature wizards, djinni, afrits and foliots. So that’s alright then.
Set in England in an alternative reality where Wizards run the government, it’s the story of what happens when a young trainee magician summons a djinni with attitude and sends him to steal an amulet from another, much more powerful magician. Bartimaeus is a wonderfully funny, engaging, lippy character; the descriptions of London in this reality are beautifully drawn; and the story zips along at a fair old pace keeping the reader hooked all the way through.
Brilliant.

Friends have also recommended Darren Shan

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Skulduggery Pleasant

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And Goosebumps

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But oldest child was not interested in trying any of them so these recommendations are not based on personal experience at all.

And Now For The Grown Ups

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I love Phil Rickman. A friend and I recently spent a happy long weekend travelling around the Welsh Marches photographing the places that feature in his novels. Ok that’s slightly creepy and stalkerish in itself. But really, his books are superb. They are cross-genre offerings- but pigeon holing them as horror/crime doesn’t do them justice. A little bit of murder, a little bit of new-age spookiness, a little bit of theology, a little bit of rock-n-roll. Go on, give yourself a treat and try them.

20131031-072340.jpgA few years old, but I really enjoyed this one. A vampire tale with a twist.

20131031-072433.jpg I’m reading this at the moment. It’s a bit of an odd one. The author seems to be very young and this shows in the writing – which is overblown in some places, embarrassingly bad in others. And yet, it is actually quite an enjoyable read. It is trying to plug into the Dark Fantasy genre which has been so ably tapped by Charlaine Harris et al; but it is too innocent and Mills and Boon to really fit comfortably there. Dark and tortured, yet extremely good looking anti hero? Tick. Beautiful and innocent yet feisty heroine? Tick. Heaving bosoms? Tick. Bare, manly chests? Tick. Damsel in distress scenes? Tick.
It’s not very original, but as a good romp through well trodden territory, it’s worth a couple of hours of your time.

And of course, Charlaine Harris is great for on trend, risquΓ© vampire tales.
Carrie Vaughn is good fun if you prefer your supernaturals to be a bit furrier

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And for a good old fashioned ghost story (or two), MR James takes some beating. Whistle and I’ll Come? ( shudder)

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Non-fiction

20131031-073359.jpg If you would like an interesting, erudite yet accessible, guide to the origins of the ritual year, including Halloween/Samhain then this is worth a look. Hutton is one of our more eccentric academics, but his writing is enjoyable as well as scholarly. It’s good to see the history of folk customs given due consideration and gravitas.

20131031-073837.jpg And if you feel sick at the thought of Halloween crafting with glue stick and black and orange glitter then this is the antidote for you. Stylish crafting with a subversive note. Probably not one for the kids. πŸ™‚

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Halloween crafts

We’ve been invited to a Halloween party.

Yay.

Of course it would be positively rude to turn up without a present for this hostess. Preferably an edible one (the present, not the hostess).

And as it’s Halloween it has to be something that would strike fear and horror into the soul of any self respecting child.

What could be more apt than cakes made of, gasp, vegetables?

Cakes that are, moreover, a fetching shade of blood red?

Chocolate and beetroot cupcakes (cue manic laughter)

I used a recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery, but a similar one can be found on the BBC website.

I must admit to feeling a bit sceptical about this. I love pickled beetroot, but find that beets can be a little bit earthy without the tang of the vinegar, and I was concerned this earthiness would add an unpleasant mustiness to the cakes.

I shouldn’t have worried.

The recipe is delightful. The batter starts of a scary pink but this quickly turns to a deep red as the beetroot mixes with the cocoa powder

20131030-205426.jpgred velvet.

Once baked the cakes are dense and moist and very, very chocolatey. The beetroot just seems to enhance the fudginess of the crumb, and adds depth to the chocolate flavour.

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A delicious, sophisticated recipe.

Until

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Cupcake with bloodshot eyeball topping anyone?

Halloween Crafts

This is the kind of craft that normally makes me groan. “Knitting something for Halloween? Now? With only x days to go?” But actually these are so quick and easy you’ve got time to whip up a whole batch of them in time for Halloween.

20131029-105040.jpgBwa ha ha ha HA

Knitted Pumpkins

You will need
Orange wool
Green wool
Small amount of black wool.
Size 2.75mm needles
Pair of double pointed needles in similar size.

DISCLAIMER. I take no responsibility for anything weird in these instructions as I sort of made it up as I went along and forgot to make a note of what I was doing.

Using orange wool and 2.75mm needles cast on 14 stitches.
Purl 1 row.
K1(increase 1, k1, increase1) to end k1
Purl row
K1 (increase 1, k3, increase 1) to end k1
Purl row
K1 (increase 1, k5, increase 1) to end k1
Purl row
Keep increasing incrementally in this way, alternating with purl rows until you have 62stitches.

Knit row
Purl row
Knit row
Purl row
Knit row
Purl row
Now decrease in similar way so
K1 (k2 tog, k11, k2 tog) to end k1
Purl row
K1 (k2 tog, k9, k2 tog) to end k1
Purl row

Keep decreasing incrementally in similar way, alternating with purl rows until you have 14 stitches, ending after purl row.

20131029-101811.jpgflattened pumpkin.
Thread your yarn through the 14 stitches and remove from needle pulling yarn tight.

20131029-102023.jpgdeflated pumpkin

Sew up side seams leaving space to insert stuffing.

Stuff away making a nice fat pumpkin shape.

Now use the double pointed needles and green wool. (Alternatively you could just cut leaf shapes out of green felt and sew them on the pumpkin) Cast on 4 stitches and work an I cord until it measures about 2 centimetres.
Now change to normal knitting and increase into each stitch (8stitches)
Purl a row
Knit1, increase1, knit 2, increase 1, knit 2 increase 1
Purl a row
Increase at each end of the row.
Knit a row
Purl a row
Repeat last 2 rows until leaf is as big as you require
K2 together knit to last 2 stitches k2tog
Purl row
K2 tog k2 to end
Purl row

Keep decreasing alternating with purl row until you have 1 stitch left on needle. Thread yarn through stitch and fasten off.

20131029-103620.jpgLeaf and stem.

Sew leaf and stem to top of your stuffed orange ball.

20131029-103946.jpgis it a clementine?

Take a tapestry needle or similar and thread black wool through. Embroider eyes, nose and scary mouth on to your pumpkin. Add fangs, dripping blood etc if you so desire and have the necessary bits of wool hidden in your stash.

20131029-104053.jpgHA HA HA HA HAAAAAAAAA

I’m fairly rubbish at embroidery but I’m thinking your imaginations could go wild at this point, making the pumpkin a bit more scary and a little less ‘pumpkin patch pal’.

A Bit of Brum

First full day of half term. A rail infrastructure paralysed from overnight storms. What shall we do? Ah, I know, let’s get the train into the big city and see the sights.

To be fair, the trains this side of Oxford didn’t seem to be hugely affected by last night’s storms. I think it was a different story further south. We, however, travelled to Moor Street with no problems. The kids were suitably impressed by the iconic Selfridges building

20131028-195247.jpgSelfridges., but were possibly more impressed by the Krispy Kreme doughnut factory in the basement of Selfridges. A quick pit stop for dough nutty refreshments and then frog marching them past The Entertainer, Build a Bear etc to the famous statue of the Bull

20131028-195524.jpgThe Bull which epitomises the Bull Ring. Bizarrely it was wearing a dinner jacket. Sometimes you just have to accept these things. Just as we accepted the Predator who was Boogey-ing to Brimful of Asher

20131028-195724.jpgThe Boogey man.

We had two main reasons for visiting Birmingham. The first was to go to the beautiful museum and art gallery

20131028-195851.jpgBMAG for the Julia Donaldson exhibition. Both my kids grew up on Julia Donaldson. I can still recite huge chunks of The Gruffalo in the same way I used to be able to recite chunks of Shakespeare. Obviously it’s less impressive at dinner parties. But as I can’t remember the last time I went to a dinner party this doesn’t bother me to much.

I digress.

So the exhibition is super. Probably more aimed at the younger fan, but even our ever so cool 11 year olds got stuck in to creating a collage of Donaldson characters, writing on the walls of the Cave Baby cave and generally romping around the cast of characters who are as familiar as old friends.

20131028-200433.jpgThe Smartest Giant and the scariest midget.. It was wonderful to see the original artwork from Donaldson’s books, particularly the work of Axel Scheffler

20131028-200615.jpgsketch.

20131028-200641.jpgThe Gruffalo’s child. Do go if you get the chance. With or without small child for an excuse.

Our second reason for visiting Birmingham was to see the new, umpteen squillion pound Public Library. I really think Birmingham should be applauded for investing in its Public Library when other authorities are cutting funding to the core and beyond. Less than impressed with the facade, which looks like its trying to complement and/or compete with Selfridges, but is just trying too hard

20131028-200950.jpgBirmingham Public Library. Inside, well, the chairs look comfy, but it does feel a bit like the turbine hall of the Tate Modern. Not sure how conducive to prolonged study it would be. The kids loved riding the escalators and the great glass elevator up to Floor 7 and the Secret Garden

20131028-201234.jpgView from the Library

20131028-201306.jpgThe Secret Garden.. It’s definitely an intersecting venue. Does it work as a Library? Hmmm, not so sure.

Our final stop was to the bubble tea shop. This is a strange phenomenon (ba,baaaa, bababa, manamana,ba baaa,baba) (ahem) which has come, I believe, from China. You choose a tea base (green or black) then a fruit flavour for the tea (e.g. Blueberry, strawberry, kiwi etc) and then finally a flavour for some large juice filled bubbles which sit in the bottom of the cup and which you slurp up with the tea and then pop to release the juice. Like big, round, juice filled Randoms. They are very bizarre, but strangely compulsive

20131028-201946.jpgHoneydew melon tea with strawberry bubbles. Definitely worth a try, but watch out for the brain freeze.

A good day πŸ™‚

Guilt trip

Is it a woman thing? Or just a me thing? Does everyone else feel it? This constant sense of guilt? A low level humming that resonates through every aspect of life.

Let me illustrate with a typical day.

6am wake up. Spend 15 minutes getting ready. Mild guilt that I am not making the effort to do Eve Loms daily beauty routine of facial exercises and therefore inexorable march of time is causing key bits of my face to sag towards my feet.

6.45am. Wake children up. Give them breakfast. Slightly stronger sense of guilt that they will not touch muesli or other healthy breakfast cereal but fuel up on coco pops and Cheerios. Major guilt that they are watching CBBC and not doing mind developing, intellectual activities such as reading the newspaper.

7.00am. Set off for work. Nagging guilt that I am travelling in car by myself and thus practically singlehandedly poisoning the planet. Listen to radio on way in and feel guilt that a) I became a librarian and am therefore not in a position to do anything of much use to help in dreadful world affairs that are being reported on the news and b) am failing as a mother as child obesity is on the rise and oldest child only does football out of school once a week, youngest only does swimming out of school once a week. Try to think of a time when can fit more activity into schedule and feel great wave of weariness at thought washing over me.

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7.30am. Arrive at work and spend a few minutes surfing web to find worksheets to help children improve maths/English/whatever. Then feel guilt as latest book on simple parenting says kids need more downtime and less structured learning. Un schooling is the way to go.

10.30am, email from friend to say her child is on the Talented and Gifted list at school. Guilt that I should be doing more extra curricular tutoring in key areas.

11am. Guilt that I am at work and not homeschooling the children
11.01 Guilt that I am not devoting 100%of my attention to work

13.30. Leave work and drive to mums care home. Guilt because I really want to keep driving until I end up in Costa Coffee and sit there reading a newspaper. Don’t keep driving but pull into care home. Guilt that I am not more actively involved in fundraising activities for the Home
13.45. Guilt that I am unable to make Mum better. Guilt that I was unable to care for her myself.
15.20 pick youngest up from school. Guilt that I am not better at networking and getting to know teachers. And in fact scuttle away in a frankly guilty manner if a teacher so much as looks at me.

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16.00. Take youngest swimming. Guilt that oldest is left at home to “do his homework” when he and I both know he will spend 10 minutes doing homework and the rest of the time doing Minecraft.
16.30. Spend swimming lesson time marking youngest’s Kumon. Guilt that I am not watching her Stirling efforts at not drowning.
17.30. Shout at oldest for not putting more effort into homework. Guilt that am not modelling proper anger control mechanisms and not spending quality mentoring time with him.
17.35 start preparing dinner. Guilt that should be spending the time home tutoring the kids.

20.00 youngest in bed – guilt that this is far too late
20.30. Quick look at SouleMama. Guilt that am not a farm owning, knitting, sewing, crafting, homeschooling guru.

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21.00 oldest in bed. Guilt that I am too tired to read to him as “older children greatly benefit from still being read to”.

21.30. Fall asleep on sofa.

22.30 wake up with severe crick in neck and stagger up to bed. Guilt that am not spending quality time with husband.

2.30. Wake up with strange, unexplained feelings of anxiety. Cannot explain why this would be so.

Is it just me? πŸ™‚

Harbinger of Dread

Aka GingerBread (get it πŸ™‚ ?)

I don’t know how many gingerbread recipes I’ve tried over the years. It’s a bit like Goldilocks – some are too hard, some are so soft they spread all over the baking tray in the oven, some are flavourless, some are so highly spiced they make your nose stream and your eyes water. But a few years ago I found a recipe that was just right. Pliable enough to make cool shapes, but not so soft that you end up with shapeless blobs after baking, and with just enough spice to give flavour and gentle heat.

You will need

350g of plain flour
1teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda
2teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
115g butter, cubed
175g light muscovado sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup
2 tablespoons treacle
1 egg, beaten.

Preheat the oven to Gas mark 5.

Lightly grease some baking sheets, or line with baking parchment.

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices together in a large bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour mix until it looks like breadcrumbs. Mix in the sugar. Add the syrup, treacle and egg and bring together to form a smooth dough. Depending on how many children you are doing this with, either divide it amongst the kids, or cut in half and put half in the fridge whilst you work with the other half.

20131026-124035.jpgready to go
Put some flour on the counter and put the dough on the flour, sprinkle lots of flour on top of the dough (this is quite a sticky mix) before rolling out to approx 5mm thick.

20131026-124130.jpgCarnage
Make sure you flour your cookie cutters well and then let loose with your Halloween shapes.

20131026-124246.jpgReady to bake
Place on baking sheet then bake in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes.

Allow to cool slightly before putting on a rack to cool completely.

Go mad with the decorating.

20131026-124332.jpgpumpkin pestilence.

20131026-124454.jpgZombie Owl.

Fiction Friday

This Week I Have Mostly Been Reading

20131025-075657.jpgA Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.

This is a really good book. A description of a dysfunctional, but instantly recognisable family. It’s a funny, but also painful, illustration of the exasperation, love and strained dynamics involved when family roles swap as parents age and children grow up and take over the adult role. Highly recommended

Next Week I Will Be Reading

20131025-081242.jpgQueen Lucia
A bit of a cheat as I have read this before, many times. I do like to reread the Mapp and Lucia novels of EF Benson every couple of years. It’s like slipping into a pair of warm and comfortable slippers. If you’ve never read any of this series then you must go out and buy them. Today. They are an affectionate and very funny look at society manners in 1920s England – but that description really doesn’t do justice to how delightful these books are πŸ™‚
And then go out and buy the Boxed set of DVDs of the BBC adaptations of the books from the 1980s with Geraldine McEwan, Nigel Hawthorne and Prunella Scales. You won’t be sorry.

Moon gazing

Sometimes you can get a little bored of seeing the same Halloween decorations everywhere. The same bright orange and shiny black plastic. Is it even possible, or desirable, to have a more tasteful Halloween? Or are the two things mutually exclusive?

I’ve been trying to come up with some cool crafts for the kids to do in the run up to Halloween. I have thought of a few, but found myself getting slightly sidetracked.

As you do.

Well, as I do anyway.

Have you seen the moon over the last few nights? Beautiful. And, um, VERY, American Werewolf in London. Awooooo (that’s a wolf impression in case you couldn’t guess).

20131023-145110.jpg20 October.

Which kind of lent itself to a bit of crafting. Not exactly scary, or Halloween-y, but a bit eldritch. I hope.

20131023-145317.jpgFelting the moon.

20131023-145406.jpgwith hare.

Those vines look more like talons than ivy. Of course that was the effect I was going for. Honest.

20131023-145538.jpgMoon gazing hare.

And then I turned my carefully needle felted piece over.

AAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHH

20131023-145751.jpgreverse side

Is it supposed to look like a badly frightened cat on the ‘B’ side?

Chess pie

Just occasionally I get the urge to try out slightly arcane recipes. We’re not talking roast Dormouse here (though I do have Roman cookery books), but rather recipes from England’s dim and distant past that have fallen out of favour. Usually you do find out why they have fallen out of favour, but just sometimes you find a recipe that makes you go “why?“. Why does no one eat this anymore?

So, I found a recipe for Chess Pie. Now I know this brings to mind a black and white Battenburg cake, but no. Chess Pie is probably more in line with an egg custard, or a traditional Bakewell pudding (not the Mr Kipling Bakewell Tart that is so well known, but the authentic puddings you need to buy from Bakewell itself). It’s now seen as synonymous with the Deep South, but, sorry my American friends, this is an olde Englishe dish!

There are lots of recipes out there but in the end I used a hybrid of recipes from

20131022-212202.jpgHome Sweet Home and an intriguing little book I ordered during a late night Amazon browsing session (a librarians equivalent of a drunken evening with the Shopping Channel)

20131022-212327.jpgThe Lost Art of Pie Making Made Easy.

I wasn’t at all sure what the finished item should look or taste like, but you know what? It was really nice. The oven temperature was obviously not correct for our temperamental oven as the mix took twice as long to set as it should and the top was more like meringue than I think is properly authentic. But it tasted good.

20131022-212704.jpgChess Pie.

Why don’t we make this anymore? why? why?

20131022-212841.jpgobsolete?

Star gazy pie next?

Halloween crafts

I remember when Halloween wasn’t a big deal. When I was growing up in the North East of England in the 1970s, Halloween meant carving lanterns out of turnips (what folks in the south call swedes) and perhaps telling a few ghost stories. It certainly didn’t involve trick or treating (my mum would sniff that it was “little more than begging”), dressing up, or the whole carnival atmosphere that seems to surround it nowadays. For me Halloween will always be the smell of burnt turnip

20131020-191955.jpgJack-o-Lantern (photo from Wikipedia )

Be that as it may.

Halloween is nearly here and actually, I embrace it with gusto. It may be a throwback to my years as a Goth, or it may be that weird masochistic bent so many of us having for being delightfully scared in a safe and non threatening setting. Whatever. It’s fun.

It’s also a great excuse to make stuff.

I’ve had a needle felting kit for several months and haven’t been inspired to make anything.

Until now.

Needle felted pumpkins. Well, it had to be didn’t it?

And These are actually dead (ha!) easy to make. Which is good as I’m a complete novice when it comes to felting techniques.

Anyway, start off with a clump of orange roving. This stuff feels so good, it’s very tempting to just sit there stroking it. But no! Be strong and continue with your project.

20131020-192851.jpgorange roving.

Now run a basin of hot water and add some mild soap. Take your lovely, soft, fluffy roving and dunk it in the water, rolling it between the palms of your hands quite vigorously. Keep doing this until the wool has formed a ball.

20131020-193030.jpgfelted ball.

Let it dry and then take some very thin strands of black roving and a fine felting needle and poke at the strands of black wool until they bond with the orange ball, making the segments of the pumpkin

20131020-193212.jpgadding the black lines.

Keep going until you have made segments all the way around.

Now take a very small piece of green wool and roll the very end of it between finger and thumb until it clumps together – this will be the stalk.

20131020-193507.jpgthe stalk
Put the green wool on the top of your pumpkin with the stalk sticking up and do some more prodding around the base of the stalk to attach it to the pumpkin. Take the loose fuzzy bit of the green wool and loop it round to make a leaf shape, then prod that into position on the pumpkin too. Your little fuzzy pumpkin is now ready to go

20131020-193706.jpgbaby pumpkin

You could make a whole pumpkin patch’s worth of them

20131020-193808.jpgpumpkins!