Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Treasure boxes

I can't bear to throw away the boxes that come with shoes, so given the rate two little people get through them I often have a stash of them stacked up. They come in useful for stashing little bits and pieces but the best thing of all is to get out some glue and brushes and a box of paper and feathers and sequins and let the girls make treasure boxes. It keeps them occupied for a good while and we have pretty boxes to pile up at the end of it. I even managed a cup of tea and a sit down while they were doing this little lot!

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Summer snowmen

OK, this is depressing. Elsie gets clearer shots out of the camera than I do!

Mine - atmospheric or just dark?


Crinkly pinkly skirt

Every month there is a fabric sale at one of the church halls on the outskirts of Cambridge. Usually I either forget or am not in the right place at the right time but when I am I love to go along. There's a beautiful selection of cottons and linens (along with some truly hideous shiny synthetic stuff) at £4-6 per metre. We went this week and bought a selection of pretty stuff for making skirts and dresses for the summer - now I just need to find the time to sew them all!

Anyway, last year (yes, last YEAR) I bought some very lovely pink crinkly cotton with ribbons and sequins and embroidered embellishments, with the intention of making a dress for Elsie. Finally this week I got round to using it, but decided to make tiered peasant skirts for them both based on the tutorial at Be Sew Stylish. With hindsight I should have just made another whirly skirt as the pleated fabric didn't really gather properly and the topstitching needed at each layer just stretched it a bit too flat. But they are pretty and the girls do seem to like them.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Bishopston Trading

Lots of people have been writing about the furore over the Anya Hindmarch bags for Sainsburys, and rightly so - seems like it was a good idea but misguided in its execution. It made me think though of a little company my sister introduced me to a couple of years back; Bishopston Trading have a few branches in the West Country selling fairtrade organic cotton clothes and accessories. I've bought a few bits and pieces from them and both the quality and prices are good, but my very favourite thing is that when you place an order it comes packed in a little cotton tote bag - perfect for keeping in a handbag or using for library books!

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Twirling dervish

One of the things I love about reading other people's blogs is seeing how everyone interprets patterns and tutorials generously given out by their clever designers. I've had House on Hill Road's twirly skirt on my mind for a while - I used to make skirts like this for myself years ago when I was a student and it was trendy to wear them with thick black tights and Housemartins-inspired anoraks. That was a long time ago now though and I don't think I'd look quite so cute anymore ... but I have two little mice who would and do. I found some pretty pink material at Oxfam the other day; I nearly didn't pick it up, and then I decided to buy it for making drawstring storage bags, but once it was washed I realised it would make very pretty skirts.

As is traditional I made lots of mistakes due to not reading the pattern, and being impatient, but the girls have both worn their skirts all day and they have asked my to make some more for them - I think that counts as a success!

A bag of my very own

A couple of weeks ago I found a new charity shop in Saffron Walden that had some great pieces of fabric and seems to ask for a pound regardless of what you actually find. So this week I found time to cut into the beautiful piece I found and make a full sized TinyHappy bag for me.

I used futuregirl's trick for making a little label to put in it and I love it! I am less keen on my whirly washing line but it is a good place to hang bags for taking photos.

It lives!

I went a bit mad pruning the lavender this year. My friend Katie-up-the-road grows beautiful lavender, a full hedge of stunning scented flowers every year. She told me she cuts it back hard after flowering and I though I would have a go with ours. Well, I thought I'd killed it, and was really cross as reasonable sized lavender can be pricey; so I bought some seeds and planned to take cuttings from surviving bushes, but today I can see signs of growth on the savaged ones and I think it might just make it! I have learned my lesson though ...

Millie and I took advantage of the good weather and pottered about in the garden all afternoon.

We dug up naughty mint and lemon balm and potted them up to sell at the school summer fayre, and planted out some of our bean seedlings - how long do you think these will last before the slugs get them? We lost 2 entire rows of lettuces to the little beasts this week, and I am not planting out my sweetcorn until I can surround it with crushed shells or something similar. I don't want to use slug pellets, but I shall break out the beer traps if they don't lay off.

The warm wet weather has brought out the deutzia early. I planted this when Elsie was a baby and always look forward to it coming into flower - summer's coming!

Daddy and Elsie hit Duxford

Today was the spring airshow at Duxford. When Elsie turns 5 we'll have to pay for her (and hoo-eee is that place pricey) so Bear decided to take her this afternoon to see if she liked it. Well, apparently she did, though when she came home and I asked her what her favourite thing had been , she said " The ice cream van!" Naturally.

She also had a good time on the various side shows. I'm not sure she actually saw any planes!

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Sheep food

As we were coming back from ballet this morning (a class that didn't happen - the teacher was sick) Millie said to me "Mummy, what are the sheep eating?" I was very pleased because usually I say that to her and we have all sorts of bizarre suggestions. So, eager to play along I said, "Oh, ummmm, butterfly cakes?"






"Beef stew?"

"No, mummy, they do not like beef stew!"

But they do like cake and cucumber and cauliflower?! Apparently so.

"OK, how about pizza?"

"Yes, pizza!!".

Of course.

I have a feeling the sheep's name may actually be Millie.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

The beauty of symmetry

Elsie has been making butterfly pictures with random paint splodges for as long as she's been able to hold a paintbrush. Recently she's been learning about symmetry and has realised that all sorts of interesting things can be chopped in half and reconstructed.

The one she did of Bear was alarmingly accurate!

Millie thinks you shouldn't stop at just one fold, and turns every painting into a very soggy present that I gingerly unwrap and enthusiastically praise while trying to keep paint off the floor. Thank goodness we covered the table in cheap oilcloth not Cath Kidston!

Chick chick chick chick chickeeeen

... lay a little egg for me.

Well, for our neighbours, actually. Their smallholding has gone into overdrive and we are enjoying home reared, locally produced sausages, and eggs fresh from their hens most days. I haven't bought supermarket eggs in weeks!

It's saving us a fortune, with the rate this household gets through 'em ...

Rain, rain, go away

Yes, I know it had been dry for too long. Yes I know the gardens and fields need the water but please, can it just stop now for a little while? It's been raining on and off for a week and everything round us is lovely and green again. We did see 5 minutes of sunshine this morning but then back to grey and drizzly again and poor Elsie in her winter uniform - which she is, of course growing out of. I refuse to buy more winter skirts in May!

What can you do when it is raining? Make paper boats and sail them in the sand pit, of course. Those didn't survive long being poked with sticks, so we cut the ends off some water bottles and turned those into coracles. And then when it got too wet to sail them outside, in came the boats to sail in an old washing up bowl.

(By the way, that's the scars of the great tie dye experiment on the bottom of the bowl)

I'd have a wild eyed stare like Tico if I had just witnessed Isa contemplating his watery fate ...

Still the rain does look beautiful on my hostas. I never had luck with hostas, far too much of a shady slug's paradise in our garden but I put these two in pots liberally wrapped with copper tape and heavily mulched with sharp gravel and they have survived the winter. They're Sum & Substance or some other variety meant to be repellent to slugs and so far they have not had at them. Mind you, since they'd have to cross a sea of driveway gravel before they even reached the armed pots, I think they'd need to be super slugs I wouldn't want to meet on a dark night.

Monday, 14 May 2007

Wyken Vineyards

A couple of weekends ago we decided to drive out to a vineyard with a garden attached. I didn't get round to putting up pictures of it, but since the weather's so soggy we haven't been to see anywhere else so here they are.

We had planned a picnic, so Bear looked at the map and found a likely looking spot next to a lake and off we went. Unfortunately when we got there the lake was not accessible from the footpath, which itself was clearly the place the villagers take their dogs to be exercised; and even if we had found somwhere to sit, the opposite side shore was the location of a very large pig farm. Hummm. Not promising. We headed back towards the car and decided to stop in the churchyard for lunch as the girls were hungry and time was marching on. Once we had sat down under a big tree and got over the initial strangeness of being surrounded by gravestones (!) we did have a fun time though I couldn't help wondering how odd I would find it if we came across someone picnicking in our churchyard. This one was a bit more secluded that ours though ...

We drove on, not quite knowing what to expect. Initial impressions weren't great - there was a big shop and a proper cafe/bistro which wasn't quite what we expected but then we went into the garden and it was absolutely charming.

The vineyard office had its own thriving cottage garden, and there were lots of chickens for the girls to look at. Millie was very excited to find the nesting box on the side of a henhouse that had eggs laid in it, and she very carefully lifted the lid to show me and solemnly told me I mustn't touch the eggs.

We met a fine peacock and admired the house and the lakes and the tadpoles and the gorgeous roses everywhere. The main reason Elsie wanted to go was that there was a maze, and she and Millie had a great time leading us around in it. It's beech, and the hedges are tall enough to be above my head (I think maybe Bear could see over the top - at least, he was very good at not getting lost) and in the middle there was a little house on a platform to climb into and admire the view.

But the best bit was a brilliant rope swing at the very end of the garden. It made me feel sick but two small girls and one tall man thought it was the bees knees.

We went back to the cafe and the girls had some wonderful home made ice cream, which they refused to let me snaffle. Rupert and I shared something that claimed to be a madeira cake but it was overcooked on the outside and soggy in the middle and not what I would recognise as a madeira cake, for which I always turn to Nigella (who else?):

(Recipe here)

But cake notwithstanding (I didn't eat it so that should tell you something!) we did have a lovely afternoon.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Move over David Bailey

When I found myself trying to write a week's menu and shopping list last weekend and being pestered by two small people, I remembered House and Baby and decided to pass them the little digital camera and see what they made of it. Millie's efforts were very sweet, though she didn't get the hang of pointing the camera at the thing she wanted to photograph.

This is her picture of me and Elsie:

And here is a self portrait:

Elsie was much more proficient (but then she's taken pictures before) and I highly recommend it as a way to see how your children view their surroundings. She photographed all sorts of things we hadn't noticed!

Here's Millie doing the washing:

This is the tricycle that used to be Elsie's but now she is a big girl with a bike:

And here's our herb garden:

Eurovision madness

As is traditional, we're in the middle of watching the Eurovision song contest. And oh my goodness, it hasn't disappointed this year. We were gamely voting along, scoring all the outfits and dance routines (the songs seem largely irrelevant), and giggling at the Swedish and Ukrainian entries. And then came the novelty UK song. Oh dear. I mean, I know we can't win it, and probably this was a good appealing entry, but I can't help wishing Mozzer had got in to represent us.

Still, Sir Terry was on form and we've demolished Pimms and truffles so not an entirely wasted evening.

Just the voting to look forward to now.

Update: halfway through the voting and no-one has voted for us ...

Finally: well, we didn't come last, just next to last. Classic comment just now from TW: "it's been a wonderful, wonderful evening - not musically, of course."

You've got to love it!

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Baby gifts

Today we have been to visit some friends and their new baby. We met Dave at Oxford lots of years ago and now they're all settled down and we couldn't be happier for them. Elsie and Millie made some pictures for the baby using a toy airbrush I bought on an impulse just before Christmas. We hope she likes them!

Many of our friends have had babies in the last couple of years - must be something to do with our age! - and my standard baby gift has become a little soft doll and a copy of Goodnight Moon.

The doll is based on one I found a pattern for years ago but I didn't like the knots for the feet so I stitch them. The idea is for the mum to sleep with the doll one night and then give it to the baby so it can comfort them. I don't know if that works or not but all the babies seem to like them. They are very soft and snuggly!

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my

Yesterday was the zoo party. I was up late the night before making a present for A, which ended up being a version of the Tiny Happy bag. It was scaled down a bit and I made just about every mistake during its construction I could have done (because I never read instructions properly) but I had fun doing it. I was a bit annoyed with the placement of the A at the end, but I'll definitely be making some more. We put a tiny playmobil Noah's Ark in it and I hope she likes it.

The party was a scream - a crowd of four and five year olds dressed in fake fur and doing animal dances. By the end of it the air was thick with acrylic - literally. I've taken away some ideas from it: I'd been trying to think of a way to make the games less emotionally fraught - pass the parcel I find particularly tough as at least half the children end up disappointed at the end when they don't win anything. Anyway, I'd been wondering if it would be too soppy to put a present for everyone in the middle, but that's exactly what happened yesterday, and the children loved it! There were also no individual prizes for any of the games, and no-one was put out by it so I think we'll go that way. Plus some crafts, but those depend on whether we end up inviting just girls, or girls and boys.

The cakes were great too!

And real sausages ... all the mums were quite envious of the chidren but didn't feel we could really snaffle the snacks from under their noses.

Wisteria hysteria

When we came to look at this house in 2000, we walked through the door and knew in literally 30 seconds that it was the house for us. We looked around, chatted to the owner (who still lives in the village) and when we were done we went home and immediately did everything the property shows tell you not to do - we phoned the estate agent and put in an offer for the asking price. None of this second viewing and going in with a low offer for us. In our defence the housing market in Cambridge was starting to go nuts - and threatens to do the same again soon - and we did get into a mild bidding war.

We were so blinded by the appeal of this house that we failed to notice the bright blue woodwork in two of the three bedrooms, or the huge stain on the hall carpet. We also didn't notice how limited the garden was, or the state of the plaster and paint on the listed manor house next door, whose side wall forms one of our garden boundaries. I must confess to a slight wobble when we visited again later in the summer and saw the garden full of children's toys and garden furniture. By that time the legal stuff was well underway ... too late to worry.

Here we are seven years on. We've done lots to the garden to hide the bits we didn't like and to increase the space for plants, but one thing we have not had any second thoughts about is the wisteria planted on one wall of the house. We've trained it a bit, and carefully pruned it twice a year (except while I was pregnant for the first time) and for two weeks every year it rewards us with stunning, fragrant, gorgeous blooms. The garden would be far poorer without it, and indeed the one year the flowers failed, because the buds had been hit by a late frost, was a very sad year indeed.

Bear does all the wisteria pruning now so he can take complete credit for this year's show.

Friday, 4 May 2007

Strange way to spend an afternoon

We're coming into birthday party season - Elsie's class is quite a young one, and last year we had a party every couple of weeks from May to August. Which is all good fun. Usually the little girsl like to dress up as fairies or princesses and it is very easy, but for the one tomorrow, it's a joint party for twins N and A, and they have decided they would like to have a zoo party. Which means dressing up as zoo animals.

I asked Elsie what she would like to be and she said "A giraffe." Did I panic? No, I decided to go for psychological torture and said "Really? You'd like to be a giraffe? Hmmm, I'm not sure I can magic you a long neck. You might have to have a fake head instead." So she thought again and decided "A bear." Well, bears I can do, I think. But wait! We are in economy drive mode and I have a large piece of white fake fur stashed under the bed. Enter mean scheming mummy.

"What kind of bear? A polar bear?". No, a nice furry brown bear like a teddy. "Oh, are you sure? Polar bears are definitely the best." I have to say she was a pushover. Only then did I realise that I had agreed to make A Bear Outfit. In the middle of the hottest spring we've ever known. Elsie decided she would like a full length all in one bear costume but in the end we compromised on bear ears, a skirt and a jacket, which we made this afternoon.

Best not to look too closely at it but I am rather pleased with how it turned out - and more to the point so is my little polar baby. All she needs is a black painted nose and we're good to go.

Millie is going to the party too, but she wants to be a fairy, even though Elsie says she will frighten N. Never one to conform, our Millie!

Thursday, 3 May 2007

How to make me happy

Lovely comments on my stuff from people who aren't related to me - especially brilliant coming from women whose work I admire enormously. Thanks Kari and Jilly-flowers - you made my day!

Now all I have to do is find time to actually make things. This last week has been completely insane - I had a two day course learning how to care for the school swimming pool and have sent out fifty letters asking for sponsorship for the school art exhibition (that's what you get for not being able to say no), plus we're in the middle of our annual review at work - not much time left over for fun stuff in the evenings, crafting or blogging. But I have been cooking - well we still have to eat - and one of my favourite things from this week has been balsamic strawberries. Mix up some cut strawberries with a dessertspoon each of balsamic vinegar (I don't buy really expensive stuff, but also not the cheapest industrial thinner bottles either) and caster sugar and leave them to sit for a couple of hours. It sounds very odd, but the syrup is the most intensely strawberryish flavour ever. We're starting to get UK grown strawberries in the shops and Elsie and I are in heaven. Millie, not so much - can she really be my child ?!

Pre raphaelite gorgeousness

I love Pre Raphaelite art; we used to have Ophelia on the wall when we were mournful students, and now have Waterhouse's Hylas and the Nymphs which is a lot more cheerful. I used to love visiting the paintings in the Ashmolean when we were in Oxford, and now the Fitzwilliam also has a pretty impressive collection. I couldn't help but think of this picture when I took Elsie's hair out of plaits yesterday; she really would love to have wavy hair like her little sister and maybe this is the way to get it for her!

Dough Neigh Knee

When I was little mum had a scratchy old LP of the Sound of Music, and a video she taped from the TV one Christmas. It assumed mythical status for me - listened to through headphones in the living room, or watched curled up on the sofa. When I went to college I took a recording of it and we used to listen to it and sing along - I knew every word and most of the dances too!

Now I'm all grown up I bought the DVD cheaply from someone at work who didn't want it anymore (how could you not want the Sound of Music? Philistine!) I can't remember how it happened - probably I was fed up with watching endless loops of Pocoyo or something - but one day I put on the DVD and showed the songs to the girls and now they're as hooked as I am. In fact, it is Elsie's entertainment of choice, only she can't pronounce DoReMi yet.

I'm not sure whether or not I should be happy about this ...