Friday, 29 June 2007

Buttons

Just a quick one - I've been covering buttons to put on the clothes I make for the girls for a little while now. I decided it would be fun to try embroidering on plain fabric and using that to make buttons, and indeed it was.


Here are some I made to send Caroline as part of the thank you parcel for her cupcake fabric (I know she's got them now so I can put up a picture here). It's a rotten photo, taken very late in artificial light as I wanted to pack them up and couldn't wait for the sun to come out again. But I hope it gives the idea of what I'm up to.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Dora, Dora, Dora the Explorer



When Elsie first told me that she wanted a Dora the Explorer birthday party I must admit my heart sank - fairies and princesses are a whole lot easier - but actually once we started to think about it I realised it could be good fun for little and big people. We found cups and plates from PartyPieces and then I found the NickJr Dora party site where we could download invitations and find games and all sorts. We played Stuck in the Mud (big hit), What's the Time, Dora? and walking the plank, all before tea to try to minimise the risk of tea reappearing.




Bear ran a storming treasure hunt along the lines of a Dora adventure - walk along the branch! jump over the raging river! call the condors! - culminating in birthday cake candle blowing and a lot of happy shouting. I was congratulated on my "socialist Pass the Parcel" which has a pile of little prizes in the middle to share out; I wish I could take credit for the idea but I borrowed it from another party.

I managed to get some craftiness in - I spent most of Sunday morning cutting out butterflies and spiders and backing them with plastic book covering. Then at the party the children got to stick sparkly bits into the holes in the wings, we covered them with a second piece of plastic to make a butterfly sandwich and they took them home to stick on the window.




We had 18 small people, mostly five year olds but a couple of littlies and one older child - who was a great help. We didn't do a bouncy castle this year - thank the lord, given the atrocious weather - but we did ask one of the mums from school who is a face painter to come along. That was worth every penny - they all stood still, in a neat and patient line, for minutes on end!

Did you know you can download the Dora theme from Itunes? I do. Guess how many times I heard it on Sunday ...

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Loveliness in the post

Yesterday morning I received the first parcel I've had from another blogger - thank you so much to Caroline from dolliedaydream! I was so excited - Elsie though it was another birthday gift for her but I soon wrestled it away from her. Last week Caroline posted about a very pretty bag made from gorgeous cupcake material and I asked where it came from; she very generously offered to send me some and here was the pretty package it arrived in:



Such treasure!


Can you see why I coveted this fabric?




It has to be a lovely bag for me, though exactly how to make it and what else to use, I haven't yet decided.

Thank you, thank you - I love it all. The chocolate didn't survive long in this house ...



I'll be sending something off in return, but not tonight as we've just had a birthday party and I can hardly keep my eyes open!

Friday, 22 June 2007

Leaping on the bandwagon

Bear bought some Crocs last year and I though they were the ugliest things I'd ever seen; but then we got some for Elsie and they were rather cute. Gradually I've been borrowing his more and more - to nip to the compost heap or out to the car, or across the road and realised how ridiculously comfortable they are. Fast forward to this summer when the heat took me by surprise with unpainted nails and only pink flip flops that rub my toes - and I thought that really, I should just face up to it and get myself some Crocs that fit me, and some for the girls too since their canvas summer shoes only last five minutes.

Well, of course, it turns out the UK (or at least Cambridge) is in the grip of a Crocs shortage. Not a child's pair to be found, and only limited women's sizes. Apparently one local shop has been waiting for a delivery for 12 weeks! I did track some down in the end; Millie wanted me to have some fuschia ones but they were too big for me, and then I spotted the Mary Janes. Now what genius thought those up? How could I possibly resist? Well I couldn't, and I didn't.



And now you can buy little decorations for them too! Best not let the girls see that ...

Anyone for Mr Sheen?

I am not very adventurous with perfume and makeup and so on - I tend to find something I like and use it for ages. When I was a student I used Body Shop White Musk (along with everyione else!), and I clearly remember when Bear bought me my first bottle of Chanel No 5 - I felt so glamorous! I tried out Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely last year - and it is rather nice but not my favourite. I'm coming to the end of it now so I thought I might treat myself to something new. Well ... the other day I happened to get some of Crabtree & Evelyn's Nantucket Briar room spray on me (as you do) and I really like it and it turns out it is now a perfume too. So I got some.

Is that weird? Still, I suppose I don't clash with the living room now.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Five years ago today

Elsie was born by scheduled Caesarean at 12.15 on the 19th of June 2002, weighing 10lb 9oz. This time five years ago I was happy and relieved she was here and safe, but also tired and sore and nervous - and about to have a very disrupted night! I lost count of how many times in the first few weeks I worried I was messing it all up; many days I still get to the evening and think I could have handled things better, but we have lots of fun, they make me laugh all the time and we love our babies to bits.


This morning we were woken at 5.30 by Elsie loudly whispering to Millie, "Wake up, wake up, it's my birthday!" They settled down for another hour, but then we couldn't stop them rushing downstairs for presents.


Elsie had asked for a talking dolly which came in a huuuuge box - you should have see her face when she saw the size of it! We'd also got them some fairy figures for their pink castle doll's house, and there were more gifts from grandparents, aunts and uncles plus cards galore.


She asked for fish & chips and a strawberry cream cake for her birthday tea and who was I to refuse?

Happy birthday, my little angel.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Pringle update

We had the school fayre yesterday - how lucky were we with the weather? The only fine day in the middle of a ten day stretch of rain here. We don't have a total yet but Pringle Tube Alley was busy for nearly 3 hours, and by the end of it we had only one prize left and had given away nearly 200!

We had a dog show, tractor rides, plant sales, cream teas, a band and even a majorette troupe which the little girls loved and the parents found mildly alarming. Elsie and Millie particularly liked the tractor and said it was like riding the Ninky-Nonk, and how fabulous is that?!

It was a great day - long, and hard work, but really worthwhile. And we won the raffle!

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Brainy bread

Well, bread with seeds that are supposed to be high in Omega-3 and Omega-6. We have had a series of bread machines and I know people do find them really great but ours have been terribly variable. We had a good one but it broke, and when we bought a replacement it was never the same and in particular I couldn't get a decent loaf out of it.

About 6 months ago I found a recipe by Dan Lepard for low effort handmade bread and since then I've made most of our loaves and rarely buy any these days. The best thing as far as I'm concerned is that there's hardly any kneading involved - in all hands on time is less than five minutes start to end - no exaggeration. I've made all sorts of variations, trying locally round flour and so on but the most successful by far is this variation on the basic recipe.

Sponge:
200g strong white bread flour
200ml warm water
2tsp dried yeast (not fast action; I use the Dove Farm yeast in little tins)

Mix the ingredients together - at this point it looks quite sticky & unpromising:


Leave for a couple of hours (or up to overnight) until it looks bubbly. I just leave it on the kitchen counter.


Loaf:
Add 200ml cold water
1tsp salt
400g bread flour - I use all white, or a mix of white & malted, or white & wholemeal, fiddling with proportions

Mix it all up with your hands till it forms a soft dough. You may need to flour your hands, or add a bit of sunflower oil (that goes for all kneading stages).

Add some seeds if you feel like it - I keep on my shelf a jar of sunflower, pumpkin and linseed (hemp) that I have run through the food processor briefly just to smash the seeds a bit. I add a good handful, I never weigh it.



Knead it briely - I do literally 20 kneads with only 1 hand, and I do it all in the mixing bowl, because I am lazy like that. Let it sit for 15 minutes.


Repeat the brief kneading and 15 minute rest twice more. Get some help if you have some :-)


(If I have misjudged the amount of wholemeal I have been known to leave it rising a bit longer till it is nice and puffy)

Now it's time to shape the loaves - Bear did it this time as I had to go to the shops so there are no photos - but it's easy. Divide the dough in half, stretch it into an oval and roll it up tightly like a swiss roll. Put the loaves on a baking sheet to rise for about 45 minutes till they're about doubled in size.

Slash the loaf end to end with a very sharp knife, then bake at a high temperature - 200C or so - till the loaves sound hollow when you tap the bottom. In my oven that's 20-25 minutes.


Try not to eat it all at once ...

Dottycookies

Last week Tracy asked me why I call myself Dottycookie when my name is neither Dotty nor Cookie (odd, that!)

These are Dottycookies:


They are basic shortbread biscuits nicked from Nigella, with Smarties stuck into the top. They are based on a biscuit we have when we go for tea at a local farmshop, which is a favourite of my two little ones.

I've been busy baking this afternoon for the fete tomorrow. I made a double batch of these cookies, 2 dozen scones, a cherry madeira cake and four loaves of bread. Oh, and roasted a shoulder of pork for dinner, and made a cherry trifle ready for Father's Day. Elsie was off at a party and Millie helped me stone the cherries and knead the bread.

Anyway, here's the cookie recipe:

100g soft unsalted butter
50g icing sugar
100g plain flour
50g cornflour

Cream butter and sugar, then mix in flour and a pinch of salt. You can do this in a food processor. Remove and knead to form a soft dough. Form into a cylinder and wrap in cling film, then put in the fridge.

Preheat oven to 160C.

When dough feel firm, slice into biscuits. Press Smarties into the top - the dough may crack but push it back together, and the cracks heal as they cook.

Bake 20-30 minutes until slightly browning on the edges - they're still soft but they crisp up as they cool.

Friday, 15 June 2007

I never want to see another Pringle

From this:


To this:

No, I didn't eat them all myself. These are for a game at this Sunday's school fete - the children throw beanbags at them and win the prize inside any they knock down - if there is one!

Do you know what 25 empty tubes of Pringles smell like? Ugh. We'd better make a shedload of cash with this, that's all I can say!

Another year wiser?


Last Friday was my birthday. I can't believe it's a week already! This week has been a crazy mixture of helping at one school event last weekend, preparing for the the fete this weekend, dealing with the fallout from some major reorganisations at work and, of course, the usual round of pool caring, school runs and homework. Add to that planning for Elsie's 5th birthday party next weekend - good grief. The thing is though, it's *always* like this, and I guess it is for everyone else too so I should just get on with it, right? Right!

The day itself was pretty low-key - I had to go to the funeral of a dear friend, so we didn't feel much like celebrating. But I opened cards and presents - it would have been mean to the children not to! - and we did have little cakes for them to blow out the candles on.

It seems my family know me very well - my babies and my Bear gave me a new bag for my knitting, orders for two sewing books I've been coveting, and the promise of a fabric buying adventure. Little sis sent a lovely package of treasures from her local quilting shop, one of my favourite places in the world. Metallic threads, material, beads, boxes for storing the beads and threads, sparkling felt, wadding - all in scrumptious colours. Big sis sent a sock knitting kit, complete with DPNs, magic self patterning wool and beaded stitch markers - now how did she know I had been coveting that very kit in my local wool shop for months but felt unable to justify buying it? Psychic, she must be psychic!

Mum & Dad sent a silver photo frame - I always need more frames - and some money, and big bro sent some John Lewis vouchers (as an aside, is there anything you can't buy in John Lewis or Waitrose? I always seem to spend most of my wages there) and some coriander to grow.
I used the gifts of money to buy myself a treat at last weekend's art exhibition:


It's by a local artist - she lives in the next village up. I think it's beautiful - obviously! It's hanging over the stairs in a spot where the sunlight hits it in the evening and makes me think of holidays when I go up to put the girls to sleep.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Turkish delight

Well, not really - though my garden is starting to smell like rosewater which is one of my very favourite scents.

I used to think I didn't like roses - to a small person they just seemed like big prickly lollipops with flowers that looked like they should smell wonderful but ended up being an olfactory disappointment.

No more.

Bear and I went to the Chelsea Flower show five or six years ago, and finally discovered there was more to be had than standard roses - miniature roses that wouldn't be out of place in a doll's garden, wayward climbing roses, gorgeous scented shrub roses and my favourite, the very badly behaved rambling roses. Of course that's also the visit that had us turn half our little patch of lawn into a wild flower meadow for a couple of summers which is OK if you have acres to spare but just looks wrong in our small garden.

But I digress. We really loved Paul's Himalayan Musk, and Seagull, two very rampant scramblers but really can't fit them in our garden. We did inherit two climbers, one of which bit the dust as the trees it was planted under grew larger and shaded it out - it couldn't climb up into them, poor little spindly thing that it was - and the other of which received its final warning last year - "Flower well or you're for the chop!" That seemed to do the trick because look at it this year:


I think it has earned its place now.

We held off buying any for ages - Mum & Dad gave us two pretty patio roses and I'm not quite sure what I did to them but they didn't survive - and I got it in my head that roses just weren't for us - I kept killing them; they never seemed to smell of anything anyway; I don't spray anything as we try to garden naturally; and careful pruning is just not me - more of a hack and slay approach in my garden I'm afraid! Then we found David Austin's webpage and started to identify roses that would suit us perfectly. This is Octavia Hill, who has really come into her own this year in a bed that is frankly too crowded for her. We love her so much we sacrificed some of the surrounding plants and look how she repaid us:


I have picked up unnamed tiny roses at plant sales - I guess this is something like rosa glauca, the rosa rubrifolia I found last week. I have never had a rose so generous with flowers before - they are continuous through the summer followed by pretty hips in the autumn.


This is Gentle Hermione - ohhhhh, how I love this rose! She's outside the kitchen window surrounded with lavender and a few wild flowers, and replaces a light blocking conifer the previous owners had planted to hide the water tap. Though it didn't really hide anything.


We also have a Rambling Rector - I had to move him from his original position where he just sulked, and he is now getting quite uppity but not flowering yet. Last but not least is Zephirine Drouhin who promises lovely flowers when she is settled in but is as yet a bit reluctant to scramble much. Maybe it's time to threaten her ...

I still have a hankering for Blairi, but Bear won't let me grow anything prickly over the oil tank - something to do with the oil tank man suing us if he hurts himself - and we're currently out of vertical supports. Mum and Dad have lots and lots of roses - they did tell me how many different varieties once, and it's scary - so we have a long way to go. Best get building then!

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Hidden treasures


I really love living in a rural village, especially discovering something you didn't know was there. I remember coming across the library bus when I was on maternity leave - before that I was never around during the day so why would I know about the wonderful travelling book treasure? We are now regular visitors and Elsie even has her own library card so she can borrow as many Rainbow Fairy books as she likes (I nearly bought her a set today from the Book People who are visiting campus - how mad would that have been?!)

The village is criss-crossed with little footpaths allowing you to get from one end to the other (all of half a mile) without having to walk on the main road. My most recent find has been set up outside a house down one of these paths - a small table that is crammed with plants for sale and is restocked every day. The money goes to the village school, and I find it very hard to walk past with money in my pocket - fortunately the most expensive pot I've found there was £1 for a large pink dahlia and they have a great range of plants for 50p each. In the last couple of days I have bought:

2 pelargoniums (Elsie's choice)
1 rosa rubrifolia
2 lavenders
2 dahlias
1 clematis "Sunstar"
1 morning glory
1 Corsican mint

Total cost? £5.50. My resolution this year was not to buy any plants from garden centres if I could grow them myself or buy them from plant stalls at open gardens and so on. So far I'm doing OK with this - I bought a few alpines for the girls' fairy gardens and 2 tomato plants but that's it. And you know what? With seedlings (self sown and planted) and cuttings I have more plants to cram in this year than ever before. I'll even have a few to give to the plant stall at the summer fayre.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

OK, now I'm getting worried

I fear I may be losing my grip on reality. Monday was a training day for the teachers at school so we had an extra day's holiday. At about 6.30 it occurred to me that Elsie would be starting swimming lessons and would need to have her kit packed in some sort of bag. And then I realised that her stuff would be wet when she came home so a cloth bag wouldn't be much use. I had recycled all the plastic carriers yesterday so there was nothing for it - I'd have to make something!


After finally getting them to bed and finishing the ironing I made a drawstring bag lined with a bit of waterproof fabric cut off the end of a piece I'd got from John Lewis that's too long for our table. I'd got it all stitched up when - whoops - I realised I hadn't left a hole for the drawstring to go through. By that point it was getting late (and Shaun of the Dead was waiting for me on the TV) so I decided just to make a row of buttonholes around the top and thread ribbon through it. I hope it works OK - Elsie took it into school today and proudly showed her teacher, but I don't think they're going to swim until Friday.

Stand still for a minute!

Millie and I chose some pretty pink material at the fabric sale a couple of weeks ago, which she wanted to have made into a little dress for the summer. Fitting things to this little person is completely hopeless as she rarely stops rushing about for long enough, so when we found a pattern for this loose fitting pinafore dress (50p in a local charity shop!) we decided to have a go. Luckily for me the person who owned the pattern beforehand also had little girls who wear age 4 and age 6 dresses (actually Elsie could do with age 7 but I can adjust for that) so the pieces were not cut too small.

I covered some buttons in the same fabric and she wore it on Sunday. And now of course it needs to be washed!




What on earth is that?!

The wonderful return to summer meant I spent a lot of Sunday out in the garden. We had planned to visit some local gardens open under the NGS scheme that afternoon, and knowing how fed up I get when I return from those beautifully arranged domestic oases into our sand strewn, pebble ridden back garden I decided to put in the effort and tidy it up a bit. And actually, it responded really well. I have rows of pots of bulbs and trays of seeds growing up, some for the allotment (yes! I have part of an allotment this year!), some for the plant stall at the school fayre and some for planting around the school pool assuming they come up, but instead of being scattered all over the patio they are lined up neatly out of the way in my own private nursery. I put pots of basil and scented stocks outside the back door and we have wafts of scent coming in every time someone goes in or out. Honestly, anyone would think I'd been watching Gardeners World or something!

Anyway, that was a long waffle leading me to what I actually wanted to write about - two very different gardens but both lovely in their own way. The first was a bit wacky - not the planting, which was cottagey in places, meadowy in others and certainly to be envied. But the thing that made it really stand out was the abundance of little sculpted monsters scattered around. Normally this would not appeal to me at all - I am not a big fan of eccentric gardening - but these were done wittily:


The girls had a long debate over whether or not the troll was real, but I think the lack of movement gave it away.

You can't see it from this but this chap was in fact eating a climbing rose. He wouldn't get away with that in my garden.


Who needs a lion's head when you can have a dragon?


The second garden was very different; more traditional and formal with huge lawns and a rose garden . The composting area was bigger than our entire garden! There were avenues for our little flowers to run along and lots of older visitors to coo over them as they did so. It's always gratifying to have people say nice things about your children, even if you have just been hissing at them to stop shouting and be careful they don't knock people over. There are frequently other families with young children at these open garden afternoons but I don't think we are really part of their main demographic.


The house was just stunning - apparently it's an old rectory and frankly who wouldn't have wanted to be the vicar if you got to live in a house like this:

And look after a church like this:

Friday, 1 June 2007

There are fairies at the bottom of my garden


No, really, there are. How else would you explain the two tiny gardens that appeared today?


Or the little fairy village that's been built?



I had such a good time painting this. OK, so it's not brilliant quality, and the vine was perhaps just one step too far, but it reminds me of the days when I had time to sit & paint properly rather than fighting for space on the table and for possession of my brushes. One of these days I'll get back to that - but right now I rather like having two little co-conspirators getting excited about painting flower pots for fairies.

Knitted flowers

I discovered Julie's Little Cotton Rabbits a couple of weeks ago and am very much enjoying reading it, and envying/admiring the speed with which she knits very cute animals - it takes me forever to knit anything, and as for stitching it up ... the less said about that the better. I did kid myself I could knit a doll and an entire wardrobe of clothes for said beauty in the week before Christmas - and here we are 6 months later with one doll made up but faceless and most of the clothes unpicked since the skirts were too big and the tops too tight (sounds like the story of my life. Well, other than the skirts being too big). Maybe for next Christmas. Assuming the girls still play with dolls.


Anyway, that's not what this is all about. One lovely thing on Julie's blog is a pattern for cute little knitted flowers - now these I can do, and fast. I've gone into a flower knitting frenzy, and have been turning them into hair ties for, well, anyone who will wear them.


Bodiam Castle


We have been in Hailsham again this week for half term, spending lots of time at Drusillas as usual, and swimming and bowling to escape the rain. Tuesday was a day of mixed sun & showers - and the best day of weather of our stay - so we took advantage and all headed off to Bodiam Castle. Many others had the same idea and it was busy but, being a castle, there was room for everyone. We didn't dare take the girls up to the battlements - not least because I'm not sure I could have coped with the vertical winding staircases let alone the height at the top.


Right by the entrance is a small dark doorway leading into a room that has only tiny little windows looking out over the bridge across the moat. I was far too mean to buy a guidebook after paying to park and get in (got to love the National Trust - we'd join but there aren't many properties in our area and we would be out of pocket most years) so I am only guessing but I suspect these were not used for shouting a cheery hello to visiting dignitaries ...


Other rooms are much brighter (particularly those with no roof any more!) It always surpsrises me to see hopw small the rooms are - somehow I always iomagine rooms in a castle would be huge - and how low the original floor levels were. People must have been tiny then; I'm not exactly tall but I think even I'd have been permanently hunched over! There was one large beautiful room though, and the sunlight poured in from windows and doors.


I vaguely remember going to Bodiam when I was little and it was lovely to see my little ones reacting with the same wide eyed excitement we must have shown when confronted for the first time with a Real Castle!