Wednesday, 28 December 2011

I think I've peaked

Was your Christmas a good one? Was it? Ours was. Really, really lovely - and we get to do it all over again this weekend when we see both our families, hurrah!

One of the reasons for my excitement and my early morning wakefulness on Christmas Day was that I knew I had spent a lot of time making an extra special present for the girls and I could barely wait for them to open it.

You may remember they are huuuuge Harry Potter fans? For Tiny Small's seventh birthday we had an (unblogged) HP party, at which the highlight was a Potions class - lots of mixtures that smell good, or are sparkly, or fizz, or bubble, or pop, or change colour - or all of them in sequence. Anyway, as a result my two have been hankering for potions kits since October, and how could I refuse?

It started with tiny weeny pestles and mortars, and quickly escalated. I found papier mache tea bag boxes and miniature bottles at my local craft shop, and with a bit of paint, some saved small jam jars and bottles, and some ingredients from the kitchen cupboards they were transformed into ingredients chests.

I downloaded a spell book here, and was inspired to make my very own potion book - you would be amazed at what you can find on the  Harry Potter Wiki in the way of ingredients lists and recipes.

Some of the potions I made up recipes for, others are straight out of the books, but the one thing I did do was have a long hard think about all of the ingredients so that the potions ended up the right colour, or fizzed, or shone.

Of course, once I'd gone that far I had to make it look "authentic" so I used brown paper, string and sealing wax to package it all up and left two big boxes inside the front door for them to find.

It took far more time than money to create (the priciest part was the pestles and they are far from essential), but I will not soon forget the cries and squeals of delight, or the fact that for the last three mornings they have woken up asking to do "potioneering". They've tried all my recipes, and started writing their own. I need to think up some more ingredients for them.

I think this is the the best thing I've ever made. And I am thrilled that my children do too.

PS I'm happy to converse with you if you want to make something similar. Especially ideas for potion ingredients for whizzing and fizzing and kitchen chemistry-ing ...

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Days 21-24

Ooops, slipped a bit here, haven't I?

The truth is, we've gone off piste, and it always happens - the activity advent is fantastic in the first half of the month when it's early enough to be excited but not yet completely busy with preparation. It gets us in the spirit without being prescriptive. But by the week of Christmas we're all ready to be a little more spontaneous - we don't actually need the prompts any more.

So, we have been to see Arthur Christmas, we've made and sprinkled reindeer food, we've played board games, we've wrapped and cooked, we've hung our stockings, we've been carol singing, we've been to the annual Christmas Eve service next door, we've baked our glorious ham ...

And now it is Christmas morning and I am slowly pottering about before the little ones get up. I reckon I've got about 10 more minutes so if you'll excuse me, there are birds to be fed and coffee to be drunk and then merriment to be made.

Have a lovely Christmas if you celebrate it; otherwise I wish you a very happy day anyway!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Days 19 and 20

The calendar said we ought to be making gingerbread houses yesterday, but what with work parties and present making we ran out of time. So instead, we saved it for today when we had a visit from Emma and her tiny pebbles and went a bit mad with the sugar.

This is the pebble cottage. Note the exuberant use of colourful sweeties, and twin chimneys, no less:

For some reason there is a jelly baby stranded on the roof of the Dottycookie cottage, and his ladder is broken. Oh no!

But at least he can be reassured that there is a colourful path waiting to break his fall if he ever gets onto the roof:

We used the leftover gingerbread to make tiny bears, and drew on them with a food safe marker, an extravagant delight if ever there was one.

And we even made tasteful angels from a glorious Allsorts printout - Jenny's blog is a constant source of joyous inspiration and she's generously produced a whole slew of free Christmas projects over the years.

And now I am sugared out. Weeks of very limited sugar intake have had me feeling well and healthy, and this afternoon's excesses have made me crave intensely savoury foods. Bring on the Marmite!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Day 18 - Dress up for dinner

Our activity last night was to dress up for dinner, which we did, having returned from joining in an attempt to break the world record for the largest number of people simultaneously singing Christmas carols. It looks like we (with 17000 others nationwide) did it, though it has yet to be confirmed. It was fun!

Anyway, there are no pictures of us in our finery so instead I shall give you a photo of some of the cakes decorated by children we had round for a party yesterday afternoon. I had planned a bit of white rose and snowman elegance, a sprinkle of glitter and a squirt of lustre spray. They had other ideas. Get your sunglasses!

(This new blogger interface is ... interesting. I'm not convinced yet.)

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Day 17 - Popcorn and a Christmas movie

Stuff the popcorn, we're watching Strictly.

Go Harry!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Days 13,14,15 and 16

Now that was unexpected - a day in bed with a rotten cold surrounded by a day or two on either side for the build up and easing off. If you'd handed me a pistol on Wednesday night I might well have used it.

Anyway, here I am, back again and trying to get back on track. The activities have gone a bit by the wayside - odd that - but since one was the school Christmas lunch and another the School music evening, I hadn't planned much that actually needed doing.

Ah yes, the music evening. In which Tall Small stood straight and played her violin in front of 200 people without a wobble. She looked so grown up and as she played the last note I think I felt my heart burst. Sigh.

One of our regular advent activities is to buy food for the collection box in the village church, which is then donated to the local nightshelter. I'm not quite sure what planet the Waitrose marketers are on if they really think chocolate chip digestives count as "essential", but I hope they are appreciated in this wintry weather.

Anyway, I do believe I need to pick 3 people who want to receive snow. I've used the Random Number Generator (and I'm afraid you'll have to take my word for it as screen capture is still beyond my woolly brain). The winners are:

I'll be in touch via email!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Advent day 12: crystal snowflakes tutorial and a giveaway

Edited to add - this is my Making Winter post for this month!

I feel a bit of a fraud - not only is it not day 12, it's the morning of day 13, but also we didn't actually do yesterday's scheduled activity. We were supposed to go shopping for Christmas ornaments (the girls get a new one every year to make a little collection they'll eventually take to their own homes - assuming we ever let them leave home. Ahem.) but events overtook us, so instead I've taken a few pictures of how to make the crystal snowflakes.

And here I feel a fraud again - the first thing to do is to buy the snowflake frames. I know some of you thought I had cleverly soldered and twisted and spun the frames out of the purest green, but in fact they are on sale at my local bead shop. If you're in or near Cambridge, the Beaderie is your source for all snowflake making components (and mine are an adaptation of the ones Sally makes there), otherwise google is your friend ...

So, first grab your frames:

round and flat nosed (chain nosed? I am making this up as I go along) pliers:

crystals - these are glass and very sparkly:

and seed beads in mouthwatering colours:

Thread beads onto one arm in a pleasing arrangement, leaving about 70mm free wire. The most important thing is to put a seed bead, or other small bead at the open end as these frequently get chipped or cracked in the next stage and you don't want to waste Swarovski:

Bend the tip of the wire firmly with your flat nosed pliers - the wire is stiff, you'll need to be insistent:

Bend the free wire into a loop with your round nosed pliers:

Neaten the loop and urge it closed with flat nosed pliers:

Repeat on the other five arms:

And go a bit crazy:

Hang them up and admire the sparkle.

And now for the giveaway. Months and months ago, lovely Ali Magic Bean ran a pay it forward which I won and never blogged about, and spectacularly failed to follow up on. So I shall try to make up for it now and say that there are 3 of these snowflakes up for grabs, with no strings attached except for the ones to hang them by. Not a PIF, just a gift. Leave a comment if you'd like one - I can't guarantee a colour preference but I will try to accommodate requests. You can sign up till Friday to give me time to get them in the post before The Big Day - though sadly international commenters probably won't get theirs till the New Year now!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Advent day 11

Day 11 - snowman pancakes.

Every weekend, Mr DC makes pancakes for the smalls, so when I saw this idea I knew it would be a good one for our advent calendar. Here is the simple one I made for Tiny Small:

Here is Tall Small's version (how excited she was to be let loose with writing icing at breakfast!)

And here is the one I made for Mr DC. Poor old Frosty clearly has other ideas ...

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Advent day 10

Day 10 - decorations up! Time for some sparkle and twinkle around here.

I have a love hate relationship with tinsel. I hate the dust it holds (Tall Small and I sneeze for days). I love it wound round the banisters where it feels fluffy under your hand. I don't like it on trees because it always looks out of place to me - I can vaguely imagine that the ornaments have sprouted there as if by magic but unless it's fine whispery cobwebby tinsel, to my eyes it always looks plonked on.

But the children and Mr DC love it, and I have had my way for the last (many) years so this year, tinselly tree it is. And it does look like the decorations box has just been thrown at it, but I rather like it that way now.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Advent day 9

An oldie but a goodie! Fancy schmancy cutting instructions courtesy of Martha Stewart (who else?)

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Advent day 8 - Barely holding it together

I decided on a simple but meaningful activity today - "Think of reasons why we are fortunate" which took on unexpected poignancy as we watched both our girls performing with their choir in a Christmas fundraising concert. The concert started beautifully with festive performances, and then the founder of the charity they were supporting - Hope and Homes for Children - spoke movingly and eloquently and left most of the audience sniffing bravely and clapping hard. He was followed by my girls' choir singing pieces including Bob Chilcott's "The Child" and Lin Marsh's "Child of Tomorrow", and there was literally not a dry eye in the house. I am afraid I completely lost the plot.

Read these lyrics, imagine them sung by a choir of 7-13 year olds after you'd just been told about the plight of abandoned children in brutally poor or wartorn surroundings and tell me you'd have reacted any differently ...

Lost mid the ruins, two children are hiding.
Beneath broken windows they play with a gun.
Surrounded by soldiers, their city is dying.
The world turns its back and the conflict goes on.
Will you be wiser oh child of tomorrow?
Will you remember the price that we paid?
How will you cherish this earth which we leave you?
What will you learn from the child of today?

Do go and visit Hope and Homes for Children if you can. They're trying to do amazing things.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Advent day 7

Each year we try to think of something the girls can make (or at least part make) for their teachers. Our fallback these days seems to be Lindor chocolates and a Christmas ornament, and this is what we're doing this year.

The wire is a bit tough for them to bend, even with pliers, but they can select the colours and thread the beads on. We have a lot of these to make - between teachers, TAs, post fair orders and our own requirements I think I need to stock up on more crystals!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Advent day 6

This was a lovely idea for an activity, and earlier on we had clear, cold skies and the promise of a good night's twinkle viewing. But then it clouded over and started to drizzle so that put paid to that. But all was not lost - earlier on I did some stargazing of a different kind as Tall Small stood up in front of the whole of Key Stage 2 to talk about her pet hamster. Each week, one of the children in Years 5 and 6 talks for 10 minutes on a subject of their choice, to help them practice their presentation skills, but usually it's only in front of their class. She did brilliantly - I was proud of her, her teacher was proud of her and more importantly, she was very proud of herself. Hurrah! Confidence boosted, we hope!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Advent day 5

The sharp eyed amongst you will notice that this is not, in fact, a garland of stars. I'm not sure I care - it is made of glitter card which makes my girls very happy indeed!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Day 4 - Non stop

It's been a mad, full on day. I was asked to have a stall at the school fayre and I agreed, thinking it would be my last one - I find them a heck of a lot of work for usually not brilliant returns. Today was astonishing though. The village hall was heaving, and because it's our school, I knew pretty much everyone there. I sold out of crystal snowflakes and had to start taking orders in my notebook. Blimey.

So it was a relief to head off to Mr DC's choir advent service. I used to sing with them, and now the girls are big enough we all go together and have a good old carol together. I haven't got the voice I used to have but my little ones are getting stronger and stronger every week it seems.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Day 3 - chocolate!

It was inevitable that we wouldn't manage to make both Christmas puddings *and* cakes for the school fayre - but since that's tomorrow we decided Rocky Road was the order of the day. It's easy, the children can do most of it and who doesn't like big wodges of chocolate biscuit cake??

I used to make complicated decorated cakes and biscuits, but since they all end up priced at 20p per cake, these days I go for big trays of stuff to slice up. A dusting of icing sugar, a sprinkle of edible glitter in my favourite disco baby lilac, and we're good to go.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Advent day 2

It's been a day of just getting things done in time - an unscheduled after school trip to replace holey-soled school shoes left us rushing to complete Day 2's activity before I had to head out to the school staff dinner. Only a few paperwhites planted but I doubt the ones I do over the weekend will be nearly this pretty.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

An Active Advent

We are now entering my favourite three weeks of the year - I think I enjoy the run up to Christmas as much as (more than?) the day itself. We have daft numbers of things to get done, concerts and plays coming out of our ears, but in the middle of it all one of our most important traditions is an activity advent calendar. These abound in blogland, and in the past I have used a rather ugly fabric calendar to contain the ideas - but this year I braved papercraft - it turns out even I can stick festive stickers onto little white envelopes and dangle them from the banisters.

So given that the time may be approaching when my elder girl is no longer excited by this kind of thing, I was thinking I might have a go at saving our fun and games for posterity and posting a little picture every day of what we've been up to. There may be very few words, there may be lots. It depends. I may fail completely and delete all evidence of previous posting, ahahahaha!

None of the activities is terribly original, and I don't claim that any were entirely my idea. This was today's:

We fitted it in between the after school activities and the brownie trip to visit the local guides, and it was ten minutes of very silly fun. Just what we needed!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Messing with my metabolism

I am supposed to be Cutting Down and Losing Weight. I am supposed to be Reducing My Intake of Refined Carbohydrates, and generally being sensible ahead of the upcoming seasonal festivities. I have recently realised that sugar is in fact my nemesis - some people go for alcohol, some for more socially unacceptable substances but I am here to say, "Hello, my name is Val and I am a sugar addict."

So did it really make sense to go on a cupcake decorating course today? Probably not, but it was a lot of fun. We played with sugar paste and lustre and glitter and sugar pearls. I learned to make complicated multipetalled sugar roses (though I think I shall stick to making them in polymer clay).

Even with all the complicated techniques, I think I prefer very simple rolled rosebuds and a bit of glitter.

And actually, the fewer, the better.

I never thought I'd say that.