...seen through a slightly smudged, secondhand pair of rose-tinted glasses


Thursday, 23 April 2015

Fish, bash, box

Hasn't been so bad really, getting back into the school run swing; so much easier when the morning's are light and the sun's shining. Helps too that everyone's well rested after the holidays, probably because we didn't do much. Not a lot of planning went on beforehand, thanks to all the book business, so the end of term sort of snuck up on me. It wasn't until the last day, when one of the mums asked what we were doing over Easter that I felt a twist of panic - the thought of bored kids bouncing off the walls at home for a few weeks. But, it all worked out fine. Sometimes it pays to go with the flow, especially when the weather's good.

So we had the kids' friends round and packed them off on a few sleepovers, and generally made the most of being outside. I managed to pick up a lovely old Galt climbing frame on Freecycle - it's probably a bit on the small side for the not so little, littlest, but she had a merry old time shipping half her toys out and making dens. Not so good at shipping them back again.

I took the kids on a day trip to Birmingham to the Sea Life Aquarium.once I'd been through all the drawers in the kitchen and found the Tesco Clubcard tickets. I was on a mission to find them, seeing as the last ones I got for the West Midland Safari Park where put in such a safe place I forgot about them until they were out of date.

No surprises, the Aquarium was packed, but we had such a happy few hours there. The kids loved the penguins and walking through the tunnel - turtles and stingrays swimming overhead in their watery world. We watched a short version of Happy Feet in the 4D cinema, which wasn't half bad either. A bit of grizzling on the way back, but I got a 'best day ever' from the 10 year old. They're worth the wait, those moments.

I dug out our trusty old B&M fire pit - twenty quid well spent I've got to say. We lit it a few evenings and cooked some Damper bread over the embers - camping bread from Australia originally I think. If you've never tried it, it's worth a go, for the fun value alone - and the bread's okay-ish! The kids just seem to love anything they've cooked over a fire. 

So easy to make too - just mix 250g of self-raising flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, half a teaspoon of salt and 150ml of water. Work it into a dough on a floured surface, then divide into about six balls, roll them into long sausage shapes and wrap round some clean sticks, tucking the ends in to stop them falling into the flames. Remember to remove any flaky barksomething we forgot to do the first time round; and let the fire settle before you cook them over the embers - impatience meant we had a few burnt on the outside, doughy on the inside offerings. And several sticks on fire.

Managed a bit of holiday crafting - not so much kids stuff, apart from the paper flowers, because my enthusiasm has somewhat waned... but I did have a rather successful knit. I'd been trying to think what to give a great friend for her Birthday - she loves her boxers to distraction, so I searched 'knit a boxer dog' online and sure enough, up popped this fantastic book, 'Best in Show - 25 more dogs to knit'  The knit bit wasn't that bad, but I got into quite a muddle sewing it up. Took ages! But I was really pleased with how the dog turned out, and she loved it.

Got back into some napkin decoupage as well, with this box for a friend who had a baby recently. A lot quicker to do than the boxer can I just say. Love the birds and the cat - just my thing - hoping it's hers too!

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Paper primrose posy

There was a steep, grassy bank near our house when I was little. It was a great thinking spot - sitting up high, looking out over the garden, and at this time of year it was covered in primroses - a soft, delicate blanket of yellow. Anytime I see them now it takes me right back. So, these paper primroses are a nod to my wildflower bank, where I got lost in big, happy dreams.

They’re based on the paper daisy folding technique - though a little different because the petals are sort of heart shaped.

You will need:
yellow and green paper or plain paper to paint
sheet of newspaper
small plastic flower pot or yogurt pot
yellow and orange paint
PVA craft glue
Two small bottles or pots, for circle templates. One a little bigger than the other (for leaves).

If you have a small plastic flower pot, then that’s perfect - we didn’t, so I rubbed some sandpaper over a yogurt pot to take the sheen off, and painted it with multi-surface primer the night before. 

Make up some terracotta coloured paint using ready-mixed poster or acrylic paints. 

Mix red and yellow together and add just a little blue - then a good amount of white until you’re happy with the colour. I find adding white helps cover shiny, awkward surfaces like this - it works a treat on the outside of cereal box card too.

To speed things up, you could always cover the writing on the yogurt pot with a piece of colourful wrapping paper cut to size. Cut this strip into smaller sections so it’s easier to glue neatly to the pot. 

While the glue or the paint is drying, draw round the smaller circle template for your primrose and cut it out.

Fold the circle in half, then half again.

Draw a straight line up from the tip to the top, and make a mark halfway along the line.
Draw another line passing through this point from side to side .

Then draw the rounded top part of a petal (like a semi-circle), from the point where the lines cross, curved up to the top and back down to the end of the line on both sides.  Make sure they look alike.

Carefully cut round the petal tips with small scissors and when you’re happy they look even, open up your primrose.

To make the flower centre, put a small dab of orange in the middle, and two short, thick strokes of yellow, touching the orange, at the base of two heart-shaped petals.
Fold the flower in half, gently pressing the sides together.

Put two tiny touches of orange at the end of the original two yellow strokes and fold again. They’ll all be just that little bit different.

To make the leaves, draw round your larger circle template and cut it out.

Fold this in half, then half again.

About a cm up from the tip, draw a line straight across and mark a halfway point.

Draw a curved half leaf shape from this point to the top corner and repeat on the other side, so both look alike.

Cut carefully around the leaf tops and open up.

Put a dab of glue on the back of a flower and stick it onto a leaf. Make about 10 or 12.

Scrunch up the sheet of newspaper and stick it into the flower or yogurt pot, making sure a decent amount of it sits proud in a good mound shape.

Glue on your primroses

overlap them, as that’s the way they like to be - bunched up close together.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Easy paper flowers

We're festooned with  flowers at the moment…mostly cheery, bright cardboard and paper ones. It all started with egg box roses, daffs and snowdrops a few weeks ago, and now there are paper daisies sprinkled around the kitchen like flower confetti! 

They are really easy to make and useful for other projects too.

You will need:
Coloured paper or plain paper to paint
General purpose scissors

For the other projects:
Small scissors (like nail scissors)
Ball of plasticine or modelling clay
Pipe cleaner
White card
Ribbon, braid, string
PVA craft glue

1.  Find things to draw around in the kitchen, like tins, jars or side plates.

2.  It's best to start with a big circle first, to get some practice. Draw around your shape and cut it out.

3  Fold the circle in half, then in quarters and then eighths.

4.  About 1cm (1/2") up from the tip, draw a line straight across and mark it in the middle.

5.  Draw a petal shape from this mark to a top corner and repeat on the other side, making sure the petals look alike.

6.  Then, cut carefully along the pencil lines, making sure the tip of both petals stays pointy - and open up your flower.

7.  When you've made a few and feel more confident, try some smaller circles, so you can build up  flowers with a few petal layers.

8.  If you'd like to make a daisy to add to a spring flower posy, put one of your cut-outs on a ball of plasticine and push the closed tip of the small scissors through the middle of the paper. Don't make the hole too big.

9.  Push a pipe cleaner up through the hole and bend the top 3cm (1") over at a right-angle - then carefully spiral the bendy wire around itself, to make the centre of you flower. Push the paper back up under the pipe cleaner centre.

Making some flower bunting or a daisy chain is another fun thing to do with your cut-out flowers.

10. Find a longish piece ribbon or something similar, and cut to the length you want for your bunting. We used quite thin sequin braid, with a bit of sparkle, but to be honest thicker is better for stable bunting that doesn't swing about too much. 

11. Chose three different sized circles - for the outer petals, inner petals and the centre. 

12. A bottle lid makes a good centre circle template - we went for yellow middles, but pick whatever colour you like. Cut out flowers from the other bigger circles, and make enough of each to space out along your ribbon (roughly 20cm (8") between our flowers). 

13. Glue the centres in the middle of the inner petals, then brush a good amount of glue all over the middle section of the biggest flower and lay the ribbon over it, a little above the halfway point, to stop it flipping over when it's hanging up.

14. Next, dab a bit more glue on the back of the inner petals and stick them down over the ribbon and position so the petals are between the ones below.

15. Repeat along your ribbon - use a ruler or tape measure to space them evenly - then leave to dry.

16. To make a daisy chain, cut out white flowers with yellow centres and glue them straight onto the ribbon. The small yellow centres can be more fiddly to cut, so, if you want just paint them on instead.

17. Smaller flowers make lovely card decorations too. My daughter made these - some with painted centres and some with buttons, which works really well. The vase is cut out from an old birthday card.

I've had a little primrose idea….

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Tales of the unexpected

It’s been quite a journey, writing a craft book - a hilly, exhilerating, exhausting hike of a journey. With a scatter of rocky patches. 

The last couple of weeks have been full on: weighty time pressure - the book’s released in August, but I hadn’t fully appreciated that it actually goes to print months before. Like now.  

So, lots of early mornings and late nights. Lots of deep breathing. Everything else pushed to the sidelines - I’ve still had to do all the stuff in the sidelines, I just haven’t done it particularly well. 
You know when you’re driving, and you get to where you’re going and can’t really remember how you got there? I’ve had quite a few school runs like that. Head lost in a cloud of cardboard cut-outs. But I’m out the other side now; nothing more to do apart from trust and pray everything’s okay. I’ve been willing this time to come, and now it’s here I’m not quite sure what to do with myself.

Working flat out has had its advantages though - it’s stopped me thinking about the other major bit of news - that my husband is going off on tour again. And there was me, thinking the last one was the last one. Should have known better. Army life never pans out the way you think. 
So, now my priorities have to change. I’ve got to find ways to simplify things; take some of the pressure off - stay sane basically. 
They’re good kids, our three, but I haven’t found that older means easier. Certainly not when you’re on your own. Yes, they’re more independent and able to do things for themselves, (if they can be bothered), but they can also be argumentative, grumpy, lazy and difficult. Challenging in a word. And challenging is hard when you’re tired and there’s no one to share with. We’re all used to him being away during the week, but weekends are a bit of a game-changer. 

Anyway, not the best time ever to start a kids craft blog. Not just because of impending changes at home, but also because I don’t want to go near another egg box for a while... I’ve got a few things made already, but I’m half-minded to put them on here; to reorganise this blog and stick to what I know. Doesn’t feel like the right moment to start something new.
Keep things simple. Make space. Deep breaths.

Friday, 13 March 2015

A frugal feast

I keep peering hopefully in the fridge, which is a bit mad.
Last day of the Challenge though, and even with an empty, echoey fridge, no one's gone hungry.
I thought I'd quickly whisk through how we've managed to stretch out our £15 supplies this week.

One of the first things I made was a tomato sauce, using the tinned toms, onion, sugar and a squeeze of ketchup (plus the end of a carton of passata). Very handy for pizzas and pasta, and I'm hanging on to what's left for the grand finale pizzas tonight.

Bread. Such a joy. We wouldn't have got through the week without homemade bread. I mixed the plain cheaper flour I bought with half a bag of strong white and some wholewheat flour from the cupboard. Worked a treat I've got to say. One kilo for each batch - enough for two decent sized, (flattish-looking) loaves. I did all the kneading before school pick up, and by the time we got home they'd risen, and were ready for the oven. Warm bread with a (rationed) slither of butter. So good.

The oat cookies kept the kids happy on the way home from school. We all decided they were better than my usual ones; probably because the porridge oats from Lidl are a bit finer than the oats I normally use. 39p a bag too - definitely be buying those again.

AND the 30p a bar dark chocolate. Of course no one noticed a change in the brownies; they disappeared just as quickly. No cries of, 'Mummy, I simply can't eat brownies with such a low cocoa content!'
Can you imagine.

A few spoonfuls of mango chutney livened up the mild chicken curry, so that's worth doing again too. We could have managed without splashing out 40p on rice - we didn't use much and I had a little left in the cupboard. The 40p could have gone towards getting some more milk…. I had to buy extra after the 10 year old (the only milk drinker) knocked the bottle over at breakfast. I hate cleaning milk off the floor, especially at 6.30 in the morning.

Making pancakes is another thing I don't really want to be doing at 6.30 in the morning - but the kids loved them, and for about 10 minutes I was the best mum ever.

The gnocchi was a revelation. I've never made it before - there only appears to be 3 basic ingredients (potato, flour, egg), but, frustratingly, ever recipe I found was different. So, I just mashed some spud, added an egg and mixed in flour until it looked sort of like dough. It was messy- even messier than my bread making, which is saying something, but everybody liked it. Even the fussy one.

I suppose I've missed fruit and a bit of green - our meals have been a rather samey yellowy orange colour… you've probably noticed. But we've all had plenty to eat; it's just meant more planning and more making for me. I've liked being one step ahead - though, as I've learnt from previous years, not quite enough to change my bumbling-along ways!

Still, I've picked up a few useful ideas and we've raised money for Comic Relief, so that's all good.

Fish and chips tomorrow.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

New blog up and running…

…sort of…

Can't tell a lie, I've found setting up Jumble Tree really frustrating. Just don't seem to be able to remember how to do it! Or add the bits I want… I badly need to spend a few hours with a kind, patient blogger - who can also put me straight on things like Google+ and Twitter (and all the others). Still gripped by fear anytime a message pops up asking if I want to link in my email contacts. Please no! I'm not even sure who's on my email contacts list, but I do know quite a few of them aren't going to want to hear about the latest thing I've made out of an egg box.

So, Jumble Tree is a work in progress! Fairly basic at the moment, but hopefully the content is there - and if you are keen on crafts for kids, I'll be posting regularly - and making some sneak preview projects from my first book, which is due out in August.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Let them eat bread….Day 3

One of the things I said after the last Challenge was I'd try to make bread a least once a week; but as time trundled on, that good intention slipped away to join all the others... So I felt a bit rusty when I made the first batch on Friday - though got stuck right into the dough pummelling… hadn't been the best week ever.

Of course as soon as I took the bread out of the oven and that tempting fresh-baked smell wafted around the kitchen, I had a groundhog 'been here before' moment: Why don't I do this more often? The kids love it - in fact it's how we get through the Challenge week, because my fussy, FUSSY eater would happily munch bread until it comes out of his ears, which is pretty much what I'm letting him do right now. He won't eat spuds, and can be tricky about pasta and rice, and vegetable have to be heavily disguised. So, bread often saves the day. It's not ideal, I know, but I've spent too many years stressing about it. Now I just go with the flow and try to get a bit of goodness into him. Thankfully he seems to like carrots...

The first few days have gone pretty well I think, but I've lulled everyone into a false sense of security by giving them plenty to eat - cheese and ham pizza, garlic pizza, soup, bread, pasta, a roast dinner, more bread - even stodge pudding!

A few extras I swiped: finished off a bag of peas, the end of a tin of golden syrup and some flat cider I've been holding onto for ages. I'll use up the split lentils left in the cupboard too. No point buying another bag.

Just have to keep things ticking along through the week now. A lot more making and baking for me...

Breakfast   homemade bread/coco pops/porridge
Lunch         penne arrabiata/baked potato and cheese
Dinner        cheese and ham pizza, garlic pizza/chocolate mousse

Breakfast   homemade bread/coco pops/boiled egg
lunch          carrot, lentil and cumin soup with cider bread/ peach muffins
Dinner        roast chicken, roast potatoes, carrots, peas and gravy/stodge pudding

Breakfast    peachy porridge/coco pops/homemade bread
Dinner         pesto pasta with grated carrot and cheese/peach muffins

Breakfast     boiled egg and soldiers/coco pops/porridge
Dinner          mild chicken curry with rice/ oat cookies

Breakfast     pancakes
Dinner          homemade gnocchi with pesto and grated cheese/carrot muffins

Breakfast     peachy porridge/ bread/coco pops
Dinner          cheese frittata with spicy(ish) potato wedges/chocolate brownies

Breakfast     possibly pancakes…or bread/porridge/coco pops
Dinner          margarita pizza, garlic bread pizza/baked potato/chocolate

The kids have school dinners and are under strict instructions to fill their boots. The first year we did the Challenge I had to make them packed lunches as well - not sure how I managed that on twelve quid. Though to be fair, they didn't eat quite as much as they do now.

I'll be having a lot of soup.

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