Clearly I’ve not been paying attention. I’d like to blame it on the business of a family of five, or even the newborn haze but I think I’m going to have to go even further back than that and try to cast aspirations at pregnancy hormones (they’re always handy for blaming things on). Because not only is this week’s book by Peter Bently who would easily make our shortlist for favourite children’s book author (particularly given how many times his stories have featured in What We’re Reading), but it’s also gorgeously illustrated and really funny to boot. And yet I found it not on our bookcase at home, or strewn across the lounge floor, or even in the little puddle of stories that forms at the bottom of Kitty’s bed as whatever we’ve read in the evening slides off her duvet with a thump in the middle of the night. No, this one came home from the New Books shelf at the Library.
As I said, I’ve been slacking.
But we’ve made up with it since. Those Magnificent Sheep in their Flying Machine has been read, re-read, loved and carried around by Elma, always a sign of true devotion. And for once it’s not a book about someone stealing something. Oh, well, actually … does it count if the pinching was by accident? I think I could construct a decent argument that there was a lack of mens rea on the basis of no intention permanently to deprive.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is the tale of a field of sheep, quietly going about their everyday when zooming and roaring overhead alerts them to an airshow nearby. And nearest of all is a little yellow aeroplane, parked up neatly but with no one nearby keeping an eye on it. So Lambert and Eunice and Marly and Mabs, Old Uncle Ramsbottom, Bart, Ben and Babs do what we’d all like to do and sneak up for a little peek inside. But as it’s a bit of a squash to get eight sheep in a single seater it’s not too big a surprise to find that a little button gets pushed and they’re off!
Happily for everyone it turns out that Old Uncle Ramsbottom knows how to fly a plane – who said sheep weren’t very bright! – and off they go, travelling all around the world on adventures near and far.
(I’m not going to tell you where they are here, just that I love the wooly jumpers!)
But after a while the lure of their own field becomes too strong, and they point the plane back to their own spot of nice green grass and the peaceful life.
It’s a rhyming story which is always fun to read, especially when it’s done this well, and I love the patter; shades of both Lynley Dodd and Dr Seuss in the pace and the language.
I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to add this one to the Christmas list for one of the children; we’ve already renewed it twice – next time it has to go back to the library!
Last wek Vickie definitely had a seasonal read with My Friend the Weather Monster (I’m wondering whether we might have one around here given this last week’s rain and today’s forecast!) and Anne-Marie introduced me to the world of Biff and Chip with Everyone Got Wet which I think looks a lot more fun than the books I learned to read with! And if you have a favourite, or just something fun your little or not so little ones have enjoyed reading lately please do join us. There really are no rules here, it doesn’t have to be a book you own or for a particular age group. I write about books for pre-schoolers because that’s what I have, some of them from our exploding bookcases and some from the library, but I’m always looking out for the next stage up, and anything that’s really good tends to transcend age groups anyway!
The linky is always open for the whole week so there’s plenty of time. And so, without further ado, it’s over to you to tell me what we should be reading!
Around this time last year I took a very excited Kitty and a barely toddling Elma to their friend’s third birthday party. There were balloons, party food, a bouncy castle and children running happily in all directions. And in one corner was a face painting station. Kitty was fascinated. She loved the brushes, the sponges, the colours all laid out and the sparkly twirls and whirls being painted across her friends’ cheeks.
But when it came to her turn she was absolutely adamant; there was no way she was going to have her face painted thank you very much. In the end the longing for a bit of glitter won out and she settled for a butterfly painted on her wrist, albeit with sideways longing glances at the faces around her.
This week the same friend turned four, and we went to celebrate. The girls made a beeline for the bouncy castle as soon as they arrived and I think Elma might like it possibly even as much as the swings; she barely stopped bouncing all afternoon, and Kitty was so busy dividing her time between bouncing and running around with her friends that it was a while before she noticed the face painting going on in the corner.
She grabbed my hand, “Look Mummy, that’s where I had a butterfly on my arm last year!”
She watched carefully as a host of small pink butterflies started to flutter out from the corner and then with one backwards glance at me, ran off to have a number painted on the back of her hand, a sort of face painting version of the deli counter ticket machine. She and her friends stood and watched as a little blonde girl in a blue sundress acquired a glittery curl down the side of her face, running off to scamper across the bouncy castle whenever the standing still became a bit too much, and then it was her turn.
I’d wondered whether she would turn down her go when push came to shove, or whether she would have lost interest after the wait but she happily climbed up into the chair and sat patiently while she was decorated. And then as I turned around from giving Elma a boost back onto the bouncy castle there she was;
it’s a beautiful butterfly, there’s clearly some serious talent gone into the painting, but it was the smile that went with it that made me want to scoop her up and give her an enormous hug. She was just so happy, so completely and utterly thrilled with her butterfly that she looked fit to burst.
You would’t think a little bit of face paint should have that effect but it drove home just how much of a change there’s been in the last year for Kitty, and not just in height and shoe size.
I think you always know that you’re not really seeing the changes in your children as they actually happen, after those first newborn growth spurts when I swear I’ve watched my children getting longer before my very eyes, it’s all so very gradual, so very gentle in the day to day that it’s only in the milestones or when you stop to look that you can actually see the changes.
When I look back on my Siblings pictures, a year and a half’s worth of Me and Mine or the children’s monthly milestone pictures I can see the physical changes oh so clearly, but they don’t show the whole picture. They only show the physical changes and occasionally hint at the rest, in a caring gesture to a little sibling or pride at a giant Duplo construction. It’s the stories that go with the pictures that fill in the gaps.
On the surface it’s just a beautiful butterfly face painting (and a great view of Kitty’s tonsils!), but the comparison to last year is what’s special to me. In the last year she has become so much more confident, so very articulate and self assured, from a little girl who didn’t want her face painted and wouldn’t so much as go near the lady running it without me holding her hand to this.
My beautiful be-butterflied girl.
Outside in our garden we have two raised flowerbeds. We put them in when Kitty was still a teeny tiny little girl but after that year’s crop of six or so strawberries, a couple of rows of diminutive carrots and a glut of purple sprouting broccoli I’m sorry to say that they became rather neglected.
They had one more hurrah as a cutting garden for tulips and daffodils but since then they’ve been mostly growing grass and baby sycamore trees. I’m not terribly green fingered. Well actually I’m not green fingered at all, and my gardening style can most accurately be described as benign neglect. But I do like the idea of growing a little something to supplement the contents of the kitchen cupboard, and more than that I like the idea of growing something with the girls to give them a sense of where food comes from and just how long it might take to grow.
So on a sunny Thursday afternoon, with Pip snoozing gently in his chair in the doorway we set out to reclaim our veg patch. Suffice to say it was less a question of weeding, and more a sort of removal of turf. In giant chunks. With a spade.
And then we were ready for a little planting. After the miniature carrots, oh and the parsnips that never grew I decided that whatever we were going to grow had to be pretty easy, and had to be something we actually eat. So we’re starting with garlic.
We planted Solent Garlic and some Shakespeare Onions, both chosen from the garden centre pretty much on the basis of their names which I suspect is the gardening equivalent of choosing your car because you want a red one.
The cloves were easy for little fingers to get a grip on and Kitty really enjoyed pushing them into their rows, even if she wasn’t too keen on getting mud on her gardening gloves (they’ve got fairies on and she’s very fond of them) while Elma ran around in circles, gave us hugs and gave the garlic bulbs some very mistrustful stares.
But both of them just loved the watering stage.
It might have been about to pour with rain (again) but they were determined that not an inch of soil would be left dry, just in case.
And I hope that with all that loving care, and if we remember to put the netting on once the first shoots appear and do the occasional bit of weeding, come next summer we might just be eating garlic in everything!
If you looked at all the things I’ve made over the last few years I think it would suggest that my knitting ‘style’ has changed; where once it was all about complicated patterns and technical challenges, now I keep finding myself gravitating towards the simpler things; nice plain socks, or something with a good chunk of garter stitch; something that I can either knit from memory, or learn the pattern really quickly. It means I can pick it up, knit three stitches and put it down again without having to spend half an hour working out where I’ve got to, and it’s the kind of knitting that truly is soothing to the soul, lulling me into a relaxed contentment by the repetitive motion of each stitch. It’s the perfect antidote to the tougher days of life with little ones.
But when I do fancy a little something more complicated it turns out that baby knits are the perfect choice. There’s just not that much cabling that you can fit onto a newborn sized cardigan after all.
And the result is rather sweet.
I’m repeating myself I know but I’m a firm believer in hand knits for babies, not just because of the very clever properties of wool (it’s great for helping them regulate their temperature) or because teeny tiny knits are incredibly cute (they are), but because it’s a gift of time and skill. The warm and cozy feeling of being safely wrapped up in something wooly is the gift to the baby; the gift to their parents is the knowledge that H and I treasure them as friends and cherish their babies enough to spend time making the new arrival a little something. And when that baby is their first, well you want that little something to be extra special.
It’s a sort of kismet of wanting to knit something interesting and having the perfect excuse.
This little cardie was actually cast on before the young lady for whom it is intended made her appearance, but as she arrived only three weeks after Pip and it turns out I can’t actually knit with my mind, I do have to be using both hands, it’s taken just a little while to finish.
Little Miss G is only a month old, she wasn’t as big on arrival as my girls, let alone Pip, who had to absent himself from modelling duty on the grounds of being far too big for it, and the great thing about knitwear is that it’s quite stretchy so I think it should still fit. Hopefully.
The pattern is Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s Baby Yours, the newborn size, in one of my favourite baby yarns, Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino, and for all my talk of looking for something a little more complicated it really isn’t that difficult a pattern. My chief difficulty is that I can’t cable and read Extra Yarn for the 114th time that day at the same time, even if Kitty holds the book and turns the pages, and I do need to be somewhere vaguely in the vicinity of the pattern if possible for fear of making one sleeve oh so very much longer than the other. Not that I did that of course. No, not at all.
I’ve knit it before, many years ago in the pre-children era, and my abiding memory of it was that while the end product was charming, the knitting didn’t flow, I had to keep stopping and checking the pattern, and as a result it felt like it took ages to make and to be frank I just didn’t feel the love. I’m not sure whether the intervening years have made me a better knitter, or whether it’s simply that my sense of how long is ‘ages’ has rather shifted but it was a much smoother process this time around and I really enjoyed it.
I finally finished the knitting last week, then sewed it up in odd moments, gave it a good long soak to block it and make all the cable detail stand proud and look pretty, and then after waiting what felt like forever for it to dry (that’s the downside of picking the wettest week of the autumn to hand wash knitwear) the button tin came up trumps again with pretty shell pink pearly buttons.
I love how they take what’s definitely a unisex pattern and give it just a hint of femininity.
And with that I finished the “baby has already arrived” baby knitting and the needles lay empty. While I know I have a crochet cushion/small blanket on the go, and there’s a sock that has been waiting for a pair for years and years now, and I’ve got some embroidery to do to be ready for Elma’s birthday, it’s still a slightly uncomfortable feeling to have nothing on the needles. I think only another knitter would truly understand, but it’s a bit like having your camera battery on charge if you’re a photographer, or your sewing machine in for a service to a quilter.
But I needn’t have worried. Pip is growing before our very eyes, Kitty is reaching ever higher on the shelves and Elma just looks cute in woolies. One afternoon spent productively cleaning out my Ravelry queue and favourites during every feed and I’ve got a list of projects to last me a decade; and a new cardigan on the needles. In aran weight yarn. Mostly stocking stitch.
(Disclosure: this is a review post, in among the tale of a little girl’s optimism, the real reason why everyone should learn a round turn and two half hitches, and the preservation of my embroidery thread. All thoughts and words are undeniably my own; no one else would chatter for so long and on so many tangents. And if you make it to the bottom there’s even a giveaway!)
Over the summer a new word entered my eldest daughter’s lexicon. A word that I suspect strikes fear into the hearts of school caretakers everywhere, and anyone else engulfed in a tidal wave of colourful elastic.
Yes, Kitty discovered the existence of loom bands. And from there it was only a short step to wanting to make one. Well they do come in all sorts of exciting varieties of pink and purple.
But her interest seemed to come and go, right up to the point that we found ourselves sat in children’s church visiting a friend one Sunday morning and the Sunday school leader pulled out a packet of bands. All the little girls set to and a fair few Mummys as well, twisting and weaving the bands over their fingers until there were half a dozen new bracelets accessorising Sunday dresses. Kitty pulled out a small handful of bands and brought them over to us;
“Mummy! Can you make me a loom band?”
And despite numerous sneaky looks at the little girls constructing at speed all around me I had to say no. For the first time in her life Kitty had found something crafty that neither of her parents knew how to do. Clearly it was time to learn, and happily Hobbycraft were more than willing to be elastic enablers and sent us the Cra-Z-Loom kit to try out.
A kit that fortunately comes with instructions as well as a bright magenta loom (instant hit), the hook (also pink) a baggie full of 600 rainbow bands and 25 s-clips.
In my defence I’m not sure why I thought I should know how to make loom bands; when I was in my teens the big thing was friendship bracelets. I ruled at friendship bracelets, mainly due to the winning combination of being a sailor – two half hitches; piece of cake – and having a mother with a well stocked embroidery box who would allow a little light pilfering on the condition that I didn’t leave it in a giant snarled mess. I could make cords and stripes and zig zags, chevrons, fish (very popular at Scripture Union camp!) and even the occasional word.
I’ve got fond memories of hours spent with thread pinned to my school skirt with a safety pin and I’ll admit I was a little curious to see what I’d make of the latest incarnation, and whether I’d ever get over the fact that they look exactly like brace elastics (if you don’t know what I’m talking about then I’m officially jealous of your good fortune and excellent straight teeth!). Kitty on the other hand was just a smidgen more than curious when she heard she was finally getting her hands on a loom band!
So how did we get on?
The basic premise seems to be that you lay out your bracelet by looping bands over the pegs, then hook the bands in order and finally pull the bracelet off the loom and finish it up by joining it with an s-clip.
We started with the simplest of the three bracelet instructions in the pack and after I’d had a quick play with half a dozen bands to work out what we needed to do I handed it off to Kitty. She easily got the hang of the zig zag pattern we were trying to make and ‘warped’ the whole loom quite happily.
When it came to the weaving she could see what she needed to do but found it more of a challenge; she did about half the band and I did the other half, but she’s only just four, and I’m sure that as she grows her manual dexterity will catch up and I won’t get a look in. With a few more years experience wielding a crochet hook under my belt I found it easy to hook the bands up and over and the whole thing came together quickly to someone’s evident delight!
And after that certain someone went to bed it’s just possible that I may have got it back out for a little play of my own – for research and testing purposes of course you understand!
Once you’ve worked out what you’re trying to do the raised braid and the waterfall bands come together as quickly as the simple band and the results are just as well received by small daughters. I found the pictures the most useful guide to what we were doing for all three; the words seemed to unnecessarily complicate matters.
And half a dozen bracelets in I can see why loom bands are so addictive; they’re quick, easy to make, and Kitty and I had a great time playing together and choosing colours (I’d never be able to teach her friendship bracelets at this age) and happily my embroidery box remains untrammelled.
The kit itself feels sturdy enough to withstand a few years weaving and I liked that the instructions covered a few different band patterns.
If there is a downside It’s the storage conundrum. The bands and links come in little plastic bags of the sort that once opened are going to erupt everywhere. We started out putting the bands in the bowl to my kitchen scales which was great – right up until the point that I needed to weigh something – and then we moved on to one of Elma’s weaning bowls. After that seemed to erupt a rainbow of elastic every time anyone so much as looked at it I’ve poured them all into a screw top jam jar; no one can do loom bands without Mummy to open the jar and my hoover is much happier without a regular diet of elastic through it’s innerds. And while jam jars aren’t a practical inclusion to a kit, a resealable bag or a little clip box would be an improvement, particularly in a kit that’s priced at £15.
Which brings us to the sticky question of the price. It is a great starter kit there’s no question about that, but is it £15 worth of great kit? I’m honestly not sure about that; it’s more than I would pay on a whim or to pick up something new for a rainy afternoon.
Having said that, if they could sort out a storage solution it’s got everything you need to keep you busy for hours thus fulfilling my sister and my childhood rule when choosing Christmas presents for each other; something to do and with all the bits you need. Devon in the winter can be very stormy and also very shut!
And as I’m certain I’m not the only one who looked at small elastic bands with bafflement I have a little treat for someone. Hobbycraft have given me another Cra-Z-Loom kit to giveaway – to enter all you have to do is fill out the form below.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
I’m never entirely sure how I feel about Halloween. Trick or treating just wasn’t part of my childhood, and the whole thing was vastly overshadowed by Bonfire Night which always involved a massive bonfire on the school playing field, baked potatoes to keep your hands warm and the call and answer of fireworks being let off across the town. As a family I think we still make more of a celebration of Bonfire Night, though that might just be because we have friends with a garden big enough for some decent sized rockets.
But I am absolutely certain about where I fall on the question of cake. You should never say no to cake. And well, I’m never one to turn down a good excuse for a bit of themed baking either. So without too much waffling on and further ado, may I introduce you to the only sort of spiders I willingly welcome into the house and have never chased away with a hoover or scooped up in a tea towel and thrown into the garden.
I first had the idea for these a few years ago, wanting to make a treat for my team at work and looking for any excuse for the acquisition of more cupcake cases (you can never had too many cupcake cases). They are very simple, and very easy to make, but they look really cute, and taste delicious. This recipe will make 12 fairy cake sized Smily Spider Cupcakes but if you have a muffin tin instead you could easily make them bigger by multiplying quantities by 1.5 and letting them cook for 3-5 minutes longer.
To make 12 fairy-cake sized Smily Spider Cupcakes you will need:
for the cakes
- 100g butter
- 100g caster sugar
- 100g self-raising flour
- 10g cocoa powder
- 2 eggs
for the decoration
- 125g icing sugar
- 1 packet of Milky Way Magic Stars
- Black writing icing
- Preheat the oven to 170 C and line a 12-hole fairy cake tin with paper cases.
- Put all of the cake ingredients in a food processor/ stand mixer and whizz until completely combined.
- Divide the mixture between the 12 cake cases, it’s about a dessert spoonful each and you want to fill each case about 2/3 of the way to the top.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until the cakes are risen and spring back to the touch.
- Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.
- While the cakes are cooling have a look at your Magic Stars. They all have little faces set in the middle of the five point star; we need 12 of the ones that have a point over the top of the face like this; rather than the upside down sort that look like this. Those ones can be fed to passing children/husband/considered a cook’s treat!
- Whisk the icing sugar in a bowl to break up any lumps then slowly add in 1-2tbsp of water until the icing is smooth and will coat the back of a spoon.
- Cover each of the cakes with about a teaspoon of icing and set the Magic Star in the middle, then allow the icing to dry.
- Using the writing icing, draw four spiders’ legs between the points on each side of the Magic Star for a total of eight legs per spider.
And there you have it, enough spiders to spook a whole host of trick or treaters – assuming they last that long that is.
“Once upon a time there was a mother duck with three pretty ducklings and one…”
Hang on a minute, this isn’t The Ugly Duckling. Or if it is, we’ve gone really really wrong somewhere because there’s something lurking in this book that really really shouldn’t be there.
Do you dare, are you brave enough to Open Very Carefully?
After well over a year of What We’re Reading posts I think it’s fair to say that our taste in children’s books is fairly eclectic. If our favourites have got anything in common though it’s that they’re all just a little bit different; there’s a quirk or something unexpected in them that keeps my interest enough to want to read it hundreds and hundreds of times over. It might be gorgeous illustrations or language you can wrap your tongue around or a rhythm that makes it easy to read aloud. Or in this case, a crocodile.
Yes, a crocodile. A rather big mean looking crocodile with a lot of sharp pointy teeth who for some reason has ended up stuck inside a Hans Christian Anderson classic.
And not only is he stuck, he’s hungry. First it’s the letters, then words, and then whole sentences disappear. Well you can’t have a book if there’s nothing to read so Duckling comes up with a plan.
One that Kitty is usually only to happy to help him with!
And once he’s sleeping lik a baby, Duckling has a few more plans to make him a much less intimidating prospect; plans that involve a crayon…!
For the record small children of mine, if you should ever decide to take a feather out of Duckling’s book and ‘illustrate’ any of your nearest and dearest while they’re sleeping you should expect to get a similar result. Because as it turns out, crocodiles really don’t like being dressed up in a tutu, ballet slippers and a nice pink bow while they snooze.
Crocodile wants out (and who can blame him) so he takes a flying run up and launches himself at the edge of the page..
but to no avail! There’s only one way out,
and it’s a way that’s just perfect for little fingers to follow (and noses but that might just be in our house), to see if we can work out where the crocodile might turn up next.
I think we can definitely tick all the boxes for quirky and a little bit different. I loved it when I saw it and Kitty, whose birthday present it was, is equally enamoured. Elma is probably less excited about it, she hasn’t quite got the interactive part of it, and as it isn’t in rhyme it doesn’t have the sense of lullaby that she associates with story time, so I think this is one for the slightly older crowd – Mummy included.
Vickie started the crocodile theme early last week with The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water which might well have to come and join our library at some point; and if you have a favourite, or just something fun your little or not so little ones have enjoyed reading lately please do join us. The linky is always open for the whole week so there’s plenty of time. And so, without further ado, it’s over to you to tell me what we should be reading!
It’s a combination of sunshine and furniture polish, a rich warm sort of smell. Even now some (mumble mumble) years since I left, one whiff of that polish and in a heartbeat I’m eighteen again, sat in the school chapel for my final school speech day as the light glows through the windows and bounces off the parquet floor and wooden chairs polished to a sheen by the wriggling of hundreds of restless teenagers. It’s one of my strongest smell-place associations, probably because the polish was industrial strength, but there are others; it’s something I think we all have to some degree or another, a clever quirk of memory.
And it seems that memories aren’t just tied to smells either, but also to toys. Until recently the girls hadn’t quite got to the stage of playing with the toys that I remember from my childhood; they’re still just that little bit on the young side for the two giant boxes of Lego sat at Grandpa’s house and I don’t think the paper dolls will have survived the passage of time. They have H’s childhood Brio but I didn’t have Brio myself so it doesn’t have the same sentimental attachment as it does for H.
But then Kitty turned four, and thanks to one of her lovely aunts, she acquired her very first Sylvanian Families.
A whole family of kangaroos, some babies on a swing, and a very sweet fish and chip van complete with teeny tiny fish and chips, ketchup bottles and even some mushy peas.
She loves play acting with them; setting out the table and chairs, deciding who’s going to be in charge of the van, and having everyone queue up and ask for their fish and chip supper.
And it brings back so many happy memories of my own. I never had Sylvanian families myself (I know, seriously deprived childhood, it’s a miracle I haven’t needed therapy) but a couple of my friends had seriously enviable collections; vast arrays of animals and little outfits and houses and all the accessories you could possibly want.
Our little sisters were friends too and I remember long afternoons at their house setting out the houses, making up their family stories, and then taking them all on adventures.
And now I get to do it all over again with my lovely daughter, letting her imagination take the lead, and trying to stop her baby sister, who is naturally intrigued by what she calls “sister’s families”, from running off with all the most important parts!
Is that the big secret about parenting; that it’s the perfect excuse to remember your own childhood and try to pull the very best bits forward for the next generation?
Hello!Once upon a time there was a girl named Carie. She married her sweetheart, had two beautiful daughters and now a tiny son too and filled their days with an eclectic handmade life. Welcome to the story so far ...
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