Your toddler years are probably the only time in your life where you are allowed – nay encouraged – to believe that you are the Centre of the Universe, around whom everyone else revolves. Why not celebrate that with a scrapbook-style family tree? Harry is by now pretty clear on who his relatives are, but sometimes needs reminding. He’s also fascinated by the connections between them and to him – particularly given that we’re a modern, blended family with all sorts of interconnectivities and the kind of complex histories that only a venn diagram could truly give order to.
We’re making this together (or rather, I make it with Harry issuing commands about who is placed where, wielding the glue stick and frequently peeling people off for a closer look, or to attempting to insert their photos into Postman Pat’s van, or attaching them to the fridge..so it’s hardly a zen, bonding crafting experience, it has to be said). We’ve taken a pretty liberal view of family, including favourite toys and friends as well as those from who Harry is genetically inseparable. It’s a work in progress as we collect photos to add in. Be warned if you try this at home; EVERY single person who sees it will claim that you have used a terrible picture of them…
Apologies to anyone reading this today (22/6); it was first posted in February and accidentally re-published during a site upgrade this morning!
Much is written about the challenges of parenthood, particularly early parenthood, but there is one topic on which I have yet to find words of wisdom; The Day Your Beloved Child Brings Home Their First Baking Project. Carefully wrapped in a greasy, dog-eared paper bag, we received this culinary endeavour with appropriate awe and exclamations of pride; ‘You MADE this? wow! All by yourself? Amazing!’ …but it rapidly became clear that words were not enough.
We took a tentative, doughy mouthful each and chewed methodically for some minutes before Harry lost interest, returning some while later to say ‘I licked it already Mummy, it’s yucky’. Mm-Mmmmm.
This anecdote caused great hilarity on my return to the nursery this morning, where the teacher exclaimed ‘My god, you actually tried to eat it? Are you crazy? Do you know where their hands have been??’ At this point she shuddered, before issuing the final, killing line; ‘Besides, Harry wasn’t bothered about making these, he played with trains instead. You got one of the communal ones’.
Dear God. This, by the way, is a Cheesy Hedgehog, as if it wasn’t blatantly obvious. I must pass on the recipe to Nigella…
Despite the fact that my son was born in a snowstorm and then Christened a year later amidst flurries as deep as he was high, Harry has never yet experienced snow. The last snow fell when he was still crawling and tottering, oblivious to it all, so this winter he has been feverishly waiting for the kind of glorious, thickly falling snowball-snow promised by all the films and books he’s seen this Christmas. We were finally rewarded last night with promises of an overnight dump, and Harry got to stand in his slippers in the garden and feel the first few flakes before bed. He awoke – on a Sunday no less, how good does it get? – to knee-deep snow, of a perfect consistency for exploration. The first shock was how utterly cold it is (who knew?), and then a whirlwind discovery of snowballs, sledging, frozen ponds and snowmen-building took place in the space of an hour, before hot chocolate was called for. We took the opportunity to kick back and watch my husband clearing the driveway whilst we drank; there’s nothing like witnessing hard-work to wear you out.
As I write, swathed in 4 layers of clothing and with an oil-fired heater cranking and spluttering at my ankles (searing hot ankles, since you ask; the rest of me is numb), the temperature outside is minus 2 degrees, and a focus on instant mood lifters seemed appropriate. My 3 best recent discoveries, all under £50, are perfect for days like today when you just need a little something special to put a spring in your metaphorical step. John Lewis has just started stocking candles from the delectable Herve Gambs, and Bois de Cashmere is in my view the most decadent and best… I won’t ramble like an amateur parfumiere, but suffice to say it is woody and fresh and cottony and just pretty damned expensive smelling, and adds a literal whiff of luxury to any room. Once the room is sorted, it’s time to focus on self and Deborah Lippmann’s Across the Universe varnish is my winter bling – despised by husband and probably all sensible men, it is nonetheless a girl’s dream, radiating sparkle and jauntiness with every gesture you make. Use sparingly over a pale blue base to avoid the full-on peacock effect… and finally a more tactical choice; the Hunter pompom scarf. Begging to be wrapped at least twice round your neck, this has so far gone with everything I’ve tried it with, and has even been co-worn by my son during an evening on the sofa; there’s certainly enough to go around. And with 5 colours to choose from, it would be foolish to limit yourself to just one… *sigh*
One of my grand New Year’s Resolutions (note to self: do not write when tipsy and full of ridiculous ambition…) was to create a chic kitchen garden outside the backdoor, which bloomed verdantly by day and bountifully produced all of the fruit and veg we could hope to consume. Come dusk, it would gently scent the terrace and be something our friends would stroll through, glass in hand, exclaiming on its beauty and the magnificence of its produce. It would of course necessitate buying a host of attractive hand-made gardening tools and a divine leather half-apron, and of course a beautifully shaped trug to collect the peas, carrots and herbs which would be needed for dinner each evening. Oh, and a petite Kew Gardens watering can for ad-hoc sprinkling. And some of those lovely wooden vegetable markers that no serious gardener would cast a second look at…. …Well, as you can see I had not got much further than the retail opportunity offered by this resolution, and certainly had not contemplated the actual hands-on aspect of it all.
A couple of weeks ago I raided the library bookshelves in order to create at least some semblance of a planting plan and a little amateur knowledge. The Dorling Kindersley guide for children did the trick (I have no pride or shame in this regard), and so I learned that I should be urgently, urgently chitting my potatoes in order to get a head start come Spring. A few more minutes of research translated this rather alarming instruction into the simple task of setting out some seed potatoes in an eggbox somewhere cold but bright. Given that the entire house is very cold and generally bright, the perfect spot was not hard to find. (The books do make a sweeping assumption that the inside of every house is free from frost – I challenge them to over-winter here before being so confident in future). This milestone in the launch of my new kitchen garden enterprise took about 45 seconds, and I duly forgot about them
Lo and behold! Two weeks on and blow me if the blighters haven’t begun sprouting and jostling in their cups, as if hell-bent on making a final bid for freedom before the soil beckons. If it is possible to feel pride at so basic an achievement, then pride it is. Hoorah.
The Giant Cupcake Cake. It sounds so simple; a big, nay HUGE version of the failsafe My-First-Bake, everyone’s-a-winner cupcake.
So I thought as I contemplated the cake mould in the store last week, in anticipation of my best friend’s birthday brunch. The double cup tin looked not so much like a cake mould as a cast-off from one of Madonna’s stage shows, glinting in its conical glory. In fact like most great bras, it promised so much at first glance. So I purchased the beast and brought it home. Today my sous chefs and I poured vats of cake batter into the damn things and still managed to only fill them to half-way. After an hour of trembling in the oven (an hour!), I lost patience and extracted them, by now heavily punctured with skewers and displaying a jaunty tilt – impressively each seemed to tilt at a different angle.
Having deployed kilos of sugar and butter in the assembly of the two halves (look away, my healthy friends…), I discovered that giant cupcake cakes of course require giant nozzles through which to pipe the frosting; my dainty array were just not going to cut it. In the end we all slathered the frosting on in handfuls, and prayed that a touch of Martha Stewart ribbon would mask the heavy labour and give a misleading air of lightness and chic to the cake, which by now resembled nothing more than a squat cottage loaf and yet still stands an impressive 12 inches tall. Judge for yourself; I’d suggest waiting 3-4 days after tasting before one ventures to take a blood cholesterol test….
My son is the proud owner of a grown-up proper bed, and insists on taking all visitors upstairs to admire it, and to admire also his technique in getting in and out and generally demonstrating the art of Taking To One’s Bed. Every night, a new toy is invited under the covers to accompany him, and no-one is ever turfed out, meaning that after a week there is barely enough room for Harry and we are generally woken in the wee smalls by the sound of sleepy arguments and turf wars as H wrestles with his toys for pillow space. Action was called for, so now Marvin (mouse) and Digby (dog) have their own bed, which was as close as I could make to being a replica of Harry’s own. Using a cutdown shoebox, clip-art tongue and groove panelling and a remnant of batting covered in gingham, we now have a bed, pillow and duvet to rival Harry’s own.
The only risky moment was when Harry turfed them both out and claimed that HE wanted to sleep in Digby’s bed…. A compromise was reached and Marvin and Digby now sleep alongside Harry with this bed carefully positioned next to his. Let’s see how long it lasts….
I’m always looking for ways to keep my toddler distracted in restaurants in the time it takes between ordering his spaghetti (and it’s always spaghetti if he’s choosing), and it arriving at the table. These table mats take 5 minutes to design and print-off onto A3 paper using simple clip art frames, and I’ve taken to keeping a stash in the car ready to whip out whenever life slows to an unpalatable pace for a 2yr old. The surprising news is that these are even more popular with grown-ups, particularly as a post-prandial activity when inhibitions have been dampened by alcohol and everyone fancies themselves an artist. We keep the best – or the most irreverent – and hang them in the kitchen. For older kids the following suggestions also work well:
- Draw your favourite outfit
- Draw the Christmas / birthday present you want most in the world
- Draw your favourite meal (though this can be a dangerous game, particularly if what you’re actually serving is considered a real let-down in comparison, and/or contains an inappropriately high level of vegetables…
The wonderful and dangerous thing about moving house is that without warning you become drawn to homewares catalogues like a moth to a flame. John Lewis suddenly makes a stealth entry into your ‘most visited’ sites lists and ne’er a day goes by without an interestingly large package arriving on the doorstep… or so my husband complains. Still, a happy upside of this retail incontinence is that I find myself with a wealth of large empty boxes, just waiting to be recycled into fetching play equipment. ’Think how much we’ve saved!’ I cry, to an unconvinced marital audience. In this case, a large box (formerly housing a vacuum cleaner, since you ask) has been painted and appended with some mouth-watering clip art to make a simple play shop, through which much money has changed hands in the last 24 hours in exchange for a variety of dented plastic vegetables.
As you can see from the pictures below, the actual cardboard box with just a door and a serving hatch cut into it were just as exciting to the 2yr old in question – the paint and decor just makes it a slightly more attractive addition to the playroom…
In our new house we have a huge open hallway adjoining a large room which is currently empty (the new kitchen arrives in two weeks and counting…). It’s a space just begging for play, and my toddler has spent the last week careering from one to the next, dragging balloons, toys and numerous random household items in his wake. A pull-along train is definitely called for, if only to ensure safe passage for Wilberforce, Leo and Rabbit. Here I painted two leftover packing boxes, joined them with a length of rope and added one for pulling along. The wheels are silver paper plates (bounty from Poundsaver, my retail guilty pleasure), and for the rear I printed up a simple backplate with the driver’s name; I’m discovering that ownership is very important when you’re two.
As you can see from the pictures below, Harry’s train was a hit, and it’s uncertain whether the passengers will ever be allowed to disembark….
Having uncovered a dusty pack of FIMO Air Microwave clay, I today set about rolling, cutting, stamping and experimenting, with a vague notion of making gift tags or hanging ornaments (the Christmas spirit is taking a while to wear off). Initially pliable like clay, the alchemy of microwave and steam rapidly turns each piece into a light-as-air tag or pendant with the rough, organic feel of porcelain but a density similar to cardboard. Definitely a great discovery. Here’s my first attempt at chic gift tags for wine bottles (or anything, in fact…). I love the contrast with the black but taupe or plain brown paper would also look great as a complementary wrap colour. Accessorised here with simple black ribbon and a tiny silver bell – and a piece of heavyweight paper strung underneath for the gift message (it’s hard to write on the finished clay itself, though not impossible).
The good thing is you get masses of cut-outs from one pack, and can cram a surprisingly large number into the microwave at any one time for finishing, so I have enough to hang one on my pinboard as well as a boxful to actually use. Now I just need a party to go to this weekend…
1 pack of FIMO air modelling clay
Black ribbon, bells, heavyweight linen paper
Rubber stamps (I used an italic text block) and beads for embellishment and surface printing