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Navigators, Cocktails and the Swansong of Summer

The Navigator's table

I know, I know… with a title like that, any post is bound to be a disappointment.

Never mind, how are you, how is your week?  We managed a last-minute get-away to the sun for a few days before school begins, and threw a large and informal impromptu dinner party with friends to celebrate summer before it takes a final bow.  We managed to cram 14 people around our kitchen table, adding a couple of side tables at either end to accomodate everyone.  I covered them with these amazing shipping charts (below) that I found in a junk shop on the Isle of Wight last month… aren’t they beautiful?

Vintage navigation mapsVintage navigation charts

They were printed in the 1950s and obviously used for some years; each has small, faded annotations and comments scribbled on them warning of currents, submarine testing areas and shipping channels.  I bought as many as I could carry for £1 each; cheaply enough that I felt able to spread them liberally over our tables without worrying about wine-rings or the flamboyant distribution of food that is inevitable when you’re in the middle of a great anecdote and have a loaded fork.  And a near-empty glass.

I decided on a nautical theme and gathered everything I had that might fit the bill to go down the centre of the table… like driftwood and old map books;

maps to decorate a dinner table

Jam-jars, speckled with silver paint and housing t-light candles, whilst battery-operated fairy lights added pin-points of brightness along the length of the room…

A navigator's dinner table

Summer table setting

I wanted an informal feel, so for placemats I simply printed an image of a vintage ship’s compass onto sheets of watercolour paper and used them to mark each setting;

Map dinner table

DIY Map placemats

For the cutlery, I used some sheets from the map book featured earlier and folded each one in 3 with slightly overlapping edges, before gluing 3 of the edges and cutting a half-circle at the top with a circle-punch; the perfect pocket, and a 5-minute make…

Map book pages make a great cutlery pocket

Use maps to make cutlery pockets

It was a deliciously warm night, so we gathered on the patio before dinner and drank porn-star martinis which I’d made in exuberant quantities with a Nutribullet smoothie-maker; I’m sure the manufacturers would be horrified to find that I had substituted the recommended kale and wheatgrass for vanilla vodka and passion-fruit, but it worked a treat and they tasted far too good…

But now it’s back-to-school week; the labelling of a myriad of baffling pieces of sporting equipment, haircuts (the first in many months), and a frantic scrabble to locate the lists of homework we were supposed to cover in the endless yet somehow crazy-busy days of summer. Epic fail.

And as if by magic, autumn has ridden into view, with two days of torrential rain followed by mists, an early-morning chilliness and the ripening of the apples all along our lane.  We’re treating ourselves tonight by lighting the wood-burning stove for the first time since winter; unecessary perhaps, but the woodsmoke smells so good…

Enjoy the rest of the week!

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Toy Passports! (Or, how to take the entire family on holiday…)

Pet Passports!

Last month we set off for Provence laden with just about everything you would possibly need for a short break in the French countryside, and many things you wouldn’t.  We are masters at packing random exotica and hopeless at remembering necessities; this time we were determined not to leave anything behind.

We left before dawn one chilly July morning and had got as far as the airport before disaster struck, as we realised that ALL of Harry’s stuffed toys were still fast asleep in his bed, blissfully unaware that they had been forgotten in the rush. Boris the fox, Marvin the mouse, Wilberforce the polar bear… home alone.  Oh dear.

Harry was temporarily bereft at the thought of sleeping solo, but soon rallied when I promised that next time, we’d make sure they had passports and could take it in turns to travel with us.  Promises made to small people must certainly be kept, so I spent an evening last week forging making passports for this unruly cast of shady characters….

Pet Passports Montage

To make them, I designed a lookalike passport photo page and we asked each gentleman in turn to take a seat and pose for their official photograph.  The rules were carefully adhered to; no smiling, and absolutely no hats of any kind.

That means you, Wilberforce..

Wilberforce

Animal head shots

Some, like Boris, were naturals in front of the camera;

Animal head shots 2

We added the photos onto the ‘passport’ page on my laptop and then printed them out with some blank sheets to make a booklet.  I mocked-up a cover page for each passport and we printed these onto coloured paper to make the covers.

(By the way, for the lovely gold foiled covers, I experimented with a laser printer and gold foil printing technique – I’ll do a step-by-step tutorial soon; it’s fascinating and surprisingly easy – but if you’re desperate to have a go sooner, this link  gives you a very good overview).

And for those making passports for British animals, here are my blank templates for you to download and have a play with…

Toy Passport Cover

Blank toy passport page

We obviously made quite sophisticated toy passports (though rest assured; they certainly wouldn’t fool anyone in authority), but of course you can make these very simply using just craft paper, scissors, pens and glue; Harry enjoyed making these just as much as our computer versions…

How to make passports for your toys

How to make passports for your toys 2

However much time you invest in these, it’s a great way of filling a rainy afternoon with the littles in your house.  You could use stamps and punches to decorate the pages, reflecting a world of glamorous adventures….

Toy passport factory

So now all the animals in our bedroom menagerie have passports (and in fact, I have received a number of black market enquiries from stuffed animals seeking passage from around the world; word has obviously spread that we’re the go-to people for fun-fur illegal immigration).

Now, which to take with us on holiday? Decisions, decisions….

Travelling toys

See you next week!

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Art in Action 2015

Pip art pastels

How are you, have you had a good week?  We’re just back from a whirlwind trip to Provence, which was glorious – and hot! Lots to share from the trip in due course, but first I wanted to tell you about a daytrip we made to Art in Action a couple of weeks ago – Harry, my mum and I.

Art in Action is a curious and lovely event – several hundred artists and craftspeople come together in the Oxfordshire countryside to demonstrate, exhibit and sell their work, with workshops and taster events for visitors so you can try your hand at all sorts of crafts (amateur stone-carving, anyone?) and discover just how incredibly difficult each one really is.

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We wandered into the demonstration tent and watched Dave Rogers (below) from the Vinegar Hill Pottery conjour up a salt pig from a slab of clay thrown onto his potter’s wheel (‘look at his hands!’ exclaimed Harry, in a stage-whisper of horrified delight)

Vinegar Pottery

Throughout the day there were lots of classes for both adults and kids, and Harry gravitated quickly to the clay tent to produce this surpirisngly accomplished (I know, I know; I’m his mother, what can I say?) model of the Owl and the Pussycat. ‘Oooh, a frog!’ said my mother, before being sternly corrected.  Artists are forever misunderstood, as Harry is beginning to learn..

Pwl and pussycat

Amongst the many exhibitors and stalls were some incredible textiles, painting and ceramics; we made if-I-win-the-lottery mental lists of the pieces we liked the most, like  Claire Palastanga‘s beautiful sea-urchin-like sculptural forms (below).

Claire_Palastanga1201.jpg

And the smoke-fired vessels made by Juliet Walters, a Brighton-based sculptor and ceramicist …

burnished_bowls_close_up.jpg

I bought a smooth, egg-sized vessel like these below from her display; it cost only a few pounds and fits reassuringly in my palm like a particularly sophisticated stress ball; it sits on a corner of my desk and just asks to be rolled from hand to hand whilst I think.  I must just remember not to squeeze it…

juliet_walters_1

And finally, onto one of my favourite parts of Art in Action; the giant ‘Marketplace’ marquee where you can buy gazillions of different at supplies and craft materials at a fraction of the usual prices.  It’s a fatal retail experience, akin to a trip to Ikea where you fill your basket with bargains and then find at the checkout that the sum total could release a small country from debt.  Swallowing hard, I bought…

..these beautiful chalky pastels, which I love looking at even before I’ve had a go at using them.  You could fill a box, sweet-shop style, with your chosen colours and I went for a seascape of blues and greeny-grays….

tonal pastels

…A tiny, pocket-sized set of watercolour paints complete with travel brush for Harry and me to take on holiday with a tin of watercolour postcards.. we brought them out after dinner each evening and dipped the brush into a spare water glass to idle away the night and make the most of the beautiful sunsets (and the dwindling bottle of wine).  Inspired by the countryside around us, I painted olive stems.  Inspired by his experience at the hotel kids club, Harry cheerily painted the club bus being pursued by an angry dragon and burning it up with flames.  Also, a rocket.

Hannemuhle postcards

I came across these Hannemuhle matt cards (below) for use with inkjet printers and have been testing them out with some of my favourite images; the colour quality is wonderful and I can see these becoming a new go-to replacement for thank-you notes and gift tags.  The paper map dress in the picture below is next week’s blog project, by the way..

hannemuhle

I bought other bits and pieces which I’ll try out in the weeks to come and show you here on the blog..  water-soluble fabric, calligraphy pens and the like, but just one final purchase to share; this amazing home-dyed, unspun wool that feels as soft as clouds and is just waiting for a project of some kind.  I have no ideas, I just loved the colour and the tactile sensation of running my fingers through it.  It’s currently wrapped loosely around a mannequin in my studio whilst I await inspiration; at £5 for the bundle, I’m happy just to enjoy it catching my eye in the meantime.  Have you used this kind of yarn/wool before?  Any ideas?  Please do share….

FibresFobre scarf

If you live in the UK, Art in Action is now an annual event, so do look out for next year.  I’m already saving up for a new stash of craft materials to play with in 2016…

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n.b. All photos my own, apart from: portait of Simon Buchanan via ArtInAction; Burnished vessel and bowls via Juliet Walter; Gilded ceramic form via Claire Palastanga (links above).

TED Women 2015: Momentum!

A rather different kind of post this time, as I return from an extraordinary week at the global TED Women meeting in Monterey, California… an amazing experience that I’m still digesting and processing several days on.  The theme was ‘Momentum’ and it drew hundreds of women from 200 countries together to listen to talks and ideas from those who are kickstarting transformational change in the world, whether big or small.

Have you ever been to a TED meeting?  I’d been an avid follower of TED talks which I use a lot in my work, but never attended an event.  The energy in the conference centre was palpable as participants registered and  began to gather for the opening sessions… this was the auditorium; like a small, intimate theatre which masked the size of the audience..

TED Auditorium

The meeting was structured into 6 themed sessions over 3 days, beginning with Spark; how ideas come to live and ignite into a groundswell of action – through to Sustain; the impact of transformational change over decades. There were some big-name draws on the speaker list; former US President Jimmy Carter, former Irish President Mary Robinson, Billy-Jean King and Jane Fonda to name but a few – but some of the most compelling and powerful talks for me came from the lesser-known speakers; like Linda Cliatt-Wayman, an unstoppable inner-city high school principal who has transformed her school from a rating of ‘persistently dangerous’ to a safe, nurturing, inspiring environment.

School principle

Linda spoke –  no, issued a rally-cry – for 9 minutes and you could barely hear an audience member breathe.  Formidable and awe-inspiring in equal measure, she captivated with her passion and energy and earned a stamping, standing ovation at the end. Her simple mantra in the face of seemingly overwhelming adversity; “So what? What now? What are we going to do about it?” – summed up her resilience and determination that there is always a way, no matter how stacked the odds are.   You can read her amazing story here (the videos of the talks themselves are not yet uploaded; I’ll link to them when they are).

Equally compelling and moving was Nancy Lublin, pioneer of the youth volunteering movement dosomething.org, who spoke of the day her team received an incoming text from a teenager who was being abused by her father, eventually asking simply ‘…R U there?’.  Feeling powerless to do anything more than text back details of a national rape support line, Nancy and her team determined to set up a resource to support teenagers in crisis in the way that they needed, and two years later Crisis Text Line was launched. Anyone can text the support team and begin a conversation, on their terms, and get the help they need.  Over 6.5m texts have been received to date, and one of the most valuable outcomes is that the data can be used – anonymously – to highlight the most vulnerable populations and areas across the US to help better target local resources.  You can read more about the remarkable evolution and impact in this New Yorker story.

Nancy Lublin (below), who closed her talk by saying; ‘Why am I here today? In the hope that one day, the young girl who reached out to us, who made us take action, might just hear this and know that although we couldn’t help her, we’re doing all that we can to help all the others who came after her…’.

Nancy Lublin

I could go on – and on and on – about the talks which covered everything from the front-line fight against ebola to robotics; from global climate change to basket-weaving in Nigeria.  If you have the time and a cup of tea in hand, lose yourself in the TED site which covers the highlights of the programme and the conversations which took place… even though I was there, I keep going back to it.

We also got schooled in how TED prepares its speakers for their talks, and the tips for powerful, memorable presentations (tell a story; make it human, be authentic – not rocket science but so easy to forget..).  A large neon clock is set on the back wall of the auditorium counting down so that speakers know how they’re doing against the fiercely moderated nine minutes of airtime.  If you ever have the chance to go, or to attend a local TEDX event, I cannot recommend it enough.

A couple of final highlights to share; three short videos which were chosen to bridge between the talks, and which bear watching again even if you’ve come across these before;

A powerful short film about reclaiming what it really means to run like a girl

A ballet dancer who refused to listen to the critics and proved them wrong

And a beautiful poem written by a Marshall Islander to her baby daughter

all photos courtesy of TED.com

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And…

Regular followers will have noticed the tapering off of posts in recent weeks as attempts to juggle work, work-travel and family life become temporarily all-consuming, albeit for the best of reasons.  Harry is now five, and our sessions of cutting and pasting, daubing and scribbling are now more often surpassed by strenuous wrestling, ninja-warrior swordplay and the endless retrieval of mishit tennis balls from flower pots, guttering, car exhaust pipes and – memorably – the stagnant pond at the far end of the garden.  Growing up is an important business and I must bear witness; this time is far too precious to spend on lesser things (and if nothing else, I must keep my wits about me given all the ninja/ball-hitting/new wrestling moves;  a girl’s got to be quick with her reflexes to foil such an agile opponent…)

The crafting and home improvements continue (of course!), but in fits and bursts when time allows. I’m going to take a short break from writing and return in July when the days are longer and school is out and there’s suddenly more time to share what we’re upto, and to finish the myriad of partially-complete fleeting obsessions and artistic experiments which spill across my studio table.

If you’re looking for inspiration or project reminders in the meantime, you could have a look at my main Pinterest board where some of the best of the last 3 years is captured, with links.

Have a great – and sunshiny – June, and see you in July!

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Silvered Pebbles; a DIY Garden Game for Summer

DIY Painted Rocks

We’re in the throes of an unexpectedly lovely May holiday weekend, and have been living outdoors, sorting out sheds and pottering in the garden.  I uncovered a stash of old tiles, leftover from bathroom and kitchen projects both here and at our last house.  They looked too pretty to throw away, so I’ve repurposed them to make an outsized, organic version of Noughts and Crosses (or Tic Tac Toe).  I used river pebbles which are smooth and tactile and call out to be stroked and handled, and the set can live outside in all weathers.  If you have a couple of old tiles and a supply of pebbles (mine were from our local garden centre; £5/bag), then this is a very gratifying afternoon project…

DIY Garden noughts and crosses

Playing garden games in summer

Garden games for families

You’ll need:

  • A large tile for the board; slate, granite or marble are ideal.
  • Felt pads to back the tile (optional, but avoids scratching surfaces)
  • Silver paint; I used Liquid Leaf.  Varnish is optional.
  • Masking tape and stencils
  • Pebbles; choose similar sizes, as flat as possible to aid painting and reduce wobble on the board!

First, wash and dry the pebbles and decide on your design.  I decided on stripes and a flower motif instead of noughts and crosses; I used masking tape freehand to mark the stripes on half of the stones, and then simply peeled it away again after brushing on the liquid silver…

step 1

Step 2Step 3

DIY Silvered pebbles

For the ‘noughts’, I used mini cupcake stencils from a local baking shop, and lightly sprayed them with repositionable glue to hold them in place whilst I brushed the paint on.  If you get any small runs or smudges, wait till the paint dries and then simply scratch away the excess with a knife blade; it’s gratifyingly easy to correct.  You can varnish your stones to make them even more hardy; gloss varnish will change the colour of the stone, so have a practice on a spare stone to check that you like the effect first.

Stencilled pebbles step 1

 

Stencilled pebbles step 2

DIY Silver motif pebbles

For the main board I chose a large grey floor tile and measured the gride for nine squares, and marked this in pencil.  I used my masking tape to mark very thin grid lines and then simply painted these in the same way as the striped stones.  You could make them thicker if you like (or even engrave them if you are a master with a Dremel tool (and thus far handier than I…).

DIY Tic Tac Toe for the gardne

Add felt pads to the back of your board (I used these felt coasters for ease, gluing them near the four corners), and place on a contrasting tile if you wish, or simply on a table top or patio.

I used two plank tiles to make platters for the sets of stones; these were wood-effect tiles leftover from the bathroom in our guestroom.  Again, I added felt coasters underneath and then laid out the stones on each; they look rather beautiful..

Decorated silver pebbles Striped silver pebbles

And there you have it… a stylish and fun game to entertain the little people in your life, or simply to look good as the seasons finally turn and al fresco living becomes a reality.  Roll on summer….

Garden tic tac toe

Garden perspective

A Horticultural Miscellany

Spring tulips

Life is full of injustices, big and small.  My mother was the recipient of one of these this week when the tulips we had each carefully brought back from Amsterdam last year burst into bloom in my garden and remained resolutely absent in hers, despite her attentive efforts and track record of green-fingered magic.

So this post must begin with an apology to Mum as I revel in their glory after nine solid months of neglect in a few forgotton pots in a corner of our overgrown garden.  It must be Karma, though for what I cannot guess…. aren’t they beautiful? :-)

feathered tulips

They are so plentiful in fact, that I even sacrificed a few to a vase by my computer so I can enjoy them all the time (but I’ll stop going on about the tulips now before I am disowned)

tulips in a vase

Instead, lets talk about the turn of the seasons; we still have winter Hellebores parading thei final glories as the  Magnolia trees which line our border burst into bloom; I continued around the garden with my shears and snipped a few of each, to arrange in a pre-soaked florist’s foam wreath tucked inside one of my old Easter faux nests…it took just a few minutes but has made a lovely table centre which has lasted a surprisingly long time…

Hellebores

wreath with willow

Spring floral nest

Winter hellebore arrangement

magnolia wreath nest

Magnolia wreath

And finally for my last act of green-fingeredness, I’ve planted up a couple of pots of edible flowers (below) ready for the summer, inspired by the array of beautiful dishes and recipes which are appearing in gourmet magazines and food programmes the world over… here’s to fantasies of long hot days and gorgeous plates of food with splashes of floral colour.  If nothing else, it can mask all my usual burned bits and distract from the taste – the art of aesthetic illusion!

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Edible flowers for Summer

But enough of this, I must scrub the soil from my fingernails and adopt as chic a demeanour as possible because this weekend we’re off to Madrid – Madrid! – to celebrate my Mum’s 70th birthday.  If she cannot have tulips, she can at least have tapas, music and the Prado, which will do very nicely instead.  I have been to Madrid for work but never for play, so if you have any ideas or recommendations for how we should make the most of our long weekend, please do let me know – we have a map and a wide open itinerary just waiting for inspiration….

Have a great week!

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The gift of…. Breakfast.

Sunday morning croissants

Back in January, we spent a lovely evening at my friend Anna’s house.  Twelve of us squeezed around her dining table, talking to and over each other, eating and drinking into the wee small hours.  The party continued after we all left, as Anna and her husband cranked up the stereo and threw some moves, ignoring the scene of culinary devastation in the kitchen.  A perfect night, all told; but what of the morning after?

‘I have the hangover from hell‘ texted Anna gingerly the next morning, ‘And there’s no food in the house because I didn’t think beyond dinner.  I would KILL for carbohydrates right now.’

It was a lightbulb moment for me; so now when we go to friends for dinner I generally take a bottle of wine – and breakfast.  The kind of slightly decadent, Sunday-morning breakfast that you can indulge in whilst reliving tales of the night before and revelling in your marvellous hostessery (new word, but you know what I mean..), before the realities of cleaning up and entertaining the kids with a hangover properly kick in.  I find croissants (butter, almond or chocolate; all divine), really good jam and fresh bread go down a treat, and also require no attention when you hand them over; they can be set down and forgotten, then rediscovered with joy & hunger the next day.

The gift of breakfast...

A couple of really good friends have recently had babies, and I take a similar approach on the first visit to see them too; whilst the new arrivals tend to get showered with lovely gifts, it’s easy to forget who actually did all the hard work and is finding it hard to remember unbroken nights and the phenomenon of being able to read a book from cover to cover.  For the new mums, a magazine, some simple scented flowers and a loaf of sourdough go some way to restoring peace of mind and providing the maternal equivalent of a comfort blanket;

Hostess gifts; breakfast for the morning after

Creamy white roses

p.s. Hot, buttered toast would be my last meal of choice.  No question.  Perhaps not my desert island food of choice – that would be calamari and crayfish with a chilled glass of wine as I scan the horizon looking for passing ships – but toast would be the most evocative, comforting choice. And as my last meal, I wouldn’t even have to skimp on the butter…

Also,

41 rules for how to be a great dinner party guest

..and useful tips for the host (especially ones like me who tend to have a warm-up cocktail at 7pm and only then remember to vaguely start thinking about the cooking)

and finally, for anyone feeling tortured by the gratuitous photos of carbohydrates, try the gluten-free museum

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Happy Easter!

hatching chick cupcakes

Happy Easter!

Hope that you’re having a wonderful (and restful) weekend.

p.s. Our hatching chick cupcakes above are made with fondant icing and very little skill; find the tutorial here in one of my very first posts…I added wings this year for a little extra fun.

x

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hatching chick cakes!

Last-minute Easter Crafts

Making button Easter cards

The Easter holidays have begun!  You can tell it’s the holidays, because overnight the skies opened and since Friday the rain has been lashing down, driven horizontal by the gale-force winds. We took Harry to the park to practice riding his bike on Sunday;

‘It’s like being in a HURRICANE‘ he screamed excitedly, as he was swept into a hedge.

Time to retire indoors to some more sedate, warm activities – like Easter crafting.

First we made hanging egg pendants to give to Harry’s grandparents by cutting out egg shapes from coloured cardstock and then liberally applying PVA glue before arranging a myriad of tonal blue buttons all over the shape (we get ours for £1/bag from here).

Button egg hanging charms for Easter

Once Harry had glued all the buttons on, we left the shapes to dry (the weight of the buttons helpfully holds them flat and stops them curling).  Then I carefully poked a hole through one of the buttons using a craft needle and threaded thin ribbon through to create a hanging loop.  Ta-da..!

DIY Button Egg Cards

These look lovely taped to a window, or we’ve strung a couple up on the peg rail in our guest room, and adorned the bare branches of our indoor fig tree to add a splash of unseasonal colour.  To mail these to our families, I used trifold cards and glued a picture of the small craftsman to the inside, to give a flavour of the work in progress.  Use the kind of  hardboard-backed envelopes designed for photographs to ensure that they don’t bend or crack in the post.

Handmade Easter Pendants DIY Button Egg Cards for Easter

Once we’d removed the excess glue from all the surfaces, including surfaces of hands, face and hair, we set about our second project; hatching chicks!

Winged Hatching Chick Decoration Hatching Chick Easter Decoration

To make these, I drew around Harry’s hands onto some fun paper, then we each had a go at cutting round the shapes (great for developing coordination, this one).  We used a small heart-shaped punch to make a beak and crest, then stuck on googly-eyes and used paper-fasteners to attach the wings, which flap up and down with a little bit of encouragement.  I traced around the egg shape onto some white card to make a half-egg for the chick to hatch from; just glue it on top and you’re done.

DIY Easter Chick Decoration

We got quite carried away with the handprint-making, so used the same technique for Harry’s entry into his class competition to decorate a hard-boiled egg for Easter; this time he covered the handprints with tiny yellow pom-poms and we glued them to an egg I’d dyed yellow for him (by simply adding yellow food dye to a pan, popping the egg in and leaving it to boil (actually, forgetting about it until it almost boiled dry, which did give it a lovely depth of colour..).  So here you have it, a newly-hatched baby chick with possibly the largest wings you’ll ever see (when DID Harry’s hands grow so big?), but a labour of love and much 5yr old pride.

The Easter Hatchery

 

Happy Easter, and have a wonderful long weekend when it comes!

(We have 10 children coming for an egg hunt on Friday, to coincide with what the Met Office describes as ‘an unprecedented Atlantic storm of hailstones and high winds’.  I can’t wait).

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Spring Fever again…

I feel fizzy and buzzy today with the onset of Spring; it’s been a weekend of brilliant sunshine – and yes, chills; but sunshine nonetheless – and we’ve been flung into a happy frenzy of sorting and organising, relegating winter firmly to the loft as we coax the seasons into changing.  The kitchen door has stood open for hours, with Harry racing in and out and the pleasure of taking cups of tea to just stand, faces to the sun, breathing in the Springtime.

It was time to give The Fir Lady a new set of clothes…

Our lady of the Springtime

I dressed the mannequin in a roll of chicken wire and then draped a length of green fabric around to create a backdrop, and then simply walked around the garden, snipping stems and gathering fallen branches and the bark shed from an old tree.  A few faux flowers and a bunch of twisted willow and pussy willow from the local garden centre completed her skirts.

I created a kind of corset by tucking lengths of bark into an elastic shoelace tied tightly round her waist, like this…

A spring dress and a bark corset!

…and then covered it with feathers to disguise it a little.  I tucked tiny nests and a couple of birds (leftover from Christmas!) into her dress, to create the illusion of a hedgerow, with all the business and new life to be found there.  Also, so that when friends are propped up on our kitchen bar stools nursing a glass of wine there is always something new to see when you look closely at her.

Springtime skirt detail faux bird in a living greenery skirt

Bark corset with garden bird

Our Lady of the Springtime will be a work in process, whose skirts grow and fill as Spring unfolds; when our magnolia tree comes into bloom I will tuck a budding branch into the tableau, and as the apple and cherry blossoms wither they can be replenished with new cuttings.  It’s here I offer thanks for a husband who cheerily tolerates the endless traipsing in and out of armfuls of flora and fauna, and the weary army of ants and other insects who labour a well-trodden path back out towards the garden, having found themselves unwittingly relocated.

For now she lives in the kitchen, where she looks almost as if she has glided in through the door one misty morning (you can see below in the un-cropped shot with the temporary backdrop).  If Easter is as sunny and dry as we’re promised though, I think I’ll leave her outdoors for her final fling, so that she can mark the start of our annual egg-hunt and provide a decorative, watchful eye on proceedings..

Behind the scenes

If you want to have a go at making faux birds-nests, my original notes can be found here… they are also a beautiful (and simple!) way of gifting easter eggs – I’ve just used up some cardboard packaging I’d saved from from Ikea by painting it with some paint samples I had, fitting a simple hand-curled bunch of sisal into the bottom and adding some enticing, freshly-laid praline eggs in the nest; if you’re a crafty type, it’s definitely worth having a look at any leftover boxes you may have and seeing what could be given a simple makeover for Easter..

Repurposing cardboard boxes for cute Easter nests

And now the light is fading and Sunday evening beckons; we have a couple of great films lined up and the wood burner stacked and ready to be lit; small pleasures are the best ones.  Enjoy the last few hours of the weekend, and have a great week ahead.

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cherry blossom in a window

p.s. cherry blossom from the garden adding a spark of colour to the family bathroom

Cake! (And solar eclipses, and the pursuit of happiness..)

Rose ombre 5 layer cake

Did you have a lovely weekend? I hope so… it was Mothers Day here in the UK so I was woken around dawn by a breathless Harry, bursting with excitement and clutching a pot of daffodils he had secretly grown at school, a carefully drawn portrait of me (dressed in black, curiously, with forked hands rather like Satan – but then I’m sure that some of Lucian Freud’s subjects were equally touchy about how they were portrayed), and ready to recite a poem called ‘My Mummy’ about the wonderful things that mothers do.

And yes, I cried. (‘I know you were crying’ said Harry, at the end of the poem ‘Because I could see the drips’.)

To treat ourselves, we made cake; a rather splendid layer cake in the brightest colours we could find.  I got to choose, so I chose pink…

Rose ombre cake

We used a basic sponge cake recipe and a set of  layer cake pans which produce small but perfectly formed sponge layers (try these or this link if you’re in North America – both have recipe links too), and simply divided the cake batter into five pudding bowls and stirred in tiny amounts of pink food colouring, adding more with each bowl…

Ombre cake mixture in bowls


Ombre cake mixture! To get equal amounts of cake batter, by the way, you need a spot of elementary maths (great for mini-chef assistants!); weigh your mixing bowl before you begin and again when the batter is mixed; deduct the original bowl weight and then divide the remaining weight by five; that’s the amount you need to spoon out each time. When the cakes are baked, they look interesting and somewhat planetary; Ombre sponge cakes Once cooled, we stacked and layered ours with vanilla buttercream and then covered the cake with (whisper it) Betty Crocker Strawberry Frosting.  Because if you can’t take a culinary shortcut on Mothers Day, when can you? It was delicious; both the first slice and the second.. Rose ombre layer cake
This was our second attempt at layer-cake-making; we made a neon rainbow cake for Harry’s wonderful Godparents a couple of weeks ago using the same principles but a rather more lairy set of colours, chosen entirely by Harry, who made a cute rainbow decoration to adorn the top;

Rainbow cake!

See what I mean about the colours? ;-)  It had the same effect on our teeth that those old-fashioned disclosing tablets used to do… but it was worth it.

Vibrant rainbow cake

Enough about cake, particularly for those who are trying to exercise restraint in such matters as the thought of summer and swimwear starts to focus the mind, and the appearance of beguiling layer cake photos is far from helpful.  Instead, let’s talk about..

The solar eclipse which will occur across Scandinavia and the UK on Friday and which is already causing feverish excitement in our household.  We need to make a pinhole camera to view it, which requires us to eat a whole can of Pringles before then in order to use the tube for our camera.  It’s a tough job but I’m making good progress (on the crisps that is; I haven’t started the camera).  Will you be watching, are you ready?  If you won’t be able to see it from where you are, you can follow it here instead.  Fingers crossed for clear skies.

And finally have you seen this documentary?  I’m sure that I’m  late to the party on this one but I loved it; a feel-good analysis of what makes us happy – a great antidote for those Sunday-evening blues as we transition from the weekend back to work.  It’s up there with Finding Vivian Maier on my list of great word-of-mouth Netflix discoveries; if you have any more recommendations of things you’ve watched and loved do please share in the comments below – I need to build up a little store of things I can look forward to watching!

Have a great week ahead – oh and thank you for all the lovely comments on our bathroom; they really made me smile.

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