This could be my last post before I go to jail. A solemn occasion, therefore, because once I enter the local Correctional Facility I doubt I will emerge the same person. It is Harry who has introduced these Draconian threats and warnings, as he passes through a very literal phase where life is governed by rules, warnings and consequences. Thus it is he who will exclaim loudly in shocked tones in a restaurant; ‘Mummy!! Are you talking with food in your mouth?? We don’t do THAT in our family!’. He’s right of course, and I hasten to add that I don’t make a habit of it – but still, I am ashamed. My latest misdemeanour was to switch off the television and refuse to say sorry for doing so. ’If you don’t say sorry’, Harry announced, staunchly and a little regretfully, ‘you will go to prison with lots of naughty men’. Now, naughty men may occasionally be appealing, but jail is less so, so I am attempting to distract from my shortcomings with a new family game; Pick An Apple.
12 small paper bags hang from this eye-catching board, each with a different mystery seasonal activity and the equipment we need to do it. On weekends or days when Harry and I are free from work and nursery, Harry gets to choose an apple bag at random and that’s what we’ll do for the day. I’ve picked a number of age-appropriate and interesting things – mostly outdoors but with a few bad-weather alternatives – which include collecting leaves, choosing and carving pumpkins, apple-bobbing and helping Daddy to make a big bonfire. The content of each bag varies accordingly; for our pumpkin picking there are just enough coins for Harry to buy the right size pumpkin, and a list of tips I found online about how to choose a good one, which will require us to squeeze, juggle and weigh our way around the field as we discard lesser pumpkins in pursuit of the most magnificent. For our toffee-apple making activity (below), the bag holds lollipop sticks for Harry to push into each apple, wipes for sticky fingers and the recipe itself.
I bought the brown paper bags cheaply at a local stationery store, then cut out apple and leaf shapes and glued together with a small piece of twig to form each apple. Tiny wooden pegs hold these on the bags and keep each bag closed to avoid peeping. The bags I hung from pushpins on an old cork pinboard which I painted black and stencilled. If you don’t have a convenient pinboard or canvas, the bags would look equally good strung along a wall or fireplace like bunting, pegged to a piece of ribbon.
And here’s the result of our first activity; making windfall toffee apples. No danger of talking with your mouth full with these beauties; our industrial-strength caramel effectively seals your jaws together and prevents conversation for several minutes after consumption…genius! Perhaps I should market these as a budget-conscious and appealing alternative to the gastric band. We’ll work through our activities between now and Halloween as the days grow shorter and the seasons change in technicolour. I’d love to hear what your favourite activities are at this time of year, and anything we should add to our list…
I wrote here about the moment in April when Harry and I caught Spring Fever and had an exuberant flurry of planting fruit and vegetables, before collapsing exhausted on the lawn with a stiff drink (of milk, naturally). We are complete amateurs, seduced by the adverts in the garden centre which promise abundant produce from phoenix-like plants which thrive on neglect and rise from the dead every time. Harry’s selection process involved choosing the brightest coloured packets which were reachable at knee-height, and that seemed as good a plan as any to me. It’s fair to say we put our feisty seedlings and their hardiness to the test, as did the British weather – the amount of floods and hailstorms we’ve had in recent weeks would suggest to the Biblically-minded that eternal damnation is quite possibly just around the corner.
Still, today we harvested our first crops and have held a small judging ceremony to score our efforts. We have been generally tough on ourselves but start with the stand-out winners, our beautiful, abundant sugar snap peas. Or perhaps I should just say peas; they grew way beyond sugar-snapping size and are now cheery fat pods bursting with perky peas. We’re very proud.
Our second crop was courgettes. Everyone warned me that courgettes grow in the blink of an eye and that gardeners the world over will roll their eyes and tell you of the glut they always experience, and their weariness of having to cook courgette 50 different ways to try to run down their stocks. It is thus with some embarassment that I confess we have managed to grow just one courgette. One, Uno, Solo. And that one is approximately the length of Harry’s finger, and only slightly wider. It is perfectly formed, but insufficient for a meal, unless perhaps Gwyneth Paltrow was coming for dinner. We give ourselves 6 out of 10.
Chantenay carrots were my secret favourite crop; I pictured rustling up a bowl of them for Sunday lunch en famille, where they would glint under a knob of melting butter and look radiant and perfectly formed, yet just earthy and organic enough for it to be clear they were not from a supermarket. Well, of all these goals we seem to have achieved only the latter; there aint no doubt that our carrots are not shop-bought….
Still, who needs to eat carrots when you can give them false eyes and name them individually? (this one above is The Lobster, by the way…). We may not be close to winning any beauty prizes for our efforts, but we’re having a lot of fun growing them…
The sun is shining at last and the birds are chirping gaily in the trees, the Biblical torrents of rain a distant memory. Let’s draw a veil around the fact that the chirping tends to begin at around 5am in the particularly large tree right next to our bedroom window, and be grateful for small things. Still, action is called for; Harry tends to make the most noise when he is hungry, so applying the same logic to our dawn chorus I have set about constructing these tea cup feeders (below).
I saw a version of this idea here and fell in love; ever since I’ve been scooping up random bits of china from charity shops (I also use them in cake stands like my one here, and to make pretty filled candles). Leftover spindles and paint from our house restoration provided the other parts – though old broom handles or curtain poles would work great too, particularly for larger cups. Paint the spindles, glue cup to saucer and saucer to spindle and hey-presto! a bird feeder. Not just any feeder at that, but a chic and tasteful one that can be painted to contrast with (or coordinate with) your garden. A happy consequence of the small saucers and the petite scale of these is that squirrels find them particularly challenging…. I mounted mine by our pond (below) and have watched a small army of them attempt – and fail – to hustle some seed.
A few tips… if your spindle has a particularly pointy end, use that one to dig into the ground (obvious I know, but worth evaluating carefully before you set about glueing on tea cups…). Shallow cups and saucers work best so that the birds can access the seed very easily and without having to hop into the cup and risk missing a sighting of the local cat / fox / toddler who is stealthily heading their way. For location, try a few ideas out – I found they look best in groups, and when spaced at different heights. Moving them around in this bucket of sand allowed me to decide on their final position without too much exertion. Not least because my long suffering husband was the one who lugged the pot around behind me, as I waltzed around the lawn crying ‘left a bit! No, not there!’, until steam rose gently from his brow. Hmmm, some marital brownie points to be re-earned, I think…