Last Wednesday was Iris’s first birthday. She absolutely loves animals, which makes a nice change from Betty, who as a baby and a toddler was scared of anything that moved, right down to tiny weeny flies. Iris can spot a dog coming miles off, and all animals are “do-do’s” at the moment. So I thought I would make her a doggie birthday cake.
I made a round cake and a loaf cake from a yoghurt cake recipe to construct my dog. It’s one of the easiest cakes to make. You use a pot of yoghurt (I used toffee, but fruity ones are also lovely) and to that you add the rest of the ingredients measured with the yoghurt pot. There are variations online but a basic recipe is:
1 carton (approx 150g) yoghurt
2 cartons caster sugar (I usually reduce sugar in most cakes I make at the moment)
3 cartons self raising flour
1 carton sunflower oil
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
Tip it all in a bowl and beat. Pour into a lined tin, and again timings vary, but it probably wants a bit longer than a normal sponge. I did about 50 mins at 150 degrees in a fan oven. It makes a lovely dense sponge which has a faint taste of whatever flavoured yoghurt you’ve used. It needs some butter icing in my opinion, else it can be a bit cloying. I just used 2 parts icing sugar to one part butter, a dash of milk, and added melted chocolate for the brown icing.
On Sunday morning, the day of Iris’s little tea party, by 10.30 I had made 48 fairy cakes! I had been meaning to take some into work for a while. I recently attended a course on Risk Assessment. Now I just work in an office, sat at a computer all day, how much risk is involved? Turned out that there are loads! Risks to your back and limbs after years of poor posture and poorly configured display equipment, risks of lack of sleep (ha!) especially if you are making long business journeys. Risks of stress and illness, exacerbated by working too many hours without adequate breaks, lighting, ventilation etc. It was really interesting actually. My idea to take it back to my team was in the form of baked goods. I doubled the amount of fairy cakes I needed to make, and instead of chocolate buttons on top I iced various words that had some H&S meaning, and instructed my colleagues that if they wanted a cake they had to email me a sentence about Health and Safety relating to that word! Most people thought it was funny and joined in with the spirit of it. But a few were curmudgeons who grumbled “Well, I don’t want cake if there are strings attached!” There’s no such thing as a free cake, I informed them, especially edu-cake-tional ones (yes, I did use the phrase edu-cake-tional, and yes, my colleagues probably do hate me :)).
You’ve two choices when you yarn bomb, according to the book Yarn Bombing: leave your bomb when it’s late, dark, and you have less chance of being apprehended; or go out in the light of day and just act like you are supposed to be there, confident and unruffled. I’m not very good at the former, it gets to about 10pm and, quite frankly, I am ready for bed. I’m too tired to muster up the energy to go and bomb, and I want to enjoy the process.
The latter is fine, except when you are trying to manage two young children at the same time. Fortunately today I had arranged to come over the only friend I have who wouldn’t think I need sectioning when I told them what I was doing, and the only one game enough to help. She is American so I’m going to give her an American pseudonym: Georgia, after the State (she vetoed my first choice of Brittany-Ann, and pointed out that she had already commented using her real name, but this is more fun for me!).
We had four children between us, so to get them involved I told them my plan. “Why?” Betty asked, quite reasonably. To make the world a more beautiful place, I explained. Plus, I had a fun idea that we would take them all in disguise. “Why?” my daughter asked, again, a reasonable question. How to explain it without making it seem naughty or wrong? Fortunately Georgia sensed my panic and saved me. “It’ll be a surprise for your neighbours!”. Ah, the magic word surprise. We have a rule in our house that we don’t have secrets, only surprises. It’s to try and avoid anyone else trying to make the children keep secrets from us. Any nice, legitimate secret can be a surprise. It’s a small thing, but it’s a way of trying to protect them.
Anyway, there we were, me, Georgia, Buzz Lightyear, Captain Betty, a fairy and a pumpkin in a pushchair. It wasn’t far to where we planned to bomb, on a busy crossroads. Buzz and Captain Betty scrabbled for stones on the pavement and pretended they weren’t with us. I got to work whip stitching the cozy onto the pedestrian light. Despite my initial fears, it was a perfect fit. I had measured the pole, but I always have trouble assessing the length of foundation chain I need to make the required width.
The book, which seems to have become my Bible, also says that most yarn crafters out there will have a stash of yarn that they thing they are will never use, their Stash of Shame, full of nasty acrylics in gaudy colours donate by some well meaning relative. Well, I raided my such stash and found a predominance of orange, which gave me the idea of adding varying shades of pinks that would give it an air of a sunset.
The bumpiness on the pole is a laminated advert for a ladies only night, apparently involving semi naked men. It’s been on the for ages and is pretty bad taste, as well as probably illegally flyposted, so I didn’t feel that bad covering it up.
I just concentrated on my sewing. I didn’t make eye contact with anyone stopped at the lights, confident, confident, I really am supposed to be here, I’m performing a civic duty. According to Georgia a guy on a motorbike was trying not to seem interested. As I was sewing a police car drove past. I forgot this is the road the station is on. No-one bothered me though, and it took less than 10 minutes.
This is my latest creation, his name is Henry. He was a last minute creation for a raffle at the 9th birthday party at BAPS, which, for those who have read my previous post on the subject will know, stands for Breastfeeding and Peer Support, a group run by the GBSN. The GBSN is a charity which runs support groups for breastfeeding mothers in our county. BAPS is one of the groups that I used to go to, and I was asked by one of the peer supporters, no doubt stunned by the brilliance of the crocheted boobs I made previously, to crochet something for the raffle. Seeing as it is a group for mothers of young children I thought a baby toy would be appropriate.
Henry is based on this free Lion Brand pattern for a wiener dog, except here in the UK we call them sausage dogs! I decided to make him a bit longer and fatter, but wish I hadn’t as his head is now a llittle out of proportion. I’m not too sure about the colours either. I used some of the Sublime Organic Cotton, and wasn’t sure if I’d have enough of the brown, so added some stripes. Just not sure if the rainbow colours go with the brown, but tis done now. I’ve decided I really like cotton for baby toys, it has a lovely feel and soft look to it. I hope the winner likes it. I gave him a tag with my blog address so hopefully they will come a take a look. It’s a really easy pattern, and I will be giving it another go soon. Iris is a bit dog obsessed at the moment (or “do-do’s” as she calls them, and every other animal!). I’m not sure how well you can see but I stitched a little bit of patterned fabric under each ear, a different one for each. That and the Mrs Mittens Purse I made last month are the only times I have mixed crochet and fabric. I need a bit of practice to make the stitching more discreet!
I am still in love with the Yarn Bombing book, and have a lovely strip of crochet on the go which I am hoping to put on a nearby sign post, so watch this space!
This afternoon I have had the pleasure of a couple of hours to myself and a new craft book to read. I’ve been longing for the Yarn Bombing book for a while now, but haven’t been able to justify buying it. My local library didn’t have it anywhere in the county, but I know that you can request that they buy certain book. With all the budget cuts in the public sector I thought it might be a bit of a pipe dream, but I duly filled in the online request form, and when they asked why I wanted this book I said ‘So I can crochet pieces of street art to cheer up the town’, or words to that effect. Someone must have appreciated it as 3 weeks later I double check the library catalogue and it is now in stock!
I absolutely love libraries. I love reading, though I don’t get time to do it much (you can’t craft and read at the same time unfortunately). But more than reading, I just love books. I feel that books are the answer to all life’s woes. And libraries feed into to my inherently miserly nature. (As an example I have spent the whole morning, with the baby, volunteering at the local NCT sale. It’s great fun, with nice people, you get to do a bit for charity, but the best thing is you get to shop before the masses and get bargain clothes and toys!). To be able to go and get up to twenty books for free, then leave them for someone else to read, it just the most amazing thing.
When I was a young teenager my haunt on a Friday afternoon was the mobile library, a large articulated lorry which would park in the parade of shops nestled between the three council estates which made up the local community. There I would pick up piles of books, Drina Ballerina, Little House books, and later Point Horror and Sweet Valley (yes, I had amazing taste even then!). Now I spend an awful lot of time in the library with the children (partly because DH works there!), and I see these young children, especially at the beginning of summer, taking piles of books up to the counter. They’ve nothing else to worry about or do for 6 weeks but read for sheer pleasure. It just makes my heart swell with pleasure just remembering those times.
We were at real risk at losing our local library earlier in the year. Our area is a large suburban village, so large it is a good half an hour’s walk from one end to the other (well, it is with kids anyway!). There is not a lot else to walk to in the area, and the library is a regular haunt for many of the local community. When our local authority announced the cuts of several libraries, including mobile libraries accessing rural locations there was uproar. The local community protested vociferously and fortunately the power of the people won and the local parish council stumped up the money to keep the library going, on reduced hours, for the foreseeable future. Due to the reorganisation as a result of the rest of the cuts DH will no longer work at the local library soon, but will work at the main town library. This is sad for several reasons, mainly of convenience to my family; also because, as one of the local mothers said to me, it is a shame the the two male workers are leaving the library. They are really role models to her two boys, showing them that it is cool for boys to be interested in books too. It is her eldest son that I regularly see taking piles of books out that he whizzes through, it’s just so heart warming to see.
Even when DH moves on, we will still be regulars of the local library. DH’s other colleagues have taken my daughters under their wings. The girls potter around, the eldest picking out piles of books to take home, and the youngest destroying the DVD and book displays, which no-one bats an eyelid at, despite my blushes. Sometimes Betty even gets to check out her own books, which she loves.
Whenever I tell people DH works in the library everyone says “Oh, I’d love to work in a library”. But clearly not every really does as the libraries aren’t overflowing with former hedge fund managers or GPs. The reality is, working in a library doesn’t mean you get to sit around reading books all day. In the same way that I think I would like to own a tea shop. I don’t really want to work in a tea shop. I just want to be able to sit in one and eat cake and drink tea for free all day! No, working in the library is less about working with books and more about working with people. Old and young, rich and poor. Jobseekers trying fullfil the terms of their dole allowance, creepy looking men accessing dating websites, the lady who is deaf as bat, with a thick country accent who slipped a fiver into my hands for the baby (I told you I spend a lot of time in the library!). You get all sorts. And for some it is their only human contact. The thought that it may be taken away chills me to the bone. I can’t remember who it was but there was a famous person in the media who’s CV apparently read ‘Education: Streatham Library’. Not everyone can afford to buy books, that is not to say that I think books are too expensive or have no value. They absolutely do, which is why it is right that the government subsidises libraries so that books and education, and god forbid, even just reading trashy novels for pleasure, becomes affordable for everyone. You can’t put a price on the value libraries bring. It’s intangible. But go into any library and see a young boy or girl heaving a stack of books up to the counter and you will see the profit being made etched on their face.
To tie this topic back in with crafting; I am hoping to run some introductory crafting workshops in my local library. I have never done anything like this before and have no idea how it will work but watch this space!
Now I promised there would be no wanky photos on here, unrealistic snapshots into a seemingly perfect life. Well, I just thought I would show you a picture of my sewing cabinet. This is as close to wanky as I get. It’s not as pretty or vintage looking at some I’ve seen, but I love it. It is a place to gather my crap.
It is an old computer cabinet from IKEA. We’ve not had a PC for years but I refused to get rid of it, sure it would come in useful someday, and it has. The keyboard draw pulls out, and with a little bit of wood for stabilisation I can sit my machine on it and sew at it, which I haven’t done much admittedly.
I actually got the idea from the book Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross. Suffice to say hers is much lovelier than. But then she has a craft book and makes living from this. I have a part time job, a tiny rented house, 2 young children and an IKEA cabinet. I do have crochet bunting though. That was on there just for the picture though. It would definitely be wanky if I kept it there all the time.
Today was the end of the era we shall call Doing As We Please and the start of a new era which will be known as Doing What The School Says. Yes, first day of school for Betty. And while the school eases us them in gently I fear it is going to be a shock to the system. The list of things that I don’t have for her yet include a PE kit, PE bag, more than one cardigan, a water bottle and co-ordinating hair slides. I was still ironing on labels this morning (yes, ironing them on. Not very crafty of me, but I’m afraid my sewing skills are rather more hedonistic). I just don’t think I am ready for this! Not because she is too tiny (she is), not because my baby is growing up (sob), but because DH and I are just not organised enough!
Fortunately Betty is ready. She was super excited and has been counting down the days for about a week. She didn’t start until after lunch, and was asking for lunch just after breakfast because then she could go to school. I was desperately trying to teach her to pronounce her teacher’s name proper “It’s Mrs Smith darling. Th, th!” “Mrs Smifffff. Smissss. It doesn’t matter because when I get to school I’m going to ask what her real name is and call her that.”So many things for her to learn. I’m excited for her and want to weep at the same time. How scary to be going to a place where there are lots of rules and people that you don’t yet know, everyone seems bigger than you, and you are away from the relative comfort of your daddy’s arms or your mummy’s caress. At the same time how exciting to be learning so many new things. Leaning to read her first words, and all the fantastic books just waiting to be read for the first time. The joy of learning about kings and queens, the weather, animals, the world, all for the first time and through innocent eyes. The world is her oyster, education will be her sword. All that I can do is encourage her to use it.
My contribution to her day was a little mascot I made for her, a mini-Betty in school uniform. I bought this pattern from Kandjdolls on Etsy, and used it as a basis, though actually I’ve just found this post on her blog giving a free basic amigurumi doll pattern, one I am definitely going to store away for future use.
It’s been a day of firsts. Iris’s first shoes came in the post today. Let me just say that I did go into a nice independent shoe shop, but they didn’t have her size and couldn’t order them, so what can I do? I got them online, and they came today. They are direct from the Robeez website and so cute. The baby is pretty impressed with them. She is already obsessed with accessories. This morning she put on a necklace, a bag over her shoulder and was wondering around talking into a phone. She is 11 months. This does not bode well for the future.
First day of school, first shoes. It’s important not to feel sad and lament the passing of these milestones. I am grateful to experience these firsts, and look forward to many more. Better firsts than lasts.
My yarn bomb has disappeared. Stolen. Kidnapped. I knew that was a risk, but I really hoped it would be kept there for the greater aesthetic good. It was there yesterday, Saturday, which suggests it was not the authorities. It was right next to a pub which may explain things. I’m fairly sure it would have had to be cut down, which worries me somewhat (people in my area routinely carrying sharpe implements). I can only hope that someone took it because they loved it so much, rather than simply to destroy it; not a wool crime but a crime passionel.
I absolutely love the blog Counting Coconuts. She makes all kinds of educational resources for her children, based on the Montessori methods. Now I am not really into these fringe educational ideas. I’m a state girl to the core, a mix of liberalism, socialism, and down-right laziness! However, I might just make the Continent Bags for my daughters, I think they are fab. Unfortunately I am not well travelled, mainly due to my poor upbringing <sob>. I had no university gap year, I slaved away in sweaty kitchens and smelly bars to pay for my education. So I may have to beg, borrow and steal paraphernalia.
I also love these I Spy jars. I’ve seen tutorials for the I Spy bags, but let’s face it, I’m not going to battle with clear PVC and my sewing machine, I’m far more likely to do this with some jars I don’t have to make myself, after all, it’s the filling that’s the fun part. Check out the blog, it’s great. And she’s just had a baby you can coo over too!
Let me begin by laying out my case. I don’t consider camping a holiday. This may be exacerbated by having very young children, so where ever you go you are essentially doing the same crap, but with more limited resources and less childproofing. My criteria for a ‘holiday’ are as follows:
It should require the use of a phrase book
Ok, that doesn’t really work as I’d probably need a phrase book to get by in the darkest depths of Wales, or Scotland, but I wouldn’t consider a visit a holiday. Plus the States or Oz wouldn’t require a phrase but I’d not pass up a holiday there. Ok:
It should require the use of a phrase book
It should require a passport
There should be some form of extreme weather condition, snow, sun etc.
Should the extreme temperature be heat there should be a pool or sea or lagoon of some kind. For snow I would require a snow board and fondue (I’ve never actually skied or snowboarded before!)
There should be childcare available
Now I’ve laid out those criteria I will tell you about my break camping this bank holiday weekeend. We were in the beautiful rural county of Oxfordshire at Britchcombe Farm. It’s a lovely, friendly, basic (in a good way) site, and the second time we’ve camped there. The weather was hit and miss, the company was good, the kids not always so. It’s not very relaxing having to mediate between 6 kids under six, but there were 5 grown ups so between us and some bubbles we managed to not kill them and stop them from killing each other.
On the last day, well, on the way home, we decided to grab some lunch in a nearby town and ended up in Wantage. Now, I’m sorry Wantagites but this is not a happening town. It has a random selection of what I would consider to be more niche high street shops like Fat Face and Cargo, nestled among the charity shops and cheap card shops. On the search for food we eschewed a couple of unimaginative pubs and bistros, and ventured right to the end of the small town, where we happened upon a random looking pub. Here I should probably mention that one of our party is a coeliac (is it ‘a coeliac’? ‘Has coeliac’? I’m not sure). It’s unbelievable how restrictive a gluten free diet is. And when camping it makes things really difficult, what with all that bread, sausages and burgers containing wheat. Did you know that burgers and sausages contain wheat? Except Co-op, all their own brand stuff doesn’t contain gluten, big up the Co-op, I do love it. I made some gluten free brownies for the weekend too, and even had to buy expensive gluten free chocolate, and a spend a small fortune on ground almonds. It’s not easy to live with.
Anyway, back to Wantage and we happen upon the seemingly unironically named Shoulder of Mutton, a pub serving home made vegetarian and vegan food. It also specialises in all kinds of fancy real ales if you are into that sort of thing. I’m not but I was almost tempted but the banana ale.
Peter the landlord was lovely, as was the bijoux restaurant. It was like being invited into someone’s living room, complete with stacks of games like Guess Who and giant Jenga. We rocked up, 4 adults and 4 young children, looking and smelling like we hadn’t washed for 2 days. The kids stopped whinging long enough to pounce on the piano in the corner. But for Peter nothing was too much trouble. The menu was delicious, and all cooked without microwaves and fryers. More to the point, all the dishes stated whether or not they were vegan, or wheat and gluten free. There was a lot of choice rather than the token salad that my friend has to settle for in most places, after checking and double checking there are no unlisted additives like croutons and suchlike. I was disappointed to find that there was no more butternut squash ravioli, but the charmer (cheddar and parmesan) ravioli filled the gap pleasantly. It was so nice to have a meal without meat too! The silence that descended when the food arrived was bliss, think it was the quietest the kids had been all weekend. We will definitely be returning here on our next visit to Britchcombe, when hopefully I can try the butternut pasta. I will also be trying some of the gluten free chocolate and raspberry brownies, which I couldn’t justify today after polishing off the last of my own brownies for breakfast! Do go if you are in the area. I’d book in advance though as it’s pretty cosy.