Monday, 20 June 2011

Baby bunting

Last Saturday, on our literary river walk, we collected some beautiful swan feathers. After washing them in warm, soapy water I snipped their ends into points - et voila! - we had a set of authentic and beautiful quills. Dipping our pristine quill nibs into a pot of black 'ink' - actually washable black poster paint - we practised writing our signatures on plain postcards. It was all very Samuel Pepys. When we weren't using them we speared the quills into a pear as pictured below. I got this idea straight from the film Shakespeare in Love; I think it looks very Elizabethan.

Inspired by Modern Parents Messy Kids mention of black and white wedding bunting here we decided to make our own - but for babies. Amongst our friends we know of two new arrivals and this bunting would make a great gift.

So I asked Buddy and Daisy to draw black designs on their white postcards; patterns, shapes and faces - the things we know the newest of babies love. Brilliantly, this kind of simple mark-making was fun and achievable with the novel but somewhat unwieldy new writing tool.

When they were dry we used the hole-punch to make two holes in the top of each card and threaded silky ribbon in and out to finish the baby bunting.


Alice in Wonderland walk

At the weekend we took a train to Oxford and used the brilliant book Adventure Walks for Families in and around London to give our outing a theme. We've enjoyed a few of its suggested walks now, including one expedition that got us looking for dragons in a Buckinghamshire forest. This particular chapter led us to Port Meadow just outside Oxford - the very place on the river that inspired the stories of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

We took it in turns to wear the White Rabbit's ears, the Queen of Hearts' crown and a cupcake Alice band - as pictured below. To start proceedings we had a Mad Hatter's tea party picnic on the riverbank and then in alternating sunshine and showers we completed the lovely 3.5 mile walk through idyllic countryside - the dreaming spires of Oxford on the horizon. We collected about 20 swan feathers, spectacularly huge and pristinely white, and several fresh-water mussel shells; their glistening mother-of-pearl interiors tempting us to retrieve them despite the extremely muddy bank.

We had a caucus race to dry off after a particularly heavy shower of rain - with prizes of sweets. The children weren't too concerned about the lack of peppermints and thimble (the only things Alice had to hand in the story). Along the west bank of the river we spotted a rabbit warren and, in the distance, its shy inhabitants hopping happily around the meadow. It's easy to see how Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) got his idea for Alice to fall down a rabbit hole to begin her adventure - some of the burrows were enormous.

We meandered back along the River Thames watching and waving at the boats humming contentedly up and down the river. Buddy and Daisy completely charmed the members of one crew and got to help moor their boat - a unique experience they'll not forget in a hurry.

After such adventures - even without falling down rabbit holes or disappearing into a fantastical world - Buddy and Daisy were exhausted. Buddy managed to stay awake and enjoyed a good read of our abridged version of Alice's adventures, but Daisy drifted off to sleep - no doubt dreaming about her very own Wonderland.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Handmade maps

This is the perfect Fathers' Day gift for a daddy who likes walking, running, cycling, visiting places of local interest or map reading.

It also helps if, like me, you appear to have a child who's a budding cartographer.

Here's how to make one:

1. Take an A4 sheet of light-coloured paper.

2. Fold the paper into eighths; first fold it in half lengthwise, and then into quarters - zigzagging the direction of the folds.

3. Glue thin card - precut to fit - to the top face of the folded paper. This is now the front cover; transforming it into a proper pocket map.

4. Unfold the paper and begin designing your very own map showing a walk, run or bike ride.

5. Choose between two and five places of interest and draw them on your map.

6. Mark the route and direction of your journey. Broken dotted lines work well, as do elephant footprint ink stamps - Daisy is confident about this.

7. Refold the map along its crease lines and then design the title cover just as you like - we used shiny stickers for visual impact.

Et voila. A unique, bespoke, hand-crafted gift that will be as useful as it is beautiful - it will certainly be cherished.

Buddy's A RUN MAP, pictured above, features seven points of local interest for daddy to enjoy as he runs along the route. These include a Travis Perkins shop, the stream and bandstand in Butterfield Green and Buddy's best friend's house.

Daisy's HOORAY we have got lovely runs for YOU map is actually a circular family walk to our local park and back. The brand new playground, featured above, is drawn in particular detail; please note its orange fence and slide, red climbing frame and grassy hillside. How we'll manage to get Daisy to leave the playground - and complete the walk - is another matter.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Family choice

My family has started playing a game we like to call Ideas In The Pot. This involves everyone writing down - or drawing - suggestions for fun things to do. We use our colourful felt-tip pens, and sometimes put the list into an actual pot to help us reach a finite amount of options. As we've played this game a few times now, we have a shorter version whereby we simply take turns to tell each other our ideas and just act out throwing them into an imaginary pot. Whichever way we play it, it's proving to be an inclusive and democratic way of planning family time. Be it for an ordinary Saturday or a special holiday - it ensures everyone's choices are taken into consideration.

We played this game just before going on holiday to Wales last week. Here are some of the fun ideas that went in the pot:

Go rock-pooling
Have a BBQ on the beach
Make pancakes
Visit a lighthouse
Cross a stream by stepping stones
Try body-boarding
Go on a cliff walk
Eat chocolate chip Weetabix Minis (chocolate breakfasts are a treat we reserve for holidays)
Go sand-sledging
Explore a ruined castle
Watch Star Wars (Episode IV - A New Hope, obviously)

We all chose ideas with prior knowledge of the location - this being our fourth family holiday in the same place - and I'm pleased to say we got to do most of them.

Of course we found plenty of other fun things to do along the way - some of which will doubtless be chosen for the pot deliberately in the future.

Make a new best friend
Meet some horses
Make potions on the beach
Have a Cowboy Dinner - bangers, beans 'n' bread - as the sun goes down
Paint pebbles on the beach
Listen to lots of Billie Holiday
Make a sand and lolly-stick toy car tunnel
Make a perfect Gin & Tonic
Watch a cricket match in the evening sun
Follow a walk using an OS map
Pose Action Man climbing up a stone wall rock-face

So here's to Ideas In The Pot - and holidays of course; I'm already looking forward to our next one.