Monday, 26 September 2011

Autumn art

Yesterday our Sunday stroll was enhanced by a simple game - collecting nature. The only rule was that we shouldn't pick anything that was still growing; it had to have already fallen to the ground.

It was wonderful how quickly our hands - and then my bag - filled with leaves of every shape and hue, jewel-like berries, patterned bark and lots of interesting seed cases. The range of colours was just amazing, and the children noted that you could really tell it was autumn now.

With so many fabulous colours and textures in our collection, there was really no need to do anything further with our bounty other than to simply look at it and enjoy it. However, having made summer nature-bangles just a few months ago, we thought we'd try making some more with our autumn collection.

So, using a strip of masking tape fixed in a loose loop around our wrists - sticky side out - we created gorgeous, decorative bands of autumnal colour by pressing some of our collected nature onto the tape. Easy, quick and beautiful outside art - we definitely made the best of that autumn sunshine yesterday.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Finding their flow

My children stayed up too late tonight. I had no intention of letting them play and play until they were woozy with weariness but to put it simply - they had found their flow. And I just can't bear to put a stopper on that magic.

Just before their proper bedtime, when I was folding clothes fresh off the washing line, Daisy was playing with the laundry basket. She'd already done her usual turtle impression and had used it as a boat when she asked me to look at what she'd been busy doing. She'd taken the long red ribbon from her hair (she was dressed as Snow White, as you can see below) and woven it, in and out, around the laundry basket. She explained that it was ever so much fun and asked for more ribbon. And so the weaving began - to make mummy the best laundry basket in the world.

Buddy got excited enough to join in with this ribbon-play when he found one long enough to attach between a door and a dining-chair. A few knots later he'd made a fabulous zip-line he called Atlantic Bridge and pretty soon miniature Spiderman was walking along, hanging and swinging from the bridge - saving various people from the baddies.

When Daisy had finished her basket she grabbed two small Barbie-type dolls and joined in the fray. One was Wonder Woman, the other a civilian in need of rescuing, and their play exploded into a full-on adventure; Mission at Ribbon Bridge. I added some music - the main theme from the Spiderman movie - knowing that Bud in particular loves having a soundtrack enhancing any exciting action.

So I resigned myself to the late night - their playing was so brilliant. In the end, when I could see the game going on past midnight, I suggested they paused the action and continued before school tomorrow. They agreed to this only when I promised to keep the ribbon bridge in place until then. I agreed to that when Daisy said I could keep the ribbons on my beautiful laundry basket for as long as I wanted.

And so a deal was struck; I've got a super-glamorous laundry basket and the ribbon bridge survives another day. I just love it when they find their flow.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Beach hut envy

[Southwold by Louise Braithwaite printed by Mad Lou Publishing Ltd]

Since admiring Southwold's cheerily painted beach huts last week, we've been yearning for one of our own. They are extremely difficult to buy - to be eligible you have to be related to the king of Suffolk, or something - so instead of pursuing that particular dream we are attempting to build ourselves a beach hut at home. Fortunately, Buddy and Daisy seem happy to realise this dream in miniature. At least for the moment.

We began our building project with the stickle brick beach hut pictured below. All Southwold beach huts have romantic, cool or quirky names - we came across The Chequered Flag, The Bucket & Spade and Topsy Turvy. The children called this one Rubber Duck.

Unfortunately, this hut didn't survive; it was too small for the dolls' house cooker, table and chairs and kept falling apart when Daisy tried to furnish it.

Our second effort has been more successful; I found a cardboard box that had beach hut written all over it. Actually, it had written on it - but its proportions were perfect.

Align Left

With a doorway and window frames cut out and a pitched roof secured with sticky tape, the hut was ready to be painted. Daisy informed me that it had to be yellow and red. And it had to have stripes. I spent a few minutes marking out some for her but in the end she ignored them - there was a change in the design vision, apparently. Faint lines were still visible through the paint however, and gave a lovely, authentic wood panelling effect.

With the painting complete - the front face orange where the yellow and red got mixed, Daisy noted - the beach hut was finished. Except for one thing...

'It needs a name!' she announced, and was adamant we should use the box's original text as a sign. Fortunately I'd salvaged this when we cut away the doorway.

And so this is how we came to have a beach hut with the name Now, if that's not quirky, I don't know what is - I hope you're not too envious.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Back-to-school baking

It's the last day of the summer holidays for my children. With a rainy, windy and decidedly autumnal morning we had the perfect conditions for a spot of back-to-school baking in our cosy kitchen.

We made Banana Cake as it's ideal for the children's packed lunches. We've had to sample its moist, fruity deliciousness already of course. In fact, I hope there's a slice or two left for Buddy and Daisy to actually take with them to school tomorrow.


3 ripe bananas
150g soft dark sugar
100g butter
300g plain flour
2 lightly beaten eggs
2 handfuls of raisins
2 handfuls of chopped dried apricots
2 tsps baking powder
half tsp of bicarbonate of soda
100 ml olive oil

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180c/gas mark 4/355F

2. Butter a 900g loaf tin and line with baking parchment

3. Peel and mash the bananas

4. Mix the sugar and butter together until fluffy

5. Add the bananas and dried fruit

6. Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarb into the banana mix

7. Add the eggs, beating well

8. Lastly, add the oil and give everything a good stir

9. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 1 hour. Cover the cake with baking parchment 30 minutes into the cooking time to prevent the top from scorching

10. When ready, remove the cake from its tin, place it on a wire rack and - if you can resist its charms - allow it to cool before slicing

Have a great Autumn Term everyone.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Panning for gems

We've enjoyed panning for gems before - at school fetes with large trays of watery sand hiding gemstones purchased online, and at home using watery rice studded with sparkly sequins and beads. Both were exciting, sensory activities for the children but neither compared with our recent Southwold beach version; panning for gems 'au naturel'. Here's how we did it:

1. We took a sunny stroll past the beach huts to the beautiful, sandy seaside.

2. We removed our shoes and socks and paddled in the sparkling sea.

3. We felt the golden sands shift and pull away from between our toes as the waves broke around our ankles.

4. We marvelled at the tiny gemstones revealed around our feet as the sand drew away with the sea.

5. We selected a sparkly stone or two before the next wave covered our patch with new sand.

6. We rinsed our treasure in the sea, enhancing its rainbow colours and shimmering gleam.

7. We repeated this until our shoes were filled with stones and our hearts with sunshine.