Monday, 28 April 2014

Progress on the model railway: a picnic, a rocky skerry and a new layout

this picture from a few weeks ago shows the additional board that Hubby had laid out to double the size of the railway - it's now going to require its own room when we're house-hunting!
this picture shows how it looks now.  Hubby used blackboard paint so that we could sketch our track layout on with chalk and have a base to work up from.

This will be a harbour, with its own station (think Mallaig or Kyle of Lochalsh), a low wharf, and a rocky skerry with a lighthouse.

This is the main station, with the village in the middle of the track.

so a little while ago I posted this picture of my picnic bench and little picnic basket
I got busy with the Fimo this weekend (for the first time since I was a teenager).  I found the scale pretty tricky, but have made some form of picnic at least.  C thinks it's hilarious and keeps telling me that my banana and "peas" (they are apples!) are very big for the people.

I also got a little distracted while playing with the Fimo, and made this owl, which has a loop in the top so that I can make it into a keyring or necklace.

this is the beginning of our rocky skerry.  We built up the shape with screwed up newspaper.

then pasted the whole thing with a PVA/water mix, and kitchen towel squares.  Bug was very involved with this process.
It's currently in the process of being painted, so I'll post again once it's in situ on the railway.

Saturday, 26 April 2014


I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring the books “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent” written by Tom Hodgkinson.  I enjoyed a lot of the ideas expressed in these books, and think that exploring them further will help me to explore the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.

Chapter 5 – The More, the Merrier

In this chapter Tom talks about how things are much easier when we have company and when children can do things together in larger groups.  It's only in the last few centuries that we've gone down the isolation route, and this has got much worse in the last couple of decades, when we fear for the safety of our children and keep them cooped up safe in their bedrooms with a screen for company. 

How does this match up to the ink-spots-and-grass-stains life?

Again in this chapter I completely agree with Tom.  I know that I am required less than some of my friends, because my two children play happily together.  Even more so when there are more children together, they take themselves off and organise a game of some description and the adults are only required occasionally to mediate some disagreement or tend a grazed knee.

It's good for the adults too to get a chance of some conviviality instead of staring at that pile of ironing or messing around on Facebook, or doing yet another jigsaw puzzle.

In real life though it's not always so easy.  The other mums at pre-school are always keen to arrange a play-date, which is great.  Even better though would be when the children can just run in a pack, pop around to one another's houses (not so easy in rural areas where we are all so widely spread), and go off to play in the meadow together and build dens (until you find that somebody has called in the police because there were children playing in the woods - I kid you not, it's been in the newspaper just this week!).  They are a bit little to be going off without an adult yet, though I'm building up to it... C will happily go down to the end of the road to buy eggs from a neighbour on his own (he's 4 and a half), or he and Bug will go together.  Maybe over the summer we'll build up to going to the cafe around the corner to buy milk (still no roads to cross, but that's on a main road).  I'd like for them both to be confident to go and play with their friends as they get older, with the obvious "stranger danger" talk ringing in their ears, and the "Who are you with? Where are you going? When will you be back?" questions answered.  I just don't know whether other parents would be willing to let their children out to play in the same way anymore?  And if they could fit "playing out" around all the organised dance, swimming, and football classes that seem to be part of life once you start school.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Spring in the garden

Spring has finally found its way to our corner of Scotland.  Following a glorious springtime holiday, we've come home to gently nudge our garden into life
The children's gardens.  C's is on the right, and full of strawberry plants.  He started off with one strawberry plant two years ago, and they just keep sending off runners, which he's delighted about.  He's also planted a couple of broad bean seedlings which they grew at pre-school, and some daffodils.  There's a sunflower seed in there, but so far nothing's happening with that.  I'm unsure what the chimney at the back is, he found it on the beach on holiday and insisted on bringing it back for his garden.  Bug's garden is on the left.  I'm not sure what she has in there.  I think a strawberry plant (a runner from C's garden), a potato, a flag, a duck, a couple more broad bean seedlings and any random piece of foliage or flower that she's picked from around the garden and "planted" in her bit.

I've sown an array of seeds in the greenhouse, and now must remember to keep them watered every day!

Hubby's changing the lawnmower blade, C is riding his sister's bike, and I think she's talking to an ant.

Spring flowers!

more seeds sown in the greenhouse.
What do you do in your garden at this time of year?

Monday, 21 April 2014

Arisaig Holiday

We've just spent a week away in the caravan on holiday, the first of the year.  We started at Newtonmore, on the way up the A9 to Aviemore.  We stopped here for two nights so that we could visit the Highland Wildlife Park:

Then we headed on to Arisaig, just south of Mallaig on the "Road to the Isles".  As you can see, it was completely gorgeous.  Arisaig is a haven of rocky skerries, coral white sand and turquoise water - we were coveting some canadian canoes. 
the view from the caravan

The Waggy-Tailed-One loves the beach.
C, making a boat.
al fresco dining - in Scotland!  No midges and no rain!
sun setting over the Isle of Eigg
we collected some beautiful shells
visited a couple of castles (this one's Castle Tioram)
I just love this photo

Friday, 11 April 2014

Quick post on crafty makes

Just a very quick post today, as I'm busy getting the caravan ready and the house tidy before we go on hols.  But I wanted to show a couple of the things that I've been making.
two more lined applique pencil cases - these are the first items in my stock box for my craft business, Sunbow Designs.

two wipe-clean reuseable snack pouches.  These are to use instead of small plastic sandwich bags and are a great size for bread sticks, dried fruit, biscuits, a piece of cake etc.  These are prototypes, for us to use.  They were easy to make, so another item to make more of for Sunbow Designs.

two wipe-clean reusable sandwich wraps.  Again, these are to use instead of sandwich bags, you just unwrap them, and you have a lovely little mat to eat your sandwich from.  Again, something I'll be making more of for Sunbow Designs.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

It looks naughty... but it's healthy!

 One ingredient, super easy to make, banana ice-cream

One of the items on our Easter Holiday List was "make ice-cream".  A quick internet search revealed a plethora of no-machine ice-cream recipes, but this one really caught my eye.

I found it here, on  Yes, it's true!  Ice-cream made using only bananas!

First, chop the bananas, it doesn't matter how roughly.  Bug did ours. 
Put the bananas into the freezer for a couple of hours.  
Then stick them in the blender and blend them.  This turns them into frozen banana puree/cream.
At this point you can add extra ingredients like honey, peanut butter, raisins or mini-marshmallows.
Put the banana ice-cream in a bowl and back into the freezer to set a bit further.
I also froze a Mars bar, and roughly chopped this, served on top of the banana cream.  It makes what looks like a very decadent dessert, but is actually one of your five-a-day, with 1/4 of a Mars bar added!
We didn't actually let the bananas freeze for long enough, as I had forgotten to chop and freeze them before we went to the recycle centre, so ours ended up more like chilled banana puree, but it was still very, very tasty and met with approval all round, so this is certainly something we'll be making again.

Sunday, 6 April 2014


he hasn't pushed her over, they are taking it in turns to roll down a hill!
I’m writing a series of blog posts exploring the books “How to be Free” and “The Idle Parent” written by Tom Hodgkinson.  I enjoyed a lot of the ideas expressed in these books, and think that exploring them further will help me to explore the principles behind my own way of living and parenting.

Chapter 4 – The Importance of Nature

Nature is a great resource for an idle parent.  In nature the children are learning, they play with few arguments, no whining and plenty of resources to go around, they aren't making a mess indoors which they expect you to clear up, and it's free!  Go to the wildest and most shop-free places that you can find.  The way we have our holidays - near the sea, the woods, the mountains, car and computer free, shows us that we yearn for nature, but we seem to have commodified it into "Holidays" which need to be paid for.  We need to try to get it back into our everyday lives.  Sometimes it takes a bit of effort to break the tether to the screen and get outdoors, but once there, we generally love it.  Tom suggests short trips, days out, freedom.  Camping trips, but not the ones to campsites where everybody spends the evening in their caravan watching TV - ones where a few families go together, and you can sit around the fire and drink coffee or beer while the children play.  At home opt for as much out-doors and as little intervention as possible.  As with low-input gardening, this doesn't mean abandoning the plot to the brambles, you still have to provide quality soil, and pull out the pernicious weeds, and add a bit of water here and there.  So it is with child-rearing, you need to provide the fundamentals, and tend here and there, but where things are doing okay, leave well enough alone.

How does this match up to the ink-spots-and-grass-stains life?

I completely agree with Tom on this one.  Just this afternoon the children were bouncing around the sitting room, so I asked, "What are your plans for this afternoon, you two?" No response.  "Are you going to play outside?"  They've been out for over an hour now, in the drizzle.  I'm not sure what they're playing, but there's a house in the bush down the side of the house, there's a pop-up tent up in the garage, I've seen a rugby ball with a three-year-old attached... Hubby is pottering around getting the caravan ready for next week's holiday and I'm up here writing.  Very easy parenting!

Next week we're off to Arisaig on the west coast of Scotland.  Yes, its a commercial campsite, but it's about as wild as you can get.  Even if fire's aren't allowed on the site (I think they might be), they are allowed on the beach which surrounds the site.  There's a small play area I think, but mostly there's a beach, and rocks, and the sea, and otters, and eagles, porpoise, sheep...  

Friday, 4 April 2014

Making it happen - my pond!

One of the items on my bucket list is to "have a garden with a vegetable patch and a pond".  I've had the vegetable patch for about six years now, and this week can finally confirm that I have a pond.

It has been a work in progress for about two years... maybe more.  I started off by deciding where I wanted the pond.  We had a convenient corner raised bed, surrounded by a wall about 1' high.  So for a couple of years, knowing that this was going to be where the pond would be, I very much neglected this bed.  I'd occasionally weed it, and I gradually moved plants out and put them elsewhere in the garden.

Autumn 2012 I started digging, thinking that I'd get the pond in for Spring 2013.  Winter happened, and not much digging.  During last summer I'd occasionally dig out a barrow of soil, but then abandon it once  more for a few weeks.  By the time I came back it was full of weeds or other plants again.  Autumn 2013 I started digging more earnestly, expecting any moment for snow, frost and other winter weather to stop progress.  The winter conditions didn't really happen, but we did get a lot of storms and rain, so progress slowed once more.

I knew that if I left it much longer then I would once more miss the frog-spawn window, so I got down to it more seriously in February and March.  It's a really big job!  I just seemed to be digging and digging, and disposing of soil in all sorts of interesting places around the garden, and it never seemed to be deep enough.  Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I realised that I was nearly there.  After digging out about 10 wheelbarrow loads in one day, including an unexpected sheet of corrugated iron, I knew that a couple more wheelbarrows would do it.

So I ordered the pond liner, and I ordered some planters and some plants (just a few: some yellow iris, marsh marigold and elodea).  Then I realised what was missing and also dragged a couple of sacks of builder's sand out of B&Q, and a bag of aquatic compost out of the garden centre.  This all arrived on Tuesday, so in order not to kill the plants, I knew the pond had to be completed on Wednesday.

Wednesday morning dawned, and it was only raining a little bit.  I dressed Bug in wellies and splashsuit, made sure that she had her scooter, her bucket, her trowel, and anything else that she might require, got my own overalls and wellies on and headed out for the garden.  Two more barrows full of soil, then another to pick out any stray stones.  We then enjoyed throwing sand into the hole.  We got some free underlay with our liner, so this went in next, and then the liner.  It was massive and manhandling it into place was... ummm... interesting.  So we turned on the hose and went for a hot chocolate.  All this had only taken one hour!

While the pond was filling, we set about planting the planters.  I hadn't bought the suggested horticultural grit, but I guessed filching some gravel from elsewhere in the garden would do the trick.  I did try to pull the liner taut, as recommended, but it didn't really work, so there are some unwanted folds, which I hope won't affect things too much.  Next I waded around the shelf of the pond, trimming the liner.  I cut a little too much in one place, more on that in a moment.  Once the pond was full, I lowered the plants into place, and then started gathering material from around the garden to lay around the edge.  I have sticks, logs, stones and pebbles, a plant pot and a couple of wellies with holes in them.

I quickly realised that the level of the pond wasn't quite what it should be, as I had accidentally cut too much liner away in one corner.  I've put another piece of liner over, but obviously water doesn't respect that and once it gets to a certain level, it's pouring out of that spot.  I've now ordered some Pond Liner tape on e-bay (bargain), and will tape my patch piece in place and build up a little more soil behind it, then I'll be able to fill the pond a bit more, and a lot of the visible plastic liner will disappear.  I'm also going to plant up around the edge a bit more.

I still think it looks a little bare, but I know this is the way it is with a new pond.  Once the plants in the pond get established, and plants start to grow around the edge of the pond, and over into it then it will start to look a lot more natural, and maybe the wildlife will move in.  I'm keeping my eyes open for frogspawn in puddles and the like (where it probably won't survive once the sunnier weather kicks in), to re-home in the pond.

I'm so proud of this.  Not just because it's been a real effort; not just because I've finally ticked something off that's been on my "to-do" list for so long; but also because I can't wait to see the children tucked down by the wall and watching the bugs and beasties that will eventually move in to this awesome nature habitat!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Tutorial - easiest ever skirt

Easiest ever elasticated summer skirt.
Probably the trickiest part of sewing this skirt is measuring and cutting out the fabric.  You are going to cut 8 identical panels.  Unless your fabric has a right way up, you'll need 1m for an above the knee skirt (length about 45cm).  Obviously a longer skirt will require more fabric.  Start with the following: Measurement A - measure around the widest part of your hips and bottom.  Add about 10-12cm (this allows for 1/2 cm seams and a little bit of leeway).  Divide by 8.  This is the measurement of the top of one panel.  Measurement B - take the width of your fabric, subtract 2 x A, subtract about 15cm and divide by 2.  This is the measurement of the bottom of the panel.

You'll probably want to draw a diagram with your measurements to make sure that it all fits.  The fabric is folded in half, and you end up with four panels on each half.  Once you have measurements A and B, you can draw a template for the panel if you like, or you can draw the whole thing on to the fabric and just cut it out.

You will end up with eight pieces of fabric this shape.
Pin them together.  
Then sew all eight seams.  I used a normal running stitch on the machine, and then did the seams again with a tricot stitch in the hope that this will prevent fraying.

Press the skirt.  While at the ironing board, fold and fold again and press to create the channel for the elastic at the top, then do another double fold and press for the bottom hem.  I then added a daisy embellishment to the bottom hem, pinned the hem in place and stitched through the daisy embellishment, and again around the top of the hem fold-over.  Next, sew around your waistband, ensuring that you've left a gap to feed the elastic.

Cut some elastic long enough to comfortably go around your waist without stretching.  Pin one end of the elastic to the skirt with a safety pin, and then attach a safety pin to the other end of the elastic and use the safety pin to guide it through the channel in the waist band.  When you've got it all the way through, tie both ends together loosely.  At this point, try the skirt on.  Adjust the knot in the elastic until the skirt fits comfortably around your waist.  Now stitch the gap you left in the waist band channel closed, and press your skirt.  You've done it!

Here's the finished item.

A lovely summery skirt (and new sandals).  Now all I need is some summer weather and a bit of sun on my legs!