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Sunday, 2 May 2021

When life gets busy...

 It turns out, that I'm not such a writer after all.

While my dream remains to be a published author and write for a living, it turns out that when life gets busy and time is short, the two things on my "to do" list that I drop first are exercise and writing.  

As a result, I've still not got a book or online course finished to a good enough standard for publication, and I'm still a larger dress-size than I'd like.

My top priority is my family:  

Mr Build-it is motoring through Year 7.  He's still got plenty of time for cuddles with his mum, but kisses are already off limits.  He spends a lot of time in his room learning how to programme and is developing and building websites and online games and learning different programming languages.  I try to keep up, and always show an interest, but quite often he is speaking a completely different language.  He appears downstairs whenever he is hungry.  My main task with him is encouraging him to get some daylight and fresh air on a daily basis, though that's got easier as he's discovered that some of his schoolfriends like to meet up at the playpark up the road so he takes himself up there to meet them.


Miss Busy is at that very delicate age where she has subconsciously realised that she's growing up fast, but is not yet ready, and is clinging to childhood.  This means that she's watching terrible kids' TV, and is requiring a lot of parental attention.  I'm also aware that in a very short time she won't be wanting to spend so much time with me - her friends will become more of a priority.  So when she asks me to do something with her, I'm tending to say "yes."  We had a lovely time drawing butterflies together the other day, and, dare I say it, we had fun tidying her bedroom together yesterday.  She's also super-helpful at the moment, and always willing to lend a hand in the kitchen, take the dog out for a walk or hang the laundry - long may it last!

Husband is, as always, very busy with work.  He's also got a lot to do with our Scout Group.  He became Group Scout Leader a year ago and, never one to do a half-job, is determined to have our Group be the best in the District - an example of "how it works".  He's putting in a lot of hours and it's really beginning to show fruit.  Our Group is a happy place to be.

I've recently gone back to the classroom once more.  I'm teaching a lovely Year 5 class who need a great deal of teacher love.  I'm determined to do a good job for these children, so I'm pouring in the effort and the hours of preparation that they deserve.

In the meantime, with Covid19 (fingers crossed) finally receding in threat, we are back face-to-face with our Beavers and Cubs.  After a long break it's taking us a little while to get back in the flow, and I'm also bringing in a lot of new children, and trying hard to get a few more volunteers into the mix.  My County role has had to take a bit of a back seat while this is happening, but I am also still delivering regular adult training courses and attending meetings.

So... with family, school and Scouting all taking a lot of time and energy, and the continuous cycle of groceries, shopping, laundry, school run and dog walks... that hasn't really left a lot of time for writing or crafting (or exercise).  So that's where I am right now.  I'll come back to you next time with an update on how I'm getting along with those craft plans and New Year resolutions.  










Monday, 5 April 2021

A wildlife friendly garden - making a pond

 You might think that making a wildlife pond in your garden is a major undertaking, both in terms of financial outlay and time and energy taken.

I can assure you that it doesn't have to be a big job.

This pond went from a delivery in a cardboard box to complete in under an hour and a half, and the whole thing cost around £40.

First, the pond liner from Amazon:

I also got some oxygenating pond plants:

1. Decide on your spot.  You want somewhere that gets some sunlight, but not all-day direct sunlight otherwise it will get pretty warm and evaporate quite quickly, as well as going green.  Of course, you can dig a hole and sink your pond into the ground if you want.  I've done this in the front garden with exactly the same type of liner.  However, you don't HAVE to do this, and it's absolutely possible to put a simple pond on a patio.  Mine is in a gravelled corner next to a wall and near an olive tree.

2. Build up some support underneath.  I was considering buying some 2x4 timber and building a support for my pond, but decided that with the curvy edges that didn't fit with the "easy project" I was looking for.  However, you need to bear in mind that water is heavy, so you will need something underneath your liner to give it some support around the edges.  I put some bricks underneath the shelved areas and built up with some rubble that we've had stacked against the wall for a couple of years.   

You may wonder what the yellow hose in this picture is... it's the overflow from our water-butt. It's gravity fed over to this corner to keep it away from the timber of the garage. I've just bent it around and left it some space.  To be honest, the water butt doesn't have much in it at the moment, as I've now put most of the water into the pond!
3. Next, put some pot plants around your pond.  This not only disguises the black plastic of the pond liner and the mess of the rubble, but it also gives a stepped access for your wildlife to get to the pond.

4. Naturalise a bit.  As you can see, we've not only planted up some of those pots with a range of plants and planted some bulbs and seeds, but we've also added some branches from the holly tree I severely pruned last year to create a wildlife ramp and to disguise that black plastic a bit more.

5. Put some wildlife shelter inside the pond.  If you want bugs and amphibians to take up residence in your pond, you need to give them some appealing real-estate.  They aren't going to be taken with an expanse of shelter-less black plastic.  In my pond I installed a terracotta plant pot, a couple of broken pieces of slate, some gravel and some pebbles of various sizes.  This gives lots of nooks and crannies to allow the wildlife to get in and out and to provide them with some cosy places to live.


6. I'm pretty pleased with how this is looking.  Time to start adding some water.  Here's some oxygenating plants to put in too.  At some point I'm going to add some more pond plants - I'm looking at flag irises as they are very attractive to things like dragonflies - the adult clings on to the plant as she deposits her eggs in the water, and the larva will later climb up the iris to emerge as an adult.
It's important to use rainwater rather than tap water, as tap water has chemicals added in to make it clean for us to drink, but not so welcoming for the wildlife! I filled several watering cans from my water butt.

And here is the finished pond looking very happy in its corner.  With wildflower seeds sown in the planters, and plenty of nooks and crannies for wildlife both in, under and around the pond, I can't wait for the wildlife to move in!  I've already seen a blackbird and a pigeon having a good drink (and a Cocker Spaniel, but she doesn't count), and a blackbird helping herself to the wildflower seeds I'd planted.



Please note - this post does contain some affiliate links.  That means that if you follow my links to buy the products on Amazon, I get a small commission.  It doesn't affect the price you pay at all.

Saturday, 27 March 2021

Flying the Flag?

 This post appeared on the Your Herefordshire Facebook feed this morning..

I wrote this reply, but in the end decided not to post it, because I couldn't be bothered with the diatribe of abuse that would no doubt follow from the angry people who seem to populate Facebook (and especially Your Herefordshire's Facebook feed).
However, I thought I'd still go ahead and share my thoughts with you on here.  What do you think?



Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Quick crafty ideas - Harry Potter Party bags


Fabulous daughter is turning 10 this weekend.  For her lockdown birthday, she is having an online party with three friends, using Zoom to do a virtual escape room together.

She is very keen on Harry Potter, so I've put together a party bag for each child, which I'll be dropping off at their homes on my daily exercise on Friday.

I had some plain white paper bags, like this:

They struck me as a bit boring, and as many of you will know.  I don't do boring if I can avoid it.  So I followed the instructions on the brilliant...

Drawinghowtodraw.com

on this page:


I drew them in pencil first, then painted with water colours and finally went over all the lines with a black fine-liner.

Here are the resulting party bags:









I'm so proud of them.  Do you like?

In each party bag, I'm putting:

 a wooden door plaque

Some Harry Potter badges

Some Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans

They will also get some snacks to eat while playing the escape room, and a Chocolate Cupcake (still to be made) with a Harry Potter cake-topper.

Please note - this post does contain some affiliate links.  That means that if you follow my links to buy the products on Amazon, I get a small commission.  It doesn't affect the price you pay at all.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Fabric Scrap Dolls

 

If you're looking for a quick and easy craft to use up fabric scraps and create something lovely, then this is right up your street.  These lovely little dolls are cute and can be as complicated or simple as you want.

I first came across these amazing little dolls at the Medieval Christmas Fayre at Ludlow Castle a few years ago. 

I lovely lady (who I knew from my previous existence in Medieval Reenactment) had a little craft activity where she showed how to make them, and also sold them.

I immediately bought this little family:

To make these dolls, here's what you need:

  • a circle-ish of cream or white fabric
  • a little bit of toy stuffing (just for the head)
  • thread (I use white/cream and black)
  • fabric and wool scraps, felt, binding, fripperies etc. 
  • pinking shears are very useful depending on your fabric - felt doesn't fray, but most other fabric will unless you pink or hem the edges

Instructions

To start with you will need your circle of fabric, your toy stuffing and about a metre of white/cream thread.
Place a little bit of toy stuffing in the middle of your circle.

Gather the fabric together and wrap the thread around tightly to create a head.  Fasten the thread around the neck.  You may need to arrange the fabric a little here so you don't have a big wrinkle where the face will be.

You now have a head, and four corners of fabric hanging down. Take one corner, fold it under and then gather up to make an arm. 
Take one of the loose ends of thread from the neck and wrap it firmly around the arm in a spiral down to the hand and then back up again.
 
 Hold it in place while you do the same with the opposite corner and other end of thread to make the other arm. This may take a bit of trial and error to get the arms the right length for the proportions of your doll.

Wrap the threads diagonally across the front and back to create a torso and waist.
You have now created the basic body and for a female you would just need to add clothes.

To make legs, you manipulate the final two corners of fabric and repeat the same process as for the arms.  These can be a bit rougher as most of them will be covered with fabric.
Next, make the clothes using fabric scraps:
  • Some bias binding or a strip of fabric wrapped around and held in place with a couple of stitches are good for leggings or trousers.
  • a little felt hat or a fabric scrap headscarf are good, or you can sew some wool scraps in place for hair.
  • A simple tunic held in place with a wool belt are nice and easy, but you can wrap fabric into a dress, skirt, cloak or apron, or even add wings for a fairy. You could also sew on little facial features.
My nine-year-old daughter sat and made these with me and was delighted with the results.  It's such a quick and simple activity, and a great way to make use of your scraps.
This is one of the activities in our "Year of Crafts". I'd love to hear how you get on if you try this activity. Let me know in the comments.

Saturday, 23 January 2021

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

 

Anybody here like cake?

Hands up?

Yes, me too. And this particular cake is a bit of a sweet-toothed 80s bright coloured throwback, to a time when exotic fruit in a tin was the highlight of the week.

Making this seems a long time ago now, as it's two weeks since I last ate. 

(Not strictly true, but I am sticking to the diet pretty well and cake is not currently happening).

This cake is the perfect comfort food for a winter's evening.  Enjoy with custard.

Ingredients

butter (melted)                   100g
brown sugar                       1/2 cup
pineapple rings (drained)     440g can
Pineapple juice                    2tbsp
Cream cheese                    125g
butter (softened)                150g
caster sugar                        1 cup
rind and juice of 1 orange
2 eggs (lightly beaten)
self-raising flour                    1 cup

Method

  1. Preheat over to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Tip the melted butter into a 24cm round cake tin, brushing it up the sides to grease. (If you're using a loose bottomed tin, like me, be aware that it will ooze out in cooking).
  3. Sprinkle brown sugar over the butter and then arrange the pineapple rings over the base of the tin.  I popped glace cherries in the centre of each one for a really vivid pop of colour.
  4. Mix the cream cheese, butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  
  5. Add the orange rind and juice, 2 tbsp of pineapple juice, eggs and flour.  Mix well until smooth.
  6. Spoon the mix into the prepared tin over the pineapples.
  7. Put the cake into the oven for 40-50 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.
  8. Leave to cool for 10 minutes and then turn out carefully onto a wire cooling rack.
This is one of my creative endeavours this month in my year of creativity.  Considering I had five creative things to do this month I've made a remarkably slow start. 

The crochet is going well, but I'm not sure if I'll finish this month.  I have at least bought the bottles I need to make the wine. I haven't even begun to think about the cushion covers or the macrame and the stuff to make the little dolls is just sitting there waiting for some attention! 

On the other hand, I have been running two Beaver meetings and two Cub meetings via Zoom, I have a lot of Phonics videos on my YouTube channel, and the children are getting on well with their home learning. There's certainly been some creativity going on in the house, even if it hasn't all been mine.
Endangered animals masks made with Beaver Scouts
I really don't know the purpose of the cardboard fort or the Harry Potter x Victorian costume - sometimes it's best not to ask.


Charlie's tin can tealight candle holders that he made with Scouts.

Charlie's pelican, penguin, cat mash-up that he did for an Art lesson.


Saturday, 9 January 2021

2021 - Our Creative Year


One of my New Year's Resolutions is to allow more creativity back into my life. It's easy to become too "busy". I'm certainly guilty of wasting time on social media or on games on my phone.

This year I wanted to put the emphasis on my creative self. Creativity is a type of playfulness (see my other blog www.the-playful-way.com) and I think we all need a bit more of that in our lives.

It also allows you to express yourself, to find your self or your voice.

To help keep me on track and to explore a whole range of different types of creativity, I've come up with 52 different craft activities (this isn't even touching on the creativity I enjoy in the garden, in my writing or in my teaching or tutoring!).

I've divided them into seasons, with the intention that I'll do four or five each month. 

For example, this month I'm hoping to
- macrame a plant pot hanger for the bathroom (1st attempt at macrame)
- make wine (I've been meaning to do this for ages!)
- make at least one cushion cover
- crochet a window valance (like this)
- make some little fabric scrap dolls.
 
What I really like about this is that my daughter has taken a copy of my list. She's ticked the ones she wants to do with me, and has added her own crafts to replace the ones that she doesn't think she can do.  We're going to get crafty together!

I've not been terribly good at maintaining the blog in 2020. I'm hoping that I'll be a lot better in 2021, and blog regularly about my crafting, writing, gardening and family exploits, so you'll be able to see how I get on with some of these crafts.

What are your crafting and creative intentions for 2021?